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

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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