Local Color

Obsidian arrowheads collected by Kurt on the banks of the Napa River.

Obsidian arrowheads collected by Kurt on the banks of the Napa River.

Buddy Meier and his shamanic familiar Dog Juan watched the gold and purple of the sun slide beyond the Douglass firs on the ridge of the Mayacamas range, well south of west now as the days of the midwinter halcyon approached. Buddy's psychic roots to the spot ran through two planters warts on the ball of each foot to the grounds where Great Aunt Jessie, her lineage calling again in the earlying dusk, gathered together twiggy faggots of firewood until she was ninety-eight or so, toasting the new year and the day of her birth with a favorite sherry, and brimming the cups of those blesseds dwelling in the most happy valley. Even until 101 and a soft death in a doilied chair, the matriarch praised the Great God Dionysos, the King, the whole man, ecstatic catalytic agent of wine grapes and coiling plants, moulds, mushrooms and fermenting yeasts, priest and actor, god of theatre and insobriety, levity of feasts, leavening in bread. With one of the colonels out of Kentucky Jessie came cross-country to raise yellow grain and blue grass, for bale-milling into bourbon or for foddering elegant thoroughbreds--such as won, placed and showed one year in the Derby, worth a big chunky diamond watch from the committee, extra.

B's old nuncle had gone before the crone croaked herself; he was among the Chinese before this century, and also up among the Blackfeet, winning a beaded dance costume fitted to a chief, accoutered with a full pipe & medicine bag. He passed on the triple horse victory token Vajra ticker to a hoofer son who fluttered on-the periphery of shobiz, until the time came for him too to leave the bird haven, bamboo groves and eucalyptus stand with blond Betty, mujer numero dos, for the southland of Ratnasambhava's golden light, with no line of children left behind.

In the advent days of the year of the Hare, Buddy the grand nephew squatted on the damp leaves with the dog-form as the autumnal sky unfolded over late night and early morning mists inland and along the coast. De facto Inheri­tor of the tranquil estate and his nose-guide Dorje dog respectively kicked and pawed a yellow ball beneath a flaming golden fungus flowering from a giant split where one of the major limbs from the great valley oak was split (from the trunk  so old as to be coeval with the great saint and poet of medieval Tibet, Jetsun Milarepa) by a vast bolt of blue-white lightning. "As above, so below," softly whistled a Sufi sensibility within, as the lofty sight of 800 year-old leaves-in-cycle stepped down, transformed his consciousness until a quiver on the footpads resounded with the fundamental vibration of all the illuminating radiance wrath and alchemy accumulated in the place.       

One centurion clipping from the Standard local press, a recorded perishing by the last of 300 muy guapo indigines, abetted by a night-time posse bent on wipeout. Some of these Napa Wappo Indians wore full beards, and reckoned the tree we call "Milarepa" to be prime of the resident vegetable king spirits. Squaw wives also among the last trescientos slaughtered by outriders from Vallejo's heritage collected, ground and leached the acorns for meal, papoose pap, oaken pudding. Beaver abounded in the river, where salmon and steel-head swam through the reeds and where grew grasses selected, cured and woven into the material expression of a cultural language generous and gentle enough to have a place, and a basket, for everybody. Strong antlered elk nobly fed by the fox runs; great blue hunted spike-bills, stalk-legged. Peregrine falcons regally partrolled the flyway in the dignity of their leisure; marsh hawks hovered close-to, and the buteo red-tails soared in the style of miniature golden eagles, which once in a while, would drift over from the Sierra for the rich survey of -pheasant forerunners like quail or the bunny rabbits famed in Hopi Soyal stew.

This valley in all its natural richness was among the most densely populated areas anywhere north of Mexico City. Wild grapes, free fruit and savoury herbs nourished the polyglot. Everybody has been coming to California for a long time. Four out of five among the principal classes of Native Ameri­can  languages had representatives speaking, in peace, with each other, and with no culturally established weapon of war north of the Colorado.

From the mud flats of the Bay ten miles downstream came the mollusks for chowder, ready for baby's soup, and for the men with their fresh bag from the deer chase on the hillside. Abundance fragrant and full flowed from the bosom of the Great Goddess called "California" by Quixote--dreaming, impossibly poetic. Up from the mud also swam the avatar of Simoon (as too in Peter the Big Fisherman) into the freshwater riparian domain, and out to the salt sea again with the wealth of the tides. For dolphins forever remind us primates of their timely return to the form, the free fluid T'ai chi medium of optimal complexity: earth mud-hard and sand soft, water sweet and salt, air above shallows and surf bubbling, sun warm.

The General and Governor allowed Diggers to slay cattle, with the proviso that hides and tallow be returned to the adobe, over by Petaluma. The beefsteaks & burger were free; the programme of religious edification somewhat less so; the 1850's small pox altogether unsolicited, and a nasty surprise. Whereupon, by the days of the spectacular farce of California's little-known diamond rush, title had pretty much passed to the hands holding firepower away from archaic convention, salubrious accommodating. There proceeded to pass a motley parade including Kentuckians,  itinerant Italians, gentlemen vintners), and, inexorably the god or Master who returns, as a closed Jordanian curve my be distinguished from a linear algebra, to take stock of transpired events by the bank of the river since he last Epiphanied.

The valley and her river, Napa, were named some say for the wood nymphs of Grecian lore, whereas others less classically adduce an aboriginal name name for grizzly bear. Now the clicking Kingfisher scatters swallows, psychocatalyzes leaping baby carp in the pools of back-flush from irrigation, thickened by green algae, floating beards on the osier mesolithic sickle-leaf, no more marking octave for fishing, foraging bear grunts. The local lords of the soil have retreated to defend lairs far more difficult of access, feeding the coyote, river rat and house cat with their fecund wake. Pumas on the shoulder of Saint Helena near where Stevenson honeymooned, in the Silverado Min Company's office shack, a bobcat in the chapparal of Mount Saint John, still deer, who knows how many snakes-- and the womb of the mother is ever resplendently full and forgiving. Obsidian still washes down from the black glass vein of a cooled Hephaistos fissure; arrowheads crumble with the sodden bank layers after New Year's rains, and are left aligned like compass needles on the downstream scimitar sweep of sandbars. Rich with relics the river bottom reveals metates, spear points, magic stones in the lees, when the watercress sprouts. Roots of the black oak also now host a fungus anathema for grapevines. Saint John the Baptist, the sacred oak king of a Midsummer Night's yule fire, cries into his mountain creeks like the last tears of Vishnu for the blight alighted upon his token trees. Walnut orchards sacred to Carmenta, carmine goddess of letters italianate and the Queen of mental events: chainsawed & cat-rooted. New aluminum orchardettes of Coors cans and luncheon papers, in their turn, disappear beneath the brambles of native blackberry vines. Blue chickory flowers, yellow mustard, golden poppies. It took a mass drive and stout­hearted organization of Boy Scouts and down-home Roundheads to root out the "China Poppy" so lovingly cultivated by civilized peoples for all these thousands of years and most anciently ad highly esteemed in the global pharmacopaeia which thrived so beautifully in the valley fields sown by immigrant coolie robber-baron slaves. Relatively short-lived exotics. The local dope of choice was probably, in addition to mushrooms, the lizard green-leafed datura plant, with its white and purple trumpet flower and toxin spiked pods containing little purple heart-shaped seeds. It was, we recall, the datura plant which after the 1604 settling of Jamestown came to be called "jimson weed," so prized in medical and entertainment markets of the Old World.

Jack London chose to live one valley to the west with his pet wolves, in Sonoma, Valley of the Moon. Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scot, chose to live in the Napa Valley when he was in love. To the east, between Napa Valley and the Central Valley are the Vaca Mountains, dryer and warmer than the Mayacamas range which Napa separates Napa from Sonoma. Beyond Sonoma to the west lies the Petaluma Valley, and then finally the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, Tomales, Point Reyes, Bolinas. At the northwest head of Napa Valley is Mount Saint Helena, said by old-timers to have been named in honor of the breasts of the wife of the ranking Russian official at Fort Ross. It's double crest is four thousand feet the highest elevation for a long ways around. The foot of the Valley is plugged by Yountville Hill, named after George C. Yount, who came to trap beaver and elk, and who put the shingles on General Vallejo's combination fortress and adobe. The climate and soil are magnificently suited for growing grapes. Outside of the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions in France, or the Rhine and Moselle the finest wine grapes in the world grow here. Outside of China, more royal jelly is produced here than anywhere else in the world--and it may be the only place in the world (save possibly one location in New Mexico) where royal jelly may be produced in the springtime. Appropriately, Gloria Swanson starred in "Queen of the Bees," a tv movie filmed in Oakville.

So here with the deep respect for Truth appropriate to a student of the Dharma that is, with the highest regard for what may be ascertained to be the matter of fact in the case apart from the mere opinion, Buddy Meier aspired to the first joyful, generous state of consciousness asso­ciated with the Opening of the Wisdom Eye and the beginning of the Bodhisattva path.

Kurt von Meier