About 20 years ago, an indigenous man told me a story that local Native Americans revere. I had mentioned that my favorite meditation place was along the creek that until recently formed the periphery of town, with a spectacular view of the canyon and foothills. He said that was also a main praying place of pre-colonial people in the area.
So abundant was California, and diverse its geography, that about 200 linguistically distinct peoples made this land their home. After the Gold Rush in 1869, California's state government, driven by a flood of Europeans and the prospect of riches beyond gold, put a bounty on the heads of indigenous people. They were hunted, driven out, and slaughtered mercilessly.
Here, in the northeastern part of the Great Central Valley, is where the last "wild Indian" of North America, Ishi, his tribe murdered or dead from disease, stumbled starving into the nearby town of Oroville.
Some decades later, in the early part of the 20th century, the local people, called Machoopda, were forcibly relocated to a reservation hundreds of miles south, at the southern end of the Central Valley, near Bakersfield.
As the folk story goes, an old woman, nearly 80-years old, so missed the land and her home here that she walked the entire 300 miles back.
A few times a week during the half-year that Little Chico Creek runs, I sat under a great sycamore tree. It had a massive trunk bifurcated into two great spires, affording a splendid view of the foothills. Shortly after the indigenous fellow told me this story, a small fire swept over my meditation spot.
Tremendously altered states of being, bringing with them mysterious encounters with the animals that still populated the surrounding land 20 years ago, occurred there.
Though only a quarter-mile from the edge of town, the place was still wild. Long-eared rabbits were plentiful, and squawking pheasant, as well as the predators such as coyote, rattlesnakes and hawks.
Often, after an hour there, I would stand to my full height as a human being, agape, feeling completely one with the earth and with the sacredness the imbues the earth. Often kite falcons hovered overhead, and swallows swirled around one.
The fire charred the white bark of the great sycamore, and it slowly began to die. Year after year I witnessed its limbs wither and drop off. After a few years I began to see the sycamore like a leper, first losing its feet as twigs, then its arms as bigger branches, and finally its legs as limbs.
Though I tried to deny it, in my heart I knew that I was being shown the death of the earth in real time. Not metaphorically but literally, as the animal species disappeared one by one, year after year, and man encroached.
First a new city hall was erected in the middle of the field a quarter-mile behind the sycamore, looking like three conflicting architects who couldn't agree designed it. Then came row after row of retro-industrial apartment buildings, and beyond them cheap, pre-fabricated commercial structures.
The last and most loved animal to disappear was the gracile kite, which displays the most beautiful behavioral pattern in nature I've ever witnessed.
For 30 seconds or more the slender-winged raptor would hover above the fields, scanning the ground for prey before tucking its wings back and falling, almost parachuting to the ground. The sight was so graceful, and so filled with timely grace, that it sometimes brought tears to my eyes.
With a stiff breeze out of the north today, the foothills were as clear as I've ever seen them. Everything else, from the sycamore to the bulldozed fields south and north of Little Chico Creek, was dead or dying. Mindless 'progress' has all but destroyed the land, as it has all but destroyed the earth.
I had to climb over a large limb from the sycamore to take ablutions in the stream. Coming back over it I fell, without injury, though I face-planted in the dirt within inches of a rock. After taking my seat, infernal back-up beepers and jarring pounding machines from a huge construction site less than 200 meters downstream overwhelmed the sound of the rushing water.
Though filled with sorrow, I had no urge to leave. I asked for a pause in the noise, and to my surprise, it occurred. In the silence between the racket, above the temporary black plastic fence-line hiding the construction, I looked up to see a magnificent hawk against the deep blue sky.
It had suddenly appeared directly in front of me, and its brown, stippled wings shimmered in the sunlight. With vision eight times better than humans, I could feel the hawk's eyes on me.
It circled three times, and then flew off. The blessing and mysterious sign remained with me for over an hour, as the winter sun sank quickly behind a leafless tree line to my left. Orange bands of muted color on the horizon marked the end of the day, and perhaps my last meditation there.
It's the same story all over the planet: Man is decimating the diversity of life on earth.
But here's the secret: The universe evolves potentially intelligent beings with brains that have the capacity to receive and consciously participate in the consciousness that imbues the cosmos. And the human being has that capacity on this incredibly beautiful planet.
There is no progression of consciousness however, just as there is no such thing as civilizational progress. Human consciousness does not evolve; it spirals down in faster and faster cycles of darkness.
Consciousness based on symbolic thought is nearing a dark singularity. Man's consciousness now belongs to the thought machines -- so-called artificial intelligence -- that man has made in his own image.
This stage of consciousness is therefore a painful passage and relentless test. And at this point, the human race is failing.
But a great hawk still circles overhead. Miracles can occur, perhaps especially when they must occur.
Photo by Martin LeFevre
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.
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