The Shaman of Sea Lion Cove

The waves broke against the volcanic rocks that covered the beach at the entrance to the cove. He was alone with the seagulls and the great cloud that hung over the Pacific. A sea lion the size of an adult male had been thrown against one of the rocks in a violent storm. Dry, white bones poked through thick skin, teeth bared, frozen in final agony. This was a hidden spot, few hikers ventured here. Three thousand years ago an ancient people lived on this coast of Baja California, north of Ensenada. It was easy to imagine the brown bodies of men and women living in this pristine paradise, before these cliffs were shattered by grunting diggers. The community in which he lived and the huge LNG plant, Costa Azul, now covered most of what was once his burial place. I felt a sense of loss.

The messy rock fall was littered with plastic trash, tires, and thick pieces of white Styrofoam marring the beautiful cove. I started a private cleanup and silently wondered if the humans would be better off today. I filled two bags with grass and dragged them up the hill to the car. I felt a bit rushed because I should have been preparing for a local art exhibition and the arrival of Zitacame, a Huichol shaman, whom I had invited to stay at my house.

Zitacame was traveling from southern Mexico to join our art show. He brought the work of the Huichol artisans for whom they are well known; fine beads and sparkling thread art. The powerful symbols and patterns represent a mystical way of life centered around the sacred Peyote plant. The thread images recorded the shaman’s feats of power and ability to fly, as well as travel to many realms of unreality. He was a bit nervous about hosting this man for one night.

It was easy to spot him at the art show. He was wearing a flat-brimmed white hat with red tassels, and his face broke into a smile as we met. His eyes sparkled with seldom-seen joy, and he was missing a few teeth. Zitacame was traveling with Sauleme, also a Huichol, and his wife, Leslie, an American woman. They were all dressed in traditional white cotton with bright pink and red trim. After disappointing art sales, we regrouped in my kitchen. TaTa, an affectionate name for Zitacame meaning grandfather, was quiet and enthusiastically dined. Sauleme in perfect English created a lively conversation about what “white men” needed to learn to save themselves. He said that the Americans had to find the heart of his “Wierarika”.

We did it one night early. I showed them both bedrooms upstairs, and took the sofa in the living room. Everything was in silence. At some point in the night I realized that I was awake. Everything was shades of gray, and there was no light, but he could see. And what I saw could only be possible in a dream. Crawling across the ground toward me was a dark jaguar, a man-thing. I tried to call, but there was no sound. It had to be a dream. I was terrified that it wasn’t. I called again, “TaTa! Help me!” And instantly, a shapeless flourish of white, red, and pink flew into the room. The terrifying form backed away, disappearing into a dark corner. Somehow, I went back to sleep in the dream.

Morning coffee was comforting as I wrote in my journal about the strange experience and what I called Night Walker. TaTa went downstairs for coffee. After a few jokes, I asked him what he thought about the energy in the house. Surprised, he blinked as if the question surprised him. We were joined by José and Leslie and they all spoke at length in rapid Spanish. Sauleme translated for me. I was told that the “creature” was not attached to me or the house, but was “just passing through” and the shaman’s presence caused the Nightwalker to stop and face him. TaTa told us that he had, in fact, been attacked and fought the creature. His admission had just made my dream come true.

I told them about my recent hike to Sea Lion Cove and the destruction of the ancient burial sites. TaTa and Sauleme looked at each other as if to say: “Well, now we understand everything.” They got up with intent, wanting to see the area. We piled into the car to make the trip to the cliffs. Excited, I followed the old Huichol man down the hill to the creek that led to the cove. TaTa produced a thin, straight stick wrapped in green and red thread. Attached to it were two eagle feathers that were left free to move as if they were flying. Called Muwiéri, it was the sacred wand of the Mara’Akame, or shaman. TaTa started down toward the crashing waves. He couldn’t believe his eyes as he literally slid down the field of unstable rocks to the water’s edge. He couldn’t tell that he didn’t even touch the rocks. He took out of his bag sacred tobacco, dropped the offerings into the water and murmured his prayers to Grandmother Ocean. Meanwhile, Sauleme knelt in prayer before the body of the sea lion.

Tata handed me the Muwiéri, the eagle feathers fluttering in the breeze. Amazed, I accepted the honor that the gift represented. He told me to get ready. He was to return here and perform a ceremony. He would bring gifts to the ancients. It was important to him that he not try to be “like a Huichol,” but that he make the offering from the heart. He had to apologize for the ignorance and destruction of the sacred of my people. I was going to say I was sorry.

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