It Begins With Me

Forest Path
Forest Path, Llyn Tegid, Wales

We live in wonderful, terrible, pivotal times. It’s scary, yes, but I think fear and the anger that often comes from it will be the thing that will destroy us–if we let it. I think awareness is the opposite of fear, and I think it can only come to us from a place of peace. I think we are the ones who are determining the future, and that is a heady bit of knowledge, and a great responsibility.
We are each our own spiritual authority. We are free to believe–or not believe–whatever we choose, and to work in the ways that feel right to us. We are free to put our feet on the path to peace in as many different ways as we can imagine. I believe that our strength lies in this freedom, and the wisdom that comes from it. It’s harder to work in this way. You can’t just show up and do as you’re told. There is no certainty save that which comes from our own hearts, yet we humans cannot create community from those things that we hold in common until we know what we hold in our own hearts.
If I were going to ask us all to do anything, it would be to find out, moment by moment, what lies in your heart. Take a little time every day to hold peace in your heart. How does it feel? What does it look like? It doesn’t have to take very long. It can be done hanging on a strap on public transit, on the walk out to your car at the end of the day, in the morning or the evening, or during your shower. I do mine as I travel through my quiet neighborhood in the early morning, alone on the streets of Oakland. What would the world look like if everyone had this peace I hold within myself, alone among the trees of the urban forest, walking the folded hills? What if everyone knew that they would, more likely than not, come home every night to their home and family? What if everyone knew they had enough to eat, a roof over their head, and clothing appropriate to their needs? What would our world be like if everyone knew that we are all part of the web of life, and that what we do to that web we do to ourselves? What would the place you are standing in right now look like in that world you hold for a moment each day?

Yes, my neighborhood will have people shouting in it later in the day. There will likely be gunshots. Demagogues around the world will inflame their followers to fear those who are different and incite people to violence. There have been bombs and death in Belgium, and there is death daily no matter where we are in the world. But right now, I am at peace, my neighborhood is at peace. It’s hard to remember to spread that peace during the day, but each moment I can keep my mouth shut when something nasty wants to come out, each moment I can avoid dehumanizing someone else because they’re annoying me, because they live in another country doing things in ways different from my own, or have done something I don’t agree with, I’ve made the world a better place. It starts with me, and it starts with you. It isn’t easy, but I think it’s the most important work there is because ideas spread. We all need to make sure there are a lot of good ones in the mix.

I think those of us who live in a bubble of peace, who live in a world where we see our loved ones come home every day, where if they don’t it’s a tragedy and a surprise, rather than something we face the reality of each day, have a duty to send that deep peace out into the world however we can. Let it spread like a cool fog, an inner silence that lets us hear our own inner voices. Let it wrap us in the knowledge of all the tomorrows that wait for us.
What ideas will you spread today? What peace will you create?

Cormorants in the Cauldron

The cauldron formed by Municipal Pier in San Francisco
Aquatic Park, San Francisco

I work in a poisoned Cauldron, filled with plastic and wicked currents that take you far from where you thought you were going if you’re not careful. It was made from government money and the visions of the artists of the 1930s, who walked off the job when they found out their work was going to be used for private gain rather than be open to the general public.

Morfran Afgaddu might have felt the same when he found out that a young boy named Gwion had been conscripted to do the work that was to create the Awen his mother Cerridwen was brewing for him. Did she ask him if he wanted such power? Did he have a choice, did he participate in any way in the task of creating that brew? If he did, the Tale does not record this. Was he ready to receive what had been brewed for him when the Cauldron gave up its power? Did Gwion push Morfran aside to steal the Awen, or was it an accident? It was meant for the one who stirred the Cauldron, regardless. You can put a lot of learning into a year of stirring, after all.

Would you like to go on a boat ride with me, the oars stirring the Cauldron as we see where the current takes us? I am a sailor, after all, I have spent long hours with time and tide in this lagoon. Morfran lives here in the cormorants who dive deeply when they feel your eyes upon them, in the yearly round of tern and grebe and the starlings who are briefly here. Would you like to float in the Coracle and see what wisdom comes to us?

I’m here, of my own free will, trapped upon a spear planted in the mud of the lagoon. Held here by the love I bear for the Ladies in this Sanctuary. I am a link in the chain, keeping the ships alive by the work that I do and my eyes that see what ails them and does what is needful. I’m here because my parents took it in their minds and hearts to come here. My tenancy is less than a generation deep, but I am here where I belong, where I was meant to be. Was I Called, and did not know it? Were they?

This land, Cascadia, was meant to be made of Salmon, the fish of knowledge, who swims in the Well of Segais, who snaps the nut from the hazel, discarding the husk and keeping the kernel. Cascadia is kin to Albion and Ireland, connected by Salmon, by the Land, so similar, yet so different. I have stood on the shore in both lands, looking westward out to Sea. The Celts went ever Westward, and so my ancestors, Northern Europeans of many countries, came westward until we fetched up here, on the Shores of the Western Sea, where Land, Sky, and Sea meet, where it is said that poetry is born.  The Salmon run is a shadow of itself now, the fishermen lying idle, their boats growing old as they lie in harbor, waiting for a season that is cancelled, the quota too small to put diesel in their tanks. Stan Rogers sang it, he heard an old song down on Fishermans Wharf. The last schooner lies done in the harbor sun, with her picture on a dime. Gewgaws and gimcracks replace the fish, the crab, the sailors. You can get a shot glass with a picture of Alcatraz, but the crab come from Washington State, if you’re lucky.

Afgaddu is still here, though. The cormorants dive in the harbor. Gorse is the wood of the cormorant, Onn, sole of the foot, the Wheel. The journey is there to be taken. The speckled wood of the ogham fid is in the waves that brush the shore and Afgaddu became a warrior, his ugliness no barrier to the warriors who followed him. His Awen was inside himself no matter what his mother thought. He knew himself and dove deep till the drama was done, and then became himself, a fearsome force. The black bird floating upon the wave, taking his prey. I have stirred Cerridwen’s Cauldron for a year. I have stirred the Cauldron of my work for more than nine. I work in a poisoned Cauldron, but I know I am part of the healing.

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Oak tree in a yard in Oakland
Oakland Oak

I’ve always been a city kid, so it’s hardly surprising that I’m an urban Druid. I dream of forests primeval, I’m even on occasion lucky enough to visit them. I am a lifelong Californian, living in the cheap seats of Oakland across from my hometown of San Francisco, so I’m blessed with bits of the old growth forests that once covered this state mere hours away by car. I’m car free though, so getting there takes ingenuity–and friends.

This forces me to get up close and personal with my own urban forest. The trees around us aren’t a cheap substitute for the natural world–they’re the world we have built. Don’t say that you’re not responsible for the way your city or neighborhood is because we are the ones who made it that way. We have the power to change it every day. Responsibility is not just a blame game. It is literally our way of responding to the world around us. Do you hate the trash around you? I know I am not fond of it. So I pick some of it up. Not all of it, I’d be doing nothing else. I’m selective. I concentrate on plastic and scary glass and I just grab a piece or two, the ones that call to me. The broken bottom of a glass with the points sticking up. I see that embedded in my knee and I grab it before someone gets badly hurt. The rubber band that I see in a seagull’s stomach.

The funny thing is, by doing this I have entered into a conversation with my world. Gaia encourages me. She tells me jokes and gives me gifts. The scattered shreds of red plastic near Ocean Beach that I reluctantly decided to pick up before they ended up in the water turned out to be rose petals scattered at my feet. There are oghams in the flight of birds across the sky and awens made of scattered balloons from the street vendor who makes balloon animals. The grass at the side of the FoodsCo in the Mission yesterday had bits of tumbled bottle glass and several round stones arranged in a random, but beautiful pattern. It couldn’t have been wholly natural. How do round tumbled stones and beach glass find their way to the edge of a dirty parking lot in the middle of the city? The stinging nettles around the chain link fence were as beautiful as any botanical photo.

I sat down at my keyboard to show you the beauties of the urban forest and ended up in the weeds. How typical. I was rubbing my knuckles as I walked towards transit, but it was only a glancing blow. Later that same day I walked through my neighborhood to say hello to my greenblood neighbors. The aspens next to the stairs on East 20th St are still asleep, their buds green and swelling, but their branches are still bare. They were the first trees who had a conversation with me and there are very few left. They are slowly being taken out by a more involved neighborhood group that is cleaning up the area. The garbage is gone and the hillside is being replanted. That is what we humans do, though. We have planted most of the trees in our respective areas. The aspens are not native, nor is the huge palm and the eucalypts who share that hillside. The Monterey pines might have grown there by themselves, but I doubt it.

I cross Fifth Avenue with care. Few people walk in this neighborhood, and Fifth is a very fast street once you get past the small shopping district on East 18th. There are hawthorns in the next block, and I touch their bare branches. They, too, are still asleep, a few red berries clinging still but the leaves are hard greenish buds. The hawthorn Queen at the top of the block is the same. She will burst out in white flowers in a few short months but now she is skeletal, her long thorns bare and sharp.

There’s a redwood with a doubled trunk in a yard a few blocks further on. It is well loved as is the yard that surrounds it. The fence has been replaced with two-by-fours that mark the perimeter, but are obviously movable as the tree grows in girth. I stop and touch its soft green needles and whisper “Happy Spring” before continuing up the hill to the gnarled olive at the top. This tree is a magnet for furniture. People sit under it and talk in the summer, and the street is littered with its fruit each Fall. I think of Poseidon’s salt spring as I admire Athena’s far more sensible gift, a tree that can serve a community in so many ways.

I pass under a couple of large pin oaks as I continue towards home. There are still acorns on the ground under them, as well as fallen leaves. They are so large it wouldn’t surprise me if they, like the large redwoods, were here to witness the building of the neighborhood. The oaks would feed us if we had the sense to let them. They certainly feed the plentiful squirrels in the area. I see them often, running on the wires and telephone poles as well as the trees.

I used to beg Gaia for a new posting, but this is where I’m planted, for now. I am here to see the green, to notice the trees and the animals and the life all around us. I’m here to plant my own seeds of awareness, and to nourish the ones in you who are reading this. So many of us live in cities, and that isn’t likely to change in the near future. It may be part of our evolution as social animals. We made these cities for good reasons. They are cauldrons of change, mixing different cultures, ideas, peoples. This is reflected in the trees. Palms grow next to redwoods, next to aspens and magnolias. None of us, individually, freely chose to be here. We are planted by circumstances only partly within our control. We have to live with people we wouldn’t have chosen as neighbors for many reasons, but the dance of sharing space can bring out the best in us as well as the worst.

Since so many of us live in cities, this is where the world is most likely to be changed. I may dream of living in the forest, but I know that I have a responsibility to the future. I was shaped in the city and carry its gifts within me. I grew up hearing many languages spoken around me, wrapping my tongue around names that sang of other lands, playing with kids of many different races. That doesn’t make me immune to prejudice–I don’t think that’s possible for any of us–but it did give me a base of comfort with people who aren’t like me. It made me crave difference in people, foods, clothing, points of view.

I notice as Druids, so many of us devalue the cities we live in. We view them as necessary evils. we dream of escaping to the country, and we frankly spend more time in our cars, and at our destinations, than we do in this environment that we have made. I hear rural Druids lamenting the fact that all the big events happen in cities, and it’s difficult and expensive for them to attend. I hear them talk of their isolation, as I hear of Urban Druids talk of our disconnectedness with nature. I watch us all pile into cars, either to head for the city, to be with others of like mind, or to escape to the country, where we are more in touch with nature. This is difficult, expensive, and damaging to the environment we all profess to love.

So what is the answer? We’re going to have to discover that together. But I think that we can start by loving where we are, and by getting out of our cars whenever possible. Walk your neighborhood. Meet your green neighbors. Meet your animal and human ones as well. If you don’t like where you live, look for your true home by all means, but maybe it’s closer than you think. Land, Sea, and Sky are available to all of us, any time. All you have to do is concentrate on what’s beneath your feet, what fills your lungs, and the tides that flow inside you. Gather online, or, like the Druids of old, create gatherings large and small and support those around you. Above all, realize that like it or not, your life is being lived where you are, and bloom where you’re planted.

Over the Sea to Skye…

I went to see Scathach and her castle. I, too, fell in love with the place and hope to go back. Thank you for the detailed travel log of what you saw and why you loved it.

Christy Jackson Nicholas, Author and Artist

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

SkyeDunvegan11

These poignant words can evoke so many images for those that call Scotland home. It could be a rallying cry for an independent Scotland, or a sad reminder of a lost opportunity for such independence. It could even, in more recent times, bring forth images of the show Outlander, which has adapted the song as its theme.

The Isle of Skye in Scotland is one of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, and one of it’s most sought destinations for travelers. The reasons for this are clear; it has the most varied attractions in the smallest, most accessible area.

The name Skye may come from an early Gaelic word, Skitis, which means winged. The arms of the island’s peninsulas do look like the…

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Mother Of The Grove

Dead sequoia snag, burned, with the sky showing through the holes where its branches once were
Mother of the Grove, California

There is a dead seqoia in the middle of a grove in California. Burned, but standing as if still alive, she is telling the story of her own death. Faint lines, eight feet apart, ring her trunk. They are the marks left by the workers who built a scaffold and removed her bark in eight foot wide sections, to be taken to London and displayed in the Crystal Palace. In 1908, she caught fire. She is beautiful even so. She stands, even though she is gone.

I went to the primordial forest with a pack of Druids. We’d just gone to Pantheacon, and were sharing our forest with a Druid from Wales. He’d shared Llyn Tegid with me, and it seemed only manners–as well as first rate fun!

We were completely unprepared for this, and maybe that’s how it should be. That’s why I’m not telling you where this was, though it’s easy enough to find out if you want to know. This tree broke our hearts. Opened our hearts. Made us ask the question, how could we humans do this? She stands to remind us that we must never do this again. She is a warning, she shows us the guilt and pain we have already bequeathed to the future in what we have destroyed, and asks us if we want to continue to add to it.