Marta Rodriguez and Abe Sanchez gathering deergrass, Mulenbergia rigens. Marta is from San Jose de la Zorra, a Kumiai basketweaving village in Baja. Deergrass is used as the foundation for southern California coiled baskets. It’s a beautiful plant, and many native landscape designers now are using it extensively in their work.
Marta lives on the Santa Ysabel Reservation in San Diego County with her husband, Stan Rodriguez, a noted Kumeyaay bird singer. Bird songs are the traditional songs of southern California Indians. A recent film, Sing Birds, explores contemporary Cahuilla bird songs and singers.
Abe, a good friend, is featured throughout this blog. We went with Stan and Marta to learn how they gather mesquite roots near their reservation, and later to gather deergrass. Abe and I were both impressed by our tri-lingual hosts’ ability to converse with each other, seemingly effortlessly, in English, Spanish, and Kumeyaay.
Earlier in the day, Abe and Marta gathered sumac, or Rhus trilobata, on the Santa Ysabel Reservation across from Marta and Stan’s home. Sumac thickets needs to be coppiced or burned to produce more of the straight stems necessary for basket weaving. These thickets had not been coppiced, but Marta and Abe were able to gather a few suitable stems for their baskets.