Our Lady of Tectonic Process

The following excerpt is a description of what is now the Los Angeles CA area. Note the title of the work, at bottom. The Portola/Crespi expedition is considered the first land-based, Caucasian exploration of what is now the State of California. So…just who were the people these Native Americans referred to, where indeed did they come from, and what route did they take to get there? And how long did they stay? And were the fair- and red-haired children Crespi mentions as having observed, their children?

July 28 [1769]
We set out at six o’clock in the morning from this grand plain and watering place of Santiago, following the same northwestward course of these last days’ marches, keeping on over this same plain, skirting the range on our right (to the north)…The scouts returned last night and said they came upon a full-flowing river a league and a half away…Its course comes out of the mountain range that must lie about two or three leagues away from us, from northeast to southwest…This river bed is very much lined with trees: white cottonwoods, willows, sycamores and other kinds we don’t recognize. By what we’ve seen from the sands along its banks, this river must plainly carry very large floods, and we had some trouble crossing it even now, in the depth of the dry season and dog days. There will be no crossing it in the rainy season…

We made camp close to the river here, and we have felt three strong earthquakes within less than an hour today at noon. The first and most violent must have lasted the length of a Creed, the other two less than a Hail Mary; a great shaking of the ground however was felt during all three. This is a most beautiful spot–with a great amount of soil and water, and this beautiful river going as it does, through the midst of the wide and far-ranging plain here–for founding a mission…

The heathens of this village here, who have been spending the whole day with us, brought and showed us nine cutlasses without hafts, along with four or five eyeless matting needles and a thick spike about half a yard long, all of which, they gave us to understand, had been given to them upcountry, toward the north, by some people there like ourselves, and we also understood there to be Fathers like ourselves. Whether this means they have a connection with New Mexico or the Apaches we cannot tell, or, whether some nation may have intruded upcountry toward the northward whither they were pointing.

Cover Image of Henry Wagner’s book Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo,
California Historical Society

July 29
We set out at two o’clock in the afternoon from here at the famous, large, pleasant and full-flowing River of the Sweetest Name of Jesus of the Earthquakes, crossing its bed with difficulty because of its swiftness…

July 31
On going about two leagues we came across another stream with some running water, which must carry very large floods in season because of the great deal of sand it has on its banks. We came upon such a vast number of rose bushes that a large hundredweight could have been made up with the flowers that we saw open and blooming. From horseback I plucked more than four dozen of them that came into my hands. The grapevines are countless in number, some of them large with very large clusters. We twice came upon woods so dense that it was necessary for the soldiers to clear a way to get through the various sorts of trees, willows, grapevines, cumin, holythistles, and many other kinds of tall weeds, such that it is a vastly pleasant site to see. There are vast numbers of antelopes on this plain…tracks of very large animals are seen…they say that in the mountain range running along on the north, there are a great many bears.

August 2
Our Captain and the scouts reported that about half a league or more from this spot…to the west, they came upon volcanoes of pitch coming out of the ground like springs of water. It boils up molten (and there must have been about forty of these springs, and perhaps many more, they said), and the water runs off one way and the pitch another. They reported…seeing very large swamplands of it, enough they said to have caulked many ships with…we christened them The Volcanoes of Pitch of Porciuncula. We all felt four quakes at dawn today; since we began hearing them at the Sweet Name of Jesus river, there have been fourteen, very persistent and strong though not long-lasting, and we attribute these continual earthquakes to the pitch volcanoes here.

August 6
They told us that upcountry–pointing northeastward–there were people like us–pointing to the soldiers–with guns, swords, and horses–pointing to our mounts–and there were three Fathers like ourselves (pointing to our habits); that two or three of themselves had been there; that it was reached in thirteen days’ travel from sunrise to sunset, and there was sea close by, and many large animals, which from their commentary and gestures, we thought must have been buffaloes; and that a great many people from there had come on horseback to their country, and had returned. Whether this is New Mexico or not, who can say?

Brown, A.K., ed. 2001. A Description of Distant Roads, Original Journals of the First Expedition into California, 1769-1770, by Juan Crespi

On a mission on Independence Day

Independence Day, anniversary no. 241 is upon us, a holiday surely on the short list of important ones in the United States. There’s no end to the philosophical and political ideas that can be, and have been, expounded upon. But as for me, I’m thinking about connections inspired by the research and personal reading I’ve been doing lately. Bear with me grizzlies, while I attempt to connect genetic research on rare California plants to American history.

I started graduate school in genetics, not ecology, and that field has always been the most fascinating to me. I’m in fact currently working on a topic that bridges the two fields, referred to as genetic biocontrol, the aim of which is to use genetic methods to reduce fitness, and hence population sizes, of harmful or otherwise unwanted species. So, I was sad to learn in a recent special issue devoted to the work of Dr. Leslie Gottlieb of UC Davis, on polyploid genetics, that he had passed away five years ago. The major focal taxon of Gottlieb’s work was the genus Clarkia, and I had some good conversations with him when I was doing restoration and propagation work on a very rare Clarkia (C. lingulata) endemic to the Merced River canyon, the main river flowing into, and through, Yosemite Valley. This is a famous species in plant genetics, cited in textbooks as an example of instantaneous speciation (see here and here), derived from it’s progenitor, Clarkia biloba. Clarkia lingulata is found in only two populations near the junction of the South Fork Merced with its main stem, a few miles west of the western boundary of Yosemite National Park.

Said River of Mercy is not merciful this year though, or any time at high water, should you happen to be in it. It is uncontrolled, and at high water rages through a steep, boulder filled death sieve as it leaves Yosemite Valley and heads for the San Joaquin. I still remember well the day that a woman, with her three kids, fell asleep at the wheel after driving all night, and drove off the road and into the river at daybreak, just above this location, drowning them all. When I was kayaking, the Merced was the only river that ever scared me off the river, although part of that was due to being solo and exhausted, which is a full-on recipe for disaster. There is also some very interesting history regarding Clarkia lingulata‘s location, one involving the cause of the American discovery of Yosemite Valley in 1851, but I won’t go into that here.

In one of our discussions, Les discussed some aspects of another rare Clarkia species he was working with, Clarkia franciscana. The species is so named because it is found only in the immediate area of the San Francisco Presidio–and this makes for a segue from genetics to history, involving the SF Presidio, Spain, Mexico and the United States, Upper (or New) California, and July of 1776.

The history of what is now the state of California has, I think, to rank as one of the most interesting of any in the world, and especially so from 1846 to 1850. Just a week before the momentous event in Philadelphia, a small group of Spanish Franciscans, with a small military escort, arrived from the Carmel River area (just south of present Monterey, CA), to extend the Spanish Upper California dominion northward by establishing their third presidio (military base and/or fort, the first two being at San Diego and Monterey in 1769/1770), and with it another mission of course. These establishments were significant because both were to carry the name of the order’s founder, Saint Francis of Assisi.

On June 27 1776, this group came upon a small creek draining the peninsular hills east (toward San Francisco Bay), which they named Dolores, and decided that this would serve as the future mission site. On June 29 they established an altar and consecrated the site, and then began looking for a strategic location for the presidio and fort, which they located on a high bluff commanding the narrow entrance to the bay (the “Golden Gate”), just to the water side of what is now the southern anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge.

A depiction of Mission Dolores circa 1893 by Edward Borein

At this point, books worth of material could be inserted discussing the Spanish (and after 1822, Mexican) discovery, settlement and management of Upper California, and with jaw fairly agape at both the process and the end result (circa 1848), for much of it. And we, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, wouldn’t be the first to do so either–the Russians, the British, and especially the Americans, of that time, did so also. It’s documented in various writings, which are for me at least, entirely fascinating. Some of it seems to defy logic. If anyone could write an authoritative book titled “Imperial expansion: how not to do it”, it would have to be the Spanish and/or Mexicans.

To say that things went downhill for the Spanish from 1776 to 1848 would be the understatement of the century. Twenty-one missions were established in Upper California during the “mission period” from 1769 to the American conquest in 1846, but for various reasons including Russian presence starting around 1805, only two north of Mission Dolores (Missions San Rafael and Solano), and both of those quite late in the game. The events in Philadelphia five days after consecration of the Mission San Francisco de Assis (= Dolores) site, caused the Spanish to pull back on several intended plans in northwestern New Spain, now the western United States, including expansion north of San Francisco Bay and another plan for a series of missions in the interior lands east and south of it.

Mission Dolores circa 1842 by Henry Miller

One argument has it that in so doing the Spanish were hoping to marshall their energies to re-claim parts of Spanish Florida lost initially to the French, and hence to the British after 1763, thinking that the Revolutionary War might offer their best chance to do so. But this plan, along with apparently about everything the Spanish and Mexicans did from 1800-1850, backfired. Not only did they not increase Spanish Florida, they quickly lost what they already had. This was followed later (1822) by the entire loss of New Spain, i.e. Mexican independence. The fracturing of the once vast Spanish empire then continued as the Mexicans in turn quickly lost Texas to independence, whose annexation by the United States about a decade later thus led to the Mexican-American war. In amazingly short order therein, they then managed to not only not reclaim Texan territory, but instead to astoundingly quickly lose both California and New Mexico. This was followed in less than a year by surrender, and with it the additional loss of what are now roughly the states of Utah, Nevada and Arizona. The total area is a large and very valuable chunk of real estate, by any standard.

I’m no historian, though I read my fair share, but compared to the serious difficulties and drain of two wars with the British spanning 40 years, and the even more extended and often ferocious wars with various Native American tribes, this sudden acquisition of a vast, important territory without much of a fight stands out. James Marshall discovered gold in the tail race of John Sutter’s sawmill east of what is now Sacramento just about two weeks before the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo officially ceded all this territory to the United States. That this should happen to a people who had historically been obsessed and sometimes deluded by various fantastic stories regarding that material, kind of says it all. Marshall and Sutter tried to keep the discovery secret for a couple of months but that was a lost cause, and they likely knew it–it was a virtual certainty that the gold veins and placer deposits that ran up and down half the Sierra Nevada, and elsewhere, would be found in almost no time by those about to pour unobstructed into what was now the United States. And so they poured. And the rest as they say…

I will knock–just like before

I’m the latest apparition
Cutting slices in the night
I come through without permission
Moving in and out of human sight

I’m the tapping on your shoulder
I’m the raven in the storm
I’ll take shelter in your rafters
I’ll be the shiver when you’re warm

I’m the gold in California
I’m the wealth in Mexico
Like the vultures in the valley–
I will wait for you to go

I’m the gypsy in your pocket
I’m the horseman in your dreams
I’m the reason dogs are barking
I’m the hand that stops the scream

I’m the baby’s cry that isn’t
I am the distant relative
I’m the scratching in the ceiling
I am advice you shouldn’t give

I’m the ghost of a traveling salesman
My foot will be there in your door
Though I can walk through walls and windows
I will knock–just like before

Raven in the Storm, John Gorka

The Shawnee

He [Tecumseh] came of one of the most energetic and warlike of the Indian tribes. The Shawnees have always been a restless people, more adventurous than any other Indians. They belong to that family of Indian nations known as the Algonquin…The history of the Shawnees, even after the settlement of America, is wrapped in obscurity. They moved about so incessantly, and were so often divided in their migrations, that we are unable to track the various divisions. Some are of the opinion that the Eries, who are said to have been destroyed by the Iroquois in very early times, were none other than the Shawnees before their wanderings began. Certain it is that when we first hear of them in early documents, they seem to be divided, wandering, and of uncertain habitation. We hear of a war which was being waged against them by the Iroquois at the time of Captain John Smith’s arrival in America in 1607. They were at that time located to the west of the Susquehanna, and on its banks. De Laet mentions them as on the Delaware in 1632. They are also said to have been located at the South, and to have come from near Lake Erie. We can only reconcile these conflicting accounts by supposing them to have already divided into several bands, some of which were in motion, for other authorities place their seat, in the latter part of the seventeenth century, in the basin of the Cumberland River in Kentucky. Later they are found on the Wabash, where Tecumseh long afterward made a new settlement, and in 1708 they are spoken of as removing from the Mississippi to South Carolina. The Swanee or Suwanee River, in Florida, derives its name from a party of Shawnees who had come from north of the Ohio.

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Threaded between tragedies

August 24…just as we were commencing the ascent of the mountain, several Indians made their appearance, about fifty yards from the trail. The leader and chief was an old man, with a deeply-furrowed face. I rode towards him, holding out my hand in token of friendship. He motioned me not to advance further, but to pass on and leave him, as he desired to have no communication with us. I insisted upon the reason of this unfriendly demonstration; assuring him, as well as I could by signs, that we desired to be at peace, and to do them no harm. His response was, if I understood it, that we, the whites, had slaughtered his men, taken his women and children into captivity, and driven him out of his country. I endeavored to assure him that we were not of those who had done him and his tribe these wrongs, and held out my hand a second time, and moved to approach him. With great energy of gesticulation, and the strongest signs of excited aversion and dread, he again motioned us not to come nearer to him, but to pass on and leave him. The other Indians, some six or eight in number, took no part in the dialogue, but were standing in a line, several yards from their chief, with their bows and arrows in their hands. Finding that it would be useless, perhaps dangerous, to press our friendship further, we continued our march. I have but little doubt, that these Indians are the remnant of some tribe that has been wantonly destroyed in some of the bloody Indian slaughters which have occurred in California.

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Rough and Ready

In the fall of 1849, the “Rough and Ready Company” of emigrants, under Captain Townsend, composed of some dozen men, from Shellsburg, Wisconsin, arrived by the Truckee route at a point on Deer Creek near the mouth of Slate Creek; they mined successfully there, a few weeks in the bed of the creek; one of their number went out to kill some game, deer and grizzly being plentiful, and in quenching his thirst at the clear stream of the ravine below Randolph Flat, discovered a piece of gold on the naked bed-rock. Consequent prospecting by the company satisfied them that the new found diggings were rich, and removing their camp, they prepared winter quarters by building two log cabins on the point of the hill east from and overlooking the present town of Rough and Ready. Two of their number struck out through the woods “on a bee line” for Sacramento, to procure provisions, and thus made the first wagon tracks on what afterward became the Telegraph road. From the name of this company, the settlement and town afterward derived its designation…

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Behind the face of need

A man conceived a moment’s answers to the dream
Staying the flowers, daily sensing all the themes
As a foundation left to create the spiral aim
All movement regained and regarded both the same
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

Changed only for a sight, the sound, the space, agreed
Between the picture of time, behind the face of need
Coming quickly to terms of all expression laid
Emotion revealed is the ocean maid
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

 

close-to-the-edge-inner

 

 

 

 

 

Sad preacher nailed upon the color-door of time
Insane teacher be there, reminded of the rhyme
There’ll be no mutant enemy we shall certify
Political ends, as sad remains, will die
Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you

I listened hard but could not see
Life tempo change out- and inside me
The preacher trained in all to lose his name
The teacher travels, asking to be shown the same
In the end we’ll agree, we’ll accept, we’ll immortalize
The truth of the man maturing in his eyes
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

And you and I climb, crossing the shapes of the morning
And you and I reach over the sun for the river
And you and I climb clearer towards the movement
And you and I crawl over valleys of endless seas

And You And I, Jon Anderson, Yes

close-to-the-edge-cover

When it happens to you

Well she was old enough, to know better
And she was strong enough, to be true
And she was hard enough, to know whether
He was smart enough, to know what to do

And you can’t resist it
When it happens to you
No you can’t resist it
When it happens to you

And you can tell your stories
And you can swear it’s true
But you can save your lies
For some other fool

And you can’t resist it
When it happens to you
No you can’t resist it
When it happens to you

You can’t resist it, Lyle Lovett (with Leo Kottke)

And if that doesn’t do it for you, this should:

Find it on your own

Say goodbye, you know it’s true
I know you’re leavin’ me–I’m leavin’ too
You won’t forget me, or the sound of my name
Please believe, I feel the same

It seems so empty now–you’ve closed the door
Ain’t it hard to believe you ever lived this way before?
All that nothin’… causes all that pain
Please believe, I feel the same

Broken soul, the heart it’s breakin’
Can’t make it whole ’til you know what’s been taken
All those pieces–find them on your own
All those pieces–find them on your own

I Feel The Same, Chris Smither

I am the ride

I awoke and someone spoke–they asked me in a whisper
If all my dreams and visions had been answered
I don’t know what to say–I never even pray
I just feel the pulse of universal dancers
They’ll waltz me till I die and never tell me why–
I’ve never stopped to ask them where we’re going
But the holy, the profane, they’re all helplessly insane
Wishful, hopeful, never really knowing

They asked if I believe, and do the angels really breathe?
Or is it all a comforting invention?
It’s just like gravity I said–it’s not a product of my head
It doesn’t speak but nonetheless commands attention
I don’t care what it means, or who decorates the scenes
The problem is more with my sense of pride
It keeps me thinking me, instead of what it means to be
But I’m not a passenger, I am the ride
I’m not a passenger, I am the ride

I Am The Ride, Chris Smither

Nobody knows

Nobody knows about what’s going on
With the wood and the steel, the flesh and the bone
The river keeps flowing and the grass still grows
And the spirit keeps going, but nobody knows

Poets they come and the poets they go
Politicians and preachers–they all claim to know
Words that are written and the melodies played
As the years turn their pages, they all start to fade

The ocean still moves with the moon in the sky
The grass still grows on the hillside
Got to believe in believin’
Got to believe in a dream
Freedom is ever deceiving
Never turning out to be what it seems

It’s amazing how fast our lives go by
Like a flash of lightning, like the blink of an eye
We all fall in love as we fall into life
We look for the truth on the edge of the night
Heavens turn ’round and the river still flows
How the spirit keeps going, nobody knows

Nobody Knows, Gregg Allman, Allman Brothers
(Chords here)