The Author

In Santa Barbara Arroyo (photo B.J. Schweers)

David Symington is retired, Lives in The Kootenay area of British Columbia with his wife Diane and spends a few months each year in the Mulege area of Baja looking for Cochimi Rock Art, relaxing on the beach with friends, and fishing.

So, What’s the Driving Force? Why do I do what I do?

In my discovery trips into the desert back country of the Mulege area, there are many times I find myself scrambling up a Falda to reach a prospect cave. During the approach to the cave I am anxious in anticipation. What will I find? More Metates, perhaps some Manos? When was the last time the Cochimi were here? What did they leave? Was their hunt successful? Was it a seed gathering trip? Did they “pack a lunch” from the beach? Did they have the time to make a meal here? Did they have the time or inclination to leave a pictograph or petroglyph?
When an historic item is first viewed; a splash of red paint; a Metate half buried in the silt; a hand held scraper or spear point with a sharp edge. the effect on me is palpable. There is a sudden shock of recognition of what the item is. My heart skips a beat it seems. There are times when the object, say a pictograph, seems to materialize in front of me as if by magic. It just pops into my field of vision, even if I am actively searching a rock face or ceiling in a cave and anticipating a find of some sort. I swear the image seems to go Plop! Very exciting! Sometimes though it seems that I’m as blind as the proverbial bat. I’ll walk right by something only to have my companion shout out, “Hey! Look at this!” Go figure! So. . . go visit some of the places I’ve described . . . I’m sure you’ll find something I’ve overlooked!
As often as not, I try to picture the Cochimi in this location, grinding seeds or knapping an edge on a spear point. I must admit, I tend not to dwell too much on the fact that he or she may be very hungry or tired and may have many mouths to feed back at their habitation site.
I would consider them very lucky and fortunate if they find themselves with the freedom (and full stomach) that I have to gaze out over the arroyo in quiet enjoyment of the sights and smells of this desert splendor. I wonder if they did? Hmm . . .

Why is it then, that I do what I do? Why spend hours trudging desert arroyos and hills in search of . . .What ?
Consider this. . . What you are today, is sometimes a product of where you were when some scene, moment, or situation first struck you as being important or significant. Where the people or events about you are noticed for the first time. This usually occurs when you are in your youth, but there can be influencing factors that occur to mould, and sometimes significantly change the personality later in life; Marriage, the loss of one’s employment, the death of a loved one, or, a traumatic wartime event for example. Sometimes however, there is a dedicated search for those moments and experiences that allow you to realize. . . Yes! This is who I am! This is why, perhaps, people take up sky diving when they’re in their 60’s, or sail single-handed around the world in a 30ft sailboat. They are, perhaps, seeking the answer to questions like . . . Who am I? What is it that defines my life? This however, is quite introspective or self centered and so we can also find ourselves looking at those around us and ask what it is that motivates that person to be who they are. What were the influencing factors that make that person who they are. That way we can better understand how that person influences us the way they do. And when we understand them a little better we can better relate to them, build a stronger bond with them and understand more about them and ultimately, one’s self.
So, in a way, by taking a thin slice and endeavoring to find out and understand the Where, When, Why and How of Cochimi life in the Mulege area and focus on specifically the Conception Bay area, then it might help in defining part of who I am today. Hmm?

So, what are my interests today, are they Archeological or Anthropological? There are no Cochimi alive today that can be studied or interviewed. No interrelationships that can be analyzed. No way of life that can be compared with other ethnic groups. No social or environmental skills that can be observed and perhaps improved upon. No way to make the direction of their physical life easier or their spiritual journey more understandable for them. Those would be the roles that would fit with the anthropologist. How about an archeological view then? The artifacts of stone and wood, art in the form of petroglyphs and pictographs are certainly enjoyable in their discovery, but for me that is only the start! I am not interested in classifying, counting and documenting the artifacts. No, I’ll leave that to others! I am more interested in how the Cochimi people lived, how they fitted with their environment, what they felt, what were their dreams and ambitions. Who they were. Impossible? Yes. . . maybe.
It seems to me then that it is possible. . . even ever so slightly possible, that over time, with study and exploration, by taking a very thin slice of their lives through the artifacts remaining, (that being only a small fraction of the total cultural heritage) that details will emerge about the Cochimi life that can allow an inference as to ‘who they were’.

“The longest journey
Is the journey inwards
Of him who has chosen his destiny,
Who has started on his quest . . .
For the source of his being. . .” (Dag Hammarskjold )

David Symington, December 2020