Carried On The Breath

Years back, in saner times, I went walking in Wildcat Canyon. It was midsummer, the green was creeping down the hills as the relentless sun of the dry season drove the water downhill. I sat under an oak tree and looked at the patterns the color made as gold engulfed green. I came there often and was realizing just how easy it was to get a specific lesson from the land, just by taking the time to really observe. The pennyroyal patch that I’d been making cups of tea from was obviously a place where water pooled below the surface even in summer. The reeds grew in another low place for part of the year. The bracken grows in winter, the wet season when our biome comes alive, and its brown skeletons can be seen as the dry season sucks the green plants dry. The hills are pale gold and the hum of life rises to a subtle scream of heat and light that stretches the days to the breaking point. This is when fire stalks the land. For a time, the only patches of green are the depressions between the hills, the streams marked by the trees that grow on their banks. The alders grow on the lower hills, closest to the water, the oaks and laurels take over from there and dot the hills. The huge purple thistles and Himalayan blackberries, brought by people who should have known better, are happy in their new home on the hills and in large thickets, and broom, another plant that was brought here, crowds out the native coyote brush and ceanothus.

I used to live close enough to ride there. I’d lock up my bike in the parking lot and walk the road that goes nowhere, my very own dystopic landscape when such places were delicious fantasies instead of looming realities. I’d think of what it would be like to be a nomad on a bicycle, living off the land and having adventures.

There is a turnoff and a steep section of hill that ends at a cattle gate. You can let yourself in and continue up the dirt road to the remains of what was once an estate, and then a sanitarium, and then was consumed by fire over half a century ago. What was once a long driveway lined with palm trees is now a rough trail with one or two weatherbeaten survivors, their trunks stout and battered by the struggle of living in a climate they were never meant for. Among them are oaks and bay laurels, the remains of rose bushes, and the low lines of what were once walls. There is a set of steps ending in grass, a fine place to sit, and further on an orchard reduced to a few stunted apple trees sheltered by a snaggletoothed line of cypresses. Strike off for the top of the ridge once you pass the line and there is a brass benchmark set in the bare top of the hill. The view is impressive, you can see the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Tamalpais, the refinery with its round tanks off in the distance.

That day though, the heat had driven me off the ridge into the shade. I was thinking about the planet and how we were changing it. How it must feel to be the earth as it warmed. The hot day was a reflection of the planetary fever we are creating as we move the stored carbon from the land into the sky. I closed my eyes in meditation and asked the Earth what it felt like to breathe as a planet right then.

I began to feel the heat as I hadn’t before. My throat was dry, and I wanted to lie down. The air was drying me out, and my eyes popped open. I took a gulp of water from my canteen but it didn’t help. Each breath was drawn with difficulty, through the thinning tube of my throat. I began to panic.

Then I remembered what I had asked and realized what was probably happening to me. If it wasn’t, I was far from help and this was before the age of the cell phone. I did lie down, and slowly took a deep breath. I felt the land beneath me, holding me up, and spent some time just breathing, sending the fear down into it, reducing my need for air in stillness, looking up through the leaves above me, the bits of blue sky above. Slowly, the dizziness subsided. I wasn’t sick, not really. The Earth wasn’t even sick. Things were just a bit harder than they had been and I was a vessel far too small to contain the Earth’s pain. I sat up, drank more water, and thought about what had happened.

It has been years since I lived in Richmond. That day I’d driven up there on a whim, wanting to see the place again. As I walked back to my car, a battered silver Honda that had taken me on many an adventure, I realized that this had to be my last car. The Earth could take no more and I would no longer be part of this madness. Yes, my gas-crunch car sipped rather than gulped. It was tiny enough to fit in any possible parking place. Its emissions were so low that smog places asked me what I’d done to it, suspecting modification. I’d bought it from a guy who’d had tears in his eyes as he’d turned over the keys. Impulsively, I’d asked him what its name was. He said “Phoenix,” so fast and low I almost missed it. It had been rear-ended by an SUV, the back hatch had been crushed, but the frame was fine and the car did live up to its name. For practicality, and I admit to add to the Road Warrior ambiance, I popped the back hatch open, installed a couple of hasps on the sides, and padlocked it shut. I loved it like a member of the family. In the end, Phoenix died when a truck turned left in front of us on Highway 1 out of Crescent City. I managed to get down to 35 by standing on the brake. I wasn’t hurt, my coffee hadn’t even been spilled. Phoenix was totaled. With tears in my eyes, I turned it over to a wrecker and in the end joined a carshare.

Today the sky is hazy. The morning light was strained through smoke, the color of fine old Scotch and smelling like it has every summer for the last few years. Fire season is so beautiful, and so sad. We won’t be burning, we live in the city. We are lucky enough to be able to stay inside, able to do the right thing in a pandemic, but so many of us have to go out there, have to work or flee burning houses, or to places where we can breathe.

We’ve triggered planetary defense mechanisms, passed tipping points. In California, we are seeing the beginning of desertification. The forests are changing, turning to savanna in some places, changing their composition in others, burning and dying in places that were once beautiful. Sudden oak death is taking the oaks on Mt. Tamalpais. They are being supplanted by bay laurel and Douglas fir. What will happen to the redwoods, who need their feet in the water? Big Basin is burning, the oldest California State Park, home to the giants.

We’ve targeted the atmosphere, that thin layer of gases that the lives of so many creatures depend upon. It’s as if the planet is sending humanity the same message I received when I asked my question years ago. In specific areas, for specific people, we can’t breathe. And yes, we are compounding our folly by choking innocent people to death, as if to make this human-made tragedy complete.

COVID-19 is the icing on the cake. A disease carried by the air. It most often settles in the lungs, and most people survive it, but that is a deception that only allows it to move more freely among us. As it spreads on our breath we find it has so many more ways of killing or causing permanent harm. A zoonotic disease, it has spilled over into humanity because we can’t seem to share this planet we are part of, and collectively we don’t care about any of the other beings on this planet except as they relate to us. The remedies to limit its spread are simple, but unpleasant and expensive and require cooperation and sharing what we have.

We are being tested—not by a faraway being who created the Earth as some Petri dish to see how far the experiment will run, but by ourselves. We are stretching the limits of our only home and we have nowhere else to go should we damage our habitat to the point it can no longer sustain us.

We can stop this. The test we have devised for ourselves has no individual solution. Living a climatically virtuous lifestyle—whatever that is—is a way to experiment and find alternatives to the unbridled pursuit of growth that has been the norm for the last ten millennia, but it is like throwing a bucket of water on a forest fire. It will not save us as individuals. Enough of us have forgotten how to live as if other people matter, as if other species matter to push us over the edge of the carrying capacity of this place we call home, and until and unless we learn to live as part of a collective superorganism, which is, after all, what this planet is, we will not survive. Like everything else here, alone in the sea of space, we are all connected. Our actions in this time matter deeply. We are unlikely to extinguish all life, but we can certainly extinguish ourselves.

I don’t know how to fix this. The caterpillar doesn’t know how to become a butterfly, but it does so. Are we part of a galaxy, a universe, where this sort of metamorphosis happens? We won’t know unless we make it to the other side. It may turn out that we’re worrying for nothing, that what feels like death approaching is only the process of transformation. All I know is that when we seek stillness and listen to the rest of the world we do know what we shouldn’t be doing.

Our planet lies between two others, Venus and Mars, that for reasons we do not yet understand went in opposite directions, one falling victim to a runaway greenhouse effect and the other possibly losing the ability to support an atmosphere and retain liquid water. Did they ever support life? We won’t know if we don’t survive, but we do know that continuing to fill our atmosphere with carbon dioxide is a foolish thing to do.

I am not for an instant calling the current pandemic a blessing. My own country is closing in on 200,000 deaths, and the havoc and death that has been created by one little virus is not something any sane person would wish for. It is, however, the kind of shock that can create change. The countries who have taken it seriously and taken sensible action to deal with the crisis are beginning to recover. It is blindingly obvious what needs to be done and the consequences of not doing these things. I’m not going to go into those actions because they are being discussed worldwide and the information is available to anyone who chooses to open their eyes.

These things aren’t easy for people who have been accustomed to thinking only of themselves, their families, their nations, their species. Doing them will mean we have at last begun to grow up as a species and realize that we must act for the good of the whole. We will be on the road to planetary consciousness. It will mean that we think before we act, and we observe and learn from the world around us instead of looking for the facts that justify the actions we wish to take.

Someday, when we have done what we need to, I will walk in a wild place once more. Until then I will stay inside and remember what I have learned. Once upon a time I walked the ridge above Wildcat Canyon, camped beside the sea at Point Reyes, stood inside a redwood in Big Basin. Is that tree still standing? What will be left of Point Reyes? Or, like so many beautiful places, will they be only memories?

The Fantasy of Independence

A certain vocal segment of us seem to believe that we are independent of everyone else. We have a right to make our own choices about everything. Our individual rights are more important than the rights of others around us. We won’t be forced to wear masks, we won’t pay for anyone else’s healthcare, or food, or anything else that “they” should be providing for themselves.

This is of course a complete fantasy. I can’t think of a lesson more perfectly suited to pop this bubble of crazy than the mask issue. We don’t need to wear them for our own safety, we do it for the collective, or really, the species. That’s why some of us are confined to our room, until we’re not collectively dripping viruses.

If I were a believer in fate, I could even see the planet providing this particular final exam for us as a way of making us awaken to our interdependence with all life, or die. However, there’s no need to go that far—we did this to ourselves, simply by believing we can do anything we please. We are part of a superorganism that extends over the whole planet and we have started to put the whole in danger. Mother Nature is not mad, God is not “gonna get you” for that. But we are triggering planetary defense mechanisms and the pandemic is one result of that.

As above, so below. Our bodies create a fever to make our bodily climate unhealthy for the pathogens that have infected us whether we are talking about a cold or COVID. Trees give off certain chemical signals when they are being attacked to call specific insects or other allies to help them. Might part of a local ecosystem repel invaders virally? The world is a network of these relationships and feedback loops. If we put a priority on learning what these cycles are and how to be part of them, life will be a lot more pleasant, and a lot cheaper, as we make use of these tendencies to lighten our load. If not, we can continue to be visited by disaster as we blunder around in the equivalent of a darkened room, setting events we can’t see in motion.

The relationship between humanity, bats, and COVID-19 is one example of how this works. Bats are very useful creatures, major pollinators, bug-eaters, and host a whole lot of viruses, some of which can kill us quite efficiently.

Why do these viruses kill us but not bats? Why don’t bats cause disease in us all the time? Finding out why they infect us is becoming clear. Finding out why they don’t get sick could lead to all sorts of medical breakthroughs for us—if we can avoid the temptation of trying to kill them off, that is, since they harbor what to us is disease.

Normally, this viral community bats live with is no problem to us. They live their lives and we live ours. But lately, with the general tendency we humans have to take over any part of the world we please, not thinking, if we bother to give a thought to the communities who live there at all, that we are stressing out a whole lot of living things, from indigenous people, to, well, bats. We encroach on their territory and stress them out in all sorts of ways, and their immunity drops. They start to shed virus everywhere. Is this what happened in the case of COVID-19? Looks like that might be the case, but we don’t have the tools to find out yet.

In any case, the problem that led us here was the fantasy of independence. Here we sit, the richest country in the world, confined within our borders because a significant proportion of us won’t stay inside during a pandemic. Our government, that bailed out the wealthy, doesn’t see making it possible financially and logistically for the general populace to do so as a good investment. Even worse, as individuals, some of us have chosen to assert our rights. We won’t do what we know would keep the most people alive. Keeping our distance for a while and putting on a mask—and putting this simple, cheap strategy into our personal toolkits.

The last few months should have showed us how counterproductive it is to ignore science. This problem is easily explainable and obviously fixable using that discipline if we choose to do what is needed. Most of our world has done so, after all, and are now cautiously resuming what is becoming the new normal. Don’t we want to be part of shaping that? Don’t we ever want to get out of our rooms?

Biking on the Bay Trail

One of the gifts the pandemic has given me is a return to my bicycle. Two wheels and feet have become the safest way for me to travel. I have been getting our groceries on the bike, but since I have been called back to work on site, the bicycle makes it possible to take the ferry across the bay instead of using BART. At first there were fewer cars on the road, but even as people decide that they have given the pandemic all the time they can afford to and jump back into their cars, I have become acclimated again, and have found other ways to separate myself from the worst of the traffic. Thankfully, there has been some progress on the bike path network as well. There are still gaps between the paths, but they are shorter than they were, and some real improvements, such as a long stretch of Folsom in San Francisco and a lot of Valencia Street.

I was curious about the Bay Trail running north from Jack London. I decided to see how far I could get after trying to trace the route via satellite imagery. I wanted to go to REI anyway, I needed to replace my beloved baskets. They are great, but impractical for transit and don’t fit lockers or even many racks, which are built for wide handlebars and narrow back wheels. They also make it impossible for me to pick up Beater with any kind of a load. I wanted a real rack that would support panniers, which can be carried separately, and also the weight of a load of groceries. I also wanted to see how crowded BART is, so I took the trail to North Berkeley and rode back. I picked up a rack rated for 110 pounds, and one of the only panniers they had left. No one in the bike shop could tell me how to get through the Maze, so I bought a newer version of the bike map I already have, which is the best five bucks I’ve spent in a while.

The Berkeley end was pretty good. It took less than half an hour to get from REI to Emeryville, and that was because I was dawdling a bit, enjoying being near the water on a really beautiful trail. That ended around IKEA. There is a good separated trail down Maritime, through the Port, but the exhaust is pretty heavy, and there are a couple of spots where you have to cross the streets the trucks use. According to the map there are two other possibilities, 40th to Mandela, or Middle Harbor to Third. Seventh was scary. The path is really a wide sidewalk, and there are several intersections much like those in the Port. I won’t be doing that again if I have a choice.

I bailed at Oakland West, and wished I hadn’t. Third will get me close to Jack London, and the Bay Trail will get me to 5th. The recent improvements in the bike lanes in my neighborhood don’t do me much good, though there is one light on International that has gotten rid of one blind crossing that I appreciate very much. I still have the potholed side streets largely to myself, and have plenty of decent sections of pavement that I can thread the needle home on.

All in all, it was a useful expedition. It looks like there is a very long but possible ride from Lake Merritt to the San Rafael Transit Center. That opens up the possibility of taking a bike to Point Reyes, perhaps to Mt. Tam depending on the trails from the other side of the bridge, and perhaps points north. Maybe, with all the people trying out bicycling, the Bay Trail’s gaps will be filled in the near future.

The Hourglass

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     Every morning, I work with the hourglass. To me, it is fitting that Extinction Rebellion uses this powerful symbol, particularly in this moment of now when we are facing a future that is suddenly in crisis. Nothing is different. Everything is different. What are we to do?
     I think that the only thing that’s truly different are our perceptions. A possible epidemic has always been right around the corner. We have been in the middle of the sixth great extinction of life on Earth for some time now. The majority of us have just woken up to the fact that it includes us, right now, not in some distant future. We thought we’d have plenty of time to solve our problems and now we see all the missed chances and wasted time.
     I work each morning to turn the hourglass on its side. Time is not our enemy. COVID-19 is not our enemy. It’s a microbe, part of the planet that we are also part of. Like the Earth, our bodies are superorganisms, cells, microbes that have chosen to specialize in certain functions to create a greater whole. Without microbes we couldn’t digest our food. The cycle where creatures that have died are recycled and reborn into new life won’t function without them.
     The hourglass is only scary when it’s static, standing on its end, the sand slipping through the bottleneck until none remains. It’s meant to turn, after all. Life must always be in motion, cycling endlessly from form to form, between embodiment and spirit. Life is a wheel. The hourglass can be seen as only the hub and four spokes.
     I choose to work with what I’ve been given. We have a lot of energy invested in this symbol, so simple, a pair of intersecting lines encircled. The lines form the rune Gebo, the gift and the connection between giver and receiver. What could be more appropriate? We are indeed reaping what we have sown, and some have suggested that The virus is the medicine. The two cups of Temperance, the two halves of the hourglass. If the wheel is in motion, Gebo becomes Dagaz, the Day. Round those edges and the Infinity symbol is revealed as well.
     I have been seeing the Hourglass being turned. Humans with our shoulders to the wheels of feedback loops spinning towards Death slowing them, doing the things needed to stop them, send them spinning towards Life. I am walking to work as I do this work, instead of driving. Humanity’s oldest form of transportation, and all it costs me is rising earlier, making the city my gym and my sacred space. Two miles is half an hour of magic and a chance to trace a different path though my neighborhood each day. I see us climbing out of the Hourglass, out of the boundaries set for us. Changing the balance as we pull the top downward. Great trees growing, their roots lifting the bottom, branches pushing.And we are climbing towards the bottleneck of the Sixth Great Extinction. We are rising to our better natures, helping other creatures and each other, making room for all to pass through that point of constriction and terror and making sure as many of us as possible survive.
     We need the great web of life if we are to survive. We need to realize that we are one great lifeform stretching back to distant ages and forward as well. We can choose to be the blessed ancestors, we who are living at this crucial moment in time. We know what needs to be done, we have all the tools needed. This pandemic can indeed be a gift if we make it so. It is awful beyond measure that it had to come to this, that so many may die, but all we have now are stark choices and the sooner we make them, the better the outcome will be for so many.
This work began simply:
“Thank you Universe, for my blessings. Thank you for the deep sense of peace that pervades my life. I have never heard a shot fired in anger, I have never wanted for the basic necessities of life. I take that deep sense of peace and spread it over the whole world, thick and green. I now live in a world where everyone has that peace, where everyone has food, shelter and clothing appropriate to their needs and their creeds.” I visualized the planet, green light pouring over it, surrounding it, glowing as I said the words.
     It grew, a drop in the well each morning. We all shape the world with our choices. Beginning my day with a thought like that shapes my existence. I didn’t start out walking to the train. I drove to it, eventually the car became a bicycle, the bicycle became my feet. A couple of minutes became half an hour to envision what my neighborhood might look like, and how we might get there.
     Right now, my immediate task is simple. I’ve been told to stay home. I thought we were in The Chrysalis before, but now that is literal. I’m thankful for the blessing of having a home and plenty of food. We’re both healthy. Can anything else be done? There are people in tents mere blocks from here. I scan the internet for news, and opportunities to volunteer. I will start a lettuce box today, and pot the seeds that I started recently in old egg cartons. Now I know why that project was begun.
     For now, it is time to be quiet, calm, listening for our part in the song of life. We are in the process of becoming.

 

Are We Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution?

Gibbous Earth rising over moon
Earthrise, Apollo 8, Dec 24th, 1963

We stand on the edge of the abyss. Humanity is the scourge of the planet, some say. The Earth will be better off without us say others. We are causing our own extinction.

I think we’re the child, throwing toys out of the cradle, not caring what breaks as we rage at our own actions. We’re magnificent in our anger, our sorrow and our guilt are expressions of our deep goodness, the power we have yet to grow into. Our actions really do matter, and we have all the tools we need to save ourselves and become the planetary guardians we long to be.

We have already jumped out of the cradle. We are the only animals on this planet who have managed to climb out of the gravity well. Can you hear the voice of Neil Armstrong in your head? I can. Can you see the face of Earth, shining blue-green in space? I can. Our footprints are on the Moon. Our technology is flying through space. Our human images are blazoned on a golden tablet, the sounds of our voices etched on a disk. Whether other intelligent beings ever see any of these things or not is immaterial. We have managed to create a record of our existence that might remain beyond the death of our solar system.

Isn’t that achievement inspiring enough to rouse us to live up to our own magnificence? Isn’t it worth doing the hard work of cleaning up the scattered mess of our childhood? If we can figure out how to explore our solar system, can’t we learn how to live together in peace, to share the riches we have, to recognize what true wealth really is?

Money is for suckers. It causes more problems than it solves. It can be useful, but like LSD, it’s a quick fix, a glimpse of enlightenment, not the real deal. It’s dessert, not the main course. True wealth is food on the table, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads. It’s being able to drink clean, clear water from the river that runs through our town and being able to look up at the stars above our heads. It’s having neighbors we trust, whose names we know, people we can count on when we’re in trouble, people we break bread with. It’s getting to a place where we see race, and want our children to grow up in a place where they live with people of many creeds, colors, genders. It’s a place where we feel impoverished when we don’t have all those different points of view to call upon when we have a problem to solve or we’re planning a party. It’s a place where our children play in the street and can go to any house in the neighborhood when they need help.

It’s a place where we don’t see children starving in Yemen or neighborhoods bombed out of existence. I’m heartsick at seeing the faces of people gunned down at a bar, soldiers lost in war, burned out cars in a forest ravaged by fire. I’m scared to turn the news on at night. Aren’t you?

What we pay attention to grows. So many good things are happening in this world. We can start on so many more any time we choose to give our time and energy to them. It feels good to be part of the solution, to give ourselves to life. It’s all around us.

Here are two of these good things:

Trees For Life: Saving the Caledonian Forest

Yes Magazine

Every workday morning I walk across town to catch the train. I walk through my quiet neighborhood and give thanks that I have a secure job, a house to come home to, a beautiful, loving partner. Peace begins with me, and I share it, silently, as I walk. I spend that walk thinking of what the world would look like if everyone had this peace. Magical thinking? You bet. I’ve done it for 18 years now. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it has an effect. It makes me look for and nurture the good around me. It makes me feel better, and the extra energy I have available to do the right thing, to not fall apart at the awful things the world around me shows me every. single. day. is in itself worth the energy expended. Since I believe that humanity can be better than we are I act like a member of my magnificent, flawed species. I walk to work instead of drive. I get enough exercise in that commute to feel good and have the strength to carry groceries, pick up trash, stand in front of City Hall. My polling place is on my way to the train, so voting is easy. Since I’m lucky enough to be able to vote easily I do it every single time. It goes on from there.

I’ll bet you do the right thing every day too. I’ll bet many of you don’t notice all the ways you are part of the solution instead of the problem. I also think, that if you took a moment or two to think about what you do, and let yourself feel good about it you’d be able to think of a few things you could add to that list, new habits you can begin to create.

I’d love to hear about them, and I’ll bet that I’m not the only one who will find them inspiring. Please! Comment! Feel free to share this post, or make one of your own and share it here. Let’s see what this might lead to!

The Story of Now

Gaia statue among the ferns
An Anthropomorphic View of Earth

The First Peoples of North America killed the Black Snake. They warned us all of the web of dark pipe, creeping across the Land, poisoning the Land, the Water, the Air. They had to speak, hoping that at last we would hear because death came once again for their lands, and because they knew that all lands are one. They knew it would never stop until all the Earth was destroyed. They reminded us that Water is Life, that we cannot eat money, we cannot drink oil, or breathe natural gas.

This story is the tale we told our children, the tale our descendants will tell, the story of how we, the blessed ancestors, made the right choices when the choices we made were crucial. They tell this story in this way because we must remember the things that we had to die to in order not to die of them. This story is a strong, beautiful container, fit to bring the knowledge down through the ages to come.

500 years ago, people who looked like me came to this continent. They named it America, after one of their gentleman adventurers. These men came to make their fortunes. With them came the dispossessed, the unwanted, the persecuted. The ones considered the dregs of Europe. They cloaked their pain at losing their homelands and being parted from their kin and the land their ancestors bones lay in with the story of a better future. They used it to forget the pain of their worthlessness. They created the story of the temporarily embarrassed billionaire that so many of us tell ourselves today.

They poured into a land depopulated by the disease that came before them and they mistook it for a wilderness. They brought with them the story of the Great Chain of Being, all the way from God in his heaven down to the lowest demons in Hell. They placed the First Peoples at the bottom as they took what they wanted. They forced the First Peoples onto lands they considered useless, worthless. They created a world in the image of the one they had been forced from and they prospered.

Now, those at the top have discovered something they want on those “worthless” lands. They came for them as well, and the First Peoples are once again fighting for their homes, their sacred places. They are warning us, reminding us that water is life. Telling us once again that you cannot eat money, drink oil, breathe natural gas. That true wealth is clean land, clean water, clean air.

We hear them, we of many creeds, many colors, many orientations. We know these truths down to our bones. We too are dispossessed. The sickness that brought the first Europeans here did not stop with the lands and lives of the First Peoples. Those who hold the wealth have begun to eat their own, all who are different, who do not worship the right gods, love the right people, hold the right truths in our hearts. We who know that there is no “them,” that there is only us, from the plankton in the seas to the birds soaring high above this land, from the homeless shivering in the streets to the richest in their houses of gold. We know that the first thing we look for when we discover the existence of other planets is the presence of Water, because Water is Life.

We know that we must die to the idea that there are worthless people, worthless beings of any kind. We know that all beings have a place and a right to exist in it. We know that the Land is not something one can own, nor is it something that owns us. Land and People and all Beings are in relationship with each other, and when we take from the Land, we must also give back in our turn. We know that all that we are is borrowed from the future, and received from the past.

We took the hands of the First Peoples and became friends. Together we did the hard work of throwing our shoulders to those feedback loops that were spinning towards death and started them spinning towards life. We stopped taking what the Earth could no longer give and stopped giving what the Earth could no longer take. We built a world where all beings are honored, where all people have food, shelter and clothing appropriate to our needs and our creeds. We all know that we are the Web of Life, and what we do to the web we do to ourselves.

We took the hands of the First Peoples and became friends. Our children took the hands of those of the First Peoples and grew up as siblings. Their children were born as one, peoples of many creeds, colors, orientations, an adornment of this Earth instead of a scourge, knowing a peace that we will never know.

But down through the ages they tell the story of us, the blessed ancestors who did what was needed when what we did was crucial. They remember that the First Peoples of a land once called North America killed the Black Snake, and saved us all.

/|\   /|\   /|\

This story is the heart of a workshop I will be giving at Pantheacon 2018. It is called The Story We Tell Now Is Vital: Modern Mythology And The Shaping Of The World To Come.
OBOD Hospitality Room, 253, Saturday at 5 PM.
Bring a notebook or a drawing pad and your imagination!

One Million Redwoods

I ran across the One Million Redwoods kickstarter  today. The thing that really brought me on board is that, besides the fact that this project is already underway, they are not just planting redwoods, but the whole forest community. They understand the difference between a tree farm and a forest, and they are doing the desperately needed work of reforestation that will save us all, if we do enough of it in time.

Trees are the cheapest, fastest carbon sinks we have to hand. They are proven technology, the planet’s own way of locking up the surfeit we’ve thrown into the atmosphere over the last few hundred years. More than that, trees and humans are interdependent. We breathe each others’ exhalations–literally. We need forest products for so many things, food and fuel and the houses we live in. Our bodies and our waste products can feed the forest, if we do it properly. We are happier and healthier living around trees–we are so dependent that even when we cut down the forest to build our cities we plant replacement trees. Our relationship is so obvious and natural to us that we don’t even see it any more, even when it’s all around us.

We are beginning to die because we have cut down so many trees. The planet is getting hotter and drier. Fire, drought, extreme weather events are increasing. The oceans are changing as they absorb the excess carbon and acidify. It’s time to give back, and this project is one way to do so. I don’t know how to replant a forest. I know it needs to be done, and for me this is very close to home. I am watching many of my home groves die. Sudden oak death is ravaging California right now. I don’t know what to do—no one does.  At the moment, the best we can do is not spread it. I have three oak seedlings in pots in my back yard that need to be destroyed because they have it. My potted laurel tree is a reservoir, so it too will have to go. So supporting the work of people like For The Wild is a way to support that learning process for us as a species, and to help build a seed bank and nursery for the future. This is one time when money will actually make a difference. These people have a week to raise the last 23% of their goal. Their rewards are pretty cool too. They include tree dedications, online classes, family legacy groves, and trips to the redwoods.

A goddess demanded that I plant trees. Sadly, my work does not lie along those lines. I’m a singer and a writer. I plant seeds of knowledge and awareness and that is why I’m posting this right now. At work, I talk about ships, one of which is the last of the Pacific Coast lumber schooners. She was built of Douglas fir, to mine out the forests of the West Coast. She helped to build the cities of the West Coast out of the cathedrals of living wood that we should have had the sense not to destroy. Her existence is an opportunity to explain that great mistake, and to ask the people who come to visit her to think about the forest she was once part of. She carried lumber once, now she carries memory, responsibility, and the seeds of the future.
We call trees natural resources. What kind of mindset does that imply? Forests are communities, not storehouses, and the way we treat these beings is already determining our own survival. We have forgotten that when we take, we need to give something in return. Please consider supporting this organization, a tree planted in your name is an investment in the future. I hope someday a tree will be my tombstone, of sorts, my body returned to the land that it was borrowed from.

I offer you a song, a few thoughts on what the city I live in now is, and what it could become:

Druidry and cutting down trees

Exactly! I give tours of a recently rebuilt schooner. Explaining the process gives me a chance to explain the importance of reforesting and caring for what we have. We couldn’t go back to the forests the boat was built from to get the wood, after all.

Druid Life

It may be as a Druid that your first instinct is to protect trees no matter what. It’s a good instinct, (I would think that, because I do feel it) but at the same time, it helps to understand the historical relationships between people, trees and the landscape.

First up, wood is an amazing material. It is sustainable to use so long as we take only what we need and plant three trees for every tree we cut down. It’s also sustainable to coppice and pollard. Wood is not actually one material, different trees have different properties – alder for example resists water. Venice was built on alder. Wood is durable, beautiful, and effective.

Secondly, if the land has a history of human wood work over thousands of years, then continuing isn’t a bad idea. There are woodland flowers that don’t show up unless patches of woodland are cleared. Small…

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Walking is an Opportunity, Not a Chore

   I actually save time by walking to work, believe it or not. I do it by looking for the opportunities that can be found along the way. In permaculture, this is called the principle of stacking functions and it’s a way to save energy and make use of things that would otherwise be wasted. Time is a resource like any other, after all. We are all chronically short of it because most of us sell it far too cheaply in the form of our labor–but that is another subject for another post.
   I don’t have a car. Next March, as a matter of fact, I’ll hit the ten year anniversary of having watched my last vehicle roll out of my life on the back of a wrecker’s tow truck. I didn’t regret it then, and I don’t now. The money I have saved and the opportunities that have opened up for me because of that event are also another post in themselves.
   Today, I want to talk about my commute. With the exception of Saturdays, very early in my career, I’ve never commuted to my current job by car. I work in a very crowded part of San Francisco and between the traffic in town and the horrendous nightmare of the Bay Bridge at 5PM, it would actually take me longer to get home by car than it does on public transit. I didn’t realize for many years that the time to commute on public transit isn’t all that much longer than it is to walk.
   There are many routes available to all of us when choosing our commutes. There’s the fast way, there’s the scenic way. There are the various routes that take us past the places we need to visit for the errands that are necessary as part of life outside of work. This is as true for a commute on public transit and on foot as it is in a car. If anything, I actually have more options by broadening my modes of transport. I can easily avoid the Bay Bridge, for example. My choices are the BART system, AC Transit over the bridge, and the ferry to Oakland. The ferry ride is beautiful, but I don’t use it because it takes an hour just to get from ferry slip to ferry slip, and it’s far more expensive than BART. In a perfect world I would take it as it’s quiet, beautiful, a perfect opportunity to read something that requires concentration, or to write. The transbay bus has the advantage of cutting out the third bus ride, but factoring in the wait for the bus and the walk to and from the bus stop, it’s about as fast as the ferry slip to slip. It’s quiet and great for reading, though. BART is extremely unpleasant with the worn out fleet of cars and the related overcrowding, but it’s quick. So I take it.
   My choices open up at either end of that transbay tube, though. At night I opt for the fastest trip, which is also the most unpleasant, but I prefer the extra time to cook a good dinner rather than fast food or throwing something premade into the oven. I like sitting down to dinner with my partner each night. We both have long days and little time together during the week.
   My mornings are different. On my first trip to the UK, I ate whatever I pleased and stopped at every pub that had something interesting on tap. I came back twenty pounds lighter. How on earth could that happen? The secret was walking. I was on my feet, sometimes for ten-plus hours a day. I sat down on trains and buses, and when my feet hurt. Generally in a museum or a pub. For the anesthetic qualities of the excellent beer, you understand…
   When I came back last time, my friends had taken far too good care of me and I didn’t drop a single pound. The hospitality of English and Welsh Druids should be legendary, and if I have my way, it will be. I honestly didn’t care about my weight, my mind was full of ritual and wondrous nights spent around roaring fires, and walks through yew forests, and on the footpath system that also should be legendary. You can take slow, meditative walks and stop at conveniently located pubs. The scenery varies from the long views of the South Downs to towpaths along the rivers and canals to the forests and the wide ocean. I spent a few weeks in a bit of a funk, actually, missing my friends and the land I’d become so attached to in such a short time. But this is about my commute, right?
   I decided when I got back that I was going to start walking more. I started timing my walks from work to the BART station, and from the station to my house. I already knew, after all, how long each different route took me on public transportation and how to make the most of my time. I learned the mileage for the various routes and the times, and realized that walking to and from BART in the morning netted me a four mile daily walk and only took half an hour more. Better still, I could also squeeze in quick grocery stops along the way. Technically, we live in a food desert. We’re about a mile from the nearest supermarket, and being the only one in the area, its prices are high and the selection is not great. Therefore we both shop when we’re doing other things. My commute can take me past Safeway, Trader Joe’s, two excellent bakeries, and a few independent grocery stores. Some of these trips take a little longer, and are tacked onto the commutes at the last day of the week, but my regular marketing can be done in fifteen minutes or so at the beginning of the day. It is amazing how empty a grocery store is at 8 AM and how quickly you can shop if you know the store and only need a few things every day.
   So that extra half hour per day is not only getting me to work, it gets the shopping done and it gets my workout in. Four miles a day five days a week is twenty miles of walking a week, after all. I’m saving almost $5 per day in transportation costs and if I had a gym membership, I wouldn’t need that either, nor the time it takes to get to and from it and do the workout. These are only the conventional costs and benefits, however. There’s another layer of carbon savings from not driving to and from work, a distance of thirteen miles each way. In the morning, there’s one less person on the crowded bus system as well.
   I’ve dropped those twenty pounds and more in the last year, but it’s when I go backpacking that I really realize how much my body has changed. I can’t carry a full
pack any more, so I pull a bike trailer. This is a mixed blessing, it’s easy to do on wide flat trails, but there are rutted bits that involve short bursts of boosting the trailer over rocks or narrow spots. Since my problems are repetitive motion, I can do that. I also found that I can do ten miles in a day with considerable elevation changes, sleep on the ground, and not even come home sore. Being on the high side of fifty, this is nothing less than magical to me.
   And what price could be attributed to my state of mind? I leave my house around sunrise. That means I get to see the twilight every morning and often the sunrise. Almost no one is around, so I have what is a fairly beautiful neighborhood to myself. If you ignore the tagging, the dumping, and the general disrepair of the streets, that is. I choose to greet the neighborhood trees and watch them change over the course of the year and to enjoy the wildlife that is out at that hour since the streets are quiet. I’ve seen red tailed hawks sitting on cars, as surprised to see me as I am them. I see squirrels and raccoons, and of course the cats and pigeons that live in any neighborhood. Lake Merritt is a wildlife sanctuary and I see great and snowy egrets, night herons, cormorants, seagulls and pelicans on a daily basis and right now the geese are around. I can walk over the top of the hills, or I can walk along the ghost of the shoreline. I’m watching the footpaths get built around the sides of the estuary, and the slow decolonization actions perpetrated on the homeless population who colonized them as they are built, haphazardly, and shut off to the general public. I can do my daily wishwork, and a lot of moving meditation. On the other side, I get to walk through the gentrified shoreline of San Francisco. It is quite a contrast, and it makes me think. By the time I get to work, my mind is full of the blog posts I’d like to write, and the peace of the morning. Of course, from there, the hours of my life have been sold, but that is another post. And another day has begun.

Little Things Make A Difference

smashed Bombay Sapphire bottle in the street
Study in Blue

Sometimes it’s all you can do to get out of bed in the morning. We’ve all been there. Sometimes, like now, very little progress can be made on things. The next election is an eternity away, the bill is stalled in Congress, payday won’t come any faster. The trash is piling up in the streets—

Wait a minute.

Okay, I can’t clean up the neighborhood. But I can keep that wiggly plastic bag from hitting the water and becoming an enticing jellyfish to a marine mammal. I’m walking that way anyway and there’s a trash can at the end of the block. It’s hardly any effort to bend down and swipe it off the ground as I pass.

I can’t ban plastic bags all by my lonesome, but I can keep a few reusable bags in my pack or in my car and use them whenever I buy something.

I can’t stop Starbuck’s from using paper cups and plastic lids, but I can carry my own cup and stop using them myself.

I can build small actions into my life in such a way that they take next to no energy. I can create a new routine for myself so that these things are just the way I handle these everyday tasks, and as they disappear from my bandwidth I can look for more things to add. I can spend my energy on the big things, like town hall meetings, letters to the editor, protests—you get the idea.  The most important benefit is the new mindset I’ve created for myself. I’ve become part of the solution instead of the problem. A person who picks up trash doesn’t create it. A person who actively looks for ways to be of use will find them. And it feels good. It fills part of the hole in my heart that living in a neighborhood full of trash and tags can create. The new way of life that will get us to a future we can all live in starts with me.

What does that future look like to you? What do you see around you that has to stop? What do you see around you that we need to see more of? Most importantly, how can each one of us facilitate it in ways that don’t alienate others? For instance, I was recently at a large event. The organizer bought bottled water for an outdoor lunch. Given the situation and the community level of awareness, it was the best choice, and she’d committed herself to recycling the bottles. Yet people still complained. I was part of the work crew for this event and someone took it upon themselves to snipe about the choice to me. I took a deep breath and chose my words carefully. I had a pewter tankard of water in my hand, and I said as nicely as I could that it was our choice to take a water bottle or not. If they preferred, there were glasses in the dining hall and tap water. I don’t believe I changed a mind, but at least the subject was dropped. And my choice was clear, in my hand.

I find it very freeing to eschew guilt whenever possible. We are, after all, not necessarily the ones who caused the problem, but we are responsible, both for our choices, and for cleaning up the messes we have inherited. There’s no one else, after all, and we are responsible for the world we leave to the next generation. Will they curse our name, or revere us as the ancestors who made the right choices when it was crucial?

Our small actions add up. What we pay attention to grows. How many plastic bags have been avoided by the fact that reusable bags have become a fashion statement? How many pounds of garbage have I pulled out of the woods, a pocketful at a time? How many pounds of garbage can we avoid generating in the first place by choosing to buy quality items, avoiding over packaging, and using things until they wear out? What other changes will occur to us as a result of these small actions? Slowly, the feedback loops that spin towards extinction move more slowly—then stop—then slowly begin to spin the other way…

“such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere” —JRR Tolkien

Earth balloon, lying deflated in the street
Larder, or Living Organism?