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.

Childhood Antics

Heading into this evening’s bedtime routine with a cranky, over-tired, hyperactive, 8 year-old boy, I was thinking that I had it hard. And then, while my boy was bathing and I was washing up in the kitchen, I witnessed this…

EXT. SUBURBAN GARDEN – DUSK

A Mama hummingbird races into a suburban yard filled with sweetly scented lemon blossoms, orange blossoms, and hedge roses. She moves as if chased by demons, and starts her evening meal of lemon nectar, with frenzied speed.

Two juvenile hummingbirds zoom in after her, from separate directions, moving so fast that they can barely be seen, darting at her, nudging her, upsetting her wings during flight. Mama lands for a moment to catch her breath and steady her flight.

MAMA
Can’t you see I’m trying to eat?
Go away and leave me alone!

She flies to another lemon blossom, and attempts another sip of dinner. The two youngsters dart at her again, nudging, feinting, and buzzing past her while she tries to eat her meal.

JUVENILE BIRDS
“But Mama! We’re HUNGRY!!!

MAMA
There’s flowers everywhere.
Get your own damned dinner.

Mama hummingbird shoos them away, and attempts to eat supper, again.

The Juvenile hummingbirds race to a cluster of yellow arugula blossoms, already tightly closed for the night. The first attempts to force his nose into a flower, fails, bounces away from the flowers, zooms in at it again, and tries once more to sip nectar from a closed flower.

JUVENILE #1
(whining)
“Mama! This flower is broken!”

The second juvenile attempts to sip from an open arugula flower that is situated inside a cage. He cannot reach it, and bumps his head against the caging, over and over and over again.

JUVENILE #2
Ouch, Mama! It hurts when I do this!
I need you to help me. I’m going to die!!!

The Juvenile birds race back to their harried mother, and continue to pester her. Eventually, she abandons all hope of a meal, and zooms off in search of a more peaceful locale.

THE END

I wonder if she could use a hummingbird feeder filled with homemade lemon cordial. I’m sure I do. And I don’t have it nearly as bad as she does!

Oak Tree Masting Year

We are always observing the activities of the flora and fauna in our yard (native CA ecosystem restoration area), and this past fall, we became quite concerned when we noticed that most of the native Oak trees on our property (which are normally evergreen), were dropping the majority of their leaves, over winter. Were they overly drought-distressed? Succumbing to a disease? We had no idea, but were worried.

Then, as I was reading the amazing book, “Hidden Life of Trees,” I stumbled upon Peter Wohlleben’s description of how nut-bearing trees such as oaks will (in unison) drop a very high proportion of the leaves in their crowns, to make room for the ridiculous number of flowers (and later, the acorns) which they plan to make in the following year, which they have decided (in unison) will be a masting year. Masting years are the years in which the oaks bear a bumper-crop of nuts. They do this only once every several, unpredictable number of years – so as to produce more food than the regular population of nut-predators can possibly consume in a year, thus increasing the likelihood of successful procreation. They risk death by starvation in order to do this, but once masting year is over, they work hard to replace all the leaves they had jettisoned for the masting season.

So, I wrote the question in my diary, last autumn: does the leaflessness of oaks portend a masting year, where we live? Now, in the first warm sunshine after a long, rainy winter, we have the answer…

A masting year, it is! Achoooo!

So now, I know, when the oak leaves drop from a healthy-looking, California Coast Live Oak tree:

  • It is a good omen;
  • Plan to spend time in the autumn, harvesting and processing acorns;
  • Recognize that Nature will provide well for your family in the coming year.

 

Lynx Rufus!

When engaged in a multiyear, ecosystem restoration project, starting with helping to restore the living soil, then moving on to replanting mixed evergreen forest and coastal sage scrub plants, one 1-gallon seedling at a time, then waiting, and waiting , and waiting as the years tick by… it is easy to become discouraged, to wonder if you will ever really get the whole thing right, with all the plants and animals, mycorrhizae, and forest-floor clippings in balance. It is therefore heartening when the first native birds and reptiles move in and begin to fight for ownership of the property. It is even more heartening when you start to know (and name) the individual animals, the breeding pairs and their offspring — brush rabbits, quail, and red-tail hawks.

But nothing shouts success more loudly than the long-awaited arrival of your first top predator. In our case, it was the arrival at dusk, yesterday evening, of this beautiful Lynx Rufus, who came to hunt rabbits and rodents on our property, last night:

A healthy top predator is the best indicator that the ecosystem is finally robustly in balance, with all pieces of the food web healthy and thriving. The celebration begins tonight. Drinks are on me!

A Coast Range Planting Poem

Having grown tired of all the delightful ditties pertaining to farming schedules that have nothing whatsoever to do with my microclimate, I decided to begin to compose my own. Here is the first:

Seeds we planted Groundhog’s Day
Bring Salad Fairies, early May;
At end of June, we plant again
For Harvest Feast, come winter rain.