“Nature Includes Us”

Years ago, watching a documentary on the life of John Muir, I was struck by this one sentence “Nature Includes Us.”  Growing up in San Francisco, although we lived blocks from the ocean, we didn’t have a sense of our connection to nature.  Our lives were conducted within the four walls of a house that was bursting at the seams with nine children.  The thrust was to get an education and then get a job in downtown San Francisco with its concrete and high rises.  Nature was the sky between the buildings and we seldom looked up.  As a young woman, I moved a block-and-a-half from the ocean.  That is when my interrelationship with nature became more conscious.

Moving to Mount Shasta twenty years ago, there was a sense of rebirth.  Discovering the hiking trails, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests–not to mention our mountain rising above it all at 14, 179 feet–opened me to the wonder and beauty of nature.  I could be in a an abiding state of awe over this beauty which includes me and you.  In San Francisco, there was little or no sense of the four seasons.  There was fog…sun in the Mission District and Noe Valley perhaps–those banana belts–however, fog in the Sunset District was the summer norm. In the mountains, we have the four seasons!  Each season with its distinct flavor and rarely fog…not ocean fog anyway.  There might be a mist that seeps between the trees after a heavy rain.  The type of mist in which magic lurks.

And bears.  In some Native American Traditions, bear medicine has to do with “introspection.”  It is associated with the season of Winter.  Bear goes inside a cave and hibernates when winter is at its most intense.  Bear has eaten a fair share of grasses, roots, berries, fruit, insects, fish and small animals and any garbage left outdoors and accessible.  Living in the mountains you hear bear tales and you cultivate your own.
There was the story of a man who camped way up on Old McCloud Road.  He had a nightly bear visitor.  To deter the bear, he would bang pots and pans, a little symphony, to scare the bear away.  There is definitely an etiquette of what to do when you encounter a bear.  It’s good to inform yourself about this if you enter bear country!

Of course, you don’t want to leave food or garbage lying around either at home or if you’re camping.  Bears don’t read “private property” or care about the campsite delineation.  The back of the property where I live is open to an alley.  In the late summer when the apple and pear trees are laden with their fruit, I have a bear visitor.  He’s very low profile as he comes in the night.  The only calling cards are broken tree branches and a pile of scat!  The neighbor’s barking dogs sometimes alert us to his presence, but he’s pretty elusive.

Hiking in the Castle Crags alone isn’t the most brilliant idea.  I have done it a few times.  Once, I thought I’d walk in the upper Castle Crags, the Root Creek Trail.  A couple came running from the direction I planned to hike.  They told me there was a big black bear and it was running towards them, not away.  I immediately turned around and changed my mind about hiking there.  Bears deserve respect especially in their habitat.  And the stories about mama bears, don’t mess with them, are real.  However cute the cubs might be, they are best observed at a safe distance or on TV.

I walk frequently by Lake Siskiyou, five minutes from where I live.  One summer, I took my binoculars as I was following a certain eagle who perched on the opposite shore.  The cry of an eagle is distinct even to the non-educated ear.  Staring in the direction of “my eagle,” I heard a bird cry behind me.  I turned just in time to see a black bear running a terraced part of the terrain twenty feet above me.  Both of us paused in our tracks and stared at one another for a brief moment.  Then the bear continued on its journey.  A jogger came along shortly.  He asked if I had seen a bear and which direction it had gone in.  I said yes.  And we both stopped to consider how close we were to this bear.  There had been no reason for fear to be triggered.  The only true feelings were of awe and gratitude.

“That is why we live here,” he said.  And two strangers gave one another a quick hug and continued our separate ways.

I doubt the bear was in awe of us.  There was a moment though in which I felt included in something very special.  To be given a glimpse of the wild in nature was to glimpse the wild in me.

Horse Camp

I wrote this entry a few years ago.

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Nature is a vital re-balancing refuge.  Today, I hiked up to Horse Camp (elevation is 7950 feet)  from Bunny Flat on Mount Shasta.  The hike takes me about an hour in one direction.  Sitting at the backside of the Sierra Club’s stone cabin built in 1923, I face Olberman’s Causeway–a path built by Joseph Macatee Olberman.  The path leads up to Avalanche Gulch which is the beginning of the climb to the summit of Mt. Shasta.  I’ve been told that scaling Mt. Shasta is not something you want to do in late summer.  It’s the season for avalanches.  Summiting is not something I aspire to…but I love being here.

The mountain has a few slimming glaciers on this south side; it’s mostly cocoa-colored now with sparse hardy trees, shale and rocky outcroppings.  At this lower elevation, there is purple lupine and rugged bouquets of gold flowers that soften the landscape. Flutters, birdsong and a sneaky chipmunk keep me company.  The chipmunk gets more daring, checking me out to see if I have food.  A few feet away, I see that he looks healthy enough.

Voices precede their owners, filtering down from the summit trail.  Masculine voices as if through a megaphone.  There is a stone fountain with a water spicket–the most pristine
spring water to be found…and cold!  A rugged woman with an overnight pack stacked high trudges by me.  She’s no stranger to nature and camping.

I could say that I’m on a Vision Quest…questing for my next occupation, preoccupation, gift to offer the world.  Afterall, a gift given is a gift received.  Connecting to the earth at this power spot, I imagine that if I get quiet and receptive enough, something will get through to me.   I’m here yet often somewhere else in my head.  Meanwhile, the men catch up with their voices.  No one I know in this weary bunch of summiters.  They unstrap their backpacks and rest on the adjacent bench.

The chipmunk is right under my feet.  So bold.  “Go away,” I whisper.  One man clucks for the chipmunk.  The chipmunk ventures closer but sees no food offering so he retreats– back to me.  My mind wanders and I wonder if my smartphone has reception here.

.

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In the spring, 2019, this is how Mount Shasta looks from Bunny Flat, elevation of 6950 feet, after a “real winter.”

 

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At a Certain Point…

“At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea,
to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready.
Now I will stop and be wholly attentive.
You empty yourself and wait, listening.”
by Annie Dillard
from Teaching a Stone to Talk

If a stone could talk, what would it say?

When was the last time you walked by a lake or in the woods,
climbed a mountain (or a hill), waded in a stream,
sat beside a tree?
Contemplated by a river?

Nature is sensual.  So are we.  Nature communicates to us in many ways.  One obvious way is through the senses.  We taste the cold shock of water from a mountain spring.  We touch the rough bark of an old tree.  We are soothed by the melange of nature’s colors when viewing a landscape.  We hear bubbling springs and wind through trees.  We smell fresh air and heady spring blossoms.

Living in the mountains for nearly twenty years now, I have been impressed and imprinted with the natural world that daily surrounds me.  Though the view from my kitchen window is the same, it is always different.  The alternating seasons reference change.

I lived in a big city by the ocean for most of  my life.  Like the mountains, the ocean is a strong presence.  I was, sometimes without realizing it, in daily conversation with the sea.  I took my troubles to the ocean, sat in the sand dunes or clambered over ice plant and down to the beach below.  Every sense was piqued.  And I always felt received and replenished in some way.

Writing Prompt:
What about you?  Take yourself to a nature spot.  Bring your journal and a pen.  Spend some time there.  Sit on a boulder or beside a stream.nature9Ask your questions.  Voice your complaints.  Get quiet and listen…what is nature communicating to you today?

Eternal Song

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Eternal Song Abstract

Eternal Song
by Christine O’Brien

Eternal song
sang its way down river
as I perched upon rock relics.
Tree watchers nestled,
their tops leaned in closely
to catch wind’s whisper.
Omniscient sky
stood stalwart,
clouds camouflaging heaven.

Eternal song
pitched a tent
while sun dunked itself
behind ocean’s screen
and pointy stars tweaked
dark-veiled sky
standing stalwart.
Intruding moon
strung a beam
and lit up any thought of
privacy
while eternal song
softly hummed wisdom.

Dawn woke with a yawn
and a stretch
across sleepy landscape.
Twitters and chirps
startled the drowsy birds
awake.
Nudging cats begged
to be let outside.
That is,
the ones who hadn’t hidden from
“come home” calls the evening before
dallying in secret night caves.

Off-key roosters
crowed when the spirit
moved them.
Stalwart sky blushed from rose
to soft-spoken blue
as fading stars
vacationed in another part of the world.
Australia, perhaps.
And all those humans
built timepieces,
danced to another tune,
rushed to and from importance
and they hardly ever noticed
eternal song.

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Did you notice the use of PERSONIFICATION in this poem?

 

Writing Prompt:
Earth, Air, Fire and Water.  The elements of our environment–these are our make-up also.  Choose an element and write your poem of appreciation.  Or weave them all together as I have done in this poem.  Three deep breaths, settle down and write.  The polishing can come later.