Mexica Tiahui – Go Forward

Day of the Dead Celebration and Sweat Ceremony,  Springville, California

Folded into a fetal position, my back is pushed against a hard wall. My bottom hurts from sitting on the hard ground. I can feel the women adjacent to me shove against my sides as they writhe. The lady on my right is violently coughing "it is hurting my lungs"; the other on my left is awkwardly unsure in the darkness. It is dark beyond dark, where I can’t tell if my eyes are open or shut. The air is thick with dusty particles from herbs smoldering on the rocks. It is hot. Sweat drips down my forehead onto my eyelashes and onto my cheeks. I can’t get past my physical discomfort.  

"Go Forward Mexica People"

"Go Forward Mexica People"

I was a guest at a small ranch along the Tule River near Springville; neighboring the Sequoia National Monument and the Tule Indian Reservation. Xico, an Aztec dancer and our host, invited my Burning Man Earth Guardian friends and me to join an Aztec Day of the Dead Celebration and Sweat Ceremony at his home.

Ceremony-049854.jpg

The event was conducted in purposeful parts, the construction of the alter commemorating the dead, the celebration, and the sweat ceremony.

Sage bundles ready to burn.

Sage bundles ready to burn.

Early in the morning, the altar begins to take shape. 

Early in the morning, the altar begins to take shape. 

Earth Guardian friends hang the banner. 

Earth Guardian friends hang the banner. 

Hummingbirds buzzed the bird feeders and Little Toes the cat stared at something in the shrubs. A wind chime rang like a grandfather clock and ripe black walnuts fell to the ground. First thing in the morning, ceremony set up began.

Earth Guardians helped hang banners and a large bucket of marigolds arrived.  The water jug was filled, the rugs were arranged, the tables were cleared, the kitchen was cleaned, and all the dishes were put away.

Altar construction started.

Shells, vases of mixed wildflowers, mangos, bananas, apples, dried corn, photos of departed family, herbs, and marigold petals were spread in a cloverleaf pattern. Clay figures of people, dogs, and an adorned barn owl theatrically took a place on the stage.  Contributions were placed with respect, precision, and grace. Beauty and completeness were valued.

Marigolds are an important part of the altar and the ceremony.

Marigolds are an important part of the altar and the ceremony.

That evening, the full moon rose over the mountain behind us. The clouds glowed in the night and headlamp lights bobbed up and down along the road as people approached the altar. My throat burned from the sage smoke that now hung thick in the air. 

Ladies in long skirts vigilantly tended to burning sage bundles and resin from the copal tree.

People trickled in as the final touches were added and the area was given a final cleaning and arrangement on the altar. The crowd was mixed apparel, mixed age, mixed size, mixed race, mixed language, and mixed culture, but all were respectful.

The owl is considered a visionary. 

The owl is considered a visionary. 

Sandra, our celebration leader, spoke only Spanish and a volunteer translated in English. She welcomed everyone: “Our roots unite us.” Today there is so much division, but we are more alike than different. Death is not something to fear or avoid, but something to celebrate. Loved ones no longer need their skin on their passage. We celebrate when someone dies and we wish them safe travels on their journey.

I recognized only a few Spanish words, but I do understand: camino (path), pero (dog), nueve (nine), muertos (dead), gracias (thanks), quarto (four), Este (East), Norte (North), Oeste (West), Sur (South), silencio (silence), and permiso (permission to speak). All words reverentially and joyfully recurring through the observance. The translator helps give context to the emotive songs of the four cardinal directions and the four sacred energies, the value of the dog that accompanies the warrior on his journey, travels through the nine rivers, nine songs, and nine levels of awareness.

Muertos (9 of 12).jpg

There was a request for participants to offer a song and the thanks to individuals who are no longer with us. Permission is given to address the group or offer a song. The numerous vocal gifts were compelling and were felt even more than heard. There were long complex songs and short rhythmic phrases, always accompanied by the drum, the rasp, and the conch shell.  

During the evening’s journey, participants were permitted to speak to late friends, family, and loved ones. 

Muertos(12 of 12).jpg

In turn, each shared feelings aloud. “Thank you grandfather for what you taught me…” “Thank you for being my best friend…” Thank you for the changes that you brought to my life…” Thank you for being there when I needed someone… you would be proud to see the person I have become.” I was too shy to say my offering aloud, but quietly I thank my cat Annapurra “You were the best cat ever. I miss you.” And I told my late parents that they would be proud to see their grown grandchildren; once beautiful babies, now responsible adults.

Beautiful voices, poetry and rythem filled the night. 


The sweat lodge in the afternoon sunlight.  I took all photos with permission, before or after the ceremony. 

The sweat lodge in the afternoon sunlight.  I took all photos with permission, before or after the ceremony. 

The group buzzed when attendees were invited to join the Sweat Ceremony. “Are you going to sweat tonight?” “Have you done this before?” And a crowd of about 35, gradually gathered at the sweat lodge. "How are we all going to fit in there?" My Earth Guardian friend Karen and I checked in with each other. "You still want to to this?" "OK?" "OK, let's do this." 

The fire was lit and stoked. Animated small groups conversed in anticipation. Ladies were dressed in t-shirts and long skirts; men in shorts with no shirts. As the flames grew, so did the nervous energy in everyone’s voices.

Rocks within; cedar wood and kindeling ready for burning. 

Rocks within; cedar wood and kindeling ready for burning. 

The flames blazed warm in the night. We lined up. In turn, each was invited to introduce ourself and enter the sweat lodge. First-time women first, then returning women; first-time men, then returning men. No jewelry, no glasses, no shoes, no electronics, only your “genuine self” was allowed to enter.

Altar outside the sweat lodge.

Altar outside the sweat lodge.

Inside there were no stones; no heat or steam. Only a candle burned. Sandra asked for songs as the red hot glowing scoria rocks were brought inside one at a time. A half dozen or more stones were handled with two antlers and placed into the center ring. The door closed and the candle was extinguished.

No one said it was going to be pitch black dark, cave dark, blacker and deeper than any night dark. It was dark.

Someone was chanting, droplets splashed onto my face, sage smoke fills the air, and I was not comfortable. It was really dark. 

Ceremony (1 of 1).jpg

During the first session, participants were asked to go around the circle and say aloud their intentions for the night. My time in the circle came: “Give up my attachment to physical objects.” The sweat ceremony is a return to the womb and a re-birth. Participants sweat, pray, and prepare for the future. 

sage (1 of 1).jpg

For a moment, there was no sense of time. There was no sky. There was no earth. There was no space. We howled together like coyotes, I murmured along with the songs and listened to the prayers.   We were all one in the sweat lodge together.

During the second session, the group was asked to say their name and two words that describe their duality. My time in the circle came: “Cynthia - new and old,” aware of my transition from career self to my retirement life and my preparation for My Big Walkabout. I hoped to learn from this experience to carry into my future plans to travel the world.

I tried to concentrate on something other than my discomfort. I began to wonder “how long is this going to take?” and I realized “I have a bad attitude,” but I wanted out A. S. A. P. “They must open that door sooner or later.” It was still damn dark. 

Eventually, the door opened.

The fresh night air was a relief. It was 2:30 am. I drank some water, ate a leftover piece of apple pie, and climbed into my cozy sleeping bag, exhausted.

In the morning light, the altar is gradually dismantled. 

In the morning light, the altar is gradually dismantled. 

The next morning, my Earth Guardian friends asked, “Would you do it again?”

Even as I write this blog, my memory, perspective, thoughts, and feelings about the sweat ceremony change.  When I was contemplating "my attachment to physical objects," I was picturing items like tables and chairs, forks and spoons, pots and pans, not my body.  But maybe I shouldn't be complaining. “How arrogant of me to grumble in my few minutes of physical anxiety!” Some people live their life with constant pain. How thankful I am for my chance to know that my distress was only temporary! It was a privilege to be one with the group in the discomfort of the darkness.

Generally, "Mexica Tiahui" refers to an effort through education to renew interest in and respect for the art, music, dance, and food of the Aztecs. It also is used as a call to go forward, do something, discover. It sounds like going on walkabout. 

“Cynthia Tiahui!

Yes, I would do it again. 

In the morning light, the door is open. 

In the morning light, the door is open. 

 

I Walk So I Can Walk

My feet hurt.

My legs are sore.

My back aches.

I am tired.

I am starting to cry for no known reason, 

and I am in one of the most amazing places in the world.

Maybe you have been there too. This happened to me in Moscow Russia, Rome, Italy, Costa Rica, Washington DC, New York... almost every big city trip has challenged my stamina. There is nothing worse than being too pooped to pop while traveling. I learned early in my travels that fatigue can be a wet blanket on the excitement, wonder, and pleasure of discovering a new experience.

Drycreektrail (1 of 1).jpg

“I walk so I can walk.”

Some people train for sports events, triathlons, marathons or to lose weight.  I train on a regular basis so I can travel. Preparation is a big part of any trip and I recognize that I need to be physically ready to tour the world.  I can get the best airfare, the cheapest rooms, and the most exotic food, but if I’m not feeling well… all could be wasted time, money and effort.

Twice a week I practice yoga, and two or three times a week, I go to George Brown’s Fitness and spend an hour on a treadmill listening to podcasts. Some of my favorites are “Grammar Girl”, “Get it Done Guy”, and “Extra Pack of Peanuts Travel Podcast”. Or sometimes I just listen to music and let my thoughts wander on my next walkabout or what to write in my next blog post. 

When I am not traveling far and wide, there is a terrific destination right outside my front door. One of my favorite Walkabout Workouts is a long walk along the Clovis Old Town Trail and the Dry Creek Trail. I took my blog photos along the route. 

The hike to Old Town Clovis

The hike to Old Town Clovis

Reflecting upon the Dry Creek Trail. 

Reflecting upon the Dry Creek Trail. 

I remember the Clovis Old Town trail when it still had railroad ties. The City of Clovis worked with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to transform the railway that ushered fruits and vegetables through town, into a paved pedestrian trail. 

“The Clovis Old Town Trail begins near Fresno Yosemite International Airport on the southern edge of Clovis and continues north along Clovis Avenue. The trail skirts many residential and commercial areas, with easy access along the entire length.”

I usually catch the trail in my neighborhood  at the Trailside Shopping Center,  Willow and Nees, The trail traverses South to Cottonwood Park where it connects with the Dry Creek Trail.  

Sometimes there is water in Dry Creek at Cottonwood Park. 

Sometimes there is water in Dry Creek at Cottonwood Park. 

It takes time to take a hike. But you only have time for the things you make time for, and the reward is a longer, healthier world wide walkabout. 

A walk is a good time to reflect on the last trip and the next adventure. 

A walk is a good time to reflect on the last trip and the next adventure. 

Sycamores and gingkoes change color and drop their leaves with the change of seasons. After a Walkabout Workout on the trail, I find I have a better attitude and a more positive outlook.

It is a moment of relief. A time to take a breath.

When on a Walkabout Workout,  the far becomes near and you can see details in the small things nearby. 

When on a Walkabout Workout,  the far becomes near and you can see details in the small things nearby. 

And, I face the world with a better view.

Inky Cap Mushrooms along the trail. 

Inky Cap Mushrooms along the trail. 

My Fitness Partner regularly joins me.  We walk and talk and make plans for our next adventure and solve any problems of the day. Sometimes, I try to ignore my fitness commitment, only to be reminded  that I really do want to "walk so I can walk."  If not for now, then for our next trip. 

Frequently we include lunch along the way, or a stop at the Clovis branch of the Fresno County Library.  

My Fitness Partner at the Dry Creek Trailhead on Shepard Avenue, Clovis. 

My Fitness Partner at the Dry Creek Trailhead on Shepard Avenue, Clovis. 

My late mother would say, "You will never have anything nice if you don’t learn how to take care of things." I want my bogy to be nice to me when I travel, so  I own the responsibility for my health. 

Drycreektrail (3 of 1).jpg

There have been times when we have counted as many as 21 different bird species.

I am thankful for living in a community that is a worthy travel destination, full of beauty, peace, and interesting places to walk. I am safe, and I can enjoy a beautiful environment right outside my front door. Maybe you have such a place outside your doorstep. 

I enjoy traveling every week, with a Walkabout Workout. .  

I walk because I can walk. I hope you do too. 

ClovisTrail (4 of 6).jpg

Oso Flaco Isn't Painful

The trail through the arroyo willow and oaks. 

The trail through the arroyo willow and oaks. 

"Let’s go to Oso Flaco.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Let’s go to Oso Flaco,” proudly proclaims my Ever Planning Another Adventure Husband.

I winced thinking “that sounds painful.” And I paused while my brain kept searching, searching...

Is it rising to a higher level of spiritual consciousness? Is this a country I haven’t hear about? Maybe a Karma Sutra position?  A day spa, a concert, a performance venue, café, auditorium, hot spot, dinner club, gallery, conservatory, institute, infirmary, or maybe a medical clinic? 

“But will it hurt?”

“We could do it as a day trip.” He replies, beaming with anticipation.

IMG_4240.jpg

My friends Google and All Trails helped me figure it out.

In Spanish it means skinny bear, and it is a coastal California State Park trail. The complete title is Oso Flaco Lake Trail. It is just north of the small town of Guadalupe, and according to the Dunes Center, "it is one of the most scenic natural areas all along California's coast. 

Cormorants, the lake and the dunes at Oso Flaco

Cormorants, the lake and the dunes at Oso Flaco

“Oso Flaco Lake is part of the former Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Preserve, operated by The Nature Conservancy. The area has been transferred to California State Parks, and is now part of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.”

According to San Luis Obispo Visitor's Guide, Oso Flaco is an ancient name given to the lake by the Spanish in 1769. It is where they killed and ate a skinny bear. That sure sounds like it hurt for the bear. 

We painfully woke at 0500 and it was very dark. The drive is almost four hours long, and we pass several Fresno favorite spots: Paso Robles, Morro Bay, Cayucos, and Pismo Beach.  My husband’s motivation for the trip was to see two warblers that he needs for his life bird watching list. Me, I am always happy to have a chance to see, hear, and smell the Pacific Ocean.

 

The coastal access and parking are on a dead-end road flanked by fields of truck crops and hoop houses covering strawberries. This is hardcore California heavy-duty agriculture land.  We pass brilliant green field after field with rich brown dirt, all punctuated with turquoise farm worker portable toilets.

It wasn't log ago that there were no toilets in the fields. 

It wasn't log ago that there were no toilets in the fields. 

Oso Flaco Parking Guard Chicken

Oso Flaco Parking Guard Chicken

The parking lot and trailhead were well signed and patrolled by a welcoming chicken looking for handouts. In addition to a trail map, the bulletin board informed us to be aware of mountain lions and report any bear sightings.

Oso Flaco Lake is recognized as an important migratory bird location. I’m a Reluctant Bad Birder. I call blackbirds starlings, and I mistake turkey vultures for red tail hawks.  Real birders roll their eyes when I say "look is that a falcon or an owl?"  But, today I was able to identify coots, cormorants, mallards, herons, cinnamon teals, white pelicans, western gulls, and goshawks.  Birds putter under and around the boardwalks. At the lake and on the shore, birds vie for fish and so do people. The air is filled with squawks, tweets, squeaks, peeps, flirts, chirps, blurts and an occasional splishy splash of a catch.

My Ever Planning Another Adventure Husband looking for birds. 

My Ever Planning Another Adventure Husband looking for birds. 

OsoFlaco (13 of 13).jpg

An extensive boardwalk is well maintained and meanders above the lake, through the dunes and  dumping onto the coastline. Along the route, there are benches to sit, and places to secure your tripod or spotting scope, or space to take a contemplative moment to reflect.  

There is something about seeing the waves on the beach that always seems to call for a moment of silence. A minute to respect the land, to honor the people who were there before us, a time to be outside of time and space, but in the here and now.

I like broccoli. 

I like broccoli. 

Oso Flaco is a place where the broccoli and beach are separated by dunes.

“An' I got to thinkin', on'y it wasn't thinkin', it was deeper down than thinkin'.” 
― John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath

In this place, I couldn’t help but recall “The Grapes of Wrath”; the historic and current struggles of farmworkers.

Mallard duck butt. 

Mallard duck butt. 

All the hard labor in the broccoli at my feet.

I like broccoli, and berries, and the food from this land.  

Adjacent were the dunes, shifting in the wind, unstable for walking.  

Rambling along the boardwalk built to cross unsettled ground.

A natural lake filled with birds and fish, and people looking for both.

And at the end, the beach, timeless, constant, peaceful.

Wind and waves washing out human strife.

A story of convergence; California ecology and history.

OsoFlaco (5 of 13).jpg

The Oso Flaco mystery is solved.

If your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend, fiancé, son, daughter, sweetheart, or significant other ask you if you want to go to Oso Flaco, say “yes.” 

It won’t hurt.

And you might hear history in the waves.

OsoFlaco (9 of 13).jpg

Sand dollar with barnacles in the waves.