Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Diamond Cutter at Apache Pass, Part 4: Permaculture

"There is epigenetic asynchrony in this biome."

This is the fourth and last installment in a series.

Irony seems to stalk Geshe Michael Roach like a puma. It was ironic that while he was studying to be an Episcopalian minister he became a Tibetan Buddhist monk. It is ironic that as a monk practicing the 8-fold-path — which includes Right Livelihood — he became a wealthy diamond merchant and then a sought-after advisor in wealth acquisition. 

It is ironic that after a quarter century of austere, celibate monastic living, he has come under fire, largely without merit, for a wacky marriage and divorce and accusations of inability to hold safe space for his religious pilgrims. 

Reputations come and go. The choices we make and the risks we take can as easily lower us as elevate us, and you can’t always know what may happen when you act from imperfect knowledge. 
Life may be impermanent but then there is permaculture.

As described in the first installment in this series, we were invited at the end of summer to visit Diamond Mountain, sit with Geshe Michael, and walk his land. The geshe sought advice on the best future for this site.

“It may be stupid for this to even be here,” he said. “If so, I want to be told.”

“It may be stupid,” we replied. “But it is too soon to judge.”

Our observations over the following days raised several issues.

First, this is Apachería. It may have been legally purchased from some previous title holders, but it was originally stolen by deceit, murder, the unspeakable torment of innocents, and attempted genocide. That bad blood flows in these streams.

The previous inhabitants had attained harmony with this fragile landscape after twenty generations of assimilation. Europeans have been here as a people only seven generations. To find a multigenerational family here is a rare thing. There is epigenetic asynchrony in this biome.

Then, owing to rapid climate change, the Chiricahuan Desert to the Northeast is being overtaken by the much more severe Sonoran Desert to the Southwest. This change is still in its early stages but the curve of acceleration is exponential. Exponents are deceptive and unforgiving. Apache Pass is a slim wedge that barely holds the separation, for the moment. Wildfires threaten. Springs are drying. Animals are out-migrating. To live here is to buck the prevailing pattern.

To live here is to stand between a living planet and a dead world, just as a titanic battle to decide that fate is about to commence. Apache Pass holds the thin line of green vegetation that separates two raging deserts.
The clientele for conferences and retreats with Geshe Michael’s business brand is more upscale than ecotouristic. Russians, Chinese, Japanese — they are accustomed to hot showers, swimming pools and gourmet fare. Bowie is two hours by interstate highway from the nearest four-star hotel. This is the middle of nowhere.

As permaculturists, we begin with the knowledge that nature is our first client. So we ask. What is it She wants?

It may be that She is tired of the two-leggeds and their disrespect and would just as soon shake them off like fleas, perhaps by making the planet too hot for them to remain.

Or it may be that She would be pleased if this immature species decided to grow up and take some responsibility. It could have a role in healing, one well suited to its talents. That next evolution of humans could start by building the soil here and planting trees. Whether that would be enough to halt the climate juggernaut coming over the mountains is an unanswerable question for now, but the great pure effort required would be worthy in and of itself. It would build character in all who participated. 

With this in mind we made our first recommendations. By no means a final design for the site, we made some preliminary observations and tendered our suggestions for next steps.

First, we suggested that Diamond Mountain not attempt to cater to the desires of its high roller clientele. It should not build a huge hotel and swimming pool. Stay far removed from the casino and golf course developer world.

Second, we recommended that Diamond Mountain not encourage more car traffic through the site by widening and paving the mountain road near Apache Pass. The existing trail needs to be re-surveyed with a keyline management plan so that water from storms — which will likely become more violent and profound — is captured, absorbed, and applied to recharge the aquifer and build soil biology. The washes, which are fountains of life in season, must be protected throughout the year.

Keylining could also allow more surface water features and assist in reforestation, where appropriate. Those forests would generate a wetter climate. They would revive the springs, and with the springs, more wildlife would return.

Cabins, already constructed of native materials, should be fireproofed with geoplasters and living roofs of succulents (Ice Plant, Aeonium and sedums). Landscapes should store water and resist fires by selecting plants with:
  • extensive root systems
  • limited production of dead material
  • high levels of salt
  • ability to withstand drought
  • low levels of oils or resins
  • ability to resprout after a fire
Good examples are the native foods and livestock feeds of the Chiricahua — yucca, agave, purple sage, and blue fescue.

Lastly, an ecosystem regeneration camp should be convened here, inviting participants from around the world to come, camp and re-green these mountains.

Our principal recommendation therefore, is to honor the spirits of the original inhabitants by restoring the ecosystem they knew, one capable of supporting life.

The Pass needs to enter the battle of the deserts with greater greenness and deep reserves of water.

In The Diamond Cutter, Geshe Michael asks what are the principles by which business must be judged. Foremost, businesses should be profitable. It should gain the respect of customers, partners and employees by fairness and generosity. But then, businesspeople should enjoy the money they earn, and don’t work themselves so hard that they never find the time to appreciate the harvest. 

Success in business should be defined, when all is said and done, by time spent in meaningful activity, not just for ourselves, but for the greater social good. In the end we want to be able to look back upon our lives as having been good for others, not merely ourselves.

Yet, the Buddhist idea of limitlessness — at the core of Geshe Michael’s teachings on wealth — comes up against the permaculture principle of limit awareness. Earth is changing, rapidly. Limits have been exceeded in our numbers of humans, our withdrawal of minerals, our cutting of forests, our slaughter of wildlife, and our care of the water. 

If by hosting remote silent retreats, with small cabins built almost invisibly into the landscape, or by bringing together the youth of the world to plant trees, Geshe Michael can teach his students to lead by example, whether in business or in life, there would be great merit. 

Willingness of people to change their habits is more important to reversing climate change than finding more carbon drawdown solutions. The technology is already there. Human willingness isn’t. We, the White Eyes, are still oriented towards materialism as our religion. Too often we seek gain and don’t consider who or what bears the loss. At the end of our individual lives this becomes a cause for regret.

If we could shift that paradigm enough — such that we begin to take responsibility, even to the extent of reoccupying places for 20 generations — then we might have a chance of regaining stewardship and still have something left to steward.

In Zug, while working to develop the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Peter Head observed that
People deal with change in a much more positive way when cultural and natural heritage is retained, looked after and respected. Part of this history lies in that faith institutions are the oldest social service providers we know. They were the original providers of health services, education, nutrition, farming, sanitation and energy. They are also the oldest fundraisers, community mobilizers and human and social capital builders. Their ability to convene people voluntarily to resource critical endeavors –particularly at times of risk–continues today.
Mobilizing faith-based initiatives could be key to achieving the pull back from the Anthropocene that humanity now requires in order to survive. Head says:
With rising numbers of pilgrims visiting sacred cities and sites every year, these locations could become the first powerful demonstrations of transformational practice to deliver sustainable water supply, waste management, low carbon energy, sanitation, eco-mobility and simple low energy accommodation for everyone.
Using a systems approach and resilience, the total cost of these projects can be reduced by up to 40%, which gives a good return on investment and increased beneficial social impact. Pilgrims could take these examples and practices back to their cities of origin and mobilize resources for change there, providing a powerful scaling mechanism.
Last year we described here the Two Mountain policy of Xi Jinping. Xi’s first peak is the mountain of silver — fair and peaceful global trade and commerce. His second is the mountain of gold — restoring traditional harmony between cultural values and nature. In Arizona, we found a third, a mountain of diamond — building a new culture worthy of respect, with the presence of clear mind, the only thing that can cut a diamond.

We are traveling at the moment and don’t have regular opportunities to post, so we have written this series ahead of time, to release in the place of our regular weekly installments. This is the last of the four prepared parts, but our thoughts resume along these lines in real time next week.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Diamond Cutter at Apache Pass, Part 3: Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā

"The things that are seen are temporal; the things that are unseen are eternal. — Saul of Tarsis a.k.a. St. Paul" 

This post is the third in a series.

The Vajracchedikā (Diamond Cutter) is a small book belonging to the Mahaprajñāpāramitā (Perfection of Trancendental Wisdom) part of the canon of Mahayana Buddhism that includes thousands of volumes. The Prajñāpāramitā scriptures ordinarily comprise 21 books, contained in 100 volumes of approximately 1000 pages each. Like many of the sutras, the Diamond Cutter takes the form of a dialog between Shakyamuni Buddha and his students that took place about 2500 years ago in an open courtyard in India.

The Diamond Cutter was first translated into Chinese by Kumāravīha about 300 C.E. and he called it simply the Diamond Sutra. English translations by W. Gremmell in 1912 and D.T. Suzuki in 1935 followed Kumāravīha’s convention. Going back to original texts, Geshe Michael Roach restored its original title.

There are many lessons to be taken from this sacred text. One is that salvation is not, contrary to what the multitude is led to believe, purchasable by good works. It is not by the giving away of worldly treasures, however inconceivably great, that matters, but by practicing and disseminating to others clear mind, compassion and grace —  the buddha-dharma.

The sutra ends with a four-line gatha:

“A shooting star, a clouding of the sight, a lamp,
An illusion, a drop of dew, a bubble,
A dream, a lightning’s flash, a thunder cloud
This is the way one should see the conditioned.”

To W.Y. Evans-Wentz and other Western interpreters, the Diamond Sutra takes its title from the power of the vajra (diamond) to cut things as a metaphor for the type of wisdom that cuts and shatters illusions to get to ultimate reality. Geshe Michael would say this is a close approximation, but misses the essence.

A closer translation has to do with the attributes of Carbon.

The sixth element on our Periodic Table has 6 protons, 6 neutrons and 6 electrons. All carbon is formed in a rare, triple-alpha event that happens at the death of a star. At the moment of death, a “helium flash” lasts only seconds but fuses 60–80 percent of the helium in the star’s core. During the flash, the star’s energy production can reach approximately 100 billion solar luminosities, comparable to the luminosity of a whole galaxy. As the dead star contracts, carbon is expelled from its outer layers and drifts off on the winds and tides of space. Sooner or later those molecules wash up onto the shore of some distant orb, such as Earth.

Carbon forms a building block for organic life because of its versatility. It is stable and tetravalent — making four orbiting electrons available to form covalent (shared-electron) chemical bonds. The atoms of carbon can bond together in different ways, termed allotropes of carbon. Carbon can even form covalent bonds with other carbon atoms, which in turn can share electrons with others and so on, forming long strings, complex branchings and “head-to-tail” rings of carbon atoms. No other element does this.

When a carbonaceous rock slides into a volcanic lava tube or magma chamber, it is heated to thousands of degrees and re-cools slowly under the weight of enormous pressure from overlying rock. Under these temperatures and pressures diamonds form. Amorphous carbon has a density of 1.8–2.1 g/cm3. Biochar, which is crystalized by pyrolysis (heating in the absence of oxygen) at 500 to 1500°C, has a density only slightly greater — about 2.2 g/cm3 (and other miraculous attributes). 

Diamonds have a density of 3.5 g/cm3, nearly double that of normal carbon. On the Mohs hardness scale diamonds are a 10, the hardest substance known. In its purest form, a diamond is perfectly clear in all planes, no matter its thickness —  it is invisible.

How then are diamonds cut? The answer is simple — by other diamonds, typically by finding a weakness, such as a shear plane, in the stone being cut.

When Geshe Michael was told by his lama, Khen Rinpoche, “get a job, oh and by the way, don’t reveal that you’re a Buddhist monk,” he commuted from the Buddhist monastery in New Jersey to the Diamond District of Midtown Manhattan, on West 47th Street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue. 

He may have thought it amusing to seek work in an industry that bore the same name as a major doctrine of Buddhism. As he tells the story in his autobiography, The Diamond Cutter, restoring the original meaning to the title of the sutra also meant restoring one of the Buddha’s overlooked teachings.

What the English translators missed one hundred years ago was that the Buddha was saying there is something that is harder than a diamond. There is something other than a diamond that can see it and cut it, even though it is perfectly clear and harder than steel.

That which cuts diamonds is the understanding that neither diamond nor cutter have actual existence. That which exists is clear mind. 

We are traveling at the moment and don’t have regular opportunities to post, so we have written this ahead of time, to release in the place of our regular weekly installments. This is third in the series. Next week we will seek a permaculture view of the Diamond Mountain retreat center in Arizona.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Diamond Cutter at Apache Pass, Part 2: Passage to India

"Blindfolded, he spoke eloquently on the nature of emptiness."

This is the second installment in a series.
When he tells his own story, it runs something like this:
I attended Princeton University and received an honors degree in Religion in 1975. Prior to that I had received the Presidential Scholar Medal from the President of the United States at the White House. In 1973, while still at university, I received word from my home in Arizona that my mother was seriously ill with cancer.
I had been preparing for a career as a priest in the Episcopal ministry, and had already chosen Episcopal Theological School in Boston. But the news of my mother shook me deeply, and I requested a one-year sabbatical in order to go to India and seek some answers. 
He went to India in search of medicine and eventually took his mother there to be treated by a famous Tibetan doctor, Yeshi Dhonden, who was also personal physician to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. While staying in the same home as the Dalai Lama, his doctor arranged a private meeting with His Holiness. They talked about his university studies and the Dalai Lama approved his plan to study with a lama living not far from Princeton, Khen Rinpoche.
I stayed for several months in Mussoorie, learned my first basic Tibetan words and ideas there. At this time I also began intensive studies in Indian classical music — sitar and tabla — with Shri Mubarak Masih, a master from the Persian tradition. I slept in a sleeping bag on the concrete floor of a small, unheated Christian church; and I remember spending my 21st birthday there alone on a particularly cold day, and hearing that poor people in the village had died from the cold during those weeks.
In the summer of 1975 I graduated from Princeton and on the same day moved to Khen Rinpoche’s residence at Rashi Gempil Ling. This is a small Buddhist monastery and temple located in a community of Mongolian-Americans in central New Jersey.
I lived here personally with Khen Rinpoche for 25 years, as his student and assistant. He was one of the last great geshes of old Tibet, having completed the hlarampa (this is the correct phonetic of this word, often misspelled) or highest rank of geshe, with angi dangpo — highest honors, a very rare achievement in Tibet which put him in the top ten or so of all geshes graduating that year from the tens of thousands of monks in the Gelukpa tradition of Tibet. He was a fierce debater and a very demanding taskmaster — and also incredibly loving and caring of all of us who had the honor of being his students.
After some years with Khen Rinpoche, and with a degree in religion from Princeton and conversational Tibetan and Sanskrit, Michael Roach went to India to take formal vows and be ordained at Sera Mey Tibetan Monastery.
The monks checked my level of study after the first 8 years with Rinpoche, and gave me some credit for my 16 years of western education (which actually did give me a solid foundation for my monastic education). For my first day on the debate ground, still in the suit, they placed me with the 12th-year class, debating Middle Way philosophy.
He soon found the lessons overwhelmed him. 
I went back to my little monk’s room and gave it some hard thought, and the next day made a brave decision: I approached the monastery and asked if I could start my education all over again from near the bottom, with kids who barely stood shoulder height to me.
The monastery gave their permission, and I spent the next 12 years growing with my class. I have always felt that these years of reviewing all that I had already studied for the first 8 years is what really helped me master the material. When I began there were about 60 monks in each of the classes, and in the end I think only four of us graduated with the geshe degree.
One of his special interests was in rare manuscripts. 
When I first got to the monastery, there was a dire shortage of textbooks. Many had been lost or burned in the destruction of the original Sera Mey library. What textbooks we had were copied out by hand and then printed on paper off of flat stones coated with cow’s urine and charcoal as the ink — a true “lithograph.”
The teacher in our geshe class would have the only copy of the textbook, and we had to learn to read it upside down leaning over the front of his desk. To do our memorization lessons, pages would be slipped out of the original and taken up on the roof, where we did our memorizing. Many books got broken up this way and never restored.
Later I founded the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP), and we began searching the world for textbooks from our monastery that had made it out of Tibet in previous centuries. We were successful in these efforts, and began a program to reprint our monastery’s textbooks off of personal computers. My friend Steve Bruzgulis and I invented the world’s first Tibetan word processor, called TTPS (Tibetan Text Processing System), for this purpose.
With funding from David Packard, Roach established a computer center in the Sera Mey library and began to digitize rare manuscripts. That work took him to China, Mongolia and Tibet and, after the fall of the Soviet Union, to St. Petersburg where he learned Russian so he could locate and translate rare texts that had been brought from China to Russia over 300 years. To date, ACIP has digitized more than 130,000 manuscripts.

Geshe Michael now teaches 10-day programs four times a year in his home state of Arizona, and spends the remainder of his time traveling in search of rare manuscripts or providing lectures.
Sometimes I just sit there and wonder why I ended up in this little strip-mall town in New Jersey; why just about all of the high geshes in America happened to be sitting there when I arrived there at age 22; why they had fled from Tibet at exactly that particular time; why the best books and teachers in the monastery kept showing up just when I needed them, and so on and so on. It seems that fate, or karma, had a lot to do with my being able to finish a geshe degree, and I think about that a lot.
Because a big part of the geshe program doesn’t have to do with books and debates at all. I watched a lot of incredibly good scholars and debaters, people I could hardly keep up with, rise and disappear in our class — die, leave the monastery, lose interest — as we passed through the years. And in the end I came to realize that the survivors were those who were doing something more than just studying: they were serving.
The Tibetan monastic system, at it best, has some failsafes in it to prevent a very smart person who doesn’t care about others from reaching a geshe degree. First and foremost, all of the students in the geshe course are expected to follow a very rigid code of conduct towards our teachers. Buddhism teaches that you don’t just study with a teacher, you serve them at the same time. And the karma of trying to serve well causes amazing teachings to fall from their lips: you make your teacher.
When I made my first trip to the monastery for my ordination, the monks were drinking out of a filthy stream that ran across the monastery cornfields, and almost everyone was sick all the time with dysentery — especially myself. Lama encouraged me to scour the refugee aid agencies in New York, and I designed and built the first wells and water lines serving every house in the monastery.
I worked in the cornfields behind water buffalo dragging an old log plow, my Irishman skin burnt to a crisp in the Indian sun. I got the monastery international aid grants to inter-plant soy among the rows of corn to keep the crop going, and helped start a tofu factory to use the soy to try to get the monks off of meat.
I built most of the dormitories for poor monks in my own college, and also built the elementary school complex for the young monks who were just learning to read and write, using the money from my job and from some Christian aid agencies in New York. The computer project to save Tibetan literary culture has for 25 years been one of the biggest sources of employment and income for the monastery and for the entire Tibetan refugee community.
I started the textbook printing project and took care of its funding for many years, so we would all have the books we needed to study. I helped build the first medical clinic at the monastery; to hire doctors and bring in medicines from western countries.
There are also several ways that monks in the geshe program in general are required to serve the monastery, even beyond what their own teacher demands of them. In my day, when your class finished the first 12 years in Perfection of Wisdom and was about to go on to Middle Way, the entire class was expected to take several months off of their studies and go begging for funds to help the monastery throughout all the Tibetan refugee camps in India — the idea being that the karma you got from this hardship would help you crack the idea of emptiness.
After 20 years of monastery life, Roach was urged by Khen Rinpoche to enter the business world. He wangled a job at Andin International Diamond Corporation, buying and selling precious stones. He commuted for 2 hours each day from the New Jersey monastery to the 47th Street diamond shop, never letting on that he was a Buddhist monk. All the while, he began analyzing how Tibetan Buddhist principles could be applied in the business world. This eventually became the subject of his 2000 book, The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life. 

Meanwhile, in the 15 years he was there, the firm grew from a backroom company to a giant global operation that generated annual revenue in excess of $100 million.

According to Scott Carney, writing for Tibetian Buddhism in the West
His blend of Buddhism and business made him an instant success on the lecture circuit, and even today he is comfortable in boardrooms in Taipei, Geneva, Hamburg and Kiev, lecturing executives on how behaving ethically in business will both make you rich and speeding the path of enlightenment.
Following the success of the book, Geshe Michael returned to his birth state of Arizona. After giving some lectures and attracting a small following of devotees, he decided to undertake a 3 year, 3 month, 3 day silent retreat. 
In many ways, Roach’s silence was more powerful than his words. Three years, three months and three days went by, and Roach’s reputation grew. Word of mouth about his feat helped expand the patronage of Diamond Mountain and the Asian Classics Institute, which distributed his teachings through audio recordings and online courses. Every six months he emerged to teach breathless crowds about his meditating experiences. At those events he was blindfolded but spoke eloquently on the nature of emptiness.
And thus was born Diamond Mountain. With money from his books and lectures, and generous donations from businessmen who swore The Diamond Cutter brought them unparalleled success, Geshe Michael purchased more than 1000 acres of private land at the entrance to Apache Pass, just outside the Fort Bowie National Monument.
Subhüti, if there were as many Ganges rivers as the sand grains of the Ganges, would the sand grains of them all be many?
Subhüti said: Many indeed, World-Honored One! Even the Ganges rivers would be innumerable; how much more so would be their sand grains!
Subhüti, I will declare a truth to you. If a good man or good woman filled three thousand galaxies of worlds with the seven treasures for each sand grain in all those Ganges rivers, and gave all away in gifts or alms, would he gain great merit?
Subhüti answered: Great indeed, World-Honored One!
Then Buddha declared: Nevertheless, Subhüti, if a good man or good woman studies this discourse only so far as to receive and retain four lines, and teaches and explains them to others, the consequent merit would be far greater.

We are traveling at the moment and don’t have regular opportunities to post, so we have written this ahead of time, to release in the place of our regular weekly installments. This is the second in the series. Next week we will look more at the doctrine propounded by Geshe Michael.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Diamond Cutter at Apache Pass, Part 1: Cut the Tent

"When we move, or we consume foods from outside our region, we are thwarting adaptation. Our epigenome never gets in sync with the genetic resources of our region."

This year we were contacted by a friend requesting advice on a planned development for a Buddhist retreat center in the mountains of Southeastern Arizona. We agreed to make a quick trip and have a look.

To the untrained eye the area is about as arid and devoid of life as anywhere in North America. As we came up from the valley floor to the East of Tucson we saw a little more greenery tucked into narrow washes descending from canyons, along with sage, tumbleweed, nopale cactus and agave. We were told that there were once more trees here but that early in its history, Arizona decided it was going to be a cattle state and the trees were in the way of those plans, so they were cut down. They became cabins, railroad ties and fuel wood for locomotives.

Not surprisingly, many springs dried up.

Just as it takes 20 generations for a plant to adapt to a new ecology, it takes 20 generations for humans to adapt to a new environment. The Chiricahua for whom these mountains are named had just reached their 20th generation in this place when the White Eyes’ cows arrived.

When we move, or we consume foods from outside our region, we are thwarting adaptation. Our epigenome never gets in sync with the genetic makeup of our region. A 2015 study by Pueblo artist Roxanne Swentzell, of Flowering Tree Permaculture, showed that her people had been fully adapted to the local diet when the whites came. Her peaceful ancestors got caught up in the ethnic cleansing of the continent, were removed from their ancestral homes to squalid camps on reservations, and forced to eat subsidized rations of canned goods, flour and lard.

When the study returned her people to their original pre-contact diets it cured their chronic ill health of all types, including seemingly incurable diseases.

As we come to the foot of the mountain range 116 miles east of Tucson, a dirt road takes us towards Fort Bowie, the least visited park in the National Parks system. The 1.5 mile hiking trail to the ruins of the 1862 army outpost travels over the route of the Butterfield Overland Stage, rising 200 feet as it winds past remains of the stage station, the fort’s cemetery, a recreated Apache wickiup, the site of the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency, and the original adobe and stone walls built to deprive the Chiricahua of access to the spring. 

Entering the pass, we paused to say a prayer for the spirits of the departed.

This mountain spring is the center of this ecosystem —its sacred heart. Whether you are here as a two legged, four-legged, one with wings or roots in the ground, you depend on this unceasing water to sustain you in hard times. Its health is your health. 

The biome begins here. The birds, the mammals and the whole food chain of the arid ecosystem radiates from this center outward.

It is more direct and faster to go from Texas to Tucson through the valley below but there is no water there. The Butterfield company, ancestor to American Express, detoured into the mountains and built a coach station at Apache Spring. Butterfield negotiated that arrangement with the leader of the Chiricahua, Cochise. In exchange for the opportunity of trade, Cochise allowed the regular passage of the Overland Stage and the permanent coach station, set back some 600 meters from the spring. He grew to have a cordial relationship with the stationmaster.

Jay W. Sharp writing for Desert USA Newsletter:
The Mogollon peoples discovered this secluded spring more than a millennium ago. In small nearby encampments, they constructed lodges, probably semi-subterranean pit houses. They manufactured plain brown pottery, raised corn and gathered wild plants. They used bows and arrows.
Those early people were gone before the Coronado Expedition of 1540–42 passed this way. No one really knows why they disappeared after having built irrigated orchards, earth-sheltered villages and fine roads.
The Chiricahua Apaches, drifting southwest from the southern Great Plains, found the spring in the sixteenth century, and they made it the center of their new homeland, which became known as Apachería, the desert basin and range country of southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and north central Mexico. In small encampments, the Chiricahuas constructed ephemeral brush or grass lodges called wickiups. They wove grass baskets. Sometimes, they raised a little corn. They gathered wild plants. They used bows and arrows and, later, rifles and pistols. They gloried in warfare and the raid.

Ft. Bowie’s Visitors Center is a small museum staffed by a single ranger. At appointed hours, a recording plays the bugle calls of the daily military routine over a P.A. system — First Call, Reveille, Assembly, Mess Call (morning), Sick Call, Drill Call, Assembly, First Sergeant’s Call, Officer’s Call, Mail Call, Mess Call (noon), Drill Call, Assembly, Mess Call (evening), Call to Quarters, Taps.
In a ravine which leads to a canyon which, in turn, descends to a pass between southeastern Arizona’s Chiricahua and Dos Cabezas Mountains, a small spring issues from the earth. Called Apache Spring, it delivers its stream — cool, clear, sparkling like a cascade of diamonds — into a sequestered rocky basin shaded by a few oak trees. Among exposed roots of the oaks, moss as green as emeralds clings to stone surfaces at the basin’s rim. The water flows from the basin and trickles down the ravine toward the canyon, to a place where it will play out and submerge back into the earth.
In the pass, called Apache Pass, about a mile above the level of the sea, nature has stirred a cocktail of ecological systems, a blend of two deserts and two life zones. Here, the high, hot Chihuahuan Desert to the east, in southern New Mexico, merges with the lower and even hotter Sonoran Desert to the west, in southern Arizona; and both deserts, marked by agave, yucca, sotol and cholla, merge with the higher woodland, distinguished by mountain mahogany, oak, juniper and piñon pine.
Along the stream — the only source of water for all seasons near the pass and its adjoining mountain slopes — mountain lions, bobcats, gray foxes, coyotes, coatimundl and mule deer quench their thirsts in the cover of the night. The red-capped acorn woodpecker rattles the morning stillness. The dusky-eyed Mexican jay whenks querulously at other birds. Plumed Gambel’s quail scurry through late spring undergrowth, plumed puffs of down — their chicks — in close pursuit. Hummingbirds, glittering like rubies in dappled sunlight, pause at the spring during their annual journeys north and south. Turkey vultures wheel through the summer skies above the spring.
Along the 990-acre National Monument’s northern border, from near the top of the pass down, are private ranchlands acquired by Diamond Mountain Retreat Center. As we begin our permaculture observations, we start in the same place that the rain does, at the ridgeline, and walk down.

Fort Bowie ruins, The Ranger Station is at the center-right in the back.
There are ghosts here. It is curious that newcomers would build remote cabins for silent retreats, hermitages, and meditation temples in such a place. We will explore that more, but this first installment must begin by taking you to the dark side.

It was here in the winter of 1861 that the Apache Wars began. The white eyes called it “the Bascom Affair.” To the Apaches it was known as “Cut the Tent.”

In January, 1861, a 12-year-old boy was kidnapped from a ranch in southern Arizona Territory by Apache raiders from a band to the north, most likely the Arivaipa, Pinal or Western White Mountain Apache. The boy’s father reported the kidnapping to Fort Buchanan and the commander dispatched Second Lieutenant George Bascom, 24, from Kentucky, to search for him. Bascom graduated 26th in a class of 27 at the U.S. Military Academy in 1858, the year after freshman George Armstrong Custer arrived. He had been at his western post less than 90 days when he got the assignment. The National Park Service tells the story this way:
Morrison assigned Bascom a force of 54 newly arrived mounted troopers. The inexperienced lieutenant proceeded to lead his inexperienced troopers into the field. Finding tracks of the raiders’ ponies leading eastward from Ward’s ranch towards the Chiricahua Mountains, he assumed Cochise’s band was guilty of the raid. Had he known Chiricahua Apaches were not known at that time for kidnapping and that the livestock raiding they engaged in then was limited almost entirely to south of the border, Bascom may have approached the chief in another way.
Bascom’s force camped at the Butterfield Stage Station and sent word via the stationmaster that he wished to speak with Cochise. In 1861, the chief of the Chokonen band of Chiricahua Apaches was then about 50 years old. Tall and handsome, he was second only to Mangas Coloradas among all the chiefs. The son of Apache Chief Juh, Asa Daklugie, told author Eve Ball that Cochise had a profound sense of honor. “Cochise was very proud of making his word good…Apaches hated liars.” Cochise was a man not accustomed to anyone questioning or doubting his word.
Cochise eventually did come to Bascom’s camp, at dinner time. Because Cochise brought several of his family members to Bascom’s tent to share a meal, he obviously believed this was a social visit. At some point during this meeting, Bascom accused the chief of kidnapping the boy. Though Cochise denied the accusation and told the officer he did not know the whereabouts of the boy he did say he would try to locate him and secure his release. However, the lieutenant told the chief he would not allow him to leave until the boy was returned.
Cochise rushed for the door but was blocked by sentries with bayonets. He wheeled and ran to the back wall of the tent, slashing it open with a single swipe of his Bowie knife. As he ran for the hills a bullet went through his leg but he did not slow until he reached safety in rocks near the summit. It was then that he noticed that he was bleeding and that he was still holding the tin cup of coffee Bascom had given him.
Cochise’s warriors then attacked a wagon train coming into the pass along the Overland Trail, killing the Mexicans on it, and taking the Anglos hostage. His warriors also captured Wallace, the Butterfield employee. The chief then attempted to trade his hostages for Bascom’s. Exchanging hostages was something Mexicans and Apaches had engaged in routinely and was a common practice of the time. In Cochise’s mind, he probably saw this as a logical solution to the problem.
Again the lieutenant insisted he would not release his Apache hostages until the boy was returned. And again Cochise denied having any knowledge of the whereabouts of the boy, still offering to help find him if Bascom would let his relatives go. What was going on in the minds of all involved, we can only wonder now. Each of us can only try to imagine what we might have felt, and done, had we been in the situation ourselves. Can you imagine the anger Cochise must have felt after having trusted his family would be safe in Bascom’s tent? Was he angry at himself for letting his guard down? Did he feel betrayed by Bascom’s initial pretense of hospitality?
Most certainly, he was deeply offended the lieutenant did not believe he did not have the boy. Being a leader held in such high regard by his people it must have been incomprehensible to Cochise to have his word doubted. Try to imagine the mortification Bascom might have felt when the whole situation spun out of his control and escalated into violence. Was he ever really concerned about the missing boy or was he consumed with a sense of duty, an ambitious desire to carry out orders and advance his military career?
What about the hostages? Can you imagine the terror they were experiencing as the drama played out, knowing they were caught in the center of it? Why didn’t Bascom exchange his hostages for Cochise’s? Some historians believe even Bascom’s soldiers were asking among themselves this very question. At some point, Cochise’s frustration with Bascom’s inflexibility turned to resignation, as he abandoned hopes of a peaceful resolution. At what point that frustration turned to murderous rage, we can only guess.
Eventually the higher-ranking officers who arrived decided to hang the male Apache hostages — Cochise’s family — from high trees, along with three other Apache men of another band not involved with the incident. Cochise’s wife and young son were taken back to Fort Buchanan.

Some reports state the bodies hung over the Overland Trail, swaying in the wind, until the skeletons finally fell apart. It was a symbol of intolerance and vengeance, not easily ignored, and the die was cast. Cochise never forgot the incident, or forgave those responsible for the execution and imprisonment of his relatives. For the next 11 years, Chiricahua warriors attacked settlers, travelers, miners, mail carriers, virtually every white in their territory.

The only Civil War battle where the Confederate Army was not a participant took place in Southeast Arizona when a legion company of the Union Army, on its way to engage Confederate regulars in Texas, wandered into Apache territory and poked the hornet’s nest.

When they reached Apache Spring after marching dozens of miles across the hot Arizona desert they were met by several hundred well-armed Chiricahua warriors led by Mangas, Cochise and Geronimo. Low on water, and unable to retreat without water, Captain Thomas L. Roberts chose to fight.

The Apaches had thrown up rock breastworks on the cliffs, and waited until the soldiers came within 30–80 yards of their positions before opening fire. After a few minutes of intense combat Roberts ordered retreat, regrouped and unlimbered the mountain howitzers. A local history says:
This was one of the first times the United States Army had been able to use artillery against the Indians in the Southwest. 
Roberts advanced with his howitzers and had them open fire. Their effectiveness was limited by the fact that they were 300–400 feet below the Apache defenses. Roberts moved his guns ahead to a better position, all the time under heavy fire. Once the guns were in effective range, the artillery opened fire in earnest.
John C. Cremony, who commanded the howitzers, said, “I afterwards learned from a prominent Apache who was present in the engagement, that sixty-three warriors were killed outright by the [howitzer] shells, while only three perished from musketry fire.” He added that he was told, “We would have done well enough if you had not fired wagons at us.’” They called the fight the Battle of Apache Pass.

Within days, Brigadier General James Henry Carlton ordered the California troops to build a post at Apache Spring to control the water supply and the mountain pass.

In late 1872, frontiersman Tom Jeffords and Cochise negotiated an agreement of peace, which called for a Chiricahua reservation surrounding Fort Bowie and Apache Spring. “Hereafter,” said Cochise, “the white man and the Indian are to drink of the same water, eat of the same bread, and be at peace.” Jeffords became Chiricahua Indian Agent.

After Cochise’s death in 1874, Washington determined to consolidate all the western Apache bands. The US removed the Chiricahuas to the reservation at San Carlos. The Chiricahuas bolted, took to Mexico’s Sierra Madre and went back to raiding and plundering on both sides of the border.
Mangas Coloradas, in his 60s but still a virile figure well over 6 foot tall, came to negotiate for peace and was taken hostage and assassinated. His skull is believed to be in the Smithsonian. 

Geronimo followed Mangas as principal chief of the Chiricahua. He surrendered and died in prison. He is buried in Apache Indian Prisoner of War Cemetery, Fort Sill. 

When Geronimo and his people departed Ft Bowie in chains, the post band struck up Auld Lang Syne. The Indian wars were over. Right or wrong had nothing to do with the outcome. Mulberry bows and arrows were no match for howitzers.

In the ravine that leads to the canyon that in turn, descends to the pass between southeastern Arizona’s Chiricahua and Dos Cabezas Mountains, Apache Spring still issues from the earth. Its bubbles rise to the surface and sparkle like diamonds.

We are traveling at the moment and don’t have regular opportunities to post, so we have written this ahead of time, to release in the place of our regular weekly installments. This is the first of a series. Next week we will look at the man who opened the Tibetian Buddhism retreat center here.




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