Thursday, February 19, 2015


Pestles left on Pounding Stone

A quarter-century after I first snaked
through a secluded foothill valley, down
along a dying creek at the base
of the foothills, I found the village sites

of a people who had vanished over a century ago, 
some pounding stones only a few feet
from the road, one with pestles still on top
less than a hundred feet from the barbed wire fence,

the mortars blanketed by dry leaves and shielded 
by the drooping limb of a huge oak. The paths
that I once thought had been made by cattle led
into clearings where the earth appeared trampled,

House Pits (where huts once stood)
Near Pounding Stone

bare and dark and a little greasy in places,
pounding stones nearby, and I followed them all 
from Kings River to Dry Creek, a web connecting
ancient village sites across the foothills. Once, 

at dusk, a band of coyotes began howling
by the creek, close to my car. I waited, straining
to see a ghost, until the howls began to drift away
into the valley, but nothing manifested. Twenty-five

years ago, a boy drove here with his father,
and they imagined deer, antelope, elk gathering
by the creek, predators never far away, flocks 
of migrating birds and butterflies drifting through. 

Pestles, Sierra Nevada Foothills

Now, woodpeckers make granaries of rotting
fence posts.  Once, following a trail away 
from the creek, I spotted at eye level several rocks
on top of a large stone. I climbed a few feet

and found eleven pestles on a pounding stone,
as though just left the day before, one pestle
inside a mortar with a little grass growing around it.
Standing on a ridge, I gazed a long time

Pestles on Pounding Stone near Road

into the valley where in just over
one hundred years almost every trace of wildness
has been wiped out. I thought of an activist
who sued developers to preserve in trust

a few acres of farmland, what he called the last vestige
of nature in the Valley, no longer working as a subsitute
again after a city official complained 
about his organization to the school district; 

Pestles near Pounding Stone

of another activist fined over $100,000 for submitting
a "frivolous lawsuit" to stop urban sprawl on farmland; 
of my own organization brought down by a bogus lawsuit,
tantamount to legal extortion--forced to settle

because of court costs, a lawsuit I can't describe
without fear of being sued; of those threatened
or fired because of their activism. 
On that ridge, I was a ghost

House Pits near Pounding Stone

of the Gashowu, seeing not herds 
of antelope and deer and elk but a herd
of cattle in the floodplain, the new freeway
extension less than ten miles away,

the city lost in deepening smog, 
a long pestle jutting 
from a deep mortar at my feet, the woods
cold but still, a last howl far off in the distance. 

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