Imelda is my interpretation of a desert wise-woman and healer. She came to me as inspiration from a real-life curandera named Huila in Luis Alberto Urrea's novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter.
Imelda walks barefoot with Mother Earth through a Sonoran sky-island landscape. The saguaro cactus is in the midst of spring bloom, surrounded by Gobernadora (creosote bush). Edging up the hillside is a gnarly old mesquite tree with a great horned owl gazing at her in the distance. (In indigenous folklore, owls are believed to portend death; but I present it here as the symbol of transition, ready to help Imelda guide spirits of the suffering to the Spirit or Flower World.)
She walks with reverence to all living things and gazes fondly at the life she sees around her. She is greeted by hummingbirds, a horned lizard, and creatures of the spring; including a dragon fly. I gave the turtle a mystical quality because I see her as the spirit of my own artist mother who loved turtles. Another mystical, mythical creature is the water-serpent, La Corúa. A vanishing folktale of the Sonoran borderlands tells of La Corúa: a large water snake with a cross on its forehead that guards the spring and cleans the veins of water with its fangs. It is believed that if you kill the Corúa the spring will dry up.*
Imelda wears a simple long huipil similar to those worn by the women in Vera Cruz but with embroidered flowers typical to the Yoeme (Pascua Yaqui) tribe. Around her neck is an Ojo de Venado (Dear Eye), a talisman to guard against evil spirits, and a handmade rosary with La Virgen de Guadalupe and shells for each mystery. She wears a golden rebozo (shawl) and a satchel for herbs and other healing talismans she finds.
Plants of medicinal significance:
Imelda is carrying Arizona/Summer poppies or Baiborín (Kallstroemia grandiflora) - used for fatigue, body pains, fever ... and mange in animals. Growing along the spring is a Passion-fruit vine (Passiflora mexicana) or Pasionaria, which grows in canyons of Southeastern Arizona and Mexico. A sedative, it quiets respiration and blood pressure.
The Gobernadora (Creosote bush), one of the most common, widely dispersed plants of the Desert Southwest, and has many medicinal properties. When applied as a salve to the skin, chaparral slows down the rate of bacterial growth and kills it with its antimicrobial activity.
Lastly is Toloache, Sacred Datura (Datura meteloides). Though highly toxic, this is one of the most beautiful plants of the Southwest. According to the Seri tribe, Datura was one of the first plants ever created. Therefore, it is said that humans should avoid contact with the plant as it is extremely sacred. Only shamans use the plant, as inappropriate use can be very dangerous. The Mixteca of Oaxaca, Mexico, believe that the plant spirit of Datura is an elderly wise woman.
*Tucson’s internationally renown folklorist, “Big Jim” Griffith has kept the tale of La Corúa alive through the years, and it became the inspiration for the name of my art business.)