This year on my birthday I’ve decided that when people ask how old I am I will say “73”. Hopefully, the response will consistently be something along the lines of, “You look great for your age!” As long as I’ve lived in Los Angeles (which is a long time considering my advanced age of 73) I’ve never visited the Channel Islands. This year, for a birthday present, my husband decided to take me on a Santa Catalina Island camping vacation without the kids! Knowing that Native Americans have occupied the Channel Islands for 13,000 years, I wanted to make sure to explore some archaeology.
We chose to take the ferry from the mainland to Two Harbors, then hike the Trans-Catalina trail about 5 miles to the Little Harbor Campground, which is an 8,000 year old Native American village and reportedly the most beautiful campground on the island. Below is a video of our journey and a taste of the Trans-Catalina Trail.
This is how Michael efficiently charges his solar power pack while day hiking.
We found some archeological papers published about Torqua Cave, also known as Holder Cave, that was written of in 1910 by Charles Frederick Holder in his book The Channel Islands of California: A book for the angler, sportsman and tourist. Following vague and random clues and using our common sense about how humans operate in the world we were able to nail down almost exactly where the Torqua Cave might be and we were right! It was such a thrill to have mapped almost the exact path out in advance and then walk right up to it! And boy, was it worth it!
Torqua Cave was positively plastered with red ochre pictographs. Abalone shells are everywhere even though the beach is a mile or more down a mountain. The cave complex has one main chamber, a smaller antechamber, and a small alcove.
There are two things that are particularly curious about Torqua Cave. First, the cave is a family cave, a place where people lived, ate, cooked and slept on a daily basis. That makes it an unlikely place to find an abundance of cave art which was usually created for ritual purposes by a shaman in a cave separate from mundane daily life. What I think is that this is a cave that was used for daily life since antiquity, but after abandoned for such use, was later used by shaman/s for ritual purposes. Otherwise it would have been odd, even something like sacrilegious, for ordinary people to have been conducting menial tasks in the presence of such powerful spirits. It would be like washing dishes in the middle of a church. Historically, that kind of thing only happens when an invading culture comes in and desecrates a holy temple by keeping goats in it or something. I can’t imagine that’s what was happening here. The art must have come later, after the cave was abandoned for daily use.
Another thing that is curious about Torqua Cave is that the art is reported by archaeologists to be in “Chumash style”, but the Chumash are not thought to have lived on the Southern Channel Islands that include Santa Catalina. The people of the Southern Islands were the Tongva/Gabrielino. I do have to agree, however, that the style does look Chumash. One particularly Chumash feature is the human images’ adorable long thin bodies and little legs. They are like tidy little cartoon characters. See the examples of anthropomorphs from Torqua Cave below enhanced with D-Stretch. Incidentally, the guy on the left is my absolute favorite image from Torqua Cave. He is so cute and innocent looking with his big head, long body and tiny little feet. Also, as adorable as he is, he is up to something. Check out his long arm that’s snaking around an older, faded image of what looks like a turtle. He has a charming mischievous side. I want to put him on my shelf like a house elf.
To be serious for a moment, my house elf is very likely the representation of a shaman or high person being imbued with some kind of powers. He is obviously a person, not a spirit being, because his feet are planted firmly on the ground and his body is not see-through. He also doesn’t appear to be in an altered state, e.g. floating. I say he is a shaman or high person because he is wearing a headdress. His long snaky arm painted over what I assume is a turtle could be a prayer that this high person may either be successful hunting this kind of animal, or be granted the kind of powers this animal is thought to have. One of the things turtles represent in Native American symbology is “coexisting peacefully”.
Back to Chumash style anthropomorphs. Contrast the images above with this anthropomorph from Honanki, near Sedona, Arizona. You can see the difference in style. The Honanki person has longer, skinnier legs that are separated higher. He has a round belly and a nice round, distinct head.
But why are Chumash style pictographs being painted on an island that is not thought to have been occupied by the Chumash? First of all, when we are talking about 13,000 years of occupation that includes the subsequent arrival of the Tongva/Gabrielino and the Luiseño people. There must have been blending of cultures. To my mind, it is entirely possible to end up with a Tongva shaman who paints in a Chumash style. In fact, I think it is probably an extremely common occurrence in rock art of the Los Angeles area. The Chumash describe themselves as coastal people. Their territory is described as being more or less bordered by the mountain ranges that separate the coast from inland. In the Los Angeles area, Tongva territory was inland of the Santa Monica Mountain border, yet Chumash style pictographs have definitely been identified north/east of the Santa Monica Mountains, clearly in Tongva territory. So, either people were running around all over the place leaving their distinctive cultural marks on other people’s territories, or spiritual cultures were blended and shared amongst people who lived, traded, and likely intermarried across shared boundaries.
As I said before, pictographs covered the walls inside Torqua Cave, but many of the images were barely visible to the naked eye. Sometimes I could see part of an image and could faintly tell that there was some faded pain surrouning it, but it was nearly impossible to clearly see many of the images. Fortunately, I brough my magic wand — D-Stretch. You would have laughed to have watched Michael and I wandering around the cave, squinting our eyes at a faint, faded swipe of pigment, taking a photo of what we thought was an image, processing it through D-Stretch, then going “Oh my god!” When a perfectly clear surprise image popped up on the screen. It was like opening presents on Christmas.
Here’s an example:
The video below includes a D-stretch slideshow of most of the images I captured in Torqua Cave. Some that I didn’t include were just too eroded to even be able to capture, they just looked like specs of pigment. You will see that some in the slideshow have also been eroded away, but a significant portion is still visible. Ignore all the neon colors. The pictographs are the images that look dark red.
Back at Little Harbor I had a life-changing experience. I climbed down the point that separates Shark Harbor from Little Harbor and sat on the boulders at the base of the cliff that were being inundated with waves.
I left my camera up top with Michael who wouldn’t come down with me because, according to him, he wasn’t wearing the right shoes. I privately wondered if he thought the Tongva people needed to be wearing Merrills to walk down the rocks to the water, but I decided not to pick on him that day. What I wish I could show you was the view from below. The ocean swirled around me and at the base of the cliff was a rectangular trough-like basin about 10 ft by 4 ft wide. It is possible it is natural. I wasn’t able to go over to it because it was on the far side of the cove, but it looked like it had been carved from the rock. It had very distinct angles. Knowing that Little Harbor was a village used for about 8,000 years, I wonder if the trough was a place to store live fish or shellfish after they were caught or gathered. That was actually Michael’s idea after I explained to him what I saw, and I think it is a very good one.
Sitting amongst the rocks, the sprays of water, the crashing sound of the waves on a warm, humid summer day, it was a full sensory spiritual experience and I was very much enveloped within it. I could feel a change in the ions in this place where all the elements crashed into one another. Earth, air, fire (sun), and water all smashed and swirled together in this pocket at the base of the cliff. The quality of the sound it made I
can only think to describe as a gentle cacophony. The crashing roar of the waves was simultaneously softened by the sounds of spray and ebbing water. It was marvelous. It let me experience, first hand, a types of ancient healing I’ve read about and seen pictures of, but never had the opportunity to try. See my post on these petroglyphs near Joshua Tree National Park that I believe have Magnetic Medicine Magic
The air/sky holds the atmospheric fields and magnetic currents, the rocks/ground holds the telluric fields and magnetic currents. So when you both expose your body to the air and plant your bare feet on the ground you are allowing atmospheric and telluric currents to flow freely through your body. Crashing water increases the negative ions in the air by as much as five times, which in an of itself promotes vitality. Adding the acoustics of water brings in the element of primordial sounds into the overall sensual experience. Primordial sounds are waves of sound that are harmonic (as opposed to dissonant like the sound of an ambulance siren). When you hear them, your brain switches from a beta state (logical, stress-oriented, verbal) to an alpha state (conceptual, creative, meditative). Overall, the experience of sitting on this rocky cove of crashing crashing water made me feel gooooooooooooooood and peaceful, even kind of high. I vowed to make it a point to seek out more experiences like this. Fortunately, I live near the beach and its easy to talk my kids into clambering out on rocks at the shore. I’ll report in if I find any more magical healing coves along the Los Angeles shore.
After a wonderful couple of days camping and exploring we caught the shuttle back to Two Harbors.
See ya next time!