Tomol Evening: California's Indigenous People

When I return from Limuw—Santa Cruz Island, at first I only want natural light. It is past ten when I rinse the salt water from my hair. Moonlight falls from the open window, a flood of light from above. I am still under the influence of sea tides springing strong. 

I came to spend four days and nights on the island, to let come what may. I want to be helpful to my friend, eighty now and a deeply loved and respected, elder. Sometimes she needs a tiny bit of help fetching things and getting from here to there. I’m learning as she teaches me how to be helpful and grow old in a beautify way. 

Used to be, when you walked on the island of Santa Cruz and looked around, all the land you could see was Chumash Indian land. The island was once home to the largest population of island Chumash with a highly developed complex society and life ways. Marine harvest and trade with the mainland. Island Chumash produced shells beads used as currency. Grasses and roots for making baskets and other necessities for living were there for the taking. And so, apparently was the land. 

Historical records show that by 1853 a large herd of sheep was brought to the island. The Civil War significantly increased the demand for wool and by 1864 some 24,000 sheep over grazed the hills and valleys of Santa Cruz Island. Some of the early buildings from sheep ranching still stand. Now, instead of sheep for the next four days the island is again filled with Indians. 

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  • If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. —Barry Lopez, in Crow and Weasel