Sure! You can probably find us anywhere, if you choose to look for us. I did have quite a time finding my way into Druidry, but when walking in the forest, I’ve always tended to take the harder path. It’s usually the most interesting, but there are generally fewer folk on it. I found a few though, and the more fun we have, the more people we seem to meet up with. Are you in the San Francisco Bay Area and interested in what we do? Read on—
East Bay Druids and interested folk in the East Bay have been gathering in Berkeley since around Beltane of 2015. Our next public Beltane ritual will be on April 23rd in Live Oak Park in Berkeley. While the ritual will be Druidic, we’ll be doing the Anglesey Druid Order’s Triskelion ritual, all are welcome, of any spirituality or none whatsoever. We do two gatherings a year, around Beltane and Samhain, and if you want to get on our events mailing list just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also gather once a month to do something Druidic, anything from learning a skill to talking about a topic to taking a walk in the woods. We take it in turns to lead a meeting, and here are the next three scheduled offerings:
Anglesey Druid Order Triskelion Ritual
Sunday, April 9th from 12-3PM
We are currently meeting in North Oakland, within walking distance of Ashby BART. Email email@example.com for location.
This month’s offering is an introduction to the ADO Triskelion ritual in preparation for our Beltane ritual in Live Oak Park on April 23rd at noon. Erin Rose Conner will be presenting. Three of our members learned this ritual from Kristoffer Hughes. It was created by the Anglesey Druid Order and works with the Realms of Land, Sea, and Sky, rather than the four elements. We’re gauging interest in this form and also looking to train others so you aren’t always looking at the same folk taking the ritual roles, and so we have some people in the circle who know the call and response bits! (hint—a little basic Welsh is involved and easier to pick up than you might think—particularly if we’re all doing it together!) We don’t do anything without translation, and we were complete newbies not very long ago.
Druid Forest Walk
We’ll meet in the Redwood Bowl Staging Area in Oakland near Chabot Space Science Center.
May 14th 10:00 (note the time! Two hours earlier than our usual meeting time!)
Google Maps directions from Skyline Blvd and Joaquin Miller Rd:
Our possible destinations include the Fairy Ring, the Redwood Bowl, and the Blossom Rock Navigation Trees.
There are bathrooms and water available at the Redwood Bowl, but water bottles, sunscreen, good walking shoes and clothing for a range of temperatures recommended.
If you can offer a ride or are looking for one, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to match you up with someone. It is possible to get there by public transit, AC Transit Line #339 goes to Chabot Space Science Center and #39 goes to Skyline and Joaquin Miller Rd. Email for more detailed directions if you need them.
Talking With Odin at the Hearth
June 11th from 12-3
We are currently meeting in North Oakland, within walking distance of Ashby BART. Email email@example.com for location.
Dave Shultz will be reprising his Pantheacon offering Talking With Odin at the Hearth. The World Tree will be involved as well.
We’re always open to new folk, and new presenters. You need not attend every meeting, just the ones that interest you. All Druids of any order or none whatsoever welcome. Consider this a spiritual salon of sorts, on the topic of Druidry.
This is how my bodhran came back from Ireland. Yes, we had a good time, and this would have happened eventually, but it is also going to be an adventure returning this instrument to playable condition. I asked around in Dublin as to bodhran repairs and was told that people generally replaced the drum. If this advice had come from a general music store I’d thank them politely and go looking for another opinion, but this had been a little traditional music store where you had to knock to be let in. The experience that followed was a conversation as much as a shopping expedition and the place was filled with traditional instruments of all descriptions, and nothing else. They only sold D and C tin whistles, as that was all session players needed, but no matter. They knew their business and I was out of options.
I was playing in a session in a Dublin pub when I stuck my beater through my bodhran head. I slapped cellophane tape over both sides and kept playing. I babied the drum the rest of the trip, but knew in my heart this was it. Back in the ‘90s there was a music store south of San Francisco run by a rennie who could get bodhrans reheaded. My bodhran lost her perfect milky white head, but her voice remained deep and perfect. I didn’t realize how rare that was, or had become, till I tried to get the head repaired the first time it tore. Cody’s was gone by that time. I was afraid of changing this drum’s voice. I’d replaced the head on a cheap bodhran to learn the skill of doing it and while the tone is good enough to make it a good backup drum, it isn’t what I wanted and so when I got home from this latest trip I put my broken drum away.
I knew there was no point in patching the head again, as the skin was so rotten that even a patch with a huge overlap, using the old version of Barge cement (the kind that had enough volatile petroleum distillates to make your head spin, but bonds like a dream), but I was only delaying the inevitable.
On Monday I got brave. What’s the point in having a drum I can’t play? I’ve had a good goatskin lying around the front workroom for a few years now. I grabbed some tools and took the head off. That, of course, led to me having a good look at the state of the varnish.
Knowing that I’d pay for it later, I grabbed a sander and some 220 discs and cleaned up the rim. I’ve had this drum since my teens, and I just didn’t want anyone else to do this job. I’d forgotten how beautiful the inlay work had been when the drum was new.
Four days later and I still hurt from the sanding job. I was hoping I’d bounce back faster, but this is the exact task that disabled me from my deckhand job. It’s worth it. I’ll post the actual reheading job when I get the rim refinished and the new head on.
Blossom Rock was cut down to size a century before I was born. The primeval redwoods that kept ships from splitting their bottoms open on it were cut down around the same time. Today there is a young redwood forest in its place, sprouted from the sea of stumps that the people of that time left behind. The wood built San Francisco and parts of the East Bay, and after the 1906 earthquake, the nascent forest was logged again. Perhaps the house I live in today was built from those trees. Perhaps the glorious San Francisco Victorian I spent a few of my teenage years in was as well. We are surrounded by the remnants of the primeval redwood forest in the older parts of the Bay Area, the parts first stolen and settled by people who looked like me. One old growth tree remains in the East Bay hills. I’ve seen it from the ridge trail, but have not yet found my way to it. Perhaps it is the search that matters, not the finding.
I played hooky yesterday and went up to the Redwood Bowl. I went to see the standing stones, but ended up at the tombstone of the Palo Colorado–the Blossom Rock Navigation Trees. What did the First Peoples call that place? I do not yet know. They are alive and dead, all at the same time. The ghosts of a primordial redwood forest remain in the form of rings of young redwoods a century old. They sprang from the roots of the older trees, so are they still those trees, or their descendants? A truly Druidic puzzle.As I read the interpretive panels and looked at the marker, I felt the sense of loss in the pit of my stomach. Like Glen Canyon. Like the Mother Of The Grove. So many places despoiled and destroyed by people who looked like me. We will never look upon them, never know their true beauty. We will never experience what it was like to stand among those trees, look on that mountain, travel along that river. It’s gone, stolen from all of us long before we were born. Reading this hurts. But it’s the legacy that is left to me and my people. It’s part of what makes me a Druid. It’s my job to hold the memory of my people, good and bad, and the place we live.
It is sad to stand there in this forest with no complexity, but the wilderness here in the heart of the East Bay, accessible to me by bus, is truly a gift. I can see the shadows of what was stolen from all of us in less than twenty years. A forest of stumps just to build San Francisco and some of the East Bay… For all I know, I was living within one of those trees when my parents bought a beautiful Pacific Heights Victorian in my teens. They had had the redwood paneling that graced every room sandblasted before we moved in, and I remember it well. I was very sad to leave. I hope that building lives for even a fraction of the time it took for those trees to grow the first time.
As I stood in those circles, I could see in my mind’s eye a pale outline of those giants. Their shapes are palisaded by the younger trees, and it is strange and somehow wonderful to walk through that space, even as I grieve for the forest that I never had the chance to see, and that will not stand there again for a thousand years, if ever. Yes, it was stolen from all of us, but we stand at a strange and wonderful moment in time. We are called to bear witness, and to learn the ways of connection that will keep humanity from doing such an awful thing ever again. It hurts to have this responsibility, knowing we will never see or connect with the forest that is gone, or the forest that may be, but holding the space for both and seeing the young forest that is here now is like looking through time.
We stand in a strange, beautiful, terrible moment in time. We are at the neck of the hourglass, the moment the chrysalis splits open. What was lost is an open wound in the moment the realization hits. It is the meaning of hiraeth, a Welsh word that means a longing for a place never seen. We who live in this time stand at the gates of the future. All of us, of all races, cultures, life ways, are the ones who will open those gates—or close them forever.
There’s one last thing I found in that grove that needs mentioning. Behind the tombstone is another brass plaque, and a bench. It’s a memorial to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit completely composed of Japanese Americans, many of whose families were behind barbed wire. Destroyed trees, stolen lives. How completely appropriate, and how sad. Someday, I hope there is a memorial to the First Peoples of the East Bay up there as well.
Pantheacon 2017 had an energy and a practicality I’ve not felt in that way at that place before. It felt like awakening, like we’d discovered a sense of purpose.
We are cracking the chrysalis at last. As a world we are finally on the path to becoming what we need to. We are creating the structures that will become the base of our survival. This process is difficult, scary, and utterly necessary and I am grateful that we are at last getting to work on it. I saw and participated in rituals that had a new energy and purpose. I heard people speak with passion and offer suggestions for action that are practical in the real world, not just at Pantheacon or in some ideal future. There were discussions that might lead somewhere outside that delicious bubble we spent the weekend in. In the outer world, there was a general strike on Friday and a weekend of protesting and action. We were weirdly part of that, even as we stood between the worlds, some of us choosing not to spend money on Friday, some passing out ribbons that referenced specifics in the political world to hang from our con badges, plans being laid. The conversations swirled around next steps, and the negativity was largely transmuted into practicality instead of hatred.
The new dawn is here. I saw a film about Awen where the goddess whispered the spirit of inspiration in peoples’ ears. It could have been the motif of the weekend. We showed, with permission, a segment of the documentary Standing On Sacred Ground. The whole series shows what we will lose if we do not act, and the struggle of indigenous peoples worldwide. This particular segment showed the struggle in California to keep Shasta Dam from being raised. If this happens it will destroy the Winnimem Wintu way of life. It showed how much they have already lost, and what we all will lose if we don’t stop this from happening now. Even if it were not vitally important for our existence as humans to keep these cultural practices alive, it is simple justice that we stop taking from the First Peoples here, and fight to return what we can, not just to them, but to all of us. They are in real, concrete ways, preserving our balance and connection to the world around us. We will not survive as a species if we don’t also give our own labor, creativity, and energy to solving our collective problems and learn our own ways of connection to the land and each other, wherever we live. If enough of us understood the importance of this, we would not need to be told–we would know–and this understanding is what we must create. We who are not indigenous do not realize how we have been uprooted, and what we lost when our own indigenous ancestors lost their homes.
This was only one segment of this inspiring and important series and we showed it because it specifically applied to California, where we were gathering. I would recommend the whole series to all of us, as we all need to know about and participate in the process of re-indigenization that must occur worldwide. Our lack of connection is killing us as, unknowing, we cut the web of life from under our own feet. Like reseeding an old growth forest, it will take far more than a human lifetime to complete this process, and our future lifeways will look very different from the cultures we live today, but we must begin the task.
Here in California, water is a real problem–but it’s one we can solve. We use it without thought. We turn on the tap without thinking, waiting for it to get hot or cold, trusting that it will run forever. We shove the responsibility for conserving it off on others, or we throw up our hands in learned helplessness. We say that we need to grow the food that feeds the country, we need to supply the needs of our cities and our economies. While this is of course true, we don’t have to do it by destroying cultures thousands of years old. We don’t have to deny the tribes who were here before us recognition of their existence and their rights. The fact that we are choosing these ways to meet our needs is a failure of imagination, and an unnecessary act of violence. We have all the tools we need to solve our problems without causing the deaths of other cultures. For instance, we use water in completely inappropriate ways. Composting toilets, graywater systems, and drip irrigation are only some of the technologies available to us to change this. But that is a post in itself and this is a post about Pantheacon, a source of inspiration we can use to fuel a whole year of growth and change. If we understand the destruction we are causing and the false choices we are making, the hunger for the answers will create the path and the will to follow it.
How many other ideas will come to us out of simple connection to the earth, and the people around us? The very meaning of the word “religion” is to re-connect with the source. We don’t have to gather in a building or listen to the words of some wise person to do that. It’s as close as our next deep breath and because there are so many ways to do it, reconnection is accessible to all of us. Have you looked at the trees in your neighborhood? How about the sky? I saw the grass growing out of the cracks in the hotel deck, pulled the fresh clean air into my lungs and felt the solid concrete under my feet, holding me up. I remembered my place in this world, the work I can do with my own two hands with nothing more than that. Those same hands type these words even now as I remember the things I learned and give them form and hopefully permanence as I pass them on to you. Maybe you will find something in them and add your own ideas as well as we all work to do what is needed to heal our world and ourselves.
Pantheacon is a cauldron of ideas and energy. We all bring our own ingredients and add them to this container that we create every year. Long conversations, songs shared and ideas swirling in hallway and conference room blend to create more than the sum of the parts.
I didn’t get out much, frankly. We were running the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids hospitality room and it is still a fairly new and growing thing. Its roots are not deep, there are few of us to sink them into a fairly sterile space. We have the one room, as a result, and what we can carry in one car. A small fairly empty space can be a great opportunity, though, and it is not surprising that a lot of attention is needed as the shape of our shared inspiration is revealing itself within it. Philip Carr-Gomm was kind enough to send us enough of a donation to create some very inspiring banners that do a lot to change the space, and are light and compact. Kristoffer Hughes has been kind enough to present in our room for the last two years. We are open, as most rooms of this type are, for long hours, and in many ways the conversations and inspirations come to us. We are an ingredient and an environment within this larger cauldron and this year was no exception. If anything, we gained strength and purpose–and hands to help.
We need the fun and inspiration of Pantheacon. It may feel like play, but without fuel, the fire dies. The work will not get done. Meetings, phone calls, marches and political campaigns are hard work. So is retooling a whole world, which is what we need to do. We can’t go on as we have been. We can’t all get our food from feedlots and factory farms, we can’t all drive, one to a car, to everything we do. We can’t fill our needs with things that are used once and thrown away–but all of those things are the only lives many of us have ever known. We judge the utility and beauty of a thing by how convenient it is, and how much money we pay for it. That is a very seductive and powerful equation and if it isn’t the actual truth, or the accurate cost, we have to have more to offer the majority of the world that believes in it than what they will see as hard work and deprivation. We have to be able to show people how our lives are better for this understanding and insight, and how the work to create this culture of responsibility and hard work is also one of joy, beauty, and happiness greater than the superficial convenience and variety that has been sold to us.
We’ve settled for so little when we could have so much. We’ve left the work of politics and government to a small segment of the population and what have we gotten in return? We’ve outsourced the creation of the necessities of life to people who only measure cost in terms of money and we have air that isn’t safe to breathe, water that isn’t safe to drink, and food that makes us sick. In many places we can’t grow food in our own yards without making sure the ground is safe to plant in. When is the last time you drank from a river or a spring? Picked fruit from the trees in a wild place? Ate food from your own garden? Saw the Milky Way from your backyard? These things are true wealth and once we all had them. We can have them again. What we give up–everything we buy entombed in plastic, clothing that falls apart within a year or two, plastic dishes from the dollar store, food that cooks in five minutes in the microwave but makes us sick–is it really worth having?
Pantheacon is not perfect. I cannot live on gin and Dennys food for more than a few days. The beautiful, indomitable weeds on the patio are no substitute for even the trees in my neighborhood, let alone a forest. But after I’ve spent a few days with people who value our connection with nature and each other, I see the street trees with new eyes. My mind is full of new ideas and I feel ready to get to work. I have chickens in my back yard because of the relationships I have with other Pagans who taught me how to take care of them. My firm intention to stay on my feet, on a bicycle and on the bus grew out of my connection with the earth and in this car-centric culture I live in, is sustained by it. My willingness to be a pioneer of the new way of life we must build comes from the knowledge I have gained and the joys I have discovered in knowing how to do things in ways that take into account all the costs of the necessities of life. Really, what is a necessity? Your choices will undoubtedly be different than mine, but if we all work on our own part of the problem, we will find the answers we all need to make life comfortable, beautiful, sustainable–and just. For all beings.
This is important stuff. Hard to hear, harder to understand and apply, but absolutely vital to our collective survival.
How An Occult Metaphor Can Help Us Understand this Decaying Landscape
DURING THIS STRANGE and difficult time, I have, as a spirit worker, attempted to draw connections between the past, present, and future, connections which could shed light on how things got this way. In the process I came across the following reflections. I would like to share with you my thoughts on how occult forces can emerge in the human psyche , and how that can have political implications.
There is something eerily familiar about Donald Trump. When I watch him I feel a lot of things…fear, rage, sadness, anger….and something like déja vu.
How could he seem familiar?
I have never met him, and though I have known countless assholes in my life, there is something unique about Trump when it comes to vileness. But what is this elusive quality? There are countless blogs and rants about this vileness, and…
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I don’t know what touches me more–the way you have captured the essence of the moment we stand within, or the way you have captured the essence of fire.
feeding inner fires ~d nelson
Total freedom awaits these energy’s
return to cosmos’ frozen vastness.
However, during the remainder of this heart’s
brief precious lifetime on earth,
fires of love, compassion and healing, blaze.
There’s a wounded child
constantly crying for help
inside of this fragile heart.
Self love warmly kindles
while hurtful words & actions
gust hazardous firestorms.
Breathe in difficulties, breathe out empathetic connection.
May I continue listening to the difficulties & pain of others.
I’ve just read that:
now only 550,000 individuals are homeless in the US, nightly.
Most Americans cannot afford adequate health care.
Displaced workers are not adequately helped
reintegrate into the labor market and acquire skills.
Such injustices stoke anger’s flames.
Incoming government officials speak of registering
members of certain faiths, if not internment or deportment.
This before, or perhaps after building a wall between neighbors.
Meanwhile California’s drought has killed more…
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This bubble of Possibility holds the future and Now is the time to shape it.
The U.S. had just elected someone who will move us beyond the body and soul crushing policies of neoliberalism and several steps closer to unbridled fascism. The desperation of the people who, as James Baldwin said, “believe that they are white” to maintain the system of white supremacy is about to take on an even more brutal expression.
Whiteness was a concept invented to create a hierarchy between poor, displaced English and Scottish farmers sent to America to work off their debts and the people kidnapped from Africa to work the same fields. Its purpose was to convince the newly-minted white folk that there was something in it for them if they kept Black folk down.
The descendants of those British peasants and millions more displaced from Europe by the violence and poverty that marked the rise of capitalism are now being told that their struggles for economic survival…
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I’m looking for the stars in their eyes at the sight of tall masts and white sails.
I’m looking for the woman I once was, eyes on the horizon, feet on the topgallant footropes and hands on rough canvas. She’s out there, I’m hoping that she will still be out there a century hence doing the work I once did. Now that I can no longer do it, I’m looking for the next set of hands who will take joy in making ships brave with paint, bright with varnish and black with tar.
I work in a museum of ships. I came there with stars in my eyes. I was so taken with them, their beauty and the adventures that could be had aboard them, that I took the hands of the sailors that came before me and volunteered to help care for them. My weekends were filled with the lessons that only an historic vessel and living sailors can teach. I learned the precise language required, the names of things and tasks that allow specific instructions to be passed in few words. By doing the various jobs that must be done if the boat is to make it to the future, I forged relationships with every vessel I worked in. I couldn’t help it—I came there in love with adventure and the sea, and it wasn’t long before I fell for the ships too.
There is nothing like being part of a crew. I’d wanted this since my teens, when I was a Sea Scout. A wooden whaleboat wasn’t enough, but being female, there was no way at the time that I could find to take the adventure farther. By the time I returned, in my late thirties, tall ships had become, if not common, far more numerous and it wasn’t long before I made my first trip as a volunteer. Times have changed. Women are an accepted part of this world now. I came to it too late to do it for long, but I have been out of sight of land in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans now, furling sail high above deck, the sky close enough to touch. It has changed me in ways I couldn’t have foreseen and wouldn’t trade for anything. The adventure has been mine for long enough to know how to share it.
I don’t sail in these ships any more. I can no longer do the work, and I won’t inflict myself on a crew if I can’t do my share. But I can still be useful ashore. I know how to do the work and can teach others. I can transmit that DTI—that Deckhand Transmitted Infection of love for the vessel and joy in being part of a crew. Working where I do I can be there when those people walk in with stars in their eyes and I can tell them the things that no one was there to tell me. I can tell the stories of the ships and help everyone who wants one to find their connection to them. So many people come in with a fantasy. Pirates are a starting point, but adventure is a shared experience and sailors are far more interesting. My treasure chest is full of memories, tools, and skills. Sunrises shared as the watch was gathered around the tiller, the ship plunging and rising as the wind carried us along. I went aboard my first ship with a duffle bag full of books. I was afraid I’d run out of things to read in three whole weeks at sea. I’ve never been aboard a ship where there wasn’t an active and varied bookshelf. My canvas ditty bag is on the shelf in the next room, filled with everything I need to repair a sail or for that matter, fix anything else made of heavy fabric or leather. That is something I can still do. The knots I know are just as useful for tying down a load on a bicycle or a truck because these skills are not all limited to ships and sailing.
I’m looking for the next pair of hands now. The tasks and the ships are passed from hand to hand, sailor to sailor. The language of ships is an oral tradition. You can read about it, but what seems incomprehensible on the page is perfectly plain when the tools are in your hand and a living person is showing you how it’s done. When I tell you that the ship will also tell you how to do the job, you’ll probably think me fanciful—or insane—but it’s true. You just have to speak her language. You probably know part of it already. Flaking paint or bare wood or metal is easy enough to spot. Knowing how to prepare and paint the surface is not hard to learn. Is something broken? If the vessel is well cared for, the same equipment on the other side is probably fine and can serve as a guide for repair. Experience will tell you what is dangerous, what is annoying, and what is just unkempt.
A vessel forges a group of people into a crew, by the simple act of caring for her. A vessel without a crew will soon be gone. It’s expensive to take care of a boat. They truly are holes in the water into which you pour money. This is why a boat without a job is destined for the breaker’s yard. The time and effort her survival demands requires a purpose for her existence. The next pair of hands must be sustained by the work. So a vessel and a crew live in symbiosis, we both need to earn our keep.
My museum is that purpose, on both sides. When I talk of the vessels, I count their existences as museum ships as careers, as legitimate as their time carrying cargo, fishing, or any other purpose they served. Their cargo now is memory, education, and to serve as our living memory. I learned the beginnings of a trade in them and would be learning still if injury had not cut my days as a hands-on member of the crew short. I earned a living aboard then, and I do so still. In my own personal symbiosis I, too, carry memory and knowledge. A museum is a place where Muses dwell. Those vessels are nothing less. The people of my nation, and visitors of all nations are willing to pay to maintain these ships, and so they go on living. They grow ever more precious as the years pass because there are fewer of them every year. The sheer amount of work that is necessary to maintain them, and the lack of an obvious economic return for that labor means that many are lost. FALLS OF CLYDE is fighting for her life even as I write. WAPAMA was cut up in 2013, and WAWONA in 2009. Those three are just some of the latest casualties on the West Coast of North America.
Discovery is sexy, maintenance is not, except for the few insane individuals like myself who find meaning in scraping paint and tarring down. Those next sets of hands who will take these vessels into the future are a rare breed, and so my job, essentially, is being paid to be that crusty old sailor who used to haunt the dockside. Being able to make a living doing it is a relatively new development. The maintaining of ships simply to serve as repositories for memory and the teaching of skills is a product of prosperity. It is difficult, when money is the yardstick, to see the sense in it, but how precious is the maintaining of skills in the human database? What price can we put on living memory? If we value it enough to continue doing it, then we as a species will still be able to go to sea under sail, and the bodies and minds of those who choose to do so will still have the option of being shaped by that knowledge. We will retain something rare, a very special way of life and a hard and rewarding school for those who choose to enroll in it. The skills will possibly become very useful if the oil runs out before we find another means of powering our civilization. Wind will always be free, if fickle, and it is up to us whether or not we will still remember how to harness it.
This morning I woke to Nimue Brown’s refreshing retake on The Burning Times. In true Bardic fashion, she did it in song.
I’ve had thoughts along these same lines—as a matter of fact, I was given a message to deliver on my return from Albion. Until I read this post I wasn’t sure how exactly to do it. I’m still not, but it has to be done. Samhain is the appropriate time, and by now I’ve processed the experience enough to be able to do it without the anger and fear it came to me in.
Mt. Tamalpais is the place I camp at most often because it is one of the wildest campgrounds I know that is easily accessible by public transit. The bus is going up the hill whether I’m on it or not, and the long trip was a chance to really look at my home as I passed from the concrete and glass of downtown San Francisco, the endless expanse of the Pacific as we crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge, and the wild beauty of Marin County. I needed to make a trip to my local sacred mountain on my return, before the green of Albion had faded and the gold of my native California looked normal again. It was a mile to Rock Springs and my usual stomping grounds, and I took my time getting there. The day was heating up and the trail is steep. I was standing in the grove of Douglas firs that was my first introduction to the mountain well before noon and it was there my revelations began. I got more than I bargained for.
Why was I up here all alone? I thought on the circle of friends that used to come here. So many are dead, so many more unwilling or unable to come here any more. It’s a long way up this mountain, even by car, and as we grew older, and fewer, more and more of us just didn’t find it worth the increasing effort. Lately, it’s been just me, my partner, and people we bring to see a wonder.
What of our new friends? Few of them are willing to make the journey. More and more of them have punishing schedules, or don’t see the point or expense of the journey when there are closer wildish spots to be visited. Many of them are sick as well, mentally, physically, or both.
This train of thought was growing increasingly depressing. I looked to my own actions. Why hadn’t I invited anyone up here with me today? If I was alone, surely I had something to do with that fact. I thought of all the invitations I’d issued, and how many had been declined. I thought of all the times the trips that had been made had been shortened because of discomfort, disinterest or illness on the part of my companions. I thought of the timing of this trip, and my recent trip to Albion. I’d come up here because after that experience I had a deep need to bring that time of magic and mystery back here, to my own sacred place. There was no one willing or able to make this trip with me now, when I needed to go. I was up here alone because the friends of my youth were unavailable, as are the friends in my present.
I couldn’t stay in the grove any longer. It was full of ghosts, and I wasn’t feeling too good myself. I walked back to Rock Springs, and then took the first trail that called to me. I felt like I had the flu, and wondered if the illness I’d fought back over the week before was returning. My throat was scratchy, and I was sneezing. I wasn’t really sick, I just felt unwell. I sucked on a cough drop and walked.
My first impulse was to go back down the hill, pack up my gear and go home. My first action was to get myself out of that grove, and I did, in fact, walk back down the trail towards camp. I needed to go to work in a couple of days, I couldn’t afford to be sick. Did the mountain call me to stay, or did I choose to do so on my own? Part of the decision was the fact that the first bus in a three hour journey wouldn’t be arriving for four more hours. Part was that I had paid my camping fee and I wouldn’t have another chance to come up here for a few weeks at least, and the rainy season, if it came, would be here soon. My connection with the land was stronger than my impulse to leave.
I stopped at the first lovely place that called to me, where the laurels grew among the rocks and I could see the whole north end of San Francisco Bay. Mt. Diablo, another sacred place, rose in the distance. The boats of Sausalito were specks on the water, and Angel Island was snugged up against Belvedere and Tiburon. First the shade of the grove was inviting, then the sun. I was still feeling sick, wasn’t sure if I was too hot or too cold but the puzzle of what was laurel and what was oak held my attention. The oaks are being ravaged by sudden oak death and the presence of laurel seals their fate, but I had never noticed just how similar the twists and turns of trunk and branch could be between the two different trees without the leaves to identify them.
I thought again about why I was up here all alone. Now, away from the grove, the rightness of this journey and this place finally came to me, and with it the realization of why that was. So many of us are too sick to be here. My bouncing back and forth was a symptom of the mental unrest, my uncomfortable breathing of the physical. I was feeling what the earth felt. As are we all.
As long as we keep doing the things that make the larger organism of which we are a part sick, we will continue to be sick too, in the larger sense. As long as we make excuses for doing the things we know will make us sicker the only changes that happen will be for the worse. There is no excuse. The cold laws of nature and the universe don’t care why we do the things that add to the illnesses we are creating and worsening by our behavior.
I’m not saying you yourself are making yourself sick. I’m saying that those of us who are are like the canaries in the coal mine. The numbers are going up as more and more of us, proportional to the population, develop cancer, diabetes, depression, and all the other illnesses that come from breathing bad air, eating poisoned food and drinking water laced with toxic residues. We can’t poison the insects and weeds that eat a proportion of our crops and not expect those poisons to march up the food web back to us.
We, collectively, are fouling our nest, making ourselves sick. With that sickness comes the natural urge to rest and recuperate, and so the separation is increased. We decline invitations, we let things go. We climb into the car, the ultimate means of separation from the Earth and each other and drive distances we can easily walk or take transit to. We don’t feel well. We need to rest. We need to take care of ourselves.
In my case, taking care of myself meant opening up and really listening. It meant carrying the message I was given. I’m not the only messenger, after all. Once I did that, I found my breathing easing and my restlessness as well. By late afternoon the fog began rolling in and I walked down the hill in the cool, damp evening. I built a fire and made a cup of tea, still feeling that planetary malaise, but glad I hadn’t cut the trip short after all. What good would it have done? It isn’t my sickness, but it is. I cannot cure it with rest or medicine, and I know that ignoring it will only make it worse. All I can do is deliver the message, listen to the world around me, and choose life. I still don’t know what that means, and make of this message what you will.
This is Samhain, the time to reflect on the dead and the year that is ending, or waning, depending on your personal spiritual calendar. We have all the tools to hand to heal ourselves and our planet. It’s up to each of us whether we choose life or death.