Otters Don’t Pay Rent

Spencer here: This week, in between two jobs and two house-sitting gigs we managed to sneak off to explore more of Portland’s parks, specifically along the Columbia River. On a gorgeous sunny day, we finally discovered Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area. I have been hearing of these lakes for years, only to now understand what they are about and where they are within Portland. I love this small, unassuming, 205 acre, quiet place. After oogling over some amazing nature sculptures at the park’s terminus, we took a wide path, part of the 40 mile loop, which runs throughout metro Portland, and turned left into the woods. Immediately, it was calm, cool, shady and breezy. The smell of the cottonwoods hit us and I was very relaxed. Too bad if someone tried to make an air freshener out of that smell it would be like cat litter or gross bathroom candle. Anyway, while walking and enjoying my 64 minutes of freedom before another work shift, I was contemplating something I had watched on Youtube that morning by Mark Boyle, author of a book called The Money-less Man. In an interview, he was describing how humans are the only species on all of the Earth who have to pay money to live. He is quoted as saying “We don’t expect the birds or the fish or the otters to pay rent.” (What a noble plight “homeless people” take on in imitating other species! Literally, if someone does not have money, it is pretty impossible to find a place to “be” without some enforced statute of limitations.) While watching an actual otter cross the pond through binoculars, floating, eating, sniffing and genuinely enjoying the sun and good health, these thoughts resonated within me once again. (I remember several years back reading a book called The Man Who Quit Money, by Mark Sundeen, about a similar character named Daniel Suelo of Utah. I became obsessed with the chance of running into him while traveling through Moab! He actually lives outside of Moab most of the time in hidden caves).

I have begun researching the concept of living without money more earnestly lately, as I am also reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s brilliant book Braiding Sweetgrass, (which Billy had read a few months ago). In one of her essays she writes about the “Gift Economy”. Unlike bartering, this concept is based in randomness and excludes obligation and expectation. It is akin to the river–a constant flow of giving and receiving. I guess I appreciate this, in that sometimes even volunteering can sometimes feel like an unbalanced proposition. Sure, there is an exchange that may seem beneficial, but in my experience, there is also high potential for abuse, as a structure for goods and services. I am not saying that helping, or work or effort is bad, I am only trying to expand the conversation to include all forms of exchange environments. I also am interested in a sense of purpose, more than I am in “work” as we define it these days. I am thinking of when we help a stranger because it is a kind thing to do, not because we will gain from it.

I have found a couple of amazing websites for more insight and information on a life without money, experiments and ways of life: “(Un)Certainties”, and  “Zero Currency”. Billy and I have contemplated living without money for a long while and have had lengthy conversations about what it would look like for us. I believe, (and have believed this for a long time), that as long as there is capitalism, there will be extortion of people, places and things, and motivation for people to abuse power and privilege. For example, as long as people can make money on oil, there will campaigns for ridiculous and dangerous pipelines through pristine wilderness. We are all in it, however, whether someone opts out or not, which is one of the criticisms both Suelo and Boyle have faced. Just because one opts out of the money system, one is still intricately involved with it, as by-products such as extra food, free clothing, free gear and hitch-hiking still involve some sort of participation. I don’t know the answer, but that doesn’t stop me from seeking it every day. Right now, I feel like I don’t have time for ‘work’, there is too much to do.

Billy here: The last few days we both have been thinking a lot about values of work and money, especially since we are both working for dollars again (more than we actually intended, in fact), and are both already feeling tired from getting over another bug.

A couple of years ago I read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, whose subject is the making of art, the gift exchange, and how this creative gift exchange has changed since the spread of capitalism. A gift exchange requires movement, a flow, where something is given and something else is given in return, not necessarily right away or for direct exchange, but because a gift relationship has been nurtured. Something given, it feels to be common sense, should not be sold, but given again. There is a vital difference here. Something that is given away is imbued with a special feeling, an appreciation and sense of community. There is love in the gift.  All art, Hyde stated, is made out of this heart of giving, if it is true to the spirit of art. In contrast, money is easy to keep, to take inward and to feel protective over. In today’s world of capitalism, it is easy, dead easy, to close up and ask, “How can I make money off of this?” The question outside of a money system would have been, “How can I give people heart with my work?” I ask myself frequently about the usefulness of money in every capacity, not just in the creative world. It is not that money is inherently evil, as my sister says, it just is. It’s a form of energy, true, but it’s dangerous because it contains all the values of a culture, for better or for worse.

So everybody’s gotta pay rent right? It may be complicated, but even a few generations ago, the first people on this continent didn’t understand how anyone could possibly own land. How do we claim rights to water that has flowed before our grandparents were born, water that nurtures all living things? How do we claim rights to the soil that harbors more microorganisms than we can know in a lifetime? Even in feudal Europe, everyone, even peasants, had access to common resources such as water and firewood. In my humble opinion, to say that someone owes someone money just to have a place to live on Earth is downright bonkers. I hope that someday it goes in the same category as servitude, like serfdom. Now, of course, it has gotten complicated. Even the most well meaning person who wants to have a little piece of Earth to live on may go through the process of buying land and now owes a bank mortgage. So back to medieval feudalism…the church had one cardinal sin that I would have to stand behind, the sin of usury, which was to make money of off money, that is, the charging of interest. How things have changed! I would say that the very foundation of our modern capitalism now stands on usury!

The gift economy, in contrast, has been practiced in many traditional cultures as the exchange of goods and services which is offered in the spirit of mutual benefit and the upholding of reciprocal relationships. Ideally, no one is left out and the gift keeps moving, so the moochers and tyrants are hopefully nipped in the bud, for they cut off the flow.

Who has the most money in the world? The top four banks of China, getting rich off of factories that feed material consumption all over the world. Berkshire Hathaway, who started a multinational conglomerate holding company with stock in everything from Dairy Queen to IBM. What does a conglomerate holding company do except make money off of money, that is, off of other people’s work? Next on the list include the cutthroat bank J.P. Morgan and, of course, Exxon. I believe that the way the system is set up, it appears that banks give out energy that feeds the world, but in reality, it is the opposite, we are all working to feed the banks. They make billions, and we struggle to make rent on land they pretend to own.

Spence and I are not there yet, but the gift economy is something we want to move toward. I feel that our lifestyle of living lightly and with as little money as possible is very close to this ideal, but we still have one leg on each shore, so to speak. What is keeping me on money island? Is it that I want a place to have a piano? I think this is possible without money. Is it the feeling that we are valueless if we don’t have money? What makes you feel valuable? What does making a living mean to you? Does living mean making money? Or does living mean something else?

Love Wins!

Our Hands

Billy here. This weekend Spence and I are celebrating our first year of marriage. I do not necessarily support the institution of marriage. I believe it is by and large patriarchal hooha. I also believe that couples who choose to not marry or be in non-monogamous relationships should be allowed to love how they see fit without interference or judgement. How consenting adults choose to love one another is personal preference that should be supported and respected.

That being said, I believe that marriage equality is important because it represents a civil rights issue. In states where gay marriage bans exist, studies have shown that mental and physical stress is greater for LGBTQI people than in states where gay marriage is legal. This is about quality of life. In a country where the laws support our existence, whether or not we choose to marry, we are bound to flourish, because the option to live as we choose is the meaning of freedom.

I chose to marry Spence because I know down to the bottom of my soul that I want to be his committed partner in this lifetime and I want to celebrate that love every day. I want to be able to hold Spence’s hand in public, to be who I am and show affection without fear of retribution. Here in Portland, Oregon, this is mostly something I don’t have to worry about, but in most places, this is simply not the case. Even a radical queer, who may not believe in the institution of marriage, has something to gain with the momentum of marriage equality, because it represents a welcoming and acceptance of queer folk into the fabric of society. For me, even a trickster is a part of the fabric and even a radical, as the etymology of the word implies, represents a return to the very roots of what community means. Unless one romanticizes being an oppressed outlaw, this momentum is a good thing!

I would like to take a moment to hold in my heart all of those LGBTQI pioneers who have gone before me to help clear the path to equality in today’s society. I also want to take a moment to consider all the folks who live in a more hostile political environment around the world, who not only cannot be legally married, but who cannot openly be who they are without dire repercussions.

I want to give thanks for being in Spence’s life and to be living so incredibly well. Every day we eat fresh vegetables and eggs. We pursue art, literature and music. We are surrounded by loving friends. There is so much to be thankful for and so much more to do.  When we went to get our marriage license in Albuquerque last May, gay marriage had just been legalized in New Mexico. I was touched by the number of other same-sex couples getting married with us in the courthouse. It felt like a magical moment in history.

Check out the It Gets Better Project! This is a beautiful project started by Dan Savage to encourage queer teens who are enduring hardships to love themselves with messages of hope from older folks who have been through the wringer. I thought as teenager, like so many of us queerdos, that if you were queer you literally wouldn’t survive past forty, whether the cause was drugs, HIV, suicide, or hate crimes. But when I moved out to New Mexico and met all the fabulous committed couples over forty, I learned that actually over forty is when the going gets really good! So hang on, young folk! I hit rough patches and sometimes it seemed like life was too sad, but I can say now, that it really, actually does get better, because this life is beautiful.

On April 28th, marriage equality went back to the Supreme Court. We await a ruling that could decide to legalize marriage for all of us nationwide. Even our president is behind it! Hats off to Ireland for being the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage through the popular vote. Of course, a majority rules method of democracy, as we know all too well, leaves behind the minorities until the majority decides to take heed…leaving the minorities to petition for their rights…

Sign the petition of support for marriage equality in all 50 states

Also, hats off to the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska who joined 21 other tribes in endorsing marriage equality. Of course, and thank you, Netherlands, for becoming the first country in the world to gain marriage equality fourteen years ago.

Spence here:  When I first met Billy in 2005, I knew I wanted him to be in my life, always. I felt an extraordinary love and power from him I cannot explain. (I still feel that sense when I look over at him today). At the same time, I had the funny feeling that we had always been in each others’ lives, past and future, as time is not so linear as we think. When me met in this life, however, I wasn’t sure at the time what all of my feelings meant, as both our lives were in a state of duress, but I knew for sure I wanted to know him and be close to him. For much of the early time, my heart skipped a beat when I caught glimpses of him and I would scarcely mutter things to him as I was very nervous, bumbling, and sweaty around him. With patience, time and distance, we became good friends. If someone would have told me we would eventually be married, I probably would have fainted.

I never considered myself the “marrying type”. I never had those fantasies of playing “house” when I was little–dressing up and walking down the aisle, (I always wanted to be the dog!) Although I was very committed to my previous partners, I always felt the entanglement of marriage as ownership and felt it was a sure path to losing ones-self. I am not sure why or how I learned this, as my parents are very unique and have held a healthy example of marriage for over 40 years! But I recall, even when Billy and I finally starting dating, after years of friendship, my saying “don’t expect me to marry you”. Ha! I was very head-strong, defensive and assuming, as he had not mentioned anything to that effect, and we had only been together a few months. (By this point he knew me well, so his response was to smile, roll his eyes a little and continue holding my hand–his patience, kindness and compassion continue to be boundless). Anyway, I always thought being married would mean forfeiting my freedom–not a freedom to date who I wanted, I didn’t care so much about that, as I have always valued monogamy for myself, but I guess I thought one would have to trade travel, being foot-loose, and general unconventionality for the rigors of boring stability. It also seemed a very “Grown-up” thing to do, on a road to a mortgage, kids, dogs and mini-vans. All of which I was convinced would stifle me–I have since owned two dogs and a mini-van, which have neither stifled me or contributed to my being “Grown-up”! I also didn’t think having my cake and eating it too would be possible–to find someone who actually liked being weird and wanted to celebrate a life-time of art, magic, learning and taking the barely visible, weed-filled animal trail! I guess sadly, I also underestimated how long I would live. I really thought the whole time I was growing up I would be lucky to make it to 30 years of age, and who would care if I did? When Billy asked me to marry him, under an eclipsed moon in the middle of a cold night, I did not hesitate in saying “yes!” I was surprised but also completely, pleasantly reassured in the fact that he felt the same about me as I feel about him and as committed as I feel. I also felt I was making another commitment to my own life at that moment–I finally felt like I deserved the good that was happening all around us, and the good that we were helping to create by being together.

Several years ago, as more and more states started sanctioning and subsequently banning gay marriage, I felt all that didn’t apply to me, even though I am queer person. I just figured I would never be married and who would want to participate in such an archaic, “straight” way of life anyway? But then I started seeing gay and lesbian couples come out of the wood-work–people who had been together 15, 20, 30 years, without the privilege, safety, celebration, benefits and community support marriage affords others. Finally, they were able to stand up in the open and show to the world how proud they were of their relationships. I had also never had the feeling of being so sure of my own relationship–to stand in celebration with my best friend for as long as we can, in this life or otherwise.

I love the project Dan Savage has started, “It Gets Better”. The sentiments of the videos, letters, school anti-bullying programs and positive messages for LGBTQ youth are so important and inspiring. I wish that I had had the abundance of support and resources offered to those today. It probably would have saved my family and I a lot of grieving years. But I am happy to be on the other end now and I am thankful for all the leaps our queer elders have taken before us to make way for healthier, more complete and proud lives.

Our Roof on Earth

Bamboo canopy under the oak leaves canopy

Spence here: On this gloomy Northwestern day, I am realizing time is flying by. It is already the middle of May and plans for June have begun to book up the weekends–as it is, the rest of May is spoken for. I rarely like this level of busy-ness and planned activity. It is akin to parents enrolling their children in every extra-curricular thing they can to instill order and productivity and drive. I was lucky growing up in that my parents recognized and heeded a healthy balance of structure and wildness. Lately, however,  I have noticed I have been losing a bit of my barbarian qualities, as far as spontaneity–my socks and underwear are folded! Ugh! It is catchy these days, to plan things out to the minute, and I like to be leery of this, as it dulls the wildness within us. All that said, I am still pleased with the efforts of our past weekend. Billy and I wanted to, very much, set up our outdoor kitchen. We decided with 4 days of nice weather we should prioritize getting a new roof on our music studio. I had created a plan for this roof back in October, when the winds and the rain really started to blow. Billy said we should go “Texas-Style” for the winter, tarping the roof until time and a stretch of better weather allowed. We jumped this weekend and peeled back the tarp. I knew it would be a little damp, as the tarp was a shotty $40 hardware store sale find, complete with dust, but I had not expected such a soaking or dampness. Apparently, the plywood I stored up there for the new roof helped to ward off leaks, however was somewhat sacrificed as it had started to mold. Nevertheless, we used what we could and followed my plans, which included new 2×4 cross sections with screened holes for ventilation, plywood, roofing paper and salvaged metal roofing panels, which surprisingly were in great shape. This project took all of the free time we had, but it is a big job that I am happy to have off my back. The studio will be warm and dry for years to come.

We were also able to finish work on our bamboo canopy, erected on the south side of the music studio for our outdoor kitchen. We are using poles grown next door, with twine and para-cord for lashing and a heavy duty boat tarp for the roof. I really appreciate the process of working with the bamboo, as opposed to working with the materials of the roof on the studio. We are cutting the bamboo by hand, and mostly using lashings to keep it together, a seemingly lost art in our first world country (except for survivalist/bushcraft extremist websites, which I love!) On the other roof we used plywood, screws, roofing paper and metal, which unleashes a scary sharp-as-shit jagged edge when cut. I felt like a lot of the time I was up on the roof I was slogging through it, pushing materials around and generally using aggressive tactics. When it was done, I said to Billy, “now the fun projects can begin.” I do feel like a lot of “home-owners” these days have lost touch with what it means to build and maintain their shelters. I read an interesting essay to this affect a few years ago, although sadly I can’t recall the author, but the sentiment was that in this day and age, people have not only lost the drive, but the opportunity to create their own dwellings in a traditional sense. It adds to our disconnectedness and lack of a sense of place. It is more affordable and takes less time to order up a factory-made house, or just buy one that is already built and with the kind of schedules people have these days, I don’t blame them for going that route. I mean, Billy and I have also used ‘human-made’ materials for most of our building projects, albeit salvage, but still. I think that is one of the reasons I appreciated the efforts of some of the people we met in New Mexico, and in other rural areas I have visited. People who didn’t have enough money even to buy a mobile home subsequently built amazing structures out of salvaged materials, basically trash, earth, straw and tree branches. There is a group here in Portland which explores, teaches and supports others in the arts of wilderness awareness, forest craft skills, primitive skills and tracking called Trackers Earth. I have been meaning to take a few of their classes on foraging and natural building. After our experiences this weekend, I really feel called to get involved in some of their skills training groups. Between us, Billy and I have amassed quite a bit of knowledge, but it is overwhelming sometimes to think of all the skills we have lost over generations of modern life. I think it will take several more generations to get the skills back, but I feel happy knowing indigenous knowledge is at the core of all of us. I am looking forward to being able to spend even more time outside, cooking and eating under the stars that are our roof even in daytime.

Billy here. The one roof we all share is the sky itself. Between spring rain and storm we can glimpse the last of the setting Seven Sisters in the West, the Pleiades star cluster (I love that the Zuni call them the Seeds). In the last few thousand years, the seventh star has dimmed, so it looks to be, in most city skies, only six stars.

Most of the five visible planets are observable in the early evening, including Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. Mars was lost in the glare of dusk early this month and will be in conjunction with the Sun on June 14th. Mars will reappear in July. Mercury is lost to dusk this weekend, reemerging about the time Mars conjuncts the Sun. There are a few minor meteor showers happening over the next few months to keep us sated until the Perseids delight us in August.

Keep a special eye out for Saturn this week, which is in opposition to the Sun on the 22nd of May. This means that Earth is exactly between the Sun and Saturn. Not only is Saturn closest to Earth at this point of the year, it is brightening steadily as the rings widen to their maximum in 2017. If you have a telescope or even binoculars, this is a great time to look for Saturn’s rings as it rises in the East after sunset. A medium telescope in good conditions may resolve as many as five of Saturn’s 62 known moons, though I’ve only consistently spotted the largest moon, Titan. Saturn takes roughly 29.45 years to orbit the sun, which means that oppositions happen at this frequency as well. In another 14.725 years Saturn will be halfway through its cycle again, conjunct with the Sun. What were you doing about 15 years ago? 30 years ago? What were you starting? What were you dreaming about? Fifteen years ago I had just moved out of my parent’s house; I was making indie B movies with my friends and dreaming of being a successful film score composer. I tripped over some stumbling blocks on the way and ended up helping my family run a successful coffee shop instead. Alas, I’d take artistic success over entrepreneurial success any day, but it’s not too late to start over!

Just now, our spacecraft Dawn has gone into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, which orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter past another dwarf planet Vesta. Ceres, surprisingly spherical in shape, is the largest object in the asteroid belt and is about 2.5 times smaller than the dwarf planet Pluto. Dawn has revealed some interesting bright spots on the surface of Ceres in a crater of its northern hemisphere. Is it reflective water ice? Is water, a building block of life as we know it, much more abundant than we dare imagine? Is the propensity for life and all of its creativity much more abundant than we dare imagine?

How is this related to creating our own dwellings? Creating a home for ourselves starts, for me, in the my heart and in the cosmos beyond the atmosphere of Earth. Feeling intimate with the seasons and the movements of the planets is the foundation of building a home that has meaning for us. Old villages and ancient city-states were laid out according to the rising Sun, Moon and Stars. The very streets were maps of the greater Universe. The inner world was a mirror to the outer solar system and beyond.

In Peter Turchi’s book, Maps of the Imagination, he relates how in the 17th century a name was needed for a book of maps, as there was no common word for such a thing. Several words were suggested, including, quite interestingly, the words mirror and theater. The word that was settled upon was a Greek mythological reference: Atlas. How we organize the world, is it a reflection, a story we tell ourselves? And do we not build our homes to reflect these stories?

One could say, with satellite imagery, that we are strict realists these days…but that leaves out every intangible, dreaming thing…

A Weekend with a Volcano

Each of us stands at one unique spot in the universe, at one moment in the expanse of time, holding a blank sheet of paper.

This is where we begin.

-Peter Turchi

Spence here: In the early morning there was calm. The clouds, reflected in the waters, greyed then burned away, as fish jumped, making tiny wakes at the shore. Ravens and Red-Winged Blackbirds called out, the only noise for miles. The lake, perfect glass to row about, I thought. This is how I started my day, camping at Merrill Lake, on the west side of Mount Saint Helens. Billy and I had slept well in the tent, strange for us, as we are generally light sleepers at home and away, and we rose early to greet the smell of summer, now fully upon us.

We spent days hiking around Mt. St. Helens in a curious, twisty and frontal state of mind—trees filled with meaning, rocks and lichens our friends—owls called after the campfire extinguished. Billy’s sister and her girlfriend joined us on this adventure and we celebrated the full moon of May, pouring out drinks for the various deities and entities one believes in on this physical dirt. We explored canyons and caves and tubes, suspension bridges and a dog’s willingness to go along with apes’ ridiculous plans.

A highlight, besides great company, great food, fun beverages, great weather and a beautiful camp, was our hike to Goat Marsh. Billy and I both saw the little trail on the map, an off-shoot of the Kalama Snow Trail at the end of our camp road and it beckoned. Now one of my top five favorite places of all time, Goat Marsh lent views of Mt. St. Helens, old Douglas Firs, many birds, salamanders, frogs and small children catching even smaller trout with bigger smiles. Around the bend of the trail, a homemade sign said “James Dunbar, Nov. 6th, 2003”. I assumed a memorial gesture to a person who either loved Goat Marsh, contributed to its protection and/or research (the acres there are designated as a research area) or perhaps just a fisherman who loved the mountain.

I couldn’t find anything online about James Dunbar, but did yield however, an amazing story of a “Bigfoot” encounter  and how Ape Canyon, a long stretch of rock heading up the South Easterly slope of Mt. St. Helens, got its name. Apparently, in 1924, some prospectors, after mining their claim for the day, retreated to their cabin for the night. Some members of the four-man party were concerned, as they had been seeing 19” footprints in the woods near their cabin and had heard strange thumping noises, accompanied with whistling and screeching in the evenings.  Other members of the group were very excited about the wealth of their claim and wanted to stay on to further their fortune.  They decided to leave in the morning; the braver ones could come back another day. According to interviews and an article on, around midnight, their camp was “attacked” by “large ape-like creatures”. The attack on the cabin, included rock throwing, jumping on the roof, trying to break through the walls (the cabin did not have any windows) and breaking in the door. At first light, the attacks ceased and the prospectors emerged from their cabin to see one of the creatures standing about 80 feet away. One person shot at the creature, killing it and sending it over a 400 foot cliff, into the canyon. The miners then rushed through the woods out to their truck and sped off to town. They were interviewed by local papers after word got around of the incident, but no evidence was ever found, let alone any ape-like creatures and the cabin eventually burnt down. According to the USFS, the event was a hoax played by young boy scouts, and was subsequently disproved. I still like to believe it, as I still like to think there is a Little Prince taking care of a volcano on his planet.

Billy and I did hear large screeching/calling types of sounds in the middle of the night one night—something like a flight of cranes, but indistinguishable.  Hmm. The stories we tell each other and ourselves are always true if we believe them.

Billy here. Spending a few days near the slopes of the most recently erupted volcano helped me remember how ephemeral even the oldest relics of humankind really are. The paradigm seems to be that civilization as we know it has been happening continuously in a hierarchical evolution and we are the apex of it. Not only that, but that how things are now will continue to grow in a stable fashion and the systems we have put into place will be there indefinitely, changing only to grow in size and value. Yet, especially here in the United States, we are so young a culture, in our teens at best, that we forget that things ebb and flow, that things decay and die. A mountain range may have once been the bottom of the ocean, a desert once a jungle, and the volcanoes in our backyard are only napping, waiting to bring fire and ash to our cities.

On July 16, 1994 my life changed entirely as I watched the first fragment of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slam into Jupiter through my telescope and leave a grey scar in its atmosphere the size of the planet Earth. The largest fragment hit two days later with the force of 6 megatons of TNT, equivalent to 600 times the world’s nuclear stockpile. In addition to spawning multiple summer blockbusters about comet apocalypses (as well as sparking a lifelong obsession with astronomy in me), the event reminded all of us briefly that this universe is alive, very dynamic, and not necessarily as stable as we would like to believe.

On the planetary scale, life itself flourishes between cold periods in interglacial periods of warmth. The last glacial period ended about 15,000 years ago, which sparked the subsequent growth of humanity and its civilizations. In the grand scheme of things, this warm period of the flourishing of humanity, the recent Holocene, was a mere blip in time. At the beginning of the Holocene period, sea levels rose over 100 feet. Here we have the origin of the legends of Atlantis and Tir fa Tonn, the Lands Under Waves.

Seeing the landscapes of our local volcano, the forests swept under by lava and ash, I am reminded once again that this is all very temporary. For some reason, this comforts me immensely and helps me feel small in an unfathomably large and complex universe, in the same way that looking at the night sky does. The Earth was not always covered in superhighways, dams and strip malls. In fact, only 75 years have passed since the first superhighway was built in the United States. Compared to the roughly 3.55 billion years that life has existed on the planet, this means that life is 47.3 million times older than our current high speed regime. According to the UCSB Science Line website: “The fossil record shows that roughly every 130 million years, most of the species alive on Earth are wiped out fairly suddenly.” We might have 65 million more years, or not…but if this is fact is true, life on Earth and all of its turnings of evolution, has evolved for millions of years and been wiped out about 27 times already. This could happen 27 more times over the lifetime of Earth herself.

Older cultures remember that we are living in balance and that all we have is our daily renewals. Song and dance is a prayer that the Sun will still rise and the Moon will still give the Ocean waves. Every day thanks are offered for the gifts of love and food we give and receive. Because tomorrow the sea may take us all home and make oil of our bones.

How do you know that any person you encounter isn’t a god?How do you know that Hermes isn’t walking through your doorway right now? You don’t, and because of that, it’s incumbent on you to live with the possibility that sacredness – that which is beyond human – is knocking on your door. You have to behave with proper respect toward whatever comes into your home, your life. The Greeks call it xenia – the culture of kindness to the stranger. It’s not done out of a moral sense but because you recognize your place in the world, and the brevity of life, and the value of the people you meet.
– David Mason

Ribbons and the Maypole

Our lovely landmate’s herb spiral in progress – check out her business Pride and Joy Landscaping at!

Spence here: I felt it fitting I finished reading River Horse this week, while sunning myself, “fishing” at the Sandy River. The book is one of William Least Heat-Moon’s best. An adventure in every sense: crossing the continent by river from New York to Oregon: one part travel and one part philosophy to two parts history and humor. Least Heat-Moon documents his own journey in his 22-foot C-Dory, Nikawa (which means “river horse” in Osage), with comparison to other famous river goers, mostly Lewis and Clark, and Native American inhabitants, then and now. Heading west, with a cast of hilarious supporting characters, Least Heat-Moon teaches the reader more about North American rivers than any classroom could, as he lives and breathes the weather, floods, droughts, nature, culture and the Army Corps of Engineers.

On many levels, the river, as an entity is always in my thoughts and my dreams. Since I was little I have been obsessed with boats and the water, significant as adventure and pathways. Now as an adult, I see the ribbons in the weave of what captivates and motivates me: the ease at which water flows and finds the way, the floods of our lives and the drought, the ownership and controls human-kind has tried to place on mighty ones, in particular rivers of the West.Not only do I think of the wildlife and natural detriments to which we may not even comprehend, but I think of the peoples affected by dams, locks, dredging, dikes, levys and channeling. What once were rich fertile flood plains for farmers are now dead dirt clods trapped behind earthen mounds to keep the rivers out, while taxpayers spend millions of dollars subsidizing farmers for fertilizer and irrigation, towns for flood damage (some being build actually below the natural river level), and commercial shipping agents to keep their barges afloat, which actually only makes up about 8% of the traffic on these rivers.

A few summers ago my friend and I backpacked a gorgeous loop around Mt. Rainier in Washington. On the second night, we camped about 100 yards from the Carbon Glacier, the lowest elevation glacier in the contiguous Untied States. I had visited glaciers in my childhood, as my family and I had gone to Glacier, Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks, but I never comprehended the significance and deep meaning until the Rainier trip. To watch a river being created from a glacial source, tumbling down a rocky slope, sometimes just a trickle at first, sometimes coming out as a torrent, as the Carbon River seems to, is pure magic. It is a leap, for me, a colossal contrariety in the nature of all things, to dam such a course. I don’t think the blockages we impose upon ourselves are any coincidence. In any event, history has proven how unsuccessful the taming of wild rivers actually is.

This weekend we are heading up to Mount Saint Helens to celebrate the beginning of summer. When I went up to Loowit the last time, in particular June Lake, I had an amazing dream–so vivid and real I knew it was not just a dream. While ‘sleeping’, all the creatures in the forest gathered with me, as the many ancestors of the land in the form of skeletons congregated under a large canopy by the lake to discuss the future of the mountain and what I was going to do about it. Often, I think about this dream, the feeling of the land up there as an unstable place, geologically and spiritually and I wonder what sort of powers these ancients think I have to be able to do anything to change our current homo sapient course. We will see what they have to say to me this weekend!

If nature undoes immediately what we work years to do, then we’re not doing it right.

–William Least Heat-Moon

Billy here. The roses are blooming here in Portland! We don’t have many pictures for you this week, but next week after camping for three days near our local volcano we hope to give you more, so stay tuned! This weekend is the halfway point between spring equinox and summer solstice. This seasonal point was celebrated by British peoples as Beltane, the ancient festival welcoming the beginning of summer. In traditional northern Europe, there were only two seasons, Summer  or Light Time and winter or Dark Time. Beltane literally translates roughly to ‘bright fire’ and marks the coming summer sun with bonfires and relighting the home’s hearths at the central community fire. This ancient dousing of the home fire and relighting was significant. The home hearth was kept burning all year and was only ritually put out to be re-lit and renewed communally at festival times. Pauline Bambry, anthropologist and researcher of Beltane, says:

“Beltane is a rural pre-Christian prehistoric tradition which saw communities come together after long winters of isolation. It marked their connection not just to nature but to each other. That need to belong to something or someone hasn’t changed. We can be just as isolated living in the city or in a town as the ancient Bretons were in their round houses.”

Beltane is sometimes celebrated on May Eve or on the nearest Full Moon, which this year is today! The full moon of May is also called Flower Moon, Milk Moon, or Corn Planting Moon. Around Beltane the land spirits and faeries, or aes sídhe (pronounced “ays sheeth-uh”), were said to be out and about, just as they appear around Samhain or Halloween time and Midsummer’s Eve. Aes sídhe means ‘people of the mounds’, as they are the old ones, the indigenous pre-Celtic people Tuatha Dé Danann, who retreated to the mounds that dot the Isles. Could this be somehow be etymologically linked to the Nordic seiðr practice of magic (pronounced roughly “sayth”)? Offerings of fruit, milk and baked goods were left to the land spirits. Bonfires were lit and ashes were spread in the fields and on faces. Livestock were driven between two bonfires to ritually purify them, which had a practical purpose of ridding parasites and lice from livestock that had been kept in close quarters all winter before they were put to pasture. People checked the fences and roamed the boundaries of the village with torches in what was called ‘beating the bounds’. Folk donned flowers, woven wicker, and antlers; and, of course, danced around the famous May Pole decorated with colorful ribbons. In old times, the pole was actually the living old World Tree at the spiritual center of the village, but the old trees were felled when Christianity swept the British Isles.

These connective tissues are being revitalized today. The old festivals are making a comeback among folk with European ancestry, not just in Europe, but in the States as well. I would argue that now more than ever, with so many of us living in urban settings, we need festivals to celebrate our connection to each other and the Earth. We need one another to survive in communities. We need to feel the connection to the seasons in order to actively participate ecologically in our world.

The biggest challenge we face is shifting human consciousness, not saving the planet, because the planet doesn’t need saving; we do.

–  Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez

To celebrate Beltane we will be camping with loved ones near the Fire-keeper of the Northwest, Loowit, also known as the volcano St. Helens. If you get a chance, I highly recommend reading Joseph Bruchac’s retelling of the myth of Loo-Wit the Fire-Keeper. In it he tells the story of Loo-Wit and the two sons of the Great Spirit: the chief of the Klickitat, Pahto (also called Paddo or simply Klickitat) who became the mountain we now know as Mount Adams and the chief of the Multnomahs, Wy’East who became the mountain we now know as Mount Hood. They quarreled over control of the land and possession of the beautiful Fire-Keeper, who gave fire to all the villages and lived on the Bridge of the Gods across the Big River Wimahl (the Columbia’s Chinookan name). The Columbia River is one of the most heavily dammed and ‘developed’ rivers in the nation.

Though she was asleep, Loo-Wit was still aware, the people said. The Creator had placed her between the two quarreling mountains to keep the peace, and it was intended that humans, too, should look at her beauty and remember to keep their hearts good, to share the land and treat it well. If we human beings do not treat the land with respect, the people said, Loo-Wit will wake up and let us know how unhappy she and the Creator have become again. So they said long before the day in the 1980s when Mount St. Helens woke again.

– Joseph Bruchac