Rekindle Your Wild Joy and sense of deep Belonging through spiritual ecopsychology and the arts, incl. bioregional awareness, animistic perspectives, strategies for simple living, & low/no-tech DIY fun.

Relationship with Stuff: Toy Stories September 22, 2013



Gabriele Galimberti wandered the world to photograph children with their favorite toys. He would first play with the children so they would get to know one another a bit, then he’d do the photo shoot.

I think the project reveals some interesting insights into peoples’ relationship with our stuff — not only in the photos themselves, but in the photographer’s experience of doing the project.

The first interesting observation is that cross-culturally, the toys were not that different. Dinosaurs, cuddly stuffed animals, dolls and boy dolls – er, that is, “action figures,” toy trucks and the like showed up across the globe.








Of course, the favored toys naturally

“…reflected the world each child was born into: so the boy from an affluent Beijing family loves Monopoly, because he likes the idea of building houses and hotels, while the boy from rural Mexico loves trucks, because he sees them rumbling through his village to the nearby sugar plantation every day.”

These toys were of course provided by the parents, who offer their children implements of their own lives: the taxi driver bought her son a lot of miniature cars, and the farming family bought small plastic rakes, shovels, and the like.

With the exception of computer games, these are also, Galimberti noticed, the same kinds of toys that have been around for the past 30 years — a continuity that gave him a sense of calm belonging.






But bigger cultural differences appeared in two ways. The first is the way the parents dealt with the child’s participation in this project.

“Parents from the Middle East and Asia, [Galimberti] found, would push their children to be photographed even if they were initially nervous or upset, while South American parents were “really relaxed, and said I could do whatever I wanted as long as their child didn’t mind”.”

The second big difference lay in the way the children play with these toys.

“But it’s how they play that seemed to differ from country to country. Galimberti found that children in richer countries were more possessive with their toys and that it took time before they allowed him to play with them (which is what he would do pre-shoot before arranging the toys), whereas in poorer countries he found it much easier to quickly interact, even if there were just two or three toys between them.”






Both of these hold significance when looking at the world ecopsychologically.

The first brings up the question of whose will is more important and sovereign: the outside authority, or your own smallest family member?

The second begs the large question, how does the number of possessions we own correlate to the quality of interaction we have with others involving their use?

In other words, does a richer standard of living naturally lead to more possessiveness, and a poorer or more simple one lead to more sharing? We could make the argument that the first part has indeed been so since the dawn of agriculture, which allowed for some groups to store great quantities of food for the hard winters while those without such walled, rodent-proof containers sometimes starved — unless the walled-in folks were generous with their surpluses, or unless the nomadic hunter-gatherers began raiding.




If more wealth does indeed lead to more possessiveness, is that still the case if the entire community attains a certain level of wealth, or only if there’s great discrepancy between the haves and have-lesses or even have-nots?

Regardless, can recognizing the likely possibility of behaving in a stingy way lead certain folks in affluent societies to deliberately keep themselves poorer in a subconscious (and likely misguided) bid for deeper community connection? I ask this question for myself, often: does my deep-seated fear of becoming an entitled jerk keep me from having a surplus of money, even a modest one? I’ve always had enough, but something deep in me fears extreme wealth and keeps me from having it.


But I do have a lot of stuff. What I miss, living now in a new place, is people to want to come play with it.




What about you? What is your relationship with stuff like? And how might we move toward a more caring, sharing society and world while still enjoying our toys?


All quotes and photos from

Please go there to see more of his excellent work.

Images are published here with permission.


Learning from Our Elders: Teacher Trees December 2, 2012

american-linden-pic by pubs intl,ltd

American Linden tree.
(Img: Pubs Int’l, ltd.)


“A beautiful essay on deep listening…to trees.”  ~ Jamie K. Reaser, Courting the Wild series co-editor (with whom, by the way, it was a pleasure to work). She has made the essay available for free now via a link on the publisher’s website.

‘…The maple advised, “Be like the linden tree. It bends and bends in every wind, yet its roots go down deep, deep, deep.”…’ ~ Tina Fields

That line, which Jamie chose to highlight, is the core of the story. That is the advice a maple tree gave me when I was nine years old, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Click here to read Learning From Our Elders at Hiraeth Press,

or just read it on this page, immediately below.

I hope you enjoy it.




by Tina Fields

Featured in Courting the Wild: Love Affairs with the Land, ed. Jamie K. Reaser, Hiraeth Press.


I was con­sid­ered a weird kid. When I was nine, my frizzy, dark auburn hair was far from the stylish straight-and-​​blonde. I didn’t care what my clothes looked like or whether they even matched, let alone what label adorned them. I was far from ath­letic. I wore glasses. I used big words, and under­stood their mean­ings. While other kids gos­siped and invented small tor­tures for fun, I read, drew, and day­dreamed. As an only child, I was poorly versed in mind games, and usu­ally lost out long before I even real­ized the teasing had begun. When I grew up, I wanted to be a philoso­pher and a witch.

All of this added up to the bleak reality that I didn’t have many friends. Most of the time that was actu­ally fine, as I enjoyed the freedom that came with soli­tude. Fortunately, I found myself to be pretty good com­pany. But there were also chal­lenges. Like many only chil­dren, I didn’t need to seek accep­tance through pack con­for­mity. (I knew it was a lost cause.) However, childrens’ cruelty toward the introverted social outcast can be brutal, and there were times when even my closest friends would turn on me in an attempt to keep their ten­uous places in the school­yard pecking order. When pro­voked, I wouldn’t fight with them; instead, this taunting made me turn even more soli­tary. The people-cen­tered life felt hard, and I often turned to the more-​​than human world for com­pan­ion­ship.

In the park across the street from my child­hood home, a pine and a maple wel­comed my dogs and me with open, low branches. The pine tree was enor­mous. I’d climb the rungs of its ladder self, rising as high as I could go, and cling to its wide but flex­ible trunk as the wind swayed us back and forth. It felt ecstatic to ride the wind like that, espe­cially in a high storm. Upon my descent, I’d be cov­ered with pitch and pitch-​​glued pine nee­dles. My poor mother tried to freeze the hard­ened gluey gunk out of my hair and clothes with ice, only to give up in dis­gust time and time again, and hack it out of my lion’s mane with scis­sors. I endured all this with equa­nimity, as my tree time made me feel com­pletely wild and at peace. The maple was smaller than the pine and oozed no pitch, so it was my most fre­quent tree-​​of-​​choice. However, it was also harder to scale, so I’d only go as high as its second branch. This was a com­fort­able branch; just the right shape for me. I could sit upon it for hours, and I would, too, espe­cially when life seemed par­tic­u­larly hard.

Being aloft held its own sur­rep­ti­tious plea­sures: People would walk by down below, and never know I was perched above them, over­hearing every­thing. Giddy, I learned that most people rarely think to look up. By staying silent and observing other people’s behavior, I began to awaken to the dark holes in my own aware­ness, and decided to try to notice every­thing.

After par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult days at school, I’d enter the maple in the way some church goers step into con­fes­sional boxes. Climbing up, I’d wrap my arms around it, lay my cheek against its rough-​​barked trunk, and tell it my woes and dreams. Sometimes I’d cry. Day after day, week after week, for a couple of years, I wept my sor­rows into that tree.

SAC 2006 tree t-shirt design, by Tina Fields

Arborial consciousness t-shirt design by Tina Fields

And then one day, the tree spoke back.

This might sound crazy or like a make-​​believe story, but it really hap­pened. I was so sur­prised that I nearly fell off the limb. I didn’t hear its voice with my ears. Rather, the mes­sage came in a word and pic­ture com­bi­na­tion that man­i­fested in my mind, yet was not my own. The mes­sage didn’t feel like it orig­i­nated from within me; the words didn’t sound like mine. In my gut, I knew they came from this tree. It was a full-​​blown cou­plet of image and speech, bearing a mes­sage I remember and live by to this very day.

The maple advised, “Be like the linden tree. It bends and bends in every wind, yet its roots go down deep, deep, deep.”

I had never even heard of a linden tree before, much less had any idea what one looked like or how it behaved. It would not be until twenty years later, while living in Europe, that I would meet my first linden tree and feel as though I’d been reunited with a long-​​lost, much beloved rel­a­tive.

The ancient Greeks and the Slavs believed the god­dess of love abided in the linden tree. Other Europeans, espe­cially the Poles, regarded linden trees as sym­bols of divine power, family, faith, and valour. When Christianity arrived in the region, the linden became the tree of the Blessed Mother. In many a folk­tale, the Blessed Mother hid among the tree’s branches, waiting patiently to reveal her­self to chil­dren.

The linden’s white blooms are fra­grant, making them a favorite of bees and bee­keepers. Bees pro­duce wax for can­dles, honey for mead. Laws often pro­tected the pre­cious trees. To cut down a linden meant bad luck, per­haps even bringing tit-​​for-​​tat death to self or a family member. Such was the rev­er­ence for lin­dens.

The maple’s mes­sage to emu­late this unknown cousin rever­ber­ated in me from that moment for­ward. The world was sud­denly full of far greater pos­si­bility than I’d ever before imag­ined. A tree can speak? It’s con­scious? What else is hap­pening that I haven’t noticed or par­tic­i­pated in? I set out – and within — on a mis­sion of curiosity and deeper explo­ration.

Before that day, my par­ents had taken me camping many times. Every time, they had exhorted me to “look at the beau­tiful scenery!” but I ignored them, pre­fer­ring to read a comic book. No more. Suddenly the world was so much more than mere stuff. I went from being sur­rounded by dead matter to being part of a com­mu­nity of aware beings with desires, thoughts, and voli­tion. Life, motion, spirit abounded every­where. I began to realize how how utterly accom­pa­nied I was in the world and how much I was missing because I had not been looking with truly aware, open-​​minded eyes. I began to closely observe other ani­mals, plants, rocks, clouds, and to con­sider how best to serve our col­lec­tive well-​​being. I became inter­ested in mys­ti­cism and spir­i­tu­ality, and began to explore com­par­a­tive reli­gions, looking for human wisdom about relating to the numi­nous in every­thing.

Whatever hap­pened in the purely human realm took on far less import. Personality glitches or opin­ions of me, whether coming from other kids or my own self-doubt, seemed fleeting and insignif­i­cant. I was deter­mined to be kind, but to also put human inter­ac­tions into a much larger con­text. Like a tree, I stood in a forest of mys­tery and hope. And amusingly, as soon as I stopped caring what any­body thought of me, I attracted good friends and even became pop­ular.

Trees, each in their own way, have been my great teachers. They cra­dled me, brought me into con­tact with ele­mental excite­ment, and woke me up to the living world in all of its intense spir­i­tual mys­tery and innu­mer­able dimensions. They ini­ti­ated me as a par­tic­i­pant in life instead of a reluc­tant observer.

The influ­ence of trees has made me a better, wiser, and more aware animal who lives fully in an expanded world sprouting with pos­si­bility, fun, and friend­ship. I will honor these elders of other species as long as I live. I hope that they will con­tinue to teach us all, and that we young­sters along the evo­lu­tionary scale will keep actively seeking out ways to listen.


When searching for a photo of a linden tree to include here, I came upon a fun site about word etymology. Its logo is a musical pun in medieval illumination style. Who can resist that?

Bill Casselmans etymology logoBill Casselman’s entry about linden trees has a component that blew my mind. It turns out that the root of its name means the very quality that was touted to me by my maple tree!

“Linden, like aspen and like ‘the old, oaken bucket’ was originally an adjectival form of Old English lind ‘lime tree.’ Many Indo-European languages have this root *len whose prime meaning is ‘flexible’ in reference, to flexible fibres of the inner bark, much like the basswood-linden-tilia labels. Compare Old Norse lind, modern German gelinde ‘gentle’ but first meaning ‘supple, flexible, soft,’ Latin lentus ‘slow’ but first ‘supple, soft, lazy.’ Other English words containing the same root are lithe, and perhaps linen and line, as Eric Partridge suggests, from an ultimate Indo-European root *li ‘flax.’ This would make *len an extension of the flax root meaning ‘flexible as threads made of flax,’ then of rope or cord made of other materials, like the inner bark of the linden.” (emph. mine.)

Another tidbit that I find here of personal import is the linden’s genus, Tilia. My mother’s name was Tilla. And what do the best mothers give their children but the combo of deep, secure roots and supple, flying freedom?


I love it when synchronicities like this show up. The first one affords the mind-blowing confirmation that the tree was right.

On the one hand, duh! So when do trees lie?  Yet on the other, how amazing is that to realize that this was not “mere” internal imagination, but actual communication. It’s so easy to default to lowest-common-denominator cultural normative thinking, and no matter how many times such things happen to me and how many times I’m shown that ‘there’s more in heaven and earth, Horatio,’ etc., I’m still always amazed.

Some might consider this focus on synchronicity to be overly magical thinking but to me, such occurrences signify that I’m in sync with the Tao; the flow of mystery in this planet and beyond, of which each of us is one small musical phrase. And since it makes the world more fun and encourages me to be even more engaged in life, why not think that way?

Go forth and listen to a tree now, and see if it changes you like it did me.


Linden tree leaves (img:

(My essay is linked & presented here with permission of Jamie K. Reaser, co-editor. This version printed here has a few changes from the one published by Hiraeth Press.  Artistic license, y’know.)


“We Ain’t Got No Wildlife Here”: Teaching Ecoliteracy May 8, 2012

click on the image to make it larger


The paper linked below, “We Ain’t Got No Wildlife Here”: Transformative Effects of a Contemplative Assignment in Ecoliteracy, was one of three chosen by Naropa University in response to President Obama’s campus challenge. Naropa chose to specifically focus on Contemplative Education and Ecological Sustainability, “in order to challenge ourselves to bring a contemplative perspective to service in the ecological sustainability sectors.”

As I had just moved to the area when the call came out, upon reading my proposal, Dr. Burggraf and committee allowed me to waive the requirement of co-authorship with a community partner. I was grateful to be able to participate anyway – and I dearly wish to have such partners in future.

Fast forward to May: last week, the authors presented our final papers as a panel. Anne Parker & Mark Wilding illustrated ways to engage adolescents and young adults in “Transformative Learning and Sustainability.” Sherry Ellms & Leila Bruno described how the Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposium is “Nurturing a Culture of Possibilities.” With each encounter at Naropa, I feel even more impressed by the depth of my new colleagues’ wisdom and heartful caring for the world.

The Green Papers will be made available on Naropa University’s website sometime later this summer, but my students have graciously asked to read mine now. So here it is, out in the world already like an early crocus peeking through the snow. As the Spring semester is winding down and they find themselves without any formal reading assignments, the void looms.  😉  I hope you enjoy this paper, or that it at least helps fend off any grad school withdrawal symptoms.


Click on the link for a PDF:

“We Ain’t Got No Wildlife Here”:
Transformative Effects of a Contemplative Assignment in Ecoliteracy

by Tina R. Fields, Ph.D.

Fields_Green Paper_Teaching-Ecoliteracy


If you’re wondering what you’d be getting into, here’s the trailer. The paper itself is much more fun to read than the Abstract. It centers on a story!

Abstract:  This paper describes a college assignment intended to foster ecoliteracy in social science students. The inclusion of a contemplative component conducted over time outdoors has repeatedly resulted in not only cognitive knowledge about the denizens and processes of a given place, but has transformed students’ relationships with the more-than-human natural world to a much deeper relational gnosis and comfort level. Excerpts from one inner-city student’s journal are presented (with permission) as a case study, and elements contributing to the assignment are discussed.


Feel free to engage with me via the “Comments” box below. I look forward to hearing your responses to this work.


A deep bow to Naropa University for choosing this paper, and to former colleagues/forever friends Nicky Duenkel and Judy Pratt for generously giving me feedback for improving it.


Techno-fast March 22, 2012

No time? If you are feeling the pressure of what feels like increasing amounts of work and less time to do it in, you are not alone. Technology, like the computers we’re both using right now to communicate, has brought many blessings, but a sort of tyranny has come with it. Just keeping up with email can mean countless hours alone, staring at the flickering screen.

How long has it been since you just went outside, lay down in the grass, and watched the clouds?

No, really?

Does that idea feel somehow shocking, distasteful, dangerous, wrong, lazy, subversive; the slippery slope to slackerdom? Do your nerves twitch at the thought of the many things that you should be getting done? How wasteful – doing nothing!

But it’s not nothing; such down-time is how the imagination recharges. And the more creativity and life energy we have, the more brilliantly productive we can be – not to mention more happy.

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that there will always be too much work to get done in the time allotted for it, so constantly rushing to keep up is an exercise in futility;  a stress-inducing mistake. I think of my dad: when he worked, he worked hard. And then – here’s the kicker – he’d stop working. He did not get caught in that trap that many of us do, of sort of working all the time. All of the time. ALL the time. Lemme just take a moment to check my email. Again.

In the interest of sanity, we might ask ourselves, when do I allow myself to simply not participate? To rest, play, connect via real bodies, eat a long meal and talk together, do hands-on projects, or just walk around? And then to re-engage with work in a way that seems inviting since our energy is renewed?

I like to take one day per week to simply not engage electronically; to “just say no” to that particularly addictive mind drug. No internet, no email, no DVDs, no TV, no voicemail. I’m not Orthodox Jewish; I still do things like use my car to get in the groceries. I’ll do house chores, make something, play music, take a little hike, or read a book. It feels so freeing. When is the last time you spent an entire day wallowing in a novel?

There’s a little movement afoot to support this sort of thing, the National Day of Unplugging. I see this as part of a living ecopsychological meme, the return of a regular day of rest. The Sabbath was a very good idea whose time has come again, as our need is great. Such activities (or non-activities!) can contribute a great deal to our collective mental health, soul spaciousness, and subversive delight.  Just say no to constantly being wired.

This year, the Day of Unplugging runs from sundown Friday, March 23 to sundown, Saturday March 24. You might want to join in too.

And now, a fun techno-intervention for every day: the Cell Phone Stack.

If you want to keep your pals to yourself at a meal instead of watching them play with the latest iPhone app or take calls from other people who couldn’t be bothered to haul their actual breathing carcasses down there to join you, the Cell Phone Stack may be of interest. Here’s how Kempt, a men’s style / fashion / grooming site, describes this “solution for peace”:

It works like this: as you arrive, each person places their phone facedown in the center of the table. (If you’re feeling theatrical, you can go for a stack like this one, but it’s not required.) As the meal goes on, you’ll hear various texts and emails arriving… and you’ll do absolutely nothing. You’ll face temptation—maybe even a few involuntary reaches toward the middle of the table—but you’ll be bound by the single, all-important rule of the phone stack.

Whoever picks up their phone is footing the bill.

It’s a brilliant piece of social engineering, masquerading as a bar game. It takes the phone out of the pocket—where you can sneak a glance and hope nobody notices—and places it in the center of attention at all times. Suddenly, picking up your phone is the big deal you always secretly knew it was. And more importantly, it comes with consequences.

After posting this brilliant social intervention, the writer got a bunch of objections, which he answered in a subsequent post. This one’s my favorite:

Texting Is Totally Different from Answering a Phone Call.

This was the most common and most mystifying response. On some level, it’s true—texting is not nearly as rude as talking on the phone—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t rude. Anytime you’re giving a pocket-sized gadget precedence over a human being, something has gone wrong.

I also liked this one:

My Job Requires Me to Be On Call 24 Hours a Day.

No, it doesn’t; you just like to say that.

Ha! Busted.

Please begin to take some of each day’s 24 hours back for yourself. Do it often, if only for 10 minutes at a time. It’s a start. I hope I’ll get to join you watching pictures form in the clouds. Or hanging out at night and looking at the stars. Or wandering around the neighborhood like in a Ray Bradbury story, petting all of the cats and dogs. Or searching for edible weeds. Or loafing high in some tree’s branches all day, listening to birdsong. I’ll bring my book, and we can talk.


A “Must Hear” Whole Systems Story January 8, 2012

Yesterday I happened to have the radio on, and caught a show that blew my socks off, a recording of Mike Daisey’s stage performance about a trip he took to China. It’s an excerpt from his one-man play, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” A self-proclaimed “worshipper in the cult of Mac,” when Daisey gleefully opened up his newest iPhone, he found four photos on it – photos taken in the factory, as a test of the camera. He began to be haunted by these images. It occurred to him that he’d never once given a thought about how his beloved gadgets came into being. So bless his heart, he went to find out.

This is one of the best whole-systems pieces I’ve ever heard. I doubt it would be possible to listen to it and not come away with a deeply expanded awareness of the need to consider the life-cycle of all of our things.

Mike Daisey did fabulous journalism, to begin with; through his detailed, evocative imagery, the listener really feels herself to be there with him, seeing and hearing what he is experiencing. When he interviews a worker whose hands were ruined by the minute repetitive work of creating iPads and then realizes that this man has never actually seen one completed, let alone one powered up and working, I was glued to the radio. The man thought Daisey’s iPad was like magic.

And it is, in a way. I’m incredibly grateful to our technology, from radios on, for allowing me to hear Daisey’s performance done thousands of miles away, and allowing you to read my words about it now.

Daisey’s honesty about the dilemmas this growing awareness poses in his life is refreshing, and it is an issue we all face, whether we think about it or not. If you are reading this on a personal computer, you are complicit, as am I. How best to deal with this reality? On a personal level, should we give our gadgets up and try to live a materially simpler life? Or is the commerce actually helping the people there, as many claim? On a societal level, does the problem simply lie with unscrupulous companies in Shenzhen (a former fishing village, now manufacturing central) trying to make the biggest bucks in the fastest time; shades of the Gold Rush in the American West; boom and bust, and damn the consequences? If so, could it be fixable through stronger governmental oversight of the tech industry and overseas manufacturing? Or is the problem actually rooted more deeply in the west’s rampant overconsumption; in the corporate capitalist industrial growth model itself? All of the above?

I intend to give Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory to the students in my Ecopsychology in Context course at Naropa this semester as part of their required “reading.” It’s that good.  Be sure to listen to the commentary afterward, too. It’s much dryer, but contains important follow-up journalism regarding Apple’s response that will make you think even more deeply about the issue.

So what can we do? These issues are complex; to begin with, please don’t jump to immediate conclusions about whom to blame. Socioenvironmental issues like this, involving toxins, survival, workers’ rights, economic growth, and desire, are systemic problems. And when we’re talking widespread, multi-faceted processes like this, it’s often mistaken and shallow thinking to point to one minute element that contributes to it. In fact, shifting one little element in a system more often than not leads to unforeseen, unintended consequences that we then have to add to the pile of problems. (Illustrating that will be another long story.)

A middle-ground response for the individual could be to just keep the gadget you have for as long as you can before replacing it. This would help on both ends of its life, the manufacturing end and the discarding end. How about we re-define the “coolness” factor to include long-term sustainability for both planet and people?

 You can hear the piece on NPR’s This American Life website (after 7 pm Sun 1/8/12). It’s episode #454.  There’s a short promo too, so you can see if you’re interested.

Please let me know what you think about these things here in the Comments section!


Update 1/16/12:  Apple has responded with a new page on their website, Supplier Responsibility at Apple.

Update 3/3/13 (rather late, but I just found out about this):   NPR has retracted the story since discovering that some of this powerful piece was, sadly, falsified by Mike Daisey.

I apologize for unintentionally passing on false information. According to my keen-eyed student, Jason Butler, who brought my attention to this, it is to this date the only story that This American Life has ever retracted.

Although now proven to be at least partially fictional, it is still a powerful meditation on some of the systemic effects of global capitalism. To learn more about that, I suggest John Ryan and Alan Thein Durning’s excellent short book Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things, and the subsequent (easily Googleable) film along the same lines,  The Story of Stuff.



Mending Our Relations with the Natural World – Conference October 26, 2010

Missing earthy connection and ceremony in your life?  Consider coming to the Earth Medicine Alliance’s “Mending Our Relations with the Natural World” conference at the Unitarian Universalist Center (1187 Franklin St.) in San Francisco on November 6-7.

On Saturday afternoon, I will offer a presentation on “Bringing Earth Reverence into Everyday Life” in collaboration with my dear friend Maria Owl Gutierrez.

Description: “How can we take “reverence” beyond a mental concept and begin to place it at the core of our daily lives? Through stories, philosophy, and fun interactive exercises, we will explore practical ways to gain intimacy with ‘nature’ in body, mind, and spirit. Aspects include expanding our animal senses and animistic sensibilities, creating personal rituals and magical retreats that can restore our souls, and deliberately fostering intimate and reciprocally beneficial relationships with more-than-human relatives and the Sacred Web of Life. We’ll let sensual awareness, intellectual understanding, imagination, and gratitude guide our hearts and minds toward everyday respect and celebration.”

On Sunday, other folks are leading ceremonies outdoors, including two in SF and a Salmon Welcoming at Muir Beach.

The purpose of the conference is this: “In addition to consecrating a space for practitioners of diverse earth-honoring ways to share wisdom and make new connections with one another, the conference aims to deepen our understanding of and relationships with the land and natural powers of the San Francisco Bay Area.”

There are many multicultural offerings that range from spirituality of Native America, Africa, Asia and others to song and to clinical mental health. Registration is limited to 250 people, and the cost is quite reasonable at $50 for both days.

If you come because of this post, please be sure to tell me!


Grey Whales! September 13, 2010

what they look like

If you’re currently in northwestern California, hie thy hiney out to Bodega Head (in Sonoma County, northwest of San Francisco), because the grey whales are feeding there. Five of them been hanging around very close to shore for nearly 3 weeks now. I’ve gone out to see them twice, and it’s truly a lifetime experience.

Standing on the cliff with several dozen other awestruck people who remain silent enough to hear the whales’ breathing, you wait. But not long. Soon a spout is seen and heard; then another. They seem to breathe twice in a row, so if you notice one and turn your eyes or raise your binoculars in that direction, you have a chance at seeing part of a magnificently long back, or even a tail.

A couple of times, a whale jumped up a bit into the air, eliciting a great whoop from the humans on shore. Someone asked, “Do you suppose the whales know we’re here watching their show?”

Seals are there too, bobbing around in the kelp, and cormorants drying their wings on the cliff sides, and obviously loads of krill, which is what drew the greys in the first place.

what we see - if we're extremely lucky

Many people try to get photos of them. I can certainly understand why. But I think that unless you have very specialized fancy lenses, it’s an exercise in futility.

I remember being a research slave –er, that is, assistant, on a project studying orcas in British Columbia. One time, our little rubber boat was absolutely surrounded by orcas. I’m a desert kid who had never been near these magnificent marine mammals in the wild, and of course I wanted to photograph them. But I had only a cheapo instamatic (remember film?) & I couldn’t get a good picture. By the time I turned the camera in the right direction where I’d heard one blow, the orcas had descended.

I came awake after awhile and realized that even while I was living one of the most moving animal encounters of my life, I found myself actually feeling frustration because of my inability to capture it on film. When I realized this, I  nearly threw the camera overboard. Instead, I quietly packed it away and just began to witness. Watch, listen, feel. No documentation, only pure experience. In the moment. Wow. I realized that the use of this technology, while very fun indeed to make art with to share with friends later, actually was doing violence to my encounter with these great beings. I was thinking about the future; about the capture, instead of the relationship now. It was a hunter’s mentality, not a communer’s.

grey whale migration route

So on Bodega Head this week, I just stood there in the wind. And the gray whales swam and ate. And we likeminded strangers all watched, nobody jostling for position; just being and hoping and enjoying the seconds of witnessing when that grace of the whales’ ascent was granted us.

These are good moments.

The grays’ western North America tour plan is pictured on the right. Come on out & see them too if you can.

Windbreaker: mandatory. Camera: optional.