Outdoor areas remain open during the pandemic although campgrounds and visitor centers are closed. But even from afar, gazing up at Mount D lightens my heart. Perhaps it's thinking about the Native Americans who considered it to be the birthplace of the world. Some reserved the top of the mountain for special worshiping purposes, and even today, it remains a meaningful place.
The mountain also provided for them -- it was a fertile hunting ground for deer, elk and antelope, and also rife with nuts and seeds, including bountiful fall acorn harvests.
The original inhabitants had many names for the mountain in their own languages. Then came the Spanish, and one of their early names for the peak was "Cerro Alto de los Bolbones" or "High Point of the Volvon Indians," a Bay Miwok group that inhabited the area.
The reference to "Diablo," or devil, has been tracked to 1805 when Spanish military troops searched for Native Americans who had run away from a mission, according to SaveMountDiablo.org. The soldiers encountered a camp of Chupcan people and surrounded it, but somehow during the night, they escaped unseen and unheard.
The Spanish soldiers, spooked, tagged the site "Monte del Diablo," meaning "thicket of the devil" but English-speaking newcomers mistakenly assumed "monte" meant "mountain" and this linguistic accident gave the Tri-Valley its Devil Mountain.
A few years back, someone challenged the name, saying it was "blasphemous and profane." Although the suggestion to rename the mountain was dismissed, apparently some agree with the negative connotation. Diablo Yoga Center was named thus when it opened in 1996, but a decade later, new owners renamed it Danville Yoga and Wellness Center.
I prefer to think of the word as its meaning in "daredevil," "handsome as the devil," or having a "devil-may-care" attitude. These uses speak to being rakish or adventurous rather than evil. Then there is "the devil made me do it."
The peak is definitely worth a visit -- its observation platform allows a 360-degree view, said to include the San Francisco Bay on a clear day. The grand old sandstone Summit Building, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939-42, houses the historic beacon, first lit in 1928 as a signal for pilots of the newfangled aircraft.
The beacon lighting was stopped after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and it remained dark for more than 20 years. It was relit as part of a ceremony at the summit Dec. 7, 1964, honoring the survivors of Pearl Harbor. Each year afterward, survivors gathered for a beacon lighting.
Then last Easter Sunday, Save Mount Diablo, the nonprofit land trust that preserves lands on and around the mountain, lit the beacon and continued to do so each Sunday night to light up the night -- and our spirits -- as we coped with the COVID-19 pandemic. The beacon was kept dark the week prior to Dec. 7 so the Pearl Harbor lighting would be special.
But the lighting has resumed and will continue "for as long as the pandemic rages," according to the Save Mount Diablo website, to remind everyone to lift their eyes to the light and to nature, and also to thank heroes in these troubling times.
We need a high point to savor right now when we are at a low point as pandemic deaths in the U.S. pass 400,000, variants are appearing and the vaccination rollout is struggling. Some might say we are trapped in an unsightly ditch. But we must keep our eyes on the peak.
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