Sacred Camouflage

 

Last night I slept out at Valley of the Rogue State Park in southern Oregon, a place of merry adventure as the handsome name implies. That land has particular sentiment to me, the first place my tribal outdoor school camps as it caravans to the south every February, the expanse of the arid wilds under the milky way mountains. Setting up camp alone on this night, I turned away from the flickering lights of the unknown travelers and chose instead the dark, unoccupied place where my friends and I laid seven months previous. People have a way of leaving the scent of their spirit like a loving ghost in the lands they pass through.

The night was drawing down as I pulled in to pay. Clouds were rapidly gathering though the night lingered at 68 degrees fahrenheit. I set up my tarp and sleeping bag between a grove of low hanging conifers, Doug Fir and Incense Cedar. My tarp is brown, brown as the ground, blending in. Alone without light I swallow a portion of food and water and I lay down, satisfied and free in my element.

I have become more of a scout than I realize. I awaken soon to a bright artificial light illuminating my tarp in its shadows, hearing the nearby voices of two bewildered men, “Where is she? Not in that tiny car, but there’s no tent!” It was the rangers come around to check the sites for payment. I was invisible in my low brown tarp and sparse conifer grove behind a barricade of Manzanita. After basking in amusement a moment I revealed myself to their relief and humbled apologies.

A few weeks ago, on a night after acting in a scouting scenario for the teens at their overnight camp, I was walking back down to my yurt. There are no street lights in this rural and wooded neighborhood, but starlight lit the path around me. At once a car came speeding down the drive, approaching too quickly, and I knew they could not see me on the road in the darkness. Without thinking I dove into the thicket beside the road to avoid getting run over, hoping also to avoid being seen jumping off the road so comedically. I can feel the surprising speed and grace of that moment as I think back on it, the fluid rush of right movement without stopping to think, allowing my instincts to take over bodily coordination, right hand lifting the hem of my cloak over my face to conceal my identity, like a polar bear covering it’s black nose in the snow. I rolled aside from the road with an unexpected, effortless lightness of body, and I became small and unseen as the behemoth lights sped past.

“And you were comfortable in it, too,” Grandma pointed out when I told her the story.

That light, it was a kind of darkness, whereas the natural darkness became my light by which I saw. In wilderness scouting, the night becomes a cloak of belonging. Like an animal you become fluid with the day and the night, a member of both elements in a sacred way.

 

 

Journal entry from September 3rd, 2013

 

 

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In Search of Us Creatures

Though I have come to love the night, I remain a creature of the day. I am happy to see you, Light, familiar guide! You parted the watery seal of my blind infant eyes. Through you, in many angles, I see the beautiful world. In night you come to us, too, in small glimmers of stars so that we learn to see in the dark. We have all loved light from the time of our ancestors’ fins, climbing out of the ocean womb onto land.

Some landscapes I never had to learn to love as a separate thing outside of myself. They were a part of my cosmology from the start. The morning light fluttering the oaks and the pines, spilling over wheat-grass hills, my valley’s rivers, unassuming neighborhoods anointed with a secret glow in the desert dawn. As a child I did not have words to describe what I knew: the presence of something profoundly beautiful and holy infusing my encounter with the humble everyday-world. Before the time of consciousness thought, I saw there is a brightness that hums within things.

I remember thinking, in my later childhood, what if it is not only the Light itself, but what it touches that makes it so beautiful? The light and the land are always delighting in each other’s company. The hallowed forest, land-and-sea-creatures, the quiet soil all call out to you, Light, to come find us and fill us with your warmth and strength. Give us visible form, so that we know each other.

If the cosmos were without matter or form, what would give the Light his own lovely face if he had nothing to touch, and so nothing to reflect his beauty? Light’s glory and colors are seen when reflected in the physical world. Maybe that is why God is always in search of us creatures.

 

 

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A Viking Funeral for a Vole

Favorite summer camp moment: the kids in my group at St. Ed’s Art of Nature find a tiny dead vole (a meadow mouse), and after examining it’s feet for tracking curiosities, we decide it needs a proper funeral. I plant the idea of a Viking funeral at sea and tell them to fetch a piece of bark for a boat. They then spend an hour cooperatively decorating this elaborate little boat of curled bark the size of my forearm. They gingerly cover the vole with Hemlock needles and a yellow leaf, and surround the corpse with blue pebbles, cones and “blackberries to feed it’s spirit in the next life” (!) with a great golden Big Leaf Maple leaf as a rudder and sail. The “pyre” is set. We ship it out to sea on Lake Washington: it floats a stone’s throw from us, and slowly sinks. I say, “Oh, look, he’s going to the Underworld!” and we all sing the Canoe Song in unison. Which was so cute I could hardly bear it. Made my week.

 

 

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The Pronoun “They”: a Little Track and Sign

 

I have several friends who are genderqueer. I have recently learned to use the pronoun they instead of she or he. There are a few hidden gems here, a few insights I’ve had about this.

The first insight is this: the words they, them and their typically refer to people in plural. Using they for an individual bridges the separation between the many and the one. We all contain multitudes within us. God has multitudes within God.

The second insight is this: that we welcome the stranger. They is used to speak of people, whether plural or singular, who we have not met yet, but who we know we are about to meet; “I heard there’s a new classmate in town and I don’t know who they are, but I will soon.” When we use they for an individual whom we know and love, we cannot speak of the stranger in completely alienating terms.

The third insight I like the most. They is the pronoun to speak of all collective groups of people who are both kin to us and those who we call outsiders. But if I call a my friend they, I must not alienate anyone, any tribe or any individual whom I once called a stranger. The Other becomes the Beloved.

I think it was Jesus’ ability to see marginalized people as the beloveds of God which made him the Child of God. Speaking of our friends who are genderqueer as they, –as they wish– may turn out to be a little track and sign of the Divine.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” –Hebrews 13:2

 

 

 

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Journal Entries: Notes on the Sit-Spot

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I slept outside at my sitspot last night. Woke up to bird song around me and rays of sunlight through leafy green trees and ferns. And it feels wonderful.

 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Third night of sleeping outside at The Mosswood Secret Spot. The way the sun pours into the morning to fill up the green woods, rays through the branches above when I first open my eyes is incomparable. We have become accustomed to saying, when we touch magic, “It is like another world” but I know now that this world, host of our lives, is at the foundation of all magic and every great story. If there is a heaven, it must be linked into here, unique but not separate, close by this world and interconnected, present among us.

 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Last night I watched the beautiful little bats fly over me at the pond near my sitspot. They got so close I could hear their delicate wingbeats flap a yard over my head, as I lay there watching the dusk draw over the land. (Now there is a flock of sparrows all around me as I write this!) I thanked the bats for eating the mosquitoes and thanked the mosquitoes for reminding me of geologic time and human frailty. Then I went to sleep delighting in the softness of the Western Hemlock tree duff, the warm-cool of the starry summer evening, my wool cloak. I lay under the Sword Ferns that drooped above me like prehistoric giants.

 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The forest was pullin’ a fast one on me last night. So I go out there, get all cozy with my blankey and pillow and I shove a fern out of the way just as I’m laying down all snuggly, when I hear a THUD THUMP a stone’s throw from my head. My heart stops. My overactive imagination takes over. A jumping bug hops on my face like a frog and hops off, clicking it’s wings. A mouse becomes a dinosaur in the night. Ha ha ha. I shine my flashlight and act brave, but the tangled shadows of the moonless night only feed the growing list of possibilities as to what creature it could be. Probably just a couple o’ racoons, I tell myself, or a deer -THUMP-DA-DUMMP- Or an escaped peacock. I gulp. I begin waving my flashlight around and singing one of our favorite WAS songs like an idiot, “How sweet the sound was in the niiiight, the melodies floowed like wateeerrrrrr, the women sang the mon’s delight and the men all sang of honeeyyyy!” You know, just to inform whatever it is that I am an obnoxious flashlight-wielding human, thank you very much, and I am not on the menu. I dive back into my blanket, thinking I won… THUMP. O God, maybe it’s Stickbreaker aka Bigfoot. I get up huffing indignantly, grab my stuff, and march out back onto the gravel road. Sit and watch the stars in the open clearing a minute. I ain’t gunna let this thing win, I tell meself. I drop my blanket and pillow and forge back int there. “Hello?” THUMP THUMP THUMP. I turn tail and beat it. I learned nothin’ at WAS if not the saving mixture of comedy and humility. Trodding back to my yurt feeling partly spooked, partly humored, partly defeated but full of a wonder, I park my bed under the Hemlock grove next to my yurt, and briefly battle an Oregon Grape root for dominance. Tomorrow, I think to myself, I’ll try again. Sometimes the forest just wants to be without humans, ya know? That is a part of honoring the untamed wildness of a sitspot. We are only visitors there. And I ain’t no ‘fraidy cat… er… ‘cept when I am, but I know how to cry uncle with dignity. I count myself honored that the collective spirits of the forest thought me hearty enough to employ their spooky mischief my way and have a little fun with me.

 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fur Pile.

Sitspotters, friends, what do you think? Last night I found a second pile of fur near my sitspot; I asked myself why I hadn’t seen it before. This pile looks more recent than the first I found, though it appears to have been decaying for some time as the dampness of this forest speeds it up, I know. The fur measures a couple inches in length, is white in color and is the amount of two pillows! I found no bones whatsoever. What is this?

I contemplated whether it is still wise to sleep there. I recall Laura G saying she once found a deer kill at her spot and therefore got a different sitspot. When I laid down I still felt spooked and tried to intentionally breathe my way back into the Quiet Mind, but I got flooded with primal fear and adrenaline! Which was kind of cool to feel that. I got my sleeping bag and went to sit by the open night sky of the pond, though the clouds were covering the almost-full moon, and I thought about how excellently spooky these Cascadian woods are at night, how thick and black and tangled with the watery, dark enchantment of the Underworld, or The Other Side of the Veil. This forest has eyes, and I can always feel them on me. And yet, as much as it spooks me, this darkness comforts me.

Well, I wasn’t about to let no pile o’ fur scare me from MY sitspot, so I romped back into my bed zone, snuggled into my sleeping bag and pulled my cloak over my head, for reassurance. I thought about what Marcus said, that a Cougar wun’t likely come get me if I’m lying still and smell like a human, but a bear might come check me out, give me a shy sniff and a nuzzle, but would turn tail the moment I moved like a human. ‘Sides, Black Bears jus’ don’t hunt people much -human people, I mean.

When I awoke, the sweet and loving golden sun came streaming into my crusty eyes through the blazing yellow-green fern canopy, huge and Paleozoic above me. How much more did I appreciate it, every time I’m out there and I let go into the dark, and I wake up again (accountably) unscathed. A female Swainson’s Thrush came to visit me, hopped on the overhanging branch on which I left offerings of bells and incense holders to thank and bless my sitspot while I am far away. A Douglas Squirrel pew’d at me. And I thought to myself, I love you, Forest. How beautiful to be alive!

To Love as a Mentor Loves

With leaves in my hair and dirt between my toes I concluded, last Friday, a successful week of Wilderness Awareness School summer camps with the adorable wide-eyed 4-and-5-year-olds. By 4:30 the last kid had been picked up from after-care, and I expected to also promptly jet. But something in the forest called me, and I went back to the green, wooded place where we gathered and wondered. Everything was quiet now, but I could still hear the kids’ laughter. I laid down under the “fort” they built –a cute, haphazard mishmash of big sticks they propped against a Western Red Cedar tree to pretend they were building a real secret hideout. Little nature trinkets they had been enthralled with lay about: a piece of wood that looked like a giant’s tooth, a rock, a pile of fir cones to awe the imagination. I wrapped up in my cloak and realized I already sorely miss those kids, after only one-and-the-final week of being their mentor. I thought about how their lives might be, what they will be like when they’re all grown up, what the world will be like if and when they have their own kids and generations on generations have come to pass down the shadowed ages of history… and will I ever see them again? Will they remember our one magical week in the woods together, all those years ago in 2013 when they were only 4 and 5 years old? Did I make any real difference? And some tears leaked out of me because I don’t know, and I may never know. Under the eaves of that tree I thought about my own mentors and teachers from my earliest childhood memories up through my adulthood initiation at Anake, and how much they all meant to me. Maybe I care too much, but I can’t help it. I imagine that this mentor’s love must be only a small fraction of the immense love that parents feel for their children. And I think that this unfabricated familial love, when also freely felt for one’s peers and elders, is the love that bonds a community. So this is what it is like, to love as a mentor loves. It’s damn bittersweet to let them go.

 

Journal entry from August 6th 2013

 

photo by Pezibear. Public Domain. Pixabay.com

A New Kind of Top Predator

 

Walking out to my sit spot last night in the dark, I listen to what is around me, and what is in me. An excitement and subtle fear surfaces, and I ask myself what I am afraid of. Of course the dark is still spooky. But I am one of the top predators, I assure myself. My back straightens. The Big Cat and I have a treatise to keep our distance. We are equally terrified of each other, and for that, we have sworn to not see each other as prey. Then another thought, one that makes me weak in the knees for the love of it, like a treasure remembered. I turn my face upward to the lighter ribbon of starry sky through the canopy, and I know that I have been given a great gift, a birthright. I am of that species of top predator, the only of its kind, who has the ability to choose it’s actions compassionately, to employ forethought and empathy in my predation. Yes, I eat meat. Yes, my species currently rules the whole world, and not often with our better selves. But we can choose: that is what sets us apart. A feeling of entwined humility and power came through me, and I was thankful, and at peace.

 

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Fierce to Resist

We were learning to fight. We were becoming fierce to resist, and I was up against my opponent. Watch me, my good teacher, and guide me. I could not see her face, my worthy opponent. She was like me, like a mirror. Battling, she came too close, too quickly with anger. I thought we were just practicing, but she had a knife now. I could not see her face; I could not see her at all now. In our motion entangled she held up the knife with her right hand, pointed at me, leveled at the crook of her underarm and aimed at my heart, now moving too fast at me. Swiftly I deflected the knife back toward her, and I pierced her deeply, and bright red came her streaming blood. How frightening the satisfaction of blood in defensive battle, and too quickly it happens. Is this the origin of evil? “Tell me!” I cried to my teacher, “Is this the way of nature? Is there no other way?” His chest sighed heavily, looking into a far distance. He turned to me. “It is the way of nature. There was no other way.” Sorrow came to me, and I feared being found out by the Patrollers, the ones who strive to wrongly monitor peoples’ minds without care, extracting violence from where it was meant to sleep peacefully, while propagating such worse violence themselves. I fear they are coming, and they will see that I am an animal, that I have spilled blood without calculation or scheming. I have killed my own image. But as we battled we had also entangled in dance, and what now shall I do with her body? Where shall it be laid? Now she is a hatchling of a new life, and it is I who have sent her there.

 

 

 

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On-ramp Underworld

A dream.

There is a portal to the Underworld in Fresno, California. In the middle of the unassuming, circular on-ramp to Highway 41 heading south on Friant, north of Riverpark, you may find it. I recall it was a beautiful small piece of unrecognized land. But in my dream it is an off-ramp. Through this door you can see the big businessmen and the greedy and powerful who abuse their power are half human, half beast. We are all half beast, but these who are evil have bloated bellies and foul fluids dripping from fangs. They pull their sweatshop workers behind them in chains. Their money is blood and gold trinkets which they bargain in lives for.

I have a partner here with me, my companion exorcist. We find the portal to the Underworld in the earthen middle of this circular ramp to 41. There is a spiraling pathway into the center of the circle from the asphalt, a miniature map of where the wild begins, and reclaims what she lost. “Do you remember the way in?” My companion asks me. “The Earth will open for you, and will close around you. Darkness will be all you can see and your breath will leave you entirely as the weight of the ground presses in. There will be no breath for a moment, and all will be blackness. Then your breath will return in a great rush, and your eyes will open, and your ears and nose will open, and you will be on The Other Side.”

We go into this place, and my breath is lost to the darkness. When it comes rushing back, it is a new breath unlike in the world above. My name here is Edath, and my companion is Adair.

The spirits here are up to no good, and it is up to myself and Adair to foil them. Scouts on reconnaissance, Adair is to fly the plane, but the bad spirits discover this and are angry. We must go quickly. We fly above their dwelling with our invisible wings, the ones I always have when I am an exorcist, attached to my arms and down my back and legs. But we have dropped our silver sword, Adair falling toward the abyss along with it, but by a great energy I lift him back up to me.

 

 

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Coyote’s Cloak of Death

I dream I am playing frisbee with men whose faces match those of my friends and some family members. The game begins lightly but turns unexpectedly aggressive, then violent. they are throwing sharp rocks at me. Something is changed in their faces, and I see that it is not my friends or family, but the face-stealers, the demons I have dreamt of many times. I run from them, underneath a large stone-built bridge from centuries past. It makes an arch over the water and the bridge’s walkway is flat and high above the river. The mens’ faces have become demonically angry underneath the thin disguise of the human, and terrible women are with them too. They are all a part of a horrific regime.

Nearby, built into this stone bridge beside the water are stables for animals. I go inside and hide in a stall barely large enough for me to fit into laying sideways. Now Coyote appears to me. She tells me to take off my clothing and be only in my skin now, to hide in this stall curled up, and to play dead. I do as she says, and a moment later a soldier of the regime finds me, and thinks I am dead. I hear him crying regret, saying “Her face haunts me,” at seeing what he had done to people, that he had killed them. So I look convincingly dead, and I see myself from his perspective now –sickly greenish as a corpse, and in a stage of decay with the bones of my face showing.

Coyote speaks, “It is the cloak of death that covers you and saves you, though you are not really dead. I know the way. I bring back to life everything.” And the soldier falls to the ground in contrition, begging forgiveness, and his gun becomes a pile of ash. Beneath my shapeshifter’s cloak I also grieve for my people who have been lost to the jaws of the regime. When the repentant soldier leaves, I crawl out of the stall, in the movement of animal forms down the corridor of straw beds to where two of my beloved friends are sitting and waiting with water on their heads catching light, welcoming me back from the dead, and laughing with Coyote.

 

 

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