The Grove of the Old Trees

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I got to spend a little time in the remnants of the temperate rain forest that once covered my homeland. The presence of the trees was immense. We had come as Druids, to pass one of our own between us. My southern group had chosen to make the trek to the northern group and they gave us a place beyond any expectations to do our rite.

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It was a one way journey, as good adventures are. Whether you intend to return to a particular spot or not, chances are you won’t be doing it. On our walk around the place we stopped at an immense old growth redwood, hollowed by time and fire. It was large enough that all eight of us could fit inside. We sang cascading Awens in there, the space a gigantic resonator.

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I know that this huge silence, these gigantic trees, were once the way this coast was, but I’m still surprised by it every time I come within it. There’s something in it that is part of me even though I’ve always lived in the heart of the city. Given a chance, I would build my city within it, or a city that will not be seen for centuries as the big trees grow. There are redwoods in the center of 14th Avenue, and they dot my city in ones and twos. They are always eager to grow, throwing off green shoots from their large burls wherever the sun shines steadily on them.

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They remember what they could be, what they are in places like the one I was in on Sunday. This forest is mainly young trees, but there are venerable elders there, guiding the younger trees into the form they might become, if allowed to.

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Will we be here to see them, if they do?

Why Do We Prophesy Our Doom?

Hillside in Fairfax, CA

The Greenwood Message:
Why do you humans prophesy your doom? Can’t you see how it works here? Look at your cities. What do you see in every crack and crevice? The greenwood says we have always been here and always will be. Join us. Care for us and we will care for you. We are the tenacity of life. Are you? Why do you remove yourself from the green? We remember who you were and who you can be.

I took this down hurriedly in a workshop at Pantheacon. Given by Raven Grimassi , it was an exploration of plant spirits. It was like sunlight through my bones, water trickling across my skin. It echoed something Gaia had asked me to do many years ago.

She asked me to see the good that was in her. She asked me to see the green. It is all around us, always.  What we see is what we give life to. What kind of world do we want to live in? We humans have always created it, thought by thought, action by action. I think we evolved in order to create it. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries we wanted to go to the moon. By the end of the 1960’s, we had done it. We began with words on paper, visions that writers like H.G Wells gave us. We went on to images on film, such as Georges Melies A Trip To The Moon. From there we leaped from Goddard to the terrors of the Nazi rockets to NASA and the Cold War space race. War can be a terrible impetus for invention. But the images of Neil Armstrong and our first view of ourselves as a whole came from that, and changed us forever.

What we give our attention to is what we create. We all know this. The more attention we give to anything, the better the final product whether it’s a home cooked meal, a song, or a garden. Then there are things we co create. The life of a child, or the life of our world. If we are truly one organism, we are yet another function that life has cocreated. We are the awareness of past, present, and future. We are the planet, looking at itself at last and knowing who we are.

But what are we doing with this awareness? I love dystopic stories. The excellent Wool kept me up all night. Likewise The Book of Eli and and the old reliables like The Road Warrior and Soylent Green. The problem is, these sorts of stories, or their opposite, the “life will go on forever just like this” tale are so much the norm that anything hopeful and futuristic is like a breath of fresh air. It opens up the mind just as the stories of our destruction used to. Is it any wonder we’re heading towards these kinds of worlds when that’s what we’re feeding our collective psyche on? It’s as if we discovered a taste for excitement, like a drug, and now that’s all we want to consume. I’m no better. My song Kali Is Here is more of the same.

Most of the dystopic stories have a kernel of hope at the end. The problem is, it’s just a kernel and it’s not often fleshed out. The storyteller spends their time lovingly crafting all the various problems we have to go through to get that future, but no real time on the future itself. Even the few hopeful books of this sort, such as Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach and Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing bring our current problems with us in the form of soulless robotic governments for the brave Utopians to fight against with all their anti Establishment courage and conviction. It’s better this time around, the Utopians already live in their paradise, but they must now fight to defend it. Even when the war is won it is rarely over for good.

Is this what we really want? In fiction, after all, we can play out any scenario we choose. I think we can get from here to the future without mass death or war. I think we can use our knowledge and awareness of ourselves and the planet we live on in service of the whole to adapt to the changes we’ve caused. I think that’s just as much of an adventure as The Handmaid’s Tale or The Hunger Games. While, as in the last century, great leaps may well be created in response to great suffering, we don’t have to envision it that way. I fear we’ve already built in a lot more suffering in change than we might have otherwise, but we can always choose to shift our focus. I think things in reality can shift a lot faster than it seems from this vantage point. For me, this is the point of The Greenwood Message. All we have to do is choose life and the whole planet is behind us.

The Song Of Life Sings Through Us

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Mount Tamalpais was dripping last Sunday. We went up between the rainstorms, through fog so thick the drive was frightening, but the walk through cool silence was something absorbed through the very pores of our bodies. The grass that was gray last time is now disappearing under a growing layer of green. What is left is turning golden brown.

Rock Springs is running. I filled three half gallon jars and together we sang our thanks to the music of the running water.

We know what feels good. We know what we need to do. The song of life sings through us. We turn towards life.  All we need to do is follow that turning in all that we do.

Is changing our ways really so hard? We’ve done it so many times in the last two centuries. All we need to do is what we always have, to grow towards a better life. The only difference this time is that we have to take into account the consequences of our actions on the whole planet, not just ourselves. Now that we know that we’re all connected, we can see that that’s in our best interests, can’t we?

Even in my neighborhood, where people tag any open expanse of clean wall and throw trash around with gay abandon I see the changes beginning. There were three houses with roosters on my morning commute last year. Now I hear crowing from at least five. More bicycles share the road with me than ever before, even if a lot of the drivers still treat stop signs as decorations. They slow down, take a look, and roll on through. There were always some gardens in place of lawns in a lot of the yards, but slowly, slowly more of them are appearing.

Think what it could be like. What if we made clean air, clean water, clean earth a priority? What if we opened our streams and creeks to the sky and kept them clean? What if we expected the water in them to be clean enough to drink, and it was tested regularly to make sure this was so, just as our municipal water supply is now? What if we could plant things in our gardens, knowing that the soil was clean because that is as basic a thing in a house for sale or rent as a good foundation and working plumbing? What if apartments came with garden plots, not parking spots? And public transportation was clean, safe, pleasant, and ran 24/7? If public transit was a real priority, we could all enjoy a quick, direct ride to wherever we were going, and be able to use our digital devices safely and sanely. We could read instead of sit in traffic. What if cars were a public utility? Each neighborhood has a lot, and you rent them by the hour?

Crazy? I don’t think so. I’m living this life as far as is possible without public support, and while it could be better, it isn’t half bad even as it is. My problems are mostly financial, not infrastructural. I’m not saying that everyone has to live the same life, and I’m not trying to pry your hands off your steering wheel or make you shiver in the dark. What I’m trying to do is spread some ideas and blend them with others so we can make changes in the way we live while we still have some quality of life. I’m trying to show how we can have a better life than we do now.

If we all walked more, we’d be healthier. If we drove only when we really needed to instead of all the time, our streets would be safer in so many ways. The streets of Oakland are dangerous mainly because there are so few people using them, and we don’t know our neighbors. What would it be like if there was always someone on the street, if we could put names to faces? Don’t you think that if people doing crappy things were easily identified, and if we all spoke up when we saw bad things happen, that we’d all be safer? Our neighborhoods aren’t really ours, have you noticed that? Do you know what’s around the block and down the street? Do you know who lives there? If you have a neighborhood park, have you been there? Do you feel safe there? Is there a decent grocery store, restaurant, coffeehouse, or other stores close enough to walk to? Do you know the bus routes around you and where they go? Do you feel safe on them?  If only a few of these things are true, do you really feel a part of where you live, or is it just a place to sleep and keep your stuff? Is it truly a place you can call home? Is this really how we want to live?

What do you know about your food? Have you ever looked into the eyes of the animals your food comes from? Does that last sentence sound scary and weird to you? If you’re vegetarian, and more power to you if you are, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph because I’m talking to the omnivores now. I invite you to look into those eyes. Our collective health depends on it, and it can be a very powerful and empowering experience. When I had chickens (and when I have them again) it was very comforting to eat an egg breakfast while our hens scratched contentedly in the yard outside our kitchen window. We knew without a doubt that our breakfast came from birds that were having happy lives. The bargain between us was sound–they gave us eggs, we gave them food and shelter and a pleasant place to live. It isn’t necessary to keep the chickens or the cattle yourself. What if it were possible to walk around the corner and buy eggs and milk from a neighbor or a neighborhood farm and see up close how those animals were treated? And if you eat the whole animal, is it really better to see it only as an anonymous bit of flesh in a styrofoam tray? Is it safer to have no idea whatsoever where it came from and what kind of life it led?

Our vegetables and grains are no better. While I’m not expecting anyone to raise all their own food, I think we can get most of it a lot closer to home, and I think we’d be better off for doing it. We’d use a lot less energy and we’d have a much safer and more reliable food supply. It’s the difference between having terminals off a mainframe computer as opposed to a lot of laptops. We’ve chosen the latter for years because of the independence and reliability such a diffused system provides, and because it gives us all so many choices. There are other examples, the quality and variety of craft beer as opposed to big brewing is to many of us a definite improvement. If you buy your vegetables and other foods from local producers, you have a real person to go to in case of trouble and you can go and see how your food is being produced.

This is all very up close and personal, and probably downright scary to some. I’ve avoided getting into specifics on this blog, just as most businesses have. We prefer to talk in generalities like energy independence and food security. The problem is, apart from a few of us who know we are hungry for such things, no one is moved to make any changes. There are no specifics to sink our teeth into, no specific actions to take other than buying a different brand of garbage bag or getting a steel cup. Changing our light bulbs and buying cars that get better mileage are pretty much non actions. We’ve been doing these things for years and what has changed? Only the labels in the grocery stores and the brand names on the cars. Public transportation in my area has actually gotten worse, and we’re still driving to work one to a car.

So here are a few of my ideas. I’m offering them as a starting point, based on the actions I’ve already taken and the ones I’d like to see us take as a city, a state, a nation, and a world. I know yours are different, and only by blending our different ideas and doing our own experiments with change will we come to a place where we’re all served, where all humans have food, shelter and clothing, and all beings have food, shelter, and a decent place in the web of life to live. We all deserve better than we have right now–what do YOU want to see changed?

I took a bottle of Rock Springs water with me when I busked this week. That’s something I haven’t been able to do since December. It was as always, water from the heart of the earth, cool, refreshing–and clean.

Why Oakland Is Not Paradise

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I didn’t get to busk today. I had to sort out yet another crime-related problem. You see, in the ten years since we’ve become homeowners, we’ve been burglarized twice. The first time, I came home and caught the guy in the house. I wrested my laptop from his hands while screaming curses at the top of my lungs, and was very lucky to only be hit across the face in the process. Honestly, I didn’t notice. The police had to tell me I had blood running down my hand where he’d tried to claw my fingers away from the laptop, and my partner later noticed the bruise on the side of my face. I’d wondered how my glasses ended up across the yard…

My neighbors were no help whatsoever. One ran into her house and slammed the door. Another was home, and later told me he had heard something, but didn’t feel he could come outside to see what was going on. The third watched from across the street as I staggered out onto my porch, then turned around and walked into his house. No one called the police.

We got an alarm after that. It didn’t help. The next set of burglars ripped it out of the wall. Our neighbors were once again home, and did nothing. The police came twelve hours later, after repeated calls. We barred the windows completely after that and we take our electronics with us when we leave. Not that we have much left. We were never able to replace our laptops or the video cameras my partner was hoping to someday make a living with, times being what they are.

The cats set the alarm off last month. The police were called, and never came. We got home three hours later and had the alarm company cancel the police call. I filed a complaint against the police department and my partner talked to the neighbors. Once again, some people had been home and no one had even bothered to check, let alone call the police. Filing a complaint was all we could do, really.

Yesterday I received a bill for a false alarm. Today, I called the officer in charge of our complaint and was completely stonewalled, as I had been when I filed the complaint. They respond to calls according to a priority system and property crimes are lower priority, et cetera, et cetera. And he had no way to deal with the bill, that was something I’d have to take up with the city of Oakland.

It took an hour or so, but I found the right clerical at last, and she was very helpful. My second call had been to the alarm company to get the documentation of what had happened. All I need do is send it to her and the bill will be canceled. Between the file I made of everything I’d done, all the phone calls I had to make, and the navigation of various systems, I’m out two hours and a day of busking. I saved myself almost $100 in fines. The anger and frustration is gravy, and the fear of leaving my house unguarded every day is something I’ve lived with for the last couple of years.

The damage to Oakland is multiplied by all the other homeowners who are in the same position I am, and it is completely unnecessary. In our neighborhood, one house is probably causing most of this. Every house has an alarm on this block, and several of us have been robbed, some more than once. After the first burglary, I saw the man who assaulted me. He saw me too, the way he ducked down on his porch proved that. I did my best to just walk along as if I hadn’t seen him, but as soon as I got around the corner I called the police. After all, they had his fingerprints. I was now able to give them his address. They asked me what I wanted them to do about it. And then they stonewalled me. The neighbors at the time knew of him, they called him “skinny guy.” None of them, even those who had been robbed by him, were willing to talk to the police.

This is a microcosm of the problems that face us all today. We all know what needs to be done, we just don’t want to do it. As neighbors, we need to pay attention to what goes on. We need to check on each other and call the police when necessary. We need to act as if this is home, and as if our actions matter.

The apartment building next door had a robbery averted about four years ago. We heard the break-in and asked, loudly, over the fence, what was going on. The burglar ran. We called the police. It was simple, and it’s what neighbors do, right?

Our actions matter. Just because we can’t solve the whole problem is no reason not to do what we can. Just because we don’t have the power to change things we know are wrong is no reason not to speak up. I can’t clean the whole beach, but I pick up trash all the time. Not all of it, just some, but I leave it a better place than it was when I got there. That’s all I have to do, I only have two small hands. That’s all any of us have to do. Is what we are about to do part of the problem, or part of the solution? That’s the only question we have to ask.

I got an apologetic call back from the police officer who stonewalled me this morning. He said that the bill was their mistake and he would have it cancelled. I didn’t mention the fact that he’d told me of his powerlessness to do just that this morning. I thanked him and I am quietly planning the next step. Until we can get out of Oakland we will continue to do whatever we can to make it a better place. It isn’t about any individual police officer, it’s about a system that does not respond to the needs of their citizens. It’s about a city government that cuts services and at the same time institutes more fees and fines on their citizens. $25 a year for an alarm permit. An $84 fine for a false alarm. A $25 appeal fee to protest such a fine. And it goes on. Every crime not investigated, every neighbor who turns a blind eye when someone is hurt, when someone dumps another sofa on the corner or throws another bag of trash out of a moving car makes Oakland a poorer place.

Poor isn’t about money, not really. I was taught the difference between being short of money and being poor. I was also taught that good taste costs no more. it’s about learning to cook, about making things last and buying only what you need. It’s about reaching for the stars even when you’re living in a tagged trash can of a neighborhood. It’s about feeding your head, spending that bus ride with a library book instead of sprawling across two seats and scowling at everyone who passes. Our house may be filled with secondhand furniture but it’s also filled with a well read library. We may not be able to afford to eat out much, but the house smells of a well made stew that will provide us with lunches for the week and the chicken whose bones provided the stock is waiting to be roasted for dinner. We are wealthy, and it’s a wealth everyone can have–and should.

We’ll be leaving Oakland as soon as we are able. It’s sad, really. Our first home together was six blocks from where we live now and we’ve moved all around the East Bay since. Oakland is beautiful, a place of fine old houses and with an urban forest as diverse as the people who live within it. Lake Merritt is a jewel and the estuary that feeds it is one of the finest city birdwatching sites I’ve ever seen. But in nearly thirty years it hasn’t changed one bit, except possibly for the worse. I’m tired, and I’m not willing to invest any more of my life in this place. But I wish it well, it deserves better. All it needs are people who care, and are willing to get involved with what goes on around them. 

Share the Joys

I spent the weekend in a shared hotel room. I think the five of us had a lot more fun together than we would have had separately. I know we laughed a lot more than we would have otherwise. I watched a blind woman learn to swear in American Sign language, that was definitely a highlight. I came away with a new friend, and a deeper connection with my old ones.

We are all richer when we share. In time, in money, in experience. It is only when we hoard things that we feel the lack. We create scarcity by focusing on what we don’t have–what we will run out of if we don’t lock it away from others. There is plenty for all of us, really.

Yes, there are a lot of us hurting worldwide, there are people actually starving to death. This is tragic–and preventable. They aren’t starving because there isn’t enough, but because someone won’t share what is there. Some of us will steal from others–their time, their labor, the good things that are all around us. Some of us think we need more than we have. Our personal lives and the lives of our communities and nations are the life of our planet. As we take from our fellow humans we also take from the other beings around us.

We’re really taking from ourselves. Our planet is a closed system. Aside from the occasional meteorite, everything that is here has been here since the earth was formed. When the salmon don’t have enough water to get upstream to spawn we don’t get to eat salmon. Is there really not enough water for both the salmon and the farmers? Is there really not enough room for our houses and the trees? Is it really so impossible to share with other beings?

Do we live in a crowded house, or do many of us have more than we need? When you can’t find it, do you really own it? When you can’t make use of it, is it really yours? Saying that it was always done this way, and we can’t afford to make the changes is on the same level as the little kid who says they don’t want to clean their room. Is change really so difficult and unpleasant? Is it really too expensive to take the needs of the rest of the world into account?

It really comes down to sharing. We have always shared everything with all beings whether we realize it or not. We can do it willingly, and with awareness, or we can create scarcity for all of us. It took all of us to create the systems we use today, the systems that did not take into account the needs of all beings, and it is going to take all of us, working together, paying the costs, to change them.

We look at what we think needs to be done, and we see hard work and deprivation. I say that that’s a failure of imagination. I could have looked at that hotel room this weekend and the prospect of sleeping on the floor with dread. I could have looked at the idea of having to live on the food we brought as a long few days of deprivation. I chose to see it as an adventure. It was a lot of effort, and very little sleep, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  

I know humanity can come out of the coming change the same way.

The Awareness Shining Out Of Gaia’s Eyes

It took us eons to claw our way up from lifeless matter to consciousness. Our planetary lifestream has been pruned back five times that we know of since we came to life, but never before have we had any awareness of the process or control over it.

This time it’s different. We know ourselves in a way we never have before. We’ve gone into space and seen ourselves, our whole body floating in the darkness of space.

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This picture changed us. In the words of two astronauts:

“Beholding our planet from space has enabled us to see our place in the universe in a new way. For those who have seen the earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.” -American astronaut Donald Williams

“The first day, we pointed to our countries. Then we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth.” -Saudi Arabian astronaut Sultan Bin Salmon al-Saud

The history of the life of Earth is one of cooperation. Details and models differ, and this story I am telling right now can and probably will change tomorrow. It is difficult to remember where we came from, after all, and we learn more every day. But what was here in the beginning kept interacting with itself. Compounds combined to become self replicating, then kept combining to form amino acids, proteins, and eventually cells. Those cells kept it up, cooperating, ingesting each other, combining their talents and their functions to become ever more complex. We became one vast web, sharing what is here, nourishing each other, becoming each other, all the while part of a greater whole that is our glowing self, floating in space. We live an endless paradox, separate and one at the same time.

The most dangerous and damaging myth of all is that of our separateness. We cannot live without the rest of life, our very bodies are colonies of beings, the bacteria that break down the other beings that become us as they are consumed being but one example. We are all consumed when each of our individual lives ends because we are all part of everything else. We cannot be separate, every part of us must return to the whole to become something else in an endless dance. If you don’t believe me, just try to hold onto all that you are right now. How long can you hold your breath? Your bodily “wastes?” Your hair, skin, nails? Even enbalming is a temporary, desperate attempt to stave off of the inevitable process of being consumed as all that we are returns to where it came from. Our “separate” lives are a constant taking in and letting go, and we grow more complex as time goes on.

We have to think of all beings. We have grown so complex, so powerful, that we are determining the very shape of the whole. Our actions are determining which creatures live, and which die. Humanity is conscious of ourselves, we are aware of the very shape of our whole, but we have forgotten that we are only a part of it. We don’t yet realize that we are the arrow pointed at our chest. We don’t remember or know that cutting off the lives of entire species is another way of cutting off pieces of our own bodies. We know that an animal that outstrips the resource base that keeps it alive is heading for a population crash, or extinction, but we do not apply that knowledge to ourselves. We are different, separate, somehow exempt. We’re smart enough to find a way to survive.

I believe that we will, but I think that we will accomplish that by remembering who we are. If we can be the awareness shining out of Gaia’s eyes that we were evolved to be, we will work as part of that whole and survive. If not, we will go the way of the dinosaur and the trilobite, and earth will start that slow majestic climb toward consciousness once again.

We live in wonderful, terrible, pivotal times. What a gift it is to live here and now, to hold the world in our hands, to see the shape of it as no other creature ever has. Sit down, be still. Choose carefully, the future depends on it.

We Each Have Two Small Hands

It rained yesterday. Chance of rain again next week. The salmon wait, the trees are not growing green tips this year. The land lies dry beneath the winter sun. I walked to the bus yesterday morning and a neighbor was washing down the sidewalk in front of his house. Drawing from the dry well.

We did this. We can undo it. Park the car, sweep the sidewalk, walk to the store. Plant a lettuce box, look up at the stars. Let the song of creation sing through you. Your every action changes the world. Is it part of the problem, or part of the solution? Your every action matters, especially now.

Yesterday I walked home from the bus and smelled a freshly manured front yard, a newly planted cypress next to the fence. As I passed the corner of East 22nd St., I thanked the sleeping gingko for its gift of fallen leaves. Some fell on the waiting earth, on their journey to become new soil.

We go out in the hills and do magic, then we go back to the trailhead and get into our solitary cars. We rejoice that we “called the rain” if it rains, and then get on with our lives. Magic alone won’t do it. “Wish in one hand and piss in the other,” as my mother used to say, “and see which one gets fuller faster.”

There are, however, plenty of things that can be done, and are in fact being done. I’ll start close to my home in the United States and work out. Your circle will be different, it is important that you find its shape, know your place in the world.

The Arbor Day Foundation has an excellent volunteer page. I used it to find an opportunity near me, as a matter of fact. I had some pretty specific requirements, which they managed to meet. I work supervising volunteers myself, which means that Saturday workdays are out. I also don’t own a car any more, so the opportunity has to be bikeable. They delivered. The ride will be two miles uphill, but the ride down at the end of the day should be magnificent. It will also introduce me to another wild area that’s bikeable from my house. Working in tune with the planet can be both fun and useful. My bicycle has given me great legs, after all. What are your requirements? This site might just be able to meet them.

In Wales, the Anglesey Druid Order is restoring Cae Braint. This former nature attraction is becoming a true nature reserve that will benefit wildlife, the local community, and provide a sacred home for the Order.

In India, one of the most ambitious planting programs of all is happening. Project Green Hands aims to reforest Tamil Nadu. To date, 1.5 million volunteers have planted, and are caring for, over 17 million saplings. MILLIONS. That is the true power of our two small hands.

You can volunteer for these programs and many others. You can donate money to them. And that is only the beginning. We, collectively, have grown to be the power in this world. We are responsible for the state the world is in. Such a blessing that is! Unlike the Ice Ages, and the mass extinctions of the past, we have the power to change what is going on. If we change ourselves, we literally change the world. Our problems are largely problems of awareness.

We each have two small hands, what will you do with yours today?

NEXT:
We are the awareness shining out of Gaia’s eyes.