Papaavetam / Water People

I was born from a spring of water; I slipped right out of the ground. I am not comparing myself to Creator; I am only saying I am made of water; I am only saying I flow to the sea.

As a baby, I buoyed along, down a shallow creek, my path a bed of worn stones. The stones taught me many things, like which insects were safe for eating: only the water striders and not the spiders. When my belly was full, the stones patted my back to burp me. From my insides, pockets of air ballooned to the water’s surface. When the bubbles disappeared, I followed them upwards.

In my emergence from the creek bed, I met my tree relatives, Shesheever / the Sycamores. Settled at the edge of the water, Shesheever lent me shade in the stream of my childhood. Their lowest hanging branches were fingers, and they were tender in their endeavor to untangle my matted hair. One day, Shesheever cut my bangs short; they told me it was the way of Honuukvetam / the ancestors. Their smooth, milky bark smelled like wet earth, like motherhood, and I wanted nothing more than to latch onto their girth. In autumn, Shesheever shed their velvet leaves; they were sprinkled all over the stream. The leaves were friends while I floated belly up, and they danced, whirling in the water, they surrounded me. When Tokuupar / Sky opened, I swallowed ‘Akwaaken / Rain. The rain drops filled the leaves full, until they were too heavy to float, until they sank, and I was alone again.

Taamet / Sun moved in westward arc. My limbs lengthened as I followed her seaward. I wound through city streets; the gutter mapping my getaway. The gutter drained to a large ditch, and it was there where I met the crawdads that became my dinner. Before sucking the sweet meat from their insect-like skeletons, I politely asked for permission so they would not pinch. In the ditch, I skidded through frothy water, thick and verdant with algae. I sat amongst Chichiinuh’am / Pollywogs, who tickled my feet until I giggled my belly sore. We spent our nights looking up to Shoshyoot / the Stars. While we slept, we changed shape; we grew.

By the time that I had breasts, I dribbled down a concrete river. It was there where I merged with my water relatives: ‘Akwaaken and melted Ywaat / Snow. I merged with water relatives that had homes in wishing wells, and water relatives that swirled in basement pools around the skin of synchronized swimmers. I merged with water relatives that scrubbed dirt from the fingernails of farmworkers, and relatives that scalded themselves over food scraps to rinse kitchenware clean. I merged with sewage and dew and tributaries from beyond the LA Basin. All of these water relatives and me; we were runoff, we were Papaavetam / Water people. We gushed our way through the sprawling metropolis, pushing our way through our homeland. In our confluence, we created a current that was ‘apuushterot / strong. We were swift in our movements; we made our way seaward.

When I was nearly adult, Papaavetam breached the river’s banks. We overflowed to overthrow that which was manmade; that which was diverted. We raged with each other down the river. We called on ‘Akwaaken and we sought to flood out the streets.

In Long Beach, near the mouth of the river, the power plant bellowed in protest. He stole some Papaavetam; he suctioned them right in through his pipeage. Imprisoned in machinery, Papaavetam were poisoned by power plant’s waste. If we did not recede, power plant threatened to release toxic Papaavetam back in with the rest of us. We knew power plant’s steam stacks contained poisons capable of penetrating Tokuupar and ‘Akwaaken, too. “You can’t imagine the desctuction,” he said. So we ebbed, even though we did not want to.

On the concrete slabs above the river, the sea turtles basked under Taamet. They were well acquainted with power plant’s blustering, and they only stayed to bathe in his warm outflow. “Worry not, Papaavetam,” they said. “Power plant will gurgle and choke, and when he drowns, we’ll migrate to southern waters.” The sea turtles waved us on. It was then that we remembered, we were almost to sea.

When I finally found ‘Eyooyook Moomat / Our Mother Ocean, I was a young adult. Eyooyook Moomat held me in the palms of her hands while I drifted with the tide for weeks. Off the north shore of Pimuu’nga / Santa Catalina Island, Kyoot koy Toroovem / Whale and Dolphin woke me from my aimless wandering. With them, I spent my days patrolling Tovaangar / the Tongva World. We made many circles around the edges of Earth. We did our best to avoid boats with nets, and I shrugged off all of the plastic. Kyoot koy Toroovem told me stories about Tovaangar before the cataclysm we called colonization. Before all of the concrete and the car exhaust, before all of the development and the extraction, Tovaangar pulsed luminescent and fruitful. All who inhabited her were tehoovet / healthy. Huhuunar / Grizzly Bears roamed through flowered meadows. Totoomshar / Oak Trees flourished and Totoongvetam / the Tongva People filled their baskets to their brims with Kwakwaar / Acorns. We all ate well. Shahoovenax / respect was ma’eete’ / abundant and reciprocity ran through all of life. We tended to what we took and we took only what we needed. We made offerings, and sometimes we offered ourselves. In the colonization of Tovaangar and Totoongvetam, the land filled up with many people, most were  from far away. Many of them were people who did not practice shahoovenax. Those people took and they took until Tovaangar was ‘achuumechom / sick. To heal, Tovaangar needed cleansing. To heal, Totoongvetam needed cleansing, too.

In the ocean, I reached around oil slicks to lick the salt from my fingers; my hair grayed. I slurped seaweed down my gullet, and dove deep to suckle the flesh of ‘Aapo / Abalone. As the days passed, the ocean warmed. ‘Eyooyook Moomat tried, but she could not cool herself. When her temperature continued to rise, Kyoot grew too weak to swim. Breakers billowed over Kyoot’s colossal body, but ‘Eyooyook Moomat would not let him sink. Her hands were crystal waves that kept him afloat. Together, we carried Kyoot to the shore. We sat with him under the dusky, marbled sky and waited quietly for darkness. When Taamet set, Mwaar / Moon met us there on the beach; she was full-bellied, pregnant, and bright. In the swash zone, the grunions spawned and sparkled underneath her. They squirmed, singing around Kyoot in the golden sand, and Kyoot took his last breath.

From the hills, ‘Ahiiken / Wind, carried the faint, fluted voices of Papaavetam. They whispered, “It was time.” When I stood, sand melted under the soles of my feet, but I kept walking until the sand was hot and dry. I walked across PCH and waded east, amongst stilts, through the Miiche’ Paar / Estuary. Salt marsh sweat dipped from my brow, and I followed the voices inland. I summoned my strength to swim upstream like a steelhead. My limbs flailed but I would not fail. I fought my way up waterfalls. I bled and I shed many tears, but I scaled upwards anyway. I dragged myself though the dingiest of storm drains. I followed the path I grew along to find myself moving along a crack on the 405. There, I breathed in deep to fill up the freeway. All of my water swelled. I pooled around ankles, and ascended. Papaavetam rose to meet me. ‘Akwaaken inundated from above, and it wasn’t long before all ten lanes of the 405 were engulfed by Papaavetam. The people who took too much were left with no choice but to stop their cars, to step out of them, and to seek higher ground. Rapids formed on onramps to run rampant on the streets. The land trembled from beneath us to lift ‘Eyooyook Moomat up. She surged and she plowed through the concrete. Together, in an uprising, Papaavetam flooded the LA Basin. Los Angeles is a bowl of water; it is filled up; it is free.

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