Every morning since March 23rd, 2020, the Japanese Taiko drummer Ken Koshio climbs up the mountain to perform a ritual. Sometimes, he passes me with the drum on his shoulders at an incredible speed and there is no sign of tiredness. He is a mountain himself. He will continue this ritual until March 23rd, 2021 in honour of Lori Ann Piestewa, who died during the Iraq war on this day in 2003.
Ken carrying his drum on his way down to the parking lot of Piestewa Peak
Ken Koshio and his drum
His ceremony attracts a large group of supporters who gather before sunrise to celebrate the arrival of a new day. Over time, I got to know many of them. The characteristics for this group of people is inclusion and warm connection. There is a unity despite different nationalities, religion, age, gender and race. Marisa, the “Mother of this Mountain”, knows them all and is the big connector. People bring food and hot tea and a guy named David even carries up a camping coffee maker and serves coffee to everybody who wants a cup. This is especially appreciated when the temperature is around freezing.
Ken Koshio Family
From left to right – Marisa, Eriko, I and Melissa
Birthday of Irvin Foster, a member of the Navajo Nation. The coffee set brought up by David stands beside him.
Celebration of Hanukkah
Although there are many cultural and personal celebrations, when Ken Koshio starts his music, everybody is silent. His drumming and songs become more and more powerful with the sun rising above the horizon. He recites an ancient song performed every 20 years for the rebuilding of the Ise Shrine, the most sacred site in Japan in honour of the sun goddess Amaterasu. His whole body becomes pure energy and I can see why he is calling himself a warrior of peace.
Celebration of the New Year, 2021
Unknown person with a Didgeridoo
During the celebration, often a little bird with an injured, stiff leg hops around without being restrained. This little bird symbolises the magic of this mountain. I call Piestewa Peak the “Mountain of letting go”. It is a mountain of transformation. Climbing up the mountain on a regular basis has changed the life of many people. It requires strong determination, strength and flexibility at the same time. There is Daryl, who is legally blind – he gets up at 2 am every morning and has to take two public buses in addition to having to walk one mile to get to the bus. There is Jeremy who lost his arm and climbs like a mountain goat (takes part in the paraolympic competitions) and a person with only one leg, who makes it to the top with two supporting walking sticks. Every morning, two friends, Ruben and Sam, climb up the steep slope at the ages of 85 and 86 and always have smiles on their faces. And there are much more….
Rubin climbing up to the top with his two self made walking sticks
People dress up for Christmas and even bring a Christmas tree up to the top. Sometimes, you hear a person loudly reciting a mantra when dancing down the mountain and most of the time there is chatter between people, often in Spanish.
It is Christmas!
Rain is rare in Phoenix and the rocks can become dangerously slippery. However, most of the time the clouds disappear after sunrise.
Sunrise with Camelback mountain in the east.
Ocotillo cactus beside the path.
Although walking down is faster and easier, it still needs focus and attention. Sometimes a desert animal crosses the path.
Gila Monster bathing in the sun
Little Squirrel asking for food