On hot days, Grandma Florence, my daughters Soon Sun and Margaret, Grandma’s daughter Margie and I escaped for the ceremonial grounds by the Winnemem (McCloud) River where the doctors gathered from ancient times to the present for ceremony and to help people. It was cooler there than in the valley. Under oak trees, we’d sit, and Grandma would teach my daughters to whistle for the breeze to cool us. Since 1938, Shasta Lake Dam on the Winnemem River has turned the area into a popular recreation center on Shasta Lake reservoir, speed boats, houseboats. Yet still, the Winnemem gather there.
That July day, the swamp cooler pushing the air around in Grandma’s little frame house, one she built with her brothers years before, was not good enough. We made lunch and piled into the car to drive the windy road up to ceremonial grounds. I never can find the gate we must unlock to drive up on top, but with Granny in the front passenger seat, it was never a problem. The hill was steep and the road rough. At certain points large rocks imbedded in the road would loudly scrape the bottom of my low riding Toyota. In other areas, I could only see the sky as we crested the hill and guessing where the road was.
The first thing we’d do when we arruved was to make sure the elders had a comfortable lawn chair to sit in. Then the girls and I would make up a resting place for Grandma in her trailer which was parked there. After the snows and spring rains, we had already surveyed any damage the bears and mice might have done to it and cleaned it up to get it ready for Grandma Florence. Despite its patched up appearance, the old trailer is a comfortable place for a summer nap after lunch.
On this particular day, Grandma wanted me to take her down to the McCloud campground to a particular public restroom . From time to time, she would do that, always to that same restroom. The McCloud Campground was beautiful there along the Winnemem River just before it widened into the dam created recreational lake. Many of the times we went, the campground was empty. But this time, perhaps it was a holiday or fishing season, there were plenty of campers. I parked at Grandma’s restroom. The campground directly below was taken by a middle aged non Indian couple, sitting on lawn chairs facing us. I assisted Grandma with her walker into the restroom. When Grandma came out she stood leaning on her walker and looked for a several minutes around the area. The couple seemed irritated with our presence overlooking their space.
Then Granny said softly, “See that plum tree over there? the peach? My dad planted those. He planted this fig too, " she lifted her chin at the broad leafed tree framing the two campers.
I’m sure that my face reflected the same surprise I saw on the onlookers’ faces as it dawned on us all at the same time that this land had once been her home; she was not the encroacher. “Oh, Grandma. I didn’t know this was your place!” She nodded, her eyes looking off into the distance. I could feel that everything had changed. The campers' irritation was gone.
The two of them and I were old enough to have suffered a loss of a childhood place ourselves, but we were hushed witnessing in this small moment such a traumatic loss of home along this beautiful river, to see the fruit trees carefully planted now surrounded by concrete parking spaces and camping spots, trying to imagine how it must have been when it was a village, a birth place, as recent as this elder’s own childhood. As Granny surveyed the area, picking out the trees, our attentive silence sanctified the moment. Then Granny turned toward the car and we drove back to up the hill.
Medicine grows on the way to the ceremonial ground by the Winnemem River. In the spring we always are excited for that first look after the wet winter. One spring, Mark Miyoshi had come by and Grandma thought this was a perfect day to go to up. He drove Grandma’s Cadillac with Grandma in front. Emerson, Margie and I sat in the back. We were all in very high spirits. The first drive up in the Spring does that! The medicines would be blooming. Wildflowers too. We wondered what shape the trailer would be in. Had the bears broken in again?
As we rounded the curvy mountain road, our mood plummeted. On the sides of the road were grey, dead drooping plants which had once been the new medicines. Around each turn, it seemed as if someone had purposely sprayed only the medicine although we all knew that probably, whoever used the herbicides picked what they though were noxious weeds.
Mark spoke out angrily. The fall before, he and Grandma had taken the time to point out to the county people all the protected plants. There was an agreement. I still remember this peaceful man for whom forgiveness was second nature said. With great emotion, Mark snapped, “I feel angry enough to see how they would feel if their pharmacies were destroyed.” All the medicines we gathered for our Winnemem doctor in this area had to last for the whole year, and now they drooped, twisted, and dead.
We got to the ceremonial grounds, somber and serious. I felt I got a glimpse of the great irreparable loss that Grandma and her people had already suffered. Emerson walked down with his cane to the sacred fire and sat to smoke his pipe and pray. Mark was starting the fire the old way -- no matches or paper -- using just the flint, and dry grass. Emerson’s favorite place was always by the Sacred Fire.
That day, a song came in to Emerson. Caleen, our leader, calls it the Earthquake Song. Emerson told us that the song came in and the words came from Creator who said, “This is my earth. Everything on it, even each rock, I put here.” Each time I hear this song and sing it, I can still feel the words just as Emerson said them that day. This is the Creator’s earth. People might arrogantly devastate it, or build foolishly over it, but in the end and always, it is the Creator’s earth. For me, the sadness lifted to be replaced by resolution. This is where I want to stand, with Grandma, with this ceremonial ground, with the medicines, the Fire and her people. This day was a defining moment for me and the song became one I would sing each morning when I prayed from my home in Oregon. This is the Creator’s earth. The Creator put everything on it.
These stories are my remembrances only, how I remember and felt them. I cannot presume that I speak for anyone but myself.
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