There is a canyon beyond town where, if you go with a humble heart and silent mind, you can feel the presence of indigenous peoples who experienced the sacredness of the earth and thereby consecrated the land.
The old town had the good sense to set aside the canyon, prohibiting development from spreading into and despoiling it. In recent years however, the city council has allowed monster houses to be built at the mouth of the canyon, nearly ruining the viewshed of the town. But the road above the creek into the gorge and canyon is still unpaved and bumpy, and closed to vehicles two days of the week.
Acorns were a staple of the Native Americans who lived in this area, the Maidu, and their grinding-holes in stone slabs can be found along the banks of the stream. High above the creek, which flows fast and cold during California’s rainy winter season, and slow and cool during the hot, rainless summers, are volcanic cliff-faces that form small caves under the rim. Gazing up at the drapery of rock evokes the mystery of nature, and of humans living in harmony with nature.
There have been times walking alone on the steep hillsides, without the noise of a single machine, when the sense of anonymous people living here is strong, people who no doubt felt as I feel today about the sacredness of the place.
I know little about the people, but I learned from a Native American who works for the fish and game department that those who lived in the area before Europeans arrived and destroyed their way of life did indeed consider the canyon a sacred place. They not only dwelled along the banks of the stream, but also gathered together from throughout the area to pray and perform rituals.
Are the spirits of the people who lived here truly still present? Did the land they love absorb their souls, so that anyone with sensitivity can feel an intimation of them?
During deeper states of meditation I sometimes sense them, and feel sure their essence endures, waiting to be called forth by living people who deeply care about the future of the earth and humanity.
Though doubting the future of humanity of late, I still feel cosmic intelligence can work through human beings to radically change this rapacious globalized culture. Can there be a revolution in people’s hearts that changes the course of humankind, before the human spirit becomes as denuded as humans are making the earth?
The creek flows by at my feet, and the sun becomes so bright reflecting off the water that I’m barely able to look upstream. I gaze up at a sheer, angular sentinel outcropping along the cliff face. It can be seen from town, miles away, and does seem to stand guard, waiting for innumerable the ages of man to pass and the age of human beings to begin.
I feel the intense beauty surrounding me obliterating me, and it’s mildly disconcerting. The only thing to do is let go.
In the beginning there was nothing; in the end there will be nothing. And in the middle, during life if we’re deeply aware, one is no thing. Lines from the 17th century mystic Silesius come to mind:
God, whose love and joy
are present everywhere,
can’t come to visit you
unless you aren’t there.