What I Want

Stinson Beach and a Seagull Caught In Flight
Sun at Dover

I want to move. I want out of the overcrowded city of my birth, to give the City Spirit the gift of my absence. I want our neighbors to be our friends, to accept us as we are and to value the home we build together. I want to live in a community that works to make everyone welcome. Where we can love whoever we like and don’t have to hide who we are. Where we are celebrated for who we are. I want the whole damn world to be able to live well and in harmony with the land, sea, and sky.


I want to invite everybody over for dinner. Bring me black pepper and chai and olive oil from Athens. We will feed you on the fat of the land and send you home with acorn meal and rich red wine many years laid down in cool dark cellars.


I want a funky house with character, my back door opening onto redwood and hazel. I want a wood stove, if climate and forest allow it, and plenty of magical places with trails to get us there. I want rituals in the woods and acid trips and good weed. I want to climb trees. I want friends, the ones I knew in college and at Faire. People to ramble with and grow old with. Neighbors. The kids down the road who will be the next generation will remember our adventures when we’re gone. The ones we raised to protect the land and only take what it can freely give. I want to see the hourglass pulled over until it spills Pandora’s gifts on the good green Earth. Dagaz, instead of Extinction. Revels instead of Rebellion. The First Peoples as friends, neighbors, and Elders, re-indigenizing the people whose ancestors were once foolish enough to call themselves white.


I want the wheel of the year, Faires and bardic circles and a junior league that dances in the dirt and screws in the forest. I want to help cook gargantuan meals to feed the whole community when Lughnasadh comes and the travelers arrive on their yearly round. I want to sing around the fire after the first rain falls. I want to smell the earth open up after the long hot summer when Lugh’s high gold is beaten into the gray dust. I want the cool of evening.


I want to build a labyrinth and a library and shrines in the woods. I want to play with my imaginary friends and write the stories we live. I want the other side of the adulthood we were roped into. I want a long happy, healthy, prosperous time where I can finish the gifts I want to leave to the world when I die.


I want us to wear whatever we want and be treated the same no matter how odd our choices. Where we are not judged by our clothes, our hair. I don’t want to hide my Thor’s Hammer or my Awen or the patches on my jacket. If I walk down to the local store in a robe and a cloak I don’t want anyone to bat an eye.


I want to live in a place where cars are rare. Where all that we need is available and accessible to all who live there. I want occasional wireless and plentiful conversation, sharing the bus with whoever climbs aboard. I want roads I can ride a bicycle on and to do my shopping safely. I want solar panels and the sense to go to bed when it’s dark. Tomorrow will come soon enough. I want bonfires and clear, sweet water.


I want to live on the coast, near the forest, where Druids celebrate the ninth wave that rolls in from the Pacific. I want to dance with Dervishes and ride horses bareback through the wet sand as the wave rolls out to the ocean. I want fog and cool and quiet.


I want the Triad of Wealth. My body healthy and strong, my time my own. I spend my remaining days doing as I please, and my money for the few things it is needful for. An Awen of plenty crowned with three bright sundrops. I want to live as part of the land, leaving it better than I found it and when I leave this life, my last sight of it inhabited with people who feel the same way, who will care for it after I am gone.


I want fewer people and more quiet.


When the ferry comes, there will be no coins of gold over my eyes, no shroud of silk. Three rays of light, returning to the sun, the rest of me melting into the rich brown loam.

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 Fantasy of Independence

A certain vocal segment of us seem to believe that we are independent of everyone else. We have a right to make our own choices about everything. Our individual rights are more important than the rights of others around us. We won’t be forced to wear masks, we won’t pay for anyone else’s healthcare, or food, or anything else that “they” should be providing for themselves.

This is of course a complete fantasy. I can’t think of a lesson more perfectly suited to pop this bubble of crazy than the mask issue. We don’t need to wear them for our own safety, we do it for the collective, or really, the species. That’s why some of us are confined to our room, until we’re not collectively dripping viruses.

If I were a believer in fate, I could even see the planet providing this particular final exam for us as a way of making us awaken to our interdependence with all life, or die. However, there’s no need to go that far—we did this to ourselves, simply by believing we can do anything we please. We are part of a superorganism that extends over the whole planet and we have started to put the whole in danger. Mother Nature is not mad, God is not “gonna get you” for that. But we are triggering planetary defense mechanisms and the pandemic is one result of that.

As above, so below. Our bodies create a fever to make our bodily climate unhealthy for the pathogens that have infected us whether we are talking about a cold or COVID. Trees give off certain chemical signals when they are being attacked to call specific insects or other allies to help them. Might part of a local ecosystem repel invaders virally? The world is a network of these relationships and feedback loops. If we put a priority on learning what these cycles are and how to be part of them, life will be a lot more pleasant, and a lot cheaper, as we make use of these tendencies to lighten our load. If not, we can continue to be visited by disaster as we blunder around in the equivalent of a darkened room, setting events we can’t see in motion.

The relationship between humanity, bats, and COVID-19 is one example of how this works. Bats are very useful creatures, major pollinators, bug-eaters, and host a whole lot of viruses, some of which can kill us quite efficiently.

Why do these viruses kill us but not bats? Why don’t bats cause disease in us all the time? Finding out why they infect us is becoming clear. Finding out why they don’t get sick could lead to all sorts of medical breakthroughs for us—if we can avoid the temptation of trying to kill them off, that is, since they harbor what to us is disease.

Normally, this viral community bats live with is no problem to us. They live their lives and we live ours. But lately, with the general tendency we humans have to take over any part of the world we please, not thinking, if we bother to give a thought to the communities who live there at all, that we are stressing out a whole lot of living things, from indigenous people, to, well, bats. We encroach on their territory and stress them out in all sorts of ways, and their immunity drops. They start to shed virus everywhere. Is this what happened in the case of COVID-19? Looks like that might be the case, but we don’t have the tools to find out yet.

In any case, the problem that led us here was the fantasy of independence. Here we sit, the richest country in the world, confined within our borders because a significant proportion of us won’t stay inside during a pandemic. Our government, that bailed out the wealthy, doesn’t see making it possible financially and logistically for the general populace to do so as a good investment. Even worse, as individuals, some of us have chosen to assert our rights. We won’t do what we know would keep the most people alive. Keeping our distance for a while and putting on a mask—and putting this simple, cheap strategy into our personal toolkits.

The last few months should have showed us how counterproductive it is to ignore science. This problem is easily explainable and obviously fixable using that discipline if we choose to do what is needed. Most of our world has done so, after all, and are now cautiously resuming what is becoming the new normal. Don’t we want to be part of shaping that? Don’t we ever want to get out of our rooms?

Biking on the Bay Trail

One of the gifts the pandemic has given me is a return to my bicycle. Two wheels and feet have become the safest way for me to travel. I have been getting our groceries on the bike, but since I have been called back to work on site, the bicycle makes it possible to take the ferry across the bay instead of using BART. At first there were fewer cars on the road, but even as people decide that they have given the pandemic all the time they can afford to and jump back into their cars, I have become acclimated again, and have found other ways to separate myself from the worst of the traffic. Thankfully, there has been some progress on the bike path network as well. There are still gaps between the paths, but they are shorter than they were, and some real improvements, such as a long stretch of Folsom in San Francisco and a lot of Valencia Street.

I was curious about the Bay Trail running north from Jack London. I decided to see how far I could get after trying to trace the route via satellite imagery. I wanted to go to REI anyway, I needed to replace my beloved baskets. They are great, but impractical for transit and don’t fit lockers or even many racks, which are built for wide handlebars and narrow back wheels. They also make it impossible for me to pick up Beater with any kind of a load. I wanted a real rack that would support panniers, which can be carried separately, and also the weight of a load of groceries. I also wanted to see how crowded BART is, so I took the trail to North Berkeley and rode back. I picked up a rack rated for 110 pounds, and one of the only panniers they had left. No one in the bike shop could tell me how to get through the Maze, so I bought a newer version of the bike map I already have, which is the best five bucks I’ve spent in a while.

The Berkeley end was pretty good. It took less than half an hour to get from REI to Emeryville, and that was because I was dawdling a bit, enjoying being near the water on a really beautiful trail. That ended around IKEA. There is a good separated trail down Maritime, through the Port, but the exhaust is pretty heavy, and there are a couple of spots where you have to cross the streets the trucks use. According to the map there are two other possibilities, 40th to Mandela, or Middle Harbor to Third. Seventh was scary. The path is really a wide sidewalk, and there are several intersections much like those in the Port. I won’t be doing that again if I have a choice.

I bailed at Oakland West, and wished I hadn’t. Third will get me close to Jack London, and the Bay Trail will get me to 5th. The recent improvements in the bike lanes in my neighborhood don’t do me much good, though there is one light on International that has gotten rid of one blind crossing that I appreciate very much. I still have the potholed side streets largely to myself, and have plenty of decent sections of pavement that I can thread the needle home on.

All in all, it was a useful expedition. It looks like there is a very long but possible ride from Lake Merritt to the San Rafael Transit Center. That opens up the possibility of taking a bike to Point Reyes, perhaps to Mt. Tam depending on the trails from the other side of the bridge, and perhaps points north. Maybe, with all the people trying out bicycling, the Bay Trail’s gaps will be filled in the near future.

Hope is a Verb

Gibbous Earth rising over moon

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

Llyn Tegid #writephoto

Green river

Inspired by Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt

Green river
AnyRiver, Planet Earth

I’m standing on the shores of Llyn Tegid, where Cerridwen brewed the Awen. I, too, did that task, with a pack of Druids I’d never met. One of them was sent down to Sussex, where I was Called, though I didn’t know it. On his shopping list was a Gwion, to stir her cauldron, and I, bumbling my way across England, Scotland, and Ireland, heard the summons and altered my trek to Wales. It was a picaresque journey, I was teased and scared, and ultimately invited in by Scathach, ferried over to Ireland, my supposed destination, to sing of Macha on the mound at Emain. A few precious minutes in the chamber at Brugh na Boinne, and a lovely session in Dublin. I busked the price of a couple of pints at Temple Bar and laid my head in the quietest hostel I’d ever stayed at.

Cerridwen made me prove my resolve. I found out why the Sail Rail fare was so cheap. Six hours on the train station floor at Holyhead, and there was no hostel to be had at Bath. I would have been better off staying on Anglesey. Eventually I found myself on the shore of the Lake. I hadn’t even known where I was going! A chill ripped through me as I realized what I’d gotten myself into. A weekend of beginning the brew and tending the Cauldron, then a year of full moons spent stirring. I knew I’d be returning to finish the brew when the ogam wreath Cerridwen had been offered washed ashore where I was camping.

In my mind is a Grove. In the apparent world it grows at the top of Mount Tamalpais in California. Over the year the circle of stones within it became a Well, spring-fed, in my mind. The stream that ran from it tumbled down the hill and I chose one day to follow it, to see where it led. It grew, fed by other freshets and I found myself on the path to the Lake. I came to the bridge that I’d crossed during that weekend of brewing in Wales. I climbed over the stile and found myself beside Llyn Tegid once more. The green, the rocks in the streambed, all led me back to that place where I can journey any time I wish, in my mind’s eye.

Are We Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution?

Gibbous Earth rising over moon

Gibbous Earth rising over moon
Earthrise, Apollo 8, Dec 24th, 1963

We stand on the edge of the abyss. Humanity is the scourge of the planet, some say. The Earth will be better off without us say others. We are causing our own extinction.

I think we’re the child, throwing toys out of the cradle, not caring what breaks as we rage at our own actions. We’re magnificent in our anger, our sorrow and our guilt are expressions of our deep goodness, the power we have yet to grow into. Our actions really do matter, and we have all the tools we need to save ourselves and become the planetary guardians we long to be.

We have already jumped out of the cradle. We are the only animals on this planet who have managed to climb out of the gravity well. Can you hear the voice of Neil Armstrong in your head? I can. Can you see the face of Earth, shining blue-green in space? I can. Our footprints are on the Moon. Our technology is flying through space. Our human images are blazoned on a golden tablet, the sounds of our voices etched on a disk. Whether other intelligent beings ever see any of these things or not is immaterial. We have managed to create a record of our existence that might remain beyond the death of our solar system.

Isn’t that achievement inspiring enough to rouse us to live up to our own magnificence? Isn’t it worth doing the hard work of cleaning up the scattered mess of our childhood? If we can figure out how to explore our solar system, can’t we learn how to live together in peace, to share the riches we have, to recognize what true wealth really is?

Money is for suckers. It causes more problems than it solves. It can be useful, but like LSD, it’s a quick fix, a glimpse of enlightenment, not the real deal. It’s dessert, not the main course. True wealth is food on the table, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads. It’s being able to drink clean, clear water from the river that runs through our town and being able to look up at the stars above our heads. It’s having neighbors we trust, whose names we know, people we can count on when we’re in trouble, people we break bread with. It’s getting to a place where we see race, and want our children to grow up in a place where they live with people of many creeds, colors, genders. It’s a place where we feel impoverished when we don’t have all those different points of view to call upon when we have a problem to solve or we’re planning a party. It’s a place where our children play in the street and can go to any house in the neighborhood when they need help.

It’s a place where we don’t see children starving in Yemen or neighborhoods bombed out of existence. I’m heartsick at seeing the faces of people gunned down at a bar, soldiers lost in war, burned out cars in a forest ravaged by fire. I’m scared to turn the news on at night. Aren’t you?

What we pay attention to grows. So many good things are happening in this world. We can start on so many more any time we choose to give our time and energy to them. It feels good to be part of the solution, to give ourselves to life. It’s all around us.

Here are two of these good things:

Trees For Life: Saving the Caledonian Forest

Yes Magazine

Every workday morning I walk across town to catch the train. I walk through my quiet neighborhood and give thanks that I have a secure job, a house to come home to, a beautiful, loving partner. Peace begins with me, and I share it, silently, as I walk. I spend that walk thinking of what the world would look like if everyone had this peace. Magical thinking? You bet. I’ve done it for 18 years now. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it has an effect. It makes me look for and nurture the good around me. It makes me feel better, and the extra energy I have available to do the right thing, to not fall apart at the awful things the world around me shows me every. single. day. is in itself worth the energy expended. Since I believe that humanity can be better than we are I act like a member of my magnificent, flawed species. I walk to work instead of drive. I get enough exercise in that commute to feel good and have the strength to carry groceries, pick up trash, stand in front of City Hall. My polling place is on my way to the train, so voting is easy. Since I’m lucky enough to be able to vote easily I do it every single time. It goes on from there.

I’ll bet you do the right thing every day too. I’ll bet many of you don’t notice all the ways you are part of the solution instead of the problem. I also think, that if you took a moment or two to think about what you do, and let yourself feel good about it you’d be able to think of a few things you could add to that list, new habits you can begin to create.

I’d love to hear about them, and I’ll bet that I’m not the only one who will find them inspiring. Please! Comment! Feel free to share this post, or make one of your own and share it here. Let’s see what this might lead to!

Nine Waves

When does one wave end and another begin?

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

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

Frosty Bedding at Coast Camp
Frosty Bedding at Coast Camp

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

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

Tide Pools
Tide Pools

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

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

Grace, My Bike Trailer
Grace, My Bike Trailer

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

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

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

Wild Iris
Happy Spring!

The Story of Now

Gaia statue among the ferns

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!

Yew

Ancient yews growing wild

Ancient yews growing wild
Ents at Kingley Vale

 

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

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

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

 

Table tombs at Llangar Church
Table Tombs at Llangar Church