All posts by fallingmiles


IMG_2072There are places on this earth carved out by the hand of god, creator, deity, or if you prefer, mother nature herself .  The point is that they are spectacular to behold, beautiful, and breathtaking but far beyond the skill of man to create.


I found myself at the foot of an intimidating looking crag, early one September morning. The shadows of the morning sun defining each crack and crevasse making it seem more ominous and daunting.  We were about to make a 3,200 foot vertical assent over a 4.7 mile long trail dubbed 4-mile-trail.

IMG_2038This is Yosemite. Hikers, backpackers, rock climbers, and campers paradise. There is something for everyone here, from the free trams that circle the Yosemite Valley stopping at all the sights, to trails leading to some of he most incredible places; Half dome, panorama trail, glacier point, clouds rest to name a few.IMG_2054I am embarrassed to admit that it has been decades since I have been to Yosemite and in the 5 years we have made Santa Rosa our home, this was my first time making the short 4 hour drive to visit this place. It will not be long before I return.


As we hiked up the very steep trail that zig-zagged its way up the mountain side, the rising sun dappled the light through the trees that surrounded the trail. Every corner brought a new vista, each one more impressive than the last.

IMG_2014Smoke from a fire burning across the canyon, hung in the air threatening to steal away the sharp contrast of the rock faces. The muted cliffs seemed distant and featureless. I had resided myself to the fact that views would not be as beautiful or as impressive as I had hoped. IMG_2062Somewhere along the trail we made it above the smoke layer. The colors became crisp and sharp, the scenery so vivid as if it were straight out of a painting.  The smoke had settled into the lower elevations and traveled like a river through the valleys and canyons below. IMG_2026As we reached the end of 4-mile-trail, we found we were not alone. In fact, we did not come across one other person on the entire trail, yet now there seemed to be a couple dozen people milling about. Thats when I noticed a lodge (store) and a paved area. As it turns out, that for $41, you can take a tram from the valley floor up to glacier point and then back down.  I realize that making a hike like 4 mile trail is not an option for many people…I am fortunate that I am not one of them. Even if the tram was free, I would still hike the trail just to experience the views and sense of accomplishment.

IMG_2081Our prize for making this trek – Glacier point; the view here is absolutely amazing!IMG_2116

IMG_2124My day would have been complete had we turned around and went back down the mountain, but we continued on across the Panorama Trail, to the Mist Trail to Nevada and Vernal falls, then back down to the valley floor. All said and done, we managed hiking about 17.5 miles through one of the most spectacular places in California. IMG_2128

My only disappointment was that the iconic Yosemite falls was dried up. The low volumn of winter snow pack, drought conditions, and a shortage of rainfall, has taken its toll on all the waterways and falls within Yosemite.  Nevada and Vernal falls still had water flowing, but they certainly not as impressive as I remember. Still, the sacred beauty of this place lies within every tree, shrub, rock, animal, and incredible views that change every minute of the day and night.


Go to Yosemite if you:

  1. love the outdoors
  2. love backpacking, hiking, camping, and exploring
  3. love nature
  4. love incredible views

Don’t go to Yosemite if you:

  1. Hate to walk
  2. like to liter
  3. don’t care for nature or wild life
  4. like to sit in your camper and watch tv. (it’s hard to reserve a campsite in Yosemite during the summer months, do the rest of us a favor and stay home if you don’t want to leave your camper.

Kahalu’u Beach Park; Great beginner snorkeling



Paradise would not be complete without warm, tropical, blue-green water. The water is one of the main reasons I am drawn to Hawaii or anywhere tropical for that matter. As we planned our trip to Kona this year, I did a fair amount of research on where the best places would be to go snorkeling with a 6-year-old and 34-month-old.


What we stumbled across was a fabulous little beach just south of Kailua-Kona, called Kahalu’u Beach Park. This turned out to be the perfect beach for my little family. We ended up coming here on several occasions and used it as our goto spot aka, our backup plan.


Kahalu’u is a protected cove, meaning that the water is fairly calm and easy to navigate. The beach has a coarser salt and pepper colored sand, and the beach area is rather small. The facilities here are very nice and every time we came here, there were classes and activities for the youth, and volunteers on standby to teach about the fish, corals, and sea turtles in Kahalu’u bay.

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One of the best things about this park is that it is completely free.

The parking is free, and access to the beach is free (as it should be). A catering truck shows up daily offering food, shave ice, iced coffee, and even locker rentals for $5 for the day so you can store your valuables safely while you are in the water.


As far as being kid friendly we could not ask for anything more. The water was calm and the fish population is pretty dense. This trip was an opportunity to introduce our kids to the ocean undersea life, and we wanted to do so in a positive way.


For the nearly 3-year-old, we purchased a Sea Window snorkeling raft. This is a raft that is made for adults up to 300 lbs. It has a viewing window that magnifies the underwater view by 25x. The size made it perfect for our youngest to lay on and feel completely safe while being able to enjoy the fish and corals along with the rest of us. (it was well worth the $59 price tag). For the 6-year-old, we purchased a $3 donut raft. This gave him some security and confidence as he braved the open waters with us.


This little bay is amazing. The corals are abundant and beautiful, as well as the fish. We found that closer in to shore, the water was a little murky, however, this seemed to be where most of the snorkelers were hanging out. We made our way a little further out and found the water to be exceedingly clear and the scenery and wild life to be quite stunning, with hardly any other snorkelers around. We saw sea turtles on every visit here. We also spotted a moray eel as well as a zebra eel. The concentration and variety of fish was incredible. We spent many hours in the water here and always tried to squeeze in a trip to this beach whenever we had a some spare time in our day.


The kids would lose interest in snorkeling after a while, but they would stay entertained for hours playing on the beach. My wife and I took turns snorkeling while the other one sunbathed and kept an eye on the kids. The volunteers at this beach have a true love for the sea life and are very knowledgeable. They are an asset to the park and were there to educate the public and to protect the reefs and stop the tourist from trying to feed or harass the fish and sea turtles.


Go to Kahalu’u if:


  1. You have small kids
  2. you are a beginning snorkeler or want to learn how to snorkel.
  3. you want to see and possibly swim next to sea turtles
  4. you are on a budget and want a fun, low-cost adventure
  5. you are staying in Kailua-Kona and you have an hour or two to spare

Don’t go if:

  1. You like challenging intermediate to advanced snorkeling (or scuba diving)
  2. you are looking for a quiet beech to lay in the sun
  3. you don’t want to be around children (mainly on the beach or close in)
  4. you can’t keep from standing on the corals.

Snorkeling can work up your appetite. Fortunately, just a short trip up the road from Kahalu’u, we discovered one of the best places to eat ahi poke (pronounced POH-kay) in Kailua-kona; Da Poke Shack. If you are a fan of poke, don’t pass this place up. If you are not a fan, they offer some awesome Huli Huli Chicken and Kailua Pork that will satisfy even the most discerning palate.  To compliment the perfect Hawaiian meal, keep your eyes open for a roadside coconut vendor. For about $5, they slice off the top of a fresh, young, green coconut and stick a straw in it, and serve you the freshest coconut water available.

Snorkeling with the family at Kahalu’u, lunch at Da Poke Shack, and a fresh green coconut to drink = the perfect Hawaiian experience.


Doran Beach

At the edge of a town made famous in Alfred Hitchcocks’ classic, “The Birds”, and at the foot of a would be nuclear power plant, there is one of Sonoma counties best beaches: Doran beach aka Doran Regional Park.


 Doran Regional Park is on a peninsula separating Bodega Bay from the pacific ocean. If I could use one word to describe this beach, it would be “Windy.”


Cold and windy might be a bit more accurate, however, I really don’t want to come off sounding like I am putting this place down, after all, I bring the family to Doran beach quite often. Kite borders and kite fliers both take advantage of this wind, and celebrate it.  Doran Regional Park, is a crescent shaped sand bar, for all intents and purposes, consisting of a campground, boat launch, and day use beach areas.


The Bodega Bay side of the peninsula, is where most of the campsites are located, tucked in between sand dunes, ice plant and a few windswept trees. The campsites are all equipped with fire rings and picnic benches, but do not offer any onsite electric or water hook ups for RV’ers. The downside to this is the constant background drone of RV generators running so their occupants can sit inside and watch TV…isn’t the point of camping to escape all that? Apparently not for everyone! There are restrooms and shower facilities available throughout the campground and along the beach day use areas which makes it enjoyable for tent campers, RV’ers, and day trippers alike. 


There are several things that keep us coming back to Doran Beach year round: The crescent shape of the sandy beach, the proximity to our home, dungeoness crab, and fishing (Notice how I did not mention warm weather).You may question what the shape of the beach has to do with anything. Let me explain: The ocean along the northern California coast, tends to be rough, choppy, and prone to rip tides and dangerous conditions. The beach at Doran offers protection from the onslaught of waves and currents depending on where you are along the beach. The further out that you go along the peninsula, the more protected and calmer the water is. As of this writing, I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. We tend to go all the way to end of the beach right next to the jetty, if we are only going for the day. The water is calm enough here that we can let our kids play as much as they would like (in the frigid water), without concern that they are going to be knocked over by a rouge wave.


When we feel like freezing our butts off along with the kids, we will move further down the beach where the waves are a little more prevalent and take the boys out into the water and let the waves chase us back to the shore…until we are completely numb from the cold. The kids will do this until they are blue and their teeth are chattering. They love this game. If we happen to be camping, we have the option to retreat to our campground and warm up by the fire. If we are using the day use area, we will wrap the kids in blankets, and curl up next to them in sand and soak up the warmth of the sun.


A little aside here: When leaving the beach for the day, we always drive around to the opposite side of the Bodega Bay to warm our bones with the BEST clam chowder anywhere: Spud Point Crab Company. This is a tiny little place that is standing room only and there is almost always a line out the door. It is well worth the wait!

Although I am not big on fishing, our older boys are. The jetty at Doran offers some decent fishing and poke pole fishing, as well as crabbing. When camping here, we often enjoy a meal of fresh dungeoness crab, rock crab, and monkey faced eel. When feeling ambitious, we will sometimes travel around the bay to Bodega Head and harvest some fresh mussels from the rocks at low tide, and then steam them in white wine for an extra tasty treat.

There is so much to do at this beach that we never get bored coming here. Bring your bikes, kayaks, stand-up paddle board, kite board, kites, binoculars (bird watching), fishing gear, poke poles, crab pots… there is something for everyone. Doran is a great place for families. The facilities are well maintained, the campsites are spacious, the beaches clean, and you can always count on the wind, so bring a kite. But most importantly, bring warm clothing and dress in layers. Fog is a staple here, second only to the wind.


I consider myself tropical so I complain about the “cold” at Doran, but many people come here in the summer to escape the inland heat. I can speak from experience when I tell you that we left our home just 24 miles away and a temperature of 102° and arrived at Doran and 66° just 40 minutes later. This natural air-conditioning also makes this park fill up quickly on hot days, so plan on arriving early or you wont be allowed in. Camping reservations need to be made a minimum of 10 days in advance, and most weekends it is hard to find an open spot when reserving a campsite less than a month out.

Doran is a popular site for all that it offers but due to the way the beach and campground is laid out, It never feels really all that crowded. There are some notable days here that are worth mentioning: Castles and Kites, is an annual castle building and kite flying celebration, usually in May, and Fireworks on the Bay, which usually takes place on the 5th of July. Doran beach will be booked up far in advance for both of these celebrations, so planning ahead is essential. 

I will cover Bodega Bay, and the town of Bodega more extensively on a future post.The town and the bay have their own small town charm and are worthy of exploration even if you don’t like the beach or camping. As for Doran Beach, I may complain about the cold, but we come here year round, and have camped here regularly around New Years. So please, take my rantings about the cold with a grain of salt. Everyone has their kryptonite, the cold just happens to be mine.

Punalu’u: Black Sand Beach, Hawaii

IMG_1013Hawaii…its all about the beaches. One of the allures of a Hawaiian vacation is the ocean and a nice, warm, sandy beach.  The thing is that the big island seems to be lacking in big, sweeping expanses of sandy beaches, at least compared to some of the other islands such as Oahu or Maui. On the big island, you have to seek them out as many of the beaches are rocky.

My wife and I are explores at heart, so when we planned a trip to the big island with our 6-year-old and 2-year-old sons, we tried to select some places that we could go that would minimize our time in the car, satisfy our need for an adventure, and offer up a memorable experience for our boys as well as for ourselves.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, seemed to fit that bill. It is about an hour and a half drive south from Kailua-Kona.  The key to making the most out of any trip with kids in tow, which entails being in the car for more than an hour or so, is to plan other activities around your main destination.  The black sand beach is perfect to add in to a day trip to the volcano which was our original plan, however, we changed things up regularly, never wanting to have a set agenda. For us, we strategically planned our day with our kids in mind but also included some activities that we enjoyed as well.


We started our day early, hitting the Kona Farmers Market to grab a bunch of apple bananas (our boys ate a bunch a day!) and a couple strawberry papayas, then headed to Kahalu’u Beach (which I will cover in a later post) for some morning snorkeling. The snorkeling is a bit self-indulgent for my wife and I, but the point is that it gets some of the boys’ wiggles out. They get to swim, snorkel, and play on the beach, and feel like the morning was all for them. Top it off with a Hawaiian shave ice, and the kids are ready to get back in the car.

For a bit more self-indulgence along the way, we stopped off at one of the many coffee plantations south of Kailua-Kona. Most of them offer tours, some of them have a cafe’ serving, you guessed it, coffee drinks, and in some cases, even food.  Kona Joe’s, for example, is a great little pit stop. We grabbed some ice coffee’s for the road, and a MacNut chocolate chip brownie with ice-cream for the boys.  Everyone was happy (read; no complaining!)

A little aside here; I am not a coffee drinker. I have never, nor do I now, like coffee. That said, the coffee in Kona is exceptional. I had several iced coffee’s on our vacation and really enjoyed them. I have had a few ice coffee’s since returning  to the mainland, hoping to recapture a taste of Kona, and have been disappointed every time: Proof — everything just tastes better in Hawaii.

About the time I finished my ice coffee, we found the sign on the highway pointing to the turn off at Punalu’u.  Follow this road to the end as the signs are not very clear; the road dead ends into the parking lot for the beach.


There are a few things that makes this beach special. First would be the black sand of course. The sand itself is slightly on the coarse side but feels soft and almost therapeutic as you walk on it. We were concerned that the black sand would be very hot, too hot to walk on, however, we purposely planned to arrive early afternoon, knowing that the clouds would roll in by then and the sun might not be beating down directly on the sand making it too hot to walk on. Our gamble paid off and we found the sand to be pleasantly warm.


The second, and one of the best reasons to visit Punalu’u is the sea turtles. This is a favorite beach for the Honu — Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles and apparently they frequent this beach, so much so that they have a resting area sectioned off for the turtles, a sign asking you not to touch them and to stay 10 feet away, and a person standing by to enforce the rules and answer questions about the turtles.


The contrast of the black sand against the surrounding greenery of coconut palms and green undergrowth on one side and the blue ocean on the other, is stunning. The turtles were an amazing sight as well. There were always three to five resting on the beach during our 4 hour visit, with another few turtles playing in the surf and eating moss from the rocks along the shore.


The water was a bit rough but there were a handful of brave souls swimming and snorkeling off the beach. It was fairly breeze during our visit but it was pleasant. Our boys were perfectly content building sand castles in the black sand, watching the turtles, and playing in the surf.


Punalu’u is a must do when on the big island if you like sea turtles and want to experience the black sand.  There are facilities here, but not any places near by that offer food, or at least any that we saw. Pack a lunch, bring some drinks, and plan another adventure to fill the day.

We made a top 20 list of things to do while in Hawaii, and this was near the top of the list. We reevaluated our list on a daily basis, and eliminated several items as the week unfolded. After all was said and done, we were happy that we spent the time in the car to experience this beach.

Parking is free, entering the beach is free, and our only cost was fuel for the car, iced coffee for the adults, and a few treats for the kids. — Aloha!





Part 2 of 2. See part 1 for the rest of the story.

My short time at Sun Dance, left me much to ponder. The camp was very secluded and primitive, yet I admit that we were well fed. I camp quite often with my family, and I have to say that we can make some pretty amazing camp meals, especially my wife, who is the queen of the dutch oven, but the kitchen staff at this camp was simply incredible. I have to say that the two lunches I had in this camp were some of the best Mexican/South American meals that I have ever had.

This camp doubles as a rehab center for Hispanics, and from what I understand, the kitchen and the cooking that they do, is part of that rehab. They proudly displayed the Mexican flag over the makeshift kitchen. These people were so kind and generous and treated us as if we were in a fancy restaurant…their own fancy restaurant. They did not use paper or plastic plates or cups. Everything was served on regular dishes and metal silverware, and washed by hand after each meal.

My first meal was empanadas, with mole’ and some other side  dishes…delicious! Did I mention that we were served an endless supply of fresh, ice cold watermelon water at every meal? It was ridiculous! ( I mean that in a good way)

I would have settled for beans and a hunk of corn bread. There was also fresh salsa made from fire roasted peppers and served with lunch and dinner. Breakfast was hot oatmeal served over mixed chocolate chips and nuts, all melting to perfection from the hot oatmeal. I would have never thought to try this myself.  For dinner, we had spaghetti with some incredible leek sauce served over the top. Everything was made from scratch with fresh ingredients. A generator kept a freezer going so we would have a supply of ice, and also to run a blender for them to make salsa and watermelon water. I can not say enough good things about the kitchen staff and their culinary skills.

Inipi: Sweat lodge

I sat at the back of the inipi, directly across from the door. It was completely black inside, except for the late afternoon sunlight entering through the door. Helpers carried cantaloupe sized volcanic rocks from a fire pit, on the blades of pitch forks and placed them one at a time on the flat stone lined depression in the center of the inipi. The stones glowed orange from the intense heat and energy which they contained. Medicine (plant herbs) were sprinkled over the hot stones and then a wooden stick was scraped across the stones just prior to the door being closed. As the blankets covering the door were dropped and the room became completely dark, the rocks came to life. Everywhere the stick had been scraped across the rocks, golden sparks twinkled like a thousand tiny lights.


The spiritual leader offered up words of prayer and wisdom in English. He finished his words as my eyes lay transfixed upon the glowing and sparkling rocks, feeling their warmth and heat upon my face and chest. I heard water being lapped from a bucket and the the distinct sound of steam forming as the water hit the rocks, sizzling, and boiling, ending the light show that I was enjoying. I instantly felt an intense surge of heat as the steam rose from the rocks. Lap, lap, lap; the rhythmic sound of water being scooped from the bucket continued for several moments. Although unseen, the steam rose to the top of the dome structure, then rolled down the walls until it filled the room. At first I could feel the extreme heat on the top of my head. It made its way down onto my shoulders, then across my back like a wave of fire. Instantly sweat began to pour from every inch of my body. The steam had the smell of hot celery from the herbs, at least that is the only way I know how to describe it.

Boom, boom, boom, the sound of a large hand drum filled the inipi

hand drum

The spiritual leader began to sing in a native tongue that I did not understand. Breathing was difficult, at least deep breaths as the searing heat burned my nostrils and throat. I found that small slow breath remedied the discomfort however I was stunned that someone could actually sing in here. This went on for four  rounds with brief moments in between where the flap of the door was opened allowing fresh air to come in. I don’t know how long we were in this ceremony. It seemed to last a long time, however, once it was over, I felt we had only been inside for a moment or two.

When the ceremony was over, and the door came open for the last time, the first person I saw, was an older native American man with long white hair. He sat there quietly with a small smile upon his face. He was obviously a veteran to this tradition. I was impressed by how stoic he was and how he seemed un-phased be the extreme heat we had all just endured. One by one, each in his own time, the people that took part in the ceremony climbed to their knees and crawled from the inipi. I was one of the last to exit as I wanted to take in every moment. When I emerged, the cool air washed over me. It felt refreshing to my skin in much the same way as I felt refreshed inside from this experience. I climbed to my feet and realized that every person that had exited the sweat lodge before me, had lined up and were greeting each person exiting the inipi behind them, one-by-one with a smile, a hand shake, a hug, and a grateful “Thank you”. I made my way through the reception line, smiling from ear-to-ear, and then took my place after the last person and continued to greet those that came behind.

What a powerful and heartfelt experience. I only knew the two people that I had entered the inipi with, but afterwords, I felt like I had a new family; two dozen people that I had never seen before, I now shared a bond or connection with. Days later, I can still see their faces and feel their embraces, and a bond that runs deeper than flesh that has touched my heart and changed me forever inside.

  I have never been an addict of any substance, but I now understand what is meant by “chasing the high”. There is a very real “high” that I felt from this ceremony, that is so strong that it has left me with the desire to have more. I want more. I want to feel this feeling again. I was greatly anticipating the next nights communal sweat, but unfortunately, some wild fires forced the evacuation of the camp just shortly before the next sweat was to take place. I am home now, happy to be back to my family and my creature comforts, but I have found myself looking for local sweat lodges and native american communities near me. I am chasing the high and I also want to share it with my wife.

The evacuation

We gathered in the arena for the closing ceremony for the day. There seemed to be a bit of commotion as the tribal elders were gathered under the arbor talking among themselves. This gave me some time to reflect on the previous two sessions of the day. In the opening ceremony, an adorned buffalo skull is carried into the arena along with several c’anunpa. These items were ceremoniously paraded around the arena and placed at the west gate as an alter of sorts. I witnessed piercings, and a dragging of buffalo skulls. and much more dancing. A soft breeze kept the temperature pleasant. and the smell of smoldering cedar filled the air, as smoke rose from the smudge pots at each gate.

Everything seemed so perfect…so peaceful

One of the tribal leaders made his way over to us and let us know that there were wild fires in the area, and the chief had decided to end the Sun Dance two days early and evacuate the camp. It was a surreal moment. Eric and I were on fire watch the night before until midnight, and had seen the lightning flashes all around the starlit sky. Meteors streak over head as we kept a vigil over the Sun Dancers, never discussing the fact that the lightning could spark up a fire in this drought plagued forest. It was on both our minds though and our worst fears were realized.

They completed the closing ceremony. The buffalo skull and c’anunpa’s were retired and the dancers were released. All the dancers, led by the chief and his son, made their way around the arena and shook hands, hugged, and thanked the spectators for their support. The emotions were mixed and overshadowed by the solemn ending to the ceremony. After the last dancer went by, we exited the arbor and hastily packed up our tents and belongings, and offered a hand to others. Vehicles began pulling out of the camp. I was in a kind of daze, not sure what I should do.


I said good bye to my friends, old and new, climbed in my truck and headed down the hill. It wasn’t more than half a mile when I spotted the first fire.  A lump formed I’m my throat. My heart was heavy with the thought that this beautiful place was in danger of being destroyed, all the trees and animals that filled this land could be gone in an instant. I took a good long look at the forest around me and said a quiet prayer for its safety, then made the five hour journey back home, contemplating all that I saw, heard, and felt at the Sun Dance.


I am a firm believer in “you get out of something what you put into it.” The experience will certainly be different for everyone, but for me, I entered this journey with an open heart and an open mind. I wanted to learn about this culture and this ceremony. I had no expectations other than to feel and to participate in everything that I could. I left my judgments and negative thoughts behind me when I turned off the main highway and followed the strips of white and red cloth down the long dirt road that wound its way through the forest.

I emerged a changed person

better for the experience, thankful for it, and with a new found knowledge and respect of a culture that has left me with more questions than answers. I will walk softly now as I seek more wisdom and more adventure, and take my place among the others that have gone before me. It is these types of experiences that drive me. They give my life meaning and a thirst for knowledge that I am eager to quench.

Mitakuye oyasin — I have taken the first steps of my journey into the sun.



“Mitakuye oyasin,” (Lakota for – all my relations) recognizes two relationships, our identity and blood kinship with one another as well as our spiritual kinship with the Great Mystery

There is an inherent need in all of us to feel connected: to others, to self, to life. We have the need to belong, to be accepted, to feel desired and loved, if even only from ourselves. The world has changed drastically in the last couple of decades and although we have become more connected through digital media, we have in many ways become intimately disconnected from each other, from ourselves, and even from the earth. We are busier than ever, we communicate with more people across longer distances, we multitask, we become bolder and braver with a computer screen and a keyboard in front of us, yet we lose the personal connection with the ones that are closest to us, and the ones that matter the most. We are no longer present: present in the moment, present with our loved ones, present with our children…we lose sight of the details. Our reality becomes virtual, and ultimately we lose ourselves.

There are those among us whom are seekers–those who seek the deeper connections and meanings in life

They are always looking, searching, and inevitably finding. I like to consider myself a seeker of sorts, though I have often let myself get caught up in the digital world and the day-to-day prescribed corporate life, sometimes finding that I become disconnected and stagnant. Fortunately for me, there are seekers around me that keep me in check, that reach out to me, and pull me back out of the “matrix”, if you will.

Through a series of unsolicited events and subsequent conversations with one of my favorite seekers and dearest friends, I found myself turning off highway 97 in northern California and onto a forest service road. It was late morning. The sun was high in the sky and the air was warm and inviting. I was surrounded by large pine and fir trees, with a mix of manzanita bushes, native grasses, and wildflowers to fill in the spaces in between the trees. As I made my way through this magnificent forest, I rounded a corner and found a great peak rising high above the trees in front of me, barren of any vegetation and streaked with large patches of snow. Billowing white clouds collected themselves near the summit of the mountain giving it the appearance of smoke spewing from a volcano. It was breath taking. I was looking at Mount Shasta.

  I was on my way to a Native American Indian Sun-dance. I was fortunate enough to be invited to this ceremony and was on my way to experience something that I knew nothing about. I went not knowing what to expect and with an open mind except for my preconceived notion that I would be viewed as an outsider… which I was completely wrong about I might add. I was greeted with open arms from the moment I arrived.

The Sun-dance ceremony is an annual tradition among many native American tribes especially the Lakota and other plains Indians. It is a ceremony of renewal, healing, and thanksgiving.

After traveling a long distance on dirt fire roads, watching for strips of white or red cloth tied to road side bushes as my only clue that I was headed in the right direction, I crested a hill and spotted a large clearing with tents and vehicles scattered about.  In the road ahead of me, a man with a red bandanna tied over his head, was walking along. As he turned towards me, I realized this was the friend that invited me here. With great relief, and a long drive behind me, I had arrived. Eric greeted me and as soon as I had parked, he gave me a tour of the site and ceremony grounds.

First impressions:The arena and the Tree of Life

As this is my first time experiencing anything like this, and since I still know virtually nothing about this ceremony, I will share with you my feelings, impressions, and what I saw although I will try not to speculate on any of the symbolism and meaning of the ceremony.


An arena was erected in the form of a double ringed arbor built with logs, standing 8′ tall and covered on the outside wall and roof with fresh pine and fir branches, creating shade and a protected area for spectators. It nearly formed a complete circle, except for an opening facing the east. The arena is about 100 feet across, and in the center is a large tree standing 30 to 35 feet above the ground. The tree, as in this case, is traditionally a cottonwood tree selected specifically with a fork in the branches at the top. The tree is harvested on a day designated as tree day (the day before Sun Dance begins) and is decorated with long colorful bands of cloth streaming down from the branches.


Where the cloth is tied to the tree, there is small satchel formed by wrapping the cloth around something (medicine or plant herbs I suspect), and then tying it up with string. Where the tree forks at the top of the trunk, there are branches of another plant, (what type, I do not know) wedged into the crook of the fork. Many strings with dozens of small cloth satchels tied on them, are wrapped around the trunk of the tree. Ropes are also tied to the tree. The ropes are where the Eagle Dancers pierced are connected to the tree for the duration of the ceremony. (I wont go into details of the Eagle dancer in this post as they did not have any this year, so I did not experience this. If you follow the links, you can read more about them here) Sage is arranged carefully around the base of the tree. There is symbolism involved with the type of tree, the forked top, the satchels and cloth, all of which I know very little about at this point.


There was a secondary circle with in the arbor. This was made of narrow sticks, each with a red cloth satchel tied to the top, and protruding from the ground about 24″, placed about 6″ apart. This ring was broken in four places by gates pointing to the four directions; north, south, east, and west. Each gate contained a tall stick flanking each side of the gate and draped with a long piece of cloth. The west gate had black cloth, the north was red, the east was yellow, and the south was white.


Wakan Tanka: “The Great Spirit” or “The Great Mystery”

The arbor and tree of life were a sight to behold. It was beautiful and mysterious all at once. From my limited understanding, it is a way to honor Wakan Tanka, “The Great Spirit” or “The Great Unknown”.   A drum circle containing one large drum and 8 to 10 drummers, was positioned next to the south gate.  We had found a spot near the east gate and took a seat under the arbor. After talking for a while, I heard and eagle bone whistle call out from the far side of the arena. This was followed by the drum. Rhythmically the drum beats fell. We climbed to our feet and began to move in time with the drum in almost a stationary march. A few of the elders in and around the drum circle begin to sing in a native tongue.


The dancers entered the Arena through the west gate lead by the chiefs son, followed first by the men, and lastly by the women. The men had no shirts on. Most of them bore many scars on their chest and upper backs as a result of piercings they had received being an eagle dancer or pulling buffalo skulls, some of them repeating these rituals many times over many years. Their heads were adorned with head bands of various types with feathers hanging from them.  They wore long skirts, each with one predominate color and a couple accent bands in different colors. All the men carried an eagle wing bone whistle in their mouths, and blew on them simultaneously with each step they took, in time with the drum beat.

The women all wore long colorful skirts or dresses. Each dancer carried a “wing” of eagle feathers in one hand. The dancers were made up of helpers and participants. The participants were fasting for four days with no food and water, and were sequestered from the rest of the ceremony goers, while the helpers were there to help and guide them through the ceremonies. These participants each wore red head bands with branches of sage protruding from the front. They wore red bands adorned with sage as well, around their ankles.

The dancers made their way around the arena, stopping to acknowledge each gate by gesturing their arms toward the gate, then back to the tree of life.  As an outside observer, the amount of respect they showed to the ancestors and The Great Spirit, was humbling.

Without going into too much detail about the dancing, I will point out two observations that I made; everything is done in a clockwise manner, and everything is deliberately done in sets of four. I can only assume this is to pay homage to the four directions or the four winds.


C’anunpa: The sacred pipe

At the conclusion of each round of dancing, a C’anunpa was brought from an alter at the west gate, touched to the tree of life, and then brought to the south gate where one of the spectators whom had been selected from the crowd and given a branch of sage, was standing at the edge of the arena waiting for the pipe. An exchange of four passes is made before the c’anunpa is handed off to the sage bearer. This concludes the round, and the person holding the c’anunpa is free to take it back to the arbor and share it with whom he chooses. For this first round, my friend Eric was selected, and he returned carrying the c’anunpa to share with me and the others in our area of the arbor.

 I had never really looked at a c’anunpa up close before now. This one had a black carved stone on the end with a cylindrical bowl protruding out from it, and next to the bowl, the head of a bear was carved. The stone connected to a wood pipe that was wrapped all the way to the mouth piece in red cloth.

Buffalo Pipe

We were joined by an elderly, partially native american looking man named Carl, whose long dark, silver streaked hair was divided into two braids, one on each side of his head. Eric handed the c’anunpa off to Carl to lead the prayer ritual, in a show of respect. We were joined by another man from our group, a middle aged lady, and also three young girls aged 9 to 12. This surprised me at first, however, I loved that they wanted to be part of this ritual and showed great respect for it. The c’anunpa is always held in the left hand as this places it close to your heart. Carl lit the bowl and puffed on it until he had a mouth full of white smoke. He blew the smoke along the length of the c’anunpa then into his hand and pulled the smoke up over his head, then down to his heart. After a few moments, the mouth piece was touched to each shoulder, then passed clockwise to the next person. The c’anunpa made its way around the circle until all the medicine was gone, at which point, the ash is dumped into the hand of the last person to partake, buried in the dirt and a prayer is offered.

I do not yet understand the significance of this ritual, but I do understand that it was an honor and a privilege to be a part of. The care and respect shown by all, including the young girls, was commendable. It was a bonding moment for me, and a moment of welcome and acceptance into the community.  Nobody questioned my being there, and I was guided through each step of the ceremonies. I used the word spectator previously, but understand that the spectators are part of the ceremony.

I am not one who has ever been big on ceremony, but I am big on culture, and indigenous people. I was surprised by the fact that this community was made up of Hispanics, Native Americans, and Caucasians alike. There were people there with accents from all around the world. It was at the end of the c’anunpa ritual that I realized we are all natives of this earth, and this gathering brought many of us together to be one in purpose and as one community.

There is no better teacher than experience. To experience is to understand. To understand is to accept. To accept is to respect.

My adventure continues on part 2.

Fireflies, Campfires and Cousins-Unexpected Utopia.

An adventure for my favorite people.

Matilda the Moonraker

I have lived a lot.

I have had amazing experiences that I think entitle me to feeling a little more than blessed, a little more than privileged. My entire life I’ve at least been aware enough to realize my great privilege and have wonder at why I get to be so blessed…I’ve traveled, not as much as some but more than most. I have sampled and tried everything; religion, food, elite sports, sex, even some drugs, I have had jobs in food, medicine, marketing, athletics, customer service and early childhood development… I have tried every art…ahem…and except music–which i have tried and am not good at, count yourself blessed if I have not serenaded–you geez, (really!!) But every other medium of art I think I have tried it and felt moved, compelled and been at least ok at it. My point is that there are a lot of things that…

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