Jana, the Hap-Hap,
and the Dalai Lama
I'm not superstitious...but. When you have lived and worked on the quaking and steaming overgrown lava flows of East Hawaii and witnessed ten years of eruptions, you learn to have a sense of what Madame Pele wants...and what she doesn't want; what's Kapu. She has many potent ways to express herself, and the times and places she acts up are way beyond coincidental.
I grew up in Carpinteria and roamed around the beaches and hills all up and down the Santa Barbara coast. We had our supposed haunted houses, our corny made-up Indian legends, and ghost stories, but I never took that stuff seriously. I didn't have the idea that supernatural beings were part of my environment. I'll get back to that.
About the time the SkateZone was in full swing, I had a visit from an old girlfriend, Jana, from our commune days in San Francisco. She had been JW's nanny there from the time he was a few months old until he was two, 1971-73. We had last been together in 1980 when she came to stay with me in Hawaii for about ten really magic days. That was the closest I had come to having a committed girlfriend since I had broken up with JW's Mom, Patti, five years earlier. The thing is that besides being a fine artist, a beautiful and joyful companion, Jana is psychic.
She had timed her trip down from her home in Pacific Grove near Monterey, to coincide with the appearance of the Dalai Lama at UCSB, and a perfect time to catch up with me. This was Sunday, April 7, 1991, I still have the ticket stub. Having been somewhat of a Buddhist scholar when I went to college there, and a fan, I was eager to see him too. The talk was held in the packed UCSB Event Center. The acoustics were horrible. From where we sat, I could hardly make out what he was saying. After struggling to hear for a few minutes, I gave up and just felt the warmth and humor of his intonations and let that elevate me. Luckily, a few days later, or maybe the following weekend, the local public radio broadcast his entire speech, in perfect clarity, and I was able to hear every word of it sitting there at home in the Lemon House. I've read lots of Buddhist texts and attended many lectures and presentations. Many of them can be complex, murky and baffling, some intentionally so. The Dalai Lama's offerings on the other hand, are simple homilies that boil down a human condition into a crystal insight:
"When you think everything is someone else's fault, you will suffer a lot". --Dalai Lama
This was Jana's first trip to Southern California, and I was showing her around the whole South Coast. There are creeks large and small that trickle down from the hills and many have a rudimentary road following them. We had driven up through a lemon orchard into a canyon that I had been to seven or eight times over the previous thirty years of explorations. It was beautiful; the little stream sustained Sycamore and Bay trees and filled small ponds here and there. The road was going right along the wide, mostly dry creek to the East when Jana started exclaiming, "Oh...Oh. Stop! Stop right here!" There was a wide enough shoulder to get off the road. I stopped. She jumped out and scampered down into the creek bed, and turned upstream where it veered sharply away from the road. "This way, come on." We had only gone about fifty yards to where the creek came out from under the grove of trees, and there we saw, obviously, what she had picked up on with her amazing sensitivity.
Rising up hundreds of feet from the east side of the creek was an enormous slab of sandstone tilted back from the vertical, a common formation in the Santa Ynez Mountains that form the ridge behind Santa Barbara. This particular bare monolith had a series of plainly visible shallow oval caves that followed a line angling up from the creek, getting progressively smaller. The indigenous Chumash who found such a site in their natural world, would have placed great significance on it. The village that had existed along that creek had been well documented as an important crossroads, but its native population been wiped out by the European diseases and the cruel subjugation of the Spanish intrusion. We had probably been riding up through a ghost town of that village, now overgrown and invisible as the natural materials that they built their shelters and sweat lodges with melted back into the landscape.
Some of the larger niches were big enough for two people to climb into, so naturally we climbed in, and being lovers at the time, we did some smooching and horsing around in there. Who knows what purpose the caves played in their culture. They could have been like thrones, or box seats for the chieftains or shamans to overlook a ceremony or gathering below on the wide gravel bank. Maybe this clearing was their church and the caves were like altars where they would place offerings. Maybe it played a part in the preparation of their dead. Whatever it was, it was likely that our foolishness would be Kapu to the ancient ones.
After about 20 minutes of enjoying this special place we retraced our steps back to the truck. I found a place to turn around after the creek had crossed the road. It was a warm day and we had the windows of the truck down. After a quarter of a mile, I noticed that there was a little whirlwind in the road that seemed to be following after us, and picking up speed. As the road came down into the lemons and straightened out parallel to the tree rows, the dust devil veered off into orchard on our left. The road continued another 75 yards straight and took a sharp left turn along somebody's property line. I could see the column of dust rising off in the lemon trees, and we were on a collision course. When we got to the tree row it was following, it came roaring out stronger than ever and seemed to go right through our open windows, filling the cab with a swirling mix of dust and pebbles and leaves, before it ran off and upward into the sky down toward the ocean.
I later learned that to the Chumash this kind of thing was well known. A dust devil was considered a Hap-Hap, an energetic spirit being that always appears with something angry to say. Jana had never been in this part of the world, and didn't know anything about Chumash lore, but she found that place like there were searchlights attached to it. Magic things like that happen around her, like our time in Hawaii. That day, I'm pretty sure we were scolded by a genuine Hap-Hap for our irreverence in a sacred place.
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