Spirit of the Ground
Out of the South they came, from the missions
of Baja, these Cochimí came. And some suppose
it was because that was where the padres led.
The church was long on desire, but short on ways,
and so, to a handful of mission Indian they owed
their passage from San Borja and Loreto -
the short end of the Baja road - through unknown
wilderness and to any reason they stayed alive .
And why, to consider the means, should we remark
that anything less flowed through Cochimí veins
than the passion and vision of a Cabrillo
or De Anza or Lewis & Clark?
Why else would they agree to take a single step
into those uncertain deserts better left alone?
To string some fragile strand of mission beads?
-- We do not believe the Orders of Assisi
held much sway beyond the padres, and they,
well, they drank their own wine deeply, --
more than that we best leave for believers
Whatever the case, it was a fragile
human rosary, to be sure. Two out of three
never made it over those miles of devil rock
and bare desert boil. Just a handful, twenty-eight,
would arrive to consecrate that empty land
-- the first bead in the Junipero Serra strand.
To Mission San Diego Alacala they came, these
Baha field hands; these combo sappers, wagoneers,
healers, hunters, mappers and pallbearers all-in-one;
these explorers and teachers we'll simply call
the first braceros, the Baja field hands who broke
the earth to clod, and clod to soil; baked in the sun,
and toiled to death. But why? &what
kind of home was the home of a mission
breed, who neither sat at the padres' table nor
could ever return to his own lodge over stones
long uprooted from the clay of soils older
than the church itself? What home did they
desert? what lands unguessed had they imagined?
Strung out on the practice of misery, they came
to that unturned soil. Starving and exhausted
men, they came. Scant skeletons ravaged
with disease, sunburnt and raw they came;
to labor and die, break trail, build churches,
leave bones, plant crops, tame land; and then,
pass into oblivion. Die unknown, they did,
unnamed they came, these first explorers
to cross that long cruel sand - the first
of the Baja field hands, these Cochimí Indian.
And does anyone know or ask why? &what
carried them so far from home? What document,
save death, might serve to carry them back again?
when all too swiftly their terrible job was done,
all too soon the tribes they taught displaced them,
and in turn were displaced and then succumbed
as disease and cruelty would take their toll
they, too, learned the modern ways of misery,
until they could self-inflict with amazing skill.
What that didn't get, the soldiers would kill,
if not with guns, then syphilis.
Between the Spaniards and the Yankees it took less
than a century to reduce twelve-thousand years
and a hundred and thirty-thousand people to a handful
of tears and a little dust. Oh, by then, they were
allowed their ration of the grape. They'd be paid
in aguardiente at the end of the week, drank
and fought till Sunday; arrested, corralled
and auctioned Monday morning; cheap labor...
dirt cheap the Angelino growers would say,
and kept it up until the checkerboard was
just about complete; and, yes, how the money flowed.
As eloquent as he was, John Muir said nothing
that ought endure as much as, in that very year,
Stephen Powers said in his government report:
"Never before in history has a people been
swept away with such terrible swiftness."
Martin Luther King didn't say that.
J.F.K didn't say that.
Neither did Abraham Lincoln.
That was 1877, the same year John Muir
entered the valley of San Gabriel, when Dr. Conger
said to Muir, "Milk and honey and plenty of money."
Benny Buffano, "St Frances"
Mondavi winery, Napa, CA.
Spirit of the Ground, ©Red Slider, 1999-2014
from California Scenario, in "Noguchi — The Man Who Entered Stone",
BigBridge Press (2000)
background image: "St.Frances of the Guns"; Buffano (1968)