Nobody taught us about indigenous people in our region of California. Before third grade and the ‘Marin County Unit” we studied that year, kids in my neighborhood made up what we thought the Coastal Miwok tribes did, collecting acorns, what they ate, how they fished, and made shell jewelry. A hundred years before our subdivision was built, tribes lived and fished exactly where we lived, and I found pieces of stuff in my backyard, hunting for artifacts near the lower corral. We uncovered clamshell mounds, tiny, round white circle shell beads, found a stone grinding bowl, half of a broken mortar the size of a pumpkin. Miwoks made and used it, pressing into its deep worn circle pocket. We didn’t understand desecration, and just thought it was cool to find things.
Imagine a small Miwok child carrying that stone to her fire space, with mothers and daughters pouring water over ground oak acorns through a grass woven basket, releasing bitter tannin. Clam shell mountains full of artifacts were next to a non-native blackberry thicket covering a creek whose real name we never knew. Hundred year-old large limbed eucalyptus trees Miwoks never saw were planted later by Portuguese dairy farmers.
Pretending to be Miwoks gave us safe, natural protection that sheltered us from anything bad. They left behind tangible gentleness we all felt, a sense that land was good. We heard beauty in the wind’s rustling leaves, saw it in flickers of daylight, smelled it in bay salt. We wanted so badly to be unified, free and wild, with no parental stress, and we stayed outside all day long.
Barefoot, in the same saltmarsh grass oozing with muddy bay silt, we made acorn soup from metholated eucalyptus nuts, even though it wasn’t true Miwok food. We dropped acorns into creekwater and stirred with no fire, wishing to hear the click of decorative shell-lace dancing skirts in the breeze.