Bloom Where You’re Planted

Oak tree in a yard in Oakland
Oakland Oak

I’ve always been a city kid, so it’s hardly surprising that I’m an urban Druid. I dream of forests primeval, I’m even on occasion lucky enough to visit them. I am a lifelong Californian, living in the cheap seats of Oakland across from my hometown of San Francisco, so I’m blessed with bits of the old growth forests that once covered this state mere hours away by car. I’m car free though, so getting there takes ingenuity–and friends.

This forces me to get up close and personal with my own urban forest. The trees around us aren’t a cheap substitute for the natural world–they’re the world we have built. Don’t say that you’re not responsible for the way your city or neighborhood is because we are the ones who made it that way. We have the power to change it every day. Responsibility is not just a blame game. It is literally our way of responding to the world around us. Do you hate the trash around you? I know I am not fond of it. So I pick some of it up. Not all of it, I’d be doing nothing else. I’m selective. I concentrate on plastic and scary glass and I just grab a piece or two, the ones that call to me. The broken bottom of a glass with the points sticking up. I see that embedded in my knee and I grab it before someone gets badly hurt. The rubber band that I see in a seagull’s stomach.

The funny thing is, by doing this I have entered into a conversation with my world. Gaia encourages me. She tells me jokes and gives me gifts. The scattered shreds of red plastic near Ocean Beach that I reluctantly decided to pick up before they ended up in the water turned out to be rose petals scattered at my feet. There are oghams in the flight of birds across the sky and awens made of scattered balloons from the street vendor who makes balloon animals. The grass at the side of the FoodsCo in the Mission yesterday had bits of tumbled bottle glass and several round stones arranged in a random, but beautiful pattern. It couldn’t have been wholly natural. How do round tumbled stones and beach glass find their way to the edge of a dirty parking lot in the middle of the city? The stinging nettles around the chain link fence were as beautiful as any botanical photo.

I sat down at my keyboard to show you the beauties of the urban forest and ended up in the weeds. How typical. I was rubbing my knuckles as I walked towards transit, but it was only a glancing blow. Later that same day I walked through my neighborhood to say hello to my greenblood neighbors. The aspens next to the stairs on East 20th St are still asleep, their buds green and swelling, but their branches are still bare. They were the first trees who had a conversation with me and there are very few left. They are slowly being taken out by a more involved neighborhood group that is cleaning up the area. The garbage is gone and the hillside is being replanted. That is what we humans do, though. We have planted most of the trees in our respective areas. The aspens are not native, nor is the huge palm and the eucalypts who share that hillside. The Monterey pines might have grown there by themselves, but I doubt it.

I cross Fifth Avenue with care. Few people walk in this neighborhood, and Fifth is a very fast street once you get past the small shopping district on East 18th. There are hawthorns in the next block, and I touch their bare branches. They, too, are still asleep, a few red berries clinging still but the leaves are hard greenish buds. The hawthorn Queen at the top of the block is the same. She will burst out in white flowers in a few short months but now she is skeletal, her long thorns bare and sharp.

There’s a redwood with a doubled trunk in a yard a few blocks further on. It is well loved as is the yard that surrounds it. The fence has been replaced with two-by-fours that mark the perimeter, but are obviously movable as the tree grows in girth. I stop and touch its soft green needles and whisper “Happy Spring” before continuing up the hill to the gnarled olive at the top. This tree is a magnet for furniture. People sit under it and talk in the summer, and the street is littered with its fruit each Fall. I think of Poseidon’s salt spring as I admire Athena’s far more sensible gift, a tree that can serve a community in so many ways.

I pass under a couple of large pin oaks as I continue towards home. There are still acorns on the ground under them, as well as fallen leaves. They are so large it wouldn’t surprise me if they, like the large redwoods, were here to witness the building of the neighborhood. The oaks would feed us if we had the sense to let them. They certainly feed the plentiful squirrels in the area. I see them often, running on the wires and telephone poles as well as the trees.

I used to beg Gaia for a new posting, but this is where I’m planted, for now. I am here to see the green, to notice the trees and the animals and the life all around us. I’m here to plant my own seeds of awareness, and to nourish the ones in you who are reading this. So many of us live in cities, and that isn’t likely to change in the near future. It may be part of our evolution as social animals. We made these cities for good reasons. They are cauldrons of change, mixing different cultures, ideas, peoples. This is reflected in the trees. Palms grow next to redwoods, next to aspens and magnolias. None of us, individually, freely chose to be here. We are planted by circumstances only partly within our control. We have to live with people we wouldn’t have chosen as neighbors for many reasons, but the dance of sharing space can bring out the best in us as well as the worst.

Since so many of us live in cities, this is where the world is most likely to be changed. I may dream of living in the forest, but I know that I have a responsibility to the future. I was shaped in the city and carry its gifts within me. I grew up hearing many languages spoken around me, wrapping my tongue around names that sang of other lands, playing with kids of many different races. That doesn’t make me immune to prejudice–I don’t think that’s possible for any of us–but it did give me a base of comfort with people who aren’t like me. It made me crave difference in people, foods, clothing, points of view.

I notice as Druids, so many of us devalue the cities we live in. We view them as necessary evils. we dream of escaping to the country, and we frankly spend more time in our cars, and at our destinations, than we do in this environment that we have made. I hear rural Druids lamenting the fact that all the big events happen in cities, and it’s difficult and expensive for them to attend. I hear them talk of their isolation, as I hear of Urban Druids talk of our disconnectedness with nature. I watch us all pile into cars, either to head for the city, to be with others of like mind, or to escape to the country, where we are more in touch with nature. This is difficult, expensive, and damaging to the environment we all profess to love.

So what is the answer? We’re going to have to discover that together. But I think that we can start by loving where we are, and by getting out of our cars whenever possible. Walk your neighborhood. Meet your green neighbors. Meet your animal and human ones as well. If you don’t like where you live, look for your true home by all means, but maybe it’s closer than you think. Land, Sea, and Sky are available to all of us, any time. All you have to do is concentrate on what’s beneath your feet, what fills your lungs, and the tides that flow inside you. Gather online, or, like the Druids of old, create gatherings large and small and support those around you. Above all, realize that like it or not, your life is being lived where you are, and bloom where you’re planted.

Find Us A Place

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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.

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 Chrysalis

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Does the caterpillar know the difference between death and transformation? Whether or not it does, it has no choice but to do one or the other. Humanity is facing a similar evolutionary moment right now. Nothing we do is going to bring back the old ways of living, but nothing we are doing appears to be creating new ones. The old stories are no longer serving us, but the institutions created by them are still holding us fast.

There’s no way for an individual to truly break free, though many of us are trying desperately to do so. The problem we’re facing is a collective one and it will take the cooperation of every one of us to solve it.

We’re luckier than we seem to know right now, however. For the first time in our existence, we can see the extinction event coming. We have discovered and named the ages of geologic time and we know that we are in the Anthropocene. We have the capability to be aware of our predicament, and to know that we have literally changed the world. Since the problem is of our own making, we may still be able to unmake it. Gaia is finally aware of herself. She has seen her own face at last, and all of her parts can communicate in ways that were never before possible. The organs of this awareness in the form of humanity have brought her to this moment of change, and like the caterpillar, we will either transform in ways we can’t imagine, or we’ll die. We can only emerge from the chrysalis as a whole.

Our awareness of this truth is the key to our survival. Nothing less will change the acid balance of the oceans and the carbon concentrations in the air. We stumbled onto a seductive, lethal means of powering our existence that changes the most delicate organ Gaia has; the atmosphere. As our dependency grew, however, the effect we are having on another organ, the hydrosphere, also began to push the biosphere in a direction that will eliminate many other forms of life.

Luckily for us, the fact that the atmosphere changes so quickly is one of the things that we can use to rebalance the systems in a way that will allow us to survive. Our awareness is the best tool we have to do this. Many of us already know this. Some peoples have never forgotten this basic truth, that we are one organism and what we do to that organism we do to ourselves. Others of us are learning, but what we haven’t managed to do is create that awareness as a planet. We are changing, we have seen our face, but the stories each part of us tell about ourselves, and most importantly about others still hold us back from knowing who we are, and acting as one. There is no “them,” there’s only us.

Many solutions are growing, nevertheless. Some think that if every human being meditated regularly, this would save the world. Others think that if we all ate vegetarian food, we’d do it. Others think that we all just need to get right with God. None of these things will work, but at the same time, all of them will. We’re like the people in the darkened cave, trying to figure out what the elephant looks like. Each rigid solution is but a facet in this chrysalis that holds us fast.

We’ll come out in our own time. It’s inevitable. Parts of us will die. I’m sure the caterpillar feels as if it is dying as its very body re-forms. The soft caterpillar legs give way to the exoskeleton-clad limbs of the butterfly. We have lost many species and will lose many more. We may lose the coral reefs, cities may slowly fall apart under ocean waters. The polar bears and the caribou may be only a memory, like the passenger pigeon and the Yangtze river dolphin. Like a large ship that did not notice a small deviation from its course until late in the voyage, the corrections we have to make will be far more extreme than they would have been had we noticed earlier. We’ll still get where we’re going in the end, if we choose to make them.

What could we become?

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.

We Each Have Two Small Hands

It rained yesterday. Chance of rain again next week. The salmon wait, the trees are not growing green tips this year. The land lies dry beneath the winter sun. I walked to the bus yesterday morning and a neighbor was washing down the sidewalk in front of his house. Drawing from the dry well.

We did this. We can undo it. Park the car, sweep the sidewalk, walk to the store. Plant a lettuce box, look up at the stars. Let the song of creation sing through you. Your every action changes the world. Is it part of the problem, or part of the solution? Your every action matters, especially now.

Yesterday I walked home from the bus and smelled a freshly manured front yard, a newly planted cypress next to the fence. As I passed the corner of East 22nd St., I thanked the sleeping gingko for its gift of fallen leaves. Some fell on the waiting earth, on their journey to become new soil.

We go out in the hills and do magic, then we go back to the trailhead and get into our solitary cars. We rejoice that we “called the rain” if it rains, and then get on with our lives. Magic alone won’t do it. “Wish in one hand and piss in the other,” as my mother used to say, “and see which one gets fuller faster.”

There are, however, plenty of things that can be done, and are in fact being done. I’ll start close to my home in the United States and work out. Your circle will be different, it is important that you find its shape, know your place in the world.

The Arbor Day Foundation has an excellent volunteer page. I used it to find an opportunity near me, as a matter of fact. I had some pretty specific requirements, which they managed to meet. I work supervising volunteers myself, which means that Saturday workdays are out. I also don’t own a car any more, so the opportunity has to be bikeable. They delivered. The ride will be two miles uphill, but the ride down at the end of the day should be magnificent. It will also introduce me to another wild area that’s bikeable from my house. Working in tune with the planet can be both fun and useful. My bicycle has given me great legs, after all. What are your requirements? This site might just be able to meet them.

In Wales, the Anglesey Druid Order is restoring Cae Braint. This former nature attraction is becoming a true nature reserve that will benefit wildlife, the local community, and provide a sacred home for the Order.

In India, one of the most ambitious planting programs of all is happening. Project Green Hands aims to reforest Tamil Nadu. To date, 1.5 million volunteers have planted, and are caring for, over 17 million saplings. MILLIONS. That is the true power of our two small hands.

You can volunteer for these programs and many others. You can donate money to them. And that is only the beginning. We, collectively, have grown to be the power in this world. We are responsible for the state the world is in. Such a blessing that is! Unlike the Ice Ages, and the mass extinctions of the past, we have the power to change what is going on. If we change ourselves, we literally change the world. Our problems are largely problems of awareness.

We each have two small hands, what will you do with yours today?

NEXT:
We are the awareness shining out of Gaia’s eyes.

Wild in the City

Even in the heart of the city there’s wildlife. I’m blessed to live near a bird sanctuary so for me this is even truer than it is for most, but look around you. I’ll bet you find your wild place. I’ve lived in cities most of my life and I’ve always found somewhere to go.

Start with the cracks in the pavement or the parking strips. Even if we humans haven’t planted something there, the planet has done so. Are there squirrels running along the power lines in your neighborhood? They do so in mine. Surely there are pigeons, crows, blackbirds, wrens? We generally don’t notice them because we aren’t looking for them. Do you have a neighborhood park? We don’t seem to realize that we share this planet with other creatures. The hardiest of them make their home in the city, just as we do. Raccoons are adaptable and smart and live everywhere.

In my neck of the woods, things are changing, as they always do. Every tree along the estuary beside E. 10th St. has now been cut. The aspens were only the beginning. It will be interesting to see what the end result is. The walking and bicycle paths will be extended, and all the culverts from Lake Merritt to the highway will be gone. Change isn’t easy, this Saturday there wasn’t a bird to be seen around the estuary or on the campus. Last week I watched triads of egrets walk in the shallows. White pelicans fished farther out and the campus was covered with geese. The quiet this week felt a bit ominous, but when the construction is over the birds will be back.

As usual, all the temporary traffic detouring was focused on the automobile, with the sidewalks unblocked as an afterthought. One day of using the traffic lane was more than enough for me, and I found that my Saturday detour to see the remaining aspens was actually the beginning of a workable temporary route. I can ride directly through the campus, along the estuary to the footbridge, and up the hill on the other side. Of course both paths are blocked at the sidewalk, but I can push my bike up a steeper dirt path between the redwoods and come out in the circle drive in front of the childcare center. From there I only have to deal with the school construction, with the “temporary” diagonal parking and the two blocks of narrowed lanes. That’s not particularly pleasant, but I’ve been dealing with it for over a year now, and the temporary vehicle lane across the estuary has made it so unpleasant for cars that the traffic is considerably lessened.

I have hope, though. Half of what appears to be a bike path has been built from Lake Merritt to E. 10th. I suspect the blocked paths will be the continuation for bike paths on both sides. If so, when they’re done it will be possible to ride along the far side of the estuary to the edge of the lake. Right now that area is wild and enticing, and I can’t get to it… The corridor from the end of the built path to the side streets I currently take home is not exactly pleasant or safe, but I’ll bet I can piece together another route that is, and the project could always surprise me with other improvements. There are already many more riders in that corridor than there were when I moved to this area. Saturday was lovely, though. It’s always the most pleasant ride of the week.

I went and saw the aspens again last Saturday afternoon. I walked through the grove till I came to the right tree. I stood with it awhile and looked closely at the clones walking down from it to the water. They were indeed clones, one was growing straight out of an exposed root. Even shaved away to the heartwood it was growing a shoot. I can see why these trees are so difficult to eradicate. Why did we plant them if we didn’t want them there? I circled around it. Odd, I was mimicking what I’d just read in My Side of the Mountain. I didn’t know it was home, I just knew I had to see the other side.

I found just what Sam Gribley did, in a way. A perfect arch of aspen shoots, growing between the double trunk of this doubled tree. It was of course full of spider webs. They shine silver around the dead branches of shoots from years past like jewelry on the feet of the trees. Brother to the birch, indeed, green leafed, silver trunked beauty who smells sweet in the height of summer and is first to venture into disturbed or fallow ground.

After a moment’s hesitation I sat down between the trees. Yes, I might get bugs, but it was worth it. I spent a few moments weaving branches, dead and alive, around each other. The space between the trees arched around me. I could see another grove of much younger aspens across from me, next to the school garden, framed in dancing green leaves. All I would need would be something to line the space I sat on and this would be perfect.

This Saturday was just as good. My spot awaited me, the campus was even emptier than usual, and I sat in that sweet smelling green cave and let it separate me from the work week. There truly are wild places in the heart of any city. All we have to do is notice when we’re in them.

No Drum–No Problem!

If I’m ever in a strange city with no friends and no money, I’m going to start with a stretch of pavement and a hat.

I decided to busk last Saturday night. I was on my bike, and I hadn’t brought anything with me because I expected to go straight home. I even had to borrow a dollar bill from a coworker because I had exactly forty-six cents in cash on me and it is helpful when busking to let people know what’s expected of them. Am I a random nut who feels like music, or am I trying to make money? I think a blend of the two is the real answer to the question, but presentation is all. So I stuck my bike helmet on the floor, parked my bike behind me, and went to work.

It was a great practice session, and that was fine. I didn’t go home with nothing, but I didn’t make all that much. There aren’t many people in Montgomery Station on a Saturday evening, and I wanted to see what would happen as well as try out some songs I’m learning. I’ve decided that I’m getting in a bit of a rut, here. I’ve found some good places and decided what the “good” stations and times to be there are, as well as what songs draw the best tips. That’s useful information, but the combination of limiting playing spaces and limiting repertoire is a bit, well, limiting. Strictly from a monetary perspective, if I’m bored, I don’t get tipped–and I don’t deserve to be!

The lack of a drum is now becoming almost an advantage. There are very few songs in my current repertoire that can’t be done without it, and having the freedom to move makes me realize just how little I could move when I had that instrument tying up my hands. I had to split my attention between playing and singing. Now that I’ve accepted the slight diminishment of the soundspace I can occupy with just an unamplified voice, I’m no longer wearing myself out in half an hour. I played for about that long on Saturday without even a bottle of water. In fact, it was the lack of water that determined the length of my set. I also get to interact with the people passing by more. I wasn’t exactly hiding behind the drum, but I didn’t realize how much it could get between me and the rest of the world. Even when I go back to using it it isn’t going to be the largest part of my set.
I wonder a bit just how much instruments in general have this effect. I know I’m lucky beyond measure to have a voice that can do what mine does. I am in awe of the skill and talent of many of the people who come to open mics and draw beauty out of their instruments in a way I really can’t. We all have to do what we’re called to, and I am a singer, first and foremost. I have a friend who keeps telling me that I have to get an instrument. I keep telling her that I already have one. With the magic of Garage Band I can even sing against myself. No, what I need, if I need anything, is other singers and musicians. That will happen in its own time.

I’m feeling more ready every day to be off on my adventure. September really is the best time for this to happen, and I’m approaching the point where I’m truly ready to go. I’ve never really been in another country, a day or so in Canada when I was in my teens hardly counts. I want to be confused by the different money, and not know where I am, and so discover things I never would otherwise. This is one of the things I loved about sailing in tall ships. We’d get into port and there we would be; no transportation, and no idea where we were. We’d do some things in groups–we always managed to find the bars, for example, but I had some of my best times simply exploring, and getting the things I needed in an unfamiliar place. I’m more than ready to do that again.

For now, I have a lot of work left to do. Aside from properly planning and making the requisite reservations, I need as much repertoire as I can cram in my head. I need the old album online, and hopefully the new album as well. I need to decide  what gear I still need, and which drum to take.

I’d be happy to take my smaller drum, but it hasn’t got much of a voice. It was a cheapio I picked up from a friend who wasn’t happy with it. I thought I could lower the tone with oil, it was as dry as a bone, but that didn’t work. I also couldn’t get my hand behind the crossbars, so I moved them out. That helped, but the tone is still much too high. It may be the depth of the frame, or it may be just the drumhead. In any case, the next step is reheading it. That is a job I’ve only done once, on the drum I’m currently playing. It did make a cheap drum sound much better, but I’d hate to waste a goatskin on a drum that wasn’t worth it.

Add another project to the list…

Going Home Empty Handed

Going Home Empty Handed

It happens every time. I put out my case and pick up my drum and people walk by me as if I wasn’t even there. I can’t help thinking “this is going to be the time I go home with nothing.” It’s a traitorous thought, always lurking, ready to come out like a bus stop cigarette.

Busking is a hard subject in the School of Life and this is one of the lessons. I’m actually getting good at this one. I remind myself that I’m not really playing for tips, I’m playing to get good at what I do. If I go home with nothing, so be it. I fall into the song, and I keep track of what’s going on around me. Does the spot feel good? Am I getting smiles? Tips? Glares?  Are there other spots to be had? Ah, that’s the rub, especially after work. There are a lot of us, after all.

Busking can teach non-attachment if you let it. Really, how can I possibly go home empty handed? The more I play, the better I get. The more I put myself out there the less important the judgments of others on my presence as a busker become. It is becoming easier and easier to acknowledge the smiles, tips, and positive feedback and let the crap roll off my back. Since I’m beginning to know my material cold, I can pay more attention to what’s going on around me and less on remembering lyrics and getting the drumbeats right.

Trip planning continues. The tickets from San Francisco to the UK are bought. I’ll come into London and go straight up to Scotland. London to Inverness by train is under a hundred pounds and the bus to Skye takes three hours. The hostel in Inverness is around the corner from the train station and they say they welcome musicians. I can get from any train station in the UK to Ireland for under forty pounds, so Ireland from Scotland will be cheap. I may have to change train/bus/ferry multiple times, but that’s why I’m packing light. Adventures make you late for dinner, right?