My Medicine Basket

My Medicine Basket


“What’s that?”  A basket sat on a large red sandstone. “Anybody here?” I had yelled while shifting my daypack and glancing around. “Who left this?” Unlike the Indian curio baskets with colorful threads I’d seen in local galleries, this had a coil of pale green roots wrapped and tightly woven with Yucca strips. Around and around they spiraled.

That July morning, I’d been hiking solo for more than an hour, up an Arizona trail to Thunderbird Mountain. I picked the feather-light basket up and held it to my nostrils, inhaling a pungent scent like dried pine. No other objects, feathers or tracks in the dirt indicated that this basket had been left as part of a ceremony, a ritual, or an offering. A breeze rustled through the pinion pine trees and a cactus wren sang from an ocotillo bush.

“This is your medicine basket.”

“What? Who said that?” I spun around, dismissing the Voice. “Probably a tourist tired of carrying it, left it here and forgot it,” I told myself. Yet, I wanted to follow my inner voice—that knowledge beyond intelligence and reason. “I love being guided to a parking space, or knowing who’s on the phone when it rings. But a basket sitting on the side of the trail, on a rock? And I’m to believe it’s a medicine basket meant for me? I doubt it.” Now, my sixth sense was pushing me beyond my comfort zone.

Lifting the basket, I carefully turned it over; the bottom of the basket looked new. Yet, the lid appeared to be weathered and gray. Grabbing the top knob handle, I removed the tight-fitting lid, amazed by its secure fit. “If a handmade lid and basket can have a perfect connection,” I questioned aloud, “why not a perfect link between a human being and Spirit?”


I’d grown up Catholic, with mystical beliefs like the Communion of Saints—holy men and women who had died and could help the living. Later, in graduate school, I’d learned about Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious and archetypes. Also, I’d learned to differentiate between the voices of my inner critic, my inner child, my wise-woman self and my intuition—a feeling voice I’d come to know as my Higher Power.

Buckminister Fuller had talked about quitting his job, staying home, talking only to his wife. He, too, had sought silence, wisdom and solitude. For two years he disengaged from the world, in order to listen to and reengage his authentic Self.

Peter Caddy, at eighty-four, when I heard him speak, had glowed with vitality. His clear eyes were brilliant blue and his silver white hair shone like strands of iridescent silk. “When my prompting said ‘go’, I went. Leaving my cup of hot tea behind. To not go was to miss the truck that gave me a ride across country. But, I didn’t know that ahead of time. I had to take the leap of faith.” Peter Caddy, with his wife Elaine, by following their intuitive promptings, co-founded “Findhorn,” a community in Northern Scotland, where roses grow in the snow, and forty types of fruit trees blossom, where once only wild gorse grew. Peter Caddy had inspired me to learn to live by inner wisdom.

“This is your medicine basket.” The voice was neither bulling nor imposing. I had a choice. Taking out my water bottle and drinking, I reminded myself that I had chosen this practice of following my intuitive guidance. I was strengthening my spiritual muscles.


“OK,” I whispered into the high desert vastness. “I know when I have doubt, I can ask for a sign. So, I’m asking. It will take me more than an hour to hike to the top of Thunderbird Mountain, and another half hour to come back to this spot. If this basket is really meant to be my medicine basket, then let it be here when I return.” I gently placed the basket where I had found it.

Without glancing back, I took off as shards of sandstone scrunched beneath my boots. Careful to avoid the sharp bristles and spines that pattern a prickly pear cactus, I rounded a pinnacle of white Coconino sandstone. Panting up the trail, I breathed in pungent aromas of mesquite, manzanita and wild sage.

At four-thousand feet, layers of black basalt, like chocolate frosting on cake, lay over the red Supai and gray Torroweep sandstones. There, I stopped to catch my breath, take in the view and examine the flame red blossoms of the deer-horn, chola cactus. Nearby, basking in the sun, a striped lizard suddenly darted into a cool, dark hollow. Yellow green paloverde trees swayed in the breeze. “Oh!” The Arizona desert, I’d grown to love.

Finally, as sunshine poured its heat across the buttes and mesas, I reached five-thousand feet, the pinical of Thunderbird Mountain. At the overlook I stopped, took a deep breath, readjusted my backpack and studied the 360 degree view. To the west rose mountains and the ghost town of Jerome; the south held the Red Rock valley; east offered the high cliffs of the Colorado Plateau, covered with tall, piercing stalks of agave, the century plant and dense growths of chaparral and pinion pine. To the north, at the top of the canyon, billows of rolling white clouds patterned a blue sky, telling me that rains were forming, as the low desert valley heat hit the cool northern, Flagstaff air.

Feeling giddy with the beauty and expanse, I perched on a rock, unzipped my back pack, took an orange and water. While peeling the orange, a covey of quails cooed and scratched under a dense tangle of manzanita branches. I watched a lizard doing pushups on a rock; the Adam’s apple of his throat bobbed.

Sound of coyotes, howling from some distant canyon, brought my thoughts back to the basket. Still, finding a basket on a rock, alongside the trail was perplexing. “Why do I need a medicine basket? I’m not a medicine woman,” I debated with myself. My ego-mind relished battles between my personality and my Spirit.

“Okay,” I said aloud. “Synchronicities happen when I follow hunches. And, I’ve learned what happens when I ignore guidance – confusion and accidents.”

My intuitive voice wasn’t something I could explain, not even to myself. It was a deep, but vague feeling, an odd knowing, that seemed illusive, foreign, and sometimes crazy. But, when I did connect with a greater-knowing, I felt energized, as though I were plugged into an electric socket.

The sun arched toward its zenith, time to return. Along the trail I recognized Javalina droppings, Indian Paintbrush waving scarlet in the wind, and, spirals of moonflower buds on the huge, green-leafed plant. A red-tail hawk circled in the updrafts.

I rounded the rim of the trail and abruptly stopped. The basket sat waiting. In spite of the sun, hot on my face, I felt a chill as I picked up the basket and held it to my heart.

“This is your medicine basket.” I heard the still small voice again.


I closed my eyes, took several deep breaths, checked my gut feeling and sensed a peaceful warmth—an affirmative sign from my intuition.

With a sigh, I whispered, “For that which I am about to receive, I give thanks to Great Spirit, to Mother Earth, to mountain critters and to the creatrix of this basket.” I paused, took a long drink from my bottle of water, peeled the banana and slowly ate it. Finally, I carefully  eased the basket into my backpack and hiked down the trail toward my cabin.

What does one do with a medicine basket? I wondered. I hugged the basket to my heart, walked around my cottage and eyed the mantle over the stone fireplace. There sat more collected treasures—two eagle feathers, the bleached white skull of a raccoon, a spray of dried grasses and, the paper-thin skin left from a molting rattler. I reached into my backpack for a power bar, plopped onto my daybed, paused between bites to reflect on the hand-crafted basket and the strange events of the day.

The desert sun rolled down the western sky, until its golden glow touched the horizon. Orange rays from the setting sun flooded through my window, shone on the basket, outlining its shape. On the white wall behind the basket loomed its silhouette. “ It looks like a huge breast,” I said aloud. “And the lid’s handle is the nipple.” Chills rolled down my spine.

“The breast of the Great Mother,” my inner voice revealed. “Stories are milk for humankind.”

People are starving for stories that help us make sense out of our chaotic world. Consider the campfire, the library, bookstores, the theatre, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Whether comedy, tragedy, romance or adventure, stories like “Aesoph’s Fables,” “Arabian Nights,” “King Arthur,” “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” or “Black Panther,” model patterns of behavior for our changing lives. Stories entertain, inspire, heal and create community.


True life story and photos © Shinan Barclay, M.A. (shaNON barrKlay)

Shinan’s stories have been translated into six languages.

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This summer, 2018, Shinan is teaching “The ABCs of Nature Writing,”

at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

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