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?

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?

Hope is a Verb

Gibbous Earth rising over moon
Earthrise, Apollo 8, Dec 24th, 1969

“Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”  -David Orr, from the cover of the program book

I’ve always been curious about Bioneers, but between the location and the cost, I’ve always given it a miss. This year, however, we are feeling just a little more prosperous, and I bought a ticket months ago, at a reduced rate. I’m so glad I did, because the conference was fantastic! It was like going to the best parts of the Green Festival. The speakers are nothing short of inspirational, and they didn’t pretend to offer solutions. They did offer pragmatic assessments of a range of problems, and they dug deep for the short amount of time they had to get the message out. Bill McKibben, in particular, showed us a cellphone video of a collapsing glacier that was absolutely chilling. He told us about a video that you can see here, of the cost to the people who live in the cold places, and the low places.

Rise: From One Island To Another

These are working agents of change, not dreamers. They shared things they had learned from trying out various strategies, and how their mistakes had shaped their current thinking. Many offered actionable items. Not the things we already know we need to do, such as eating less meat and driving less, but actual things that can make a difference. Listen to people who are different from you, question the picture you have of an “environmentalist,” a “liberal,” a “conservative.” Realize that language matters, and that nobody likes to be told what to do, so meet people where they are. We don’t know where we’re going, we are in uncharted territory. We all have a piece of the answer in these times where what we do is crucial to our survival, and all our voices are equally important.

The tiny village that sprang up around the buildings was more about people than the marketplace—though it was indeed possible to drop some major money if you so chose. Yet I didn’t see any junk. No “green solutions,” nothing that was designed to catch the eye, but would be in the landfill in a month or two. No tables full of plastic “gimmes” that were frankly useless before they were even given out. Tables full of information put out by the various people who were there doing the work and looking for help to do more of it.

There were very few vendors, and they were selling socially conscious things, books (where my money went…), ethically made clothing—or demonstrating products that actually help change the way we do things. I came home, for example, with three samples of graywater safe laundry liquid that will solve a particular problem we currently have. Our washer line will not drain, and until I get a snake I’m using soap nuts and using the water as graywater. This makes it necessary to use hot water. We will see quite soon if our plants can tolerate it, and if they do, the product is sold concentrated, in glass. There was also a biogas composter that feeds a gas burner. This is out of our price range right now—but to have the option, when our circumstances change, to have a gas burner and fuel it with our compost, is definitely something I’m interested in. I loathe electric stoves, but had resigned myself to eventually going there…

The largest part of the marketplace was the organizations, though. People doing the work that needs to be done, available and willing to talk about their work, taking donations, gathering subscribers and selling a few things to support their work. I was able to learn a lot about organizations I’d never heard of, and as Nina Simons said in her remarks, synchronicity abounds there. I never expected to find the people I did, and I’m very grateful to have been able to make the connections. The World Cafe was set up specifically to be a space for networking and meetups and it was wonderful to see that much space devoted to doing these things at no charge.

The food vendors were few, but the food was excellent. Cafe Mam in particular was passing out free (EXCELLENT!) coffee in the main venue and selling coffee at the food court. No one had a problem with me handing them my scruffy steel cup, and nobody gave me a second look for cleaning it in the bathroom. That is rare. I also saw people handing over their own plates and bowls to be filled and it was treated as normal. I felt good instead of strange for whipping my bandanna and a slightly flat croissant out of my pack at the morning keynote. I carry food all the time this way, and the difference in atmosphere at this conference was palpable. The little things really do matter. Gender neutral bathrooms where everyone uses the stalls and the sinks? That was HUGE! It felt like going back to college, and forward into a world where gender truly doesn’t matter.

Nothing is perfect, however, but we are all products of the culture we live in. Marin Center is a nice venue, but it is completely car-dependent. I chose, for a few reasons, to do the conference on public transit. The first reason was economic. Renting a gig car for the weekend would have cost about $250 on top of the ticket, or considerably more if I’d even tried to get a hotel room. To be fair, I also expected to pay more the first time as I found out more about the conference and met people.

The second reason was also economic, but it was cultural as well. Buses serve a different segment of society, and they put one in contact with a different sort of Bioneer. Very, very few of us were on those buses. Marin County also gets much browner when you get on a bus that isn’t serving the commuter population. These people illustrated something that was, in fact, brought up at the conference. Environmentalists are largely seen as white. That shapes participation in very real ways. Heather McTeer Toney, whose credits include being the National Field Director of Mom’s Clean Air Force and the first African American Mayor of Greenville, Mississippi, brought this up in her keynote speech in a very revealing way. She showed us what an image search for “environmentalist” returns. When you get on the bus the demographics are reversed. I shared my Saturday morning bus with a young Asian activist coming for the first time to Bioneers. In many other ways than race, I could have been looking at myself at her age. I was going to living history events back then, instead of climate conferences, but that bus system was my lifeline to get to the North Bay. It hasn’t gotten any better in the last thirty years. At night, however, it was a couple of white women who were older than I am—the ones who were around when I was a kid in the sixties and were still walking their talk, and a couple of black men. We were all leaving early because this was the next to last bus from Civic Center.

I could have stayed longer if I’d been willing to hike out to the freeway bus pad, a little over a mile away. The last bus is around 11 there. I did that walk during the Friday lunch period because I wanted to know what it entailed. Again, the same demographics were in play as soon as I’d walked past the Civic Center. I was the only white person walking. The bus shelters were few and far between and occupied by brown people and kids. The route to the bus pad entailed crossing the on-ramp farther along a blind curve than I liked, and then crossing the offramp. That was why I eventually decided not to stay late. It was twenty feet of spooky with a narrow island in the middle and I decided not to chance it in the dark. I was very glad I’d chosen to have this experience though, because this is the reality of public transit, and it explains a lot about why we stay in our cars. It’s one of those negative feedback loops that need to change if we expect people to use the system unless they’re foolish idealistic adventurers like me or economic prisoners.

So I missed Caroline Casey on Friday night, someone I’d particularly wanted to see. One of the women I rode back to San Francisco with on Saturday night said that as usual, Caroline had run way over time, and it was only because she’d run into a friend who drove her to the transit center that she’d been able to get home at all that night. To be fair, I did have choices that many others don’t. I could have rented a car. I could have called my father and had rides, and/or a place to stay. I wouldn’t have learned as much, though, and we can’t change what we don’t know. For what it’s worth, on Friday evening I did one more experiment. I’d gotten to the bus stop a half hour early and I decided to go back to my college days and try hitchhiking. After all, I was a white woman in a skirt (and I admit, a strange Scots bonnet) with a conference badge hanging around my neck. Lots of people were leaving for dinner, and maybe I could get a ride to the transit center. Not one person would even meet my eyes, let alone stop. These people were more than willing to talk to me at the conference, but once I was standing in the road, I became a stranger. This is not really a value judgment on any one individual, more an illustration of the tragedy of the commons. This is where we are now, not where we will be in the future, depending on our choices. Cars, sadly, make us strangers, even at an event like Bioneers.

The conference does have a rideshare board, which is awesome, but they could do one simple thing to encourage the use of transit—and incidentally, to help out all of these young activists whose resourcefulness in transcending barriers of many kinds is astounding and who were properly celebrated at the conference. It’s something Renaissance Faire used to do for their actors, back in the 80s.

Please consider running a shuttle. Not all day long, or all night. Two trips would be enough, really. Mornings are probably OK, because the San Francisco bus is timed to meet the Civic Center bus at least on Fridays and Saturdays. A bus after the last panel and the early night events to the Marin transit center would really help. A bus at the end of the films and night events—say at 11, would be a godsend. It would allow those who take transit to walk our talk and not have to pay the price of missing the evening events. It would put us on a par with those who choose to drive, and maybe even get some of us out of our cars. We wouldn’t have to spend our conference time lining up a ride, we’d just have to show up at the entrance to the venue instead of walking all the way around the lake for buses that can’t take the conference schedule into account. This is one of the simple actions that would mitigate the fact that this very expensive conference is held in the middle of one of the largest transit deserts in the Bay Area.

I decided not to go back Sunday, though I regretted missing some of the panels. Transit and money were factors, but were not the decisive factors. When I talk about money, what I’m really saying is I needed to keep my butt out of the conference bookstore. So many EXCELLENT books! I took home as many as I can practicably read before they become part of the wiggling stack I intend to read “someday.” I made the connections I really needed to make and contact information was exchanged. I got a taste of how the world might be, and fresh inspiration to shape my part in the song of the future. I actually got to sing in an amazing workshop that introduced me to song circles, which I’d never heard of before.

I’m very glad I came. I’m on the fence about returning because there are so many places I can put the time and money that attending this event takes that will also help to change things. I considered volunteering, but again, the bar for entry is very high in so many ways. I love the Brigadoonlike community that springs up for a few days and then disappears for a year. The container that is created is a piece of a world that isn’t yet here, but might be. Getting a glimpse of what it could be like really does make a difference. The seeds planted here are vital to our survival and the things I learned here will stay with me for a long time. Riding the bus is such a small price to pay—but there are so many things that need to be done…

The tents and hay bales of Bioneers, with a large inflatable amanita mushroom in the middle.
A Bit of Bioneers

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.

 

 

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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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.

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.