Passage

The sun has yet to rise above the horizon. Stars peak out behind branches. A transparent cloud eclipses the quarter moon creating an effervescent glow. I want to stare at it for days. I want to swallow the moon and feel the mystery nourish me like a sumptuous meal of meat, wine, cheese, and fruit picked fresh from the trees. I want to embody her spell. I want to breathe it in like air.

I find a dead raccoon and snap a picture of it. I find a dead possum, withered down and eaten to the bone. I poke at it with a stick. It looks like a snake the way its spine stretches out resembling the letter S. I’m struck by the aliveness of it; at any moment, I feel as though the skeleton is going to pop up and sink its teeth into my skin.

It’s that time of year. The veil is thin.

We’re camping next to a creek. Each morning I stare into the water’s surface searching for nothing in particular.

For three days I sit with the creek, leaving only to walk or eat or sleep. I don’t realize I’m spending so much time sitting and listening until afterwards when the ravens echo in my ears and the babble-babble of water returns with a memory of silence transporting me from the noise of a crowd.

One night, before sleep, I make fire and speak love with the flames. The embers betray darkness. The smoke wafts like incense.

Camping out, the body hardens over night, yet how strange it is, because as I fall asleep the earth feels soft and supple, a welcomed embrace. The woods are both cradle and lullaby for the magic child who’s alive in all of us, but forgotten, covered over by years of headlines and institutionalized education, buried in jadedness and dashed expectations. In the woods, freed from the confines of buildings and politics, dreams run rampant, winding with the feralness of rivers.

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I waver between staying in tune with nature and staying in tune with the news of the day. It’s an odd balance establishing ground in both. They whisper little lies about one another. “The world is falling apart,” say the newspapers. “Everything is in perfect order,” say the cycles of the sun and moon. So I listen when I can to the earth, who speaks of both the hardships and the marvels.

There’s an absurd humor at play, seemingly always.

One day prior to camping, we’re driving along Highway 101, when all of a frightening sudden, there’s a loud BOOSH!! and the hood of the car flies up and smashes our windshield. I quickly pull over to the side of the road. Cars whiz by. Horns blare and honk. Out of the corners of the windshield, where there is a sliver of visibility, I see roadside plants and yellow flowers brushing the sides of the car. We come to a complete stop. I get out, shook. I can’t believe there is no other damage done to the car, and more importantly, our bodies. We nearly smashed through a vineyard. A local guy pulls over and runs to our assistance. He gives us a ratchet strap to re-secure the hood. We take a moment to collect ourselves, make a few phone calls, then drive off to the nearest campground to await the morning when we’ll have the windshield replaced.

What a trip.

There was a good bit of wiggle room in the latch of the hood. Initially, we secured it with a zip tie. Two years ago, we drove like that across the country. Every now and again the zip tie would break from either heat or pressure, and the hood would rattle, so we would pull over and replace the zip tie. It worked until it didn’t. The latch must have bent back just enough, and the hood nearly wound up in our laps.

As I’m driving along the curving roads of Sonoma County, passing picturesque landscape after landscape, the rows and rows of grapevines neatly lined up flowing with the rolling hills, the sun reaches its golden hour and filters through the trees. It’s my favorite time of day (that, and dawn), because everything appears so animate. I feel a moment of peace wash over me and thankfulness. Every now and again the rays catch the webwork of cracks in the glass, refracting the light, and tiny rainbows spread across the splintered windshield. It reminds me of a cracked iPhone screen, and I can’t help but feel inverted, like I’m inside the phone looking out, like I’m inside a dream being woke, like I’m inside the hands of death musing at the spectacle of life.

Cascading

A few years ago I flew into San Fransisco, and for two weeks I had $300. With those constraints, I traveled 500 miles up to Mt. Shasta and back, still managing to leave the west coast with $100 in my pocket (plus a few extra days to wander). When I returned to the east coast, a friend picked me up in NY, and we drove to Provincetown, Cape Cod for the weekend. I came home with $30.

Money is funny like that. Hitchhiking is free, and walking along the highways passing farm after farm thumbing my way north I met kind-hearted people who invited me onto their property to pick of their harvest. I stumbled into vineyards and picked of the grapes. There were apple orchards and pear orchards and I remember fennel growing 8 feet high, the smell so intoxicating, I felt like Odysseus wooed by the sirens.

I slept under stars, I slept under redwoods. I dreamt of coyotes surrounding me cackling like a bunch of card players smoking cigars. In the morning I found a coyote jaw bone with the teeth still intact. It made me wonder about the blending of waking and dreaming.

If money is funny, there are other constructs too that are just plain made up.

On the road, I learned about the State of Jefferson. A figment of the imagination. A parallel fiction. At one point in time, at the turn of the 20th century, there was a political platform involving something like 3 counties from northern California and 2 counties from southern Oregon campaigning to secede from their respective states to create the new state of Jefferson. A number of farmers pushed the platform; it made sense from an agricultural standpoint. But then WWI and WWII swept everyone into a fervor of nationalism and fighting, and the state of Jefferson fell out of conversation. It only renewed more recently when pot farmers re-established the land. The movement for independent statehood is called Cascadia. And now there is state of Jefferson radio and state of Jefferson newspapers. A few of the county seats even voted to secede from their states, but no new legal boundaries have been made. It’s funny to me this is happening at the same time people want to build a wall, at the same time an architect is planning to build a binational city on the border of US and Mexico.

So much of life is a play at make believe.

I met so many interesting folks on that trip. One night 15 of us camped out in Mt. Shasta and cooked a huge meal. “Good thing you ran into the pot smokers and not the whiskey drinkers,” they joked, “otherwise we’d all be fighting now.” They left their other encampment because of that, but that night we all got along, sharing local legends and staring into the fire. In the middle of the night we woke up to the moon spinning in circles displaying an optical illusion I still can’t explain.

In the morning I hitched a ride with them southwards. Someone gave me a book by Buckminster Fuller called “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.” It talked about synchronicity and time- the way seemingly random connections occur and create rich meaning from minutes expanding into moments into long-lasting memories. I finished the book as we pulled into Sacramento.

I walked with an old man who was also hitchhiking. He was a mix indigenous & latino blood. We grabbed a beer, tramped through the historic district and along a river. He talked to me about the movement of the great spirit in such a calming, knowing way. He moved slowly, so I moved slowly with him. We eventually went our separate ways, and I hopped a bus back to San Francisco.

I arrived in the city at 2 am. As soon as I hopped off, a homeless man in a wheelchair apprehended me and told me to take some of his food. I said no, no it’s okay, but he insisted. He said he had too much, that the Vietnamese place down the street leaves food out every night and he wanted to share it so it wouldn’t go to waste. He gave me 3 quarts of still warm soup, then told me I was glowing. Indeed, I felt like I was, especially after bathing in the alpine creeks of Shasta.

As the adventure wound down, it blossomed in my head, feeling quite like a pilgrimage, like a renewal of spirit.

I had been writing in a journal to document my days, and to my delight, I was marking the date down a day ahead of time. I had an entirely extra day before my flight. It made me laugh, grateful it wasn’t the opposite, that I was a day behind. The realization clicked something in me though: Sometimes we wish we had more than 24 hours, and after that experience, I often feel like I’m working with 48, like I live in a post-scarcity mentality with abundance surprising me at every turn.

Alignment & the Synergy of Rebellious Spirits

We drove through Blue Ridge at sunset. It was perfect timing. We couldn’t have planned it better if we tried. The densely jungled mountains swallowed the evening sun, and we continued on our way to Asheville.

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We made the trip, a short one of about five days, to give a hand to a newly found friend we met in the Green Mountains of Vermont. He was leading mushroom walks and just spilling information & knowledge when we met him. We arranged a casual work exchange: We’d help out on his property in exchange for sleeping arrangements and general permaculture & mushroom identifying know-how.

It was quick, but it worked out in mysteriously synergistic ways.

At one point, I was pruning the yard and, inadvertently, snipped down the only elderberry on the 1.5 acre property. When I realized what I had done, a feeling of embarrassment swept over me. How could I be so careless? How could I be so ignorant? Why wasn’t I more mindful? I felt like an asshole. I apologized profusely, and upon instruction, filled a few buckets with water. We placed the elderberry cuttings in the buckets in hopes they’ll shoot out roots. With any luck & encouragement, there will be 8 or nine elderberry trees from the original one.

We got back to work, and the embarrassment eventually passed.

That night, we had a decadent potluck & shared bottles of mead. We sipped lightly appreciating the fermented goodness. As we sat in a circle, a few folks called in one of their herbalist teachers, Frank Cook, who passed a few years back. It was a powerful moment. His spirit was palpable. It pervaded the room. I’ve never felt such a strong connection of lineage as I did with these herbalists, ethnobotanists, mycologists, and permaculturists in Asheville.

We hadn’t planned it as such, and I don’t know that you can plan such things, but so many alignments were occurring: From our journey, to the filling out of the moon, to the work we accomplished earlier in the day, the gathering of people from all around, the potluck that night, the anniversary of their teacher’s death, as well as I’m sure a little magickal residual sparkle from the Perseid meteor showers the week before. & With all this in heart, mind, & spirit, I rolled up a little tobacco to share a few prayerful moments with the elderberry.

I walked outside & the moon hovered brightly in the sky, nearly full, maybe the slightest sliver missing from her edge. Despite it being almost Autumn, it felt like an appropriate time to mistakenly whack down the elderberry. Mateo, who we stayed with, laughed it off pretty quickly after the reality of it set in, saying he’s been wanting to urbanize the elderberry, and this was perhaps an instance of divine comedy or cosmic absurdity that could indeed turn into that opportunity to propagate the tree & spread it.

While I was squatting down saying a prayer blowing tobacco smoke to the heavens, a possum scurried by my feet. It gave me such a fright, I jumped up with a shout. The possum, I think, got such a fright too and redirected its path.

I laughed and shook my head thinking about the possum who plays dead but isn’t really. To think, I snipped the elderberry, but it wasn’t dead either. The symbolic nature of the situation further expounded when I relayed my experience to Mateo. He shared a theory of how the persimmon tree made its way to Central America via the possum.

It all made so much sense.

Here I was, under the moon talking to the elderberry, to the spirit of Frank Cook, to the land, and this little ancient mammal who propagates trees crosses my path.

You know those moments when synchronicity after synchronicity pop up? It’s kind of like deja vu but feels more like the complex, interconnectedness of a Celtic knot. The whole trip was so tightly woven & synergistic. It’s why I like to wake up in the morning & meditate. To let the upsurgence of life settle. To let it make sense. So often I just have to sit back in awe, because the language needed to unravel the journey crumbles at my feet.

This heightened experience is a gift. It takes work, but it’s a gift nonetheless. And it’s really wonderful to share it with other people too.

One night, at a farm house called the Galactic Sanctuary, we enjoyed homegrown squash soup and homemade pumpkin pies. We drank wine and people jammed their instruments. People danced and moved and felt alive. A bonfire blazed outside. We climbed onto the roof and watched the moon rise.

I met a young woman who traveled to Indiana, the Dakotas, and Pennsylvania to work with native tribes in ceremony. She felt a calling from a young age to learn tribal dancing and sit in sweat lodge, but it wasn’t until recently that she learned she has native blood.

I told her about my experience road-tripping through Indiana, how I kept seeing feathers in my mind’s eye, and native spirits flying around expressing anger and pain, and the earth bubbling over with blood. She was wowed at the visions, because, she told me, that goes beyond intuition, that’s psychic perception, it sounds so much like the Lakota Sun Dance.

It was all so intimate and eye-opening.

Each morning we awoke and made oats & cut up fruit for breakfast, drank coffee or tea, and listened to Amy Goodman & Democracy Now! It influenced the start of the day. We engaged a lot of political talking, ranting, and raving, a lot about the corruption of Hillary Clinton and her inclination for fracking. We went further than that, but so much of her shadow side is being hyper-focused on, I’ll leave it at that. I am hopeful, though, the Bernie crowd stays active & keeps pressure on Clinton and the status quo. We’re at a crux with this election, soon to see a turnover of presidents. There’s a need to push an organized movement forward to resist the further for-profit destruction of earth. It’s important we don’t fall into apathy. It’s happening. As I write this, the folks in the Dakota regions are raising the spirit against the construction of a new pipeline.

There are those reoccurring questions of how to get more people involved, how to wake people up, how to present & enact radical change without pushing anyone away.

The programming runs deep in so many multi-varied ways. We have to keep our heads high and our eyes wide. How long can we sustain what’s going on?

Baton Rouge is flooding & there are continuous forest fires in California. Not to mention, women are still being sexually harassed and raped.

It all has me wondering: How much violence & death can people mindfully absorb & process? Do we turn a blind eye because we’re already inundated with so much of it?

The ongoing war in Syria is so seemingly hidden. The situation is devastating. Seeing video footage of blown out streets & rubble leaves me wondering how so many people can be silent about it. At this point, since so many Syrians have fled their country, they ought to fully evacuate the worst of the cities, and blow the rest of what is already destroyed to smithereens and re-wild the area. At the very least, create space for the fertile re-emergence of earth living.

We’re dealing with a war in our own streets too. There are food deserts everywhere. There are prisons stuffed to the brims. There are black bodies shot up and thrown around by those who are paid by tax dollars to protect & serve. But who is being protected and who is being served? It’s clear there is a subconscious agenda lingering from the days of slavery, and some might say, it’s not even subconscious anymore. It’s out in the open for all to see.

Yet ever so slowly, we are breaking the chains.

I met a woman a few weeks back who is reaching out to the police to start a meditation class. Among other forms of activism, it’s a necessary frontline to forge if we’re going to see harmony in our streets.

Amidst all of this, we ought to find time for ourselves too.

One day on our trip we dedicated to hiking. To forest bathing. To remembering there is beauty in the world. We hiked to a 60 foot waterfall. We trekked down steep inclines and climbed up vertical walls. Along the way, we collected chanterelles and an enormous specimen of hemlock reishi. I carried the red mushroom with me, stopping every now and again to look at it and appreciate it. I was transfixed. The fan-like nature of the reishi kept conjuring images of the frilled-neck lizard as well as dancing shamans donning headdresses painted on cave walls.

My inner eye blossomed.

Initially, the reishi called to me through the trees from beyond a creek. I balanced across a fallen log to check it out. When I arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were two of them a bit over a foot wide each. I harvested the one mushroom, and cherished it, but decided to leave it in Asheville.

If swimming and meditating at the foot of a gushing, crushing, crashing waterfall is powerful, the reishi stands right there with that potency.

It was all so nurturing.

We put in a hard day’s work too. We plastered the exterior slip straw walls of our friend’s backyard cabin. We built and took down, built and took down temporary scaffolding. We told silly jokes. We plastered and plastered and plastered. A few of us who are skilled with music took breaks to play & sing as we continued to work. It was a wonderful convergence of livelihood & help.

There were friends from New Orleans, from Philly, from New Hampshire. It really amazed me that we all happened to coincide in Asheville at the same time. How many places is this happening? How many people are experiencing this similar interconnectivity? How often are we coming together to work in community?

It’s so true, the revolution will not be televised. If you’re not experiencing it for yourself, you might not even know there is one.

We mixed so many batches of lime & sand for the plaster, it felt like alchemy & earth magic. I wielded the hoe and the shovel, the wheelbarrow and buckets as if they were wands and shields.

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The night prior, we bottled two batches of mead. One had been aging for a year, the other had been aging for two. We sipped on them as we bottled them. I caught a little buzz before going to bed.

I had so many vivid dreams.

When we returned home, on the night of the full moon, I started a reishi tincture.

Divulgence of a Drunken Holy Man

There’s a culture of protest in America, albeit a spontaneous wind that picks up and sputters out on a whim. It presents itself in sporadic bursts, sometimes overtaking the national dialogue, perhaps when the war in Iraq came about or now with the All Lives Matter crowd. It occurs in a variety of ways that many of us do not see. Like roots that grow under trees and fish that swim in the sea, we see only a glimpse and go about our days. We eat our meals and pick our poisons, and without us realizing, the unknown comes bursting through upsetting the forefront of importance.
Values shift. Minds change. Evolution persists.

Ignorance tightens its grip.

There’s a theory in quantum philosophy that nothing exists until it’s brought into consciousness by an observer. Truth be told, it sounds like new age physics. 

I spent time in Chile in Valparaiso during Occupy, at which time the culture of protest had become a habit. It seeped into the streets, into the everyday. Young people sprayed graffiti and created murals in blind daylight. They brought out ladders and wore bandanas over their faces for all to see. 

There were days, maybe once a week, when we gathered in a plaza. A thousand of us marched from one end of the city to the other. It was spectacular. A feat of human imagination. The students blockaded their universities. They shut down schools. They threw chairs in front of the doorways. The store owners cheered us on. The professors were involved. Young people emblazoned with protest spray-painted banks and government buildings declaring Dio$. The downtown was overrun by students, teachers, children, parents, workers.

It was demonstration en masse.

The next day, government workers buffed over the graffiti. It was routine. They swept up the confetti and went about their day. But everyone remembered the Chilean women topless painted like futbol players dancing to the surrounding sound of drums and pan flutes. And the stages at the end of the march where speeches resounded the need for free education. 

I thought, “What a pity. If I told them what it cost to go to university in the States, they would laugh at me.” 

Another day I wandered to the plaza where the thousands of protestors gathered to start the march, and I stumbled upon a pillow fight, maybe 100 or 200 people. Feathers flying everywhere. It was gentle and vicious. A battle of laughter. Friends goofing off and unserious. I walked with eyes wide, passing through the bashing and smashing unscathed. I felt like a ghost, a fly on the wall, a fallen angel. 

At one point, I found a group gardening atop a hill in Valparaiso. I stood around and watched them dig holes and and move soil for 20 minutes. After the first five minutes they realized I wasn’t leaving. One woman peered over from time to time to see if I was still there. To see if I was real. Instead of passing through like I normally do, I waited. I didn’t know what the cultural etiquette was or how I should introduce myself. I knew if I started speaking Spanish, I couldn’t follow up with a conversation. So I waited. I tried giving a little wave, but even our synchronicities were out of line. Every time I motioned to interact, she re-channeled her attention to the task at hand. Finally, when the tension between us became strained, she came over and asked if I wanted to join. “Quieres ayudar?” So we sifted rocks from soil together. Our conversation broke down in a similar manner. Rocks y Ingles. Piedras and Spanish.

Often times when I travel out of country, people think I’m German. I think this plays to my advantage, because as soon as I say I’m from the States, the energy shifts. For better or for worse, depending on the encounter. A few folks want to know, “What is it like in the United States?” I try to explain, but I have no answer. Everywhere is complicated and nuanced in it’s own manner. They smile. They bring up something that reoccurs in my travels throughout Latin America, “Why do you think you’re the only Americans? We are American too!”

It always makes me question my identity.

Like the time I sat on a bench and an old man approached. He stood and just stared. He was short and well dressed with a tiny mustache and white hair. He said the sun was shining in such a way that I looked like a holy man. I laughed. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was hungover.  

A similar thing happened when I went to Nepal. Not necessarily in terms of being an “American” or “a holy man,” but more along the lines of shifting who I am. Making me question my identity. I didn’t think it would happen. It was the last thing on my mind. I thought, “I’ve traveled a good bit. I’ve been outside the country. I’ve seen third world living. I’ll go and help out, meet some new folks and have a good time.” But this most recent trip left me breathless and transformed.

I’ve been collecting experiences without giving each one its due time.

Sometimes in life we just plough through everything that comes our way. We go from one day to the next without thinking about anything. We check out of life and check in to the daily grind. 

Whenever I travel, I often find myself sitting on a mountainside staring into the distance. Or maybe I’m on a lake staring into the mountains. I always want to write poetry in those moments. But every time I bring a pad of paper to jot down my thoughts, my head is empty. I literally sit. I close my eyes and breathe and a thought pops in my head, “Open your eyes, you idiot! LOOK. Look what is right in front of you.” So I do. 

I try to do that daily. I try to look around at everything. I look around and I see homeless people on the side of the street. People passing by without a care. I ride the trains and see passengers with faces tired bodies beat and eyes baggy. On the streets I see cops whizzing by lights flashing. I see houses run down, junkies passing out, meth heads scratching at their necks. I see people nervously sipping on their drinks. 

When I turn my eyes to the world online, I see economic inequality and racial disparity. I see injustice daily. People arguing over inanities, whether it be who’s a better sports team or what candidate deserves to win. I see competition and petty talkers and a whole lot of restlessness.

And believe me, I’m not here to focus solely on the negative. I understand the world is dynamic. The universe is a flux of multiple stories, multiple verses. I see beauty in the cracks of the pavement, the wrinkles of a forehead. I’m so overwhelmed, I often choke on my own words. I write daily trying to put this experience into a concentrated weaving of ethos, and pathos, and logos.

But really, all I want to do, what I really want to do is march in the streets and participate in a culture of protest. When I’m not chanting en masse, when I’m not traveling to sate the madness in my blood, when I’m not trying to raise hell with my friends, I treat my head like a heart full of blasphemous sparks, like a city on fire. So it goes, the identity of a writer, I splatter my thoughts on the proverbial wall almost daily.

A collection of photos and writings from my first visit to Asia.

I was working with a volunteer group called Conscious Impact, waking up early to cook and eat together, building with bamboo and stone, living communally and very close to the earth. On either side of the volunteering, I had a few days to explore Kathmandu. It was a relatively short adventure lasting 3 weeks, yet it surely had its impact on my experience:

Reflections Nepal

We were invited to a wedding, or the aftermath of a wedding. I’m not sure how the ceremonies work here, but I think they last a week. It all happened rather spontaneously.

To set the scene, we hiked down to the lower village, which is also the lower part of the mountain. The caste system is set up so that the highest caste is atop the mountain, so, being towards the bottom of the mountain, we were visiting the lowest caste. There are many cultural institutions that we respect here in Nepal, like a nightly curfew because the villagers wake up so early, but when it comes to the caste system, we visit all the little communities regardless of caste to show them we are here for people in general. Although the caste system is still a complex tradition here, more people are questioning its respectability and usefulness. By visiting every caste, we encourage such dissolution of boundaries.

For the most part, regardless of caste, the villagers live in bamboo huts with corrugated tin roofs. In large part, this is due to the earthquake. There are a few families whose brick, stones, and mud houses survived the quakes, but they are generally used to store grain and house animals. Most families have goats and chickens and water buffalo. Occasionally a dog can be seen wandering around. Houses are grouped together, maybe fifteen or twenty, situated on different terraces, or levels, of the mountain. People share the land, and quite often, while we are working, villagers make their way through our encampment to harvest herbs and plants to feed their animals.

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This particular family we encountered on our community visit asked us to come down for a performance. They brought us to a lower terrace, through a winding path of tied up goats and curious roosters. Everyone gathered around, perhaps forty people including the four of us from our group and the three interpreters who accompanied us. We sat very close together under a small roofed-in area. It was all very intimate. Aside from the interpreters and a couple others who communicated slowly, the rest of us spent a few minutes just looking at one another, staring and smiling, whispering and giggling.

After waiting and observing, food came out for us to share: fried dough, sweetened hot tea, a dish of spicy potatoes with peas, and the delicacy, chunks of goat meat and baby goat skin. Although we had just eaten lunch, and I tend to stay away from meat, I gave it a little try as not to be rude, but also to get a taste of the local cuisine. For dessert, we were given milk curd. As we ate, the men sang and banged a drum while people clapped along. The songs only lasted a minute or so, but with each interval, the spirit of everyone became charged and joyous.

When we finished eating, a man came around with a pitcher of water, pouring a little in our hands to wash up. The space was cleared and the festivities continued. A woman danced along with the singing, spinning in slow circles jingling her bracelets. The females in our little crew joined the dancing, then two of our male interpreters had their turn to dance.

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The gender divide is very clear here in Nepal, in that men are usually seen with men, women with other women and children, boys with boys, and girls with girls. But as we immersed ourselves in this family celebration, the interactions blended with subtlety. For instance, only the men started the songs, but at one point, a woman suggested a song and everyone joined in. I think this is due in part to the caste system, the way people are “placed” together. There was another moment the caste system was reflected in family life when an older gentleman shooed on the children away from the circle. They all scattered and ran off together, but slowly made their way back to gathering.

It wasn’t until the end of our visit that we met the bride and groom. She was adorned in red and smiled rather bashfully. As we were leaving, a little girl, maybe one or two years old, came over to me, and prompted by her uncle, the brother of the groom, she said “Namaste” lifting her hands to her forehead in what we would consider a prayer, but for them, it’s a salutation. Then she held her hand out for me to shake, which I did, and so adorably, she turned my hand over and gave it a little kiss. It was the cutest thing I think I’ve ever seen, especially because of our size difference: she barely came up to my knee and her hand wasn’t much bigger than my thumb.