Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Vasquez Rocks"

Charlie Cook, our guide

Juniper, sage, wildflowers, yucca, and of course, the endless and glorious rocks.

The spring burst of wildflowers has passed; but a few patches remain.

The land is pocked with these little hollowed out spaces; some are big enough to crawl into and qualify as caves.

A snake. The area is home to many rattlesnakes, but we didn't see any.

The sunburst motif occurs over and over again.

This might be a lizard (the "rake" fingers often indicate this), or, it might be an anthropomorphic (person). Is that a little head dress above the head? Is this anything that we can interpret without all the other contexts? Someone took the time to paint it. It meant something to that person. It's a little poem. Paula Gunn Allen told me that pictographs and petroglyphs are like little icons that you "click on" and out tumble stories, histories, experiences, different paths everywhere.

Charlie Cook, Chumash elder, accompanied us on our hike. He snacked on yucca blossoms as we walked. I tried one. Can't describe it. Clean, waxy, not "grassy" at all, and at the center, the slightest bit bitter. Refreshing.

These were in every patch of grass. The inhabitants were deep inside, waiting out the sun, and hoping someone drops by for lunch.

Quite a few grinding stones scattered throughout the park. Some of them are much shallower, and right beside or beneath the paintings - probably paint pots.

If you'd like to see larger images, click on an individual photo. Photos taken today, in Agua Dulce. A gift. Thank you to my hosts, who know who you are. Rock art by Tataviam Indians. Rock formations courtesy of the San Andreas Fault. Today I remembered why I have a body. And was glad that despite how I mistreat it, my body was able to carry me over the earth for miles (many of them vertical) in order to witness this.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"Coyote Takes a Trip"

Coyote Takes a Trip

Standing in the cold, sand-swept Venice Beach parking lot watching his clothing scatter in the four directions, Coyote decided to head for New Mexico, catch up with his brother, and leave his broken heart behind.

He’d been living on Venice Beach for a long time; he liked the ocean with its tall jade winter waves and generous people who camped in the parking lot. Something about their vehicles – old school buses, pick-up trucks with handmade campers, station wagons from the 1970’s equipped with curtains and propane stoves – felt like home. Coyote was always welcome to add a paw print or play with bright paints, contribute his own unique touch to the vivid vehicle decor. And no one objected to his new favorite accoutrement, a bumper sticker of two naked women kissing, emblazoned FUCK CENSORSHIP.

Even in the winter Coyote could get cheap pizza by the slice at a kiosk that also sold Pall Malls and condoms, find regular guys always up for a good game of go or checkers, or soak up an afternoon’s entertainment from a wandering minstrel with a sexy 3-string guitar and cheerfully resigned dog. Not to mention the sweet crazy woman with sleeping bags in the back of her van just waiting for Coyote to heat them – and her – up.

But this one winter, the rain just didn’t let up. The sand never dried out, the paint bled off his best graffiti, and the sleeping bags felt damp and gritty. Heavy squalls blew in off the Pacific day after day, the checker players hunched grouchily under the few covered shelters arguing about whose turn it was to score some hot coffee, and even the cement walkway between Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier seemed sodden. Must be friggin’ global warming, Coyote muttered to himself, wringing out the only pair of socks he owned. Who needed socks in Southern California?

Yeah, Coyote figured maybe he’d take a road trip to see his brother in the drier climes of New Mexico, where it might be colder, but at least a guy could stand outside for a smoke without wearing a plastic garbage bag. Seemed like his sweet crazy woman wasn’t so sweet anymore. Maybe more crazy than sweet, eh? Why else would she move her van while he was out cruising – er, walking, the beach? He’d come back from a little hot chocolate sipping under the pier to find his rickety suitcase teetering, lonely and frayed, in an empty parking space.

“Gah!” Coyote gathered up his wardrobe of obscene T-shirts and gangsta pants scattered amongst the scraggly pigeons and seagulls, tucked it all back into that rickety suitcase that served as pack mule and safety deposit box, shook the sand out of his fur, hitched up his low-riding green canvas pants and slouched up the hill to catch a #1 Santa Monica Big Blue Bus to Westwood. From there he could catch a shuttle to LAX, where he had relatives who worked in baggage.

Maybe one of them could box him up and put him on a non-stop to ABQ. Anything would be better than this soggy gray sponge of a beach!

Trudging past the bright but mostly empty tattoo shops, massage parlors and taquerias in Venice, Coyote wondered why his life had taken such a tragic turn.

He’d lost his mojo, that’s what it was – lost his touch, lost his way, lost his magic. It must be these SoCal women he’d been hanging with. They just sucked the life right out of a guy, and not in a good way. Made him feel every one of his immemorial years old. Geez, they wanted you to bring home groceries!

As if that’s what Coyote does.

Groceries? What woman in her right mind would waste her Coyote on groceries?

Yeah, he’d never had any trouble getting fed or otherwise taken care of – until this winter. But something – maybe the endless rain – was diluting Coyote’s powers.

My prowess! thought Coyote, bumping his old green suitcase up and over curbs and around puddles. Dude, where’s my prowess? I can’t even hold my tail up anymore, let alone my pecker.

The shoulders of his jean jacket slumped, excess inches of pants sloshing in the rain; Coyote stood at the bus stop with water dripping off his snout and didn’t even have the heart to flick his ears.

Oh well. At least the bus was pulling up, he had 75 cents for the ride, and there was his brother’s wife’s cooking in the near future. Just thinking about a big round bowl of Macaria’s smoldering beans topped with diced peppers and a handful of grated goat cheese cheered Coyote up a little bit. And oh, Macaria’s homemade corn tortillas!

He perked up enough to let three old ladies get on the bus ahead of him.

Of course that meant the three old ladies took the last three seats on the bus, the row right up front under the sign that said in English and Spanish, “please give up these seats for elderly and handicapped patrons.” On the opposite wall of the bus, behind the driver, were more seats, but they’d been folded up earlier for a wheelchair and never restored.

Coyote lurched awkwardly trying to pull the seats down without losing his balance on the already-moving bus, but he couldn’t find just the right button or switch. Story of my life, he growled. Finally he just threw his suitcase down on the floor and plopped right on it. He smiled up innocently at the three old ladies – one Black, one India, one Korean – as he perched at their feet. Buncha dried up old viejas. What’s so funny?

Crouching on his suitcase at eye-level with three old women’s knobby knees, his cold feet throbbing and wet pants clinging to his cold calves, Coyote made a strange discovery. It was something he’d never noticed before: all three of these broads had perfectly dry pant hems. Of course that meant that when they sat down their high-waters rose practically to their knees, but he had to admit, it also meant they didn’t suffer from water wicking up the fabric and freezing them to death, either.

Interesting, Coyote thought, but distinctly un-cool.

And in the gap between the saggy tops of their white tube socks and the bottom of their nylon stretch-waist pants, strips of even less attractive bare, hairy skin gaped.


Well, hairy on four of the six legs – at least the indigenous woman, the one in the middle, still had the self-esteem left to shave occasionally.

Coyote sniffed.

She used lotion, too, or maybe just a nice laundry detergent. Fresh. Lilacs, maybe, or could it be lavender? Gee, it’d been so long since he’d been with a woman who actually did her laundry with something besides dish soap…

Coyote tilted his head so he could get a look at that middle woman’s hands grasping the curved dark top of her wooden cane. He didn’t want to seem obvious.

Ah, yes. A modest but tasteful home-manicure. Nails not long enough to do a guy damage, but grown out a bit, filed, polished with clear stuff, and clean. No wedding band, he noticed, but a nice silver signet ring on the left pinky, turquoise stone, probably a high school sweetheart’s old token. Cinnamon-colored skin, weather-worn but not too wrinkly, hard-working hands, sturdy hands with calluses and a few old scars across the back, a scattering of well-deserved age spots.

She would never have been a beauty, Coyote admitted, but with those hands, she surely could have made a man happy.

She even had a cloth shopping back sticking out of her coat pocket, obviously off to the grocery store. Senior Tuesday at Von’s, he remembered. Important day for those beach-dwellers on a budget.

He risked a quick glance up at her face as she shifted to let someone squeeze toward the exit. She knew how to use make-up, that was certain; a little foundation, some blue eye-shadow but not too much, and a discreet but feminine coral pink lipstick. A bit heavy on the rouge, perhaps, but then again, maybe that extra tinge was from the effort of hoofing it up to the bus stop in the rain. Firm chin, a good nose with some arch to it; not ashamed of her strength, he decided. Her hair, mostly silver with black streaks, pulled back into a tight braid, protected from the elements by one of those plastic baggie-things old women always carry in their purses.

Suave, in a sweet way.

She’d tied a silky blue scarf, just the right color to set off her eye-shadow, at her throat. Coyote would’ve liked a better look at her neck, but as it was, he was surprised to find that one old woman could hold his attention this long.

Shi-i-i t. What was he thinking? He was on his way outta here, not the best time to be oogling a woman. Disgruntled and hungry, he looked out the wide front windows at the rain and resisted the awful thought that he was inside a mobile aquarium. Okay, he thought: I’m on the road, heading toward one of Macaria’s thick white plates of enchiladas …

The longer he sat on his rickety old suitcase on the floor of the bus, the better Coyote felt about his decision. It was time to clear out of L.A. Venice Beach in the winter was no place for an unappreciated Coyote like him! He needed to be where there were stories being told, hot food being dished up, and a woman was only wet when he made her that way himself. Yeah. Albuquerque for sure, hit some bars with his brother, a few excursions to the Pueblos. Didn’t he have an old girlfriend at Laguna?

Lost in his dreams of glory, culinary and otherwise, Coyote damn near missed his stop.

Wait! he yelped, leaping up to snag the yellow pull-cord and bending down just as rapidly to grab the worn handle of his rickety suitcase. Wait for me!

Scrabbling, Coyote had the odd sensation that he was suddenly hobbled like a horse, unable to move more than a few increments no matter how hard he tried. And what was that cold breeze at his back – or rather, his backside?

Just as he straightened fully, suitcase firmly grasped in his left hand, Coyote’s very baggy pants, held up by a dirty-white piece of rope, suddenly became a lot baggier. Oops. Not only was his butt hanging out for all the world to see, but so was his pride and joy, and wouldn’t you know it, right at eye-level with the old Indita who’d been ignoring him the whole ride.

There was something about her expression that he couldn’t quite figure out, but reminded him of his brother’s face when they’d hit the jackpot in Vegas one time.

An involuntary guffaw escaped Coyote’s mouth as he grabbed the front of his pants and yanked up, clung desperately to the handle of his suitcase, and tried to spontaneously sprout another hand as the bus driver went from 30 mph to nothing, screeching to a halt. Barreling forward, Coyote blew right past the driver, bounced off the dashboard down the steps, landed breathless and barely clothed at the foot of a gently dripping palm tree.

He looked up at the bus windows to see three pairs of eyes staring back.

The Black woman’s face was mapped with new laugh lines Coyote knew he had just personally inscribed.

The Korean grandma’s eyes glittered with outrage, her lips moving with words he was glad he could only imagine.

But the old Indian lady – could it be – was he just imagining it, or – well, was she giving him the eye?

Admiring his prowess? almost applauding what she’d witnessed for one brief sweet second?

Coyote felt it then: his mojo.

Like a sunrise, like an illegal firecracker smuggled off the rez, like a long drink out of a fresh bottle of tequila, it was coming back to him, streaming into him, filling him with a terrible joy: that was no little old lady. The qualities that had so intrigued Coyote, that mix of strength and serene femininity . . . that old lady was a glammed up – and impressed – old man.

The bus squealed outta there, the driver blasting into traffic, and Coyote found himself with a suitcase in one hand, his family jewels in the other, and a confused but very happy mojo.

He stared after the bus, unconsciously licking his chops.

What was that old word? Joto? No, older than that, and sweeter. Joya? Jewel of the People? Nope, still Spanish, a translation of the original, and just thinking it conjured up vile images of mastiffs set loose, bodies and souls mutilated. Coyote rolled his slippery pink tongue around in his mouth as if he could rattle the lost name out from between his teeth somewhere. A word that meant beauty, pride, medicine, truth …then his mouth remembered, and Coyote cried the Chumash word aloud: ‘aqi!

He looked down the street toward the airport shuttle stop.

Then back down Westwood toward Santa Monica Boulevard, and Venice Beach.

She must live down there. He was sure he’d seen her around. Yeah, s/he sat off to the side during checkers matches and read books, sometimes brought a bag of cookies from the Hostess discount bakery to share. Always had a warm chuckle when Coyote threw up his arms in triumph, or a soft, “Awww…” and a click of tongue in sympathy when Coyote slumped in defeat.

What name did she go by? Dolores? Maria? Juanita.

It was really cold in ABQ this time of year, Coyote remembered. Ice, even.

Slowly Coyote pulled up his baggies and re-knotted the ratty rope around his waist. He replayed that swift glance of pleasure from Juanita, his thrilling moment of chaotic revelation, his tail waving and erect.

Then, without waiting for the light to change, he pulled out the extended handle of his rickety rolling suitcase and hauled it across the street, where the Big Blue Bus #1 headed down to Venice for a mere 75 cents.

A cheap trip, Coyote smiled amidst a chorus of honks from a Prius, a Mercedes and a shiny yellow Hummer, accented by well-honed expletives from their drivers. He didn’t mind. Now he knew where his mojo had gone, and he was gonna be there waiting when it came back this afternoon.

Hell, he might even help carry the groceries.

Like many American tribes, the Chumash had a "third gender" - usually (but not always) a man who dressed like a woman, took on a woman's chores and roles, and married another man. This was just one part of a much more expansive spectrum of social and sexual roles that indigenous people here displayed. When the Spaniards arrived, these differently-gendered folks were at the top of the extermination list. Attempting to translate the Chumash word for such people resulted in the term "joya" which means Jewel. Joyas were considered jewels to their own communities, valuable and important members of a complex social network. The Ventureno word was 'aqi. There are Spanish-authored reports of soldiers setting their mastiffs loose on such people, who were torn apart and often eaten alive by the dogs. Other people were simply driven away, becoming outcasts if they could not find a home with another community (where they might suffer the same fate once the Spaniards arrived there).

In an almost prophetic story repeated in several articles I've read, one Indian couple arrived at a Mission to visit friends and roused the suspicions of the padre. Sneaking up on the couple in an Indian dwelling, the padre found them to be two men, making love. Berating them wildly, he told them they were an abomination, sinners, evil. "But padre," said the husband, confused, "it's all right! We're married!"

I wanted to write a story about Coyote returning to his "roots," about the tradition of being two-spirit (as some call it now; a complicated term I won't attempt to explain here, but note that it is about spirituality, not just gender or sex). Coyote is everywhere, every day, all around us. I met him on a Santa Monica Big Blue Bus. Pay attention. You might learn something.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Three Day's Worth

I've been gone to the California Indian Storytelling Festival in Palm Springs, away from the internet. Chumash poet Georgiana Sanchez, her sister Sue and Sue's husband Ray, and grandma Nonnie were my hosts and guides. Being their guest was a gift!

My first basket. Made in the workshop with Jacque Nunez at the storytelling festival. I'm proud of it despite my mistakes. The tiny abalone shell was courtesy of Jacque's husband, who drilled the tiny holes with his pump drill on the spot (I'm sorry that I didn't get his name). This is really a starter-basket: Jacque had already started the base, and finished off the top. I am a kindergartner in the basket-weaving spectrum - on a good day. Still, I felt pretty joyful to even accomplish the basics. Everyone there told me that it's a tradition to give away your first basket. I will give that some consideration, and decide who to gift with it. At first I thought it would be hard. But then, I thought, "things." The joy of creating that basket will always be with me; why not pass it on?

Here is the lovely Jacque herself, teaching:

May 4, Sunday

"Dances with Palms" - a photograph taken on my phone camera when we stopped at the Hadley's market in Cabezon. Those are the San Jacinto Mountains. These are the kind of mountains that make me feel like burrowing into them and finding my way home.

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