There were Donax-bean clams, little bivales the size of pinto beans. Then there were scallops, genus Pecten. Finally, there were the small ridged clams, genus Chione.
These three species of sea creatures seemed to form the bulk of the diet for the Indians dwelling along the lagoons in North County. At least that is what seemed to be indicated by their presence in the Indian sites I found.
The lagoons would have made ideal places to live, at least when they weren’t silted up, which seemed to happen in the prehistoric past. Presently, abundant plant life, some of which would have been edible, is found growing in the water. Fish and possibly turtles would have frequented the lagoon waters, and ducks certainly would have been found at these spots at the right time of year.
Let your mind go and drift back hundreds of years to the time before European contact. Back then, the valley bottoms grew a grass from which the Indians gathered edible seeds. They tended the plots of this grass, burning them over in a careful management scheme and probably putting ceramic fertility figures around the plots. The grass is now almost extinct.
The Spanish explorers, as they forged north out of Baja California, were oblivious to the fact that the seeds of these grasses were nutritious food for the Indians. They only saw good forage for their horses.
The old version of the story had it that the Spanish padres wanted to bring the blessings of civilization, and of course, Christianity, to these unenlightened, childlike people. The more recent version of the story, perhaps colored by our modern disillusionment with progress, says that the Spanish wanted cheap labor to build up the frontier of their empire.
Illustration by Mikhail M. Zlatkovsky
Richard Bugbee, a local Luiseño Indian, raised in Old Town, says that the Viejas Reservation was so named because Viejas means old women.” When the Spanish came up from the coast to round up recruits for the mission, everybody would abandon the villages except for the old women. We still call it Viejas today.
Go out to an Indian site and meditate on the past. Wait till your mind settles down and you can become aware of the wind on your skin and the chirping of the birds. Then go back in time to the world of the original inhabitants of the site.
I became practiced at this particular type of mind yoga. I used it when I was in a therapeutic community in Encinitas for the treatment of psychosis. I went there to try to sites further inland, but the coast sites were strange to me. However, I soon learned how to spot a site near the lagoons.
The crucial factor is water — in this dry, semi-desert region, water limited where people could live. An old-time California resident, the father of a close friend, recounted how his father told him that the old ranch-steads were always located where the Indians had once camped and probably for the same reasons: water, good location. Soon I figured out that the lagoon water was probably not as potable as water from a spring or stream. I looked for an Indian site by a spring and soon found Donax, Pecten, and Chione shells sticking out of the dark soil.
More searching turned up a couple of sharp-edged flakes of stone, struck off a core of fine-grained rock. A couple of milling stones and a broken scraper completed the material visible on the surface of the site. Nearby was an old house foundation and a few old eucalyptus trees. My friend’s father was right — there was recent settlement situated in the older Indian site.
I contemplated the site one night in early winter at the therapeutic community. It was dark and rainy outside. I wondered what it would be like to have to weather a winter storm in a small thatched hut. Somehow I felt I knew the inhabitants of the site by the lagoon, even though they were most likely dead for centuries.
Somehow the contemplation of this place brought me close to an inner source of strength. Being battered by the storm of psychosis and confrontation at the therapeutic community had altered me radically. I was no longer the person I had been a year before when I first entered treatment.
My old ways were dying and my new life was growing. It was very stressful and confusing. I thought of a past life regression I had been through as part of my treatment.
The therapist had me lie on the floor on my back and got me to relax and visualize whatever came to mind.
“What do you see?” she asked.
“A cougar,” I replied.
“What is he doing?”
“Hunting. He is hungry.”
“Is this something you’ve been through?”
I thought of being homeless on the streets. “Yes,” I replied.
“Okay, go back further, further. What do you see?”
“I see my shirt is off and I’m sitting by a fire in the cold.
It’s at night.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m an Indian.”
“What are you doing?”
“I have fought a good fight, but it’s all over and I have lost. I’m sick. And I’m dying.”
“What do you do when you die?”
“I sail into the mystic ” I said quoting a rock song from the ’60s.
My therapist had me follow the delicate wisp of existence that was my passage after death until I arrived in my mother’s womb as a fetus. She asked me to recount my perceptions of my mother and my relationship to her as an infant. Hopefully this regression gained me some ground with my psychosis. Probably not.
Within a month of the regression I had become quite paranoid. After that I became delusional, believing things that were not real. When I took a B.B. gun into a restaurant located in the neighborhood, I believed I was bringing in a Mafia leader for the C.I.A. I ended up in the Vista jail for what seemed like an eternity.
While doing time in jail, I needed a source of comfort. I tried to think of something spiritual. I thought about the Indian site by the lagoon. I imagined the feel of the wind on my skin and the chirping of the birds. I dissolved into another world and thus was able to bear another day of jail. I had fought a good fight but had lost. I could only sail in to the mystic.