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 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.