Humqaq, pt. 4

So were there really people watching the surfer from the shore (read part 3 here), or was he just suffering from a concussion? We’ll find out a bit more here, when things continue to get weird at Point Conception.

Humqaq, part 4

By Jeff McElroy

Breathe. Breathe in the air…

I popped my head above the surface and inhaled. My leash had snapped and I saw my board bobbing and bouncing towards shore. My lip was bleeding, making black swirling clouds in the water. I thought of sharks and bodysurfed the next wave to shore. I sat on the wet sand for a minute, dizzy. When I stood up and looked down the beach, I saw a tall man in a cowboy hat holding my board with one hand and smoking with he other. My board looked small in his hand, and by the way he held it away from his body with only his thumb and forefinger, I knew he was strong. He was the only person on the beach. I headed towards him. It wasn’t until I was close that I realized it was the same Indian dude from Circle K. He offered the board. I grabbed it and tucked it under my arm. “Thanks, man,” I said.

“You are hurt,” he said.

“Yeah, man. My lip’s fucked.”

He stared at me and said nothing. “Well thanks,” I said, and walked north.

“Hey. You.” He said. 

“Yeah?”

“Beware. The Raven comes.” 

He stared at me. My lip throbbed and I felt pissed off. 

Yeah, man. Whatever. I headed back to my truck.

***

Rattling along old Jalama road back towards Lompoc with a bloody towel in my lap, I got the feeling of being watched again. The mossy oak trees were scoffing at me with my battered lip and paranoid eyes. I saw myself from a bird’s-eye perspective, as if I were flying over my truck. I slammed on my brakes to let the largest rattlesnake I’d ever seen cross the road. The gyrations of his smooth musculature eased him along the asphalt. His seeking head vanished into the chaparral, but before he could disappear completely, a large black bird swooped from the sky and sank its talons into the snake’s flesh. Up, up it flew, not even struggling against the weight of the massive snake that writhed in unnatural poses. I wondered if the bird was a raven.

I was given a number at the ER and told to wait. After an hour of reading Better Housekeeping, they called me in and I got my stitches. Back out on the grid-like streets of Lompoc—Avenue A, Avenue B, Avenue C—and surrounded by the wretched murals of war, I decided to pull off at the same blame Circle K again for some aspirin. And there was that same blame Indian man leaning up against the graffiti wall bringing a ‘grit to his lips with the predictability of a metronome. While I was inside the store I resolved to confront the man when I stepped outside. I figured he owed me an explanation about his cryptic warning about the raven. When I walked out, he was gone. I even looked around the corner, but only saw a weed-strewn lot.

On the way back to the Jalama road I passed a government road sign that read: National Chumash Information Center – 9 Miles. Just for the hell of it, I swung the wheel east and headed along the farm roads in the direction of Buellton. I wanted to surf again but figured that it probably wouldn’t be the best idea with fresh stitches and all. The information center was not much more than a couple of bungalows stuck together with all the thrift afforded by allocated tax dollars.

A small, antique woman with wispy white hair sat behind a desk. Her California-brown Park Ranger uniform dwarfed her and gave her the appearance of a scarecrow with a body too big for its head. She smiled a great lipstick smile and motioned to her upper lip with her transparent hand. 

“Oooh-wee,” she said. “That had to hurt, sweety.”

“Happened while I was surfing. My lip was so numb from the cold water that I actually didn’t feel any pain. It’s throbbing now though.” 

“What brings you here?” she asked.

“What do you know about ravens?”

“Ravens, honey? Well, I know they’re black and have wings. That’s about it. Why you ask?”

“What about the Chumash? Was there anything special about the raven?”

She leaned across the table. “Honey, I hate to say it, but I’m just kind of here to watch the place and help people find things. We used to have an expert here, but ever since the governor cut funding, well, we’re just lucky that this place is even open. Best thing for you to do is check the database. Come on over here, you can use this computer.”

I thanked her and sat down at the computer. I typed “raven” at the DOS-prompt and a list of articles popped up. I browsed several entries until the name “Point Conception,” caught my eye. The article was entitled, “The Chumash as the Keepers of the Western Gate,” and was originally published in the journal Acta Americana, volume 8, number 1, through Uppsala University in Sweden. As I read the following, my eyes widened and my heart beat quicker in my chest:

Chumash traditions vs. the space race

The coastline of southern California between San Diego and Los Angeles lies generally in a north/south direction, but as it proceeds northward, it slowly curves toward the west until at Santa Barbara, the coastline lies in an east/west direction. At the extremity of this westward curve lies Point Conception. The Chumash call it Humqaq, “The Raven Comes,” and regard it as one of the most sacred sites not only in Chumash territory, but in all of North America, the “western gate” of the continent.

At this writing, Humqaq lies at the center of a bitter controversy in which the spiritual traditions of Native America clash with one of the most exalted technological projects of the United States government. The area around Point Conception is one of strategic importance to both cultures. For the Chumash it is spiritually strategic as the spot where the souls of the dead depart for Shimilaqsha, Chumash realm of the dead. For the Americans, nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base is perhaps the most militarily strategic location on the Pacific coast, from where inter-continental ballistic missiles are launched out into the ocean, and rockets into space. Plans are underway to enlarge the facilities at Vandenberg and construct a huge spaceport that will be the Cape Canaveral of the Pacific.

The American space industry will ironically develop this site – used for thousands of years as a departure point into the Milky Way by the Chumash souls of the dead – as a technological departure point into space. The immense profits to be made in such projects as finding water on the Moon and providing regular commercial freight and passenger service into space have stimulated a space race between the US and Russia, China, Europe and Japan, and in view of this fact, American contractors have little tolerance for local resistance to these plans.

“You find what you’re looking for, hon’?” I jumped so high out of my seat that my knees slammed the desk. The little lady took a step back and looked at me with concern. “Yes! Yes. Everything. You got a printer?”

*Photos by Josh Gill

To start from the beginning or catch an installment you missed:

Humqaq pt. 1

Humqaq pt. 2

Humqaq pt. 3