I sing to you bubbling eternal sweet ones
Who never abandon this human heart
Who ask nothing yet give the glue of Life itself
Who dance in the wind, bounce from the soil,
Sing in the rivers and give comfort of fire
May my life be worthy of your guidance.
Earth Spirits are not necessarily limited to the literal Earth; they can be of the atmosphere, solar system, universe, or ethereal realms. They can be our ancestors, or ancestors of others. The spirits are accessible to beings on this planet. The communication can flow both ways, as can the influences. They are the source of the music which the musician-messenger brings into the world, the source of the great poem, and part of the great spiritual teachings. They can inform our dreams as we sleep, and bring us sudden insight. We can ignore them or allow our lives to be greatly beautified and enriched by them. Wherever there is connection they are there. If Gaia Herself were not a living being, there would be no life here. Because She lives, it is within Her power to impart wisdom, inspiration communion, and creative energies.
In Mexican and Guatemalan traditions some of these spirits were seen as tiny little people. The Aztecs called them Tlaloques, and those in the woods were called Pockwatchies. In Buddhism there is a similar tradition of Dralas, the spirits in everything. The Europeans know elves and fairies and other beings who protected the forests and animals, even take care of wounded animals. The Maori of New Zealand call fairies Patupaiarehe.
Where human activity has destroyed habitat, marred the air, the earth, the waters, where then do Earth Spirits go? What happens to life forms when we lose the spirits from our places? We have been finding the disturbing answers to these questions in recent times. Now we face the challenges thrown up at us as a result.
In The Mysticism of Sound and Music Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote of the knowledge of the visible and invisible:
“The material sound of instruments, or of the voice produced by the human organs of sound, is really the outcome of the universal sound of the spheres which can only be heard by those in tune with it. This state is called anahad nada by Yogis, and sawt-e-sarmad by Sufis.
The musician and the music lover become refined and are led on to the higher world of sound. Sufis lose themselves in sound and call it ecstasy, or masti. Psychic and occult powers come after experiencing this condition of ecstasy, and knowledge of the visible and invisible existence is disclosed.”
He says this brings a bliss of happiness and peace.
I am four years old in the wide desert valley irrigated from the river. With bare feet somehow I enjoy walking on the scorched summer dust. In the hot air I feel at home—Earth, sky, sun, bare hills with their shadows, wispy clouds, hold me in their soothing hands. I am alive.
My family and some relatives are at the ocean. I like to walk barefoot in the squishy sand; my feet leave an impression on the wet beach. I walk out into the water and watch the foam make moving designs in the tide, feeling the push and pull on my ankles. My hair is matted by the salt wind. I smell the salt and kelp, and notice all the little holes above the buried clams. I am tuned by the rhythmic beating of the surf. I lie on the beach and the sand is sculpted by my small body. The sea makes a constant roar which puts us to sleep at night. I listen to the sound of the sea and it tells me things of greatness, of power, of long distances.
At six we move to a new house with a big yard and shade trees. No one knows yet how near-sighted I am and that my world always looks like a Renoir painting. I am sitting on the ground and get my face right down so I can see the many black ants all crawling in one main direction and many of them are carrying larvae on their backs. The larvae look so big I am in wonder that they can carry them. They look like eggs but I do not know what they are. I am fascinated that these tiny creatures can work so diligently and with such motivation and all working together.
Sometimes at night Dad takes me and my younger sister out to get night crawlers for his fishing outings. Now he and I go up the Naches and we get crayfish for bait. To me they seem huge; I intently gaze at their arms and pincers and dark hard exoskeletons. I watch them move about slowly in a jar of water.
(I remember the basalt cliffs by the river and there are pictographs on the cliffs at Naches Gap. Maybe Dad said something about them, or we even saw them…. The Native tradition is that the pictures were painted after the great flood, by very small people called Wahteetas. It is told that in the old times at night people would sometimes send their children out to the cliffs where the paintings were, to attract the Wahteeta spirits to them. It was considered very auspicious for a child to acquire such a guardian spirit.)
It is winter and dark when my sister and I go upstairs to bed. We ask Mom to play a special song on the piano when we are falling asleep. The song speaks to me of some deep realm that fills my heart with something big and magical…night after night.
It is evening; I am seven, standing on the cherry stump at the back of the yard. A soft spring breeze brings me the scent of the willow, the apple blossoms, grass. The hills surrounding the valley are in purple shadows. I hear the Earth Spirits singing, and imagine them in the clouds. Their song has no words—it is a chorus in harmonies of vowel sounds. The music penetrates my being, I feel it as part of me. It does not occur to me to mention this to anyone; it is just how it is. (I do not know that later I shall call this “Earth Spirits,” as I do not need to name this aspect of what I am.)
We go to an island and camp in the forest by a lake. I am eight. The water is green, and minnows swim around our legs. We search out beaches at the salt water and see killer whales swimming. There are no other people around. I feel something special when I walk around back at camp in the early morning and smell the food cooking. It feels like home. The tall trees bring a sense of protection, of communion in a circle with the people; the smell of the woods sinks deep into my being. I climb up the fat limb of a huge tree and the view is larger, the tree holding me.
We drive to the lower valley where the Native Tribe lives. The tipis are white against the earth. I imagine what it must be like to be with the people, and I sense they are touching the Earth Spirits and that is what makes me long to live as they live.
We are at the evening church program for Christmas. The lighting is low and our family is up in the choir loft. Below me Gary Puckett (later of Union Gap fame, and whose brother is my age) plays a clarinet solo of “Star of the East.” The sound and the song take me somewhere faraway and mystical. I always remember this scene and how the song sounded and how I felt. I play the song around the winter solstice every year while I have my french horn.
I am nine and a half; we have to move from this valley. I am very sad to leave my friends, our house, the desert hills, the hot summers, the blue blue skies, the snow in winter. This place is all I know; I am comfortable here with these smells, colors, the cottonwood trees, the river, the big shade trees in people’s yards. My father cries, and this is something new—he grew up here. It changes something in me to know his sadness. “The hills of home,” he says. We are leaving the Spirits which have been close to us here, and that is very hard.
At ten I am at a camp on Orcas. We spend a night outside sleeping on the beach. I get up in the morning and breathe in the salt air, and scents of living things, gaze at the silver clouds, notice the smoothness of rocks on the beach. I am alive and aware of myself being so and everything else is alive. The spirits of the water, the rocks, the gulls, the sky fill me and it is so natural to be in that moment, breathing, being.
I am thirteen and my mother takes me into town to hear the great Marian Anderson give a concert. Her powerful contralto voice and the heart she puts into the songs impart to me a deep experience of the music. But more than that she is the most dignified person in whose presence I have ever been. That dignity pierces me and I understand something new about being human and something to which to aspire.
In the summer Dad and I go camping near Vantage before the dam to the south is put in. We stay by the Columbia River in a gorge cut through big basalt cliffs. It is hot, and the land is barren except for sage and sparse juniper. We go digging for arrowheads and find a few broken ones and some small beads. We hike on the other side along the top of the cliff and down to see rock pictographs made by the ancient ones. The spirits of the ancestors are here, speaking to us in the pictures. In the morning the cliff across the river is struck by the desert sun as it replaces the shadow on the rust-colored rock. At sunset the shadow slowly creeps up the cliff on our side. (Some of the pictographs were brought up from the canyon before the dam was built. Some stayed and were flooded over. Now no one can walk to where we walked on that cliff.)
I am studying, sitting beside the radio. I listen to a movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony which overwhelms me and takes me to places of vastness and unimagined beauty—as if the answer to some deep longing. I know from this that Beethoven lived as I live, in his heart, as all humans live; that he gave this sacred beauty to us all makes me very grateful.
I have just turned 15, and we travel to my relatives because my favorite uncle (my aunt;s husband) is dying. I saw him four years ago when the Hodgkin’s was beginning, then again two years ago. He is bed-ridden and we are taking two of his sons with us up north. Each of us gets a chance to be alone with him to say “goodbye.” This is my first real experience of the death of someone I love. I look at his gaunt face, his skeletal neck, shoulders and upper arms. I cry inside and look into his deep dark eyes—he takes my hand. I can hardly believe this is the last time I am seeing him. On our journey back we learn of his dying…I hold my cousin who is eleven, for hours. We stay one night at a motel and what strikes me are the stately pine trees outside against the dark blue sky. I gaze at them as I try to grapple with the terrible loss I feel and deep empathy for my aunt and cousins. I gain a bit of solace from those pines. Actually the scent glands of the pines emit a medicinal odor of esters of pinosylvin. The pinosylvin is a natural antibiotic and when emitted as an ester it produces a stimulating effect on breathing, and functions as a mild narcotic, bringing on relaxation (from The Global Forest, by Diana Beresford-Kroeger).
I am eighteen and have just started college in Portland. On a part of the lawn our brainy team has just won a football game over a Bible college—a very unusual thing. The wind rushes up, leaves fly everywhere (is this god’s revenge that we won?) and this begins the Columbus Day Storm of October 12, 1962. After eating in the cafeteria I try to walk to my dorm and have the fight to keep my feet on the ground and be upright. A bit later our dorm is evacuated because of the big trees near it. I stay with a couple friends in another dorm. We hear the wind all night and the crashes of trees. In the morning we look out to see huge fallen trees and debris. Part of the classroom building roof was damaged. It takes a lot of cleaning up.
(This storm was classified as an “extra tropical cyclone” and spread damage from northern California up through Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. On that morning barometers began to show sudden variations. Turkey farmers noticed their flocks were huddling together in an unusual way. By 11:00am winds of 63 to 83mph were reported off Oregon; later that rose to 145mph. The winds increased as the storm pushed up western Oregon. Cattle were killed by falling hay bales. At one farm 5000 chickens were blown through the air when a poultry house overturned. Just before the storm hit Portland there was an eerie glow in the eastern sky. I did not see this as we were on the western lower slope of a hill. Huge trees fell everywhere, smashing cars, felling power poles. Ships broke mooring, a gas station blew away, church steeples toppled, people were killed and injured. Houses and other buildings ripped apart. Many farms lost most buildings, and many animals and fruit and nut trees. Winds in Portland were recorded at 116mph. There were 145 people killed and 317 injured. There were over 11 billion board feet of lumber lost in the forests, and tremendous efforts had to be made to clear out fallen trees to mitigate bark beetle infestation and the fire hazard. We were lucky at the college, as the damage was relatively minor. What happened for us was a realization of the enormity of the powers of Nature and how suddenly and unexpectedly they can unleash themselves. Information is from The Big Blow: The Story of the Pacific Northwest’s Columbus Day Storm. Ellis Lucia. 1963.)
At nineteen I am with my first great love, in college. We sit in early evening on a bank above the wild ocean below. The hills behind us are tan and fairly bare and the beach runs to the north and south. A wind brings the ocean mist to us as we look out on the vastness of the sea. We listen to the pounding of the waves against the shore, the rock formations. We share our first kiss. Gaia, is part of this kiss, this sharing, this heart opening. Swirls of cloud and mist, calls of gull, the wetness on our hair and faces, the slightly darkening sky, the pounding of the surf are throbbing through us in these moments.
Ravi Shankar and two accompanying musicians play at the college. The room is not too large and we are in dim lighting. The musicians sit on carpets on a raised area. I have heard Shankar’s music but only recorded. The tablas, the sitar, the music take the listener gently where she has to go—this is a splendid journey, a soul journey, a blessing of an evening.
That same college boyfriend has a brother and sister-in-law who co-founded the Seattle Folklore Society. They are in an old timey band and play at the college. These old tunes dig deeply into my heart; they rhyme for me with reality. The brother plays mandolin and looks as contented as an angel when he plays. This is one reason I take up mandolin later and love playing it. The old timey music brings me home. I play it in bands for years.
There are many trees on the campus. When things are hard I intuitively go to a willow tree and hug her, feeling the great comfort she imparts. It is nice to be able to have my arms part way around a solid, sturdy living tree. Later do I learn of the significance of the willow in pagan/wise woman moon traditions, and others. In ancient Greece willow was sacred to the death aspects of the Triple-Moon goddess. Helice in greek and Latin, the willow gave its name to Helicon, the abode of the Nine Muses, orgiastic priestesses of the Moon-goddess. The willow was sacred to poets and was the tree of enchantment. There is a tradition that Orpheus received the gift of mystic eloquence through touching the willow in a grove of Persephone (Robert Graves, The White Goddess).
It is sophomore year before (US) Thanksgiving; I head from the library over the campus to get lunch at the cafeteria. I pass by that same willow tree. Then suddenly I hear a young man shouting that John F. Kennedy was shot just awhile ago…not only shot, but killed, assassinated. I am stunned. I continue on to get lunch where many others are congregating, also in shock. I take my tray of food to a table with some room. James Dickey is at that table and is my poetry teacher. He makes a comment about ignorant southern something-or-other. In this hour, this day, millions of people in this nation are crying to the spirits of this land, are asking how things came to this. There is a huge cloud of mourning over everything. Images that will stay with us forever come on TV during the holiday—the casket being taken down the wide avenue, Jackie with children John Jr. and Carolyn. A nation’s identity is suddenly changed; a nation’s sense of innocence broken apart.
At 22, I hitchhike with a friend in Andalusia in the spring. East of Seville we wait for a ride in the countryside. The orange blossoms are out and their scent pervades everywhere. There are orchards of olive trees. Only the bells of goats nearby break the silence. The warm sun shines on all this, with greening fields spreading out in this spacious paradise.
Back in Paris, where I am living, I am friends with three men from the Congo, all students. They were introduced to me by an African American woman, also a student, whom I met on the plane to Europe. She and I often get together with the Africans. We get invited to go to the yearly Pan African Ball in Paris with them. There must be over 150 Africans, and I am the only non-black person at this dance with live African music. The women all dress in traditional dress and headscarves, the men in European dress. To be here vibrating with their music, dancing their dances, seeing their dignity and beauty, I feel very privileged. The Congolese are special friends of mine, and they add to the spirit of Paris, for me. They cook African dishes and have us over, play African music, and sometimes we dance. My heart goes out to them, as they left the Congo partly because of the US-backed murder of Patrice Lumumba. This is very sad for me, and I know they might not ever go back to their country. (I write a song some years later for one of them, and sing it often.)
I’m turning 23, and working at an International Voluntary Service Camp in the Bernese Alps; I am the only one from the Western Hemisphere in our group which includes young people from Switzerland, Italy, Wales, England, Sweden, Pakistan, India. We eat together and before each meal we sing a song from different cultures around the world. One evening we hike up higher from our chalets and it gets dark. A couple local people help us and we build a fire and cut pieces of dark Swiss rye bread and hold part of a round of cheese over the fire and let it melt onto the bread. This is called Raclette (the cheese). The stars come out over the mountains all around us. To me the mountain Spirits are always very strong, and the spirits of my friends from the camp and everyone there seem to be dancing together beneath the stars. I am living, laughing and breathing this.
My husband Fred, and I are way up in the interior of BC with our old Chevy pick-up as our camper. I am 26. We drive on an old logging road and have some engine trouble so decide to spend the night. We build a little shelter out of downed tree limbs, as it looks like rain. We start to take a walk to see if there is a creek nearby, and out of the bush comes a growl; we do not see the animal and suppose it is a cougar. So we turn around and go back. Later we start a fire to keep bears away. Out there in the middle of the forests and hills, with the animals, the clouds, the smells of trees, smoke, earth…such peace, such sustenance. And I began to receive the messages, the communion of the Spirits, so close, so close. I am held sweetly in that embrace.
We stay in the truck one night in a narrow river valley with farms. In the morning we go out to be greeted with the sight and sounds of probably more than a thousand Canada geese, all honking, moving, and then taking to the air. It is breath-taking. The valley is throbbing with the presence and sounds of the geese.
Near a small town at night we decide to camp in the fairgrounds. But the truck becomes stuck in mud. It is dark and we walk up the road; I am gazing at the stars and mesmerized by them. I focus on Corona Borealis, seeing it as the castle of Arianrhod (silver Wheel), an aspect of Caridwen (Cerridwen). To be in the castle is to be in a “royal purgatory awaiting ressurection” according to Robert Graves. Corona Borealis was called the Crown of the North Wind. The brightest star of the corona is Alpheta, which is the same as the Greek goddess Ariadne—most holy. Arianrhod was the great matriarchal Triple Goddess. And so with my thoughts in the ancient times I stare up while walking, so my neck gets sore, reading the stories of the stars. I marvel at how the stars spoke so powerfully to our ancestors and feel close to those ancient ones.
At twenty-four an acquaintance suggests I might be interested in the work of Immanuel Velikovsky. I read through Worlds in Collision and suddenly everything about the world, about Nature, the solar system, our history, war and violence, our brains, is turned topsy-turvy for me. For the rest of my life this stays and it is a bit hard, as some of the ways I see and interpret things are quite different from those of most people in “developed” societies.
I am in my late 20’s and a neighbor introduces me to morel picking. I venture out often picking these mushrooms and bring back many, to eat and to dry. There is a communication between me and the spirits of the morels; they often guide me to them. The trillium are out when the morels are there, and the wild strawberries are blooming. All the scents of the forest together meld into one unique blend in this late spring; it is my mushroom time and very sacred. Bears are out foraging, but do not bother me. I have a dream about a huge giant morel, over three feet in diameter. I am thankful to the spirits for this dream from them. I think it ironic that in high school my close friends called me “Fungi,” as I’d done a science report on mushrooms.
Fred and I sleep outside sometimes in summer, on our farm. When the Northern Lights are out, they are slowly dancing greenish-yellow phantoms. It is almost as if we can hear them singing, and it really seems as if they are so close we could reach up and touch them. They bless our being, our place.
Now I live at another place in the hills of NE Washington. Today I feel sad and needing solace. Again I go to a tree, this time a fir. She holds me in her silent majesty and communicates to my soul. The (silver) fir was sacred to Artemis, the moon goddess who presided over childbirth. The word ailm (fir tree) in Old Irish also meant palm tree, which was the tree of birth in Egypt, Babylonia, Arabia, and Phoenicia. The palm is the tree of life in the Babylonian Garden of Eden story. The palm also gave its name to the Phoenix (Robert Graves, The White Goddess).
It is summer solstice on the communal land where I live; I’m single, in my early 30’s and evening is coming on. I am in the big garden and gazing at a cabbage. In the solstice light the cabbage appears translucent, with its very alive colors and shapes nearly mesmerizing me. I feel the spirits of the cabbage and of the solstice and the surrounding plants and air, the nighthawks, the insects. I feel the power of Gaia: everything is bursting, vibrating with a perceptible energy. I breathe it in and feel renewed.
At night we often hear coyotes howling, and in the spring the pups too. This is very special. Also in spring we go to sleep with the sound of frogs in the pond, reverberating through the small valley. I feel the joyous energetic spirits of the frogs. Sometimes I go up on the hill and chant and hear two echoes coming back. Once in awhile I go up there and play Cajun songs on my accordion. Of course Coyote was a most important figure in Native tradition in this area. He sculpted mountains and rocks, changing the courses of rivers, helping the two-leggeds in many ways.
In early summer our little valley breathes the aroma of new wild strawberries and at the same time the pungent one of yarrow. In this place are many deer and raven, and there are poorwills, great horned owls, ground squirrels, mountain bluebirds, porcupines, grasshoppers, woodpeckers, chickadees and many more who contribute to our sense of home. There are many tamarack trees along with the fir and pines. Having lived other places I learn that ravens have their own language in different areas. Here they often do that popping sound which humans do flicking their finger out from inside the cheek, a very playful sound.
I seek comfort and walk to a huge rock on the land, with a tiny pool of water on top. I climb up and lie on the warm stone surface and give my sorrow and confusion to the rock spirit. She is unswerving in her attention to me, supporting me with her solidity and giving me the sense that so long as I can be with Earth I shall never be let down. The trees girding the rock add to this comfort. Being alone this way I learn I am never alone.
I am at a folk music festival for the second time in two years. At the last one a featured musician was the well-known Cajun fiddler from Louisiana, Dewey Balfa, and he is here again this year. Sadly, in the intervening time two of his brothers, who were in his band, died in a car crash. Tonight we will have a traditional Cajun dinner, complete with chasing the dinner chicken around until it’s caught. It is late afternoon, in a field which is empty except for Dewey on one side and me on the other. He walks toward me and we embrace; I feel his grief. I am honored to give and receive a hug from this man who makes music that feeds my soul. I hope this gives him a bit of comfort.
With some help I am raising bees. The bears have broken into the hives a few times so now we have an electric fence plus the garden fence beyond that. I love the bees and am happy when I look into the hives and see them all moving, working together, bringing in nectar and pollen. The scent of beeswax is heavenly to me. I love the smell of the honey, and the clear golden color when it comes out of the hand-cranked extractor. I am building a few hives and frames to go inside and this brings me closer to the bees–who bring us the possibility of much of the food we eat. There is nothing like eating honey that is produced from the flowers from our own neighborhood. The taste is not strong, just very pleasing and suggestive of the varied flora.
I read a book about the effects of nuclear radiation, about nuclear power, and I become obsessed about the dangers of the nuclear industry and the irrationality of manufacturing nuclear weapons. I do some writing, I write a plutonium song, I join marches. I wonder about the chances of life on Earth for the future. I lose some of my faith in my own species. My world takes on a different color. Do Gaia and her Spirits have a chance?
I dream of Kali and roam into her vast expanse of space, of thousands of stars. She expands and holds All within her realm. The stars are brilliant against a deep dark blue of vibrating creative potential. This is Kali, revealed to me. I write a song of this dream.
I am 35, and a group of us are up in Kettle Falls and decide on this spring night to sleep outside by the Columbia River instead of going all the way home. It is early morning and in my sleeping bag I come half-awake hearing some geese honking, and then again. Later I learn that another one of our group heard more—the echo of Mt. St. Helens erupting. This was the big explosion of the mountain. Now follows the volcanic ash in the air, which coats everything with dust. We wear masks outdoors, and wonder what the ash will do to our cars and gardens. All of Eastern Washington has been covered with such ash many times. When I was at college in Portland Mt. St. Helens was such a regal mountain with its white-topped cone rising into the blue. And Spirit Lake was a peaceful dark blue body of water in the forest below the mountain. Suddenly it all changes, just as in the many Native stories about the volcanoes of the Cascades have told for centuries.
In a theater listening to an orchestra I began to experience the music as messages I can understand with my mind, as if in words. My soul receives the music at its level and at the same time my mind is getting a message it can decipher. The music is speaking to me on two levels at once. I feel this as an opening.
The first time I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace I identify so strongly with Pierre, that I dream about him.
I move to the city to attend graduate school, after over thirteen years living rurally in forested mountains. A couple students say they can tell I’ve been living in Nature. The Gaia Spirits inhabit us, go with us. This is a comforting thought.
Sometime in my mid-forties: I am the only one sleeping by the Wenatchee River at an ancient sacred place called Medicine Waters. I am out under the stars with the rushing river very close by. Lying on the ground under big trees I dream of a gopher coming to me, and seeming a threat somehow. When I awaken I realize the gopher was not the threat, but was trying to warn me about the outcomes of a direction I might take in my life. The gopher spirit has brought me a gift; it is my place to decide what to do with it. Some dream blessings are disturbing.
I am up in the Alberta Rockies within a circle of towering mountains. I sit and gaze around and the spirits are very strong. The mountain circle vibrates through the rock, the air, and through me. The spirits envelope me and show me what is this miracle of existence, of power, of something so supreme it fills my soul and shows to me the spirit I am. It is as if the spirits are shouting a symphony which rocks my being.
On a another hike we go up to a ridge and there right above us are four mountain sheep. They do not leave as we get up where they are. We survey the valley and mountains absorbed in the mystery of this stunning place and blessed by the presence of these four big animals who are like our brothers in the high country.
My mother’s mother dies at 96. I am overcome with grief. I make up a tune on the piano and play it and cry everyday for two weeks. She was a very strong woman, a great inspiration to me. She sang and played piano and was very political. She and my grandfather raised six children through the the depression, feeding the family only because they raised their own food. Her name was Olive, and she comes many times in my dreams.
Sometimes I experience myself as a dolphin: my body streamlined, feeling water all around, feeling happy, free, lithe, sensuous, playful, at home in the water, jumping, diving.
I am 54, and backpacking with three good friends on my favorite mountain hike in the Rockies, under the peak traditionally called Yuh-hai-has-kun. We meet up with a family from the Ukraine which has moved to Canada because after the Chernobyl disaster the 10 year-old son became ill. By a rushing river, surrounded by breath-taking majestic mountains we sit with them in the evening. At dusk the woman, Olga, sings a beautiful song in Russian, out to the sky, the mountains. The sorrow inside her of having to leave her home touches us all. The night vibrates with her song which rings like a jewel out into this stunning night. Again, all these spirits bring me home, holding me in this unspeakable beauty. The wide river sounds through the valley; we breathe the alpine air and faintly see snow on the mountain tops.
In winter my father dies; I am 55. His spirit was so beloved (his name was David: beloved) that I know it still exists. I walk out in the cold night missing him with all my heart and gaze at the mantle of stars imagining him there, seeking him with a real urgency. This is a response many others in our world have to death of a loved one.
My partner and I take my canoe up to a lake in the mountains and camp. The water is very inviting. At night sitting by the fire and looking out over the water, and up at the stars we can hear wolves howling from the other shore. This is a lovely gift as I let it sink into my body; the Spirits completely surround and hold me—those of the mountains, forest, the lake, stars, rocks, fish, animals, the wolves.
I am in a group doing shamanic dance and journeying and drumming. In the dance we become animals, birds. I can feel myself moving as a cougar, a bear, an eagle. When we journey I dance with a bear cub, I sit atop an eagle as he flies far in the mountains, a frog leads me through a pond. The birds and animal spirits bring messages to me; they are guides I trust. Drumming, breathing show how important rhythm is in learning to live.
I am 59, dancing in the big tent and the words to our song are from Rumi. We are over 100 people, singing, moving together, with live music on this summer night. This is heaven, this is where I belong, in this circle, in this song, making these sacred vibrations.
For nineteen years most summers I have gone to what has become my very special place, in the mountains here on a sandy beach on a lake, by a stream. I walk to this place, or get to it by canoe or kayak. I bathe here, swim with the minnows, lie reading on the beach, listen to the thundering creek, the ravens, see the osprey, watch the sun through the thick mossy trees and follow the shadows of their branches in the sand. I smell the water, the trees, the rocks. Here I practice dances I might lead at our local dance camp—my bare feet doing the steps in the warm sand. No one else is around unless maybe out in a boat. Here the great spirit sinks into my deepest heart as I allow myself to be filled, renewed, with this miraculous beauty, this clean air and water, this atmosphere which resounds with all the Earth Spirits here, as a symphony, a perfect creation.
I am 65, at Machu Picchu in the Andes. For two days I have wandered around this magical space and I settle down against a large stone at my favorite spot here to rest. I close my eyes and breathe in and invite all my ancestors to be with me. Beginning with my parent’s generation, then my grandparents’ and great grandparents’ I see each one, or imagine them, and acknowledge all they have given to me. I feel great affinity for them and great love and gratitude; I appreciate the hardships and strife and all the love in their lives. I keep on doing this until it has brought in about 1,100 of my ancestors. I see the umbilical cords connecting all these generations of women, daughter to mother. I am in awe and feel such connection; something has been added to me that is quite overwhelming.
I am cross-country skiing in the mountains here with my friends. We do this often. Winter is a different world here in the forest buried deep in snow. The snow quiets the land; on its surface rhinestones gleam in the sun. My legs and feet feel just as at home on skis as they do walking. It is so exhilarating—the crisp air, the movement of my body, seeing the tall trees dressed in white, looking out across the mountains. I feel the tree spirits all around me, silent, strong, protective.
For years I have dreams of beautiful mountains off in the distance and usually I am trying to get to them. I start out the same way I did in the first dream, and always something changes and I never get there. When I see them from afar they call me with a very strong calling, as if I cannot live my life without getting to them. Then there are dreams of getting back to the communal land where I once lived—it is at the top of a narrow hill, and I get there, and am in a building and with people. Once I dream I am skiing in some splendidly beautiful mountains; another time I am climbing almost to the top of a snowy peak. The Dream Spirits have their ways of keeping me on the path; they know I love to be high up in the mountains and they take me there.
It is morning and I look out to see a regal big buck elk. He is old and slowly circles around the house. His antlers are huge. I just watch, amazed.
I am 68 and my beloved mother is dying far from me. I long to be with her in these hours and my body is wracked by sobs from deep in my gut. Standing, I play a song on my bouzouki which is for the soul’s journey—wishing it to reach her with all my gratitude and love and caring for this beautiful person who has given me so much…who has been my great support, my best friend, the person who laughs the same laugh with me. I spend hours grieving and being with her in spirit because I cannot not do this.
It is of great importance that we make the space and time to enter our deepest Self when a death occurs, as well as when a birth happens. At birth and death that we are faced with the Powers of the hidden realms behind All, the Mystery, the Reality beyond the material world. When the baby comes forth and takes its first breath we are in the midst of the greatest miracle and can be aware of our own limited place and understanding in this vast universe. When a being takes its last breath and dies we can sink into the wholeness of Spirit which breathes out this material world and gathers life back into itself, into the One. Our bodies go through processes of breath, of contraction and expansion, of releasing into Spirit at these times when the unseen grabs us with the most intensity. It is in times such as this that our hearts align perfectly with the One, the center of all, which is everywhere, and we are truly home. We then experience such a great gift of Unity, of connectedness.
At 71 behind my stack of firewood I find a couple huge prince mushrooms—the biggest I have ever seen. Perhaps they grew from spores on the wood from last year. I find this quite amazing, as I am such a mushroom nut; I cut the mushrooms up and eat some and dry the rest. The prince has a strong aroma and a tangy woodsy taste—a nice texture. I think about the mycelia-like neural networks in our brains and how we are similar to fungi, in some sense. The mycologist Paul Stamets believes that “mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information—sharing membranes. These membranes are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the host environment in mind.” Stamets proposes that fungi have the potential not only to cure diseases but to filter bacteria and viruses and chemical toxins, as well as to degrade heavy metals, chlorine, dioxin, PCBs and organophosphates. In The Sacred Mushroom Andrija Puharich describes experiments of long-distaance telepathy between humans and Amanita muscaria mushroom.
Sometimes in spring in the early morning before I get up I hear the loon calling from down in the river. This past summer I was kayaking near a loon out there. Then later it was in the water down in front of my place. They do not stay here long, but I love to hear them; they impart the spirit of the wild north, of the great stretches of wilderness, of this vast country.
A couple months ago I sat with my guitar and a tune for a zikr was coming; at the same time right above my place a huge thunderstorm was starting. As I progressed with the tune I realized what Gaia was ushering in outside. The music began to build along with the rhythm and melody of the song and I realized the storm was part of the creation…dancing in concert with me. I call it Thunder Zikr.
Two quotes from Eckhart Tolle, in Stillness Speaks:
“A great silent space holds all of nature in its embrace. It also holds you.
“When you look at a tree and perceive its stillness, you become still yourself.
You connect with it at a very deep level. You feel a oneness with whatever
you perceive in and through stillness. Feeling the the oneness of yourself
with all things is true love.”
On Kadavu Island in Fiji the women of one village gathered every so often on a cliff above the sea and sang a chant. Soon large turtles would rise to the water’s surface and float there for the duration of the song—a sacred interbeing exchange.
For over 33 years I have lived in bear territory; they come in my yard, dig in the compost. Besides destroying beehives they’ve picked about one fourth of the plums and eaten a great many apples. They sometimes startle me in the yard; I often see them from the window. I have never been threatened by a bear except once driving home in my car; a mamma bear and two cubs were in front of the carport, so she raised up on her hind legs. Mostly I am just in awe of their being, their claim to their territory, their strength, their nonchalant manner with us two-leggeds.
At our camp here we dance in the forest by the lake in a lantern-lit log lodge. We have a divine feminine night and many men are in skirts. Our spirits brighten the space, our hearts expand and expand, and our singing reaches far beyond. The next night we do zikr which is unspeakably sweet, and which softens our hearts into the ONE. The next night we get wild and crazy dancing in celebration and laughter and love for one another and all creation. Because of our spirits uniting with the spirits of this place, this experience is unique, building on itself year after year.
Below is an old traditional tale from the North American peoples. In it, Tsee-o-hil is the first man (in one world age), and K’HHalls is the sun deity and creator.
Tsee-o-hil walked in Schwail, the earth.
He said: “it is mine,
All this land and water.
May-mukh, the bird,
S-mee-yeckh, the beast,
Tsah-kwee, the great salmon…
They are mine for my hunger.
What then is K’HHalls?
I am greater than he.
I have Schwail, the earth,
And a woman to help me!”
A roll of thunder ran along the sky.
Far away in the sun,
Tsuh-Way-his, the Bird of heaven,
Opened his eyes,
And Tsah-luh-kut, the lightning,
Forked out above the earth.
Tsee-o-hil watched, unafraid.
“Who is this K’HHalls?”
He shouted at the thunder.
“Let him come and fight me
For this woman,
and Schwail, the earth!”
But S-pah-halls, the wind,
Sang a small, mocking song at his shoulder
And K’HHalls said:
“Let him have the earth for a while.
Let him see what he can do.
Let him build a great people on the earth.
I will come back.”
And K’HHalls slept.
(from Sepass Tales: Songs of Y-Ail-Mihth, told by Chief K’hhalserten Sepass, and recorded by Eloise Street. Sepass Trust, Chilliwack, BC, Canada, Second Edition, 1974)
This summer I was on the west shore of Kootenay lake gazing at the mountains on the east side sloping down to the lake—at how the colors reflect the season, the lack of snow on the tops speaks of devastating earth changes. I see the shadows from small clouds above. The power of the mountains grabs my insides and moves them with a great message. The communication from them is so strong; they reveal themselves as witnesses, as participants in all that is. They speak to me telling all I need to do is look at them and see them and they will enhance my being. Then I remember the hills and their shadows—of my childhood—and how they communicated to me. And often there are no words to speak their messages; that is a special thing.
Here are some words from Vera Corda in her essay “Spiritual Ecology.”
“Reason calls humanity at this last minute to restore the environmental balance to planet Earth; deeper than that, the awakened inner realization is that as we tune out responsibility for earth caretaking, we limit our power to expand our consciousness while we are yet on this plane….
It is not for lack of media coverage of what our high-tech lifestyles are doing to the forests, the air, the all-pervading life of this planet and its species, but rather the thoughtless habits of civilized man to waste, ignore and destroy that which he does not relate to consciously.”
All of Gaia can be experienced as sacred space; it does not take generations of indigenous recognition of sacredness to establish anywhere on this holy planet as sacred. It is our openness to connection with, and learning from a place which makes it sacred. This is a part of our being human. And as our awareness opens we constantly share in the mystery of this sacredness everywhere, every moment. Every moment we are part of a great cosmic miracle which includes the vastness of space and everything in it down to the smallest particles. And everything, though comprised mostly of space, is endowed miraculously with energies which constantly change everything and pervade everywhere. Governments, corporations can try to trick humanity into denying this miracle, this sacredness, and allow desecration of Gaia, of rivers, lakes, oceans, and extinctions of thousands of species. If we are to help preserve life here it is necessary to honor our sacred connection with the Spirits, the cosmos, with Life/Death, and to humble ourselves before them and shout out our amazement at all this Mystery of Wonder!
Photo of petroglyphs from Wild Horses Monument & Gingko Petrified Forest; Drfumblefinger. All other photos by the author.