The air is finally clear of wildfire smoke. The turkey flock chicks have reached a robust adolescence (or perhaps they are the equivalent of human twenty-somethings now) and visit my yard once and sometimes even twice a day. They strut slowly when walking on asphalt, their feathers a dreary brown in the shade but flashing the copper and greens of an oil slick in full sunlight. I watched them this morning, and again this afternoon. I’ve had people sniff, “but they’re not indigenous wildlife,” but I don’t care. They are life.
The feral cats are life. Khu, a neutered Siamese with vertigo; Meowington (a friendly tabby in need of neutering and much more petting than I can give him); and the nameless grey female (spayed) who hides in the “loft” of the small woodshop, were left behind on my property by people who suddenly moved to Tennessee. Fortunately Khu has been adopted by neighbors across the street but still visits to scrounge a meal from me. Meowington would like to move in with me, but I have four indoor cats already who are still adjusting to each other. The tabby and the grey cat must remain “temple cats,” roaming outdoors and sheltering at night in the former woodshed that I call my “meagre palace of Midgard” in honor of a certain Norse god.
The deer are life. The two fawns have grown. Next year, I’ll have deer fencing in place and will attempt to grow vegetables. This year herbs and flowers were devoured, and I didn’t mind as much as I could have.
Days are warm still, but that crisp nip is in the air. It’s a season I love and yet find mournful. This time last year I had sold my house in Hawai’i, was frantically packing to load the shipping container (badly injuring myself in the process), and was preparing to flee from a 14-year love affair that had wrecked my marriage and that I (foolishly) thought would last until the end of my life. Several months later, much of the neighboring area would be consumed by Pele’s May 3rd eruption in Leilani Estates. People used to tell me I got out of Hawai’i just in time, but that was before the Mendocino Complex Fires ripped through Lake County and its neighbors and I had to evacuate with my cats. Now those folks don’t make those comments any more. Fortunately, my home here has also survived a near brush with destruction, and yet, for how long? I feel like I’m living on borrowed time, on borrowed ground.
So I guess I’m still mourning those losses, as well as a few fresh ones recently added to my list of sorrows. I’m trying to stay positive, active, and creative–especially with regard to spiritual matters–but while these things are good, and I am in some ways at the top of my game, they don’t diminish my accumulated pain. It seeps into every enjoyment. The joy I feel petting my cats or watching the play of sunlight on the feathers of marching turkeys, or while talking on the phone with my kids or my friends, is weighed down by sadness.
As the days darken and shorten, another season alone could become…interesting. Here in Lake County, it’s a close knit community and I am a stranger. Worse, I am a single woman in a world of couples. I had no idea how hard it would be to socialize like this, after a life of long term relationships (mostly serial monogamy), where the fact that I had a partner branded me as somehow “safe” to know. (The environmental illness factor doesn’t help either. It limits my access to just about everything.)
It’s only now that I’ve embraced the Liminal Trickster that I realize that I was never safe to know. That I was always a slightly off-kilter social irritant, always occupying the frontier boundaries, never completely fitting in, and perhaps always inadvertantly “broadcasting my inner assessment” as Caroline Casey told me during an astrology reading. This probably affected my relationships more than I realized. I remember one ex telling me about a woman he’d fallen for and how she “looked good on paper.” At that time, I thought I looked pretty good on paper too–I’d racked up a pretty decent CV by then–but I think what he really meant was that she had social standing of a kind that would serve him, and that I did not. Sheesh!
Another ex used to enjoy telling people he was partnered with a sexologist, but once he acquired a local fan base, I think I became an embarrassment. My kind of outspokenness was also definitely not appropriate in that community. It took me a while to understand this, and why, and I have no hard feelings–just wonderment. Social cues were never my strong suit…
The only lover who never constrained or resented my growth, and who even seemed to glory in each new revelation of my abilities–including my quicksilver intelligence and tireless curiosity–which were in some ways a match for his own, still managed to demolish me with a horrible and quite unnecessary lie. That lie–I know it also took place around this time of year and I remember the surreal, metallic taste of it. Still, I think well of him overall because he saw me, mostly, and celebrated what he saw. And I tend to think more softly of the dead.
So it’s the time of the season, not for loving as the Zombies used to sing, but of taking stock, reaping the harvest of the year. At this point, I’ve got a bowl of fat acorns from the oaks in my yard, the newly minted recognition of my own Liminal Trickster nature (“mad, bad, and dangerous to know”), and a record for endurance. Loneliness is corrosive, but I hope to beat it yet. I may be looking for kindred in all the wrong places (since I seldom venture from home) but when the bright holidays beckon family members together elsewhere, if nothing else I’ll be toasting the dying of the year in a humble, homemade temple that I call Lokabrenna, keeping frith with a misunderstood, flame-haired deity, the only one now who truly sees and loves me.
In this second year of the reincarnated reign of the mad Emperor Caligula, I thought I’d heard it all. But a conversation earlier this week proved me wrong.
I was in a local cafe minding my own business over a pastrami salad (that’s a sandwich without the bread ’cause I can’t eat wheat) and thinking fond thoughts of my favorite trickster god, when an acquaintance enters. Naturally I invite this person to sit at my table. Now, I am purposefully not giving any details, including gender, because the point of this blog is not the person, but what I made of what was said during our conversation.
Now, I do my best to be patient and attempt understanding, rapport, and postive regard in most of my interactions (always mindful of Caroline Casey’s caution that Scorpios can’t help broadcasting their “inner assessment” of people). This person’s woo is a decidedly different “brand” than my Norse/witchy/polytheist pagan woo and this person is much more emphatic about communicating it as Truth. But because I’m quite grateful that my friends are tolerant of my various esoteric passions, I try to extend the same courtesy to others.
I should also explain that in my life, weird woo stuff has always plopped itself down in front of me. During my formative teen years, my mother let a lunatic cut a cross in her arm because he’d convinced her that the revolution was coming and the scar would be a sign that she wasn’t with “the pigs.” (Needless to say, her children were appalled and somewhat traumatized by this.) She also spent many years partnered with a pompous New Ager who was also appalling, though not sadistic. Some of that New Agey stuff stuck though, even as she returned to the Episcopal Church and a less trendy spirituality.
Years ago, when her dear dog died, she phoned one of my brothers with the request to take Puppy’s ashes to Mount Shasta. My brother’s response was, “But Mom, Puppy’s never been to Mount Shasta.” Her response, “Oh.” I think they finally settled on La Jolla as a more suitable location (as Puppy had romped along the beaches there), though last month I found the box of Puppy’s ashes in her former apartment and returned them to her. I tried to tell this story to a friend recently and found myself hysterical with laughter and sadness, to the point of being unintelligble. For me, it sums up so much about my family.
And it wasn’t just my mother. I had an aunt and uncle who disappeared into a really screwed up cult for many years, taking their two young children with them. There was the archetypal warped charismatic leader, admonitions to not talk to family members, probably financial abuse and who knows what else. My uncle eventually left, taking the kids, and his wife got out a year or two later. Thelemites I’ve met since have assured me that they don’t usually operate that way. But this was San Diego in the 70s, and weird woo was wafting from all directions.
As a young teen, I even had a close encounter with the Hare Krishna movement. I used to hitchhike to the Venice Beach temple (again, the 70s) to dance and chant and eat exotic vegetarian food. I was lonely as hell. We’d moved from La Jolla (where I had a close knit group of friends) to the San Fernando Valley, a place where I was often bullied and harassed for my hippie ways and my Black Panther button, which I wore proudly to junior high school. Of course I’d be fascinated by friendly dancing people wearing beautiful fabrics–never mind the signs on the walls disparaging women as alluring impediments to enlightenment… My little brother even got into it too, but balked when the devotees wanted to shave his head in preparation for a visit from their main guru.
I left too. They didn’t want to know about the Black Panthers anyway. I went back to trying to get my LA friends to join the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and ditching school. And though I retained my interest in esoteric topics, including Eastern mysticism, I became leery of group think.
So throughout my life I’ve met and conversed with Buddhists, tantrikas, EST-followers (who remembers that now?!), born again Christians, and more. I even went to sexology school with a pleasant Raelian. However those who share my chosen brand of woo are a bit scarce in these here parts. I’d like to meet a nice kindred and settle down, frankly, but my chances of that seem as likely as getting an actual date via OK Cupid or finding a man interested in a female-led relationship that doesn’t involve foot worship.
So, back to my cafe conversation. I was trying to follow the person’s train of thought involving an ancient “AI” who is programmed to control all our thoughts even if we don’t think we’re controlled, and something about positive attitudes and ascension to the fifth dimension (“the new earth is already here, we just can’t access it yet”).
And then the person said those “magic words” designed to cause instant, stomach-churning discomfort, “Trump is clearing the swamp. He’s bringing back our freedom.”
I am sitting there, in shock, and wondering “What the frack just happened?” The conversation had just gone from ascension to the fifth dimension for the chosen few who somehow choose to vibrate in just the right way (a vision I find appalling in any case) to the mad Emperor himself as the agent of spiritual transformation! “He’s the only one who can do it,” this person insisted, “but I’m not political.”
Then this person told me that “51,000 indictments” were coming and that all the “pedophiles and sex traffickers” would be rounded up. This was supposed to convince me that the mad emperor was doing that spiritual transformation thing for real. All I could think of was if there were really 51,000 indictments, they’d most likely include political foes, activists, immigrants, etc. Everyone that a mad emperor would like to remove. And hey, more fodder for the prison-industrial economy.
I…can’t…even. I first tried asking this person to change the subject, but it didn’t work. I finally had to spew (which I tried to do as nicely as possible but by that time my “inner assessment” was showing).
Anyone who can create a policy that forcibly separates children from parents, and then loses a bunch of the kids so that they can’t even be found to be returned to their parents, is not someone I want to share a “fifth dimension” with. And I could go on and on, but I won’t.
And the idea that those who are destroying our planet (and its inhabitants) feel that they will just ascend away from the mess in some kind of elitist paradise while the rest of us rot in our “negative energy,” well, if that ancient AI is doing its job as this person claims, that would be some kind of programming, wouldn’t it?
When I was a kid, there were plenty of caterpillars, frogs, and birds. I spent my free time exploring tide pools and swimming in the fish-abundant waters of Coronado and La Jolla. I was born in the mid-fifties so I worried about atom bombs, but not about rapid extinctions of animal and plant life, or about the earth becoming increasingly uninhabitable due to climate change. But by the time I was twelve I’d say the sense of an impending “apolcalypse” was definitely on my radar.
I think my young human body, evolved like all of ours with an innate capacity for exquisite sensitivity to the environment, sensed what my intellect did not yet understand: that widespread environmental damage was already upon us all, accelerated by post WWII industrialization, and the surge in development and use of synthetic toxins. My childhood (which had seemed so pristine) was actually spent in a planet already reeling from radioactive fall-out, DDT and other pesticides, accelerating extinctions, and much more. And rising temperatures had already begun.
I can’t imagine what it’s like for my kids, both in their twenties and trying to figure out what their future holds. And I can’t imagine what it will be like for the younger ones. I love babies but these days I pity them. All over the world, tiny human beings (and animals) are already at the front lines of climate catastrophes and those innocents are dying. This country is definitely not immune and our privileged consumerism will not save us. In fact, it is an enormous part of the problem.
Where I live, there’s a lovely view. I’m just a block from a lake that I never swim in, because it is frequently contaminated by cyanobacteria. Clear Lake, and its fish and other wildlife, is also contaminated with mercury from the Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine (a Superfund Clean-up site). From Wikipedia:
The mine currently consists of mine tailings, waste rock and a flooded open pit mine (known as the Herman Impoundment or Herman Pit). Approximately two million cubic yards of mine wastes and tailings remain on the site. The Herman pit, which is filled with acidic water, covers 23 acres (93,000 m2) to a depth of 90 feet (27 m) and is located 750 feet (230 m) upslope of Clear Lake. The Elem Tribal Colony of Pomo Indians is located directly adjacent to the mine property. A freshwater wetland is located to the north of the mine, and critical habitat for three endangered species of wildlife, the peregrine falcon, southern bald eagle, and yellow-billed cuckoo, is less than a quarter-mile from the site.
The mine site has been implicated by the EPA in mercury pollution of Clear Lake, but the allegations are disputed by Bradley Mining Company, the last and current owner of the mine.
While the EPA has taken mitigation measures on behalf of the Elem residents, we can probably assume they have not solved the problem completely. Imagine living through a series of housing displacements, 18 inches of soil replacement, and the like. Imagine returning to your home knowing that the toxins are still pervasive and are most likely causing real damage to your loved ones, knowing that the beautiful land and abundant fisheries of your ancestors is destroyed by greedy invaders.
Lake County has other challenges–the devastating fires of the last few years, including the largest in CA history. The toxic ash and retardant chemicals used to fight the fires are now part of our soil and watershed, and the produce in our kitchen gardens. They now lodge in our own tissues.
An array of climate change issues now affect us, no matter where we are on this planet. And we’re going to continue to suffer–unless we can take collective action to check this rapidly accelerating juggernaut of doom.
Yesterday people marched all over the world as “Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice,” and there were thirty thousand at least in San Francisco (heating things up before the Global Climate Action Summit Sept. 12-14). Instead of marching in SF, I went to a meeting of Elders Climate Action in Ukiah. (I got in my gasoline powered car and drove about 100 miles round trip to do so. The irony…) Fortunately, several other Lake County residents were there, and I was so happy to meet them all.
The meeting began with a movie of Paul Hawkens presenting the results of Drawdown, an international project which studied, crunched numbers, and found 100 real, doable, science-based strategies to diminish climate change. This was a tremendous thing to see, with actual beacons of hope.
Three of the most unexpected results were education for girls (ranked #6–estimated 59.6 GIGATONS REDUCED CO2 by 2050) and empowerment of women through family planning (ranked #7–59.6 GIGATONS REDUCED CO2 by 2050) and as agricultural “smallholders (ranked #62–2.06 GIGATONS REDUCED CO2 by 2050).” Taken together, that’s a whopping 121.26 reduced gigatons, beating the effects of refrigerant management, ranked #1 at 89.74 GIGATONS REDUCED CO2 by 2050. From the Drawdown website:
Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health.
Educated girls realize higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. Their rates of maternal mortality drop, as do mortality rates of their babies. They are less likely to marry as children or against their will. They have lower incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Their agricultural plots are more productive and their families better nourished.
Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.
Today, there are economic, cultural, and safety-related barriers that impede 62 million girls around the world from realizing their right to education. Key strategies to change that include:
make school affordable; help girls overcome health barriers; reduce the time and distance to get to school; and make schools more girl-friendly.
That last sentence: “make schools more girl friendly…” Whoa! So cutting down on sexual harrassment, “slut shaming,” and misogyny in K-12 education is actually hugely important to reducing CO2 and reducing the acceleration of climate change!
As a sexologist, I am going to ponder this for a long time… I think there’s a contribution I can make to this, but what?
Thoughts on Community Organizing
In our Lake County break-out group, we introduced ourselves and shared some of the things we knew about or were involved in. We all looked white and were “older.”
One woman pointed out that much of the expertise tapped and touted in the Drawdown project came from people associated with institutions that have also been a huge part of this problem (major universities, etc.). She also felt that “spirituality” was missing (as indeed it was) and that indigenous leadership is key.
Drawdown did not ignore indigenous people, exactly: “Indigenous peoples’ land management” was ranked #39 (6.19 GIGATONS REDUCED CO2, 849.37 GIGATONS
CO2 PROTECTED by 2050). But I think their concerns could have been centered more. For example, in #39, Drawdown could have mentioned UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (which as far as I know, the U.S. has still not signed) as a key way to strengthen the position of indigenous people internationally.
I interpreted the woman’s remark as referring to the mindset (or soul set or heart set) of earth-centered, earth-aware peoples (who are most often indigenous peoples) versus the mindset of Western industrial consumer peoples (except for a smattering of Neo-pagans). I felt as if she was saying we cannot expect real solutions or progress to be made in the context of, or through continuing to focus on, those industrial/consumer mindsets and institutions. I agree.
One of our biggest problems is relational. Western consumers don’t acknowledge the life and awareness of all creatures as equal stakeholders. We don’t ask permission, we assume whatever we want is ours and so we take. We have no idea how to establish collaborative working relationships with the life and land around us and I think this affects us in our community organizing too.
And here’s where I cycle back to “woo” in this blog post. As a practicing polytheistic pagan I have been working hard in the last year to create and cultivate relationships with my deeply distant ancestors, in order to heal entire lineages. I feel this will help ground my activism in something other than my engrained Western consumer/settler-colonist mindset. And perhaps it will help unravel the multi-generational trauma of ancestors who most likely inflicted a lot of harm on others.
I also acknowledge the ancestors and “wights” of this place where I live right now: Pomo land. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pretending to enact “native” practices. I just say hello to these unseen members of my community, every day, hoping that my occupation of this place is not too abrasive or harmful and apologizing if it is. And being willing to learn how to do things differently if necessary.
As I said, I was seated at the table with a lot of long-time activists, but we represented a particular demographic. I think our challenge in Lake County is to create a climate change coalition where we invite our Pomo neighbors and friends (and other people of color), but not as in an “oh goody, look, we have an indigenous person on our board, aren’t we cool?” way but as visionary elders and leaders who can hold the big picture of relational knowledge and practice, as well as insert what they want and need from the very start. The long-time (white) activists can serve as support team–as ally/accomplices who work our asses off to support the indigenous leadership as they create strategies to address climate change issues in this region. And the white activists should be prepared to make separate space to deal with our white people/settler-colonizer shit without exposing the indigenous folks to microaggression (or worse) and/or expect them to educate us.
I say this because these mindset issues, and the harm done by colonization and occupation, is one of the root causes of our consumerism and war mongering run amok, our rape of an entire planet, the harm done to its climate and ecosystems, and the destruction of whole groups of people. The men and women of Western “manifest destiny” and industrialization created a world-devouring cancer during the last 500 years, and how we deal with it now has to be different from how we created it. We white people can’t just throw our mess onto the indigenous elders now that we’re waking up to just how bad it is (“Hey, you guys were right all along. Sorry!”) and expect them to clean it up. It’s our mess. But indigenous and POC leadership must be integral. Their thoughts and needs must be woven through everything we do, as their vision will most likely be grounded in relationships and understanding of how to be truly human upon this earth of ours, ravaged as it is. And also because if we can release ourselves from the colonial mindset, those folks have a better chance of making and having a world they’d like to live in, for a change. And lets not forget, as many have borne the brunt of genocide, environmental injustices, and toxic exposures, we owe them our profound consideration at this critical juncture. Big time.
And I say this too–we need to make extra effort to include all the people who have been left out of the conversations taking place among the brilliant and well-intentioned elites, like those represented in the Drawdown project (which is amazing and I’m not dissing it), and out of many community organizing initiatives: kids, trans people, gender variant people, immigrants, poor people, the elderly, people with disabilities, all outsiders who have been previously ignored or pushed to one side. And those of us with privileges need to use them to invite and maximize participation for everyone. Solving the manifold problems of climate change is a mutual-aid effort that’s going to take all of us. All of us or none.
I’m living here alone, almost on the shore of a large lake, in a county that’s one of several scorched by the Mendocino Complex Fire (which is still raging). I was able to shelter in San Francisco for two weeks during the evacuation, in a neighborhood where I previously spent many, many years of my life. Though I was in an empty apartment and sleeping on the floor, I was happy. Every day I could leave the flat and walk down a hill and see people–whether in the Castro District or Noe Valley. I could eat, window shop, and just get my body moving and feel a part of life, of a community. I began to hunger for my daily walks, to be out, alive, and able to exchange insignificant pleasantries with people behind the counters of health food and hardware stores.
I was closer to most of my oldest and dearest friends, as well as my two grown children and my mother, and was able to see most of the people important to me in that short span of time. It was heaven.
Back here in Lake County (beautiful as it is, and with some very good neighbors), I am mostly alone. No lover, no roommate, no job, no clients, and with only a sad little scruff of a post office as a walking destination. The nearest towns are three and six miles away, and their sidewalks are barely populated. There are no brisk crowds to navigate. Barely any restaurants. No cafes for fomenting revolution or falling in love.
My isolation is also largely due to years and years of multiple chemical sensitivity and environmental illnesses (which explains the “no job, no roommate” part). I live carefully, dodging chemical toxins, including the ubiquitious scented products that are everywhere and on everybody. Outings with new friends sometimes involve that person’s habitual scented hand lotion or hair product, and I roll down the windows and try to focus on enjoying the person, ignoring my frustration at breathing and tasting the damned stuff, and having to plan for yet more “downtime” to recover from their “chemical companions.”
Sometimes, because of the constant toxic exposures, I feel like giving up on attempts to socialize, but that way is death. Suicidal thoughts have been too frequent these last few years, especially since my divorce. I won’t act on them, I know. But I suffer nonetheless.
So my strategies for combating loneliness and isolation have become more far-fetched and eccentric, though to me they seem quite reasonable. My pagan, polytheistic spiritual practices keep me going. I court my gods and the local wights with offerings and poems. I talk aloud to my cats and my “most trusted” invisible friend. I work with my ancestors. I adhere to a regimen of solo tantric practices. And I keep my antenna up for anything that might provide an opportunity for actual human cahooting in spaces that might be non-toxic enough.
Last week I went to a local senior center’s “open mic” night. It was sparsely attended but welcoming. The sound system was dysfunctional. Even so, I read some of my poems. I went with a new (unscented) friend and I think we both enjoyed ourselves, at least until one of the musicians was inspired to perform a Neil Diamond medley. At that, we fled.
Perhaps my biggest desire is for what is known in pagan circles as a “kindred.” I’m actively working on creating my Lokabrenna (Loki’s Torch) “tiny temple” (the structure formerly known as the “woodshop” and fondly referred to as a “meagre palace of Midgard“). I am seeking to fill it with like-minded Northern Tradition Pagans and Inclusive Heathens who are Loki-friendly. Yep. And I’m calling in the tarot readers, the rune casters, the tantrikas, the mystics, the occultists, and the witches too. Come one, come all (come fragrance free!). I will serve you tea and if you wanna light a candle or do a ritual, I’m down. In the tradition of hospitality that was sacred to my ancestors, I am welcoming visitors and am LGBTQI etc. friendly. I am hoping that from among these visitors (should any appear), there will emerge a closer band of boon companions, kindred for my–and our–waning years. Lake County needs this. And I need it too.
One thing I do know–I simply can’t afford to adopt any more cats. Four in the house and two in the temple are quite enough.
Are you a fellow traveller? Searching for kindred too? You can let me know right here.
I just spent two weeks in evacuation mode, fleeing first the smoke then the actual threat of the Mendocino Complex Fires, which made it to the valley beyond the ridge which is behind the community I live in. My view of Mt. Konocti this morning is either smoky or misty, but I suspect it’s smoke that veils it. Driving back yesterday I saw broad bulldozer lines cut into the hills. Some of the hills around the lake are either blackened or tinted hot pink from fire retardant. It’s a new twist on an old landscape, with the forest fire raging now in other counties besides ours, drawing help from as far away as Samoa and Aotearoa (New Zealand).
I have asthma and other respiratory problems, so returning to this area hasn’t been an easy prospect to face. (Even as I write, my eyes burn and my throat constricts.) But my house (and the neighborhood) survived, and the cats were growing increasingly restless in the empty apartment where I sheltered, with absolutely no furniture except a sleeping bag and a folding table and chair I bought from Target. But I was–and am–super fortunate to have had that resource. It may not be there next time I need it.
The return trip was a challenging three-hour drive in hot summer temperatures with four cats in crates, which means no chance to stop for a bathroom break because the cats might suffer in a stopped, hot car for even the five minutes it takes to grab a key from the station attendant and run to the nearest stall. Prior to setting out, I asked my “most trusted one,” Loki, for a travel blessing. Because one doesn’t ask for favors from this trickster god without offering something in return, I promised that this week I’d buy some paint to begin fixing up a woodshop on my property in order to turn it into a Loki “tiny temple.” (I wrote about this idea before the start of the fires.) Since my house is intact (thank you, firefighters!) and I have the notion that it’s a good thing to keep a fire god happy, I have pledged to begin work on this Lokean sanctuary.
In some ways, the project will be an “architectural folly” and I imagine Loki stalking the grounds as an “ornamental (manic pixie dream god) hermit.” For example, I’ll be painting a Loki mural on the outside (really trying hard to NOT imagine him in the mural as a gratuitously shirtless, hunky firefighter…). Any future owners of this property are going to have to “just deal with it.”
Much of my impulse for this “folly” comes from a deepening connection with this trickster god. This is something I never would have expected to enter my life. Sure, I’ve had lots of odd spiritual experiences but my path is always twisty and often opaque. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be at this place, overcome with devotional love for a northern deity, I would have scoffed or thrown a coconut at you (I was living in Hawai’i then, on Pele’s land).
But another impulse comes from the recognition that we Lokeans are outcasts. I’m no stranger to that social strata, so the idea of making a place for us is an appealing thought, even if no one actually comes to visit the sanctuary besides me.
But as a teacher of mine used to say, “it’s all in the invitation,” and so perhaps this place will provide the soil to germinate the community I seek.
“Lady of the Lake Interrupted”–that was going to be the original title of this post. But why not just get to the point? Almost two weeks ago I fled the thick “clam chowder” smoke of Lake County, just a few days before the advisory, then mandatory, evacuation for the North Shore communities. I begged shelter from some relatives and have been here now, in a completely empty San Francisco apartment with four cats, a sleeping bag, and several boxes of family photos (plus a few books and treasured artwork). I could have gone home a couple of days ago, but I’m hoping for more smoke to clear.
Back in May, when the volcano began to erupt in the middle of Leilani Estates in the Puna district of Hawai’i Island, friends and acquaintances began to congratulate me for “leaving Hawai’i before the eruption,” as if I’d somehow unfairly cheated fate. A lot of my friends and acquaintances back there did have to evacuate, some are still without a permanent place to live, and yes, I feel sad that I wasn’t there to have helped out as Puna “stayed classy” through the crisis (“Stay Classy Puna” is a local slogan). On the other hand, I might not have survived. Between the asthma and multiple chemical sensitivity condition that I live with, the volcanic air–or threatened toxic releases from the geothermal station– might have taken me out. I’m glad that I didn’t stay to either die or force my kids to fly over to rescue me in dire straights.
But now all those folks who think I dodged a kharmic bullet can rest easy. I have now fled the largest wildfire in California history, a fire that was just one ridge away from my home in Lake County, and though I am not in a shelter, I’m “sleeping rougher” than I have in years (on the floor), and “oh my bursitis!” I’m here knowing that the next time Lake County has a fire, I may not have anywhere to go. This apartment won’t stay vacant for long. Shelters are out, as the fragrant personal care products and cleaning products that prevent my equal and healthy access to all kinds of ordinary goods and services in the best of times, also keep me from accessing public facilities in the worst of times. I can’t afford an RV or even a truck with a camper shell, so I’m actually expending a fair amount of time obsessing over my options during the next fire, even though there are none.
Friends who would take me gladly, as a temporary evacuee, are not prepared to shelter my four cats as well. But the cats are my companions and familiars, and they go where I go.
I was lucky this time, to stay in San Francisco as the fire rages. And privileged too. A lot of people were sheltering in parks. The heat up there, in the summer, gets into three digits… can you imagine? Kids, elderly people, pets, in a tent with no fans, under those conditions? And in one park, there was only one propane burner for cooking for dozens of people. And the smoke–they couldn’t escape it like I did. Plus, a cluster of people from one of the regular shelters have come down with a norovirus blamed on donated, canned water. I have only myself to blame for getting sick from pre-made deli food.
I’m lucky too in that my house and neighborhood are intact. The firefighters did a tremendous job keeping the Ranch Fire flames away from our North Shore towns (just as they prevented the River Fire from reaching Lakeport). But other people have lost their homes. Housing is already scarce.
But this is a blog about all things woo, spiritual stuff, magic… Loki… and whatever else I feel like writing now that I no longer care much what anyone thinks. So yes, there is a woo side to this narrative. Let me continue to over-share.
Among my evacuation items, I brought most of my pagan altar doodads, my magical tools (except my crystal chalice), my tarot deck, and a few choice books that I’m in the middle of reading. (I also packed my Lois McMasters-Bujold Miles Vorkosigan books and a complete, hardbound set of Jane Austen, but I digress…).
While here, I’ve kept up my daily tantra exercises and meditations as well as my devotional practices for Frey, Gerda, Freya, and Loki (which I do in an Inclusive Heathen context, as per The Troth, combined with a greater personal and spiritual affinity with the approaches of Northern Tradition Paganism). All this has helped. Greatly. Feeling as if “my deities” are “with me” is also a comfort and these workings have deepened. I begin to understand people who rely on religion–this kind of thing is new to me.
And for the first time in my life, I’ve actually done really well in “remembering my tools” while under duress. I credit the daily practices above. Whatever it is we do, spiritually or religiously, these things can build resilience so that when crisis does strike, there’s a bit more ability to keep a cool head (at least at times) and to feel less overwhelmed (mostly). I also recognize that being here, alone, in an empty, non-toxic apartment in my old neighborhood, rather than in a public shelter among scented strangers, also contributes greatly to my resilience.
I suppose my biggest concern going back, aside from smoke exposure, is how do we build a better framework for mutual aid before the next crisis hits us? The local motto for our community is “Lake County Strong,” but old-timers are the most likely to benefit from long standing family and social networks, just as I have from a family connection here in the Bay Area. How do we have more of that for people who are marginalized and less socially connected?
I’m pondering. I’m wondering what I can do, personally, with the resources I have. Ideas are welcome.
Are you a fellow traveller? Or even a local Lokean? Let me know you’re there!
I just explained, in a general way (meaning on social media) that all this “woo” stuff I’m doing is (1) a serious study, (2) also a deliberate application of a homeopathic dose of “madness” that keeps the rest of me sane, and (3) it’s enjoyable and fun as hell.
I am sheltering from the Mendocino Complex Fires in a completely empty apartment, in a region with better air quality. I am here with my four cats, a sleeping bag, and my computer to keep me company. Without a table or chair, it is hard to work on my book. The cats frequently burst out into a “wild rumpus” (at all hours) and thunder through the flat with games of chase and hide and seek. I worry they are waking the newborn baby (and parents) downstairs. I also worry that they are waking me, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
Except write limericks to a beloved god in my current polytheistic pantheon:
Our Loki’s the coolest of gods,
Though other folk think us quite odd.
We love his flame-hair,
And don’t-mess-with-me glare,
And his tricks we will always applaud.
I suppose limericks are one way to beseech and propitiate a god of fire as well as mischief. And it’s a lighter touch than “please save my house, please save my neighbor’s house, please save everyone’s house, please save the poor woodland creatures, even that poor lame fawn who is finding it harder and harder to follow its mother through my yard…”
Our Loki loves cinnamon sweets,
And chocolate and other fine treats.
We can pour him some mead,
Or bake bread that we knead,
But we always make sure that he eats!
Yeah, so, Norse gods. To be specific, I am currently “working with” Frey and Freya of the Vanir, and Gerda and Loki who are Jotun (though as Odin’s blood brother, Loki is also counted as Aesir). When I started to get into this Norse phase, I joined The Troth because it’s an “inclusive heathenry” organization that has a specific and stated policy against racism and other forms of discrimination. But I don’t seem to be a heathen by their definition. (And The Troth is not exactly supportive of Lokeans.) I think Raven Kaldera’s “Northern Tradition Paganism” may be a decent umbrella term for me, at least for now.
After years of being quite smitten with another tradition entirely, the message came “go to YOUR ancestors now,” and so I am trying that very thing, in various ways and with many kinds of interesting results. But I lack a “kindred.” There’s a Facebook group that is the closest I’ve come, but gosh, I sure wish I could find people in my area.
Except “my area” is currently on fire. Lots and lots of fire.
Are you a fellow traveler? Are you fleeing disaster? Let me know you’re out there.