Here are the last chapters for Certified: Learning to Repair Myself and the World in the Emerald City. My year of school is over! Because it's the conclusion it is very long. I did proof it, but it's been a long day and I'm sure I goofed up in my places. In any case: I hope you enjoy.
Chapter Eighteen: Top of the World, Ma!
The second residency came and went uneventfully. For the third residency and for the final project I would do for school, I was supposed to create a seven minute podcast about a particular resource. I told the class I would probably do something about plants. I wanted to talk about listening to plants intuitively, but I wasn't sure how that would go over.
I had been spending more and more time with the plants. It was spring, after all, even though we could hardly tell. It had been cold and rainy ever since we had come home from Arizona. Some of us wondered if this had anything to do with the meltdown of the Japanese reactors after the earthquake and tsunami. Something felt off in our neck of the woods. The weather was awful, and people kept getting sick and not getting better for a long time.
The rivers were flooding, and I often went to the Doetsch Ranch at Beacon State Park to walk and watch the river rise. Nettle grew up and around the old cottonwoods until they were nearly my height with tiny blossoms hanging from the leaves like necklaces that had come undone. Bright green lemon balm grew close to the ground, just off the trail under the cottonwood. In shaded hollows here and there, tiny bleeding hearts grew up amongst wild geraniums and miner's lettuce. And the grass grew higher and higher, hiding tall luscious and elegant looking comfrey plants--so deep green they were almost blue--and coltsfoot with their large multi-lobed leaves and odd-looking flower-head growing up on a stalk that looked separate from the plant, its blossoms reminding me of an explored fireworks display frozen in the sky of green.
I began talking to the plants again, especially those at the Ranch. And then I began talking with the plants. Or listening to the plants. I would stand next to a plant I didn't know and meditate with it, keeping my awareness open for images and thoughts. For one plant I "heard" that it was good for chest ailments. I also saw (in my mind's eye) that a lot was going on underneath--that the plants were actually a community of plants linked by what was underneath: a community.
I went home and didn't try to find out what the plant was. But the next day I happened upon a drawing of the plant that looked just like the one I'd found I the field, and I saw it was Western coltsfoot. I did some research and found Western coltsfoot was used for coughs and lung ailments. And it grew from rhizomes, so many stems (and flowers) grew up from creeping rhizomes: like a community.
This happened again and again. I would meditate or hang out with the flower or plant and then go home and do research and find out that what I "heard" was correct.
In the midst of this, I made a podcast about the wonders of plants and how we should try to communicate with them. I didn't want to come off as some kind of flake, so I quoted lots of experts: Stephen Harrod Buhner, Tim Scott (Invasive Plant Medicine), Matthew Wood, and others. I spent the day making this seven minute podcast, and then I put it out of my mind.
Only I kept thinking about the podcast. It had been a long and arduous year. Was I going to end it with this dull podcast about how cool plants were? It wasn't me. And it wasn't interesting.
So I made another podcast.
I still didn't like it.
Mario thought they were both great.
"But it's not me," I said.
Wasn't this last year all about changing me? All about me trying to find a more productive way to be in the world?
I kept thinking about the podcast.
Who was I? What did I enjoy doing?
I saw my life as a series of illnesses, at least my adult-life. Yuck. That was no way to think about my life.
That was what had happened to me.
That wasn't who I was.
I was the person who wrote Ruby's Imagine. I was the one who opened my mind and imagination so that Ruby could tell me her beautiful story.
I was the person who wrote Church of the Old Mermaids. I was the one who sat in a little shack in the foothills of the foothills of the Rincon Mountains in Tucson and let Old Mermaids come up out of the wash and tell me their stories.
I was the person who made up a story about a magical carrot cake and told it to my food systems class as they sat (seemingly) spellbound through the whole tale.
I was the person who asked friends to bring found objects to a gathering of women, and then I held each object, one at a time, and told an Old Mermaids tales based on the object.
I was a storyteller.
That was who I was.
A friend of mine told me once he was afraid what would happen to me if I couldn't write or tell stories. He was afraid for my safety and sanity.
And then it happened to me. My mind went haywire for a time. The docs said I had multiple chemical sensitivities. I was allergic to the world. I was not allergic to the world--I refuse to believe that's even possible. But something did happen and for a while, I couldn't read or write. Even after I got better, my writing wasn't the same. I wasn't the same.
But that was then. See? I get caught looking backward and seeing only these islands of illness and distress.
I was talking about me being a storyteller.
So I made another podcast for my class. This time I told a story about a man called Thomas who was apprenticing to Old Mrs. Kelly to be a faery doctor. He learned what was written in books, but he wasn't very good with the living plants. He couldn't hear them. After a series of events, he finally goes out to the plants and is truly still. And then he whispers, "Deep peace to you," and they whisper back to him. Soon he becomes the best apprentice Old Mrs. Kelly ever had, and he turns out to be a pretty good faery doctor.
I liked this podcast. It was perfect, but it was me.
Soon it was time to go to my final residency of my final class.
Before I left I talked on the phone with the Family Member who had been having trouble with prescription drugs. I couldn't tell if she was using or not, but she was having some health problems. She told me about them and I offered advice. Then she said she didn't want to be lectured, and she started to cry. I didn't think I was lecturing her, but I knew she often thought she was doing everything wrong and everyone thought she was doing everything wrong. To be fair, I did think that many of her decisions lately seemed self-destructive, and I didn't understand her thinking about many things.
And I just felt furious that she was accusing me of lecturing her. (It felt like an accusation.) I felt like I had spent part of my life trying to save her from oncoming traffic. It only worked once, when she was an infant and she went out into the road when I was supposed to watching her. I found her walking down the middle of the road, barefoot, in a diaper, while a truck barreled down on her. I swooped her up in my arms and saved her.
If I'd been watching her in the first place, she never would have needed saving.
Now she was her own person on her own journey. Now instead of saving her, I constantly felt like I was the one standing in traffic. And yet I wanted to save her. Or rather, I wanted her to be saved. I wanted her to be safe. If anything happened to her, it would be too difficult for our family to bear.
But now I wanted to scream at her as she told me not to lecture her. I wanted to scream at her to get her shit together because she was fucking up her life. Instead, I apologized. I knew it was foolish to argue with her if she was using. If she wasn't using, she was obviously feeling vulnerable and me screaming at her wasn't going to help. I told her I was just trying to help by giving her advice based on my experience.
I got off the phone and talked to Mario about what had happened. He said most of the time people wanted to talk; they wanted someone to listen to them. I rolled my eyes. "I hate talking on the phone," I said, "so I'm not going to just sit there and be held captive while someone dumps their crap on me."
He shrugged. Clearly he understood her point of view and not mine.
"Why would they call me if they didn't want my advice?" I asked.
"Because you're family," he said.
I didn't get it. If I wasn't willing to hear my family's opinion about my life, I didn't tell them about my life. I kept most of my business private. My family knew less about my life than people who read my blog knew.
Even though I didn't get it, I told myself I would try to be better at just listening to family members when they called me. Our conversations were going to be short, however, because I certainly wasn't going to talk about my life.
Before Mario and I left for Seattle, I suggested to Mario that we look at our relationship and see if there were some things we needed to change. We were celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary this month (June), so I thought it was a good idea to take stock.
Sometimes I am a complete and utter idiot.
If it ain't broke so why fix it?
Almost immediately we stopped getting along. We were suddenly out of sync--or as if we were speaking two different languages. Then we were stuck in a car together for four hours. Fortunately we gave a friend of ours a ride to Tacoma. That took the burden off of us having to talk to one another for part of the trip.
I hadn't been able to get us a room at the place we usually stayed, so I rented the Quaker House rooms again. Mario and I were going to be stuck in a tiny bedroom about the size of our bathroom for three days. Three days. I was not looking forward to this weekend.
After we dropped our stuff off at the Quaker House, we decided to walk to the Medicinal Herb Gardens. The city seemed especially noisy on this Friday afternoon. As each car roared by us, I felt like I was being slapped. My nervous system started to overload. The wind blew dust up all around us as we walked. We got to the garden, but it seemed noisy, too. We didn't stay long. On the way back to the Quaker House, I held tightly to Mario's hand and tried to shield myself from all the noise and activity. I kept my head down and trusted him to lead me back to safety.
Finally, gratefully, we arrived back at the cool quiet Quaker House. It was such a relief. I sat quietly on my bed, wondering how I was ever going to survive in this world. My school year was almost over. I thought I'd be all cured this year. That had been my goal. It had been my goal for many years.
This line of thinking usually got me spiraling down into depression.
Not this time.
I looked up at Mario and said, "You know, I think it's normal to feel overwhelmed when there's too much noise and pollution and activity. I'm not odd. I'm not sick. I am experiencing a natural reaction to an unnatural state."
It wasn't me.
I was natural.
Still, this natural person curled up into a fetal position on the bed. I didn't want to go anywhere. Mario found a menu for Araya's Place, a vegan Thai restaurant that had gluten-free food. It was only a few blocks away, so he left to go get us take-out.
I put the movie Under the Tuscan Sun in my computer and watched it until I was feeling better. Then I got up and walked to meet him. I grinned when I caught a glimpse of him walking down the sidewalk in the near distance, holding a takeout bag. We met and walked back to the Quaker House. We set up plates in our tiny room. Then we had some of the best food I could ever remember eating: delicious rice noodles and spicy vegetables, and rice brown and white rice and tofu and vegetables.
Later that night as Mario and I lay in our separate twin beds, I said, "OK, in permaculture we try to take problems and make them the solution. What could we do about the freeway that's above this whole neighborhood?"
It felt better to think about solutions than to focus on what wasn't working.
We began talking about what was possible, and then we decided to think about what was supposedly impossible. In Portland, they had removed a freeway (Harbor Drive) to build Tom McCall Park and this had helped transform the city. Together, Mario and I imagined the freeway disappearing. We imagined the stress lifting from the bodies of those who lived in these neighborhoods where they were bombarded with the constant sound of tires over pavement, an unpleasant white noise that never seemed to abate. In our imaginations, the noise disappeared. The city was more livable, the people more resilient.
In our imagination is where better worlds always begin.
Mario and I were beginning to get into step with one another again.
Mario fell to sleep, and the light came on outside and brightened the room. I could hear someone talking, too. Normally, I would have felt like this was an intrusion. How dare "they" turn on the light? How dare they disturb my rest? Then I thought about all the times I had traveled in Europe. If something happened there to disturb my sleep, I just felt like it was part of the adventure of traveling. If I heard people talking, it was part of the charm of the place.
Why couldn't I do that here? Why did I always take things so personally?
So I became charmed by the light and the sound of voices.
Eventually the light went off, and the voices went away.
Quiet ensued. I was charmed by the quiet.
I fell to sleep smiling.
The next day, I went to class at school for the first half of the day. For the second half, we all met at the teacher's house, just as we had a year ago. We listened to two community activists talk for a while, and then we listened to each other's podcasts. Everyone was clever and inventive: They talked resources like hugs, playing in nature, coffee, trash, dandelions. And then he played mine.
It seemed as though you could hear a pin drop as they listened. I couldn't tell if they liked it. It was so different from when I'm LIVE reading or telling a story or talking to a group. When it was over, I got lots of kudos. The teacher asked what I learned from the experience. I got choked up. I said, "I learned I am a storyteller. I haven't been able to make a living from my stories yet, but that's who I am."
I was glad I had done it my way.
Cue Frank Sinatra.
After class, the teacher invited us to stay for potluck. I remembered the potluck from a year ago. No one had talked to me. Not even the teacher. The teacher's parents had talked with me, and that had been kind. Sadly, the father--the one who had lent me his triple AAA card so that I could get a locksmith to come out and unlock my car (since I'd locked my keys in the trunk)--had died unexpectedly only a month earlier.
I hadn't brought anything for the potluck, plus I didn't actually want to stay, so I hugged a few of the people I had had classes with all year. And then I left.
I got into the car and drove out of west Seattle toward the University district. My year of schooling was almost over. I just had to write a final reflection. Then fini.
I got to the Quaker House where we met up with a friend and then we walked to Araya's for dinner. Somehow the onslaught of traffic and noise didn't seem to bother me as much today. Perhaps it was because I was in the company of my friend. We had a good dinner and conversation.
The next morning Mario and I got up very early and walked a couple of blocks to the Portage Bay Cafe for breakfast. I had scrambled tofu and potatoes. After, we drove north from Seattle toward Bastyr University. Once we got off the expressway, we drove down shaded windy streets and then down a long drive until we came out of the wood and onto the open sunny campus of this small university.
It was about 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, so hardly anyone was around. We parked by the main building. To the left of this building, a short distance away, was what looked like student housing. In-between the student housing and the main building was the medicinal herb garden.
I got out of the car and took a deep breath. I felt instantly relieved, as though I had just come home. It was so quiet and peaceful after the city. I loved it instantly. I wanted to teach here. Or live here. Or maybe I should have gone to school at Bastyr! All sorts of thoughts went through my head when I first got out of the car. My acupuncturist, Jasmine, had told me about Bastyr some months earlier, but the time and the weather had never been right. Today was perfect.
We left the car behind and walked across the campus to the Medicinal Herb Garden. At first it looked smaller than the one at University of Washington. But as I walked around these circles of medicinal herbs, I began to feel as though I was in the middle of an enormous garden.
They had planted different beds of medicinal herbs according to what system they healed: brain, nervous system, respiratory system, etc. They had an elemental garden with four beds, each one based on a particular element. They had Ayurvedic herbs in one bed and Chinese medicinal herbs in another. They had a "shade garden" and inside it were "at risk" plants they were nurturing.
I was in awe. Now this was a medicinal herb garden. I first heard about "plague gardens" outside hospitals and clinics when I read a biography of 17th century scientific illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian (Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis). When I read the words "plague garden" a chill went up my spine; I knew that one day I would write a book called the Plague Garden. Walking around this medicinal herb garden I got a true feeling of healing that I would like to emulate in my book. This was what my plague garden would be like.
We stayed at the gardens for a long time. The longer I was there, the longer I wanted to stay. I took off my shoes and socks and walked along the "reflexology path." (Gingerly, I might add.) When I was a kid, I had spent most of my life barefoot and outside. Now my soles were soft and vulnerable.
Eventually we headed home. We stopped in Tacoma to pick up our friend. Thankfully the long drive home was uneventful and we arrived back safely.
I wrote my final reflection the next day. A day or two later, I got sick again. I wondered why. Maybe I hadn't honored the Dragon of Seattle enough? Or maybe I had eaten too much. I didn't know. I was frustrated.
I wasn't going to give up, though. I went back on an anti-inflammatory diet. Since my mother died, I had been eating more sweets than I usually did. Now I cut out sweets completely. Ate more protein and less carbos. I started meditating more regularly and doing breathing exercises. I turned off the TV. No more crime shows. No more murders.
A few days later, the weekend after we got back from Seattle, I attended a workshop on Celtic Shamanism and Druid Wisdom Tales taught by Tom Cowan. It was a small group, and several people from my two-year Celtic Shamanism program attended, too. Even though I was practically hacking up a lung half the time, I enjoyed myself immensely.
A friend once told me that I needed to find my tribe. When that happened, all would be well. I felt as though I was with my peers--with my tribe.
As I wandered the grassy labyrinth in the meadow with several of my friends, I thought about my classmates up in Seattle. Were they part of my tribe? They were certainly people who believed in being active members of their communities. They were working toward a sustainable and resilient world. I liked that. That was my plan as well. I didn't know any of them well enough to know whether they were part of my tribe.
This meadow, the birds overhead, the cottonwoods along the shore of the creek, the angelica growing in another field, the deer that grazed, hidden, in the tall grass, and the people walking with me in the labyrinth were part of my tribe. They were committed to their relationships with the unseen--and with nature.
I listened to stories all weekend. And I drummed and rattled. Told stories. Tom quoted Thomas Berry who said "we are the place the Earth dreams." I liked that.
I came into the main meeting room one morning and found an antler rattle on my chair. It was a gift from one of my Celtic brothers. The gesture brought me to tears, especially after I learned he had found the antler in the woods while hiking barefoot; then he had made it into a rattle himself.
The rattle held significance for me for another reason, too. For some odd reason, despite being under great stress and not feeling very well at the time, two months earlier I had decided to take a 20-week Sound Healing course. Before I had started back to school, I had clients and did healing work. I had put all of this on hold since I started school.
I didn't stop doing the healing work just because I went back to school. It was also because I doubted what I was doing. I could see that I helped some people, but I didn't help others. Primarily, I didn't help myself. To me, if I couldn't heal myself, what good were any of my healing abilities? How real or efficacious were these techniques if I was still ill?
When this sound healing class came up, I thought maybe it was just what I needed to get well. I was always desperately looking for an answer. I was desperately looking for wellness. I already did some sound healing with my clients, but once again, I thought an "expert" could give me clues so I could do it better.
So I signed up.
We were supposed to make our own instrument during the course of the class, so the teacher had us go on a journey (or meditation) to find out about the sound instrument we were supposed to make, one of my helpers told me someone would give me an antler. I remember thinking, "No one I know is going to give me an antler." One night I dreamed someone gave me a rattle. When I awakened from the dream I decided to make the rattle I was given in the dream, so that's what I did. I used a rosemary branch for the handle, a friend gave me rabbit fur for the handle, and I bought some elk hide for the head of the rattle. (I put in black beans and yellow corn for the rattle part.) It was beautiful, the sound was lovely, and I took it around Doetsch Ranch and let all the plants bless it.
Now, three days before our final class sound healing class and our public community healing, my Celtic brother gave me an antler. Not only an antler but an antler rattle. I knew I would use it in the community healing.
It was a beautiful weekend. I slept well. I felt nourished by the place and the people. I went home quite happy and content.
The following day, I had an urge to go to the Grotto, a 62-acre Catholic shrine and botanical garden in Portland. I wasn't sure why I wanted to go. I missed my dad, and I had taken my mom and dad to the Grotto years earlier. I took my camera and Mario and I went up to the garden, situated above the church. The rhododendrons were in bloom, and I took lots of photos. We wandered around the trails of this semi-wild, semi-manicured acreage and suddenly we saw labyrinth sign. We had never seen a labyrinth at the Grotto before.
We turned down the trail and walked to a labyrinth. It was off away from the rest of the gardens, tucked beneath tall old Doug firs. The area was semi-dark, secluded, faery-like. It was a Chartres labyrinth, unlike the more classical labyrinth at Still Meadow where the workshop had been. It was made from stones or bricks that looked like they had each been fashioned by hand.
I took a deep breath and stepped onto the path. I walked around each bend and curve, walked down each straightaway. How many years ago had I gotten sick and dizzy and thought of myself as the Minotaur trying to find my way out of a labyrinth that felt more like a maze than a path in and out? I had walked an outdoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I had walked on the indoor labyrinth at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland. Mario and I had made a labyrinth on the Oregon beach once and walked it until the tide washed it away. In Santa Fe, we had gone to the labyrinth by the folk museum in the dead of night and walked it. (That was so much fun!) I had walked the labyrinth at Still Meadow many times over the years and whenever I reached the center of it, I felt as though I were home.
Now I walked this new labyrinth with Mario. A couple of other people joined us. I liked that. I liked being with other people on the labyrinth. But none of them finished it. As I followed the curves, I saw a snail also "walking" the labyrinth. She who carried her house on her back. I looked down at her beautiful spiral and thought, "Yes, yes, yes. Everything is the same." When I began walking, she was going one way and then eventually she went the other way, out of the labyrinth.
When I got to the center, I felt the presence of all my guides. I grinned into the forest. Then I walked out again.
I took off my shoes and socks, and I walked it again.
I was giddy by the time I left.
The next night, I was in the center of a large room with seven other people. We were surrounded by a circle of thirty or more people. Our teacher had honored the directions and told the community how we would proceed. Now we were preparing to do a sound healing on a client who was on the massage table.
We began by making sound. We used our voices. We use the instruments we had made: rattles, bells, whistles, feathers and bells. We used drums, cymbals, bells (big and tiny) singing bowls (crystal and metal). We made pleasing sounds at first, then cacophonous noise, then soothing sounds. We worked in concert, in harmony and disharmony.
We did this for three hours, for one client after another. It felt otherworldly. It felt profound and communal. This surprised me because I had not connected very well with this group of people. They all belonged to a particular shamanic school in Portland, everyone except me and another friend of mine who had recommended the course. They all knew one other and I was, once again, a stranger. In the end, that didn't matter. Somehow we all came together and did the work.
Maybe that was what community was: Doing the work whether you liked or connected with the people or not. That wasn't my idea of community, but maybe that was all we got some of the time. Other times, we got our soul brothers and sisters, like at the Druid Wisdom Tales workshop, where I was with people who touched my soul, tickled it, embraced it, loved on it.
I used my deer rattle during this community sound healing. As I held it in my hand, I thought of my brother who had gifted it to me. I felt ancient and wise and connected to the spine and bloodstream of the world.
A couple of days later, I drove to Portland by myself and went to the grotto again. This time I took with me the rattle I had made and the antler rattle that my brother had been gifted to me. I walked the labyrinth first with the rattle I had made. Then I walked the labyrinth with bare feet, gently holding and shaking the antler rattle. Then I walked it a third time, silent.
Each time I felt as though I were on the back of a serpent, not just on stones on the ground.
I felt blessed by these experiences.
At home again I felt as though something was coming to a head. Something was changing. My breathing seemed worse rather than better. What was going on? I thought of my year in school. What had I accomplished?
I had survived it.
I had survived a very difficult year with my family.
I looked at almost everything a little differently than I had before. I knew more change happened in the world when people were inspired, not when they were bludgeoned with depressing facts. I knew more about the food system than I had known before--and I thought I'd known a lot. I knew a lot about permaculture. I could probably even design gardens and like doing it, as long as my gardens told stories. They had to nourish body and soul.
Beauty had to be a part of the equation.
If there even was an equation.
I sat at my desk one day and looked at all my certificates; I thought about all of my degrees. I was an educated woman in the liberal arts and in the healing arts.
And yet, I was still so un-easy. I still gasped for breath.
Something else was going on with me. With the world. Would I ever know what? I had spent twenty-five years trying to get healthy.
Was my life a wasted life?
I wanted more.
The cough held on. My breathing was ragged.
This was ridiculous.
I stopped using my inhaler. I gasped for breath, but I continued doing breathing exercises. I told myself I could breathe, I could breathe.
I kept hearing this small voice in my head getting louder, "You've learned all these things, now use them on YOURSELF."
I began giving myself pep talks. I listened to the plants and took remedies. I asked my dreams for answers.
Another voice said, "You've done all this before. It didn't work then and it won't work now."
Another voice said, "That was the past. Quit getting stuck in the past."
One day, I walked partway up Wind Mountain on my own. It's a steep elevation. I talked to the poison oak at the beginning of the trail and asked for safe passage. I asked the Spirits and Beings of the place for safe passage. It was difficult, but I went to the first plateau without using my inhaler. And I got a healing. The Spirit said, "There, now go home and forget about it."
I slipped and fell once going down, but I wasn't hurt.
Five days later, Mario and I decided to walk to the top of Wind Mountain.
We passed by the poison oak with a whispered blessing. Then up we went. Mario went ahead of me. I had to stop a lot. My chest was tight, but I didn't want to take any medication. So I went slow. Up we went. I felt like I was climbing Everest. Where was my oxygen?
Up we went. Then rested. Drank water. Walked.
I whispered to the mountain and the Beings of the Mountain every step of the way.
I wondered if I would drop dead of a heart attack. Or maybe my lungs would close down.
At least I was out of doors. At least I had my feet on Mother Earth.
I missed my own mother. I missed my dad.
My mom used to run. She had asthma, too. She wanted to be well more than anything. She never got well.
But maybe I could.
That would be all right, wouldn't it? If I got well.
I didn't know if I could make it.
It was so hard.
One time I was bent over gasping for breath, and I noticed a purple flower. Its leaves looked like it was in the lupine family. I talked to it for a bit. I knew "lupine" meant wolf, and I suddenly got a vision of a mother wolf, close to the ground. She could breathe.
She could breathe.
Yes, I could be like that wolf.
I could breathe.
I caught my breath and I walked.
Up the mountain I went.
Over three talus fields.
I was a wolf.
I was me.
Around the corner.
I was at the top.
Almost. I was surrounded by bright green ferns overgrowing the path. All around me trees rose. Doug firs? I didn't notice. In the distance, 1,200 feet below, the Columbia River ran swollen and brown, near flood stage from our above average rainfall. The river curved west, past Beacon Rock, heading toward the ocean.
We heard sticks breaking, like how bears do in the woods to let you know where they are. So Mario broke sticks, too. And then a woman emerged from the green. She smiled and said hello and walked by us. We walked a few feet more and saw a man coming down from the top. He was grinning. Happy.
He stopped to talk. He had never been before. They had left an offering. He was so excited. I listened to him talk about his life. He asked us our names and then I asked him his. "Benny," he said.
I smiled. I had a character named Benjamin in all of my novels (or nearly all). I wasn't sure how it had started, but now the name was a kind of good luck charm.
We said our good-byes, and the man started to walk away. I said, "Is your wife's totem a bear by any chance?"
"It's mine," he said, "and we're pretty much joined at the hip."
"So it was your bearness we sense," I said.
He smiled and then said goodbye.
Mario went and stood by one of the old trees on the west side of the mountain. I continued through the brush up to the top of the mountain, where no trees or brush grew. I stood at the top of a large talus field.
I had made it.
I had walked to the top of Wind Mountain without using any medication.
It was probably the first time in twenty-some years that I hadn't had to use medication to walk so far and so high.
It was one of the highlights of my life so far. And it had been one of the most difficult things I had ever done. Nearly every step of the way I wondered if I was going to die.
Now I was ecstatic.
And a little out of breath.
I was at the top of a mountain where the indigenous people of this area used to come for their vision quests.
I wondered if they still came.
I held my arms up to the east and thanked the Spirits and Beings of the East. The river curved away to the East. Then I held my arms up to the south, where most of my view was blocked by the tops of the trees, but I could see the blue sky. I thanked the Spirits and Beings of the South.
I turned to the west and looked into the tangle of trees and brush, and I thanked the Spirited and Beings of the West. Finally I turned to the north. In the distance the hillsides were dark green with Doug firs. And further in the distance, I could see a mountaintop. I couldn't see enough to tell which mountain it was, but we figured it was Mount Adams. I thanked the Spirits and Beings of the North.
And I thanked what is above, below, and all around. I thanked the Mountain and all who lived in this Place.
Alone on this mountaintop--well, free of human companionship at least--I held my arms up, took a deep full breath, and cried out, "Top of the world, Ma!"
I left an offering of salmon. Mario came and stood with me for a while. Then another couple arrived. They sat and talked on a cellphone.
Mario and I said our goodbyes to the mountain, and then we began a mindful descent.
Chapter Nineteen: Healing
I thought I went back to school for noble reasons. I wanted to figure out ways to save the world because my ways weren't working.
It had been one of the worst years of my life.
It had also been one of the most amazing years of my life. Not only had I completed my certificate, but Mario and I had moved onto a new road in our writing. Instead of bemoaning the demise of publishing as we had known it, we embraced the new world. We started our publishing company, Green Snake Publishing, and we were working hard (and having great fun) reprinting previously published novels and publishing brand new novels we wrote, using covers we designed. I was in the midst of writing two non-fiction books when I decided I really wanted to finish writing Butch. In fact, I wanted to write several Butch novels. I was going to use my new community building skills to try and get backing to finish writing Butch. So I started a kickstarter project for the book.
I thought I had returned to school to acquire new skills. Maybe I had gone back to school because I had always excelled in school. Maybe I had wanted to do something I was good at again. I was so tired of failing.
Maybe I thought it would be comfortable. I could get back into the mainstream of life after years of illness. After years of being an edge dweller, where I talked to trees, plants, clouds, the wind, the air. Where I drummed and rattled and asked the plants for answers.
Only this time I hadn't excelled at school. Or maybe I did. They didn't give out grades, so even if I had excelled I wouldn't know it! I did well in my classes, but it didn't change anything. It didn't mean anything. No one was praising me. No one was telling me how great I was.
Did that mean I craved attention and approval?
In the end, I didn't feel any better about myself because of my year in school. I knew so much already. That was one of the things I learned. About certain topics--like sustainability, green living, etc.--I was a font of knowledge. A font of wisdom, even, maybe.
I went to school looking for a way to heal the world because then I would be healed. Fixed. Put back together again like Humpty Dumpty after his great fall.
I thought it would direct me back into the world again. Propel me into the world.
Instead I began talking in earnest to plants again.
For so many years I had been fearful of being labeled New Age. (Still makes me shudder.) I didn't want to be considered some kind of flake who didn't understand science or logic. Because I did understand science and logic. I didn't want to be one of those people. I might be different, but I was good different.
But I had to face it. Essentially I was one of those people. Something had happened to our culture, or our human world, when we turned away from nature. Things got lopsided. Things got very dangerous. Things got sick.
When we stopped listening to the trees, we lost our ancient wisdom. When we stopped hearing the plants, we lost our Earth medicine. When we stopped thinking like a mountain, we lost our ability to be still and grounded. When we began ignoring the unseen, our world began unraveling. When we stopped listening to our dreams, the world became a nightmare.
We stopped hearing and telling stories.
Muriel Rukeyser said, "The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
I had been trying to save the world and my family since I was a young girl.
Can we save the world if we can't save ourselves?
I've been in for repairs for too much of my life.
I ain't broken no more. At least not this moment.
Yesterday a lupine flower who turned into a wolf helped me climb a mountain.
That's the truth.
As I know it.
When I took a deep breath on top of the mountain yesterday, I felt as though I was breathing in myself.
I was becoming full of my one true self.
I am full of myself.
At least that's what I'm hoping I'm full of.
It's all an adventure, isn't it?
I wish you blessings on all your adventures.
May it be so.
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