Posted by: BART Station Bard | May 15, 2017

On the Mountain

Green meadow, a trail, and a view all the way to San Francisco

I spent the first day of summer on the mountain. I had planned to go up there by bus, as I generally do, but a good friend offered me a ride, and so the trip began with us in a grove of huge firs on the edge of the continent.
Being carless can open up possibilities that aren’t available if all you have to do is walk out the door and turn a key to get somewhere. A shared experience can be, like yesterday, deeper and more satisfying than being up there alone. That particular grove was full of ghosts last time I went there by myself. It was nothing more than the passage of time. The people who first took me there, in the morning of my life, are both gone. So many other friends who shared the place with me are scattered, gone or moved elsewhere. There are so many memories, mostly sweet, associated with the place and those moments in time. How could I not miss them? My partner and I were wed there. So were some of our circle. The only cure seems to be bringing others there, and making more memories.
The grove has changed over the years. Some of the trees are gone, others are growing, not in their place, but as a younger part of the grove. I remember the aftermath of a fire that wiped out a new stand of saplings. It taught me something about the role of fire in this landscape, for the following year the blackened, bare ground was transformed and the grove was new and fairy-beautiful. The thickets that had been taking over the edges were gone, and the green had returned, delicate and more varied than before. The saplings returned too, in time, and now they are taller than I am. Going there with others is similar to the greening after fire. I may have gone alone for a bit, but others use the space as well. After all, it is only my circle of friends who had their time and are now gone. We found the remains of flowers near the altar stone on this day before Beltane. The circle of stones around it was scattered and I did not put it right. Maybe next time, or maybe that is yet another change that has come. That circle was not there when I first came there, after all.
My camp was minimal, but comfortable. Pantoll is first-come, first-served, and since my days off are Sunday and Monday, I usually have the campground largely to myself. If you come without a car, there’s a hike and bike spot that is considerably cheaper than the rest of the sites, but I chose to take a site by myself at the top of the hill instead, a place where I could see the sunrise and be away from the noise of the road. I had a new tent and camping stove to try out and wanted to see how much it would add to my load. The bus stops at the ranger station, so it is possible to camp by bus with more than you might want to carry long distances. The camp has lockable food boxes, and I brought a lock with me, so I dropped my gear, pitched the tent and was off to enjoy the last day of Spring.

Flowers of spring on Mt. Tamalpais

From Pantoll there are many paths to explore. I chose the Old Mine Trail, which is steep, but beautiful. There are plenty of places on the way up that will tempt you to linger, and it’s only a mile and a half to the top of the hill. All those places were full on this day–the entire mountain was full of people–but they were all there to enjoy this day between Spring and Summer—and they were outside. I hiked up slowly, the peace of the mountain settling around me. It’s changing again. So many oaks are dying, sudden for them, but years of human time encompassed in their passing.
Sudden Oak Death is endemic now.  The trees that have it can’t be removed, doing so would only spread it faster. I can see the mountain adapting. So many places that were shady and green are now bared to the sun. Firs and laurels are moving into the light left, and like any dying thing, portions of the process of the oaks being reclaimed by the earth are not pretty, but there is such beauty in others.

Dead oak, branches strewn around its trunk with young firs growing up around it.

Once their tangle of twigs and branches is cleared, the fallen limbs fall apart in rivers of rich brown. Their silver branches contrast with the green around them, particularly in this year of abundant water. The new growth on the living trees is so pale it approaches chartreuse, and so luxuriant this year that whole young firs shine that color. The laurels and firs will have their time now, for the rest of my short human life I’ll watch the oaks decline, but they too will adapt. The ones who learn to survive will have a place in this woodland and we will learn from them in our turn. For now, the dead and dying oaks stand like ancient statuary, shorn of limbs, shooting out new growth for as long as they can. Their trunks are marked by their disease, myriad patterns and so many shades of brown all the way to the silver that surrounds them in their dead fallen branches.

Brown rotted wood spilling out of a silvered trunk.

I sat with that grove of oaks for a while. I was sorry I hadn’t seen it in its green coolness, but on a day like today, I was venturing farther off to the sides of the trail for rest. I could see what it had been, and I’ll have a chance to see the beginnings of what it will become. By the time I got up to Rock Springs the parking lot was so full people were pulling to the sides of the road, using any turnout they could find. I find that being without a car limits me a bit in what green places I can get to, but it also allows me to get to know the places I do go in a deeper way. A place like the mountain has so many layers and so much beauty that I am still discovering places I’ve never seen after years of exploring.

A small seasonal streamlet flowing across rock next to the path.

There was so much water! The whole mountain was singing the song of it. I could hear Rock Springs before I got there and filling my bottles took seconds. I drank deeply of the cold, clear water in a way I haven’t in a long time.
I came back to a nearly empty campsite, wanting a cup of tea. The ranger at the window when I’d checked in couldn’t sell me kindling for my camp stove, only a bundle of wood, but when I came back there was a plastic mesh bag with kindling in it lying on the stump at my site. At a campsite, you really do subsist on the kindness of rangers… It turned out to be more than enough to boil a pot of water and I found out that while the new biolite stove (URL) is indeed efficient, and the perfect toy for a firebug like me, it is also voracious. It turns little bits of wood into power, heat, and light, but you have to be there to feed it. It seems a fair trade to me and I was happy to be able to top up the charge on my phone. It was actually nothing short of magical to know that here is a tool that feeds off of what is abundant in any forest–small sticks, and with nothing more than a steady supply of that I can cook without damaging the ground and keep my electronics topped up.

Stove and electronics charger in one

I woke up as the sun was coming up. I’d had a fire as well,  since I had the wood and who doesn’t like a fire when camping? I fired up the stove again and made a cup of tea, then went walking on the trail to Stinson Beach. I wanted to see the wildflowers and walk in the early morning. When I got out there I wished I’d taken the time to pack up, because I’d have been free to walk all the way to Stinson Beach. Another nice thing about going without a car is not having to return to where you’re parked. It’s a different kind of freedom. I can’t stop at every place that looks interesting by the side of the road, but neither am I tied to the road. The trail to Stinson Beach is only 4 miles, but by the time I got back to camp and packed up, there wasn’t time to walk the whole way by the time the bus left.

San Francisco from Mt. Tamalpais

There wasn’t enough time by any measure. I only had a day and a night, and I knew I’d only get a taste of what I was after. A car wouldn’t have made much difference and I wouldn’t have been able to spend the whole time on the bus down the mountain looking at the scenery if I’d driven. The trip would have had a different quality and I would actually have seen a lot less than I did. Walking every day has slowed me down in ways I never expected. The journey is every bit as important than the destination, and I’m free to spend that time in conversation with the landscape.
The trees and the rocks tell stories, and not all of them can be photographed. In a wooded section of trail, for instance, an oak had begun to fall. A crotch in a limb broke its fall against a fir. The oak was sick, the two ends of the limb were ravaged by Sudden Oak Death and reached out in something that looked like terror–or was that just a trick of perspective? It had hit the fir many years ago, hard, because the trunk was knocked well off center, but the fir had had time to grow upward again in a graceful arc. Both trees were still alive, and the drama beside the trail will likely be playing out for many years to come, barring further catastrophe.

Oak breaking its fall on a fir tree

Farther along is a laurel that lost the battle with wind and  torrential rain. It lies downhill, roots like a wall next to the trail. The crater that they occupied has now become the trail and there’s a rock there that was the perfect place to sit and look at the parts once firmly in the soil. I was sitting where the tree had once stood, looking at the stones still wrapped in roots, and each other.
In a forest that has been allowed to have these conversations with itself there is much to be learned. Root and branch and rock intertwine and shape each other. Straight, salable timber is nowhere near as interesting or as alive as a forest that has had time to get to know itself and has many different species living and growing together. The meadows, largely bare of trees, are full of flowers now and the dark green and the light show us where the water is. It is early summer now, and every flower and green leaf is singing life with all it has in it. Very soon, now that the rains have gone, the green will slowly fade to gold. The song of bees will turn to grasshoppers and the high song of Summer with its one clear, clean note. If I go there then the days will be hot and dusty, and just as I smell of oak right now, then I will smell of Lugh as I walk the trails. I’ll be doubly grateful for the spring then.

Spring wildflowers in the evening sun

If you want to camp on Mt. Tam, directions and total trip time from your location are available on 511.org. Just search for directions to Pantoll Campground. You can get a number of buses out of San Francisco near Civic Center that cross the  61 South Route. 

Oak wood on ground

Posted by: BART Station Bard | April 17, 2017

We Choose Life

Gibbous Earth rising over moon

Earthrise from Apollo 8. Dec 24th, 1968

Every morning I leave my house before the sun is up. As I walk to work I see the trees leafing out and the good green Earth opening to the rain, the sun, the fog. Our current situation, the spectre of global warming, our separation from each other, the roar of traffic, I see them all as quaint relics of the past. I spend a few minutes in mythic time and see past, present, future. I see this moment in time when we stood at the center of the hourglass, the choices we have made narrowing behind us until we reached this point between past and future. I see the moment when we chose life.

We are living through the beginning of planetary awareness. We are also at the beginning of an extinction event. We exist in wonderful, terrible, pivotal times. The decisions we make now are changing the very face of Gaia.  We are the descendants of those who took the terrible road to dependence on fossil fuels, the stored sunlight of the ages. We are the ancestors of those who will live in the world that we leave them. Will they curse our names, if they have breath to do so? Will they revere us as the ones who changed the course of history and left them this good green Earth to live and grow on? Will the spiral of life and growth continue ever upward as the hourglass fills once again?

As I walk through my neighborhood, I name my blessings. On nearly every city street there are trees. Grass grows in the cracks in the pavement. Gaia clothes herself in green no matter what we put between the soil and the sky and she will not be denied. As I walk through downtown San Francisco and along the base of Telegraph Hill, I do the same. Small trees grow even in the heart of the Financial District, but the steep sides of Telegraph Hill are wild, barely tamed by retaining walls and nets of cabled steel that hold back the falling rock, once mined to ballast the deep holds of ships. Trees cling to the earth, their roots spread like fingers dug deep into soil and rock. Birds sing here and in this wet spring, water sings a song of plenty in the concrete we have set to direct it to the Bay.

I give thanks for my job, my home, my partner. I am thankful for the deep peace of knowing that in all likelihood we will both come home safe tonight. I take that deep peace that pervades my life and spread it over the whole world, thick and green. I take a moment to see what the world might be like if everyone had that peace, if everyone had food, shelter and clothing appropriate to their needs and their creeds. What would it be like if we all realized our connection and that what we do to this world we all share we do to ourselves? What would it be like to live in a world where everyone was doing exactly what they were meant to, giving their unique gift to the whole?

I see a world where we all woke up and realized that we are determining the shape of this planet and what creatures live and which ones die. This knowledge shocked us, saddened us, shamed us. It also can bring out the best in us. We brought the world to this place, where the Great Barrier Reef is dying and the jet stream itself is changing its course. We did this, and we can undo it if we remember and act on our connection. I see a world where we chose life.

We chose life.
We chose to assume responsibility equal to our power.

We chose life.
We chose to count the cost of our actions on all beings before we took them, and to apply that same calculus to the actions we had already taken.

We chose life.
We chose to become the awareness shining out of Gaia’s eyes that we were evolved to be.

We are a sense organ of this planet. We don’t own this world, we give Gaia a way to perceive it in its entirety. We showed Gaia her face for the first time, beamed it across television screens and printed it on paper, then stored it on the internet where you can look at it right now. You are Gaia looking at herself. We are Gaia, aware of past, present, and possible futures. Extinction is bearing down on us and for the first time, Gaia can see it coming. We can work to stop it, or we can let our peculiar line of evolution and awareness be swallowed by it without even trying.

I don’t think we’re going to do that. I think that the ape falling over the cliff is endowed with superhuman powers at that moment and will manage to snag a root or a rock before going over the edge. I think enough of us realize what is happening and are willing to do the work that needs to be done. I can see it happening in this early morning, as I travel across town as my hominin ancestors did, millions of years ago, on two feet, looking with intelligence, memory and awareness at the world around me. Step by step I travel, part of the city of my birth, knowing the path I follow and seeing it change every day.

I see how it could change going forward. What if we chose to walk to our destinations? What if telecommuting replaced the river of metal, each car carrying one passenger, automation being turned to the service of all to free us from the “daily grind” instead of enriching the fortunate few? What if we all walked in our neighborhoods and so reconnected with each other and the place we inhabit? What f we could get the things we need in our neighborhoods, from people we trusted because we see each other every day? Walkable cities are possible, and property values are going up in places with neighborhood restaurants, coffeehouses, grocery stores, parks. The more time we spend outside the healthier and happier we are. As I walk I know that it makes a real difference in my life. I have time to think and I know where the olive trees grow. My body may not fit the ideal, but it is strong and healthy, and the aches and pains of age are manageable, so far.
If we worked fewer hours because we all shared in the gains in productivity, we could do more things for ourselves, things we outsource now. More than that, we could do what we were meant to do. Vocation has been defined as that thing each of us can’t not do. Might the reason that we spend so much time chasing happiness be that we haven’t the time to pursue it? Since most of us must take the job that is offered rather than do the work we love, is it any wonder that so many of us exist in varying degrees of misery?

What if we all knew each other? What if neighborhoods were not empty by day and full of strangers by night? What if we shared meals, and those huge expanses of concrete where we store so many cars were instead our gardens? What if apartments came with garden plots instead of parking spots?

What if we realized that true wealth has nothing to do with money? Clean air, clean water and the living, vital earth are far more important. We cannot live without these things. The wealthiest among us cannot escape the consequences of pollution. We all breathe the same air, after all. When was the last time you looked up at the stars? Even in the city it is possible to see at least some of them. What if we turned down the lights a bit and began to see the phases of the moon and the constellations as they change with the seasons? Our world would be a very different place, one where we would make different choices and where we might find our way past that great narrowing that is the story of Now.
The fresh air of morning, the darkness before dawn is the time for visions. We have so many of them between the covers of books and on screens of all sizes. Our awareness of past, present and future allows us to create and choose which to work toward. I hope enough of us choose life.

Moss-covered standing stone silhouetted against clouds and blue sky

Penrhos Feilw Standing Stone, Anglesey

Posted by: BART Station Bard | April 3, 2017

Searching For The Oldest Tree In The Forest

A broad flat trail through a spring landscape

Spring in the East Bay Hills

I’m a city kid, born and raised in San Francisco. I’m also a Druid, and while I love the urban forest, there are times when I just have to get off the pavement and into the woods! Here in the Bay Area we are blessed with wild places. It’s surprising just how many of them are accessible on public transit. Today I’m going to share one of my closest “nature fixes,” complete with directions, should you choose to see it for yourself.

Last weekend I found myself overcome with spring fever. I was close to a BART station, so I jumped on the Fremont train. Fruitvale Station is easy to get to for many of us, and blessed with many buses to the hills. If you feel like a cup of coffee or something more substantial beforehand, there are also lots of choices there, which makes it a great starting point. The 54 line to Merritt College begins its run there, and I was soon aboard on my way to paradise. The ride winds up 35th Avenue, through the Laurel District and up the hill past a variety of places of worship. Since my church is the forest, I felt right at home. I got off at Merritt College, the end of the line. From there I crossed the street, walked across the broad lawn and crossed the street again on the other side. This put me at the head of the York Trail.

Redwoods in the sunlight next to a narrow trail

Redwoods beside the York Trail

Almost immediately I was in redwoods. The trail winds down, switching back and forth across the steep slope. I didn’t cut the switches—why miss a single minute of this? Water was running down the trail, the last rain was yesterday, after all. There were few flowers, but the green was everywhere. In a few weeks, this place will be a riot of color and I am already planning my next visit. I could hear the creek running long before I got to it. At the top of the trail it is confined in a concrete culvert, a reminder that this is still the heart of the city. I crossed the little bridge that met the trail and turned right, going downhill with the creek.

Laurel marking the York Trail

Laurel Marking the York Trail

The only marker for the York Trail is a laurel tree next to a dip in the side of the main trail. The way is rougher and steeper than the main trail, but it is an invitation to inhabit your animal body. The hazels were just beginning to leaf out and the wet, wild smell of earth and new growth surrounded me.

Leona Heights was logged a century and more ago. The redwoods that grow in the canyon are all new growth, all but one. This was the adventure I chose this wet, spring day. Old Survivor grew in a hard place and was spared the axe. I found its crown, sticking high above the tops of the younger trees, but the drop from the trail above isn’t possible, or at least I don’t want to chance it. Today I worked my way down the trail till the forest called me, then struck out across the hillside. I followed the ways the deer took across the good green earth, through hazels and poison oak. I took my time, sang to Brighid as I stood next to a hazel with leaves and branches so small and fine they seemed to be floating in midair.

Hazel in Leona Heights Just Leafing Out

Hazel in Leona Heights Just Leafing Out

I could see the York trail below me and hear the song of water, so loud in this year of plentiful rain. I trusted my boots, jeans and thick canvas coat to protect me from the poison oak, like the hazel, just budding out, and to hide me from the spring breakers whose voices rang through the canyon. I was glad I’d heeded the call of the forest and that the wet undergrowth was quiet beneath my feet as I followed the deer paths from redwood to hazel to laurel. At every opening in the canopy I looked up, hoping to find the tree I was looking for, but the forest wasn’t going to give up its secrets today. The oldest tree in the forest would remain a quest for another time. When I ran out of deer paths I climbed back up to the trail I’d started from and looked once again for Old Survivor. The French broom was so thick from the rains that it was hard to find, but there it was, and the drop over the edge of the trail was just as bad as I remembered. I followed it to another side trail and back down to Mountain Road. A ten minute walk had me back on the Redwood Road, and at the 54 stop next to the Safeway. Home was only two buses away.

If you’d like to take this adventure yourself, here is a basic page on the area. If you find Old Survivor, let’s go hiking together!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: BART Station Bard | March 30, 2017

So goes the East Bay, so goes the country

Full disclosure–I wrote this, instead of my semi weekly blog post. And if you have an Indivisible chapter near you, it’s a great way to get involved in the movement against the Trump administration.

Indivisible East Bay

I wasn’t an activist when I arrived at Barbara Lee’s town hall meeting last Saturday. I’d RSVP’d to attend a day or two before the event, disgusted at the antics of Congress over the AHCA, hoping that I’d find some way to plug into the movement I can feel coalescing around me.
Indivisible East Bay did an amazing job of putting together the event. The energy was infectious. It was more than just the failure of the Dickensian “replacement” for the ACA, though we pulled strength from that victory. Our voices and applause filled the gym at Laney College. We knew we were part of something, and many of us, like me, were there for the first time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and our numbers are growing. We have to, as Barbara Lee said, “stay woke, work hard and resist.” She praised us for fighting, graciously…

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Posted by: BART Station Bard | March 27, 2017

Magic for the People

Another binding spell for45–well thought out and researched.

Crown of Stars

In February 2017 a ritual began to circulate on line that was designed to bind Donald John Trump, aka 45, aka any number of names one might wish to ascribe to the individual sworn into the Office of President of the United States in January of 2017, and all those who abet him.

That ritual is posted here: https://extranewsfeed.com/a-spell-to-bind-donald-trump-and-all-those-who-abet-him-february-24th-mass-ritual-51f3d94f62f4#.sfcwqlijo

I, along with others, participated in this magical action on the February New Moon. Following the ritual’s completion there were many conversations about its efficacy and other possible approaches to using magic to stop 45 and his crew from doing harm to the people they are sworn to protect. One idea was to go through the very oath he and his people had already taken and broken. I found this very appealing and set out to craft a ritual from this perspective.

What follows is the Working portion only.

All elements…

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Posted by: BART Station Bard | March 20, 2017

Disposable Values

   This is a little thing, but it’s something I’ve noticed and tried to do something about now that I’m part of a group that runs public events. The sheer amount of garbage that can be generated by one public ritual with food or one potluck in the park is surprising. Once upon a time, when most of the trash was paper or glass, it wasn’t that bad, but now that just about everything comes wrapped in plastic, it’s come time to think about what we’re doing, and what it says about us.
   I don’t want to load more onto the backs of unpaid, overworked organizers of events–I know how hard it is to even pull these things off, let alone think about sustainability in a world that does nothing to make it any easier, not even the simple things like providing drinking fountains and bathrooms with running water in public parks. I get that even getting to a potluck for some requires a quick trip to the store on the way and the choices will rarely be optimum. I don’t want to shame people, I just think we need to think about what we do, why, and how we can begin to make personal and cultural changes. I think it begins with honesty and awareness. When we make a choice, we should own it. No excuses, but no finger-pointing either. We can do more than talk about being connected to each other and the earth, and we can show it by respecting both.
   Now I know it’s a pain for an organizer to shlep a bunch of tableware to an event. I do it myself, and there’s a limit to how much I can bring. So I really appreciate it when people think ahead when they can. Drinking fountains have sadly gone out of fashion, but water bottles are available and could become the in thing for us. Likewise the steel insulated cup. If our personal tableware became as much of a fashion statement as our clothing and jewelry, it could even be fun.
   We run a room at a local Pagan con. We’re new at it, but getting better every year. One of the first things I pack are cloth dish towels, a sponge and a bottle of dish soap. It’s made things a lot easier for us and now I’m wondering if this could be a possible culture change. It’s a whole lot easier to bring washing gear than tableware for fifty, even the disposable kind. If we had ways to wash what we brought, and washing our own eating gear was as natural to us as washing our own hands, the “ick” factor would go way down. What if it became something that spread to the wider culture, like hand sanitizer seems to have? Manufacturers wouldn’t like it much, of course, as they wouldn’t be able to sell as much stuff to us in the form of disposable products, nor would they be able to plaster advertising over quite as many coffee cups, but would that really be such a bad thing? We seem to be adjusting to reusable bags after all. Could we go back to washing our own utensils as a means of knowing that they were really clean instead of needing something brand new every time to assure us of the same thing?
   I know these are big changes. I know there’s very little chance of this becoming a “thing.” I know there’s a very real possibility that no one has even read this far. But if you have, I want to leave you with a concrete example of a place where this kind of awareness worked.
   I worked Renaissance Faire for many years. We all carried tankards, knives and eating gear. Often we brought foods that would be eaten in the time we were portraying. It was part of the fun, and like our clothing it was another way of displaying originality and personality. It was also handy. I didn’t realize just how much easier it was on the land. Faire was, incidentally, the place I was introduced to Paganism. Sleeping on the ground, my eyes adjusting to the rhythms of day and night, I felt part of the time and place we were portraying. Those times and those people are long gone now, but the feelings and the habits remain. They bring me closer to connection.
Posted by: BART Station Bard | March 13, 2017

Druids? In Berkeley?

macrolevel

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 eastbaydruids@mail.com.

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 eastbaydruids@mail.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:
https://tinyurl.com/zpreyvr

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 eastbaydruids@mail.com 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 eastbaydruids@mail.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.

Posted by: BART Station Bard | March 9, 2017

Emergency Repairs

A damaged bodhran

Back From Ireland

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.

Closeup of the torn drumhead

An Extremely Temporary Repair

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.

The back side of the patch in the first photo

A Failing Patch

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.

A drum and a rim

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.

Damaged varnish

Thirty Years of Busking

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.

Sanded drum rim showing the inlay work

Sanded Rim

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.

Posted by: BART Station Bard | February 27, 2017

The Gates Of The Future

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.

Marker placed by California Historical Society to mark the site of the Blossm Rock Navigation Trees

Landmark #962 Blossom Rock Navigation Trees

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.

Madrone Picnic Area, Where the Blossom Rock Navigation Trees once stood.

Madrone Picnic Area, Where the Blossom Rock Navigation Trees once stood.

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.

Young Redwoods Growing From the Stumps of the Old

Young Redwoods Growing From the Stumps of the Old

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.

Plaque Remembering the 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Plaque Remembering the 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Posted by: BART Station Bard | February 22, 2017

Creating The Culture We Need

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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.

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