I live on Chumash land here in Ventura County. The Chumash village near my home was known as Shishilop, and thousands of Chumash lived here in this sliver of land between the hillsides and the Pacific, and between two rivers, the Ventura and the Santa Clara. This part of California is technically a desert, but so much water flowed through the area that it created mudflats, and the maritime community of Chumash here were known as “mud people.” Most of the Chumash lived near the Ventura river and the sea.
According to this site, Shishilop means ”port-on-the-coast” which it was. This village, just east of the Ventura river mouth, was the largest Chumash village in what is today Ventura county. While the area has been inhabited for many thousands of years, the Chumash settled Shishilop about one thousand years ago or more, and the Chumash thrived with plentiful fish from the seas as well as the river. They made tools, a type of seafaring canoe, and they regularly crossed between the mainland and the nearby islands including large, close Limu (Santa Cruz Island).
Our region still is home to Chumash and to their stories about the land.For example, Coyote was a messenger for the ‘antap (Council of Twenty) on Limu (Santa Cruz island) who named the area around Shishilop Mitsqanaqa’n (”lower jaw”). As you approach Shishilop from the sea, the hills east and west of the river mouth look like Coyote’s two toothy jaws with a large hill back of Ventura the tongue.
Chumash Elder Julie Tumamait says the people named several hundred places in the 7000 acres where they lived. Names came from what was abundant when they looked at the land, and sometimes names came from dreams. Camulos, located along the Santa Clara River about a 40 minute drive on the 126 to the east, is their name for juniper. Some names come from types of water: Lompoc– home to the Wine Ghetto wine making facilities and tasting rooms for many Santa Rita Hills AVA wines– is the Chumash word for stagnant water; Zaca, as in Zaca Lake, means no bottom, made by thunder. Read about Zaca Mesa wine here.
Most people know of Ojai, home to The Ojai Vineyards, about which I’ve written many times. Julie tells me that the word “Ojai” means moon– the place nobody knows.
And everyone has heard the word “Malibu” but did you know it’s the Chumash word meaning the place where the surf sounds loudly?
Clos des Amis makes their sparkling “Chambang” from grapes grown about ten miles from the sea, in Saticoy, which means sheltered from the wind. Many parts of Ventura County can get very windy, and having a sheltered place is important. Pismo is the word for tar which sealed tomols –and it’s also the name of a beach located in San Luis County.
These names still sing here, and are known by us, yet not recognized by many. When I see these places, I see the names of the ancients, and we can feel their presence then and today. Our paths today follow the native paths, but our tendency for directness disrupts natural ways, reminds Julie. Our tunnels in mountains upset water flows. But we can bring these native plants back into our yards, and
Julie says, to heal the world sing songs and connect yourself to the earth and to your family lines.
I call attention to this today because I’ve been thinking a lot about harvest. The native people honored the natural cycles and calendars. At winter solstice, the moon was going to fall off the middle earth and the people called the sun back to middle earth.
Late September each year, around the time of the fall equinox, the Chumash held a harvest festival to honor Hutash, Earth Mother. On the hill above Shishilop, village of the Mud People, they gathered five days in ceremony paying homage to ancestors, where they left shell money, pine nuts, and they would start the new year in the sycamores.
I wrote the poem below based on a story shared by Chumash Elder Julie Tumamait-Stenslie with a few other sources as well. Note that in some traditional stories, Coyote brings people fire; not so in this Chumash version.
The Chumash people say Hutash, Earth Mother,
grew us from magic seeds she planted
out in the Channel Islands, on Limuw,
Island of the Blue Dolphin. The people grew
from seeds Hutash planted. The people were
happy. There was plenty of fish and plants to eat.
Sky Snake, the husband of Hutash, saw
how pleased Hutash was with the people she
made, and saw how happy the people were.
Sky Snake, Milky Way, decided to gift
the people fire which he sent down as
lightening bolts from his slender forked tongue.
Now the people could warm and cook their food.
Now the people could stay warm in winter.
Now the children were warm and happy.
Now the people could stay up late into night
telling stories, singing songs, making babies.
Hutash was happy her people were happy.
There was plenty of everything they needed.
Her people had babies, the babies grew,
and they had babies too. There were lots of
singing happy people on the Island.
In fact, Hutash began to think there were
too many people on the Island.
Sometimes she would complain to Sky Snake.
“Sky Snake,” she would say, “the people are too
noisy! I want to sleep. I whisper to them,
shhh, children, it is time to be quiet.
It is time to rest, it is time to sleep.
But do they listen to Earth Mother? No.
Sky Snake, they do not. They make their music
louder! They build the fire higher!
They make more babies! I tell them there are
too many people right now, too many
for the land, and your fires are too big!
Sky Snake, they don’t listen! What should I do?”
Sky Snake sighed. He was getting tired of all
the noise himself. He shook his head. He didn’t
know what to do either, but trusted
Hutash would figure out a solution.
One night when the people were keeping Hutash
awake when she wanted to be asleep,
she looked out on the moonlit mainland and
realized she would have to send the people there.
“Sky Snake,” said Hutash, “The people need to
leave the Island and go live on the mainland.”
“How will they get there?” asked Sky Snake, the Milky
Way. “It is too far for them to swim.”
“I will make a Rainbow Bridge,” said Hutash.
“They will walk across the Rainbow Bridge to
the mountain top and they will find plenty
to eat and drink and we will all be happy.
The next day, Hutash told the people they
would have to leave the Island and walk
across the Rainbow Bridge to the mainland.
It would take them all day, walking, but when
they arrived there would be plenty of room
and lots to eat. The people were afraid.
“But Hutash, the Bridge is too high! What if
we fall? We will drown!” they protested.
“You are my people,” reassured Hutash.
“I will take care of you. In three days,
it will be time for most of you to go.”
The people put on their fur and leather clothes,
filled a few baskets with belongings,
and started up the Rainbow Bridge.
Families held hands to stay together.
“Keep your eyes on your goal,” said Hutash.
“Look ahead to where you are going.”
As the people climbed higher and higher
on the Rainbow Bridge, they could see the land
as clearly as on the days the warm winds
blow from the east, and they were excited.
But some people looked back, and some people
looked down. These people felt dizzy. The water
was a long long long way down. The fog licked
their toes. Some of the people grew afraid,
and they looked down instead of ahead to where they were
going. They doubted Hutash and their tummies
felt funny. Some of the people lost their
balance and they fell fell fell through the fog
toward the shimmering, dark sea far below.
Hutash had told her children she would take
care of them. So as they fell, she turned the
people into dolphins. When they landed
in the water, they could swim and diveand
hold their breath long enough to catch fish to eat.
The dolphin people are grateful to Hutash.
They like playing in the water so much
that they are always smiling. And we
smile to watch our dolphin brothers and sisters.
- Read more about Chumash folkways here.
- Read another poem/post using a info from talk by Julie.
- Read about the publication of a Chumash dictionary here.
- Try out a Chumash tutorial here.
What are we growing? How do we grow it? Why do we grow what we do? Who benefits from what we grow? Who is left out? What is in our harvest basket?
I’ve been garden sitting for a friend, and so taking care of a large garden that can sustain a small family is on my mind. This September, I’ve been the beneficiary of her garden’s abundance, and I’ve enjoyed more than my share of tasty grapes while harvesting them for Clos des Amis! More on that next month…
I’m also grateful for the harvest of wines to taste for Slow Wine Guide, some of which are pictured in this blog post and which I’ll be featuring in articles in the future.
Many of the Slow Wines I’m featuring are biodynamic, a way to grow which seeks to work with the natural calendar of the sun and the moon.
And I’m grateful to the beautiful blue fin tuna a friend caught off our coast and shared with me which we prepared in various ways to pair with these wines. Here it is below, smoked, a traditional way to preserve fish for the winter, although I’m not convinced that the way my husband did this fish in our smoker would last very long… if we could keep from eating it all!
First we enjoyed the best piece of the tuna, the highest sushi grade that Sandy shared with us. We kept it simple to showcase the texture and flavors, layering Persian cucumber, then slivers of tuna aka sashimi, with micro greens, and two sauces that Sue prepared using Ponzu in a variation of this recipe.
We paired this dish with two wines from Southern Oregon, Troon’s biodynamic Pet tanNat and Weisinger’s skin contact Gewurtraminer. Both wines other texture and body which paired beautifully. We also just enjoyed the sashimi!
The next day for lunch, I took more of the sashimi and we placed it on “Krab Salad Rolls” I picked up for $5 each at Sprouts, plus a seaweed salad because fisherman Sandy said how much he loves it. That night we enjoyed sashimi too with these wines! I have a lot more to share about these wines coming up soon as I prepare their entries for Slow Wine Guide.
The following night, Marshall seared scallops in garlic, butter, lemon and a bit of wine, then after pulling them off, he dropped a tuna loin onto the hot iron skillet for 30 seconds’ then flipped it so that outside had a hot garlic hit and the inside was cool as a cucumber!
We had another loin so we did one of my favorite, and more unusual tuna pairings: Washington Merlot! Marshall seared and sliced it and then I plated it on a bed of grilled vegetables and greens with blackberries, a strawberry, and with citrus champagne vinegar and sesame oil. But I was so excited I forgot to take photos of the plate, only of the wine! So the next night, Marshall grilled part of the fatty belly on the grill with herbs of Provence and lemon which I plated with greens, blackberries, and good vinegar and oil– oh my! And for my palate, there’s something special about Washington merlot which makes it pair well with rich seafood like salmon and tuna, especially the fatty toro. We’ll be writing more about this wine and pairing for October’s merlot month.
That left us with five fillets to smoke. Marshall did two marinades, and he regrets not marinating them longer. We did two different but similar dishes on two nights with two wines which we paired with the smoked tuna. The first night was spaghetti noodles with Alfredo sauce as a base, then I draped the warm smoked tuna as well as nuggets of UNI. For a salad, Marshall seared the rest of the tuna belly and we did the previous night’s salad again. SO GOOD. Oh, and oysters with uni! The wine? Sparkling biodynamic Ampelos blanc de noir — and I could really taste the pinot noir strawberry and cherry notes in the wine.
For our next version, Gretel bought fresh pappardelle, Sue dressed it with the Alfredo sauce and tuna, and sprinkled parsley on top. Simply delicious paired with MAHA’s biodynamic Clairette.
It would be fitting to close this article with a blue fin tuna pairing with a wine from Chumash winemaker Tara Gomez at Kita! Perhaps I’ll do that tonight with more of the smoked tuna and update this post. Here’s where I’ve written about Tara and Kita.
Since January 2019, each month I write at least once about Ventura County vineyards and what I’m learning there. Find links here in last month’s harvest article.