Medicine Trails: A Life in Many Worlds
by Mavis McCovey & John F. Salter
AVAILABILITY: Readily available
Publication Date: September 2009
Topics: Native American, Memoir, Karok
Description: A contemporary medicine woman tells her story.
Sometime in 1933, in Northern California's lush Humboldt County, a Karuk medicine woman named Daisy Jones had a vision identifying the tribe's next medicine woman. Later that year, Mavis Smither (McCovey) was born, and in the first twelve years of her life she was groomed by a designated group of medicine women to become a spiritual healer.
'Medicine Trails' is Mavis McCovey's honest and lively account of the many worlds in which she moves: the Indian and white cultural worlds, and the day-to-day and visionary reality of the medicine woman's world, as well as trips to what she calls "the other side": one of the responsibilities of a medicine woman is to bring back a medicine man's soul if he gets lost on the trails of the world beyond—a task McCovey has been called upon to do.
One of very few first-person accounts of Native American healers, 'Medicine Trails' is invaluable for its insights into the experiences of a modern-day medicine woman. And McCovey is a warm and engaging guide not only to her life, but also her family's history and the history of the Karuk, Yurok, and Hupa peoples of the region.
Mavis McCovey has lived along the Klamath River in northwestern California all her life. Trained as a child to be a medicine woman, she assists with the traditional ceremonies of her tribe, the Karuk. The mother of five children, she has also worked as a community health representative and a nurse, and she has been an advocate on issues affecting the health and well-being of the native people of her region.
Dr. John Salter is a cultural anthropologist, teacher, and writer who has worked intermittently with the Karuk Tribe of California and Karuk people since 1968. Trained by Gregory Bateson, Salter received his Ph.D. for a study of the social ecology of the Salmon and Klamath River area. He currently lives in Sacramento, California.
Review(s): "I've fished, hunted, drank, gambled, talked deeply, and attended many dances with Karuk people. I've even been gifted with a ceremonial drug. John Salter's knowledge, depth, and affection for the Klamath River people make mine appear shallow as riffles. He's been out there in the big pools, where the deep knowledge resides. It's a testament to his integrity and purity that Mavis McCovey would speak with him and share her story. If you want to understand the enduring, ancient life of one of California's original people, this is the book, and these two are the guides. Read this book and see what you have missed." - Peter Coyote, actor/writer
"Mavis McCovey makes no exotic claims about her powers, but describes those functions as seamlessly integrated in Karuk culture. More importantly, she describes a living contemporary culture, enriching the melancholy beauty of our shared world." - Freeman House, from the foreword
"This is the book about the spiritual lives of Native people in northwestern California - absolutely the place to begin. It enfolds the intimate histories of families on the Klamath River, from shortly after the gold rush down to today. It also takes us inside a local woman's lived experience of spiritual training and practice as no piece of writing has done before. John Salter's efforts in collecting and editing Mavis McCovey's life story are wonderfully persevering, understanding and unobtrusive, allowing her keenly detailed memories and observations and her storyteller's knack, modest and geerous, to stand on their own as treasures for all." - Thomas Buckley, author of 'Standing Ground: Yurok Indian Spirituality, 1850-1990'