Tuesday, May 13, 2014

California Wilderness: Belonging

Lost Coast, California:

Walking onto the sand, all my possessions in my pack, I am confronted with a beautiful view of endless ocean and a feeling of belonging and excitement for what the wild coast will bring: wisdom in the waves, calmness in a sunset, belonging in solitude. Deeper into the wild I go, reflecting on the past month of desert sands, wildflowers and mountain streams, days spent wandering open spaces and experiencing the wisdom of nature philosophies first hand in untouched nature itself. Joining my tribe for group meals, thoughtful discussions, yoga, singing and endless laughter is among the many joys I experience in a day, knowing that this is where I'm meant to be. Wading in cool waters, reading among wild elk, contemplating the sounds and cycles all around me, those muted by the chaos of the front country. The days have turned to weeks and my sense of wonder and curiosity translates to belonging and gratefulness - to be surrounded by such beautiful people and endless possibilities for learning more about myself  and this giving, wondrous earth than ever before. 

-- Luna (Rachael Merten)

California Wilderness: Meditations on Nature

Greetings from Domeland!
The second leg of this tribe's trip has placed us in the southern Sierras, in an old living space of the indigenous people of the area--our base camp sports some grinding holes left in slabs of granite, and even some paintings!

This valley surrounding the Kern River gets its name from the gigantic chunks of granite exposed by the glacier that carved its way through the mountains here, millennia ago. What's more, the landscape experienced an extensive fire a couple decades ago, which left fields of dead trees, fallen and still standing, in its wake. Along with the colored willows flanking the river down its winding path, it all is a sight to see, to say the least.

It's a fit place to study nature philosophy, our main focus on this leg, which has paralleled a study of the Old People of the hunter-gatherer era. Their love for the natural world has slowly unfolded itself into my own perceptions; it's starting to feel less like a trip and more like an experience. The nature is encapsulating my days, rather than just being an aspect of them. Mornings consist of practicing my 60-day ritual (a course requirement) of meditation and/or Chi Gong, journal entries, and trying to squeeze out a nature-based poem--all while listening to the trickle of the river and feeling the rising sun warm my back after a cold, brisk night.

Tea has become ritual; it's nice watching the tribe members go about their morning businesses while waiting for the water to boil, an event which usually calls people to the "living room" of the base camp. Soon after breakfast, morning class is held, in which the assigned readings are discussed after a quick Yoga session. At around noon, the day is ours until the evening.

We're free to explore the area, hang out in camp, take a nap, bask in the sun, stare at a tree--basically whatever floats our boat, provided we read the material of the day in time for evening class, which is held after dinner, cooked by the two chefs-of-the-day. Despite only knowing the tribe for less than a month, I can safely say that I feel part of a close-knit family. That's hard enough in the front country, and yet it all seems beautifully simple out here, together and compassionate.

Time with ourselves has been beautiful. I feel refreshed as a whole; our 60-day practices are designed so that we may develop a self-enriching ritual, finally, now that we're out of the stresses and demands of modern society. My focus on poetry and meditative practice is a result of my desperate need to release erroneous tension, and boy is it working! Little did I expect that every day is a meditation of its own. The readings--among them Muir, Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman--are unbelievably relevant and relatable to my experience out here, as well as my life as a whole.

After all, one of our goals here is to experience what the aboriginal people did, being immersed in nature with a small community to depend on and love. It's slowly all making sense. If you'll excuse me, I think I feel like taking a dip in the river. 

-Buckminster Barrett

California Wilderness: Coyotes and Snow

This morning I woke up to the sound of coyotes howling. As someone who usually wakes at noon or later, the coyotes and the morning sun are such welcome alarms. I make my breakfast by the fire, preparing for today's hike adventure. We pass the coyotes' tracks, as well as those of rabbits and a mountain lion. Eyes out for rattlesnakes, too. It snowed last night. It was beautiful, fallen old trees layered in snow in the morning light. 

As we hike further, we climb higher. The air is clean and sharp, and I collect some snow in my hands. I keep collecting and eating the snow all day, barely needing my water. At the peak of the granite slab, I can see why this place is called Domeland. Indomitable, beautiful mountain rock faces surround us. I call back down to the others, and my voice echoes all around.

This place probably sees less than one hundred pairs of human feet per year, it feels so untouched. I know where camp is, and I take off down first one wash, then the next. Bouldering is my favorite, and I can choose whichever path I like. I finally reach the river, and leisurely make my way home, crossing fallen logs and the sturdier beaver dams on a whim.

This was part of a single day only, and there's still over a month left. I could stay like this indefinitely.

Sierra Institute has been many things for me. I've made such good friends, even in this short time. I've been building better habits and teaching myself guitar, a bit every day. We've found arrowheads, built structures of our own, slept under the stars; I cannot summarize. I signed up knowing this would be a unique experience, and it has been, it is; but in so many great ways I could not have predicted.

-Sam Clevenger