Tulip Magnolias and Blue Dicks
Tonight, we walk to my office and I can feel spring bursting through me. Inside of me, the bud is swelling, the flower opening, and I am welcoming the longer hours of sunshine on my body. Opportunity is sprouting. It is not perfect bliss, it is contentious and work, but it is positive. Perhaps this is Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory at work.
Yesterday I went to the second day of a men’s retreat. We were doing breath work. I have done this a bit in Kung Fu. This was part of the internal form; I didn’t succeed at it for long because it is demanding. Yesterday was three hours of breathing through my body, through my emotions, through my heartbeat, through the rhythms of my movement, with the help of a skilled facilitator. I almost moved into a house on his property months earlier, but I was stuck in a situation trying to find a way out. I have allowed myself to get stuck too often lately.
When I move around the world right now, blossoms are everywhere: tulip magnolias, daffodils, Manzanita, buck brush, blue dicks, plum trees, camellias, butter and eggs, and even a lowland shooting star. The air is filled with pollen and perfume. The ground is petal-swept, the almond orchards move across like a sea of spring, the welcoming of life from the sun.
I travelled down to the bay area with 25 other amazing people to talk about a community wide plan for outdoor education for all. The conversations were rich. We had school principals, the Audubon society, the ecological reserve, teachers, wilderness survivalists, administrators, educators, professors, resource managers, rangers, and more. Everyone has his or her own unique desires, experiences, and potential. Together, we drove down in vans with amazing facilitators fostering communication between us as we toured the ways and methods in which Golden Gate National Parks has partnered with people to educate and provide experiences for the public.
We started at Fort Mason where I ran into the bookstore and found a first edition of The National Forests written by Arthur Carhart. I knew this was a sign. The person who, in some ways, started the idea of wilderness in America when he requested that, after surveying Trapper Lake in the White River National Forest, it be reserved for wilderness recreation. Here, is a spark of an idea set into motion. This is where man creates on this earth; spun, almost like a flower petal unwinding from the bud, the thought opens to the world. The best record we have of this idea coming into fruition is a memorandum that references a conversation Carhart had with an assistant district forester from New Mexico named Aldo Leopold. Carhart wrote:
There is a limit to the number of lands of shore line of the lakes; there is a limit to the number of lakes in existence; there is a limit to the mountainous areas of the world, and in each one of these situations there are portions of natural scenic beauty which are God-made, and the beauties of which of a right should be the property of all people.
The men’s retreat was intense. We drew cards with symbols of things and drew connections to our own lives. Mine was receptivity with a female form spiraling energy out from her body and back in. We prepared for the breath work and he explained what to expect. We pulled out sleeping mats, put on blind folds, he surrounded us with sage for purification, and we began a deep breathing with the rhythm of music reverbing through us; he played a drum as the breath sent spirals of oxygen into my body. The first wave of emotion was sadness and grief. It came in tears and sobs.
On the way to the office, I can’t help but think about flowers. Chico and I zig-zag through different neighborhoods, stopping to photograph flowers in the setting sun. This has been our pastime for the last week. It started with a long hike up at my friend’s ranch. I was watching his goats for a weekend and in the morning I hiked up along the south rim of his property, the Manzanita flowering and the poison oak igniting like small flames of red on the barren sticks that surround the valley oak trees and in pockets along the ravines. Everything opens to spring as I do too. It is inside of me. At night, from the hot tub, I could see the separation of Ursa Major and Orion opening in front of me. The setting winter constellation moving sooner away from the sky, the bear rising up from hibernation in the coming summer, the dark coming later.
The conversations amongst us centered on how we can get more people outside. How do we get all kids experiences watching birds, naming flowers, listening to creeks, and sharing parts of themselves with each other and nature? If anything is “natural” about humans, it is our desire to be outside. How we do it, is up for debate. Everything feels possible in our conversations with each other. These are passionate and powerful people. Their energy fills me with hope. We sit in a windowed meeting hall at Fort Mason, watching the slow fog push against the Golden Gate Bridge, but never come in. From the window we stare out at possibilities, the bridge is a symbol of what we can create when we come together. We need to create a new bridge, a bridge back to nature.
Park leaders talk alongside community partners about how they came together to integrate the park into the town. All of us kept thinking back about Chico, and about our parks. They define us. Should we brand our park? Should we celebrate the rich history of kids and families enjoying Carhart’s “God-made beauties” for generations? We resounded with yes.
After sadness, I tried to move deeper. I was trying to keep breathing into the roots of my body, muscles were cramping, but I stayed at it; I tried to send the energy of the cramping hands out into my arms, to move it into my body, down and out the earth. It reached my lungs and I was stuck. The world was dark, the music pounding, the facilitator stood around us, the drum pounding into the room, I could hear energy of other people surrounding me, the release of energy grew the room outward. I raised my hand for him to help me. He put my hand on a pressure point on my chest and energy swooned out of my body. I was wind sloughing through blossoms.
I went to my friends, Steve and Betina’s (and Ben’s) house to help prepare their home for coming of a second boy. It is exciting and scary wrapped into one and I can feel their nervous excitement. We are working on leveling the ground and putting together the jungle gym outside. We put the bare root fruit trees into the ground last week and the buds are swelling; the trees from last year are already beginning to open. Friends and family are showing up all day to help work on things. People are cleaning, remodeling the baby’s room, installing cabinet locks and baby-proofing the house again. The most sacred of life moments is blossoming into the world. We are all eager for them.
From Fort Mason, most people stay at a local hotel, five of us travel over to a professor of recreation’s government housing she has at the Marin Headlands. It takes me a while to realize that I have been here before, many years earlier training for my first aid courses needed to be a guide. At the house, we stay up late with potential energy swelling and devise possible plans. It is me, three women, and another male who is a young man having spent years training in wilderness survival. He walks around picking up edible plants and demonstrating his prowess with the land. The ladies are older, but their energy is enticing. I am drawn to them. Their experiences has the wisdom I one day hope to demonstrate. The professor has past students over who now work for the park. I admire her the way she mentors them and befriends them. She moves with compassion. I fade to sleep on a cot, in my sleeping bag, the ocean only minutes away and I can imagine it pulsing against the shoreline. I love being near the ocean, I can feel it inside of me. It reminds me of a Rick Noguchi poem where the character wakes, craving for salt.
In the morning, at the Crissy Field Station we talk pedagogy. They explain the system of school busses and loads of people moving like blood in veins across the Bay area as people pulse through this place. People stop to see the transformation of a military base into a gathering spot of recreation and hope. Today, the fog covers the bridge and only down low can I see the pedestals disappearing into the fog. In the haze of tidal movement, the fog moves in to hide the thousands of people driving back and forth across the red bridge. As the tide backs out, so does the fog. We drive back across the bridge to Marin Headlands again and talk with the executive director of Nature Bridge. I feel like a child. I remember the years of going to summer camp with my mother and sisters; the freedom to wander the creeks collecting rocks, the smell of bay laurel and oak in the air. Here, we are among the coastal chaparral. The sage and Monterey Cypress fill my memories. It is the smell of my home too. When we were finished, before we jump back into the vans to head back to Chico, I steal away to walk down to the ocean. The surf is ebbing against the sand, the air is the cleanest I know at this edge of the largest and most vast wilderness known to humans: the Pacific Ocean.
In the breathing, I settle back down to a cross-legged position and I can feel the breath come in and out of me, but it is on a track going back and forth. The facilitator comes up to me. I tell him, I want to move, but I can’t find the movement. He says, you are being to yang, move like yin. He tells me to move like water. He holds me and circles me around, my spine moving around, my breath in and out, it is a drain and bad water is leaving me. In my mind, I am hearing a Buddhist Koan a friend told me: the word is “welcome.” It has been my mantra. The facilitator comes up to me, asks me how I am doing, and I say I am not sure what I feel, but something is there. I try to rationalize it, but I can’t. He tells me it doesn’t matter, whatever it is, just welcome it. And I try. I welcome all the troubles, the pains, the joys, and the loves into my life. In this, I let it all go too. I let go the friends who I want to appreciate me, the pain I feel from their rejection. I let go past loves that no longer love me, but accept that I love them still and always. I let go the worry of my family and know it serves me no good. I welcome the new water filling inside of me and as I do, I let it go. I think about the friends and family of my life. I feel something growing inside of me and I can only tell that it is the need to let them all know I love them. When everything leaves, when the breath spirals into my body, the ocean is inside of me ebbing and flowing; the planets are orbiting the sun; the moon is waning; and I am filled with the people of my life and my hope and admiration for them all. They open me up to the rising sun. The pollen is everywhere.