Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California

Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California

Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California

Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California


A history that is equal parts science and mythology, Sacred Sites offers a rare and poetic vision of a world composed of dynamic natural forces and mythic characters. The result is a singular and memorable account of the evolution of the Southern California landscape, reflecting the riches of both Native knowledge and Western scientific thought.

Beginning with Western science, poet Susan Suntree carries readers from the Big Bang to the present as she describes the origins of the universe, the shifting of tectonic plates, and an evolving array of plants and animals that give Southern California its unique features today. She tells of the migration of humans into the region, where they settled, and how they lived. Complementing this narrative and reflecting the Native people's view of their own history and way of life, Suntree recounts the creation myths and songs that tell the story of the First People, of unforgettable shamans and heroes, and of the origins and migrations of the human beings.

Featuring contemporary photographs of rarely seen landmarks along with meticulous research, Sacred Sites provides unusual insight into how natural history and mythology, and scientific and intuitive thinking combine to create an ever-deepening sense of a place and its people.


Gary Snyder

A work of great spirit accomplished with patience and vision, Susan Suntree’s epic poem is a lovely weaving of science and myth. It is a work that sings. Like all good stories it reads like the storyteller is right there, speaking to the reader, shaping the universe one song at a time.

Suntree’s book is about impermanence. From the very beginning, the landscape known as Southern California has reshaped itself dramatically and often. Learning how a place comes into being acquaints us with forces of life that are large and intimately interconnected. For the indigenous people, the creation and transformation of the world is an account of the First People. in this way of looking at it, the land is alive and working out its own story.

Conditions are always changing. Something always upsets the balance. Suntree recounts a pivotal moment in one of the creation myths when Frog Woman and her cronies curse the great leader Wiyot, bringing death into the world. the First People respond by sitting together and talking things over until they find ways to accommodate changed conditions and rebalance the world. the common good is at stake. Everybody participates: trees, animals, weather, and eventually the human beings. So this is a book about maintaining balance. We can only do this by carefully listening to our non-human neighbors and relatives.

But people resist letting the world in. We tend to think of the natural, the sacred, the wild as happening outside our neighborhoods and far away. Suntree brings us home. Every day in Los Angeles, tectonic plates, weather blown in from thousands of miles away, and the work of Raven and Coyote are always at play. Don’t miss it!

Suntree’s many years of writing, performing, and activism inform her work. So it is in part her cumulative wisdom and insight that makes this book so strong. Here we have a model for a much larger project: indigenous and Western poets and scientists swapping stories, singing their best songs around the same fire, working hard to keep the world in balance. This is going to take every song we’ve got.

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