Sacred Sites


Sacred Sites

The Secret History of Southern California

Susan Suntree
Foreword by Gary Snyder
Introduction by Lowell John Bean
Photographs by Juergen Nogai

318 pages
29 photographs, 1 map


June 2020


$26.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

June 2020


$26.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

October 2010


$26.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

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 Native peoples’ view of their own history and way of life, Suntree recounts the creation myths and songs that tell the story of the First People and of unforgettable shamans and heroes.

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.

Author Bio

Susan Suntree’s previous books include Wisdom of the East: Stories of Compassion, Inspiration, and Love; Rita Moreno; and Eye of the Womb. She taught for many years at East Los Angeles College. Gary Snyder’s literary awards include the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Turtle Island and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.Lowell John Bean is an anthropologist and the author and editor of numerous books and articles about California and Southwest Native American cultures and peoples. Juergen Nogai’s work has appeared in magazines, books, and museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide.


“Susan Suntree’s mythopoetic Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California weaves science, Native legend, and natural history into a two-hundred-plus-page poem. . . . [It comes] rooted in diversity and complexity, what many of the best books are about.”—David Ulin, Los Angeles Times


“‘Human beings are the ones who have the power, through their songs, to affect the balance of the world.’ What an immensely beautiful book!”—Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University and author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award

“After sailing through this triumph of literary montage the Southland will never seem the same—it has become Indian Country again.”—Peter Nabokov, professor of world arts and cultures at the University of California at Los Angeles and author of Where the Lightning Strikes: The Lives of American Indian Sacred Places


"Suntree tells the story that is least often told, and for that alone readers can be grateful."—Brett Garcia Myhren, Western American Literature

“A geological and cultural human history of Southern California in verse? Impossible, right? Not so, as this is exactly what California-born Susan Suntree has done. And to Suntree’s credit, her performance of this ‘impossible’ feat is not only competent, it shines.”—Thomas Crowe, Bloomsbury Review

“I simply cannot express adequately my appreciation for Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California. It is wonderful! So full of beauty and knowledge.”—Glen MacDonald, UCLA Distinguished Professor and John Muir Memorial Chair of Geography

“Meticulously researched geology, geography, history, and oral traditions are put in motion by a performer’s touch. . . . Sacred Sites is an outstanding literary work, combining science with the spirituality of Native oral traditions.”—Jurgita Antoine, Tribal College Journal

Sacred Sites is a glowing monument to the magic that trails behind each one of us humans, a sweet testament to imagination and whatever God we may acknowledge. I have nothing but respect and awe for this absolutely unique work of art.”—Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers

Sacred Sites honors the power and beauty of our indigenous heritage and homeland. By knowing our history we better understand the present and our journey into the future.”—Anthony Morales, tribal chair, Gabrielino Tongva Council of San Gabriel

“Susan Suntree presents a readable and broadly accessible account of the history of the universe, Earth, and Southern California in this scholarly and creative blend of ancient myth and modern science.”—Raymond V. Ingersoll, professor of geology at the University of California, Los Angeles


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations   
Author's Note    

Book One
The Origins of Southern California: Western Science
Part 1. Light, Space, Matter      
Part 2. Galaxy, Planet, Moon, Rain   
Part 3. Wandering North America, Life, Death  
Part 4. Reptiles, Flowers, Mammals, Rivers   
Part 5. Southern California Coming: Mountains in Motion 
Part 6. Southern California Ice Age: Bountiful Homeland   

Book Two
The Origins of Southern California: Indigenous Myths and Songs
Part 1. Universe, World, People   
Part 2. The Great Captain Wiyot: Death, Spirit, Power     
Part 3. Food, Feasting, Deer, Moon    
Part 4. The First People   
Part 5. Human Beings: Singers, Balance Keepers     
Part 6. White People  

Epilogue: Chinigchinich, the Spanish, the Yankees     

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