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?

Peace Begins With Me

     The pandemic has changed us, and whether we know it or not, there is no going back to the way things were.
     Our divisions have been laid bare. Perhaps we need to realize our interdependence rather than insist on a fantasy of independence that ignores all the things we depend on to pursue it, from the people, unsung and poorly paid, who sell us groceries, work the land, and slaughter the animals, to the nurses and health care workers, also compensated far below their worth, to the people who hold the reins of power, the ones who need to learn what sharing really is.
     Right now, our world is a chessboard, thrown skyward. Who knows where the pieces will land, and in what order? When all is in flux, it’s time for magic, and then to roll up our sleeves and make what we see real.
So every morning I light a candle to Brighid.
I sing to her, a song of my own crafting:

and ask:

“Lady of Healing
Please throw your Cloak of Healing over the Earth.
Help us to remember our kinship with all beings.
Help us learn to live in peace with all beings,
from the microbes to the stars.”
     It is suicidal to declare war on the microbes, the largest kingdom on this planet.
They are us. They digest our food and return our bodies to the Earth when we die.
They are the oldest inhabitants of this planet, the ones who turn the wheel of life as we cycle from one life into the next, fed by and feeding on the life we are part of. These great cycles are what make us one.
     Every morning I call on the life force beneath and above me and say these words:
“Peace begins with me. Peace begins with all of us. Today I take that health, strength and peace that flows through me and spread it over the whole world, radiant and alive.”
     I see the Earth glowing with it, feel it flowing through me and back to its source until I can feel it rising from the ground beneath me.
     I continue:
“I now live in a world where everyone has that peace, where everyone has food, shelter, and clothing appropriate to our needs and our creeds, and above all the awareness that we are the web of life. What we do to the web we do to ourselves.”
     I send energy where it is needed, to those I know in particular who need it. And then I can do my own stretching and bending, to keep the flow of life within me strong, so I have something to share, so I can climb on my bicycle, carry heavy loads, do the work that is mine in this world.
     If we all do what we know needs to be done, we will all be healed, safe, fed, clothed and sheltered. We are all responsible because we are the ones here, now, the only ones that can respond to the world around us. We don’t get to pick and choose. Everyone is worthy, and all are needed.
      I spent the week in preparation. I will al long last be going back to work. I am apprehensive to be forced back onto public transit on a daily basis, but have no practical choice right now. A tourist attraction seems to me to be the last thing that should be opening up right now, but the dice cup is rattling and perhaps my perspective will be useful. I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
     It also looks like the government here is hiring contact tracers—a badly needed step. We have both taken the training, but my partner is the one without a job and I need to keep the one I already have. I’m setting in place the ways I can help her while being out of the house again on a full time basis.  I am also making masks, in this last week I am free to do this work. I don’t know where they will be needed, but the way things are going, I think we will all be wearing them for the foreseeable future. Might as well make some attractive, well-fit ones that are as comfortable as possible. I know I want a week’s worth to make sure I have a clean one each day, and I plan to carry a few wherever I go to pass out as needed.
Every morning, I light a candle…
Candle burning in a cauldron, on an altar

Cities Are Cauldrons

Gibbous Earth rising over moon
Earthrise, Apollo 8, Dec 24th, 1963
There was a bit in the latest Cosmos where Neil Degrasse Tyson compared our planet to a cauldron. I think of cities the same way. Some like to speak disparagingly of “city people” and our myriad faults, but I see it differently. Cities are perfectly natural expressions of humanity. They are our beehives, our anthills. They are where we come to become more than the sum of our parts.
I live in what was once a very fashionable part of town. It is a neighborhood time forgot. We live in a beautiful, if a bit run down, Craftsman cottage, built on the grounds of a mansion that has also seen better days. Two back yards away is one of its outbuildings, a separate property now that went from being a church to a dwelling. It has a swath through the block, as does the mansion, which now lies on a narrow strip of land that fronts on one avenue and backs onto another. The main path to the front door is lined with huge Tasmanian blackwoods, a forest in the center of the block. The owners are busily putting in palm trees wherever there isn’t a blackwood or an oak. I oscillate between worry and gratitude, because their tastes seem to be tropical, but at least the old trees are not being cut down yet.
My city is young enough to remember the forest that once was there. There are still oaks here, and redwoods, remnants of a vast old growth forest that once covered this area. Two buses away, an insurmountable obstacle in Pandemic times, I have my choice of the Redwood Bowl and the site of the once massive Navigation Trees, or Leona Heights, where the last old growth redwood of that forest grows. Two blocks down from our house a wide avenue runs in the bed of what was once a stream. The lake down the hill was once marshland, the lake created from it in the mid-nineteenth century as a bird sanctuary. We humans, as we often do, have put trees in everywhere, replacing the forest that once was there with one more to our liking. They look like our neighborhood, many sizes, shapes and colors, most never meant to grow here, but getting along together as best they can. Aspens, birches, magnolias, and the palms. There are olives dotted through the neighborhood, doing well in our Mediterranean climate, twisting in fantastic shapes and dropping olives on the street every fall.
The trees must remain here, placed and chosen by us, but the people come and go. Most of my neighbors are only here for a few years, landing by chance, in the hope of a better life or a good real estate investment. We are the same. We came there because it was the only area we could afford, to stabilize our housing bill. We stay because we can’t afford to move—yet. But the land is beautiful, and it isn’t so bad a place. We are part of the land, transient, true, living on Ohlone land, but we have never known the lands of our ancestors. Really, where would that be? How many different places did your ancestors come from? Mine were scattered all over Northern Europe. Do I return to Germany? Scotland? Other places my family had forgotten before I was born? All we can do is to live in peace with the people we find ourselves among, and try to leave these places better than we found them.
My partner and I are city kids, and frankly proud of it. We can get along with anyone, of any ancestry. We don’t fear hearing other languages spoken around us or different customs. We learn from the people around us. Once the pandemic is over and businesses open once more, it’s nice to be able to eat the foods of other nations, cooked in the restaurants immigrants run. It’s handy to be able to get ingredients and goods from places far from us in our own area. it’s interesting to live where we do—not always pleasant, but no place is all wine and roses. More than anything, it’s really nice to be ourselves. No, we are not always accepted, but we aren’t living in places where we are a minority of two. We once did try to move to a place like that, where we could have afforded a large house and the forest was nearby—but our same gender relationship and California plates caused the locals to spit us out as if were were some kind of infection, there to “Californicate” them. All we wanted was a place to live and a new community to become part of. But we are still here, in the area we were both born and raised in.
Cities, I believe, are where we gather to share new ideas, to find some solutions to the problems that ail us all. We humans have made a mess of things. The yardstick of money and social position that we have used since before Europeans first came to this continent has put an end to an entire geologic epoch. We made this mess, and we can fix it—if we choose to. We have all the tools we need. In the city, it’s possible to try out new solutions. The inputs that support our lives there come from outside, of course, but they don’t need to. We have chickens in our backyard, there are goats in our neighborhood, and community gardens. No, of course we can’t feed ourselves or our animals—yet, but we are trying out the ideas that could teach us to do so. We are growing gardens that aren’t monocultures. Some of us are walking, biking, fixing things instead of throwing them away—and making connections with people who are different from us. I truly mean it when I say refugees can live in my neighborhood. They already do. I have no right to tell anyone where they can live, and I hope to live long enough to see a world where my partner and I are welcome to live anywhere. I hope to see us exchange the yardstick of money and the Great Chain of Being for the compass needle of the health of all beings and all peoples.
The pandemic is a terrible, terrifying gift. We are the frog thrown into the boiling pot instead of slowly parboiled. So many of us are dying needlessly, so many more suffering, overworked, unpaid, sick, starving. Every inadequacy we have in our relationship with each other and the rest of the world is being laid bare. I wish it didn’t happen this way, but it has. It truly doesn’t matter whose fault it is, only what we will do with what we have, right here, right now.
The Cauldrons of the Cities are one of the places we will find our solutions. In many ways they are the ground zeroes of this disaster. Here where we are crowded together is the place where time is sped up. Keeping our distance is impossible for many and difficult for all. Lockdown happened as spring began, when we are all crazy to go outside after a long winter. We need to be out, but we need to keep the streets and buses empty for those who must go out.
Our search for individual solutions, a major thread running through our attempts to come to grips with climate change, are laid bare in this pandemic. We have groups of people—groups! demanding their freedom from lockdown, telling each of us to make our own decisions about whether or not we feel safe enough to go out. They want the freedom to go to work, get a haircut, go to the beach, as if that is an individual choice, something we can do without affecting anyone else. It is interesting that the fact that the stylist that will have to come to work or the retail clerk who will no longer be able to collect unemployment is seen as having a choice.
The truth is, our previous choices have been taken from us, and this is a great loss. It can’t be transferred to anyone else, and there is no one to blame who will make us whole. Only we, together can do this, by doing the work before us. I can hear the Earth saying “Stop. Be quiet and observe.” Not being able to go on with business as usual is quite a teacher. We have forgotten how to do so many things for ourselves. We don’t know where so many things integral to life come from. As the air begins to clear and the neighborhood begins to quiet down, what can we see and hear that we missed before? What can we actually live without, without too much pain? What better options have come to us in this time of great change and terrible loss? How can we become part of the solution instead of the problem? What will the next months bring?

Common Ground

img_1304

These people with guns storming statehouses are just trying to do the right thing.

They’re failing miserably, but that’s where they’re coming from. A steady diet of hate mixed with a coldly calculated approach designed to find and weaponize common ground has created a deeply divided populace. It’s hard to see the little man behind the curtain when you’re blind with rage and jacked up on words like liberty, freedom, and fascism. On either side.

There are a fair lot of us, however, who are isolated in our homes, doing what needs to be done, working from home and flattening the curve. These Astroturf demonstrations, widely covered, photogenic and deeply disturbing are designed to elicit a reaction from us. We don’t have to play along. We have other choices, but only if we calm down and think before we act. It’s hard to do, I know, when we’re confined to our own homes with only a television and the internet to connect us to the outside world. Can we see that this carefully curated–by each of us as well as by the powers that be–version of the truth is being used to return us to a status quo that no longer exists? Failing that, it will be a new normal that will benefit the holders of power–if we play along.

We are all in the same mess, together. We are nowhere near being in the same boat. Many of us are barely hanging onto the lines around the lifeboat, trying to keep our heads above the freezing water. Far more of us than should be are floating, dead, around the boat. A small number of us are living high, eating well and getting regular COVID tests, trying to figure out how to get past this unpleasantness before our core assets are affected. I am talking mainly to those of us who are in the boat with me–privileged enough to be able to stay home and watch all of this unfold as we work from home, or can survive there for long enough to get through lockdown, but in no way capable of doing it indefinitely. These protesters appear to be mainly of this segment of society, using their enforced leisure to protest, demanding the right to get haircuts and go outside. They are asking for “liberty,” not bread, and carrying expensive weapons instead of scrambling to make ends meet.

These people want a fight. The President who is egging them on knows that the more of a shambles he creates, the more likely he is to be able to steal a second term. Look over here and miss what I’m doing with the other hand has been his modus operandi from the beginning. The Republican party is now whittled down to the people who will go along with anything if they can profit from it, and as long as 45 keeps delivering the goods, they will do whatever it takes to keep him in the Oval Office.

The problem, as I see it, is we can’t fix any of this by ourselves. We got into this mess together, and that is the only way we are going to emerge. As it is now, a lot of people have died, and a lot more are going to. What we do now is crucial.

If there was ever a time for the Strength card, now is it. We can’t give the present holders of power what they want. We can do this without leaving our homes, luckily. It can begin quite simply. Stop spreading these news stories about the protesters. Stop whipping up the anger that makes us all act in ways we will regret later. If you’re living now and reading this blog, you know who I’m talking about. If you don’t, Google is your friend.

My mother used to say “Do nothing which is of no use.” It is the ninth principle in Musashi’s Book of Five Rings and while I have of course not always managed to act according to it, I have never forgotten it. It could easily be the touchstone for this pandemic. We are being exhorted, above all, to stay inside, if we can. To be modern Anchorites, albeit with a little more freedom and a temporary term, and leave the streets and public transit for those who have no choice but to go out.

I know I’m privileged. I’m working mainly from home. I am quarantined with only one adult, my partner, my best friend. We have only lost one of the jobs that support us, and my partner has an undetermined period of unemployment insurance while to figure out what her best options are. I’m spending what time is not devoted to work, helping her, and keeping us fed to things like restarting my blog and doubling down on daily practice. Making masks and writing to reps. Using the news as a tool, not letting it use me.

When I saw that angry, despairing post this morning, I saw a wise friend in pain. And yes, the first thought I had was that these people will probably get sick, and what could they expect? Not my finest moment, I agree.

I think sending in the National Guard is a demonstration of weakness, not strength. It would be proof that we are afraid of them and that they must have power. I don’t believe that for a second. If we want to meet them head on, we would do better to channel our inner Mel Brooks and Bugs Bunny. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.

Protesting is a pain–even if you manage to get coverage–and most of the time you don’t. It is about as fun as beating your head against a brick wall, at least for me. These people are getting far more coverage than most, partly because of the guns. They’re not getting massacred or hauled away for many reasons, the largest ones painfully obvious; they’re white, and they’re not shooting. They also have great lawyers. They are not immune to COVID-19, however, and are going to add to the chaos and the body count. How long will they continue to do this hard, unfamiliar work once the sugar high of being constantly on the news ends? What will they do when people begin to get sick? How about when people close to them die?

When you’re in a hole, the first thing you have to do is stop digging. Sending in people to stop these people will only expose more first responders in the form of police and, if there is violence, health professionals, to possible infection. If these people want to dance around any Capitol in the country with guns, let them! Turn off the cameras, move the lawmakers online or to other locations to govern and let them play. Alone. See what happens. And think of some truly creative ways to make them look like buffoons, or better yet, find a way to frame the issue that they can’t ignore. And watch as time passes. How many of them are there, and are any more coming to join them? This is a trash fire, not a movement. Remember the Malheur Wildlife Refuge? Not sending in the Marines, so to speak, was a better idea then too.

In the end, we all know what needs to be done. We need to stay in. We need to make sure that the people who need it get money–that means all of us getting on the same page and lighting up the lines to all of our representatives for the things we actually need. Coronavirus relief for everyone who is not getting a steady paycheck. Healthcare and testing for everyone. I think it’s odd, for example, that today I’m going across the Bay to San Francisco to get a PCR test instead of walking six blocks up the hill to the public hospital. No more handouts for rich corporations. All of this is much harder work and far less exciting coverage, but other countries have managed it. Many hands make light work. This is only difficult because so few people are doing it.

We have a chance to change a lot of things right now, when every institution we thought we could count on has been upheaved. The Overton Window is WAY wider than it has been in a long time. Will we allow the change to be determined by the people now in power by letting them get by with this stuff, or are we going to show them and ourselves that the tools of democracy still work?

Believe it or not, there is plenty of common ground. We are all scared of having our freedom and our lives taken away. We all fear for our livelihoods and our future. We all fear our own government. We’ve forgotten that it’s ours. Talking, not shouting, with each other is the first step. The people on the steps with the guns will realize this eventually. There are a whole lot fewer of them than it seems on TV.

A woman in a white dress pushes a gaudy lion's mouth closed.

 

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!

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

I Believe in Offering, Not Suffering

Stinson Beach and a Seagull Caught In Flight
Stinson Beach and a Seagull Caught In Flight
   I believe in offering, not suffering. I believe in paying it forward, not payback. Most of the debts we all owe to those who gave us life, including the Earth itself, cannot be repaid. Our mothers and fathers likewise could not repay their parents, their teachers, their elders—they could only continue the line by giving to us, their descendants and successors.
   The creatures who gave us life—the chicken I had for dinner last week, the vegetables that made up a salad, the cows that made the cream in my coffee. I can’t give life back to them, but the components of my own body, built of all the food I ate and water I drank, that should and must be returned to the earth to nourish those who come after.
   We have been given so many gifts! We give in return, whether we want to or not. We breathe out–and the green world breathes in. Every evening the trees slowly exhale, and our red blood has oxygen to carry. When we take our last breath, our bodies return to the Earth. Our best efforts to prevent this do no more than slow the process, taint the gift that we should freely give as we return to the cycles of life. I look forward to setting a handsome table, to some part of me seeing through compound eyes, becoming petals that open to the touch of the sun.
   What will happen to the I, who writes these words now? I do not know, nor do I need to. I will not stand in this place again, but somebody will. I look each morning on proud vessels of steel and of wood. My work is part of their very fabric in layers of paint, well greased steel, canvas stretched across wood with copper tacks. As I sanded, scraped, pounded, if the gods are kind others will do the same. When they take apart my work, as I have taken apart the work of those who came before, will they say “that was well done,” will they notice the tiny wall and crown that ends my well-turned seizing?
   A sailor’s signature very rarely carries a name, as the molecules of air that enter our lungs do not carry to us the knowledge of their journey. The crew, or the forest remains barring catastrophe, but the trees and sailors pass into memory. The ship remains only as long as there are people who care enough to do the work and do it well. Love holds the world together.

Peace Begins With Me

Sunburst through a bus window
Illumination

Peace begins with me.
I live in one of “those” neighborhoods where the cops don’t come when called.
I live in a community of all colors, some serene, some desperate, some dangerous.
Love and hate coexist on these streets.

Peace begins with me.
I walk without fear, but with great awareness.
I am small, older, female.
My strength does not lie in physical prowess, but in knowing my surroundings.
I make no apology for avoiding what makes me uneasy.
I am part of the night, and the night protects me.

Peace begins with me.
I don’t have a gun.
I will never get one.
Words are my protection.
I won’t tell you how to live.
I understand that your experience is not mine, and belongs to you alone.
The world is an exciting, strange, and possibly dangerous place.

Peace begins with me.
I believe that the world might kill me, but is always trying to shower me with blessings.
Someday, death might well be one of these.
I try, always, to be part of the solution.

Peace begins with me.
I can’t look away.
I can’t stop it either.

Only *we* can.

 

It Begins With Me

Forest Path
Forest Path, Llyn Tegid, Wales

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

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

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