Posted by: BART Station Bard | January 25, 2017

Donald Trump & The Babbler in the Void

This is important stuff. Hard to hear, harder to understand and apply, but absolutely vital to our collective survival.

GODS & RADICALS

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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Posted by: BART Station Bard | November 19, 2016

Compassion’s Prescribed Burn

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.

smilecalm

feeding inner fires ~d nelson 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.

cozy fireplace cozy fireplace

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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Posted by: BART Station Bard | November 13, 2016

Against the Winds of History

This bubble of Possibility holds the future and Now is the time to shape it.

GODS & RADICALS

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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Posted by: BART Station Bard | November 6, 2016

Looking For The Stars In Their Eyes

The sun setting through the rigging of a tall ship

Sunset Aboard the Lady Washington

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.

Woman helping to rerig sailing ship

The next generation, bending on sail as the season begins.

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.

Crew members in the rigging of a tall ship

Modern tallship crew

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.

Looking down on the deck of a tall ship from high in the rigging

Standing on the fore topmast cap

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.

Remains of a metal sailing ship lying on an Oregon beach

Wreck of the PETER IREDALE

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.

San Francisco Bay from the deck

The view from the fo’c’sle head

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.

A rainbow created by the washdown water in the sun

Rainbows in the wash water

Posted by: BART Station Bard | October 31, 2016

The Earth Is Our Body

Laurel grove in the late afternoon

Laurel Grove, Mt. Tamalpais

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.

Stone with a face in it

Rock Guardian

Posted by: BART Station Bard | October 22, 2016

I Believe in Offering, Not Suffering

Stinson Beach and a Seagull Caught In Flight

Stinson Beach and a Seagull Caught In Flight

   I believe in offering, not suffering. I believe in paying it forward, not payback. Most of the debts we all owe to those who gave us life, including the Earth itself, cannot be repaid. Our mothers and fathers likewise could not repay their parents, their teachers, their elders—they could only continue the line by giving to us, their descendants and successors.
   The creatures who gave us life—the chicken I had for dinner last week, the vegetables that made up a salad, the cows that made the cream in my coffee. I can’t give life back to them, but the components of my own body, built of all the food I ate and water I drank, that should and must be returned to the earth to nourish those who come after.
   We have been given so many gifts! We give in return, whether we want to or not. We breathe out–and the green world breathes in. Every evening the trees slowly exhale, and our red blood has oxygen to carry. When we take our last breath, our bodies return to the Earth. Our best efforts to prevent this do no more than slow the process, taint the gift that we should freely give as we return to the cycles of life. I look forward to setting a handsome table, to some part of me seeing through compound eyes, becoming petals that open to the touch of the sun.
   What will happen to the I, who writes these words now? I do not know, nor do I need to. I will not stand in this place again, but somebody will. I look each morning on proud vessels of steel and of wood. My work is part of their very fabric in layers of paint, well greased steel, canvas stretched across wood with copper tacks. As I sanded, scraped, pounded, if the gods are kind others will do the same. When they take apart my work, as I have taken apart the work of those who came before, will they say “that was well done,” will they notice the tiny wall and crown that ends my well-turned seizing?
   A sailor’s signature very rarely carries a name, as the molecules of air that enter our lungs do not carry to us the knowledge of their journey. The crew, or the forest remains barring catastrophe, but the trees and sailors pass into memory. The ship remains only as long as there are people who care enough to do the work and do it well. Love holds the world together.
Posted by: BART Station Bard | October 10, 2016

Where Nothing is Sacred

Well said.

Stone of Destiny

I have placed these two pictures together for a reason.

pipeline in sacred ground

Some people might look at these images with a sense of pride, taking from them a message that sacrifice and hard work are what make a nation great.

Others might find this particular juxtaposition somewhat uncomfortable.  There is, after all, a serene perfection in the image of Arlington National Cemetery that we in the West have come to expect in our monuments.  The mirrored layout of the two photos, however, might suggest that someone could tear into that hallowed ground, that the one image could somehow become the other.  And this corruption, this desecration of the sacred, should I hope, put us ill at ease.

And yet, we are even now, gouging into the Earth, plowing a petroleum pipeline through sacred land in North Dakota, stripping away the dignity of the honored dead and dispelling the environment, all in the…

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Posted by: BART Station Bard | October 7, 2016

The Druidry of Time

Grey sky, the green hills reflected in the still waters of the lake

Llyn Tegid Stood Still

   I decided to change up my commute this morning. I left the house before first light, listening to that small, still voice that is easily drowned out by the roar of daily life. I stepped directly onto the bus, and got a quiet car on the BART. I  got a good long look at the red streaks of dawn through the window just before the train dove under the Bay.
   This gave me time to walk to work from the station. I’ve been walking the other way, after work, in an effort to preserve some of the peace and clarity of my recent trip to Albion. If the afternoon walk was good, the morning is even better. I got to walk through the coolness and quiet of North Beach before the cafes are open and the sidewalks full of tables and people intent on their phone screens. I’m here at work before most people get in and am able to sit and write for a bit after spending some time alone with My Ladies, the ships who form our collection and carry their cargo of memory into the future. I am able to spend a moment or two reconciling my Druidry and my current livelihood in a way that allows me to build some more of that deep connection into the life I am living, the shape of this moment in time.
   We are all, to some degree, caught in a web that we don’t like, and it is often difficult to see our part in the weaving of it. We make choices and often are forced to do so without all the facts to hand, or in spite of the facts. I chose to be where I am now. I came here to serve these vessels and in the cool of morning, before I’m trapped in matters that have little to do with these Ladies and in fact have no part whatsoever in their survival, I can remember why I’m here and make as much time for my true work as possible.
   I picked up a sprig of fresh rosemary from the sidewalk this morning. I inhale its fresh scent and block out the tribal babblings in the next room. This moment is still mine. The darkened light of Autumn shines through the window and picks out the rich colors of the signal flags fluttering from every mast. I made every one of those hoists, party clothes for My Ladies. They don’t wear them often, but when they do they are resplendent indeed. This is the last time those flags will be flown before winter and I wonder if a century from now someone like me will be looking at another set of them in the same way.
   The space of a century is how I spend my early mornings in this place. I walk through the ferryboat, the only sounds the slap of the water and the creak of mooring line and gangway. I see all the ships of this collection in that time, a time when I and all of the people that inhabit this slice of time with me are dead. We are gone, but the vessels remain. Like the forest, the individuals that make up the whole live their lives, do their tasks and pass on, but the crew remains. Without the forest, the very air we breathe does not exist. Without a crew, the vessel is dead.
   We talk a lot on taking the long view. Thinking of our responsibility to our descendants, to our effects, with our actions today, on the seventh generation. I think that we only pay lip service to this for many reasons–among them short term gain, and the personal consequences of acting from this knowledge, which often puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to our actions in the present day. Taking the long view is hard when everyone else thinks in terms of next quarter or next year. There are rewards, however. The feeling of expansiveness I get when I think of that person a century hence standing on this deck where I am standing right now, feeling that same sense of oneness with the ship, is to align myself with the ages.
   I remember one specific job I helped with when I was still a volunteer. We were restoring a bilge pump, original to one of the vessels, and it wouldn’t come apart. It took us weeks to coax it to break loose. We tried everything, penetrating oil, torches and hammers,  railroad jacks and Johnson bars–we permanently bent an iron bar an inch thick in our efforts. Eventually we persuaded the rust that sealed the top shut to yield. The pump slid smoothly apart as the corrosion that held it fractured. The inside was almost bright. The leather washer was rotten, covered with something silver and flexible. It was dried out grease, which had served to protect the metal even after fifty-odd years. We didn’t know that sailor’s name, but the evidence of his skill and pride in the vessel was there before our eyes. The job had been let go for many years longer than it should have been, but the pump was still repairable. Without that thick layer of grease–much more than had been needed to do the job, we might well have been looking at a solid block of rust.
   I resolved that day to be that sailor. Whenever possible, I added extra coats of paint, varnish or tar to any part of the ships I could. I mummified the engines of a certain ship in the same sort of lanolin-based grease we use to coat the bilges of another, grease that was so good that the company that made it went out of business because it lasted too long to allow them to survive. I remember scraping the last of it out of 55 gallon drums in the warehouse, alone, filthy, and having the time of my life. I miss those days more than I can say, when I was directly involved in the preservation of the ships. Maybe, if I’m very lucky, someday someone will take apart one of the many jobs I’ve done and thank that unknown sailor who went the extra mile. Maybe they’ll learn, as I did, that that kind of love is what keeps ships alive, that we are all links in the chain, passing hand to hand the knowledge and skill that gets us to the future.
   This is one of the many reasons I am a Druid. We are all keepers of the future, but my spiritual practice specifically calls me to preserve and protect the past, in the present, so that our collective memory makes it to the future. We are keepers of memory, because without a knowledge of where we came from we can’t make good decisions, even for the next quarter or the next year. We are living in a world where that kind of short term thinking, fueled by the gifts and tools that the accumulation of memory have given us is bringing us to the brink of disaster. We know what we need to do to help our world back into balance, though too many of us fight like demons to keep from taking up those tasks. My job, my spirituality and my life are at the moment all reflections of that same understanding, here at dawn, with the winds of Albion still caught in my hair, the lessons I have learned still fresh in my mind.
Posted by: BART Station Bard | October 2, 2016

Travelers Don’t Know Where They’re Going

Sunrise through the treesSunrise through the trees at Alfriston Camping Park

Dawn at Alfriston Camping Park

Travelers don’t know where they’re going,
Tourists don’t know where they’ve been.—Hostel Wall in Inverness

I saw that quote on my first trip to Britain and Ireland, and it neatly sums up my approach to traveling. I plan, loosely, but leave as much wiggle room as possible. The world has a much better idea of what I should be doing and where exactly I’ll be going than I do.

I expected to do a lot of blogging on the trip I’ve just come home from, for example. That didn’t happen, and I’ll be doing my best to make up for it now. There was too much living packed into too little time. Old friends and new, and people I wanted to see but didn’t get to. I planned carefully, but allowed for last minute changes wherever I could. Hostel reservations, for example, can be cancelled, in most cases. The few times I did get hooked for an extra night, it’s usually cheaper to book in advance and eat that cost than to try and get a bed on arrival. Train tickets, likewise, are much cheaper in advance, and a few minutes with a site like trainsplit.com will let me know which fares never change and what the difference in cost is if I book a nonrefundable fare in advance, or get a fare that can be changed or canceled. Besides, I find trip researching a particularly pleasant form of daydreaming.

Loaded bike trailer and laid out bivy sack in Alfriston Camping Park

Camping in Sussex

My first stop was Anderida Camp, in Sussex. It was the first stop on my first trip to the UK, and it was a bit off the beaten track this time, but I was determined to return. I had missed climbing the Tump in Lewes the first time, and thanks to some time on Google Earth before I left, this time I was able to walk right to it. Thanks to some overambitious travel plans though, by the time I got there I was in a slightly altered state. I’d gotten about two hours sleep in the last 48, and had learned by then that Caffeine is Good, Food is Dangerous. I found I could function as long as I remembered that, and kept busy. It took two cabbies and an online map to figure out where camp was—I knew, but they didn’t, and I was giving directions from a different country, really. I walked in there at around hour 50, but this time all my friends were there, and I was soon set up among their tents, being fed tea, and generally having a wonderful time. I was also talking to Tony Stark by then, and by hour 55 I felt like I was surrounded by pillows. I decided I’d better sleep, and missed the opening ritual.

I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling much more grounded in reality, and went to the fire. A weekend of connection and community followed. Anderida Camp is known for Burning Things, and this camp was no exception. The firesides are also the best to be found anywhere. There was the happy-off, where we all played the happiest music we knew, and the hippy-off—well, you get the idea. A camp-wide version of the Age of Aquarius had us all on our feet. This, for me, is the heart of Druidry. Connection with people, and with the Land. Once again I felt the chrysalis around our world. It may feel as if we are dying, but it is only the old ways dissolving to make way for the new. This, I think, was one of the reasons I didn’t know why I was making the trip, or the shape of it. I still don’t, but the work I have to do is before me and the more of it I do, the clearer things become.

Maybe it was the ridiculous marathon of getting to Camp, maybe it was meant to be, but I lost the pouch with all my magical things in it somewhere along the line. Among them was my set of ogam feda. These look like a bundle of sticks, but they represent the ogam alphabet. They can be thought of as wooden tarot cards, though the system they represent is more a skeleton on which oral knowledge is hung. It is a way of memorizing such knowledge and organizing the relationships between it. The first letter, for example, is called Beith. The word means Birch, but it is also associated with Ban (white), Besan (pheasant), and beginnings. Among other things. The old Bardic schools used to teach oral knowledge, and for the first three years, students memorized 50 sets of associations for each letter. Once that structure was in place, their education continued with stories, philosophy lessons, grammar, etc. A Victorian reconstruction of a list of their studies can be found in P.W. Joyce’s A Social History of Ancient Ireland. One of the sets of associations are the different woods in the Irish forests, and modern use of this system tends to emphasize that set of meanings over the others. Accordingly, I decided to make my first set out of the woods. It took me many years to learn to recognize the trees and collect the various woods, and make the first set. It was very hard to lose it, along with my first Awen, and the pouch full of items that was attached to it, the presents I had for people, and so on. However, gone was gone. I could grieve over what were essentially things and let the loss overshadow the trip, or I could realize that I made many of the things that had been in that pouch, including the pouches themselves, and treat this as a new beginning.

I was in the land where the forest reflected the ogham. I decided to treat this as a “final exam.” The first set I’d constructed had been made by trial and error. I know more now, and can do a better job this next time. I also have a chance to make a set that is wholly from the forests of England and Wales. My first set reflected my own American state of being, being constructed from woods from several states as well as a few I could find only in Albion. My first trip gave me the last woods to complete that set.

So my trip was a chance to look closely at the forests around me and find the trees I needed. It was a chance to connect with each tree, and exchange gifts. It was a chance to create a ritual to contain that sharing, and to explore the difference between giving and theft. I didn’t have much time, and I am not completely satisfied with how I went about this task, but I did complete it, and learned a lot in the process. I came home with a forest in the form of a bundle of sticks. I know now that I can recognize every tree in the system in its natural habitat, and I have a ritual for collecting that creates connection between the gatherer and the gathered. I have seen a community in a field of Heather, and had a centuries-old Oak throw a branch at my feet. I know where each wood came from and can remember the conversation we had. Most of all, I am involved in a process, and am learning the phases of creation of a set as a set, rather than disparate woods gathered at different times. All of them came home with me as a bundle of green wood. Now I am in the process of stripping them of their bark and allowing them to dry completely. That has to happen before I can choose a size for each fid (wood), as each stave is called. I also have to decide how I will shape them this time as I no longer have access to the tools I used the first time.

Not knowing, but trusting, was a wonderful way to travel. It wasn’t all good, but neither is life. I feel as if the Land was testing me. The first two trips the red carpet was rolled out. I was cradled and protected by the Land. This time, more is expected of me. The gifts were no less munificent, and I count the tasks among them. What I lost may be the catalyst for someone else when they find what amounts to a kit for Druidry somewhere. In the meantime I have articles and songs to write, blog entries and recordings to make, and experiences to share. I have friendships and memories to sustain me here on the Shores of the Western Sea. I am blessed beyond measure by the Druids and the Land of Albion.

Chalk path--South Downs Way

South Downs Way

 

Posted by: BART Station Bard | September 16, 2016

The Shape of Now

 

A bare hawthorn tree on a high hill, twisted by the wind into fantastic shape.

Windswept hawthorn, Windover Hill, Sussex

“Travellers don’t know where they’re going. Tourists don’t know where they’ve been.”   –Hostel wall, Inverness

I still don’t know why I’m on this journey, and though much of it was carefully planned, the actual shape of it is still unfolding. My journal is packed to bursting, as is my heart and my mind, but I have a lot of catching up to do as far as the blog goes. I meant to turn out polished, well thought out posts, but that will have to come later. For now, come have a slice of adventure with me!

The Druids of Albion are being so good to me! I am in Stroud right now, in the home of hobbits. If you’d asked me to pick a place to come to, I’d never have known to choose this one. I thought I was going to Glastonbury again, but this is definitely the place to be. My hosts don’t drive, which means I am seeing the place by footpath. There is a wonderful network of them here, and it is like being in on a great secret. The cars whizz by on the roads and we must occasionally cross their paths with care, but our world is trees and birds and the good earth beneath our feet. The canal is part of this network, and passing by the great locks is an echo of both the past, when they were in use, and a taste of the future, when they will be again.

I saw my first moorhen. It even did bird yoga for me, stretching out one wing and one foot, so I could see the shape of each. It hopped into the water, tail flicking as it paddled off. Jackdaws are everywhere. We walked to a large park to gather for the full moon just as the birds gathered to settle for the night. I’ve never seen or heard so many in one place at one time. Their strange popping calls were everywhere.

The local Druids gather in the park like my pack of friends used to, way back when. This feeling of being superimposed between past and future remains with me as I remember what was lost as the years go by. We stand in a small circle, in the dark, among the trees and share songs and stories. Kermit the Frog recites Ozymandias and we hear the story of a man who wandered into the Otherworld with his sheep. We sing, and this group actually picks up choruses quickly enough for us to all sing together. I haven’t heard their songs, nor they mine, but we are perfect in our imperfection, and our joy.

This place feels like the world I meditate on every morning on the way to work. It does exist in pockets, places where people can be themselves, where I feel I can catch my breath and be myself. This group wears what it likes. I feel like I can put all the message buttons back on my pack, and no one wonders if I’ll hurt my feet when I run around in sandals. I feel normal, whatever that is, and among my own kind. As I did at Anderida, and as I undoubtedly will at Bala. We are growing the world we need. It is in the process of becoming, as the world always is, but this time is different. We are living in wonderful, terrible, pivotal times, and places like this, where people sing and walk the footpaths unafraid in the dark, where the animals and plants are as much a part of the community as the humans, show me what the future will look like. Rooted in the past, living in the present, and one with the planet.

I was planning to go on to Bristol, not having met these folk before and not knowing their plans. I ended up canceling my hostel reservations. I’ll catch the train to Bristol in time to go north. This place is too tempting and I can hardly wait to go exploring. There are so many trees here, and such community. This is a place I could get used to and I know that this is where I was meant to be right now.

 

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