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, 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, www.eco-psychology.com . 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, www.eco-psychology.com