The Sickness

I got it! Why Pantheacon left such a bad taste in my mouth—why, of all the years I’ve gone, I got sick this time. Con crud has always passed me by before. I thought my “secret” was purely physical, a protection conferred by my homeopathic remedies and the fact that my job exposes me to basically everything, as well as all the walking I do, the trash I pick up barehanded, etc., etc.

It was something much older that made me sick, something I thought I had learned back in grade school when I became an outcast, and later, when I couldn’t find a boyfriend like everyone else. I realized then that there was no point in wanting what everyone else had. I knew, in a moment much like the one I experienced at the beginning of this week, that what everyone else has will never make me happy. Life is not one size fits all.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it. What I wanted was to become a Big Name Pagan. I wanted to give talks and write books and not have to go back to this job that was not the deal I made with the Earth, lo, those many years ago.

Now it isn’t that I don’t have a book in me. I have many, as a matter of fact. I have songs and albums, the Awen has a metric fuckton of work for me to do. But not for attention. Not for status. For Gaia, and for Saturn, my taskmaster. For Taliesin, my inner container, strong and skilled, into which the Awen pours beauty. I forgot for a moment that all this stuff wants is a conduit to come through into the world, and that Cerridwen told me that all I had to do was serve my purpose. The rewards will come, and their form will be surprising. Jupiter will make me wealthy. I just have to remember that my conception of wealth has very little to do with money.

I forgot all this, and I made myself miserable and sick.

I’m all better now. Life is crammed full of wonder and wealth. The sun shines gold on me, the rain pours silver on my head. I met Rambling Jack Elliott yesterday, a Uranian twist of fate if ever there was one. I accompanied him around the vessel he knew well back in the day, listened to his silly jokes, and how he was chased off the boat at nineteen by the guy who used to own her in the Thirties. Amid the sound of the chipping hammers I’d do anything to be able to swing again, pulling dainty little covers off capstans that have no need of such fripperies, pulled from my servant’s station where I had been placed by the Hollywood Pirate who will never see these gallant Ladies as anything more than a rung on the ladder of status.

I went back to my bench, with my laminated slices of My Lady’s History, under the cotton candy clouds, beneath the brilliant blue sky, and realized that I am exactly where I need to be, for now. My sentence is coming to an end, with every status-seeker who moves on, with every story I tell of the 5,000 year history of deforestation that passed through our vessels, with every light that goes on behind the eyes of some traveler who thought they were coming to see the “pirate ships.”

You got more than you bargained for when you ran into this Bard, no? My workplace got more than it knew when it hired a resident Witch. And the Ladies got exactly what they deserved.

Liberty

You can’t have that word.
You don’t own this Lady.
A gift, from across the sea,
From an ally we should remember.
A shared history.
A reminder of who we are.

Out of many, we are one.
Drops of water make an ocean.
Thorns of gorse, individually, are easily pushed aside.
A bush full of them is impenetrable.

We are a nation of immigrants.
None of our ancestors had papers, when we came.
There were no quotas, no walls.
As we grew more prosperous, we forgot who we are.

The people, resourceful and strong enough to get here
Should be welcomed.
That is the only test of citizenship that should matter.
Our ancestors built a nation.
The ones who come now,
What will they build?

We need not fear what will come.
We need to look to this Lady and remember who we are.
The words written in that book she holds
Apply to everyone, or they mean nothing.

You took the swastika.
You cannot have Thor’s Hammer.
You cannot have the Runes of my ancestors.
Othala is a place we all belong
All creeds, all colors, all genders.

The Awen flows through me onto this page.
Cerridwen’s Cauldron tests our hearts and our minds,
Not our bodies, our lineages.

I place this Lady in the window,
A cheap souvenir, anyone can have one.
But her Light shines upon us all.

 

Inspired by the posts of Mrs. Whatsit

Talking Druidry With Emily Hawthorne

Emily Hawthorne of Hello My Bunnies and Bats was kind enough not only to interview me at Pantheacon in February, but to put the video up on her channel.

She was a delight in our hospitality room at the con, and her channel has some interesting vids on it. It was great talking to her, I only wish we didn’t have a whole continent between us! Conversations like this are why we run the room at Pan every year, and I’m grateful we actually got a sampling of the kinds of things we talk about in the room online. At the end, there’s one of my original songs.

The Day The Genocide Ended

On March 20th, 2018, a circle of people stood in the rain, celebrating the day the genocide ended. The Ohlone had called us together with faith leaders from many communities to celebrate the vernal equinox on a parking lot that covers the last remnant of a shellmound complex that stretched for miles. At the ceremony, the Ohlone asked for our help to demand that the City of Berkeley follow their own rules, and those of the state in protecting this site. The developers are trying to circumvent the process and begin developing the site now: The facts about the shellmound and the developers are here. 

The Ohlone want a city park built here to protect the site. They want to be able to come here to be with their ancestors. Such a small bit of land–already protected–about to be dug up and destroyed so someone can make a profit. Sacred sites belong to all of us. They are our memory of the peoples who came before. For the Ohlone, they are places where the bones of their ancestors lie. Such a small request. A city park for everyone to enjoy, and a place where we can all meet each Vernal Equinox. To commemorate the day the genocide ended.

Come, if you can, to the Berkeley Transportation Committee meeting tonight, Thursday May 17, 7 PM, North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave., Berkeley.

 

 

Nine Waves

When does one wave end and another begin?

I have always felt let down after Pantheacon. That first day back at my fairly colorless job, no one to share the insights, highs, and shenanigans of the weekend, my friends scattered to the four winds yet again, is always hard. This year I took the rest of the week off. One of the few joys of my job is that I’ve been there long enough to have enough vacation time to do this. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of days in the primeval redwoods of Big Basin with Druids, and when we parted I went on alone to Point Reyes.

It was a beautiful couple of days. Cold and clear, a perfect slice of winter in California. Did I say cold? Oh yes…

Frosty Bedding at Coast Camp
Frosty Bedding at Coast Camp

I was warm and toasty when I woke up, my bivy sack was covered with frost, as was my pad and my cushion, but it is waterproof and my sleeping bag is excellent. I took an early morning walk on the deserted beach and it was then that I realized that the waves breaking on the shore are a Druidic koan of sorts. The video shows my estimation of three complete waves, but you might count five, or two, or nine. Does it matter? Just watching the cycle, listening to the deep note of the water hitting the sand, rising in pitch as it flows up to become a necklace of white foam, and slides back with a prolonged hiss is a mental cleansing.

I went down to the beach that morning to explore the tide pools.

Tide Pools
Tide Pools

I had drawn a pot of water on the way down to the beach and it was right where I left it when I came back. One thing I love about back country camping is that it’s fairly safe to leave your gear out. I didn’t want to lug it down the beach, and I wanted to spend the limited time I had drinking tea, sorting pictures, and writing. Soon I had hot chai and a lovely workspace set up.

I had discovered that my bike trailer had a flat tire on the trail to Coast Camp, and of course this was the one time I didn’t have a pump and an inner tube with me. I could still pull the trailer, and resigned myself to destroying the tire and possibly the wheel. Luckily, I can buy a spare if I need to. The trailer is very well designed, but cheaply made. I had looked at the map the evening before and found an alternative route out via the fire road that was several miles shorter, and hopefully less rutted than the Coast/Bear Valley trail route I’d planned to use. I gave myself till noon before beginning the walk out. The last bus was at 8 PM, and I thought I could probably make the four miles out in plenty of time for the 4:30 bus, but with bad gear and an unknown trail I decided to play it safe.

Grace, My Bike Trailer
Grace, My Bike Trailer

The trail was indeed much better, there were fairly steep parts that were hard to get up, but the roots and ruts of the Coast Trail were absent. I met up with a bobcat in the middle of the Laguna trail, but we saw each other in plenty of time, and neither of us wanted to have anything to do with the other. I decided that the trail sign was an excellent place to drink the last of my cold orange tea and have something to eat. The bobcat rose, walked away down the trail and sat in the middle of it to watch me. I studied my map, but there was no practical way around. The cat decided it had had enough of me and ambled into the woods. I gave it twenty more minutes or so, then, loudly singing, I slowly walked up the trail. We saw no more of each other, which was just fine with me.

The last stretch was a paved road that was fairly decent, if boring, and only a couple of short stretches where the traffic was faster than I liked. I reached the bus shelter at six and decided not to chance the last mile or so into Point Reyes Station. I ate, drank the last of my cold chai, and caught the 7:30 bus.

The more I look, the more I find that, while it isn’t always easy, it is perfectly possible and enjoyable to get to great campgrounds via public transport. Our culture right now is most definitely car-centric, so this is hopefully the hardest it will ever be. What could it be like if we invested in a system that gave equal priority to those of us who choose to use alternative modes of transport? There are some real benefits to be had, after all. I was able to alter my route to one less hard on my broken equipment because I had no need to return to the same trailhead I’d come in on. There are many more possibilities to be had by being able to use different entry and exit points. One of my favorite ways to camp at Pan Toll on Mount Tamalpais is to go in at Pan Toll and walk down to Stinson Beach for lunch before catching the bus back. While I could of course do that by car, the trail down is beautiful, with many interesting places to stop and enjoy some world class scenery. Besides. when driving those winding roads, one’s eyes had better be on the road, not the view…

Wild Iris
Happy Spring!

Yew

Ancient yews growing wild
Ents at Kingley Vale

 

Yew.
Deep peace of the Grove.
Silence in the back of my head.
Like the Druid’s tonsure, forbidden at Whitby.
When the Wild Celtic Church was tamed,
Rome had its way at last.

Or did it?
The Yews still stand in churchyards.
Ancient, filled with silence.
The deep peace of the grave is not so different
Once grief has fled.
Memory fled.
The slate shedding
The names graven upon them.

I touch the young Yews,
Planted in a row on Hyde Street.
Have they seen a century yet?
Maybe.
I touch that Peace
Is it the same?

 

Table tombs at Llangar Church
Table Tombs at Llangar Church

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.

Searching For The Oldest Tree In The Forest

A broad flat trail through a spring landscape
Spring in the East Bay Hills

I’m a city kid, born and raised in San Francisco. I’m also a Druid, and while I love the urban forest, there are times when I just have to get off the pavement and into the woods! Here in the Bay Area we are blessed with wild places. It’s surprising just how many of them are accessible on public transit. Today I’m going to share one of my closest “nature fixes,” complete with directions, should you choose to see it for yourself.

Last weekend I found myself overcome with spring fever. I was close to a BART station, so I jumped on the Fremont train. Fruitvale Station is easy to get to for many of us, and blessed with many buses to the hills. If you feel like a cup of coffee or something more substantial beforehand, there are also lots of choices there, which makes it a great starting point. The 54 line to Merritt College begins its run there, and I was soon aboard on my way to paradise. The ride winds up 35th Avenue, through the Laurel District and up the hill past a variety of places of worship. Since my church is the forest, I felt right at home. I got off at Merritt College, the end of the line. From there I crossed the street, walked across the broad lawn and crossed the street again on the other side. This put me at the head of the York Trail.

Redwoods in the sunlight next to a narrow trail
Redwoods beside the York Trail

Almost immediately I was in redwoods. The trail winds down, switching back and forth across the steep slope. I didn’t cut the switches—why miss a single minute of this? Water was running down the trail, the last rain was yesterday, after all. There were few flowers, but the green was everywhere. In a few weeks, this place will be a riot of color and I am already planning my next visit. I could hear the creek running long before I got to it. At the top of the trail it is confined in a concrete culvert, a reminder that this is still the heart of the city. I crossed the little bridge that met the trail and turned right, going downhill with the creek.

Laurel marking the York Trail
Laurel Marking the York Trail

The only marker for the York Trail is a laurel tree next to a dip in the side of the main trail. The way is rougher and steeper than the main trail, but it is an invitation to inhabit your animal body. The hazels were just beginning to leaf out and the wet, wild smell of earth and new growth surrounded me.

Leona Heights was logged a century and more ago. The redwoods that grow in the canyon are all new growth, all but one. This was the adventure I chose this wet, spring day. Old Survivor grew in a hard place and was spared the axe. I found its crown, sticking high above the tops of the younger trees, but the drop from the trail above isn’t possible, or at least I don’t want to chance it. Today I worked my way down the trail till the forest called me, then struck out across the hillside. I followed the ways the deer took across the good green earth, through hazels and poison oak. I took my time, sang to Brighid as I stood next to a hazel with leaves and branches so small and fine they seemed to be floating in midair.

Hazel in Leona Heights Just Leafing Out
Hazel in Leona Heights Just Leafing Out

I could see the York trail below me and hear the song of water, so loud in this year of plentiful rain. I trusted my boots, jeans and thick canvas coat to protect me from the poison oak, like the hazel, just budding out, and to hide me from the spring breakers whose voices rang through the canyon. I was glad I’d heeded the call of the forest and that the wet undergrowth was quiet beneath my feet as I followed the deer paths from redwood to hazel to laurel. At every opening in the canopy I looked up, hoping to find the tree I was looking for, but the forest wasn’t going to give up its secrets today. The oldest tree in the forest would remain a quest for another time. When I ran out of deer paths I climbed back up to the trail I’d started from and looked once again for Old Survivor. The French broom was so thick from the rains that it was hard to find, but there it was, and the drop over the edge of the trail was just as bad as I remembered. I followed it to another side trail and back down to Mountain Road. A ten minute walk had me back on the Redwood Road, and at the 54 stop next to the Safeway. Home was only two buses away.

If you’d like to take this adventure yourself, here is a basic page on the area. If you find Old Survivor, let’s go hiking together!

 

 

 

 

 

Disposable Values

   This is a little thing, but it’s something I’ve noticed and tried to do something about now that I’m part of a group that runs public events. The sheer amount of garbage that can be generated by one public ritual with food or one potluck in the park is surprising. Once upon a time, when most of the trash was paper or glass, it wasn’t that bad, but now that just about everything comes wrapped in plastic, it’s come time to think about what we’re doing, and what it says about us.
   I don’t want to load more onto the backs of unpaid, overworked organizers of events–I know how hard it is to even pull these things off, let alone think about sustainability in a world that does nothing to make it any easier, not even the simple things like providing drinking fountains and bathrooms with running water in public parks. I get that even getting to a potluck for some requires a quick trip to the store on the way and the choices will rarely be optimum. I don’t want to shame people, I just think we need to think about what we do, why, and how we can begin to make personal and cultural changes. I think it begins with honesty and awareness. When we make a choice, we should own it. No excuses, but no finger-pointing either. We can do more than talk about being connected to each other and the earth, and we can show it by respecting both.
   Now I know it’s a pain for an organizer to shlep a bunch of tableware to an event. I do it myself, and there’s a limit to how much I can bring. So I really appreciate it when people think ahead when they can. Drinking fountains have sadly gone out of fashion, but water bottles are available and could become the in thing for us. Likewise the steel insulated cup. If our personal tableware became as much of a fashion statement as our clothing and jewelry, it could even be fun.
   We run a room at a local Pagan con. We’re new at it, but getting better every year. One of the first things I pack are cloth dish towels, a sponge and a bottle of dish soap. It’s made things a lot easier for us and now I’m wondering if this could be a possible culture change. It’s a whole lot easier to bring washing gear than tableware for fifty, even the disposable kind. If we had ways to wash what we brought, and washing our own eating gear was as natural to us as washing our own hands, the “ick” factor would go way down. What if it became something that spread to the wider culture, like hand sanitizer seems to have? Manufacturers wouldn’t like it much, of course, as they wouldn’t be able to sell as much stuff to us in the form of disposable products, nor would they be able to plaster advertising over quite as many coffee cups, but would that really be such a bad thing? We seem to be adjusting to reusable bags after all. Could we go back to washing our own utensils as a means of knowing that they were really clean instead of needing something brand new every time to assure us of the same thing?
   I know these are big changes. I know there’s very little chance of this becoming a “thing.” I know there’s a very real possibility that no one has even read this far. But if you have, I want to leave you with a concrete example of a place where this kind of awareness worked.
   I worked Renaissance Faire for many years. We all carried tankards, knives and eating gear. Often we brought foods that would be eaten in the time we were portraying. It was part of the fun, and like our clothing it was another way of displaying originality and personality. It was also handy. I didn’t realize just how much easier it was on the land. Faire was, incidentally, the place I was introduced to Paganism. Sleeping on the ground, my eyes adjusting to the rhythms of day and night, I felt part of the time and place we were portraying. Those times and those people are long gone now, but the feelings and the habits remain. They bring me closer to connection.

The Earth Is Our Body

Laurel grove in the late afternoon
Laurel Grove, Mt. Tamalpais

This morning I woke to Nimue Brown’s refreshing retake on The Burning Times. In true Bardic fashion, she did it in song.

I’ve had thoughts along these same lines—as a matter of fact, I was given a message to deliver on my return from Albion. Until I read this post I wasn’t sure how exactly to do it. I’m still not, but it has to be done. Samhain is the appropriate time, and by now I’ve processed the experience enough to be able to do it without the anger and fear it came to me in.

Mt. Tamalpais is the place I camp at most often because it is one of the wildest campgrounds I know that is easily accessible by public transit. The bus is going up the hill whether I’m on it or not, and the long trip was a chance to really look at my home as I passed from the concrete and glass of downtown San Francisco, the endless expanse of the Pacific as we crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge, and the wild beauty of Marin County. I needed to make a trip to my local sacred mountain on my return, before the green of Albion had faded and the gold of my native California looked normal again. It was a mile to Rock Springs and my usual stomping grounds, and I took my time getting there. The day was heating up and the trail is steep. I was standing in the grove of Douglas firs that was my first introduction to the mountain well before noon and it was there my revelations began. I got more than I bargained for.

Why was I up here all alone? I thought on the circle of friends that used to come here. So many are dead, so many more unwilling or unable to come here any more. It’s a long way up this mountain, even by car, and as we grew older, and fewer, more and more of us just didn’t find it worth the increasing effort. Lately, it’s been just me, my partner, and people we bring to see a wonder.

What of our new friends? Few of them are willing to make the journey. More and more of them have punishing schedules, or don’t see the point or expense of the journey when there are closer wildish spots to be visited. Many of them are sick as well, mentally, physically, or both.

This train of thought was growing increasingly depressing. I looked to my own actions. Why hadn’t I invited anyone up here with me today? If I was alone, surely I had something to do with that fact. I thought of all the invitations I’d issued, and how many had been declined. I thought of all the times the trips that had been made had been shortened because of discomfort, disinterest or illness on the part of my companions. I thought of the timing of this trip, and my recent trip to Albion. I’d come up here because after that experience I had a deep need to bring that time of magic and mystery back here, to my own sacred place. There was no one willing or able to make this trip with me now, when I needed to go. I was up here alone because the friends of my youth were unavailable, as are the friends in my present.

I couldn’t stay in the grove any longer. It was full of ghosts, and I wasn’t feeling too good myself. I walked back to Rock Springs, and then took the first trail that called to me. I felt like I had the flu, and wondered if the illness I’d fought back over the week before was returning. My throat was scratchy, and I was sneezing. I wasn’t really sick, I just felt unwell. I sucked on a cough drop and walked.

My first impulse was to go back down the hill, pack up my gear and go home. My first action was to get myself out of that grove, and I did, in fact, walk back down the trail towards camp. I needed to go to work in a couple of days, I couldn’t afford to be sick. Did the mountain call me to stay, or did I choose to do so on my own? Part of the decision was the fact that the first bus in a three hour journey wouldn’t be arriving for four more hours. Part was that I had paid my camping fee and I wouldn’t have another chance to come up here for a few weeks at least, and the rainy season, if it came, would be here soon. My connection with the land was stronger than my impulse to leave.

I stopped at the first lovely place that called to me, where the laurels grew among the rocks and I could see the whole north end of San Francisco Bay. Mt. Diablo, another sacred place, rose in the distance. The boats of Sausalito were specks on the water, and Angel Island was snugged up against Belvedere and Tiburon. First the shade of the grove was inviting, then the sun. I was still feeling sick, wasn’t sure if I was too hot or too cold but the puzzle of what was laurel and what was oak held my attention. The oaks are being ravaged by sudden oak death and the presence of laurel seals their fate, but I had never noticed just how similar the twists and turns of trunk and branch could be between the two different trees without the leaves to identify them.

I thought again about why I was up here all alone. Now, away from the grove, the rightness of this journey and this place finally came to me, and with it the realization of why that was. So many of us are too sick to be here. My bouncing back and forth was a symptom of the mental unrest, my uncomfortable breathing of the physical. I was feeling what the earth felt. As are we all.

As long as we keep doing the things that make the larger organism of which we are a part sick, we will continue to be sick too, in the larger sense. As long as we make excuses for doing the things we know will make us sicker the only changes that happen will be for the worse. There is no excuse. The cold laws of nature and the universe don’t care why we do the things that add to the illnesses we are creating and worsening by our behavior.
I’m not saying you yourself are making yourself sick. I’m saying that those of us who are are like the canaries in the coal mine. The numbers are going up as more and more of us, proportional to the population, develop cancer, diabetes, depression, and all the other illnesses that come from breathing bad air, eating poisoned food and drinking water laced with toxic residues. We can’t poison the insects and weeds that eat a proportion of our crops and not expect those poisons to march up the food web back to us.

We, collectively, are fouling our nest, making ourselves sick. With that sickness comes the natural urge to rest and recuperate, and so the separation is increased. We decline invitations, we let things go. We climb into the car, the ultimate means of separation from the Earth and each other and drive distances we can easily walk or take transit to. We don’t feel well. We need to rest. We need to take care of ourselves.
In my case, taking care of myself meant opening up and really listening. It meant carrying the message I was given. I’m not the only messenger, after all.  Once I did that, I found my breathing easing and my restlessness as well. By late afternoon the fog began rolling in and I walked down the hill in the cool, damp evening. I built a fire and made a cup of tea, still feeling that planetary malaise, but glad I hadn’t cut the trip short after all. What good would it have done? It isn’t my sickness, but it is. I cannot cure it with rest or medicine, and I know that ignoring it will only make it worse. All I can do is deliver the message, listen to the world around me, and choose life. I still don’t know what that means, and make of this message what you will.

This is Samhain, the time to reflect on the dead and the year that is ending, or waning, depending on your personal spiritual calendar. We have all the tools to hand to heal ourselves and our planet. It’s up to each of us whether we choose life or death.

Stone with a face in it
Rock Guardian