The White Sage Black Market
August 25, 2020
One evening a few years ago, as the sun was setting over Southern California, Marsha Valencia and her husband returned from a walk in a nature reserve near their home. It was past closing time, and a park ranger in uniform was locking the gates. They ran to catch him, expecting a ticket—in addition to being late, they’d brought their dog, against the rules. The ranger scolded them amiably and made them promise to do better; then, to their surprise, he allowed them to drive through.
Valencia, who identifies as Native American, then asked if she could pick wild sage beside the parking lot. The ranger’s mood changed. He abruptly refused. Valencia explained that she just wanted a few leaves for ceremonial use; the plants would barely be affected at all. “If you pick anything,” the ranger told her, “I’ll have you arrested.”
Valencia recently told me how angry this had made her. “This white man is telling me he’s going to arrest me,” she said. “I was like, ‘Excuse me? As an Indigenous woman?’” A youthful 50 year-old with freckled cheeks and greying hair, Valencia meditates and sits in women’s circles; her vibe is abundantly “present.” In almost every respect she is unlike the ranger, Ron Goodman, who loves beer, crude jokes and maintaining order. He also loves football, though he hasn’t watched a game since players began taking the knee.