~ Loren Eiseley
This is a tough post to figure out exactly where to begin... I mean most beginnings aren't without some pretext, some other event precipitating a beginning. I mean that may be why I don't accept the "Big Bang" theory, or "The Creation" story... for me infinity is just that, infinite. No beginning, no end, reaching forever in all directions and all at the same time but in all times and all the time. Seriously now... everything is a really big topic. Too big in fact to wrap our little minds around. And that is part of why I don't often delve into the topic of God/god. Everything is just too darn BIG a subject to comprehend.
But I will try, dear friends, I will try...
I suppose the best place to start would be that afternoon/early evening in Thailand, winter of 1973/74 sometime, when I had an epiphany. A real bloom of consciousness and conscientiousness. I was at a friend's bunglow, looking out at the rice paddies, stretching to the far horizon, and I realized how much I loved that place, how beautiful it was. And because I had made so many friends among the Thais I loved them and loved living among them as well. The town I was in, Takhli, was just a small burg, north of Bangkok. Very rural, mostly farming and life was slower and more relaxed than I was used to as a citizen of the US who had grown up as a kid for the most part in the greater Los Angeles area and its hectic pace.
This epiphany was something I had never encountered before and rarely (if ever) since. I knew that I no longer wanted to be part of bombing these short, smiling, brown folks any more. My mind had stretched from the paddies of Thailand into the paddies of Cambodia and Laos, the places that my work in the ES-11 mobile photographic labratory was an instrumental part of targeting for our bombs. And I didn't like that.
When I was discharged from the military and returned to California my folks had moved to Santa Maria, on the central coast, just a bit north of Santa Barbara. When I first moved there I did not have a clue how monumentally important this place would become in my life. It was here that I encountered the Chumash, Grampa Semu, political activism, environmentalism, spirituality and my relationship with the creation. Oh yeah... and barbecued tri-tip.
After 4 years in the Air Force I had managed to mature (just a little) from that 19 year old who had gone away from home on (yes another) new beginning. The Air Force provided me with an excellent education in photography as well in electronics. The electronics never came into play again (and like an unused muscle atrophied into oblivion), but photography has been a part of my life for a long, long time (and is why this blog is here). Hopefully it will be with me until I go blind (heaven forbid) or pass over (the great adventure)(or the ultimate end of it all, no one truly ever knowing until the moment arrives and then never sharing in spite of many attempts at explanation, none of which I deem credible).
But there I was. A new town, another new beginning and oh my... another great adventure.
So, what is a young veteran to do? Well, I had my GI Bill with a great educational benefits package. So... I enrolled at Allan Hancock College. And how could I have known, after a mediocre attempt at education in the public school system and a totally failed attempt at Jr College after High School (the So Cal beaches and girls in bikinis had more sway over me then did staying in school), that I would have my world expanded exponentially? Thanks to the fateful meeting of some wonderful fellow students who remain my best friends (family now) and a collection of instructors who were of a caliber I can only consider great, I became immersed in learning with an appetite for knowledge that surprised me. Where my years in High School were typical and my effort mundane, college was like the world's best carnival. Gads, there was sooo much to learn, so much fun to be had and such growth for me to undergo.
And of course there was the vast open lands that stretched from Santa Barbara to the south, Bakersfield to the east, Atascadero/Paso Robles to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. And I would roam a really big chunk of it. Primary to this tale of course is Pt Conception. To the Chumash and many other tribes, the Western Gate, the place of departing for souls passing from this earth. THE LAST PERFECT PLACE? is an article from the May '07 LA Times Magazine about Pt Conception with a bit of its history and what it faces or may face in the future, plus some excellent photos from Wiliam Dewey.
One of my first political actions was with the Chumash at Pt Conception. A small core group of locals had started a blockade of the proposed site with access through Hollister Ranch easily secured a campsite was established and it was there that I took my first sweatlodge. There exists controversy about both the Chumash and their traditions in regards to Pt Conception and about those Chumash people themselves. In this piece, An Answer to Brian Haley’s Commentary on the Chumash Western Gate, author Theo Radić writes an excellent rebuttal of the anthropologist version of indigenous history and the view of those people themselves, within the context of a society that had been driven into seclusion and secrecy by the predations of the Spanish Mission system and then by California's explosive growth in the second half of the 19th century:
My belief is that all the European and American textual sources which they rely upon reveal only a tiny fragment of the Traditional Chumash culture, and that to go into depth in the available written material is not to go into depth in the ancient Chumash culture. The 8,000 years of Chumash presence in the region around Santa Barbara should humble an inquirer. How can the awesome scope of such a culture, emerging from eight millennia with profound silence, be truly known scientifically speaking? Haley refuses to realize that what he doesn't know about the Chumash is staggering compared to the available written data he has access to. The countless hundreds of millions of (needless to say, undocumented) couplings between men and women that have occurred in this area of California for eight thousand years up to the present day, producing unknowable lineages all over the land, are of course part of the vast ocean of information to which Haley has no access. And yet he bases his conclusions on the erroneous belief that he knows what these genealogies are. In his first preface to Handbook of the Indians of California, Alfred Kroeber wrote: “The vast bulk of even the significant happenings in the lives of uncivilized tribes are irrecoverable. For the past century our knowledge is slight; previous to that there is complete obscurity.”
And, from my experience in Chumash country... it is not just a place that has a history of indigenous occupation but a spiritual palpability, a presence that is felt from the slopes of Figueroa Mtn and the hidden reaches of the San Rafael Wilderness, to the beach that the surfers called Perfix, to the slopes of Mt Abel and to all the hills, valleys and creek beds of that whole region. Of course that sense of the area took time for me to access and to register in my conscious, but the experience began at Allan Hancock College. Because it was from there that my explorations started as I learned from instructors and students both the cool places... and the places that were/are special. Like Perfix Beach... (I will get there)
One of those people was AHC biology instructor Bill Denneen, who was a very active environmentally minded presence in the area, especially in his efforts to preserve the biological integrity of the Guadalupe Dunes complex. At the time (late '70s) the Guad Dunes were a haven for the off-road vehicle crowd. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint) the dunes were also habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals, and the dune buggies were a very destructive presence.
And I will add a caveat here. I am by no stretch of the imagination a tightwad or an extremist. I understand that within every group, every subculture, there is the "bubba component." Every group has their bubbas. No matter how responsible the group, how credible their message, how mundane their activity, there is that group that gives them all a bad name. It was that group that spoiled the ORV experience for all the others. The bubbas are those who refuse to follow the rules of respect, that litter and break their beer bottles, that trash far more than they ever should. The bubbas ruined the Guad Dunes ORV experience for those who would have respected limits on access, who hauled out their trash...
In fact Bill (who must be about 150 by now) is from all that I can tell, still a very active presence in the area. But there were other instructors who were just as big an influence on my personal evolution.
(to be cont'd)