Star Despacho in the Rolling California Hills near Holister

Recently, I joined two friends roaming n the California wilderness south of Holister. The dimpled hills were the California gold that it took me so long to enjoy when I moved here decades ago. Now, their toast-colored surfaces were sparsely dotted with oak and juniper, spaced far enough apart so that the rolling terrain was clear to the eye, looked deceptively soft and inviting.
That spacing allowed each oak to stand out, their distinct silhouettes ready to reveal the experiences of their lifetimes for anyone who might want to ask a tree its story. Twisting branches reflected their lifetimes of response to whatever has come their way, internally or externally, and each stood poised in the windless afternoon sunlight, willing to be known. .
The paved road gave way to a deeply rutted earth road, just one lane wide. Near the horizon, a coyote ran toward an unknown rendezvous, as we ourselves stopped to have our own encounter with a small grove of oaks. In the midst of the trees lay a boulder partly emerged from the earth, decorated with orange and gray lichen, silent invitation to be just as still, and feel the day, so full of life and so remote from jumping castle ordinary activity.
Accepting the invitation, I touched the stone, and felt its presence seep into me, calming the restlessness that’s so much a part of life in Silicon Valley. This stone teacher was a provider of tranquility and presence. Resting my hand on its surface, I let its quiet being seep through my skin, and travel through my hand and arm, into my core, slowing my breathing, feeling the companionship, sharing the sun and blue sky.
A small breeze idled by, stirring the native grasses into dancing, bowing, straightening. Gentle, the day said; this is gentle. Dragonflies agreed, and floated from stem to stem, their bodies tiny flags extending from the stems of grass as the tiny creatures clung to them, seemingly immobile before they moved from one to another stem.
Nearby, another small stone formation hugged the ground, pointing in the direction of the horizon. I looked to see what it asked me to notice – saw simply the undulating hills, and on the horizon, an unidentified dip of a hill’s silhouette in the hazy distance – a mystery for another day’s exploration.
How to do peaceful? The day was teaching us, reminding us, of another way of being. High above, clouds moved across the blue sky, and we witnessed the bird shapes, the dragon shapes, the animal shapes – all characters in story after story, the dialogue unfolding as we watched and gave it language. Every part of the landscape extended the invitation to expand, to be just as present as the clouds, responding to the wind, gently melting into the warmth of the day.
Back in the car, we shared earliest childhood moments of awe – pre-language perceptions of light and shadow on a ball sent rolling across a floor; lying safely abed in a city apartment
watching the moving reflections of the passing car lights high on the wall,; sitting on a kitchen floor, feeling the enormity of a huge cooking stove, with fragrance wafting from its.high unseen surface.
Awe is everywhere, and slowing down to receive it is a nearly-forgotten gift.
At last, we reached our destination, and unbundled the precious pieces of the offering to be made. As we moved about, we pointed out to one another the changing cloud shapes – winged cloud-beings, a buttermilk sky flaming in response to the setting sun. From the tall grass, a small bunny emerged, sat in the clearing, and settled in to watch us curiously. She sat very still, reluctant to call attention to herself, but even more reluctant to move away from whatever we might be doing.
Anticipating the soon-to-be-revealed night sky, we laid out a beautiful fabric, and on top of it, a large white paper square. Laying down designs of sacred geometry, we used this ancient language to call the star beings. Patterns emerged – a square of sacred tobacco, a circle of cornmeal, a triangle of sage, and others. We named our intent with each of them, Each successive addition – of delicate flower petals from our gardens, of grasses, of delicate flowers from the site itself, nourishing presence of seeds and dried fruits, of herbs and foods, we called to the stars, called to the ancestors, called to the spirit that surrounded us. Kintus , each a small grouping of 3 well-matched bay leaves, were placed on the star despacho,. We folded the edges around it, tied it with a pure white ribbon, and gathered the filaments of one another into it, touching heads, hearts, bellies in a reciprocal exchange of the life force.
The moon came up, a bulging half-circle of white light, surrounded by an iridescent halo of light. Among the puffy clouds of the buttermilk sky came the stars, and we sat contented, watching the cloud movement and the revelation of the stars.
And morning and evening were the first day.

BP Oil Spill and You

The BP oil spill has electrified consciousness worldwide; we are all participating in this catastrophe. As oil billows into the ocean, we are connected visually through TV with vital systems of the earth. We see the functioning of the earth’s body, the very processes of the earth’s life changing before our very eyes. Anguish and anger flood over us as images bring home the immensity of the event.

Many have felt the helplessness of the slow wheels of bureaucratic action, and of not being directly able to rescue endangered lives of birds and sea creatures. Initial shock and fury emerged at revelations of ruthless management decisions and inadequate government regulations.

Personal responsibility is harder to see; our lives, so enriched by the bouncy castle contributions of oil’s energy, blind us to needed changes in life styles. But life-changing shifts in awareness can overcome the numbing helplessness toward witnessing such an overwhelming event.

A fundamental principle of ecopsychology reminds us that all life on the planet is interconnected; the empowering implication is that personal changes will put us into more harmonious connections with the ecological systems that sustain all life on earth. If we don’t learn to manage our partnership with the elements of nature, it’s likely to lead to further catastrophes.

BP’s poor decisions and choices that led to this spill are not separate from our thinking and actions. Close to home, other issues exist that profoundly affect water, air, and soil health exist – to name a few, building where endangered species are threatened, willingness to overlook toxic spills into local waters, food supply that travels thousands of miles to reach us instead of food grown locally.

They’re issues that involve our life styles, and involve political and economic issues. The more crowded the planet becomes, the more important we learn to live harmoniously – not only with other human beings, but also with other life forms. In the immediacy of our own lives and environments, we can build the strength and awareness to make personal, political and economic intervention more meaningful.

The helplessness we might experience about affecting the BP oil spill can be shifted as we change our own relationship to energy, and as we attend to the local environment. Here, more immediate and direct experiences help us face the basis of the issues, and develop clarity in shaping realistic intentions for political and environmental involvement in the larger picture.

One nearby example just south of San Francisco is San Bruno Mountain, called one of 18 global hotspots of biodiversity. Here, the struggle to survive is played out, as endangered species hold the line against extinction. continuously defends  threatened species through educational projects, hands-on restoration, and numerous activities that provide pleasure and learning – visits to ancient shell mounds and unique plant environments, sacred dancing, meditation walks, oral tradition nights.

Over the next few months on the mountain, Circling San Francisco Bay will present two series of events that will provide opportunities from different vantage points to explore personal relationships to the wisdom embodied by endangered species.  Guided visualizations, biomimicry,  ecopsychology events that help people explore deep ecology, personal connection with the natural world.

A series called “Last of the Lineage“,  will focus on a number of endangered species on the mountain, beginning with butterflies and their habitats.  Another series, “The Feminine at this Moment of Transformation”, will begin in September, and will include among the experiences a unique journey on  San Bruno Mountain, as well as other sacred sites that surround San Francisco Bay. Applications are being taken for participation in a 2011 series of visits to six sacred sites that surround San Francisco Bay.

Weaving Threads of Women’s Transformation through Changing Times

A series of powerful experiences have come together to shape events over the next few months in Circling San Francisco Bay .

East: Last fall, Daniel Foor, Carolyn Clebsch, and I put together a circumambulation of Mt. Diablo; among various processes, the group bore witness to atrocities involving Native Americans committed on that mountain and throughout California. This pilgrimage opened a window to the long-term effects we carry of these and other related generational wounds.

North: A series of Scandinavian mystery writers (Steig Larssen and Henning Mankell in particular) have emerged, laying bare unexplored generational wounds in that lineage, as well as multiple challenges unique to the emerging global community. These stories have catalyzed readers in dozens of countries; literature has the power to expose issues, invite dreams and attention to unfinished business, and express private untold journeys through someone else’s story.

West: Another important book came to my attention. “When Everything Changed: the Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present” addresses issues and challenges of our mothers’ lives. Its perspective allows us to see their stories in a broader context, creating a brilliant opportunity to re-shape how we may carry personal relationships with our mothers, and the effects of their journeys on our own lives.

South: During a recent gathering, the shaman Don Juan Nunez del Prado shared with us approaches to being present during Pachacuti, the time predicted in the tradition of the Inkas for the total transformation of life on the planet. Nearly 20 years ago at sacred sites in the Andes, I’d been in the first group of people not of the Inka lineage to receive from Juan the Great Initiation, Hatun Carpay. Practices of shamanism have profoundly affected my personal and spiritual journey. Now as we move into that long-anticipated transformation, they’re an inspiration in meeting the world being turned on its head environmentally, spiritually, and economically!”

Books and events led me to invite a small group of women to gather together the evening of Mother’s Day; we met in the Medicine Circle in my garden to share photos of our mothers – and then shared stories of our mothers. Simple and yet profound, we were astounded at their power.

There were common threads – among them, the support and encouragement many mothers extended not just to their own children, but as a life stance toward the community as a whole. They responded to needs they sensed in others, often without honoring their own.

Another common thread of these decades was frequently an underlying unhappiness or lack of satisfaction. Although not expressed directly, it was often harbored as anger or a sense of hopelessness about things they felt couldn’t be changed. Humor was bouncy castle an important survival tool, but daughters sometimes bore painfully the brunt of mothers’ personal dissatisfaction.

In our circle of daughters, we laughed and cried together – and realized that stories still need to unfold. The stories leave unfinished business.

On my website, you’ll find invitations to a series of ecopsychology events that will help our stories unfold. Some gatherings will involve nature spirituality, as we work with the energy of sacred places, using practices of shamanism, meditation, and deep observation. Others will be local day-long spiritual retreats involving movement, tales, talk and soul collage. Let’s tickle the unconscious, and see what jiggles loose. I invite you to continue – or begin – to explore the visions and journeys of our mothers, discover ways to release pain we’ve taken on. We can bring to the surface the strengths they relied on, the dreams they carried. Distance from events, and a broader perspective, can support change in how we’re holding experiences. We can bring to bear new understanding from traditions of shamanism and Buddhism.

A Living Oral Tradition Emerges on San Bruno Mountain:

Last Thursday at the foot of the mountain, the cozy space of the San Bruno Mountain Watch office in Brisbane was the venue for a wonderful night – a night that evolved into a lively, heartfelt sharing of personal tales of growing up on the mountain and elsewhere, mixed with the traditional poetry of Rumi, Mary Oliver, and other favorites.

The gathering unexpectedly took on a life of its own, jumping castle when a seed was thrown into the circle by asking the dozen or so people in the group to share something as they introduced themselves about the source of their interest or involvement with oral tradition – the parent, grandparent, teacher, special person or situation that had piqued their interest in stories, song, or sharing out loud.

From the moment of those simple introductions, we brought those special figures from the past into the circle – the memories of them, and the way they live in us. The power they exercised in us came to life. They were present through their humor and wisdom, and colored the evening with laughter and tenderness. They created a different sense of what each individual present brought to the gathering before they’d even begun to share the tales themselves.

People had come from various places in the Bay Area, but we were bound together that night by the personal stories of the elders who’d been our inspiration, as well as the reckless adventures of youth out and about in nature. We opened our hearts and ears to one another in an unusually profound and welcoming manner. Scattered through the personal narrations were poetry, chanting, and traditional story-telling from various traditions. Those traditional stories gave the night a framework to which we could return again and again.

San Bruno by Stephen DuPraw
Why does the mountain need a patron saint?
It is what it is and it ain’t what it ain’t.
A big pile of rocks with some trees and shrubs,
A blue butterfly and a few thousand grubs,
The brilliant sun and the foggy wind,
Surely not touched by original sin.

Does a patron saint need to patronize?
Or can he behold with his holy eyes,
What comes to pass in the world around,
And rabble-rouse with a sacred sound,
That raises the people to a lofty height,
And brings them down to set things right?

But then, which is patron, mountain or man?
San Bruno, we’re doing the best that we can.
We need your help and your towering gaze,
If we’re to steer through the bewildering maze,
And keep back the pavement that threatens your side,
Like you, we don’t have the option to hide.

As the evening wound to a close, many shared the hope that future Oral Tradition nights would be recorded; the stories of the evening were the kind that could easily be lost, and there’s a freshness to sharing out loud that helps us remember details that we carry without being conscious of them. And when one person’s tale taps the theme of another’s personal story, we get to experience the overlap among cultures, and the variations on the playing out of what makes a close family, a close community, a sense of belonging.

In my practice of ecopsychology, I’m often privileged to witness the weaving of peoples’ feelings, attitudes, and experiences with places in nature, with the life forms we encounter, with the web of life. But this evening was a spontaneous and unusual addition, with the inclusion of ancestral threads. It gathered those filaments into the present moment, the present place.

Join us when Mountain Watch again sponsors an Oral Traditions night (see them listed under special events on my website, . Or join us May 16 when Mountain Watch presents an Intergenerational Walk on San Bruno, bringing generations together in another way –a walk gentle enough for elders and adventurous enough for children (also listed on the website,

Trail Teller

In Anticipation of San Bruno Encounters with the Life Forms
Who Hold the Line against Extinction

In springtime San Bruno Mountain is exuberant with a palette of wildflowers. Stepping off the pavement next to Brisbane houses on the hill, I walked uphill toward the line of towers that extend from the inflatable tent summit toward the industrial park that fills a former marsh at the foot of an ancient shellmound.

I’d come in search of Johnny jump-ups, the sorely troubled bright little violas that provide the habitat for the endangered silverspot butterfly. Trinity Trail is itself “on the line” – emerging like a jaunty feather from the last street of houses on that part of the mountain. Monfresias – not a native, but very beautiful orange-red blossoms on long-leafed stalks – have escaped from gardens in the streets below, and volunteer along the edges of the path. The tiny blossoms of footsteps of spring hug the ground, walking  the trail in front of me. A carpet of yellow oxalis is equally vibrant, all the more appreciated on this first really warm day of spring.

A recent political decision has made it possible for builders to continue a project on land which until last year provided a wide expanse of habitat for the viola that supports the butterfly. A domino effect of the disappearance of the habitat leading to the possibility of extinction of the silverspot has been a shock to many, and I wanted to be involved with the remaining plants – really see them closely, and be with something that may well disappear forever.

The panorama I faced when I saw the first of the violas was breathtaking; the hillside is covered with wildflowers of many varieties, – tall wild radish, pink checkerbloom and California poppies – and the violas are nestled among them as if the scene would continue to unfold forever. The sight was just what I wanted – the assurance that they are indeed here at this moment, and what I was seeing is something that my children or grand-children may never have an opportunity to see. How foolish it would have been to let this spring pass without coming to honor their presence, to enjoy what they can bring to humans through their beauty, and to the butterflies when it is their moment to visit.

The presence of wildflowers is so fleeting – unique assortments at many locations around the greenbelt because of terrain, weather,
and human involvement. And here, on this mountain which is the last remaining remnant of the Franciscan ecosystem, is a brief moment in time that will disappear – I hope because of changes the season brings, and not because of further destruction. In the meantime, I want to sit with them, look at them with a magnifying glass to see their intricate beauty and whether there are any insect inhabitants cruising their bright territory. I want to lie in the grass and dream, let my imagination flow into the wisdom they hold, their unique portion of the web of life.

The Chumash people say that human beings have 10 senses, but have lost the use of 5 of them related to imagination. Our civilization is changing, and there is still time in this moment to recognize jeux gonflables that gift – to use the inspiration of the flower to encourage that nearly-atrophied capacity to function again.

Find the trail, coming from the winding Brisbane streets onto the mountain. Find a little yellow monkey-faced flower streaked brown. What memories does it evoke? How does it hold the difference that makes it so precious to the silverspot that its life depends on this variety, and only this? Is it something that can be seen, or is it deeper in its being? Enjoy the patchwork of blossoms dotting the emerald grasses, bees cruising from flower to flower, the transitory blend of damp earth and life in bloom. In a few weeks, join us exploring how the butterflies transform; we’re in the market for models, and they have much to teach us.

“Everything is blooming
most recklessly;
if it were voices instead of colors,
there would be an unbelievable shriek-
ing into the heart of the night”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke