For the third weekend in a row, it rained. This time, on Saturday afternoon, it played perfectly into our hands. We had a small gathering for lunch and at 11:30 a.m. I lit the Rais stove and an hour later the first guests arrived to a roaring, albeit highly constrained fire (locked within the glass doored combustion chamber of our prized Danish stove). By the end of the afternoon, after six hours of feeding it oak, the fire had warmed the oven chamber above it to 250 degrees centigrade, hot enough to cook pizza.

We are approaching the end of our first three years in the house. Two wettish winters and this one, the Big Dry (Rikyu Grey, Chiquihuite, Arcady). The fact is, despite four and a half inches in these three weekend storms in March, we are still less than 50% of normal rainfall and a third of last year's total. Just enough moisture though, to revive the thistles and give hope to the mustard. On the weed front, we are not yet, to mix metaphors, out of the woods. Nevertheless, the lack of rain has given us room to tackle work other than weed abatement and the property is looking its best ever.

The first cycle of deerweed that opportunistically geminated on the new, hydro-seeded slopes is now beginning to die back - prompted, perhaps, by the lack of rain. I have pulled it all out of the 'front lawn', the fill slope in front of the house, and now there are just bunch grasses (pendulous with seed) except for where the deerweed shaded the grasses too well - there we have a few moth-eaten fallow areas that are awaiting sun to revive dormant seed. On the cut-slope behind the house, the task of removing the dead deerweed is more daunting since it has entirely colonized the area and the grasses are correspondingly either stunted or absent and it awaits the focussed efforts of myself and Alex over the next week or two, work that must be completed before the start of fire season.

Sunday, following the rains, was a particularly beautiful day as it so often is after a storm. That afternoon, when we were out for a walk, we noted a parade of sightseers driving up and down Koenigstein looking at the magnificent Topatopas on the left and Sulphur mountain to the right on the way up, and the upper valley spread before them on the way down. Those who showed persistence and continued beyond the widened road to the original, narrow County road that snakes up to the Greenberg Ranch were rewarded with fabulous views of the Santa Paula Ridge and the Santa Monica Mountains beyond.

Where, amidst these quietly complacent domestic jottings, are the Chumash? They have been absent from this blog since Chiquihuite and I hear their call. While they may dip in and out of the Urban Wildland discourse, my accumulated ideas about this aggregation of now lost Indian tribes who once lived along the coastal fringe from Malibu to Point Conception and on the Channel Islands north of Catalina, chime sonorous notes in my otherwise cacophonic consciousness. These tribes, and my ideas about them, are the flickering shadows that substantiate my thirty odd years lived in the land where they lived. These are the shadows that stretch backwards in time to the moment when the first people arrived on the coastal islands, nourished by the rich life of kelp beds through which they voyaged from their old land to this new continent (An Island on the Land).

These phantasms of a primal people rarely intrude, I suspect, into the awareness of most who now live where they lived and tread the ground they trod; but they may occasionally be awoken by events such as the Chumash Day Pow Wow, the fourteenth annual episode of which is to be held this year on Malibu Bluffs Park on April 14th and 15th., a visit to the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, or a drive along the Chumash Highway which links Santa Barbara and Los Alamos. Unless, that is, you live in Ojai, whose citizens cling dearly to all things mystical and hold close to their collective soul any scrap of association with the spiritual sanctity of the indigenous population. Such connections are merrily stirred along by our professional Chumash muse Julie Tumamait and, on a slightly more cynical note, yours truly.

This split between a romantic conception of this continent's indigenous people and a realist, cynical or 'truthful' appraisal has a long history and is illustrated, at either end of the nineteenth century by James Fenimore Cooper and Mark Twain.

In an essay published in The Galaxy, 1870, Mark Twain riffs to devastating effect on the romantic view of the Native American as propounded in The Last of the Mohicans, 1826, and offers, in the title, The Noble Red Man, a profoundly ironic view of his character. Cooper establishes the target thus,

"His hair is glossy, and as black as the raven's wing; out of its massed richness springs a sheaf of brilliant feathers; in his ears and nose are silver ornaments; on his arms and wrists and ankles are broad silver bands and bracelets; his buckskin hunting suit is gallantly fringed, and the belt and the moccasins wonderfully flowered with colored beads; and when, rainbowed with his war-paint, he stands at full height, with his crimson blanket wrapped about him, his quiver at his back, his bow and tomahawk projecting upward from his folded arms, and his eagle eye gazing at specks against the far horizon which even the paleface's field-glass could scarcely reach, he is a being to fall down and worship....."

and Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910) swings massively at it with his pen dipped in the same well of vitriol with which he would later dispatch the coyote in Roughing It, 1886, (Coyote Dream),

"He is little, and scrawny, and black, and dirty; and, judged by even the most charitable of our canons of human excellence, is thoroughly pitiful and contemptible. There is nothing in his eye or his nose that is attractive, and if there is anything in his hair that--however, that is a feature which will not bear too close examination . . . He wears no bracelets on his arms or ankles; his hunting suit is gallantly fringed, but not intentionally; when he does not wear his disgusting rabbit-skin robe, his hunting suit consists wholly of the half of a horse blanket brought over in the Pinta or the Mayflower, and frayed out and fringed by inveterate use. He is not rich enough to possess a belt; he never owned a moccasin or wore a shoe in his life; and truly he is nothing but a poor, filthy, naked scurvy vagabond, whom to exterminate were a charity to the Creator's worthier insects and reptiles which he oppresses."

The years that separate these conflicting visions are telling. Cooper (1789-1851) relied for his vision of the noble savage on his father's recollections of Native Americans, effectively pushing his dateline back forty years to the Revolutionary era when memories may have still existed of such noble beings residing in intact cultures unsullied by contact with pale-faces.

The experience of the shadow is separate, more profound and may exist outside of the romantic-cynical spectrum. In any case, the temporal penumbra that I perceive in this land is not cast by those who currently claim a hereditary link to the local tribes, like Julie Tumamait, but is shadowed by lost legions of Paleoindian, Millingstone Horizon (Oak Grove), Proto-Chumash and Chumash peoples who lived here from 13,000 B.P., up to the time of European contact.

Theirs is the long tail of pre-history when, arguably, not much happened, but whose combined shadow still falls, obliquely, across the land. It is their legend that has lodged in my mind and it is their spectral presence that still hovers over, and inflects my view of this landscape.

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