The other day I had the privilege of helping out a local Native American tribe, the Winnemem Wintu, in a weeks long event they’re putting on to raise awareness for their way of life, to “bring home” the salmon that are nearing extinction in California, and raise awareness about water issues. It’s a BIG topic and a very small tribe. Since they are local to my area, and since I want to be of service to Native people where I can, I signed up to volunteer in any way I could be useful.
I showed up early that morning for the “Runners” leg of this very long route from the San Francisco Bay upstream to the headwaters of the Sacramento River at Mount Shasta. The event included boats, runners, bicyclers, kayakers and horse-back riders all helping to carry a hand-carved salmon along routes on or near the Sacramento river.
My job, since I had a car, was to follow behind the runners who were running in a relay fashion, one at a time, so no one had to run too far, and keep my flashers on to make sure that people driving by would see the runners. It sounded a bit boring but I was there to serve and to help these people with their event. So I grabbed my coffee, hopped in my car and stayed at the end of the procession. It turned out to be a touching and very spiritual experience, and not at all what I thought it would be.
If I could walk a long way, or run (I can’t due to health issues which include extreme fatigue) I would love to rerun that route. It was really beautiful, down by the river, on small back roads, especially early in the morning with no other cars around. My job was simply to stay behind the runner with my car, so I was driving about 5mph mostly along the shoulder of the road, stopping occasionally, and enjoying the view, sipping my coffee.
There was one particular spot where something just washed over me. There was a young woman with long black hair, running, holding the wooden salmon in her left hand.
All I could see was her hair swaying back and forth, like water and the fish in her hand, swaying with the motions of her running, like it was swimming home. I looked to my left at the trees along a small creek-verdant and thick-benefiting from the extra water close underground from being so close to the river and the valley bottom. I looked to my left to see Mt. Lassen (I do not know it’s Native name) and the beautiful empty Eastern slopes of the valley I live in. I imagined what it must be like to be this young lady right now, running with only her breath and the road ahead for company.
Something expanded in me…something felt suddenly so much larger than me in my car. The woman, the fish-oh the fish, those beautiful Salmon of Wisdom that want to run home but are held back to the point of extinction by humankind and the need to control and profit from the landscape; the mountains and the trees, and at the heart of it, the water. The very life blood of the entire Valley.
Mount Shasta sits at the top of the Northern end of the vast Sacramento Valley, like the head of a woman. I call her “Ma” Shasta out of reverence, but her real name, her native name, is Buliyum Puyuuk. She is a powerful, powerful Being. And I am blessed to see her when I drive to the grocery store. With her head at the top of the valley, her arms stretch out on either side in the form of two lines of mountains, the Mendocino/Yolla Bolly/Trinity Alps on the West side, and the Sierras on the East side. We here are enveloped daily, always, in a giant embrace by a powerful Earth Being. And from her heart, from her arms, like blood, comes Water. Life. With out water we die, and that is so apparent and ever-present here in California. We live with the scarcity of water at least 6 months out of every twelve.
What hit me, watching this young woman literally carrying the salmon back home, each step a prayer, each movement and muscle in her body a living effort to bring the salmon back into existence, was that this an attempt to right the wrongs we are doing to this planet, and to bring not only the salmon but the water “home” again.
Somehow, in that moment, what washed over me was not that I was doing something to help a group of people, I was doing what I could for water, for Buliyum Puyuuk, and FOR ALL OF US. Because without water, and balance on this Earth, we all die.
My perception of my place in that event changed after that. Even though I can not run, I was helping, a tiny bit, to guard the runners while they run for water and salmon. To make us all connected and whole again. Yes, I was extremely exhausted when I got back home, but it was worth it.
Watching those runners, young and old, connected me with the river that is our sacred life blood here in the valley. And this is important. Because the more we connect with the place we live, the land on which we live that provides our very life, the more we care. The more we will work to heal it and the more it will heal us. All of us.