Druids in the Redwoods

A year ago, at Midsummer, I went on a personal, spiritual retreat in the ancient redwood forests of Humboldt County, California. I went for silence, for prayer, for healing. I went to take from the forest — as so many humans regularly do. Loggers take lumber. Tourists take photos. Fishermen take salmon. Spiritual seekers take their ease.  Many of them leave trash in their wake. Few leave evidence of gratitude for the many gifts they receive from the redwood forest.

The Humboldt County Redwoods at Summer Solstice

While hiking through forest, near the Founders Grove, I passed this spot…

The Humboldt County Redwoods — A Splintered, Fallen Giant

…and was struck by a sudden vision, vivid and clear: I was to organize a gathering of Druids in the redwoods, to sing to the trees, to study the ecology, and draw attention to the beauty and power and importance of that place through various works of artistic expression. As Druids, it was our role to begin giving back. To build, and role-model an appropriate reciprocal relationship to that ancient forest, a forest that had been there, giving of itself, for more than 50 million years.

The trees even gave me a song, while I walked among them, which I transcribed upon my return: “Gifts of Awen

And so, I organized. I located a lovely little grouping of cottages at the edge of the redwood forest in which to stay, to enjoy meals, and to host a few workshops. I scouted the area for good places for ecological studies and performing rituals. And I invited Druids from far and wide to attend. I have just returned from our first official Redwoods Gathering, delighted with the entire experience, and wanting to share a bit of our journey.

Six druids (and one young druid in training) attended our inaugural Redwoods Gathering, which began on Friday morning with a guided nature walk through Founders Grove.

Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Francisco’s Guided Nature Walk

As we roamed the forest after Francisco’s talk, our group happened upon the spot where I had originally received my summoning vision. And if anyone was still wondering whether we were truly welcome to celebrate in that forest, or if anyone had a question regarding the most appropriate spot for a Midsummer ritual, the trees themselves offered up the answer — an answer discovered by Thea, as she rounded the very next bend in the path…

Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Discovering the Giant Awen
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Druids receive an invitation from the Giants.

The question remained: now that we knew where we would be celebrating, what would a wildcrafted Midsummer ritual look like? Seasons in the redwood forest are not at all like seasons in other places  on Earth. A lot happens there in autumn and winter and spring, but come summertime, not much happens except for the influx of summer visitors — both humans on summer holiday, and birds chasing the insects that come to escape the dry summer heat. So, our focus became the visitors, and how we might re-enchant the forest for those visitors, on behalf of the forest. We thought about how we might work to change the energy of a popular hiking trail, to encourage people to have more mindful connections with the forest, rather than the disrespectful, flitting, consumption-oriented attitudes typically found among modern tourists, bent on Instagramming themselves with the largest/oldest/tallest trees.

Also, since North, South, East and West have so little meaning in the middle of the redwood forest (which runs along meandering river valleys, and whose landscape varies by distance from the river’s waters and distance from the very rare canopy gaps, sliced open by falling giants), we decided to use a Land/Sea/Sky approach, with liberal application of nature connection meditations, offerings of gratitude, and songs of praise. The energetic nature of rituals is really difficult to convey in mere words, so I will simply share a few images (taken by our Dragon), while we worked our Druid magic.

Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Requesting Permission & Growing Our Roots
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Procession to Re-enchant the Trail
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Greeting & Thanking the Spirits of Place
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Singing to the Trees
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Cleaning the Forest
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Closing Tree Meditation

Rounding out the weekend were a delightful series of shared meals, BBQs, and marshmallow roasts, games of horseshoes, swimming in the Eel River, workshops on plant communication, and ritual wildcrafting, as well as plenty of time to work on arts and crafts, and simply shoot the breeze with other Druids. Everyone had so much fun, that we decided to do it again, next year! I am already counting the days.

“Gifts of Awen”

My latest musical composition, which I now sing as part of my daily devotions:

I have not yet added back up instrumentals, as I typically sing this while walking the land, after morning prayers. With that in mind, this one might forever remain a simple vocal tune. I will consider adding layers at a later date.

If you like the song, and would like to download a copy of the sheet music for your personal, private, non-commercial use, you may do so here:

“Gifts of Awen” by Larisa Ananda White

Enjoy!

Yule Triad

The three greatest gifts of a California Yule morning:

a gentle, greening rain;
one perfect orange, plucked from a glistening tree;
the brilliant rays of the returning Sun, illuminating all
of the first rosy blossoms of blueberry.

First Rains Dance

Darned inconvenient when the First Rains arrive in the very wee hours of the morning, when singing and dancing loudly out-of-doors will get you reported for disturbing the peace. So, we waited for first light, and tried to sing quietly, and muffle our laughter and squeaks of joy, as we danced in celebration of the healing power of Gwyar…

Today, we dance
The Return of the Rains,
Quenching the fires,
Cleansing the panes.
We dance for the hope
Blessed Simurgh has brought,
With the flow of clear water
Her magic has wrought.

Praise Simurgh, Spirit of Transformation,
Breaker, re-maker of all creation,
Bringer of Holy Wisdom and growth,
Endings, beginnings, despair, and hope!

First Indigenous Food Harvest

Our ongoing effort to deeply connect with the land upon which we live began with our ecosystem restoration project, some years back — in which we planted several hundred tiny, one-gallon seedlings of native plants. Over the years, the plants of our Native Garden have established and grown more and more fruitful, feeding native fauna, birds, and insect life. Until now, we reserved the restored area of our property for the service of the wild animals, but finally, the bounty has become so robust, that we felt comfortable harvesting a bit of that bounty for human consumption.

Harvest Season Jamming Ritual (with Recipe):

Step into the Native Garden, saying:

“I enter the sacred grove with reverence;
I enter the sacred grove in peace.”

Walk the land, in a state of receptive meditation, greeting each of the Backyard Kindred, thus:

Hael to you, beloved Oaks,
In greying green, from summer smoke.
Hael to Sagebrush, Lilac, Sage,
All dusty, leafless, wanting rain.
Hael Toyon berries, biding time,
And Coyote Brush’s shining eyes (Aaachoo!).
Hael, blessed Manzanita grove,
Of peeling bark and rusty fruit,
I ask of you a gift of Life,
From which to craft a sweet delight.

Shapeshift into a Bewick’s wren. Using Bewick’s wren’s-eye-view, find the hidden, rust-red berries, camouflaged by rust-red bark, peeling from behind and beneath the leaves. Circle the Manzanitas thrice, picking a few berries from each bush and tree, until you have gathered one heaping cup of manzanita berries.

Return to human form.

Thank the Manzanitas for the blessing of their bounty.
Reciprocate the blessing with a prayer for early rain.

Wash the berries in water, thrice, to get out all the dust and debris.

While the water flows through the berries, meditate upon the seasonal threshold currently upon us — dry, dusty seeds in a dead, drought-deciduous world, awaiting the First Rain to wash away the grime and return the world to vibrant life.

Boil the berries in 1.5 C water, until the dry berries plump themselves up and brew a deep reddish tea. Mash up the water-plumped berries, and boil a few minutes more. Let cool. Strain through a jelly bag, to remove all solids.

Add a splash of clear apple juice, to bring the liquid up to a total of 1-1/6 C. Add 1 Tbsp. no/lo-sugar pectin, 1/8 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. ascorbic acid crystals. Bring to a boil, mixing constantly, to remove all lumps.

Add 1 C sugar, and stir it in well. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture returns to a boil. Boil and stir for three additional minutes. Remove from heat.

Pour into two clean, 1/2-pint jelly jars, cap them, and boil in a water-bath canner for 10 minutes.

Thank the Gods for the blessing of manzanita jelly.

Enjoy!

The Result:

Two cups of Manzanita Jelly, from berries harvested off of our Arctostaphylos bushes (pictured above), a mixture of three varietals: Howard McMinn, Franciscana, and Densiflora “Sentinel”.

Taste Test:

The jelly is a delicate sweet-orange and pumpkin flavor, with hints of apple blossom.  Delightful!