Carried On The Breath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goddess of Life and Death Screwed Up…

I may have killed an entire ecosystem. It was my creation, and under my care, and I let creative neglect go a little too far…

I have a worm bin, underneath a tiny oak tree next to my house. It’s a nice little space, shady and cool, and I was pretty diligent for years, dumping our coffee grounds, teabags, and other carefully selected compost into it on a regular basis. I would say, jokingly, as I took off the lid to their world, making the worms wriggle for the darkness and disturbing the other creatures that made up that tiny world, that I was the Goddess of Life And Death. I tried hard to return all the worms to the bin as I harvested finished compost and I watered them with the plants and drew off the wonderful dark liquid that is the only fertilizer we have ever needed for our garden.

This year I didn’t plant a garden. The onion and tomato pests have gotten out of hand because those are our favorite vegetables and we do not use any form of pest control other than soapy water and diatomaceous earth. The ladybugs have returned, among other beneficial insects, and we have decided to see what happens if we work with the land. Snails and other large pests can be thrown to the chickens, after all. I’d decided not to plant tomatoes or alliums of any type this year because we’ve been doing it too many years in a row. The place at the Farmers Market that used to sell a wonderful variety of plant starts in the spring has gone upscale and nothing in the tiny selection they had this year appealed. By the time May rolled around I realized that this was going to be a fallow year and I was fine with that. We still have the herbs and the strawberries, and there’s no shame in taking a rest from gardening and letting the land do the same.

We also have a rabbit. Every day we’re home, she gets to spend most of the day in a small fenced area where the grass is allowed to grow long and she can play among rocks and put her four feet on the quiet earth. Unfortunately, that corner is also where the door to get to the worm bin is. When we switched from a hose to a watering can, there was no longer a reason to use the gate. Slowly, the bin got forgotten. In winter, this was fine. The weather kept it moist, and there was still quite a bit to eat in there. But summer came and with it the dry months of the year. Last night I remembered the bin. We collected the artichoke leaves from dinner, teabags from the iced tea container and the breakfast coffee grounds and this morning I went out to see what was left.

A silent world lay under the lid. I dug around with my hands in the dry top layer and my heart sank. I found a few tiny worms struggling to survive and put them on top of the bowl of food. I pulled the top box and surprisingly, there were more worms alive down there where there was less food, but more moisture. I pulled a large empty planting pot over and carefully dumped the top bin into it, transferring every live worm I could find into the bottom box, where I dumped the food. It became the new top, and I lined the empty box with a chicken feed bag to become the new bottom. I drained off all the dark brown water and dumped the sludge into the pot of finished compost along with soil from empty lettuce bins. Stirred with a shovel and mulched, I left it to become rich soil. In a few days I will take the selected compost we will accumulate and feed it to the bin. If the worms that are left manage to survive and their world begins to come back, in a few months it will be as if nothing has happened for them. I intend to be more careful in the future.

I don’t see the point in guilt in this situation, but I do feel responsible for what happened, and for the future. If I no longer want to care for something that is alive, whether it’s a plant, a worm, or a chicken, I do have to either pass on the responsibility, let the creature go, or end the life. Just letting a closed ecosystem, which is essentially what a worm bin is, die slowly is no different than letting an animal in a cage die of thirst and starvation. It is no different than the way the human species is treating this planet that we live on. For example, downtown there’s a planted area in front of an office building. It used to be full of birches. Beautiful and green, it used to be a place to feast my eyes on as I waited for the bus home. It is really nothing more than an enormous planter box, though. When the trees got too big, they were ripped out. New saplings of a different species are now planted there. The restaurants I walk past in the morning have small planter boxes to define their outdoor seating area. Every six months, the plants are replaced when the old ones die or grow too large for the box. This brings me back to the rabbit. Shanti, as we have named her, was probably a kid’s pet. She was left on the lawn at work a couple of years ago, a couple of months after Easter. Skinny and small, all she wanted was to be loved. We didn’t want a rabbit, but she had nowhere else to go. So she joined the menagerie. Our cats were abandoned on our porch as kittens. They’re bottle babies. Two survived out of a litter of five. The chickens and the worms are the only animals we intentionally brought into this house.

This is how we treat plants and animals. As accessories and furniture. If an animal becomes inconvenient, we get rid of it. If a plant doesn’t fit our vision, or if it was poorly chosen for the space it inhabits and the size it will eventually be, we do the same. I had to do this myself when the ivy that used to fill my front yard popped the retaining wall that holds our house above the street. We chose rosemary and lavender to replace it and hope they will not become a problem in a century as the ivy did. The oak beside the house will also probably have to go in the end as it is inches from the foundation.

I’m planting nothing perennial in this yard except for the lavender and rosemary. I long for a lemon tree, but the yard is too small to handle it. We spend far too much time beating back the runner bamboo from the property on one side of us, and the ivy from the yard on the other side to create another future problem. The owners of the apartment buildings on either side refuse to see that there is any problem and as they are absentee owners, it is much easier to just trim and uproot diligently than make this into a court case. It is better to live within these limitations than to create a larger mess, legal or ecological. We have long outgrown this yard and this house. Like this planet, it seemed limitless when we moved in, but now we have found the edges of the space and what we can do with it. Four chickens, one rabbit, two cats and two people. And a bin full of worms. That is plenty for now.

We’ve found pretty sustainable solutions for this small space we live in. We’ve even made a dent in cleaning up some of the messes of others. All the tools we need are here to hand, and all we needed to do was think the problems through. It was even fun, in places. The cats are cuddly and well trained, and while I never want to have to do it again, getting up multiple times at night to feed them was fun, as was watching them grow. The rabbit is pretty sweet, and between her, the chickens, and the worms, we have all the compost we will ever need, plus pretty high quality eggs. It’s the same with our planet. We have everything we need to fix our problems. All we have to do is be willing to think creatively–and this seems to be the hard part–change our routines.

So many things are becoming fashionable. It’s easy to laugh at people drinking out of canning jars and growing beards, but beneath the affectations there’s a new sensibility growing. We need to rethink the way we treat each other, and the world around us. We need to think before we buy something and look for quality, durability, suitability–even if it means we have to wait a little before we get what we really want. Think of where something came from, whether it’s a cup of coffee or your next iPhone. And think of where it will go. We humans have an awareness of past, present, and future that few, if any other species, have. Our power has far outstripped our responsibility. Our choices will define the future. What kind of a world do we want to leave behind? I think it’s really that simple.

Mother Of The Grove

Dead sequoia snag, burned, with the sky showing through the holes where its branches once were
Mother of the Grove, California

There is a dead seqoia in the middle of a grove in California. Burned, but standing as if still alive, she is telling the story of her own death. Faint lines, eight feet apart, ring her trunk. They are the marks left by the workers who built a scaffold and removed her bark in eight foot wide sections, to be taken to London and displayed in the Crystal Palace. In 1908, she caught fire. She is beautiful even so. She stands, even though she is gone.

I went to the primordial forest with a pack of Druids. We’d just gone to Pantheacon, and were sharing our forest with a Druid from Wales. He’d shared Llyn Tegid with me, and it seemed only manners–as well as first rate fun!

We were completely unprepared for this, and maybe that’s how it should be. That’s why I’m not telling you where this was, though it’s easy enough to find out if you want to know. This tree broke our hearts. Opened our hearts. Made us ask the question, how could we humans do this? She stands to remind us that we must never do this again. She is a warning, she shows us the guilt and pain we have already bequeathed to the future in what we have destroyed, and asks us if we want to continue to add to it.

Find Us A Place

Druidcenter

Do Druids need a community center? This question comes up fairly often. I’ve definitely thought of it myself. There’s an empty church nestled next to the largest trees in the neighborhood that has drawn my eye since the services stopped many years ago. What a perfect place! An old Craftsman style building, a five bedroom house and a large open space for the church. A wild front yard with an apple tree next to the gate and a large swath of land behind running the length of the block. Ah, dreams…

The idea is all that I need, really, and maybe that is the whole point of the Universe showing it to me. In a neighborhood of Christian churches, a Druid’s nest, among the trees, would add something interesting to this place and just maybe people would be moved to learn about our green neighbors and love them as I do. There is a ginkgo just down the street, for example, the buds on its myriad branches green and swelling in the sunlight. In a couple of months it will be lush and green, and in Fall, its leaves will turn yellow and drop in a circle of gold on the street and the sidewalk. I’ll stand within them for a moment and thank it for the gift of soil it is trying to give.

Down the street is a huge old pin oak that stays green and shady year round. It drops a wealth of acorns each year, more than the neighborhood squirrels can eat and I am always sorry that my hands are too screwed up to process them into meal and flour any more. I wish for a community then, a lot of us sitting, talking, singing as we do the work to honor the gift the trees so freely give.

A few blocks away there are olive trees, lining 10th Avenue. Their fruit falls on asphalt, their gnarled, psychedelically shaped trunks showing how long they have been growing here and watching the neighborhood grow and change. Victorian mansions giving way to Craftsmen, who fell to be replaced by crackerbox apartments. Some of each remain, and the white faces gave way to brown, who gave way to yellow, and now we are beginning to whiten again. Again, some of each remain, and I hope that this time we will become as different and interesting as the trees of this place, the indigenous oaks and redwoods interspersed with birches, aspens and–palms? The queen of hawthorns crowns a hill a couple of blocks from the olives. A row of them marches down East 19th towards the Monterey pines of Lake Merritt.

My community surrounds me. We don’t need a community center when we could, if we so chose, gather around these trees, and meet on the lawns of Lake Merritt. Still, it would be so nice to have that building, open a neighborhood coffeehouse, a library, and have a large space for rituals, classes, and bardic circles. I envision the Wild Druid Collective living there, caring for the building and the land, creating a garden and a labyrinth in the back, pulling up the concrete of the parking lot and returning that hilltop to the earth. Let the rain soak in and the sunlight bathe the soil that would be once again able to live and breathe in the open air, like the rest of us. Let us serve it, as it serves us, as do the trees all over this neighborhood, the trees that I hope my neighbors visit, as I do. Because, really, we have our community all around us.

We don’t need to follow the Abrahamic model of making a box for God’s people to visit Him in every week, then go about their business. The Druids of old, however, took learning wherever they could find it. When the raiders came, they learned to write and left us riches, knowledge that should have been carried on the breath put into cold storage, as well as growing vinelike around the Christian tree that had been planted, changing it, creating a different beauty until the Church of Rome had to hold the Synod of Whitby to bring its errant child to heel. The calendar was forcibly yanked back into line, and the priests no longer allowed to tonsure themselves like Druids, ear to ear instead of the crown of the head. To stand our ground in this land, perhaps a page from their book would help, a place to gather, a box that we could fill with beauty and what is needful, while letting the Land around us also be the sacred place that it has always been.

Living Among The Trees

Cauldron of Oak
My cauldron, filled with acorns, oak leaves, and a necklace of Land, Sea, and Sky

I was lucky enough to spend the morning in Lafayette. It’s heavily wooded, as many of the more affluent East Bay suburbs are, and at 11 on a Tuesday morning, I had the back streets to myself. It was finally Fall today. Cloudy and cool, and the streets are covered with oak leaves and acorns. I used to come here on days like this to collect acorns, as oaks are the dominant tree here. I chose three perfect acorns of three different species, scarlet, valley, and live oak. They are all three tasty, but processing acorns is very hard on the hands and these days I choose to save the limited use I have of mine for writing and music.

I thought, as always, of the wealth of this community. Between the oaks and the deer, how could anyone possibly starve here? Huge trees and huge yards for gardening. I heard more than one chicken singing egg song as I walked.

Oak in Lafayette
An oak in a yard in Lafayette

I saw redwoods as well, and as always felt a little sorry for them. They’re all in ones or twos, rarely a planned development has a forest of young ones planted. They try hard to form a forest, throwing out shoots all around themselves, but vigilant landscapers take care of those before they get too big.

Redwood with Shoots
A lone redwood trying desperately to build a forest

One potential mother of a grove was sly, throwing out a potential trunk high in its side. By its size, this one has been allowed to remain as it is far above eye level and growing close against the trunk. In the forest, a tree like this would produce a branch of trees, growing in the sky.

redwood mother
A redwood trying another way–growing a forest in the sky

When I got back to Oakland, I rode my bicycle through my own urban forest. The olives growing in the beds created by the traffic calming curbs:

Olive in Oakland
Olive in Oakland

The hawthorn a couple of blocks away, at the top of the hill:

Hawthorn in Spring
Hawthorn in Spring

The birches in front of the apartment building on 8th Avenue:

Birch on 8th Avenue
Birch on 8th Avenue

There are many others as well. The trees in my neighborhood resemble the people. Few of us are natives, but we have all made a home here. Except for the spreading oaks and redwoods, the only large trees are those that were planted on the grounds of the great mansions that were the first houses built.

What does your neighborhood look like? what trees do you share your home ground with?

Wilderness Is All Around You

meadow1

I’m finding the Rewilding Challenge to be a very druidic exercise. It teaches you to see, not just look, and to learn from what you see. The variety to be found in the exercises and the short time given to each of them makes it all manageable, and leaves you wanting more of the ones you like. It’s sort of a sampler platter for awareness as seen through the wild world around us.

 

microlevel

I don’t get to a truly wild place very often, so I did more than one exercise that day and revisited some as well. Spending thirty minutes looking at a two foot square of ground was very rewarding. Praying mantises are the Tyrannosaurus Rex of the insect world and this one definitely dominated the experience. I watched it catch and consume a ladybug, and when it caught me photographing it it stood up high and proud and threatened me, waving its arms in challenge. Even mantises have something to fear, however, and except for then, it confined itself the the undersides of leaves or within the shelter of the grass stems. Birds probably find them quite tasty.

macrolevel

There’s an old growth redwood in the area I chose, and I’ve been looking for it ever since I’ve known it was there. I didn’t find it today either, but I did get a chance to explore the hillsides. This is the view from the East Bay Hills. I ran across a hillside guardian. Technically no one is supposed to camp there, but this person’s site was clean and well kept, and we were on the same page almost immediately about the trash everywhere (we take what we can out with us and leave none) and the value of having a mental map of the area. It was nice to see someone living with the land like that.

bayentrance

I found the other thing I was looking for, though, the entrance to the trail that runs from the bottom of the stream to the top. I’d gone all the way up it once, but never down, and I knew the upper entrance wasn’t marked. This is a good thing, as the tagging and garbage stop well down from the top of the trail because people don’t know where it is. This place is one of the few truly wild places easily accessible by the city bus system, and it’s frankly easier to take the bus to the top of the hill and walk down than to do it the other way around.

adventurebridge

It was great to see it end to end from the top.

I even got fed, and got a chance to take a pair of pix I’d wanted to blog for a long time. A Druid of my acquaintance taught me the difference between a Himalayan (British species) blackberry and the native California kind.

himalayanblackberry

Only the Himalayans are fruiting up there right now, but they were delicious as always The difference between the two is in the leaves and spines. Himalayans have five rounded leaves and thick sharp thorns.

nativeblackberry

Native berries have three leaves, pointed and more crumpled than the Himalayas and their thorns are hairlike and there are lots more of them.

What are your wild places? How do you get to them? Why do you go to them? What do they teach you?

 

Rewilding My Life

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My hands are filthy and I reek of redwood.

I found out about the Rewild Your Life 30 Day Challenge today, and decided to go for it.

Being in the middle of the city as I was at the time, finding a tree to spend 30 minutes of quality time under was definitely the first challenge.
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I ended up going up–literally. I spent half an hour in a small redwood on the grounds of the Oakland Marriott. Being in the middle of a fenced lawn next to a loading dock, they probably didn’t feel they needed to buzz the branches off below the first four feet or so. I was glad I’d dressed in muted colors today, even though I’d had no idea I’d be climbing in the corporate forest today.

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I took a quick look around, grabbed a branch, swung my feet up onto another and disappeared into the tree. Pulling my busking basket through with me was cumbersome, but possible, and I tied it to a branch about ten feet off the ground. I guess there was a reason I had all those ribbons and bits of leather hanging off the sides besides the Renaissance Faire look. Climbing in a skirt was a skill that came back to me in an instant.

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It was like going back to college. I used to climb trees all the time back then. I even lived in one for a time. Why did I stop? It was just as delicious now as it was then to be sitting on a branch, completely alone in the heart of the city. No one looks up, and no one looks for people in trees. Secure among the branches I played my tinwhistle, just as I’d done back then. Then I closed my eyes and felt the tree move with the wind.

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Meanwhile, the birds went about their business and so did the people. The layers of wildness and civilization were clear to see. They were there all along, of course, but we have to stop and settle to see them. As I stood up on the branch, preparing to descend, I saw a birds nest on one of the limbs. It was long empty, but nice to see that another creature had taken advantage of the shelter of the redwoods to do what was needful.

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If you want to join the challenge, or just see what other people have done, follow the link at the top of the post. Look for the hashtags

#rewildyourlife
#wearewildness

 

The Druidry Of Place

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Love of Land. Reverence for Water. Respect for Fire. To me, this is the Druidry of California. It shapes my land and my practice. It’s the bucket under my tap as the water warms for a shower. It’s the ashes from the pipe I tap out into my open palm to be *sure* it’s out when I walk the hills. It’s the feeling of being home the first sight of poppies gave to me after three months in the Pacific Northwest.

Going to the homes of Druidry wasn’t at all what I expected, but it was everything I needed. I thought I was learning the forests the ogham sprang from, but I was gaining a greater appreciation of the trees I grew up under. Never had I realized just how dry my home is. Or how much of our ancient forests still remain. Here, I can stand inside a redwood and feel its great silence. The fact that human habitation here for so long was among the trees rather than in place of them means that much more of the forest remains to experience, and to learn from.

We went to Mendocino this weekend, my seed group and the new seed group that hived from it–was it only a month or so ago? This time, it was my home in Oakland that created the contrast. My bed was hard, but the trails were soft. Trees everywhere, and no one cared what I looked like or what I wore. I could talk to any nonhuman I pleased because there was no one around who thought it strange. Most of all, when I went down into the forest and just opened my ears I could *think*. Birds, the wind, and the rushing sounds of cars almost nonexistent.

I came back with treasures:

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California hazel is all through the understory. The leaves are furry, and each branch lies roughly on a plane which makes it seem to float above the ground. The whole tree is ethereal, as if it had its roots in the Otherworld. perhaps it does. Unlike its more substantial relatives in Britain, it grows as a series of slender poles. It is as if it has coppiced itself. 

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Poison oak is, of course, everywhere. In the old growth, however, it is part of the picture, in balance with the rest of the plant community. It climbs the redwoods like an ornament, startling green against the rough reddish bark.

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A tiny, perfect meadow.

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Yellow Leaf Iris, one of the flowers of the understory.

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The sorrel covers the land, outlining it in floating green.

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I learned a lot this weekend, between the ancient forest and the people I was with. Burls are a redwood’s way of trying to stabilize itself. A living buttress for a cathedral of a tree. This tree is called the Pan Tree, and I’ll bet you can figure out why. One friend taught me about burls, the other taught me what brewer’s droop was, all from the same example. You can’t say this pack ‘o druids lacks scope! 

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Not all the trees are rude, however. This one, like many of the larger ones, has hidden depths. 

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This one has grown into art. 

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As I walked up the path, the redwoods gave way to Douglas Fir.

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This tree is scarred by fire, as the redwoods are. How different the shape it takes from that, however. 

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This was the only running water I saw. There’s a river deep enough to swim in, but that is another adventure for another time. The calm of the forest is still surrounding me, along with the warmth of fires and shared wisdom, and for now that’s all I need.

 

The Grove of the Old Trees

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

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

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

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

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

The Song Of Life Sings Through Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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