Saturday, November 22, 2008


Welcome to Gaia's Guard, which is an eco-fantasy that
tells of a park ranger naturalist who attends to visions
of an ancient American Indian spirit guide. They lead
him into a variety of different parks and wildlands. It's
essentially a story that allows a modicum of information
about the different natural systems of the Earth.

Please go to the very last post, which is the Introduction,
and move forward.

(2) Gaia's Guard

Also, during my work as a cultural anthropologist--indeed long before
I embarked on this second career--I became aware of the deep
reverence that the American Indian has held towards the Earth and
all the different life-forms therein. More recently I came across one
of the best ecological tomes I have ever read. At the very beginning
of this book, the American Indians were given their due. To quote:

"In America the Great Work of the First Peoples was to occupy this
continent and establish an intimate rapport with the powers that
brought this continent into existence in all its magnificence. They
did this through their ceremonies such as the Great Thanksgiving
ritual of the Iroquois, the sweat lodge and the vision quest of the
Plains Indians, through the Chantways of the Navaho, and the
Katsina rituals of the Hopi. Through these and a multitude of other
aspects of the indigenous cultures of this continent, certain models
were established of how humans become integral with the larger
context of our existence here on the planet Earth."
FUTURE, Well Tower, 1999, p. 2.]

And it would seem that once again American Indian spiritual
scholars are attending to their old ways and applying them in
contemporary ways when it comes to the human relationship
with Mother Earth. Continuing in my thought, I oft ponder over
my very own Indian spirit guide. Who is he? What does he

Surmising, considering the presence of the American Indian
on this continent for thousands of years, perhaps their composite
spirits are "embedded* in the Earth. Indeed, many of their
Creation stories talk about their coming forth out of the Earth.
They are creations of the Earth, so to speak. Perhaps they
return to the Earth, and somehow their spirits speak with a
common voice--hence, for me, my Indian spirit guide. I was

Perhaps others as well? I am thinking of my idea of the "Guard,"
in that in other ways this Indian Spirit speaks to them, draws them
towards becoming stewards of the Earth.

However, these days it is different I suppose. It is ironic that all
manner of folk now seem to be graced, drawn towards a greater
respect for the planet and its majestic natural enclaves. Perhaps
seeing the astronauts' Earth photographs, seeing our beautiful
blue planet from the perspective of the moon, now privy to satellite
pictures, we are finally viewing this planet and its continents, our
continent, in a keenly different way. It really, really is our
"precious home."

To end my little story, I must make mention the word "Gaia."
Though I'm mystical in my way, I'm also scientifically inclined.
Gaia was a Greek goddess who personified the Earth. But
we moderns have taken over her name. Awhile back a scientist
by the name of James Lovelock, a fellow of Britain's Royal
Society, worked with the NASA space program. Looking at
satellite photographs, he could see the Earth as a *whole.*

He re-coined the word "Gaia." And in more scientific terms, the
name for Earth, Gaia, is represented as a "vast self-regulating
organism." As for myself, I think of the Earth as a self-regulating
natural system composed of nearly an infinity of intelligible
natural systems.

And it is the All of this incredible natural system, our precious
home, that we need protect as "Gaia's Guard."

(1) Gaia's Guard

Since that grand finale of a vision the years have rolled-by fast.
Though I have yet to qualify for the "rocking-chair," I have started
to slow down physically. I still volunteer out in the field, but not
as much. As for my career as a cultural anthropologist, it also
has been on the wane. If anything, I have traveled more--visiting
national parks, of course!

Sometimes I have taken my camper, going off to wonderful
places like Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley, and the
Grand Canyon. These parks are always thrilling for me. And
what with my advancing age, I have discovered a more
luxurious and easier mode of travel: the cruise. Hence I've
gone up and down the Pacific coastline, like to Glacier National
Park in Alaska and over to the Baja Lagoons in Mexico.

And--now-- as my energy slowly diminishes, I am finding myself
sitting more often by the San Diego Bay. Oddly, I prefer the bay
to the ocean. The Pacific Ocean is way too vast, I guess, and
always thunderous with its pounding waves. There's distractions,
too! Too many kite surfers, zipping around at tremendous
speeds. My part of the bay has more placid distractions, like
gliding sailboats with beautiful billowing sails. The bay lends a
calm for me, quiet, where I can more readily clarify my thoughts.

Quite often I wonder over that magnificent last vision I experienced,
now some years back. As my Indian spirit guide said, "Guard well
our precious home." If somehow he had put this message in past
tense, I would have understood what he said more clearly.

If put in past tense, I could have quickly presumed that he was
talking about me--giving me a "kudo," if you will. It's not that I
deserve any praise for my achievements, but rather I should give
thanks to my Indian spirit guide for leading me into a truly bountiful
career as both a park ranger-naturalist and a cultural anthropologist.
I couldn't have been happier (or lucky).

Overall, I really had to look beyond myself when it came to
interpreting this final vision. As for the word "guard," well that is
about protecting, watching over, keeping something safe. My
thoughts flowed into this line of thinking, into a broader context.

The "Guard," all those guardians who manned, helped out, worked
at our great parks, at our wildlands, were surely the ones who my
Indian spirit guide addressed. The Guard were those professionals
and attendents with organizations such as the National Park
Service, the U.S. Forestry Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service,
the Bureau of Land Management, and all the State Parks Services.
Beyond this, there are the thousands upon thousands of volunteers
at these special natural enclaves.

I think about the volunteers at the Tijuana Estuary, young and old,
skilled, unskilled--all dedicated. Within the National Park Service
there are Junior Ranger volunteers, oft an offshoot of the Boy
Scouts of America. And now in the Age of the Internet, there are
the WebRangers--a learning activity that involves not only students
but teachers in the classroom. WebRangers are children who can
explore and participate in our national parks, becoming more
eco-literate and historically informed.

And though I never moved much into the present-day Environmental
Movement, surely those who work towards gaining new laws--and
attending to old laws--that protect our national parks and wildlands
can surely be considered part of this special Guard.

(3) Waters Meet

There are a great variety of birds that make their home--or their
stopover--at the Tijuana Estuary. Out of their multitude I will only
mention a prominent few, especially focusing on the length of their
beaks and legs. The significance is that the *length* determines
how different birds adapt in regard to how/where they find their food!

For example the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron exhibit long
legs and beaks; so, they are better able to wade out further into the
water channels, into the bordering plant growth to secure their food.

The Clapper Rail is an example of a bird that exhibits a middle-level
in terms of leg and beak length. So they can secure food from the
less deep ponds.

And the Red Knot is an example of a bird with a shorter beak and
leg. These birds can forage under the mudflats, where they can
find shrimp and crabs.

Of course, too, there are many others types of birds at the Tijuana
Estuary. There's the Least Tern, Sandpiper, Willet, Greater
Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Semipalmated
Plover, Killdeer, and Black-bellied Plover. Also the Brown California
Pelican frequents this estuary. And again there's many more birds,
far too many to list.

Anyway, coming by all this information about the Tijuana Estuary,
while walking along its paths, I was once again struck by the
noticeable intelligibility involved in both the layout of the estuary,
its different habitats that, in turn, seemingly correspond to the exact
needs of those birds with varied lengths of beak and legs. What I
was looking at during these walks seemed nearly "adaptation
personified." Sometimes when I perceive the intelligence exhibited
in these great natural systems, I am left with a profound fascination
and appreciation of our magnificent planetary system that manages
so well to accommodate all of Life that dwells in its midst.

Continuing, one day my path took me up atop the sand dunes.
Peering out towards the ocean for quite awhile, I turned and looked
towards the land. Being at the farthest southwestern corner of the
United States, I realized that my gaze towards the northeast led
forth straight across the entire country. While standing on the dunes,
I suddenly felt that someone was standing beside me.

Turning slightly, I realized it was my Indian spirit guide. We stood
together in silence, for ever so long it seemed. Dressed in a multi-
colored garb, with feathers of the Scarlet Macaw, he finally spoke.
Very quietly he said "Guard well our precious home." With this, in
my mind's eye, he lifted his arms out towards the land--and arc after
arc of rainbows curved over the entire continent.

After my Indian spirit guide disappeared, I felt very strongly that this
encounter was like a "finale." Somehow I knew that it was my very
final vision. Sad, in a sense of a farewell, I had to admit that this last
vision of mine was nonetheless an absolutely glorious vision!

(2) Waters Meet

To return to our present day, the Tijuana Estuary is a wetland
rarity. Many of California's estuaries and wetlands have been
destroyed because of highway and housing construction. Including
Oregon and Washington State, along with California, these special
wetlands are a necessity for the many kinds of migratory birds--
during seasonal change--that fly down and up the North and
South American coastlines. This migratory route is called the
"Pacific Flyway."

Now, with so few wetland stops available, the Tijuana Estuary is
a very important haven for these migratory birds--as well as for the
local birds who permanently make their home here. Besides being
a food source, the estuary is also a safe haven for birds to raise their

I specifically came to volunteer at this estuary, because this is a
place "where the waters meet." This is a place where fresh water
intersperses with sea water, hence producing what is called brackish
water--a kind of salty water, if you will. The tides come and go in
the Tijuana Estuary, naturally bringing in fresh nutrients. These
provide a constant food source for the inhabitants of the estuary.
As for it being a safe haven, its high sand dunes protect the
estuary from the ocean, hence allowing safe nesting areas for
the birds who stop-over or make their permanent home in this

But, now, let me be more specific. There are eight different kinds
of habitats within the estuary that mesh one into the other.

• Riparian: This habitat runs along the Tijuana River where fresh
water dominates.

• Uplands: Here desert plants--such as cactus--grow, a few inches
above the marsh.

• Salt Marsh: It is here where plants adapt to the changing water levels,
moving more into a salty environment.

• Ponds: These are now full of brackish water.

• Mudflats: At low tide the water rushes out of the estuary, leaving a
muddy flatland that exposes a waterlogged soil full of food.

• River valleys.

• Salt Pannes: These are poorly drained areas, where the salt content
can be three times that of ocean water.

• Dunes: These sand dunes protect a calm estuary from the sea.

As for food, the Tijuana Estuary is full of different forms of algae,
phytoplankton, benthic invertebrates, and bivalbe molluscus.
There are also fish, crabs, ghost shrimp, and worms.

And throughout the estuary there are indigenous "salt marsh" plants.
To name a few: Pickleweed, Glasswort, Heath, Rosemary, Sea
Lavender, Cordgrass; Saltwort, Marsh Bird's Beak, Shoregrass,
Saltgrass, Rabbit's Foot Grass, Tamarix, and Sea Fig.

(1) Waters Meet

After reading the newspaper advertisement, I was quick to
interview with the volunteer coordinator of the Tijuana River
National Estaurine Research Reserve (more popularly known
as the Tijuana Estuary). This estuary is under the aegis of
California State Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
and also serves as a research facility for the National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

A 2500 acre reserve, where the fresh water of the Tijuana River
meets with the sea water of the Pacific Ocean, this estuary is
located literally on the very far southwestern edge of the United
States. The Tijuana Estuary nearly borders Mexico, with only
a very slim Border Field State Park standing in between; and
to the west, this estuary looks out toward the ocean with sand
dunes providing protection.

The advertisement called for volunteers to "restore habitat, care
for native gardens, nurture plants in the nursery, maintain trails,
and perform other maintenance activities at the reserve." No
experience needed, because there would be volunteer training.
Of course when the estuary's volunteer coordinator learned that
I was a retired park ranger with the National Park Service, well
the good lady could hardly contain her pleasure! It felt good,
being wanted.

Still fairly busy working as a cultural anthropologist, at first I
only committed to one day a week at the Tijuana Estuary. But
over time, I began to wind down my academic life and felt more
drawn to the "field," as I put it. So I put in more days working
in the nursery and garden as well doing needed maintenance.
Nothing I did proved very difficult. Still there was the enjoyment
working alongside a good crew of both professionals and

However, at the beginning of my volunteering at the Tijuana
Estuary, I decided to take advantage of the training program
offered by the education director. I had never worked at an
estuary, and I felt that I had a lot to learn before I started pitching
in. So for a few months I capitalized on the training.

I also learned that the Kumeyaay Indians--going back thousands
of years--lived in this particular coastal region. I knew that the
Kumeyaay wintered inland and spent their summers along the
coast. Evidently the tribe early on lived near the Tijuana Estuary,
mainly because of its biodiversity.

The Kumeyaay collected shellfish and fished along the coast.
They used nets, spears, and hook-and-line to fish. They even
fished offshore, using reed boats. And I found out, too, that they
even found clams. scallops, and abalone at the tidepools.

And farther inland they planted and harvested various food
products, such as corn. And following a harvest they carried out
small levels of burning that actually controlled plant viruses.
Also they were hunters, mainly of small game such as doves,
quail, geese, rabbits, wood rats, and squirrels. However, larger
game was available farther inland--such as deer. antelope, and
mountain sheep. And they gathered nuts and acorns, too, that
they stored in basket granaries.

A rather ingenious people, the Kumeyaay also engaged in what
today we would call "erosion control." They placed rocks alongside
natural drainage ditches to slow the flow of water, to create wider
water reservoirs.

(4) The Shield

My thesis was accepted, and USD presented me with a Master's
Degree. I guess that I now could consider myself a cultural
anthropologist--of sorts. Then came the question: now what?

I really had no desire to go on for a Phd nor become a professor.
Perhaps I might write a book, though I had barely scratched through
a thesis. That prospect didn't seem in the works; but, as it turned
out, it was!

My anthropologist professor friend came to the rescue. He was
very interested in my approach regarding the Indians relationship
with the environment. Times were changing in academe, and
during this period more emphasis was given to the topic of
Environmental Ethics and Ecological Literacy. My work as a
park ranger was a "plus," along with my newly acquired status
as a cultural anthropologist, when it came to these growing
popular topics.

So just in a few years I became a co-author, along with my friend,
of a few articles on these now evolving topics that were becoming
more and more important in light of such issues as Climate Change
and the Environmental Crisis. Gads! We even had our articles
discussed, we even talked, at university conferences.

Still, I felt quietly driven towards another "quality" when it came to
all this activity. I thought back to my Indian spirit guide, to the
handing over the shield, to the depiction of the painting on the
shield. The point taken from this experience was that overall we
need focus on the Spirit, or upon our relationship with the Earth
as a spiritual undertaking. After talking with my agreeable friend,
I decided to pursue this spiritual perspective and see if we could
blend it with our so-called scientific or technological perspective.

As luck would have it, while at a small USD conference, I ran into
an attendee who had recently returned from a retreat given by a
Sioux spiritual master. I decided to find this fellow--and my pursuit
led me to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Flying up, I had to take a couple of puddle-jumping planes to reach
Rapid City, South Dakota. Renting a car, I drove on out into the
Badlands, on to the Black Hills, where I had made an appointment
with the Sioux spiritual master. He lived at a reservation not far
from Crazy Horse Monument--and we agreed to meet at the large
Indian Museum of North America located at this site. I was genuinely
struck by the size of both the monument and the museum--really
huge, really impressive!

This great museum also provided education, and the Sioux master
I was meeting gave retreats there. He had agreed to talk with me
personally, and I agreed to attend one of his retreats that focused
on Sioux Spirituality as it related to the People's special relationship
with Mother Earth. Throughout the retreat I was really impressed
with this Sioux scholar, in that he had compiled generations of
creation stories, of deeply embedded outlooks brought forth via
oral tradition, that he was able to present in a thoughtful manner
when it came to what was becoming a new field: Eco-Spirituality.

The Sioux master had already made arrangements to publish his
pathfinding work. Regardless, I asked if he might eventually agree
to be a contributor in a book that I and my anthropologist friend
intended to write, wherein we would blend the Eco-Spirituality
approach with the American Indian cultural-technical approach
towards intelligent land use. He agreed, and we slowly have
set-out to put this work together.

Working to develop a book, especially an academic-type book,
isn't easy. And sometimes the effort can seem tedious and painful.
Anyway, we are still plugging away on this. Time continues to
roll on, but I remain patient in this endeavor. Much older now, I'm
pleased that my anthropologist friend has taken the lead on this
proposed book. Hence my own personal time is not so much
consumed by this project--albeit, I do remain content that I took
this route, working as a cultural anthropologist.

At this point I was more than happy to rest, to put my feet up
and ponder and play with my thoughts. More often I went down
to a local park looking out on San Diego Bay. Sitting in my
camping chair, looking out on the sparkling water, I strangely
began to wish that I was "back in the field." I missed being a
park ranger, I guess.

And as I was engaging in this wistful thinking, I spotted my
Indian spirit guide gliding towards me, across the bay, sitting
straight and tall in a roughly hewn wooden canoe. Coming
close, he said "Work where the waters meet." Then he was
gone, leaving me nearly breathless.

Once again I knew that I was in for a change; and, oddly, I
welcomed the prospect.