First of all, I’m thinking it all started with the turtles. As you’ll recall, our erstwhile Ranch Manager and Native Habitat Specialist, John the Baptist, found a rescue group that is trying to save the endangered Western Pond Turtle, the only native freshwater turtle in Northern California. These turtles are subject to a three pronged attack — loss of habitat and the aggressive threat of the Red Slider turtles (yes, the ones you get at pet stores) and the imported and decidedly not native Bull Frog. Western Pond Turtles require clean waterways, but continued pesticide and fertilizer run-off is threatening that habitat. Red Sliders are extremely aggressive and crowd out their native cousins. And the nasty Bull Frogs eat the Pond turtles’ young hatchlings. John assured the rescue group that our manufactured habitat, Lake Charles (named after our departed Founding Terrier), was just such a pristine, safe environment — especially given John’s vigilant patrols with a .22 to dispatch terrorist Bull Frogs.
So we found ourselves with two relatively healthy females and a sickly male that the naturalist warned us might not make it. Since they are natives, our Testudine friends were given proper native names. The gals were named after two local Native American tribes, Miwok and Pomo. The boy was given a strong name, Captain Jack, after the Modoc warrior who held off the U.S. Cavalry far north of here for an unprecedented amount of time. Sadly, Captain Jack didn’t make it, but the girls thrived. So the rescue group gave us another male — a big, dark, strapping male who just had to be named after the seven foot tall local Suisun chief, an ally of General Vallejo, who was baptized at the Sonoma Mission — Chief Solano. Then the rescue group gave us another female. So three turtles, minus one, plus two equals four, right?
So by way of long explanation, all this talk of returning natives got our pal, Cousin John, thinking. Cousin John is a part-time archeologist with contacts at Sonoma State University. So he spoke to a professor friend of his about the fact that we had a pretty pristine piece of land and had found grinding stones and arrowheads on the property. Next thing you know, we’re being contacted by a graduate student who is thinking our property might be a good place to do his thesis. But before he showed up, he’d done extensive research on the all existent historical records for this area. Seems every square inch of Southern Sonoma County has been thoroughly documented since Sir Francis Drake landed out at the coast in the Fifteen Hundreds. Except for this little forty acre patch that we call Two Terrier Vineyards. While this land was part of the original Spanish land grant given to either General Vallejo or his brother Salvador, it was never developed. We’ve found some barbed wire at the edge of property in the area we call “The Meadow” so somebody grazed cattle here. And at another edge of the property along the county road, generations of Sonomans seemed to consider this the free dump. A member of the family that eventually came into possession of the land did some logging and scraped off topsoil in certain areas, but otherwise, the land was never developed. And down near our seasonal creek, well, that was inaccessible due to heavy undergrowth until John the Baptist and his crew macheted their way in to connect to some existing deer trails. Down in that area is where we found grinding stones and arrowheads.
Well, I’m not sure what sort of expression Charles Darwin had on his face when he first saw the Galapagos Islands, but it must have been close to the look these two grad students had when we took them down to John’s creek trail. Except recently, for us and a few terriers, probably no one has walked that area for more than a hundred years. And our grad students are convinced they’ve discovered a lost Miwok Highway between a known major Miwok settlement, which was at the Northeast corner of what is now Sonoma Town, and a sacred mountain in Napa, Napa Glass Mountain, which was the only major local source of Obsidian, which was highly prized for arrow and spear heads.
Not only that, but we have several cliffs that back up on a Western exposure with an eagle eye view of the site of that major Miwok town, the sacred peak of Mount Tamalpais and out toward the Pacific Ocean. Apparently, in Miwok cosmology, the West was a sacred direction. It was believed that the earth was created out of the Pacific and that the dead traveled to the Pacific to cross the waves and live with Coyote, the creator god. The grad students are planning to bring their professors back here as they are convinced they may find petroglyphs on some of our rock facings.
The grad students were very cautious about making any pronouncements, but on our hike, they found all the physical features, geological features, prehistoric evidence (those grinding stones) and key botanicals that would point to this as being an important migration site. So Two Terrier Vineyards probably wasn’t a habitation site or a burial site (Coast Miwoks tended to bury their dead at sea), but it could have been an important hunting camp, foraging site and migration route. Further adding to that theory is a chunk of Obsidian that John the Baptist found. Since Napa Glass Mountain is the only site in Napa and Sonoma counties that had the rare geological conditions to create Obsidian, the students are convinced this chunk was mined in Napa and was in the process of being transported to the village in Sonoma where it would have been refined into arrowheads. So think of this plot of land as the pre-historic Howard Johnsons or Stuckey’s Truck Stop on the Miwok Highway.
We are beyond psyched! We’d love nothing more than to make this a clean, well-lighted space for Natives. Whether they be turtles or Western Chorus Frogs or members of the Coastal Miwok tribe who may want to have ceremonies here. Again, our grad students are being very cautious about pronouncements, but they are planning to come back with some of their professors and they are very, very excited.
We are too. It’s the return of the Natives. And we’re giving credit to the turtles for breaking that ground.
I LOVE you guys!
How do I get rid of the social media “thingy” that blocks your post on the left hand side? I’m pretty savvy about this stuff… but this is baffling me! Help!
Apparently, I had to change the settings at my end. It’s now below the posts which is a much better place for it.
And a little turtle will lead you…to a wonderful story. Makes me want to read more! It reminds me of our process of building in the San Juan Islands. Turns out we were on top of a midden; essentially a party zone for the Salish tribes making their way along the Salish Sea, fishing as they went. Alas, mostly fished out now, but the giant buried mound of clam and oyster shells have an afterlife longer than plutonium. To read more about this lovely slice of the Pacific coast, I HIGHLY recommend a book called “A Curve of Time” by M. Wylie Blanchet: a lovely memoir full of history, adventure and recollections of a fairly recent, but utterly vanished, time.
Ha! There you are – talking about Chief Solano .. and Captain Jack .. and here I am thinking … “hmmm – why are these names sounding so recent?”
I know why!! I bet Lisa would LOVE this book (if she hasn’t already read it), “Testimonios – Early California through the eyes of women, 1815-1848.”
I just finished reading about Josefa Carrilo and Rosalia Vallejo. It is fascinating.
It’s published in collaboration with the Bancroft Library and UCBerkley.
I can just imagine a turtle call going out on some frequency humans cannot hear. Find you they will.
Of course the grad students are excited. Field work show and tell…most awesome.