Not New…

I guess after this post, I’m going to recycle the Patagonia magazine (catalog), but there was one more wonderful article. It is about environmental activists who don’t call themselves activist or do activist “things”. It’s an article about five people who just love the natural world where they happen to be and are just purely and simply THERE. What struck me about it is a quotation about our “places.”

“I’ve learned through the past decade that we’re not out exploring an empty canvas. We’re in places that already have a story.” Tamo Campos

Back in San Diego, at “my” nature park, I was very aware of the story that pre-existed my landing rather randomly in Southern California. Most place names out there are related to Spaniards — conquistadores in some case, discoverers (I use that term loosely), and “padres.” San Diego’s baseball team is the Padres. The main padre in my California world was Father Junipero Serra. So many things out there are named for him. Among the things he built (beside the mission) was a dam some ways up the San Diego River from the Mission to make sure that the mission would have water all year.

It’s a very historic old dam — Old Mission Dam — my memory (which could be wrong) tells me it’s the first such Spanish-built edifice in the so-called “New World.” Among other things, was a clay tile lined flume through which water flowed to the Mission San Diego de Alcalá. It’s pretty amazing and people love it. I love it, but not as much as I love what I found away from this beaten path.

Native Americans had lived there for thousands of years, part of the migration route from the ocean to the mountains every year in search of game, comfort and acorns — a staple of their diet. Upstream from the dam, up a narrow canyon of a tributary seasonal stream, was a place I called the “Indian Kitchen.” There were grinding holes and cisterns carved into the rock, but MOST of all was a pool of water that never dried up. The “dam” that held it was one, huge boulder.

Kelly and Molly drinking from a grinding hole at the “Indian Kitchen” after a rainstorm, 1990.

The “kitchen” is close to a large grove of oak trees replete with acorns in their season. The canyon has afternoon shade and water — not potable water, but water. It was a great place to break up a hike on a warm day. That world was a very ancient world when the Spaniards arrived, claiming the land for Spain and calling it “Tierra Nueva.” All the animals of that world — coyotes, foxes, mule deer, raccoons, everything — sought the water in that canyon. Chaparral is dry most of the time.

When I moved back to Colorado in 2014, I’d been “trained” by California in ways I don’t think many Coloradans imagine someone coming in from California. The thing is, 30 years earlier, when I went to live in California, I took the Great American Rocky Mountain West of my childhood and youth with me to California, and I’m sure, maybe without thinking, I built on on that tradition, that sense of my self.

Just as no places in the world are new, neither are we. ❤

And this place?
The Refuge — wetlands with geese nesting in the cattails and ducks in the water.

I drew it and painted it before I ever saw it. The mystery of that haunts me whenever I’m out at the Refuge. How did I know this place before seeing it? What is my part in it? It is so old for humanity. “My” wetlands was an inland sea where people hunted and lived 10,000 years ago in the last Ice Age. Is there reincarnation? Was I here before?

Often, at Mission Trails Regional Park, ambling around on my own, it seemed like I could feel the presence of those ancient people. The trails I was on were their trails. I thought about it all the time. I think about it now, here. Those Clovis Point hunters looked at this landscape, these mountains, scanned the horizon for game just like I do. They wanted to eat; I just want to see it. Yesterday I saw a small herd of antelope grazing in a field of barley stubble. Clovis Point hunters didn’t see the barley field, but they saw the antelope. We read the same story. A hundred elk heading south across the grass in February? They read that story, too.

Today I watched two red-tail hawks make love at the very top of a dead cottonwood tree. The tree looms above a deserted homestead. The people who planted the tree — and others — as a windbreak for their homestead are long, long, gone, but the hawks — actually, buzzards, buteo — are taking advantage of the tree’s marvelous height to create the future. It’s incredible.

I agree with the article in Patagonia’s magazine. When you experience and learn to SEE a place, allow it to become part of who you are, that’s its own kind of activism, the transcendent, timeless, activism of love.


Featured photo: Old Mission Dam, San Diego from Wikipedia

4 thoughts on “Not New…

  1. I am crying. This post has touched me – a nudge that makes me remember a field in a flat landscape with wild grasses and tall weeds moving like ocean waves. I stood, not able to see above the grass and felt the motion of the world. I was 7 and I remember that moment.

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