Thursday, November 8, 2012

God's Waiting Room

"Just Do It"

Nike's logo was coined in from the final words of Gary Mark Gilmore  in 1977. Gilmore was sentences to death after being convicted of two murders he committed in Utah. Five local police officers, stood concealed behind a curtain with five small holes, through which they aimed their rifles. When asked for any last words, Gilmore simply replied, "Let's do it!"

Sometimes the barbs on a tree tells you that the fruit is sweet.

Thursday evening, seeing that I survived another week teaching a full load of 140 students, I honored myself with a pat on the back. Lets do of my students earlier that week suggested a trip to Painted Ladder. I nice five mile hike, or so I thought.  Just do it.

Waking up at pre-dawn, I got in my car and just drove off. I drove for three and a half hours to get to Mecca. No, this one is in California. An absolute center of the universe for dates (the edible sort) and, to my amazement, grapes. I drove through some amazing countryside, knowing full well that this land was once owned by the Agua Caliente native people. Beautiful land, stolen and paid for with termination.

During the Second World, in 1943, the United States Senate conducted a survey of Indian conditions and surprising to everyone but the federal government,  found horrific cases of deprivation. So, as a  solution,  the federal government determined that tribes needed to be part of main stream American society. Seeing how well Blacks were doing under Jin Crow at the time, this was a surprising solution.

Two tribes, the Klamaths who owned valuable timber property in Oregon and the Agua Caliente, who owned the land around Palm Springs were the first to be enriched by American society. These lands, abundant in resources, were taken over by the Federal Government. Later adopted in 1953, this policy of “termination” declared that the goal was “as rapidly as possible to make Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States”(House Concurrent Resolution 108 and Public Law 280).

In 1952, the USA elected as its President, the former Supreme Allied Commander of World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The Republican showed no real signs of interest in the race issue. From 1953-1964 109 tribes were terminated and turned over to state governments. Approximately 2,500,000 acres of trust land was removed from protected status and 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal affiliation. The lands were sold to non-Indians and the tribes lost official recognition by the U.S. government. The land I was travelling on was part of this steal. Now beautifully manicured as only American stolen land can be.

Surrounding Palm Spring, Palm Desert and Coachella is desert, but the valley itself is a cornucopia of life.  Driving through it made me forget how long I have been driving. Leaving San Diego at the crack of dawn to be here, now mid-morning, bright and beautiful.

I was warned that I might get stuck driving up to the hike. But driving at 60 miles per hour on a dirt road I knew I can get through any sandy patches. Not true. A patch that lasted for over 100 meters brought my speed down to zero. Stuck. Rev rev and the car drives itself into the sand. Not good. I have been here before.

When my children were young we used to go rock hounding...searching for semi-precious rocks. An excuse, but it worked in getting everyone on the same page. We drove to some exotic places. A place I remember vividly is the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge‎ in Douglas, Arizona, to the east of Las Cruces in New Mexico. The only live beings you see are havalinas and border patrol agents. Sometimes both are indistinguishable in the terrain.  Sniffing.

We drove there in a rented Subaru 4WD and we got stuck. Two kids, in the middle of nowhere. I had enough supplies for a month. But the idea of being immobilized is powerful. Although I managed to dig out of that one (I had enough tools to rebuild a car), it always frightened me how quickly I can quickly become powerless. Fast forward ten years. I am stuck in a desert in a mercedes saloon, with nothing but a credit card and a phone without reception.
I go out, replace my flip flops (how Californian)  with my walking boots and go and have a pee.  Look at the car. Wait. I have been here before.

A car drives up. I am thinking that they have a four wheel drive and can help me out.

Wrong again. They get stuck maybe a hundred yards away from me. I walk up to them, make introductions. I help push them out and then they reciprocate and help push me out onto the edge where pebbles on the side of the road allow for better traction.

They were two couple in their late 60s. Knowing that I might get stuck again leaving, I invited myself to accompany them on their hike. Two sisters from Seattle married and moved to Palm Springs because of the weather. Their husbands, also both from Seattle. We shared pleasantries and then, turning around, one of the sisters,  Linda, defined Palm Springs as  "God's waiting room." And that made me think. What a beautiful way that Americans die.

I walked around with these two couple for two and a half hours. Talking, but mostly in our quiet world. Then when we got back to our cars, my technique was to rev up and race out of the sand, which worked this time. Topping 80 miles an hour on dirt sandy roads got me out of the dirt road with a fast heart beat.

But the idea that I am driving in "God's waiting room" never left me despite the speed I was driving at. As I drove, seemingly reckless, knowing full well I am protected from any mistakes by an onboard traction control, I am reminded of my solitude. I see my face smiling, even--shall I confess--smirking. I just got out of being buried in the sand, after a three and a half hour drive, then a two and half hour hike and now I am free. Mobile, powerful.

Later that evening at home I make a quick meal. A concoction of sautéed onions and caramelized asparagus with goats chess and sliced chicken thighs in curry sauce. And I savor the meal alone. Knowing full well that I will never get this in any restaurant  While driving at 80 miles an hour on a dirt road with full traction control I know that I can never do this with anyone else. Loneliness brings some advantages to just "Doing It."

Remembering driving with the sun blasting on my dashboard, illuminating the inside of the windscreen with my reflection staring back at me on the dials of my dashboard. Watchful. I am fully aware of the significance of this moment.

John Guthrie McCallum, editor, lawyer, politician, was just shy of 60 when he came to this stolen place he renamed Palm Valley. I am just 52 but feel old enough to bear the weight of its history and its beauty. Not because of what it is but because I am here enjoying the delights of being alive.

I am planning on getting a 4WD again to explore further. "Doing It" involves getting there and back safely. Although I am not sure "back safely" is ever possible in "God's Waiting Room."

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