The Chumash Arrowhead

April 2019

Black     So what am I supposed to do with you, Professor?

White     Why are you supposed to do anything?

Black     I done told you. This aint none of my doin. I left out of here this mornin to go to work you wasnt no part of my plans at all. But here you is.

White     It doesnt mean anything. Everything that happens doesnt mean something else.

—Cormac McCarthy, The Sunset Limited

I can’t help but wonder. What’s it mean? It shouldn’t mean anything. Just because it happened doesn’t mean something else. Or does it?

Seven years ago I found a metate in the creek: Chumash Grinding Stone. No trail led through the canyon and the creek was still dry in November.

I had been hiking the cobblestone bed, several hours by foot into the mountains, when the narrow otherwise unremarkable canyon opened into a pocket of oak woodland surrounding a creekside meadow, mountain slopes rising all around, and views of rocky crags in the distance.

I walked up to this enticing transition in the land and I saw the shallow sandstone dish sitting in the middle of the creek like any other cobblestone.

Intact artifacts are always a thrilling sight, especially something rather large, but I didn’t think the experience was out of the ordinary.

The place I had just wandered upon was so attractive to my mind that I had not been surprised to see the artifact.

At first sight, in merely looking at the place, I knew other people had long ago spent time there, not just walked through.

There were a number of geographical features characteristic of this place that were rather appealing to a person with my way of thinking about these sorts of things.

These forest things. These sites and settings. These odd and infinite arrangements of innumerable natural features—the hills, the meadows, the streams, the rock outcrops, the plants—put together just right in certain ways only in certain locations which all then come together to create a unique. . .place.

Seeing this place, I had expected to find remnants of humanity’s past, it seemed, although I had no thoughts earlier that day of setting out to hunt artifacts.

I showed no more excitement in first seeing the Chumash artifact than I would have in seeing a fossil stone I might examine for a moment during a hike. I wasn’t surprised nor thrilled. It was like finding a plant growing in its preferred habitat. It was expected. If you find the proper habit you’ll find the animal you’re after.

I didn’t wonder if the chance happening or if my luck meant something.

I didn’t wonder if the chain of events peculiar to myself alone in my life which led me to that singular place in space and time added up to a larger meaning. I don’t generally think in that manner.

I had been out for a hike to explore a canyon. That is all.

I just happened to find something.

It’s not an unusual occurrence for me as I spend lots of time out in the forest. I find things. People find stuff.

Chumash cynegetic art. A relic of a master craftsman, keenest of hunters. An artifact laden with the knowledge of countless generations as gleaned from individual personal experience through thousands of years of close and intimate, visceral interaction with the land, plants, animals and the earth’s elements and natural forces. The breadth and depth and amount of knowledge is unimaginable. It is beyond my ability to imagine. So much knowledge has been lost. The intellectual hard drive destroyed through conquest with no back up, no record. And so it is that I walk into the same land where they lived and I quickly perish from ignorance and an inability to merely survive where they once thrived. 

The following year I returned to the canyon for further exploration, but the land is rough and difficult to travel through afoot with no worn trail aiding access. Walking is strenuous, hard work.

Rocks are abrasive and unstable, brush pointy, sharp and burdensome to pass through.

Rattlesnakes are camouflaged, somewhere, potentially everywhere, every minute all day long. Walking in the woods is not just physically demanding and tiring, but such sharp and constant focus on unseen deadly risks is mentally exhausting, too.

(An aside: Earlier this year on a hike up the canyon with a buddy I nearly stepped on a long thick viper, my buddy grabbing my pack from behind and yanking me backward.

The trip alone up the canyon prior to that incident I twice crossed paths with vipers in close ways.

One large rattler I unknowingly stepped over while inspecting the underside of a rock outcrop, only to then follow my steps back around the boulder and nearly step on it a second time before I noticed it lying still, well camouflaged in the shadowy mottled light amid rocks and dry grass. I must have stepped right over it the first time completely oblivious to how close I was to death’s deliverer.

And then on my stupidly hasty way back down the creek, nearly jogging, I jumped over a tuft of grass and small rocks, and my foot landed heavily in an explosion of gravel and furious rattle on the far side as I almost landed on a viper, which then went sidewinding out of my way and slammed itself into the underside of a rock to hide.  That one was real close.)

Then the sun. The ball of fire blazing overhead is, uh, hot. And it’s difficult to hide from. The sun wears you down to a nub the day long, robbing your water, burning your skin, working your body even when just standing still.

On this day’s hike up the canyon six years ago I lost interest and motivation. I crawled under a boulder, beaten by the sun and hot dry conditions, and napped before returning to the truck. I failed to get any farther up the drainage than I had the previous year when I found the metate. In fact, I hadn’t even made it that far.

Five more years would pass before I made it back to the canyon. The time ticked by, but thoughts of the canyon always simmered on the back burner of my restless mind.

I tended through those dry and droughty years a deep desire to get back up there once more for a looksee around, as I continued to wait for a decent, normal season’s worth of rain.

This last winter the rain finally fell.

The forest this year, if the benchmark is water and all it brings, is the best it’s been in almost a decade.

This was the spring to get back up that hot, often dry, miserably fly infested, tick-strewn, rattlesnake slithered canyon. Finally.

So on a Sunday I was hiking toward the canyon, toward the place. It’s not a particularly long hike, but the going is not easy through the creek without a trail.

After nearly three hours of hiking with minimal, short rests, I began to think I had confused the canyon I was in with the canyon where I had found the metate.

I wrestled with the fact that after three hours I still was not at the place. I should have been there by now, I thought. How much farther up the bloody creek should I push myself when not knowing for sure if I was even in the right canyon?

Shortly after that consideration, I came around a meander in the creek and forest features that I recognized came into view.

I had finally arrived, I believed, with relief. I hiked a bit farther up the creek and toward what I was hoping was my destination.

I hopped out of the creek, up a bank and into the oak trees for a view around to confirm I was where I had been six years earlier. Yes, indeed. This was absolutely it.

I jumped down the bank and back into the creek bed and walked across a sandstone rib of bedrock bridging the flowing water.

I hopped off the rock and into the gravel beside the water, spun to face the sun for proper lighting, and within 60 seconds I spotted the arrowhead shown above.

Seven years later and a three hour hike and within one little minute of looking I had found the arrowhead.

As if that’s not strange enough, I will have you know that I found the arrowhead within ten feet or so of where I had found the metate seven years earlier.

What are the odds?

And in my mind’s ceaseless quest to make orderly sense of random nutty events, other strange factors stick out.

A week prior to returning to the canyon and finding the arrowhead I received an email out of the blue that provided added impetus in driving me back up the canyon.

I had received a note from an old friend I had not talked to in about a decade and had not hung out with in about two decades.

In the email my friend mentioned this particular canyon, of all places in the world, and he asked if I had ever been up the drainage before. He had just come back from a few nights backpacking in the area and had been in the upper reaches of the canyon.

I told him I had indeed been up that canyon and how crazy it was that he happened to mention it, because I had found a metate up there and I really wanted to get back to explore and had just been thinking about it.

A few days after this email exchange I made the hike and found the Stone Age projectile point seemingly just waiting for me in the creek for years.

Now, just because something happens doesn’t mean something else, but I can’t help but search for meaning in happenings like this.

Sandy Dearborn in Stephen King’s From a Buick 8 says, “I don’t believe in coincidences, only chains of event which grow longer and ever more fragile. . .”

The chain of events that in my life led me to this canyon and these finds was indeed long and fragile.

At any moment I could have made innumerable different decisions that would have led me away from this canyon and these finds. (Obviously, this can be said of any occurrence in a person’s life.)

Yet somehow everything came together as it did.

The links kept coming together just right, one joined to the next, the chain growing ever longer.

The chain never broke. And it eventually led me to the treasure.

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but maybe what happened means something else.

I can’t help but wonder.

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12 Responses to The Chumash Arrowhead

  1. Aaron Young says:

    Great read! Your articles always bring back my childhood memories of growing up nextdoor to Dick Smith and a few of the hikes he ‘allowed’ his son Joel and me to accompany him on! 😁

    -Aaron Young


  2. cynopsis says:

    Beautiful. My favorite post yet…pure poetry, and profound. Thank you for your years of exploring, discovering, puzzling, pondering, sharing, and remembering what matters. We need this more than ever.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate hearing from you. I wasn’t sure about posting that; I had it on standby for months but wasn’t sure about it. It’s nice to hear somebody found it worthy.

  3. Lila Henry says:

    What a beauty! Other meaning or no other meaning I am happy for you. Personally, I think the Grandfathers brought you there. Bless your love of the land and effort.

  4. rangerdon says:

    There are no coincidences, only synchronicities. Carl Jung was at work in that canyon.

  5. I love your posts. I think I have developed a spidey sense to find morteros. It’s as you described, when a place just feels right. Although oak, the right stone, and a nearby water source makes sense, too. But sometimes I am on a trail and look off to one side and think to myself, “Right there.” I amble off and sure enough, there they are. I usually sit awhile and perceive the components of “the place.” Perhaps there is an innate sense of ‘that place would be a good place to stay for a while.’ And stay for a while I do. Cheers.

  6. Richard Woolsey says:

    Jack, thank you for sharing your stories. You tell them in such a way that I often find myself visualizing hiking beside you. It’s a great gift.

  7. George Armstrong says:

    Really enjoyed the read. Not just the factual part of the story, but the thought process that you convey. One of the best things about solo hiking is it give us the chance to explore our consciousness. Thanks for posting.

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