Rite of Passage

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“This hike is a rite of passage. We will have opportunities to find our balance and to enjoy the blessings of Nature.”

Today is the day we hike into Indian Canyons. A visiting Apache named Raven speaks to us with quiet humor as he guides us on a mile loop, climbing up through towering rock, gurgling brook, and vibrant meadow. We are on the Cauhuilla reservation, in the wilderness south of Palm Springs. Raven has lived here for years, but since he is not Cauhuilla, he is considered a visitor.

  “Indians think of hiking as walking on the belly of the mother.  Would you fight on the mother’s belly? Would you use bad language? Of course not. The sound of Nature is silent. The wind is the wind. The water is the water. The birds are the birds. When you walk and talk, your voices should not be louder than the water.”

We look at the smooth holes in solid rock that were used by women to grind corn for meals.  Massive stone walls rise up from the parking lot that is ringed by giant palms, which he explains are not trees, but very tall grass.

“They are full of water in their centers, so when fire burns them, they are rarely destroyed completely. They always rejuvenate and replenish the oasis.”

Before we start our ascent, single file, up the trail, he tells us that he will give a shout, and we can imitate him.

“One loud shout to let the mountains, rocks, grasses, water, and animals know we are coming. The shout will clear the way of any harm. If you see one of the many rattlesnakes or any other snakes,  be calm and let an adult know to let me know.  Most snakebites are on boys, and most likely on the hand. Guess why?

We understand. We shout. And then we climb.

We see lizards and frogs, blooming beavertail cactus jutting out of pure rock faces, desert lavender, which we crush in our hands and sniff to refresh ourselves.

“The men would cover their bodies in it before a hunt.  Why? Yes, to cover the human smell.”

We notice two blue snakes and breathe calmly. 

“They are in the Rosy Boa family.”

We stop to cool down at a sandy spot. We splash ice-melt water on our faces and arms. We feel the breeze bring our temperature down. While we are resting, some parents and children gather around Raven and ask him questions. I hear Raven speak:

“Yes, you can take my picture. No, we don’t believe we will lose our soul if our picture is taken. I make all my medicines from the plants out here. These leaves are good for a toothache. Last week I got a sudden toothache but I didn’t have time to make a tea. So I got about nine leaves and wadded them up and put them in my mouth by the bad tooth. For about an hour and a half, my mouth was numb. No pain.”

            When we walk the logs to cross the creek and reach the crest of the hill, we can see the flowered meadow slope all the way down to the oasis at the bottom.

            We meet there under huge palms, sit on the ground in a group and listen to Raven again.

“Look up to the adults who are present. These are your teachers, your elders. Knowledge is medicine. These are the people who care about you and want to see you grow up right and strong.  Hiking is all about breathing. Finding your balance.”

He looked around at us.

“This hike was an accomplishment for all of you. This is an “eagle feather” for you.”

After we learn to say ‘until next time’ in Cauhilla, and before we stampede over to the porta-potties in the parking lot, I ask all of us, all 40 children and 10 adults, to mention something we noticed or learned or will remember from our walk. It is good to hear the richness of each perception.

The sound of water, the smell of lavender, the face on top of the mountain.

Red mask with multicolored feathers.

Masked Acrylic Painting by Sherry Killam

12 thoughts on “Rite of Passage

  1. Judy

    You always amaze me. You are the true Renaissance Woman…the adventures, the art and the children….couldn’t have a more fulfilled life. Well done…blog on missy!

    1. Sherry Post author

      Thanks, Judy. Seeing your name reminds me that you were one of the brightest highlights of my ‘Jr. High Experience”.

  2. Cindy Stoddard

    Loved this story!
    I also love the smell of desert lavender, what a truly “scent-sual” image!!

  3. Peggy Lewis

    Sher, I was with you on this hike. I loved it. Your writing, as always, is spot on. You never get in the way of your story. Thank you. Peggy

    1. Sherry Post author

      Jo, I felt like I was in another world, under a spell of sorts. We basically glided up and down that mountain….


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