"Get to know yourself. You might be surprised at who you turn out to be."
is a herbalist, folk healer, and writer, mothering a small apothecary in northern New Mexico. In between stirring cauldrons of wild medicinals for La Abeja Herbs, Sophia offers apprenticeships, classes on plant medicine, and hosts healing ceremonies.
She spends her days under a desert sky, sewing, stirring soups, roaming, and feeding fires. She says, 'I've chosen to live amidst the sun and the sagebrush. It is a quiet place where the nearest neighbors are not near at all, and the memory of city sound has been swept away by the howling of wild winds and coyotes. Here, days end when the sun sets, and begin when it rises.'
How does it feel to live against the office-city-career grain?
I am experiencing greater fulfilment than ever before, living in the middle of nowhere. It has helped me to contact the true preciousness of life on Earth, and come to know what it means to live by the rhythm of the Sun and Moon, the reality of the seasons.
The starlight here is magnificent, and the darkness is perfect and complete. I encounter elk, coyotes, rabbits, quail, raven, and magpies on a daily basis. The animals have much to teach us, and it is rare in the city to have the opportunity to watch and connect with them.
Do you struggle with the pre-conceptions that society has about what you 'should' be doing, and the money you 'should' be earning?
I'm glad to say I don't. In my experience, life is wasted and vitality lost if all one does is work - even work they love. Life is meant to be balanced! Work and play, connection and solitude, joy and grief, and so on. The more time spent gently wandering terrains both inner and outer, the richer one's life becomes.
When work dominates one's schedule, this deeply human need for unstructured time goes by the wayside, and most often as a result the passion for life is greatly diminished. It's a price too high to pay.
It must feel euphoric to genuinely connect to nature in the way that you do.
I feel totally renewed. I feel held, seen, and filled with trust. My hope is always restored. No matter how lost, depleted, helpless, or ashamed I may be feeling - time spent within the silence of the natural world always helps me to recall the song of my own wild Soul, in all of my perfect imperfection.
My hope is always restored.
You move around between the mountains and deserts of the west. Tell us about life on the road! A subject so close to our own hearts!
Life on the road is what you make of it. If you are unhappy where you are, it is unlikely that you will be made happy simply by a change of scenery. Travel teaches you this, and it is a gift to understand that the outer landscape will always reflect your inner landscape.
I love the sense of presence which travel often cultivates. Being in unfamiliar land, with new plants, new people, new skies, and taking it all in fully, is an important part of my personal life and of La Abeja Herbs. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to travel and to teach about plant medicine.
How does being in nature help/alter your mental health?
It reminds you of your own smallness, which I find a comforting thing, and also that you are a part of something far more complex and awe-inspiringly beautiful than you will ever fully conceive of. It reconnects you with Great Mystery, with the sense of the sacred that lives within all things, including you.
Nature reconnects you with Great Mystery, with the sense of the sacred that lives within all things, including you.
How much of your food and medicine come directly from the land?
I am lucky to have friends and family who bring me wild meat and fish on a regular basis. When in season, I harvest abundant mustard greens, lambsquarters, purslane, dandelions, prickly pear, piñon, and many other feral foods. I aim to eat something wild each and every day - even if it is only a single dandelion blossom, or a glass of herbal wine put away in Spring. This daily dose of the undomesticated, along with the practice of making meaningful offerings to the Land and to the plants, creates a very healing and mutually rewarding relationship between you and the environment of which you are a part.
Do you have a favourite plant?
Some of the greatest teachers on my Medicine Path thus far have been Rose, Pulsatilla, Hawthorn, Devil's Club, False Solomon's Seal, and Ghost Pipe. Living where I do now, in the high desert of New Mexico, I have developed a great fondness for the grandmotherly embrace of the fragrant Junipers and for the abundant wild nourishment offered by the Piñon Pines.
But I don't have a favorite plant. Plants are like dear friends. If we are lucky, we have many in one lifetime and though a treasured few may walk with us season after season, most fade in and out as our life paths draw us nearer and then farther apart.
What can we do for nature?
Offer your thanks and gratitude for her gifts, even if only for the patch of blue sky you can see looking up from the crowded streets of an otherwise manmade cityscape. Start where you are. Offer thanks for the spark of nature which lives within you. Sit in silence on the Earth's surface, placing your hands upon the ground and offering a small and silent prayer for all of her children and creatures. Walk with bare feet upon the Earth. Slow down. Listen. Breathe. Really.
Offer thanks for the spark of nature which lives within you.
What advice do you have for other wild men and women, itching to start a life following their hearts?
Trust yourself first. Don't settle for something that doesn't feel good, no matter what it is. Read a lot. Journal. Get to know yourself. You might be surprised at who you turn out to be.
Won't you tell a Welsh girl about New Mexico!
I feel very at home here. I grew up in Austin, TX and moved to Colorado to study Herbalism and Traditional Foods before picking up the meandering path that has led me here. I love the quiet of the Mesa on which I live, the hot springs just a short drive away, the trees and animals who call this place home as well. Just the other day I saw for the first time ever a huge heard of Elk, moving swift and majestic across the sagebrush! My heart stopped.
Who are your heroes?
Calm mothers of small children. Their ability to surrender to and enjoy the messiness of life is truly humbling.
Also Annie Dillard. Her wit and keen observation of the natural world inspired me to find my own awe of and meaning in it more than I ever did before reading her work, A Pilgrim At Tinker Creek.