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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Practicing the art of stewardship

September 22, 2011|By Joe Puglia

My original intent in last week’s column was to try to capture the Zen of “The Garden Before the Gardens,” a festival this weekend sponsored by Descanso Gardens. I became enthralled in the history of the Tongva, the earliest inhabitants of the Verdugo foothills. Their connection to the land and the spirit world gives them a sense of place that lingers throughout greater La Cañada. I wanted to tell their story.

Tongva settlements called Tujunga, Cahuenga, Cucamonga, Azusa, Pacoima, Hahamongna and Topanga encircled present day La Cañada. Our only account of their presence is from the journals of the Spanish padres.

My research involved reading and walking the trails of Descanso, channeling the presence of the Tongva. However, my inspiration came from James Walden, a writer, thinker and friend. Walden, a mythologist, frequents the paths of Descanso. He is a storyteller who inspires the listener toward wonder.

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“People are hungry for stories,” Walden told me. “It’s part of our nature and because stories go from one generation to another, they are immortal.”

I had read the journals of Father Crespi, describing Southern California as paradise. However, I wanted to know more. Who were these people whose mythology was ingrained in the spirit, animal and natural world?

I asked Walden where I might find a book about the soul of the Tongva. He suggested I read “Yamino Kwiti,” by Donna Preble. Walden was instrumental in assisting Lisa Kurstin, Descanso’s educational programs director, with the vision of the festival. They created the Yamino Kwiti adventure walk that will take explorers through a portal into the past.

Native Americans are painted as having a simplistic culture. However, after delving into their world, one gains an appreciation of a ritualistic world grounded in spirituality, mysticism and deep-seated traditions depicting strong bonds and loyalties between the people. There is nothing simple about the life and time of Yamino Kwiti.

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