companion work: Spirit of the Man

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 to explain. 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."
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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)