The Nearby Faraway Day 365

E56199F5-46A8-4799-90E4-91C3ABAE6F4ENearby Faraway Day 365: Today marks one year of my experiment of living outside. When I went to the woods, I didn’t quite know what I was in for, nor that I was going for the long haul. It was as much out of expediency as experiment.

But then something happened—I started hearing things. I don’t mean in some woo-woo way, but rather hearing as in remembering, reconnecting, and realigning with the voice of the soul, of spirit, of the voices of the land. In the context of close living with nature through the seasons, I could hear my true voice, I could remember yes, this is our human birthright, I felt grounded and alive! I felt more creative, healthier, stronger. I felt a bigger self come online.

Then I made a commitment-I said I would apprentice myself to the land through the fall and winter. I would apprentice myself to the craft of poetry. And I would apprentice myself to sharing practices of reconnection with others who found their way to the threshold, as I called it. That is, the threshold between the city and wilderness, between their busy lives and the longing in their souls. This eventually became Wild Nature Heart which I started with my friend Katie.

And I did it! Through the autumn colors and dying back, through the cold and dark but green and rainy winter, until spring burst like a supernova of a thousand scents and colors. And I knew I couldn’t turn back. I had learned so much and found liberation in ways I could scarcely imagine a year ago.

The forest taught me, the muse taught me, my authentic self taught me-the alignment that occurs organically when one slows down and listens, and is not overwhelmed by the myriad voices, distractions, addictions of the dominant culture.

In the past year, I have stayed indoors for a total of only about 4-5 weeks, either house-sitting or visiting friends. Those times helped me in other ways, though I always felt the urge to return to my tent or open air, getting my fill of distraction and bad habits, and missing the fresh air, sunsets and sunrises, wild encounters, creativity, and sacred time that is now daily life.

So now on to year two of the experiment. And while it is uncertain what will unfold, it’s certain to be an adventure of learning and growth.

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Declarations of InterDependence

july 4I loath this day, for so many reasons: the mindless sloganeering, the unfettered pseudo-patriotism walking arm and arm with uber-capitalism, forgetfulness, the proliferation of plastic, pollution, propaganda, meat, and noise.

I become depressed when I see how so many seem to be so caught in lies, illusion, fear, and shallowness, and I wonder how that can be…then I think, oh yeah, our state of the art schools and mass media systems. And all the wounds we inherit and continue to replicate.

But this year in particular seems abominable, with endless slogans of freedom ringing while the psychopaths in power lock up and traumatize those most vulnerable, for profit, power, and maintaining white supremacy. Though that’s been this country’s modus operandi for so long.

So I find myself trying to find a way to redeem this whitewashed holiday in my own way. I am reflecting on what values I hold dear and try to live into the world and what true commitment to them looks like, beyond symbolism, beyond reinforcing the cruel and unsustainable status quo.

I declare my independence from this culture—the shallow disconnected culture of greed and militarism and racism and incarceration and propaganda and distraction, that worships the new and shiny and possessions and sky gods and makes a fetish of celebrity and ‘power’ and ‘BIGGER’ and ignorance. that can’t help but bury its sins in forgetfulness. That refuses a mirror. Independence from the mindless, voracious devouring. this mania always for MORE. I’ve lost my appetite. a fast is overdue.

I declare my INTERdependence with my fellow creatures of the earth, my sacred biotic community, the winged ones and hooved ones and gilled ones and 4-leggeds and no-leggeds. I declare my COMPLETE dependence on healthy ecosystems, on clean air, clean food, clean soil, and clean water. I declare my non-compliance with the merchants of death and vendors of forgetfulness who unwittingly conspire to take from me/us everything i love.

I declare my non-compliance with any laws that are a violation of life or justice or reality. Such laws mean NOTHING to me. This may be a “nation of laws” (lol) but I follow my own moral compass.

I declare my INTERdependence with my community, both those with whom I live with and love, and those who I know in passing, and those far-flung citizens of the world who I will never know, yet with whom i am inextricably intertwined. No one and no thing is independent of its context or relationships. Everything is interconnected. I believe in co-liberation.

I don’t believe in imaginary borders.

I am a citizen of the world, a citizen of watershed, a citizen of bioregion, a citizen of the cosmos.

A Creek Runs Through It – Dispatch from the Watershed Poetry Festival

The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. – Wendell Berry

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Vincent Medina, Ohlone Poet

When I saw the post for the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival in Berkeley on Poetry Flash, I knew that I had to attend. I was in need of both creative and moral inspiration, in this era of drought, climate change, and ecosystem collapse. And I am always enchanted by sweet nature-infused wordsmithery, especially celebrations of water, trees, and land.

This was my first time, though it is celebrating its 21st year. The Watershed Festival emerged during the tenure of former U.S. Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winner Robert Hass in the 1990s, when he launched the national Watershed Initiative. It continues today as an international poetry competition, River of Words, which encourages “children to make art and poetry about their watersheds.”

The day began with a walk along Strawberry Creek, starting on UC Berkeley campus and tracing above ground the route the creek takes underground until it reaches the bay.

The themes of poems on Saturday ranged from a tribute to the forests accompanied by a jazz-funk trio, to readings from an anthology dedicated to California State Parks called What Redwoods Know. But the highlight for me was two performances, equal parts edifying and inspiring: one by a local indigenous man and the other by middle school students who were part of California Poets in the Schools.

Vincent Medina is a member of an Muwekma Ohlone tribe. He spoke about his language Chochenyo, which, like much indigenous language and culture, has been the victim of erasure and suppression at the hands of colonial powers and outsiders, from the Spaniards to contemporary U.S. capitalism and imperialism. He is on a mission:”Reawaken” his ancestral language after it had “gone to sleep.” He didn’t grow up speaking the language, but his grandmother did and he began digging into archives and talking with elders. He is now conversationally fluent in Chochenyo.

The language connects them to the land and their ancestors, he said. To their oldest selves. And Chochenyo’s combination of rough and smooth sounds mirror the landscape of this bioregion, which the Ohlone have inhabited for at least several thousand years.

If you live in the East Bay, your mountain is Mt. Diablo, a name given by Spanish colonialists. But in Medina’s language it is called Tuyshtak, meaning something like “Place of the Day” or “at the dawn of time.” Tuyshtak was a sacred site for the Ohlone and features in many of their stories. From Altamont Pass to the ocean, the ups and downs of the land texture their historic sense of place. In preserving his language and anchoring it in the land, he was saying, “We have no intention of leaving.”

Medina then shared a poem and a phrase in Chochenyo that translates as “We are related.” It reminded me of the Lakota phrase, Mitakuye Oyasin, “All my relations,” both invocation and reaffirmation of our true interconnectedness – one our modern economy and worldview have largely forgotten.

If you ever need a boost in mood and hope for humanity, listen to kids read their poetry. Ten kids, ages 8-13, shared poems about submission, about the wonder of lizards growing their tails back, about bees dying, about stars that shine even when you can’t see them, and about pretty wishes sparkling in the night.

Their poems were so crisp, honest, unfiltered, and perceptive. Find out more about California Poets in the Schools.

The festival was a great reminder that we must begin to honestly see the natural world around us and to resurrect words that reaffirm the sacredness of that world and our connection with it. In doing so, we honor both our place and ourselves. If we are to cultivate living in proper relation to our home, language is a great place to start.


P.S. You can get a map of Oakland-Berkeley creeks and watersheds here and find lots of resources on Bay Area local watersheds at the Watershed Project and EBMUD.