Mangled Bridge near Native American Village Site

THE WASHED OUT BRIDGE


   I’m happiest when I forget myself, a boon often granted by nature--even the other day when I returned to a washed-out bridge clinging to a megalithic stone in the middle of the river.
   When I was a boy, my father often took me and my older brother and neighborhood kids fishing at the North Fork of the Kings. One day, a friend confided that he had heard about a washed out bridge somewhere up river. Without another word my brother and his friend dashed through the floodplain to find it.
   That day I felt clumsy and weak, and for the first time I couldn’t keep up with them. I stood nonplussed on unstable stones as they disappeared into the woodland forest. They returned over an hour later, disappointed, tight-lipped about their lack of success. No one mentioned the bridge again, and I quickly forgot about it.
   After my father passed away four years later, I never went fishing at the North Fork again. Forty years later, I happened to stumble upon the bridge's twisted, skeletal frame as I was exploring the river.
   The moment I chanced upon the washed out bridge, I suddenly felt twelve again--but this time I had found the bridge, and my brother and his friend had not. I experienced again the tranquility and enchantment that drench the river bottom. In the same floodplain, when I was a boy, a voice on several occasions spoke to me of events decades in the future, but I’d forgotten the predictions until the events finally transpired. I have decided that the perplexing, unpredictable voice is the murmur of my soul, whose knowledge transcends space and time: After awhile at the river, my frustrations slip away, leaving my conscious mind open to other dimensions of the self.
   I returned again because I had sensed when I found the bridge that Native Americans once lived in the area.
   My father found a hole in the North Fork not long after we had moved to Fresno in 1971. The river at that time was low enough for an eleven year old to cross, and since I was growing bored, I decided to examine the smooth stone on the opposite side, sure that I would discover something that I could boast about to my parents and my brother.

Hole

   The stone across the river attracted me because it seemed somehow familiar. I carefully examined every inch of the gray stone striated with white, sure that I would find something--until I finally plopped down, confused by my lack of success. My brother, who had also crossed the river, called to me, wanting me to follow him into a strip of forest at the bottom of the canyon next to the river. I ignored him, however, still certain that the stone held a mystery that I had not yet unraveled. I noticed a crack in the stone and suddenly believed that a knife was hidden there, covered with humus. Elated and never so sure of anything in my life, I dug out the humus and found nothing.
   A voice in my head suddenly stated, “Native Americans.” (I had heard the voice once before in the same watershed a few months earlier, in the floodplain of the Kings at the foundation of a house.)
   Startled and confused, I started a dialogue in my head, “I don’t know anything about Native Americans! What do you mean?” My elation had suddenly turned to frustration, and I wondered why the voice had not used the more common word “Indians” instead of “Native Americans,” a term that seemed unusually formal to me.
   “You will find out what it means,” the voice replied.
   “When?” I pleaded in my head.
   No answer.
   My mother noticed how agitated I had become.
   “What’s the matter?” she asked.
   Being only eleven, I couldn’t find the right words to explain what had just happened, which made me even more frustrated. “Nothing,” I responded. “I just thought I was going to find something, but I didn’t.”
   “What did you think you were going to find?” my mother asked.
   “I don’t know,” I replied. “A knife maybe, or something Native American.”
   “You mean Indian? Where did you hear the term ‘Native American’?” she asked. “What makes you think there’s something like that here?”
   “I don’t know. I was just sure I would find something.” Realizing that she didn’t understand what it meant either, I felt even more exasperated, almost on the verge of tears, and dashed off into the forest to find my brother.
   “Watch out for the bears!” my father called.
   Just past the edge of the forest, I stopped abruptly, feeling like I had just crossed into forbidden territory. The forest was overgrown, but I struggled forward a few feet, terrified, thinking that I saw a trail ahead. “Hey, come back,” I yelled to my brother. “Watch out for the bears! Watch out for the bears!”
   I heard only the rushing of the river. I felt strangely alone, suddenly realizing that I was only a few feet from the river bottom and my parents.
   Years later, I stumbled upon a pounding stone as I was wandering in the foothills east of Fresno, and I spent the next two decades, in my free time, following Native American trails to ancient village sites in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, primarily in the watershed of the Kings River. I even discovered a few pounding stones that resembled the stone in the floodplain of the North Fork of the Kings.
   Even though I’d found numerous pounding stones elsewhere, I’d never encountered a pounding stone in the river bottom of the North Fork until I returned the other day to the washed out bridge.

Faint Trail

   After I hiked down the steep incline to the river bottom, I immediately encountered a few baby blue eyes and a light blanket of miniature lupine. Again I felt a Native American presence. A faint trail in the sandy soil led beyond the clearing toward the river, and I followed it over fallen branches to a hillock where spot rugs of goldfields glowed in the sunlight. Due to slight indentations in dark, midden earth, I knew I had discovered a village site, but to be sure I needed to find a pounding stone in the area.

House Pits

   I searched for several minutes unsuccessfully, finally returning to the patch of goldfields to take a few more pictures before heading back. As I was taking a photograph, I noticed under some trees a flat stone covered with moss and leaves. I discovered grass growing from the stone in a number of areas. I dug out one small bed of grass and discovered a mortar, and I could see at least eight other places in the stone where grass was sprouting.

Goldfields near Pounding Stone

   I had finally found a pounding stone in the floodplain of the North Fork of the Kings, forty years after the voice had assured me that I would “find out” about Native Americans.
   That moment, I experienced a mixture of feelings. I was grieving for my father, gone three and a half decades, because in that river bottom it seemed to me that time had not passed, that time did not exist. I could sense another dimension of myself surfacing, and I asked myself, almost without thinking, “What do I do now?”
   That voice replied, “Be free.”

Mortar in Pounding Stone

   I was startled by the simplicity of the answer. I struggled for a moment to figure out what it means to “be free.” Due perhaps to the lingering feelings of grief and frustration, the term “frustrated self” popped into my head.
   My father spent his entire adult life striving for better jobs and better cars and better houses, struggling for the American Dream and ending up under a gravestone that my family rarely visits, marked only, “US Army....Born March 15, 1921....Died March 12, 1977.”
   I suspect that he experienced the kind of frustrated self that many know so well: the self that keeps working long hours for external validation, the self that doesn’t live in the present, the self that doesn’t follow its bliss, the self that is afraid of fall-out for doing the right thing.
   The frustrated self must have more money, more status, more of the one thing that will make sacrifices worthwhile. The frustrated self becomes angry and resentful when the promised moment of satisfaction doesn’t arrive.

Hear the voice of the daimon.

   The frustrated self is partly maintained through the pressure to stay in the surface mind for survival. The human brain in fast-paced, competitive urban societies tends to remain in a mental state that limits the use of the “subtle senses.” These “soul senses" are similar to the physical senses of sight, hearing, smell, and touch, except that they are stimulated by nonphysical or “subtle" forces and intelligences. The subtle senses are only open or active if the brain is in a receptive state.
   Electrical activity produced by the brain in various states can be measured using an electroencephalograph, or EEG, which displays activity as brain waves. Currently there are four accepted categories of human brain waves: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. Beta rhythm (also known as beta waves) refers to the frequency range of human brain activity between 14 and 28 Hz and represents an intense state of alertness, concentration, logical thinking, and memory. Since beta mode is the required mental state of the workplace, it is generally valued as the most productive state of modern human consciousness in terms of survival and success. Other brain wave rhythms, alpha, theta, and delta, associated with, among other things, imagination, spiritual connection, and intuition, are accessed through deep relaxation, meditation, daydreaming and immersion in the natural world. When not required to remain in beta mode by high stress jobs, people nowadays tend to slip into alpha and theta states under the influence of the mass media, which controls the flow of thoughts and emotions and tends to extinguish the potential for authentic spiritual experience.
   An individual during meditation can consciously move beyond the beta rhythms of the surface mind to alpha, theta, and delta brain wave frequencies. Alpha brain waves (generally considered 8 to 13 cycles per second) produced when a person is resting, meditating, or reflecting, indicate a state of relaxed alertness, good for inspiring powerful ideas and stimulating imagination. Theta brain waves (4 to 7 cycles per second), usually associated with the dream state, are produced also when a person is daydreaming, experiencing a flow of ideas, or performing a repetitive task. Theta brain waves are also associated with profound inner peace, mystical knowledge, symbolic visions, transformation of unconsciously held limiting beliefs, physical and emotional healing, inner wisdom, and psychic abilities. Delta brain waves (0.5 to 3 cycles per second), are produced during dreamless sleep, and can also include deep access to subconscious material and a sense of oneness and pure being. Nature as well as meditation can induce a brain wave rhythm where one experiences tranquility, pure intuition, visions, and wise inner voices. In fact, with regular meditation and excursions into nature, the subtle senses can open in a way that a mind stuck in surface consciousness and dominated by the media would find extremely difficult to believe. Anything other than beta brain waves tend to be associated with fuzzy head-in-the-cloud thinking and the inability to function properly in the real world, an attitude that has become a major obstacle both to connection with nature and to spiritual development.
   The frustration stems from something deeper than the desires and distractions of the surface mind. Expectations, often passed down from one generation to another--and often unrealistic--can lead to conditional love that traps one in a false ideal of the self. The deeper dimensions of the self vanish into the subconscious in order for the personality to achieve the “identity ideal” that is subtly or overtly demanded by the people one counts on for physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual sustenance, from childhood through adulthood.
   The struggle to achieve the ideal identity imagined by others, and thwarted efforts to realize unrealistic expectations can create blocks to awareness of the spiritual dimensions of the self. As I stood next to the pounding stone, it seemed to me that this frustration is so pandemic in Western society that it is considered normal, but it is one reason for a lack of empathy that is the source of many forms of conflict and exploitation, including the most extreme forms: genocide and ecocide.
   I rarely saw my father except for the times we went fishing. In retrospect I understand why he loved to fish: Frustrations melt away in the river bottom, and other dimensions of the self surface as peace arrives unbidden.

Take the next path.
Another view of the mangled bridge.