|My sweet brother|
Recently, there have been days when the only solace is to be near the edge of myself, reaching out to touch the ceanothus with more than just my hands. When the only way to be a sane human being in this world is to remember that my identity rests not in my mind alone, but in the place where I end and the world begins. In that interface, that frontier, that edge-country where the astonishing blue and pollen and the buzzing of a thousand dizzy bees is enough to quench any sadness that had been stalking my soul. David Whyte says something to this effect. So, I think, does anyone who loves, and is loved by, a place in this world. Who doesn't want to be alone any more. Who knows what it means to come home.
|Blooming ceanothus, Johnstone Trail Tomales Bay|
O you tender ones, walk now and then
into the breath that blows coldly past.
Upon your cheeks let it tremble and part;
behind you it will tremble together again.
Part I, Sonnet IV, from The Sonnets to Orpheus*
|Ground lupine, sheep sorrel, Tomales Point|
was waiting for you to notice it. The line between self and world is very thin. Perhaps it is almost non-existent. And yet we are taught to stay far from that edge—for isn't it insanity to believe yourself fluid with columbine flowers? We are taught to bury ourselves in ourselves instead. When in fact in here, and not out there, is where madness prowls. And all along the stars and the columbine flowers have been reaching out to catch our eyes, to receive our praise, to give us the almost unsayable gift of their Presence. The reminder that we are walking always a hair's-breadth from what is numinous, from what will heal us.
On the last new moon, I set out for the moor-hills of Tomales Point where the tule elk and granite outcrops live, a place very special to my heart. I knew I needed to kneel down with the quail tracks. To pay attention to small things. To delight in the discovery of a trail of snail shells, robbed of their snails all among the quail tracks-- proof of the quail's meals!
|Many quail tracks among the yellow bush lupine, coyote brush, and other human, elk and coyote tracks|
To notice and note the state of bloom or seed among the plants. The cowparsnip, making seeds.
The salmonberries, ripe. The song of a returned Swainson's thrush in a wet canyon bringing them, and summer, into ripeness. Letting myself go for a time in favor of Other selves. Giving attention to them for their own sake, not just mine.
What I mean is, instead of going up to a salmonberry and saying, in my head, hello, how can you heal me?—which would make for a rather awkward introduction between human beings—going up to a salmonberry and saying, oh my, look at you, look at your berries and your flowers, how is it here today, you are just lovely, has the gray fox whose scat full of seeds I saw on the trail been visiting you? Invariably, going out of yourself in order to attend to the lives of other beings feels so much better than seeing them always through the lens of one's own need.
|A hill of wild radish, invasive but beautiful|
Mary and I went for a walk back in January at Abbott's Lagoon to talk about all of these things, and about the vision of a workshop taught together that was brewing between us. A threading together of animal tracking and inner somatic exploration and homecoming. If you don't know Mary's work already, drop everything and go have a look. It's really a joy to be in collaboration with her, and through that work get to know her as a friend too. She is a compassionate, devoted, skillful naturalist, grounded in observation and fact and her own senses; and at the same time she has an incredible understanding of the unseen, of our inner worlds, of how the inner and the outer meet. Not to mention the fact that she has a wonderful, warm sense of humor and is just a joy to be around. I feel very lucky to get to offer something with her to all of you.
That day in January, we knelt over otter and bobcat tracks; we watched white-crowned sparrows in the brush; we drank reishi hot-chocolate provided by the wonderful Mary; we talked about the human history of Abbott's Lagoon; we ate a picnic on a sand dune as mist turned to rain and we found we were eating raindrops along with our cheese-toasts and lettuce. We rejoiced in that rain. We talked about the feelings of anxiety that arose around the current drought in California; I expressed my own sense of fear and panic around the rain ending this year. Around not knowing if it will return. Wanting to hold the new green, the winter, forever, like a little girl resisting being left alone at preschool.
Now, after a spring full of wildflowers I hadn't seen in such numbers in years, wildflowers so abundant and beautiful that being in their presence made me at once ecstatic and anxious-- that they, too, would go so quickly—the hills are just beginning to tinge with brown. The buckeyes are blooming, full-spire, full intoxication. The antlers on the elk and deer are starting to branch, nubbed with velvet. The days are long. Summer is near, and with it the memory of drought, the sorrow of changing lands.
We will spend the morning getting deep into the details of animal tracking— honing our senses, our curiosity, our empathy. After broadening these capacities in the morning on the sanddunes, and finding the expansiveness and quiet kindle of joy that comes from just looking with an open mind and heart, Mary will lead us in several afternoon exercises and wanders that will bring these new skills home to our inner ecologies.
Throughout the day, we will be exploring what it means to come home to a place, and to ourselves. What stands in the way of such returns, and how we might begin to transform, or surrender, or arrive, or all three, or nothing at all except bask in the flight of a heron and the shape of skunk tracks. Discovering that our hearts, as Rilke writes in his Third Elegy, are light-green.
and entangled in the spreading tendrils of inner event
already twined into patterns, into strangling undergrowth, prowling
bestial shapes. How he submitted—. Loved.
Loved his interior world, his interior wilderness,
that primal forest inside him, where among decayed treetrunks
his heart stood, light-green.
That despite the chaos, the decay, the struggle, the tangles, our hearts are light-green by nature, without our effort, and always have been. We only have to look, and remember.
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* All Rilke translations are from the Stephen Mitchell edition of Duino Elegies & The Sonnets to Orpheus