No New Normal

It has been Less than two weeks since we left out friend’s home in Chico and headed south to Arizona and our son’s family home. We arrived here a week ago, moving into a borrowed trailer that a neighbor generously offered to park in John and Michelle’s driveway. We were greeted with an easy household flow and the liveliness of two 40-somethings, a 17-year-old, a 20-month-old toddler, two old dogs and a puppy.

What has not yet emerged is a “new normal.” Every day has a different rhythm. One part problem solving to get the borrowed trailer comfortable and organized; another part introducing ourselves to the desert with its sunrises, stars, walking trails and rain showers. Yet another part taking care of immediate details for our emerging life; two parts enjoying family and for me three parts playing, dancing and reading with my granddaughter. Underneath it all is the beauty of the desert that opens my heart to this expression of Earth.

We are busy, and happily tired when we go to bed at night.  There is, however, a sense of living in two worlds and struggling at times to hold the clarity of the life that has called us out into this journey. As the days pass, I am beginning to integrate the two, rather than seeing them as separate experiences that bounce me back and forth. Weaving the threads of family, learning, self-care, exploring, celebrating, solitude and writing into an unknown design. Perhaps that is the life of these next years.

My practice of greeting the new morning with thanks for earth, water, air, fire and spirit holds me in connection with the natural world. We have taken time to drum and done deep listening as we hike the nearby trails. Mainly, we request signs and symbols that give us assurance of being part of “The Tribe” and affirm the steps we are taking. In response we have seen rainbows, shooting stars and the reoccurring symbol of a horse (an image we associate with our home on wheels.) In the early days, I was finding quarters in odd places as we packed and unpacked our bags.

The time with family is equally sacred. We have had at most a few days a year with John and his family over the past couple of decades. Now, we are becoming visible to one another as we share their home and flow into their schedule. There is time for casual conversation, shared laughter, meals created and enjoyed, and just hanging out watching football or a movie.

This may not be a new and predictable normal. But we sure are having fun.

The Path to Potlatch / Bonfire

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The challenge of writing a blog once or twice a week is not to limit it to the final outcome of a process, but to be honest about the steps along the way.

This past Saturday, we held a Potlatch/Bonfire sale to release the first big wave of our furniture and household items. We had been planning the event for weeks, but it wasn’t until the Monday before the sale that we started the physical work of moving things out into our living room and kitchen to include in the sale and clogging the corners of the bedrooms with things that were not going yet. There was a physical sensation of congestion and confined energy about having bookcases and desks and boxes of knick-knacks stacked around waiting to be set free.

On Tuesday, it felt like things just got worse. We did get out to the Gateway trails to walk and sing, but the house felt more and more a jumble. The psychologic/energetic threads tying us to one thing and another felt especially tenacious. Thank goodness that when one of us lost focus, the other would suggest that we drum, journey, spend time seeking the wisdom of helping spiritual ancestors.

Will  has been playing Freedom songs, including a powerful Freedom Trilogy by Odetta and albums by Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, and Arlo Guthrie. These songs reinforced a call to freedom; to break from the cultural slavery that imprisons us in a marketplace economy, never letting us dream of real liberation. Odessa’s powerful voice also gave us the phrase, “I’m on my way, and I won’t turn back,” to inspire our forward movement.

Thursday, I started my walking/singing with the feeling that I was dragging a heavy weight behind me and would not make it up the first hill. But gradually, opening to the wisdom of my spirit guides, I found assurance that the freedom beyond this current transition is not just for me/for us. The timing and the form are important links within a chain which is being created to help support those who, for whatever reason, need to flee the mainline culture.  It pulled me back to my call of dedicating my life to serving the Earth and All Her Children. My body lightened and my singing flowed.

We both went through times of getting caught by cultural conditioning of, “How much do we need to get for this item?” On Friday, we put prices on most things and on Saturday we pulled them off. We did ceremony and drummed on Thursday Night; drummed again on both Friday night and Saturday morning. We had to turn again and again to our spiritual ancestors and our open hearts to help us stay focused on the path we are choosing.

Gratitude was also vital to the process. One afternoon, I went to many of the pieces we were offering and used Murphy’s oil soap, a gentle vacuum massage, a gentle rubbing with soda… to give each one loving care. I sang to it and thanked it for how it has served us. I also told it how much I hoped it would find a fulfilling new home.

By Saturday morning, we had two images. One was of the Potlatch tradition of the People of the Pacific Northwest of this continent. For celebrations of life transitions, you would gather with the tribe and give away everything you possessed – letting it pass from your hands to others effortlessly. This transition in our lives felt perfect for a Potlatch. Through Friday and even Saturday, more little things I had been keeping “just in case,” came out of hiding to be offered.

The second image was of putting a huge juniper log onto a fire and watching it release all of the energy it has contained for decades to create light, warmth and energy. Our “sale” would be Potlatch and Bonfire. Releasing the energy of long-held possessions to bless other lives.

People began pouring into the house an hour and a half before the stated starting time, and waves of people in and items out surged through the morning. There were many sweet moments of taking a small stack of quarters for a kitchen item, or just handing a picture or book to someone who showed a love for it. We watched with tenderness as many stayed caught in the “how little can I give you for this?” mindset, and found it easy to let them walk away satisfied with their victory in the bargain hunt.

The day culminated with a lovely extended family sitting in our living room waiting for a brother to arrive to look at a chair. They had purchased a number of small items and three large pieces of furniture. As we waited, I gave bells to the two little boys. When they left with one of the last big items, we gratefully put up a “Sold Out” sign, knowing that the rest will find its way to a friend who is moving or to the thrift shops.

The fire had burned away to leave a spaciousness and freedom in our home. The Potlatch had redistributed our goods, reminding us that nothing really belongs to us.

We are deeply grateful.

In Physical Training for a New Life

There are many days when I feel that my most important task is to be in training for the new life that we are creating. As we piece together what it means to live in balance, harmony and honor with the Earth, the first phase for me is physical training.

It began with the lengthening of walks and the addition of longer hikes into our lives. In June, a 45 minute walk on fairly level terrain was the “big walk” done at most 2 -3 times a week. Once completed, there was the feeling that all of the physical energy for the day had been consumed. Lunch, followed by nap, followed by watching movies on DVD was the norm.

The turning point was meeting Flora and the Strolling Bears (a group of senior adult amblers). They are avid hikers who hike  4 – 6+ miles, once a week, on a wide variety of trails; including some very steep and challenging climbs. They walk at a a slow pace, and invite each participant to listen to their body – rest, turn for home, or keep going depending on the energy of the day. They will not leave anyone behind who is lagging, but pause at each change in the trail to let everyone catch up, rest and be assured that they know the way.

You will see on the Favorite Hikes page, that it is not unusual for us to spend 3 -4 hours walking around Lake Siskiyou; climbing from Bunny Flat to Horse Camp, or taking the McBride Trail from Gateway to the campground. When we are with the Strolling Bears, we visit with people who love nature; tell us the names of flowers and birds; and share their joy in living simply and hiking often.

Our “shorter routes” at Gateway (about 1 1/2 – 2 hours), are what we now think of as  “strolls” or everyday walks. Through the summer and into the autumn we have tried take these strolls several times a week.

When we are on our own, Will, ( my husband), takes a good leading start, so we can each spend time in communion with the healing spirit of The Mountain and our spiritual ancestors and guides in this journey back to unity with the land. There are occasional insights and new perspectives that emerge as we walk. More often it is simply sinking into the beauty and harmony of nature: sky, breeze, trees and brush, rocks and hillsides, and a variety of animal and bird companions. If nothing else is emerging, we each sing a song that is our reminder to open up to the path ahead.

The July – September part of my path was building my stamina, leg strength and physical confidence. The altitude and steep last half mile of the climb to Horse Camp still leaves my heart pounding and calls for “breathers.” Now, after three visits, I feel comfortable negotiating the downhill rocky stretches as well as the uphill push. A few weeks ago we made the whole 6.8 mile circle around Lake Siskiyou for the first time.

The growing confidence in my body translates to being more at ease in nature. I can relax and experiment. My view broadens to include more tree-tops and sky views – including a golden eagle that circled over the Gateway path the other morning. There is a stretch of the Horse Camp trail that I did barefoot last month, enjoying the sensation as the temperature of the sand shifted from cold in the shade to warm in the sunshine.

It all seems connected with not needing to be coddled and protected from the challenges of life. When I move in nature in this sense of freedom and strength, I know that I no longer want to be insulated from this wonderful planet. While the weather is beginning to shift, there is still time for a few more hikes up high on the mountain before the snow. Then, it may be time to borrow snow shoes and give that a try.

Birthday Hike

I had known for months that this year, for my 60th birthday, I wanted to make a pilgrimage hike to Panther Meadows, high on the slopes of Mount Shasta. We live near this amazing mountain and I have visited Panther Meadows many times. I always feel the sacred nature of the alpine wilderness. It has been a place for shamans and healers of the people of these lands for generations – a place where they hold ceremonies and gather plants for the healing of the Earth and the people of these lands.

A couple of weeks before my birthday, we spotted a notice about Dog Trail from Bunny Flat up to the Old Ski Bowl parking area. It is an alternate trail, marked only by pink ribbons tied to the trees. As soon as I saw it, I know that would be my birthday hike.

Early in my hike I greeted all of the spirits of this powerful mountain and the life of these slopes. I soon felt more open to the feel of the air currents on my face and the song of the birds in surrounding trees.

I felt that I was walking in the midst of the ancient people of this place, not as phantoms, but as helping spiritual guides. I was encouraged to return to the power within my belly – the energy of life rises from the core in the belly, igniting the fire of the heart, and creates a balanced dance between heart and mind. This all emerges as wholeness in physical form.

This unknown trail (from 6,950 ft to above 7,800 ft in 2.5 miles) had some very steep climbs that left me winded and feeling the challenge in my muscles. I began to see that this pilgrimage was about the physical more than the spiritual. It was a call to set aside all of the limiting images of being a premature baby; sickly uncoordinated child; not capable of much physical activity or endurance. It was an introduction into becoming a “Tough old bird” – a woman comfortable in nature and capable of a difficult climb.

It took me 2.5 hours to climb that 2.5 miles. I paused several times to rest and eat some snacks and drink water. On one of those stops I began laughing as how much I was beginning to feel like “The Woman on the Mountain.” I continued the next 1/4 mile down into Panther Meadow and enjoyed my lunch while being held in the arms of my favorite sacred tree.

I considered the 3 mile walk back down the roadway to my car, but knew that I had fulfilled all I needed for the day. Gratefully, I accepted a ride from a National Forest Volunteer back to my car. He was the one who spoke to me of 60 being the age when one becomes free.

That was two months age. Little did I know all of the freedom that was beginning to break into my life.

Woman on the Mountain

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I don’t think that I could make this shift of lifestyle without the inspiration of the image of The Woman on the Mountain. She is in some ways my future self who is living the fulfillment of my life’s dreams. In other ways she is the archetype of the woman who is fully at ease in the natural world and living her days in harmony with Mother Earth and all Her children.

I first met her through my shamanic journey work. I set the intention of meeting my future self who is living the most alive, fulfilled, peaceful and joyful life possible. As I let the drumming carry me, I found her sitting on a high mountain slope, resting in the midst of a morning walk. She had a huge smile on her face and radiated joy, love and contentment.

From my journal:  “She shared with me that she is not afraid of anything; especially nothing in nature. She knows every plant and their medicinal properties — every creature is a companion. She knows the trees so well that she could probably draw her nourishment right from the soil, as they do. And the Mountain and all the spirits of the Mountain love her and welcome her.

Since she journeys effortlessly, it does not matter what chair she might be sitting in or what bed she may be laying on. The room around her does not matter because she is most often in Panther Meadow with the healing ancient ones.”

Walking in nature and growing comfortable with my physical strength is part of the path from who I am to who she is. Seeing all beings as light enfolded in a sheath of earth, water, air and the flame of life, is another.

When I grow uncertain of how I will make the shift from recliner chair in a 3 bedroom house in the woods, to a folding chair outside an RV, I think of her. In spirit, she will be my guide.