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The People from the Top of the Land


The foggy California coastline in the morning.
Farewell to Archy Camp: a feast, a prayer, and a private celebration

FORT ROSS, CA - How to talk about four weeks that have affected me so much?

Well, I'm sitting down to my very last morning coffee at Archy Camp, while the final few hours of making it look like we were never here tick by, and I'm thinking about things to scribble down. I have that odd mix of feelings you get at the end of something great, with one foot out the door and the other still in and not quite ready to go.

Two nights ago the class made a public presentation of our proposed interpretive trail. As I spoke my hands were shaking so bad I could hear the pages of my notes ruffle, so I had to turn a bit so the audience wouldn't notice. No one did, and the presentation was very well received. All spirits were sky high that night as we returned to camp and celebrated by the campfire well into the night. Friday was a day to relax and tie up loose ends for everyone, but my team had the major buzzkill of having to put on our game faces one more time to lead a public tour of the trail. (No slight to the others, but I had the best team of all! Thanks, Tsim, Allie, and Moira!)

Once on stage we lit up, and I was surprised by how the information flowed through us. The audience gave us great feedback and we returned to camp that evening for a feast for all put on by the Kashaya; some in our tour group were so enthusiastic they even came back with us for the feast. Ribs, steak, chicken, abalone chowder, salads, fresh fruit, more kinds of dessert than you can imagine, and Kashaya favorites — "tup tup" (flat bread), frybread, fried seaweed, and acorn mush, to name a few — were tantalizingly arranged before us.

It was a beautiful afternoon with the sun and wind shimmering through the trees. We all stood and faced east while Violet, one of the elders, led the blessing in Kashaya of the feast she helped prepare. I don't know exactly what she said, but I heard Violet say "Yahui" ("Thank you" in Kashaya) a few times. Afterward, she made everyone laugh by telling us the prayer was kind of long, then people rushed the line. I'd managed to strategically position myself at the front, where I piled a ridiculous towering plateful of food, then walked away with a goofy grin.

I grabbed a seat and had fork and knife poised to strike when I noticed another student scratching her head looking at the long line for the food. She had to leave soon and was saying her goodbyes as she tried to decide whether or not she had time to grab a plate for the road. I looked down at my tower of food, kicked the ground, then handed it over to her. She gave me a big hug and said goodbye. I got back in line, my stomach gurgling "harrumph."

As the feast was wrapping up, Professor Kent Lightfoot gave out thank-you gifts to our hosts. What an amazing professor! I was already in awe of him before the class, but after after working with him for four weeks am even more so now. He's genuine and down to earth in his teaching style, and you can tell he has a real passion for imparting knowledge. His ability to negotiate this kind of collaborative effort and to continue to keep the many parties with their disparate interests moving forward on the long road to making the Trail happen is truly inspiring.

One of the Kashaya men who was standing next to me listening to Kent's many heartfelt kudos whispered to me, "That's one humble man." I whispered back, "That's one bad-ass humble man." He just nodded deeply in reply.

Later in the evening, after all the hugs and many goodbyes, I headed out to the coast alone to catch the sunset. I sat on the cliff with a victory Cohiba in hand. See, this is the last class of my undergraduate career at Cal. At 34, I'm a bit older than most of my classmates, and I'm the first in my family to get a sheepskin, so a little celebrating was in order. Pulling back on the cigar that night, I couldn't help but think how much talent has gone through Archy Camp here at Fort Ross over the years and continues to. I'm humbled to be a part of this stream. This place now owns a new set of memories. Otis Parrish, the codirector of the project and a Kashaya elder himself, welcomed us four weeks ago to the camp and let us know that it too stands on an archaeological site. He called it a healing place, and I guess the work we've done may serve to heal some old wounds in the future. At least that's what I pray for.

My coffee cup is washed and put away, and the boxes are packed and on their way back to Cal. This place looks like a ghost town. On the way out I skid my truck to a stop on the ridge overlooking camp, face east and say "Yahui."

On to the next adventure.

— Armando

Armando Abeyta graduated with his degree in Anthropology in May 2004.