Climbing Bryan’s Mountain, 2019 — Part 2

This summer in Sedona I spent most of the time indoors, not out.  Five weeks of 12-hour days rehabbing our small condo after a big February flooding from a burst pipe in the condo upstairs.  I lost 12 pounds.  I also biked up to Bryan’s mountain only twice, and got there only 3 times total.

SDN-BelRkLL5bJust a few yards north of Bryan’s tree there’s a big, red boulder with cracks running though it so deep you think it will split to pieces any moment.  Year after year, though, it has remained steadfast.  On one of our earliest trips to Sedona I took this picture of Linda sitting on it.  This year, on Sunday, September 8th, just to make sure I got back to the tree just one more time before I left, I forced myself to stop rehab work for a couple of hours, drove to the mountain, hiked up, and found the big boulder topped with a beautiful rock cairn.  It was a very windy day.  I noticed how immovable the big agave were, but my hiking hat blew off four or five times, and the small mountain trees swayed.  If you don’t pile the rocks of your cairn just right, the wind gets them quickly, but this one stayed solid.

SDN-CairnCrackb“Official” rock cairns mark the main trails up Bryan’s mountain (Bell Rock), and today when a couple asked me the way up I said what I’d said dozens of times before: Follow the big cairns.  The first one is just around the corner.  They loped off, the woman of the pair heavily tattooed across her back and all down her left arm and leg.  What such marks mark, I usually can’t figure.

The official cairns aren’t piled carefully.  The red rocks are poured into heavy, round, wire baskets about three feet high.  Sometimes a piece of wood sticks out the top, an arrow with the word “Trail” stuck to it.  There’s not much art to these.  To the unofficial cairns there’s often lots of art.  In my 2013 journal excerpt I wrote about some beautiful, interlacing rings someone had made of red rocks just to the left of Bryan’s tree, rings whose major intersections were marked by solid cairns.  I wrote about these rings again in my 2014 journal excerpt, this time to mark their absence, and compared them to the elaborate sand mandalas painstakingly made—then ceremonially swept away—by Buddhist monks.

SDN-CairnFld1bOn this Sunday, a big group of teens led by a man, wife, and their dog, appeared behind me as I got ready to leave.  He instructed them to line up here, then move there, as he took pictures and videos.  Then he showed them how to make rock cairns, and some even paid attention and tried them themselves.  In the end, only one remained upright in the wind, unlike this field of small cairns I found, also in 2014.  These weren’t arrayed in any order I could discern, but they were solid, and their numbers seemed to be a mark of something, perhaps even just the joy of being on the mountain for the first time. I say “just,” but when you first catch sight of the breathtaking scene from Bryan’s Mountain, you look here and there and everywhere trying to take it all in.  That fleeting moment, though scattering like this small field of cairns, can stay with you and with you and with you.  2014 was the year my colleague Sohinee Roy and her Mom and Dad (here on their first trip from India to the U.S.) came to visit me in Sedona.  I’ll write in detail someday about our trip to the Grand Canyon.  When we got there the Canyon was blanketed in thick clouds, and we turned away deeply disappointed, wondering why we’d come that particular day.  Until suddenly the winds came and parted the clouds like an opening curtain, and her Dad went running up and down along the rim shouting, “Yes! Yes!”  I’ve never seen the Canyon in a more dramatic fashion.  It’s a vivid memory, a cairn—like Bryan’s tree, like Bryan’s mountain—marking something.

  Read Part 1 of the 2019 journal excerpts.  Go to the Lead Post for the Climbing Bryan’s Mountain series.

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Climbing Bryan’s Mountain, 2019

This is part of a series of journal excerpts reflecting on loss, healing, change, and other adventures, usually during the few summer weeks I spend in Sedona, AZ.  The journal revolves around the loss of my youngest son, Bryan Emmanuel Guzman, and the mountain I climb in his honor. 

July 29:  My first time to Bryan’s Mountain (Bell Rock) this year—but I have been here in Sedona since July 20th.  Never before have I waited so long to bike and hike up to this place, a place as sacred to me as any other in the world.  But I was, and am, involved in what my brother-in-law Danny Miller has called the project from hell.  In late February we were, for the third time, flooded by a pipe leak from the upstairs condo, so I came two weeks early to start replacing all the flooring, base boards, and trim to try and make up for some of the money we lost because insurance didn’t cover everything.  The $1515.18 for mold remediation, for example; or the many $100′s extra we paid for alternate housing for our renters while our place was being dried out, un-molded, and wall board and flooring ripped up and partially replaced.

BryMtn-Crowd2From the beginning it’s been Murphy’s Law x 10.  That’ll teach Danny to volunteer to help me for a week, though he’s closer to sainthood now for sticking with me while everything took 3, 4, 5x longer than it should have. Like the self-stick tiles.  I put them down a dozen years ago and thought, since they periodically came loose in our former Naperville house, they’d come up fairly easily. They didn’t. The incredible effort it took to pry them up was the least of it. The adhesive wouldn’t go away no matter what we tried.  Finally, it took a heat gun and scraping and scraping and scraping before I finished off by just pouring lacquer thinner all over, an act that had me so gassed—not just bone tired, but woozy—I had to buy a respirator mask.  Grinding down high spots in the concrete floor just took a normal dust mask, but it took a 3-hour round trip to Prescott Valley to rent a grinder, then 5 hours of grinding, and a 3-hour round trip to return the grinder.  The concrete dust?  I don’t know if we’ll ever get rid of it all.   Then the night before we were to lay new entryway tile, it started leaking from upstairs again!  Two plus days more delay as we stopped the leak, contacted the owner, and waited for things to dry out.  Etc. Etc.

It’s all crowded out the time I had to be on Bryan’s Mountain, and now well over 350 words into this journal entry and I haven’t even mentioned what it was like to be up there today and next to his tree.  When Aaron saw it the first time he said, “It isn’t in a lonely place.”  No kidding, at least today.  Sometimes I get long minutes sitting next to the small pine, looking, thinking, and remembering, but today people seemed to swarm the mountain, like the six guys I snapped a picture of as I was leaving.  There were perhaps 15-20 more besides them, their talking and laughing making me turn every few seconds.  In a way, I didn’t mind.  The tree isn’t in a lonely place, and the crowd seemed a perfect metaphor for the things that have crowded into the time and peace I thought I’d have since I sort of retired in late 2018.  I don’t think I’ve put together two days of peace and quiet since then, and that super-crowded feeling has only reached a peak—at least I hope it’s a peak—in the rigors of this condo rehab.  Always perspective.  “It is a First-World problem,” Linda said, and when I look at the dirt and chaos still around me at the condo I think, Of course, it’s not a refugee camp.

Bry-Blrk@duskThe six guys stood by Bryan’s tree a long time.  Perhaps they were captured by the gorgeous play of sun and clouds on the mountains and mesas in the distance.  They couldn’t know what it meant to me and my family, but even in a crowd there’s something deep there, something that holds you.

Just after we bought our place we did our first rehab, one considerably easier than this one. We brought Bryan and his step-brother Mike to help.  They worked for us until 1:00 p.m., then were free to do whatever.  One afternoon they climbed Bell Rock, staying til dusk, and Mike—climbing one spire higher than Bryan—snapped this picture.  Bryan seems so still, held there, just sitting and looking.  I mentioned in an earlier journal entry that he seemed turned in the direction of the tree where we placed some of his ashes in January 2007.  Bryan’s tree on Bryan’s Mountain.  The picture, dusky and grainy, captures a feeling, an idea, a memory that has the power to make me be still, quiet, and feel held, no matter how crowded life becomes.

  Read Part 2 of the 2019 journal excerpts.  Go to the Lead Post in the Climbing Bryan’s Mountain series.  One of the posts, Here, has a video of my bike ride up and down the mountain.  Also, go to an article about Emmanuel House being named one of the Top 100 Most Innovative social change organizations in the world.  Bryan’s oldest brother Rick, and his wife Desiree, started this organization as a living memorial to Bryan, who died in 2006, shortly after his 21st birthday.  Emmanuel, “God with us,” was his middle name.  In 2018 Emmanuel House (which started simply as Bryan House) merged with long-time partner the Joseph Corporation to become The Neighbor Project.  These organizations help working families escape poverty, a project we know Bryan would have loved.  What started by serving five families now serves nearly 200.

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U.S. Returns Balangiga Bells

The Belangiga Bells arrive in the Philippines.

The Balangiga Bells arrive in the Philippines.

The VIDEO below from The World Tonight * reports on the return from the U.S. to the Philippines of the Balangiga Bells, one of the most infamous symbols of the Philippine-American War, which raged brutally from 1899 to 1902.  After centuries of Spanish rule, the Philippines had expected independence after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War.  Filipinos had fought side by side with Americans to gain that victory in the Philippines, but suddenly the U.S. had other ideas.  It would not grant independence, but would embark upon an era of imperialism, and the bloody war ensued. To Filipino nationalists, it continued the fight for independence from Spain begun in 1896.  Americans regarded it as an insurrection.

On July 25, 2018, graduate student Bea Rodriguez-Franzen turned in a short paper (read it HERE) for my course on the “Third World.”  Titled “Brown Man’s Burden: A Commentary,” it focused on the decades-long attempt by the Philippines to have the U.S. return three bells: the Belangiga Bells, which were taken as war loot from perhaps the single bloodiest series of events in the Philippine-American war.  On November 15, 2018, roughly three months after she wrote the paper, the U.S. finally returned the bells.

The paper and VIDEO provide context and details on the Balangiga tragedy, as does a good Wikipedia article.  Because of these, I will only sketch it briefly here.

New York Journal, May 5, 1902. A vulture replaces the bald eagle on American Shield. Bottom caption reads: "Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines"

New York Journal, May 5, 1902. A vulture replaces the bald eagle on American Shield. Bottom caption reads: “Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines”

“The Balangiga Massacre” originally referred to the killing of 48 American troops in the early morning of September 28, 1901, on the Island of Samar after a series of events—including the sexual assault of a Filipino woman by some American troops, the rounding up of 143 Filipino males for forced labor, and the confiscation of homes and crops.  The bells were rung supposedly to warn the troops of the attack by townspeople and tribesmen. But what followed is what the majority of people now call the real Balangiga Massacre.  Gen. Jacob A. Smith—nicknamed “Howling Jake,” or “The Monster,” or “Hell Roaring Jake”—ordered American forces to make the entire island of Samar a “howling wasteland.”  His most infamous order was condemned in the editorial cartoon at left: kill all males 10 years of age and older.  In the end, hundreds of villages were burned, and some 50,000 Filipinos killed.

In her paper Bea Rodriguez says the Philippine-American War itself, let alone the Balangiga Massacre, was left out of her history education, and she asks why it took so long for the U.S. to return the bells.  In some ways, the answer is obvious.  It required admission of a war crime—though, of course, this “admission” really wasn’t one, couched as if was in terms of “returning respect” and strengthening the bonds between two great allies.  Gen. “Howling Jake” was, in fact, court martialed and convicted for his orders, though the only punishment he ultimately faced was being forced to retire from the Army.

Balangiga5bIronically, the two Presidents under whom the Balangiga Bells were returned were Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte, two leaders not known for de-escalating crises.  Both appear briefly in the VIDEO below.

Bea Rodriguez’s paper title refers to Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “The White Man’s Burden,” which I write about HERE by way of introducing the paper of another graduate student, Janie Doutsos.  I begin this post by writing, “I had forgotten that Rudyard Kipling wrote his remarkably racist and smug poem to encourage Americans as they took over my homeland, the Philippines.  The ‘burden’ white men take up is the burden of civilizing the world.”  As the Balangiga Bells remind us yet again and again and again, “civilizing” people has often entailed murdering them by the tens of thousands, a process which throws dark questions on the word “civilization” itself.

* The World Tonight is a Philippine late night news cast airing on the ABS-CBN news channel.

  For more on Philippine culture begin with my article on one of its greatest National Artists, the writer N.V.M. Gonzalez, where I early on make reference to Americans calling Filipinos their “little brown brothers.”  Bea Rodriguez’s paper remarks about Americans soon turning to killing their little brown brothers during the Philippine-American war.

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