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  • julietertin

Sacred Datura

Updated: Jul 21, 2019

I hiked rim to rim to rim of the Grand Canyon late spring; a rainbow of wildflowers splattered the desert floor. Red globe mallows, pink cacti and golden prince’s plume craned toward the sunlight and adorned the landscape. One bush, particularly dark and menacing, had many buds but remained firmly closed. I passed several of these black plants, each sealed as tightly as the last. I shrugged and assumed it was too early for their season.

I started my thru-hike at the top of the South Rim at dawn and reached the North Rim just before sunset.  I began the return trip down the North Kaibab trail as last light filtered into the mouth of the canyon.

The flowers faded and closed as shade consumed them. The vibrant desert turned ashy and dull, especially beneath the beam of my headlamp. Scorpions and spiders came out to hunt.

A white flash caught my eye. I turned my head.

A giant white blossom, larger than my handprint, had opened on the mysterious dark plant. I paused to look closer. Enormous symmetrical blooms with five delicate tendrils were opening all around me. I watched a spotted hawk moth crawl into the heart of the blossom.

Throughout the night these enormous white trumpets lit up the trailside and illuminated the path. Before the first morning light touched the canyon floor, the soft ornate flowers had tucked themselves back into their spiraled cocoons. As I summited the Bright Angel trail against dozens of tourists starting their day hike down, the dark bushes’ secret was concealed once again.

I later researched the moonflower: sacred datura. It grows in disturbed areas, is highly poisonous, and it has been treasured by various native American tribes throughout history for its powerful hallucinogenic effects.

On the inside cover of one of my favorite journals, I copied a quote from Anaïs Nin (American novelist) that I have found both poetic and profound many times over:

That day came for me last week.

The risk to remain tight in a bud, sealed neatly and privately within myself, became too painful to contain. The risk to protect and hide alcohol abuse became unbearably suffocating as the petals inside of the bud swelled, especially over the last several months.

The risk to blossom, however, is the greatest risk of all. The soul of the flower is exposed to the elements, to destruction, to pollination, to growth. She holds no power whether a nurturing moth or a tornado will arrive on the next breeze.

An open blossom is a passive position of receiving. It is the most vulnerable part of the plant. I tried to open up in the sunlight, like other flowers, but the outcome was disastrous and I reacted by rigorously sealing up my buds even more compactly. Time passed silently.

Many times in my life I have wished to be the daisy. Friendly, sunny, clean and beaming. No one aspires to be a moonflower. She is a misunderstood belladonna, praising the moon alone in the dead of night.

An incredible thing happened when I decided to open up. Encouragement, conversations, and love filled my inbox. Friends I did not know I had reached out to offer a hand up; friends I feared would judge and reject hugged me with tears in their eyes. Many people reminded me that we all have our struggle, our complications of life, whether we choose to show them or not.

The tension of isolation was replaced with compassion. We are all wounded. We have all taken legitimately wrong turns, but until someone looks you dead in the eye and reminds you of that truth, it is easily to dissociate. It is not difficult to convince yourself that you are alone in the desert.

In a single week, I have felt a freedom that I have not enjoyed in a long time. I have shared serious conversations as well as deep laughter. There are reasons to smile, and to smile big, even in these first few days.

Thank you. Thank you for loving me even when I could not open.

by Georgia O'Keefe (who painted many moonflowers)