Friday, March 13, 2015


Lupine next to Pa'san Ridge Trail:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     The Dumna and Kechayi Native Americans once occupied the San Joaquin River Gorge and surrounding lands. The Pa'san Ridge Trail loops around on the west side of the river--the word pa'san is derived from their language and means “pine nuts,” a food source that exists in abundance on the hillsides.  In spring the ridge trail provides an opportunity to experience a breathtaking array of flowering trees and plants: redbuds, lupine, poppies, fiesta flowers, goldfields, owl’s clover, fiddleneck and popcorn. At one point the ridge trail forks south, dipping down to the edge of the inundation zone of Millerton Lake, where rotting flotation devices, driftwood and trash are strewn upon or near Native American pounding stones. In spring, baby blue eyes blanket the grass between the river and the trail near indentations, the size of house pits, in the ground. The small piece of level land at the bottom of the gorge is the only place where the Native Americans could have set up their huts and buried their dead. Across the river, rocks left over from the construction of a small hydro project rise on the slope like a barricade. 

Pounding Stone near Hydro Project:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     Sometimes under water, sometimes exposed, the ancient Native American site remains in a water-logged limbo where pristine public land transitions into wasteland. The conflicts related to water in California have often been described as a war--other than a dam, only a war could have created a no-man’s land of similar proportions. The denuded slopes of the gorge reveal the high water mark of Millerton Lake, the reservoir created by Friant Dam. Only a crop of cockle-burrs flourishes there. Reservoir water has destroyed the root systems of the native plants and trees, leaving unstable rocks and soil. Unlike a war zone, however, this no man’s land will not renew itself as long as Friant Dam stands.

Pounding Stone in Millerton Lake near Hydro Project:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     The first time I found the Native American site, I felt betrayed. The ridge trail offered so many wonders that I expected to find myself eventually in some Edenic place far removed from the rat race. Instead I ended up at a Native American village site converted into a wasteland for an investor-owned utility and the ag industry. Every time I have returned since, the sense of betrayal has grown stronger: I feel that I have been duped for most of my life. 
     Now that the voters have passed a water bond that could lead to the approval of a dam at Temperance Flat, I see clearly how little Native American sites or the environment or our system of public lands actually means to those in power and how much the democratic process can be manipulated. Much more is at stake than just the loss of The San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area. Our whole system of public lands will remain in limbo as long as the people with power and money continue to buy the officials who represent our democracy and manipulate the masses through the media. I am convinced that this most recent assault on public lands serves as a test to see how much they can get away with.
Possible House Pits in Inundation Zone
of Millerton Lake near Pounding Stone
          Two dams already exist at both ends of the recreation area: Kerckhoff Dam above and Friant Dam below. The reservoir created by Temperance Flat Dam would fill up the space in between, drowning the canyon, and along with it, the recreation area and several hydroelectric projects. 
     The Bureau of Reclamation notes that construction of the dam and reservoir will have "unavoidable and/or disproportionately high and adverse" impacts on air quality, fisheries, aquatic ecosystems, botanical and wetland resources, wildlife, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, cultural resources, agricultural resources, noise and vibration, and visual resources. Local Native American tribes have identified 30 sensitive sites within the Temperance Flat study area, one of which was defined by the Native American Heritage Commission as sacred. The proposed Temperance Flat power system would only be able to replace between 81% and 91% of the power lost by flooding the existing hydroelectric plants. Moreover, if three dams of that size fail together, the entire river bottom area, which includes the town of Friant below Millerton Lake, could be wiped out, as well as parts of northern Fresno and towns downstream such as Firebaugh. These are just a few of the most obvious problems, and the media has avoided mentioning them. 
     The current water war, like all wars in recent history, is accompanied by a public relations campaign in the media. In recent years, the Fresno Bee has often voiced support for a dam at Temperance Flat. From the beginning, the Bee has framed the issue in a way that favors agribusiness, avoiding discussion of negative impacts on the public or the environment. The Bee in its recent campaign, for instance, fails to mention that the dam will wipe public land off the map and that the public will end up footing a large part of the bill for the loss and destruction of its own resources while private interests benefit: The tragedy of the commons, in which the community as a whole loses out while one industry benefits, will be played out in epic proportions if the dam is approved. In eminent domain proceedings, at least, an offer to purchase the property is made to the owner in order to mitigate the property owner’s loss. In the case of Temperance Flat Dam, The Fresno Bee has avoided discussing the possibility of replacing the recreation area with one of the same quality and size somewhere else along the river. Numerous dams already exist on the San Joaquin River and one would be hard-pressed to find any land accessible to the public along an undammed stretch of the river north of Kerckhoff Reservoir all the way to Mono Hot Springs (a three-hour drive from Fresno).
Ridge Trail: San Joaquin River Gorge 
Special Recreation Management Area
     The media, for the most part, has avoided discussing a connection between the dam and the use of its water to irrigate one of the most wasteful crops in the world: almonds, the Valley’s biggest crop. The Bee recently mentioned that journalists from other parts of the country have “parachuted” into the Valley to get the scoop on almonds, and that one magazine (Mother Jones) even points out that it takes over a gallon of water to produce one almond. The Bee’s suggestion that journalists from other parts of the country have to parachute into the Valley as though into a war zone to find the truth would be funny if it didn’t ring so true. Instead of supporting a dam, why doesn’t the media complain about the water guzzling crops, such as almonds, cotton, and grapes that have no business being grown in a semi-arid region, especially in chronic drought conditions? Why isn’t the media protecting the public interest instead of advocating for a vested interest that needs to do some serious soul-searching about its practices instead of maintaining the status quo at the public's expense?

     The issue is framed as a public benefit for salmon: A dam at Temperance Flat might provide cold water downstream to revive a salmon run. However, The Fresno Bee has avoided mentioning that two dozen rare, threatened, and endangered species in the gorge will take a hit when the river ecosystem is wiped out.
     The media generally fails to mention the history behind the Central Valley Project. As Bettina Boxall of the LA Times points out, aquifer levels in the Valley nose-dived in the years before World War II. The federal government came to the rescue with the Central Valley Project, the nation's biggest irrigation operation, erecting Friant Dam in 1942. Two canals diverted over ninety-five percent of the water from Millerton Lake. The Madera Canal ran north and the Friant-Kern Canal meandered south, filling the east side's thirsty irrigation ditches. The river's salmon quickly vanished and about 50 miles of riverbed downstream from Friant remains a desert in all but the wettest years.
Goldfields and Bush Lupine: San Joaquin River 
Gorge Special Recreation Management Area
     I am still surprised to discover that many local people do not know that the San Joaquin River once flowed into the delta and eventually into the San Francisco Bay, suggesting another failure on the part of the media to inform the public. In wet years the river would overflow, replenishing wetlands (now down to four percent of historical levels) as well as groundwater supplies. Due to the diversion of so much water, environmental problems from Friant Dam to the delta continue to plague the Valley: Groundwater levels plummet, and fish populations in the delta teeter on the edge of extinction while farmers combine pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers with irrigation water that percolates down into the aquifers. 
      In discussing Temperance Flat Dam, the Bee fails to mention an important difference between the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. In 1960, California voters approved a bond to build a network of dams and aqueducts, diverting water from the delta to cities in the south. The rate-payers of those primarily urban water agencies are repaying most of the bond for the State Water Project with interest while shouldering almost all of the system's annual operating costs. As Boxall points out, irrigators in the Central Valley Project have, in contrast, enjoyed the equivalent of a 60-year, interest-free loan. They have so far repaid about 19% of their $1.2-billion share of the federal project's capital costs. Under reclamation law, the government charges them no interest. Though the vast majority of Temperance Flat's releases could go to growers, they will no doubt have great difficulty paying for their share of the dam's costs. The NRDC points out that the water coming out of Temperance Flat would "cost more than $1,500 per acre foot. Even with massive taxpayer subsidies, the Bureau of Reclamation estimates that water would cost more than $200 per acre foot for agricultural contractors (far more than these districts pay today, especially since the project would eliminate much of the cheap $10 per acre foot water that is provided in wet years)." Because the dam would destroy public land without what would be considered appropriate compensation in any other case, more taxpayer subsidies would simply add insult to injury. 

Native American Village Site:
Pine Flat Reservoir in Drought Year

     Proposition One's allocation for new storage projects would increase the state's annual water supply by only a small fraction of California's total needs (as little as one percent) but could win a huge chunk of state taxpayer funding. The Proposition sets aside $2.7 billion for unspecified surface and groundwater storage, but does not pay for all of a project's total cost. So dam backers would still have to turn elsewhere for money, most likely to the federal government or urban areas. The Bee fails to mention that cities will need to play a major role even though agricultural users, not urban users, will receive the lion’s share of the water.
     As the argument against Proposition One in the Official Voter Information Guide points out, "In a major historic departure for water storage projects, the costs of these new dams and reservoirs will be paid from the state General Fund, and California taxpayers will share the burden of paying off bonds that will drain $500 million a year from the General Fund....It's an issue of fairness. The 1960 bond act that financed the State Water Project directed that beneficiaries pay those costs through their water rates. If private water users won't fund these projects on their own, taxpayers should not be required to underwrite their construction, and then purchase the water later at higher prices. Private water users who are the beneficiaries, not taxpayers, should pay for the cost of these projects."
Lupine and Red Clover
next to Ridge Trail
    The Bee claims that by approving Proposition One, voters supported building more dams, such as the dam at Temperance Flat. The language of the legislation, however, does not specify any water storage projects. Ground water storage projects are another, and far superior option, but again, the local ag-industry is less certain to benefit from this type of project.
    The San Joaquin River from the mountains to the San Francisco Bay was once the lifeblood of one vast ecosystem comparable to the Serengeti Plains in abundance of wildlife. The ag industry has drained the river dry for seventy years and the ecosystem has nearly vanished. But just when you think everything is gone, they find something else to take. The next to go will probably be the King's River Special Management Area, since the hydraulic brotherhood has also been clamoring to build a dam at Roger's Crossing for years. One lesson to be learned is that local, state and federal governments can change land use designations whenever expedient. That, combined with corporate influence on politics and the media, requires hyper-vigilance on the part of the public.
     The Bee's outspoken support of the dam at Temperance Flat resembles nothing less than an all-out public relations campaign. At best, the Bee and other media are simply misleading the public due to an inability to delve more deeply into an issue. At worst, they are being controlled by corporate interests. Funny, but I have always assumed that it is in the best interests of a newspaper to at least provide the impression that integrity is important. At this point, I have serious doubts that maintaining journalistic integrity is even a consideration for the McClatchy Company anymore.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Fiddleneck and Popcorn in House Pits near Pounding Stone

     I have some faith in my feet, so I follow ancient trails in the mountains to wherever they take me, and often, wherever I find the most Edenic places, I also discover pounding stones. More often than not, these places contain a stream that provides a unique kind of freshness, a primeval sublimity. Often when I encounter one of these streams, I feel like I have stepped through an invisible door into an unknown paradise that harbors a primal intelligence, an Over-Soul that hesitates to welcome humanity. Yet I also sense a sympathy dwelling within the spirits of nature, as if they harbor a love of all creation that gives way to tolerance for any soul, even a human soul, that reveals the same reverence.
     These feelings, of course, can be dismissed as mere fantasy. That’s fine: I am going to discuss a topic that probably will not be understood by those who have not seen the sun at midnight.  

Pestles on Pounding Stone

     How do we reconcile the Vision of Harmony with unspeakable evil?
     In the Qabalah, the Vision of Harmony is a spiritual experience assigned on the Tree of Life to Tiphareth, the sphere of Beauty and equilibrium, also known as the Christ-center. The vision consists of recognizing that each life is a field of energy within infinite fields of energy, all connected in a living tapestry. 
Pestle on Pounding Stone
     Evil, on one level, is misplaced energy, or energy operating in a harmful context. Boiling water for food is good. Boiling water with your fingers in it is evil. Wood burning in the fireplace is good. Wood burning on the carpet is evil. Gasoline used to power a vehicle is good. Gasoline used to burn down someone’s home is evil. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we have experienced misplaced and harmful energy on an unprecedented scale: industrial and technological energy that destroys entire ecosystems and races. 
     Most of us at some point ask how evil can exist in a universe created by a loving God and conclude that a God does not exist or is not at all loving. When I find a pounding stone in a pristine place, I feel the need to re-examine everything I’ve ever known. I sometimes can’t help but wonder how God could allow one race to kill off another. The very fact that I can roam freely in these pristine areas due to their designation as public lands means that the Native American descendents of the survivors of genocide cannot return to live permanently in their ancestral home.
     I have lived just over half a century, the blink of an eye. According to historical records, the last encampments of the Native Americans in these hills occurred in 1917. In some of the more secluded areas of the mountains, where I find house pits as well as pestles still in the mortars of the pounding stones, I begin to suspect that small clans or individuals remained in secluded areas well into the twentieth century. Sometimes, because of the distinctness of the trails and the house pits, I even suspect that the last survivors of genocide disappeared from their home lands not long before I was born.

Pestles on Pounding Stone

     World War II, which included the genocide of over six million people, ended fifteen years before I was born. My father and his brothers served during the great war; two of my uncles survived being shot down by Germans. If you have grown up knowing that you and the rest of the planet can be incinerated at any moment, you do not need to have experienced war or concentration camps to understand evil. Most of us are well aware that humanity is still capable of raining down total destruction upon the planet. 
     How is it possible that one can experience a spiritual emergence and continue to grow as a human being despite this evil? How is it possible that a person can still experience the magnificence, abundance and harmony of the human spirit despite all the suffering and fear and hopelessness? 

Pestle in Mortar

     As I have explained in previous posts, in my early forties, I unexpectedly experienced a spiritual emergence through meditation. Before that, I was a cynical agnostic who scoffed at any manifestation of spirituality. I believed that anyone who claimed to have a spiritual life was naive, deluded, or deceitful. I still occasionally shake my head in disbelief when I think about how much I have changed in the past decade.
     During meditation I was introduced to an ancient spiritual glyph known as the Tree of Life through visions of symbols associated with the Tree, before I ever actually encountered the great composite symbol itself. Used by the Qabalist as a map of spiritual terrain, the Tree of Life reveals on one level the evolution of the dimensions of the cosmos. Within the first dimension, known as Kether, which evolved from the unmanifest, total unity abides.  As the other dimensions evolved, different polarities came into being. For purposes of illustration, imagine a pole with a rainbow spectrum of colors, with white at one end and black at the other. Each sphere on the Tree except for Kether contains such a pole with a spectrum of energy. All of the polarities manifest in the final sphere, the Kingdom, the physical universe.

Pestles on Pounding Stone

     On the Tree there is never any fixed duality of good and evil, just degrees within a spectrum on a pole of energy. A constant battle between God and the devil does not exist, only balance or imbalance within a range of possibilities.
     We have evolved to the point where we can create like gods and destroy like gods, but the God of Creation seems absent. We see evidence of evolution everywhere in the physical universe but rarely entertain the possibility of evolution in other dimensions of the cosmos.
     Operating from first principles, the Qabalist recognizes the God of creation, the prime mover, the fashioner of the egg. God designed the laws of the cosmos and set evolution in motion. The archetypal laws abide throughout the cosmos, no matter the fate of one species. The Earth is but one miniscule planet within a universe containing hundreds of billions of galaxies and trillions of stars, and, as one mystic points out, the entire physical universe itself is merely like foam thrown upon the seashore.  The Qabalist believes that the cosmic energies, including the potential for all of the polarities, also exist within each individual human being. 

Pestle on Pounding Stone

     Life, including human life, as a whole tends towards balance. Throughout the entire cosmos, harmony prevails, or there would be only chaos. At times massive upheavals occur. Stars supernova and galaxies collide. If a species destroys a planet, the cosmos will continue evolving.  Life will eventually continue again on that little planet when conditions are right. 
     The difference between the natural world and humanity is that people can choose whether or not to disrupt the balance of nature or society. Sometimes, of course, upheaval is necessary in oppressive societies where those in power employ harmful energies for their own benefit. Those who fight for greater balance and strive for the highest good are courageous in that context. Those who disrupt for their personal gain merely cause evil to breed.

Pestles in Pounding Stone

    Never has there been a time when a human being can be more distinctly individual while at the same time needing to act as though for the whole society. Because of our technological advances, opportunities for massive injustices and great evil within human society at this stage of evolution always exist. Each individual can only control his or her own personal sphere, but the fate of the whole species seems to rest on each individual’s shoulders: The more each person chooses a path of harmony and balance, the more likely others will do the same. The opposite, of course, is also true.
     As a species, humanity, while creating or destroying, tends to learn slowly from its vices and virtues--a virtue being a harmonious, balanced use of a type of energy, and a vice being an unbalanced use of a type of energy. As I mentioned, polarities from each sphere, or state of being, on the Tree of Life manifest in the Kingdom. Depending on the situation, we can choose to manifest the virtue or vice from any sphere. With the energy of the state of being known as Geburah (Severity), which is associated with Mars, for instance, we can approach a problem with discipline, courage and vitality or with cruelty and destructiveness. With the energy of the state of being known as Hod (Splendor), we can deal truthfully or deceitfully with each other. With the energy of the state of being known as Tiphareth (Beauty), we can be loving and selfless or full of hate and pride. In other words, with the energy of each state of being represented on the Tree of Life, we can choose to manifest the highest good or the worst evil--or something in between.

Grass Growing from Mortar:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     I had a professor in college who claimed that due to the horrors of the twentieth century we can no longer believe in the magnificence of the human spirit. I have come to conclude that evil and good exist within different contexts and on different scales, but polarities don’t change even if humanity is truly being challenged as never before. The human spirit, which has the potential for great evil, also has the potential for greater magnificence the greater the evil becomes. As individuals, groups, and societies we must always choose either virtue or vice, balance or lack of balance, no matter how desperate the circumstances. 
     The spiritual experience known as the Vision of Harmony establishes an imaginative connection with all life so that we may understand polarities and strive for the highest good. It does not lead to a naive belief that harmony will always prevail in society but to a recognition that we can choose to use energy in a balanced or unbalanced way. Personally I would prefer to preserve the paradises that still exist and honor the magnificence, harmony, and abundance within the human spirit.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Baby Blue Eyes
San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

All photos taken February 21, 2015

“For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever.”

     While the rest of the country is blanketed by snow, the first spring flowers are flourishing on the hillsides of the Sierra Nevada Mountains due to the unseasonable warmth here in California. Yesterday as my wife and I drove to the San Joaquin River Gorge, I was secretly hoping to find at least one baby blue eye flower amidst the blazing fiddleneck and pure white popcorn flowers carpeting the hillsides: When I first encounter a baby blue eye in early spring, my soul thaws in a rush of awe and gratitude. The tape in my head switches off, and, facing a piece of sky on the ground, I take a deep breath, feeling a sense of the sublimity of being. No one can possibly measure the sweetness, the simplicity, the stunning delicacy of the flower. To our great joy, we found numerous baby blues eyes along the trail down to the San Joaquin River--an unusual phenomenon in mid-February. We drove home feeling refreshed, as if the baby blue eyes had cleansed us.

San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

     On the way home, I mused about why I am so enthusiastic about the flower. One year, even though I am normally an extremely unsentimental man, I knelt before a baby blue eye and felt tears sliding down my cheeks. The flower immediately affects me on some subconscious level, an archetypal level, I concluded. It combines the freshest beauty with the severest simplicity in perfect proportion, a combination of two powerful aspects of the life-force, Venus and Mars. 
     As absurd as that may sound, it makes sense on more than one level. The flower has five petals. Geburah, “the Power” referenced at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, refers to the fifth sphere on the Tree of Life, which is associated with Mars and the number five. (Hence, the Pentagon as the nerve center of the military-industrial complex.) Another name for Geburah is “severity.” From the perspective of Mars, life is a severe test or trial, a crucible that can produce great beauty on the physical, emotional, moral, or spiritual levels.

San Joaquin River. 
San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

    Lest you have forgotten, Venus and Mars are lovers. On the Tree of Life, a path runs from Geburah (the sphere of Mars) through Tiphareth, the center of equilibrium, down to Netzach (the sphere of Venus). The ancients realized that the power of the life force manifests in great beauty in the sphere of ethics as well as in the sphere of nature through a severe discipline. As Dion Fortune points out in The Mystical Qabalah, there is a righteousness in beauty as well as a beauty in righteousness.  

Tree of Life

     (The glyph of the Tree of Life is, among other things, a flow chart of evolution, devised long before Darwin ever appeared on the scene.)
     Following the Pillar of Severity on the Tree of Life from top to bottom, Saturn, representing the basis of form, is Mars on a higher arc, and Mercury, representing thought (also a type of form), is Mars on a lower arc. On the other side of the Tree of Life, the Pillar of Mildness represents expansive force. The Pillar of Severity limits force physically, ethically, and intellectually so that it can manifest appropriately in The Kingdom, the physical universe. Mars, despite his reputation as the God of War, is a God of Karma, of Justice, of Ethics who establishes balance and perfect proportion on all levels, but especially in social affairs. 

Pounding Stone by River (center). 
San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

     We want our doctors and lawmen and leaders to be in league with Mars. We want our doctors to have no sympathy for disease. We want our lawmen (who often wear five-pointed stars) to have no sympathy for people who harm others. We want our politicians to protect us from internal and external threats.  As workers we respect the manager who has no sympathy for those who don’t do their jobs.
     As a society we pretty much allow Mars free reign when it comes to matters of health, law, and business, yet in a strange but telling way we sometimes tremble when confronted by the archetype of Mars because the God forces us to come to terms with reality: Mars burns away denial of the truth, whether it takes five minutes or five hundred years. He uses the sword, and he is not at all delicate or subtle about solving problems or dealing with excess. The person who manifests Mars puts the fear of God into you. He is on the side of the underdog who fights for equality and justice and inspires you to do the right thing despite the personal risks involved.

Bush Lupine below Bluffs. 
San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

     Recently, after many years of struggling with food allergies, I discovered that I have a full-blown case of celiac disease, which means that I experience heart palpitations and debilitating stomach problems when I eat a miniscule amount of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Because gluten has eroded my digestive system over the years, stimulants, including coffee, chocolate, and alcohol, also cause irregular heartbeats. The only cure is a gluten and stimulant-free diet. Mars provides the strength and discipline to live within these strict dietary limitations. Thanks to Mars, I have recently discovered that there is a beauty in health that manifests on more than just the physical level.
     As human beings we have to live within the harsh limitations of the environment and society, which means partly that we cannot allow one person or industry to use up all the resources. Mars is a corrective to the expansiveness and the excesses of Jupiter, the God who represents Chesed, the sphere opposite Geburah. Mars is the corrective to Jupiter’s vices--gluttony, bigotry, tyranny, and hypocrisy, which, as I pointed out in a previous post, are the vices of the American Dream.  As I mused about the baby blue eye on the way home, I realized that when I gaze at the flower, I am inspired to save public land like the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area, where such flowers can be found in profusion. I cannot help being ravished by the beauty of Venus and also spurred by the power of Mars to fight an industry that is striving to bury the river gorge under hundreds of feet of water for its own benefit. 
Fiddleneck by Campground. 
San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

      In the San Joaquin Valley, the biggest crop is almonds, with grapes not far behind. As Mother Jones points out, it takes over a gallon of water to produce one almond. In order to continue growing these unsustainable crops in a drought within a semi-arid region, farmers are demanding that a large part of the recently passed $7.5 billion water bond be spent to build a dam at Temperance Flat, above Friant Dam. In other words, farmers, for their own commercial benefit, want the public to pay for the theft and destruction of public resources. This fills me with the spirit of Mars: It is this kind of excess, call it greed or gluttony, that must be nipped in the bud.
     At the heart of the archetype of Mars is health and balance. As most parents will tell you, too much laxity results in spoiling the child. As any doctor will tell you, too much overindulgence results in disease. As any leader should be able to tell you, allowing systemic greed results in economic disaster and chaos.  But also at the heart of the archetype of Mars is the sympathy that extends the beauty of righteousness into a desire to protect the righteousness of beauty.

Friday, February 13, 2015


Fiddleneck and Popcorn:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     Recently I drove over Kaiser Pass, edging along the treacherous, single-lane road that forces drivers to take turns hugging the cliffside. Feeling adventurous, I ignored the turn-off to Mono Hot Springs and came unexpectedly upon a small lake, no more than a pond really, where tules were flourishing next to the road. Across the lake a rock formation rose like the grandest, most formidable cathedral on earth. The place seemed eerily familiar, so I parked the car and stretched my legs. Suddenly, as I gazed at the lakeshore, I noticed a blue dragonfly, which transported me back to a moment in my childhood forty years ago. Whatever I was supposed to think or feel or be fell away, and, just like forty years before, I experienced pure being in a timeless place.
     As a child, I usually didn’t associate experiences with specific geographic locations, so I didn't know the name of the lake or its relationship to other places. I’m still surprised when childhood memories unexpectedly flood back to me after I encounter a creek or river or lake that I once haunted for a few hours. My father, in search of a fishing hole, had ended up at Ward Lake early one summer morning, a drive from Fresno of almost three hours. We must have left home during the wee hours because I woke up as he was parking the car, not long after sunrise. The first thing I encountered as I was dashing to the shore was a sapphire dragonfly hovering in the tules. 
The San Joaquin River:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area
     Like all twelve year olds, I had dreams that I was sure were going to come true. Almost all, of course, have since vanished. As I stood gazing at the dark lake as a child and as a man, I wondered uneasily why we choose not to stay in such a timeless place. I concluded as a child that human society must offer something better. As a man, I wasn’t so sure. A place like Ward Lake puts a lot into perspective.

     The quiet lake and the huge trees and the massive rocks gave me the uneasy feeling that most of what we think and feel and believe and dream about is just noise, yet we play the same tune over and over as if the world depends on it. At Ward Lake the tune vanished, and for a moment I felt afraid. I longed to return to a place where I could hear the noisy tune of civilization. At that moment, the tree trunk that I was standing on reminded me only of death and chaos. I had a bizarre desire to clean up the humus and the fallen branches, to pull the dead, water-logged trees from the dark water. I sighed as I stared at the awesome rock rising high over the lake, its reflection extending deep into the water. I couldn’t imagine a way of making the rock less intimidating. I was faced with an “otherness” that I could not control.
Goldfields and Popcorn:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area
     I realized then that I was having an irrational desire to manage an ecosystem that contained its own inherent order. I wanted to recreate the place in the image of humanity, to restart the tune that I understood so well. Yet in the quiet something inside of me said no, let it go, and once again I returned to a state of simply being. I felt complete. It seemed easy, as if all I ever had to do was make a conscious choice to let go of the fear of losing my identity, but I soon suspected that I wouldn’t be able to maintain that feeling for long. 

     The lake and the massive rocks and trees were imbued with a life that did not need humanity at all, which inexplicably troubled me. I strolled back to the tules where the blue dragonflies hovered and bobbed here and there. I remained still, conscious of my breath, letting go of the noise in my head, contemplating the otherness, as if I were meditating with my eyes open.
Fiddleneck and Fiesta Flowers:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area
     I remembered seeing dragonflies all the time when I was a child, sapphire and ruby red and shimmering green, and it occurred to me that I had not encountered one in many years. Suddenly I missed them terribly. Where had they gone? Were their populations decimated by cultivation and pesticides and urbanization or was I just visiting the wrong places? I felt a profound sense of loss as I gazed at a blue dragonfly hovering nearby. I wanted to snatch it and hold onto it. Then I remembered that my father had died about five years after our trip to Ward Lake.
     Once again a sense of chaos and death and the unknown overwhelmed me. I felt like a Puritan at Plymouth Rock facing the dark forests of an unchartered continent. I wanted to cut down the trees and level the ground and create a safe, comforting, glitzy civilization where suffering and death could be hidden away and ignored. I wanted a city to spring up on the hill. 

Popcorn Flowers below Bluff:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     Yet the sense of timelessness again enveloped me. I felt renewed, like I was a child again, like my father was still fishing somewhere by the lake. I wanted him to remain there in the brilliant sunshine, dwarfed by the magnificent trees and rocks, his shining line deep in the dark lake. Of course, I knew he wasn’t there, but because in my mind there had been no passage of time, he was standing there, his body a still shadow in the dark water, the lake even more sublime because of it. 
     I was snapped back by the clock. I had to head home. I shook my head, suddenly feeling queasy, as if my inescapable need for human order was a chronic sickness that always eventually blocks any connection with nature. I wanted to silence the noise in my mind for good and just listen to the quiet lapping of the water and feel the timelessness and the sunshine and the breeze.
     At that point I realized that deep in my soul I needed the quietness and the sense of otherness, even if it was occasionally accompanied by a feeling of being out of control, but I also needed human order, the noisy song of civilization. I needed to strike a satisfying balance, and I hoped that my children wouldn’t lose the rejuvenating sense of pure being and timelessness and otherness. 
     We need wild public lands near where we live, such as the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area, which might soon be buried under hundreds of feet of water if Temperance Flat Dam is approved. We need those places to rejuvenate us and help us maintain our sense of continuity and our connection with something beyond us--with something sublime.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Baby Blue Eyes and Fiddleneck:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area

     Due to recent rains, green grass, hauntingly fresh, has sprouted again in the San Joaquin River Gorge, heralding the first flowers of spring: popcorn, fiddleneck, lupine and shooting stars. Soon the slopes will be covered by spot rugs of goldfields and baby blue eyes, owl’s clover and poppies. Once belonging to Native Americans, this land is currently public land, a remnant of the commons of America. Native American pounding stones can be found in many places within the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area, but the freshness of late winter and early spring obscures the tragedy of genocide.  That very freshness makes the possibility that the land will be buried under hundreds of feet of water seem remote. 
     We haven’t learned much from history. First the land was stolen from Native Americans. If a dam is built at Temperance Flat, the land will be stolen from the American public, a tragedy in which “common” public land and resources become the property of one industry at the expense of the community as a whole.
     Recently, after I described the issue to a friend, she stated flatly, “That’s nothing new." She could not have been more correct, unfortunately. From a spiritual perspective, the pillaging of common resources by those in power is a vice associated with a sphere on the Tree of Life known as Chesed. From the perspective of the Tree, which is a composite symbol of the types of energies that have evolved within the manifested cosmos, the vice has existed since the beginning of time (as we humans know it). The vices associated with the spheres of polarity are the unbalanced aspects of the energies of each sphere or state of being that manifest in the world. Since humans contain the energies of the spheres represented by the Tree, each of us can manifest the virtues of each sphere as well as the vices related to unbalanced energy. 

The Tree of Life
     Also known as Gedulah, referenced as “the Glory” at the end of the Lord’s prayer, Chesed is the fourth sephirah on the Tree of Life, a sphere associated with Jupiter. Known by the Greeks as Zeus, Jupiter is the archetypal king, the consummate ruler and lawgiver, the great up-builder and organizer of civilization. 
     The spheres on the Tree of Life represent types of manifested energy, each of which has been personified throughout history as different Gods and hierarchies of Angels. In addition to their magnificent spiritual virtues, each sphere on the Tree of Life also contains vices because energy manifests according to the laws of polarity. Love is the opposite of hate. Heat is the opposite of cold. Where there is a virtue, there is a vice, except where total unity abides. The vices of the sphere of Jupiter relate to power: Tyranny, gluttony, hypocrisy, and bigotry, as opposed to its virtue, obedience to the law of love, an obedience that can manifest as spiritual magnificence, abundance and harmony.
     The American Dream in both of its positive and negative aspects stems from the archetypal energies of Gedulah, the fourth sephirah, or state of being, on the Tree. At the heart of the American Dream is the belief that each individual is potentially a magnificent being who is capable of creating abundance and harmony and of determining his or her own fate. It follows that the individual who sincerely works hard and plays by the rules should prosper as long as barriers to this potential for prosperity are kept to a minimum. A person who succeeds through intelligence, good fortune and a strong work ethic deserves what he or she receives.
     But the Dream has a dark side. Currently 80 people, the majority of whom are Americans, own the same amount of wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people, according to an analysis released from Oxfam. Four years earlier, 388 billionaires together held as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the world. Wealth is becoming concentrated in the hands of the few at an alarming rate. Those who control the wealth continue to accumulate as much wealth as they can, despite the terrible conditions experienced by innumerable people throughout the world. Not coincidentally, the influence of money in politics is also undermining any semblance of democracy. Because democracy is for sale, the “tragedy of the commons” is becoming far too common.

Baby Blue Eyes, Popcorn, and Fiddleneck:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area

     An economic theory by Garrett Hardin, the “tragedy of the commons” posits that individuals acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource. The term, taken from the title of an article written by Hardin in 1968, is in turn based upon an essay by a Victorian economist on the effects of unregulated grazing on common land.
     In 1833 the English economist William Forster Lloyd published a pamphlet which included an example of herders sharing a common parcel of land on which they were entitled to graze their cows. In English villages, shepherds had also sometimes grazed their sheep in common areas, and sheep ate more grass than cows. For each additional sheep, a herder would receive benefits while the group shared damage to the commons. If all herders made this economic decision, rational for themselves as individuals but detrimental to the group, the commons could be depleted or destroyed.
     Recently the "commons" has come to mean any shared resource, such as rivers, oceans, fish stocks, atmosphere, or even the office refrigerator. The concept is often cited in connection with the need for reasonable and sustainable growth.

Squaw Leap: The San Joaquin River Gorge 
Special Management Area

     A dam at Temperance Flat will turn a majestic  river ecosystem into a storage container for the top few percent in the San Joaquin Valley, the vast majority of the water going to one industry for private gain--much of the water irrigating unsustainable crops, such as almonds, in a semi-arid region. There are currently over 1,400 named dams and 1,300 named reservoirs in the state of California, dozens of which already exist on the San Joaquin River. Each dam and reservoir has destroyed river habitat, but  together they have not ended the water shortage for the farmers of California. 
     The vices of the American Dream are the vices of Gedulah. Many people believe in limiting the barriers to prosperity.  In other words, each individual should have the right to prosper in an unregulated or deregulated market, no matter the consequences to other individuals or society or the world as a whole, a belief resulting in a cultural fascination with the gangster and more recently in the near economic collapse of Western societies--including the United States. Of the vices, examples in America are glaringly obvious. Bigotry has led to slavery and genocide. Greed, another name for gluttony, is readily seen in the depletion of resources such as old-growth forests and wetlands across the continent, as well as indirectly in the inescapable pollution of air and water. Despite a professed belief in democracy, the tyranny of the bottom line dominates corporate life and numerous social relationships, and in competition for material success, hypocrisy--in other words deceit, fraudulence, insincerity--is undeniably pervasive, in the classroom as well as the boardroom, in the church as well as the town hall.
     Belief in the American Dream is the main basis of loyalty for many of the citizens of the United States, and the positive elements of the ethos is drilled into the consciousness of the average American from birth to such a degree that the unbalanced aspects of the ethos are rarely examined. Instead, many unthinkingly accept that the American Dream, a facet of the archetype of Gedulah, means that organizing and building to create prosperity for someone, somewhere is always a form of beneficial progress. Consequently, dams and water works are still viewed by many as one of many great advancements of civilization. However, at the heart of the archetype of Gedulah is balance, which includes establishing sustainable communities that maintain harmony with nature. The destruction of an irreplaceable river ecosystem for the private benefit of the few is not a true manifestation of the virtue, which is obedience to harmonizing love, including love and respect for all creation.
     A belief in prosperity at any cost continues to result in environmental destruction and economic disaster. Something has gone terribly wrong with our interpretation of the American Dream and our use of the energy of the archetype of Jupiter, the upbuilding, law-giving, merciful king of Gedulah. It’s almost in this country as if the vices of the archetype for many have become its virtues.  The true virtue of “The Glory” is the internal magnificence, abundance and harmony of the human spirit, which does not necessarily result in material success, control, dominance, or power that is so often the manifestation of its vices. As a society we need to re-examination the American Dream in terms of the Tree of Life if we are going to revere the glory of creation and reestablish a balance with nature--in order to protect the "commons" and survive as a species.