Toloache (Sacred Datura)

 

Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)

The Sacred Datura plant (Datura wrightii) is known in Mexico as toloache, from the Nahuatl words for “bow the head” and “reverential” (how can you not love this?). Beverages made from this poisonous deliriant induce hallucinogenic visions; when used improperly, even death. It is used for sacred rites of passage by Native American tribes, has been used to hex and to break hexes, to produce sleep and induce dreams, and for protection from evil. It has also been used for divination, to find one’s totem animal, to allow one to see ghosts, for communing with birds, for long hunts and strength, for sharper vision, for sorcery and to increase supernatural powers. Sacred Datura (also known as Jimson Weed or Devil’s Weed [Yerba del Diablo]) is one of the subjects of Carlos Castaneda’s critically acclaimed The Teachings of don Juan. I have personally used it only for photographic power.

Accordingly, a sacred plant commands sacred photographic treatment. I experienced many rejects and failures before I finally landed a successful photograph. Sacred Datura grows in the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, and Mojave deserts and blooms from April through October, rainy season dependent. In clear weather, flowers may open in the morning or evening but close during the heat of the day. In cloudy weather, they may open earlier and last longer. Individual flowers do not last long, timing is everything. In windy conditions – common on the desert during it’s blooming period – flowers can be quickly damaged by wind (folded and bruised flower petals don’t photograph  well). Further, wind is often disastrous for large format film photography where long exposures are common and camera bellows become wind sails. My exposures are timed carefully to fall between gusts of wind. Unlike digital photography, there is no instant feedback in film photography – results are not visible until I later develop the film. A second negative is often made to counteract wind movement; one is routinely a throw-away (due to blurring).

Toloache resides in my gallery of Strange Growths. For photographers and other artists, my next post here will detail the origins of and methods used in this ongoing body of work.

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You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Fireworks and Smoke

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It’s warming up ©2019 Michael E. Gordon

A challenging reality on the desert is heat. If each year it did not occur like clockwork, it would be rather difficult to pry me from this habitat. I’m the shrubfly on the lone stool in the distant stand of creosote; they have to kick me out when its time to close up for the season.

May 2019 was unseasonable on the California desert. Temperatures remained low and precipitation remained high enough to keep things cooler and greener than would be normal for this time of year. Early June temperatures were not quite yet deadly, so I decided to make one last chase: Smoke Trees (Psorothamnus spinosus). The beautiful Smoke tree can be found in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico deserts in dry, low elevation (<1500′) sandy washes. For much of the year they are nondescript and scrappy looking compact trees. In late spring – following a bountiful winter – they can explode with brilliant blue fireworks. After the heat has fried the flowers, they revert to their common appearance: like whisps of smoke rising delicately from a desert wash.

While the photographs may be enjoyable to view, they omit a few important sensory details: the baking heat (if it wasn’t cathartic we wouldn’t spa nor sauna); dry desert winds moving through the wash; and the cacophony of millions of bees (video) and other happy winged insects who gather this bounty (see the attached close-up). This is a living desert.

 


You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.