Wild Horses… Lets Do Some Living

Sage brush towered three feet overhead. I crumbled the dried leaves. Musky, sweet. Wild, free. We followed the clues of the mustang. Deep hoof prints in the pumice sand. Pale, dusty to fresh manure piles. Wild grasses cut short from their nibbling along the Adobe Creek. Crest the butte. Spotted their large heads on the horizon. Sneaking quietly. Ducking behind the tall brush. The black horse turned to watch us. Feral. Power. Impossibly beautiful.

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Responsible Travel

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fijiWe should respect the cultures and traditions of the communities we visit, except when those mores and beliefs break down humanity.

In 2002, my friend Nila and I lead a group of women to Kadavu, Fiji, for a Goddess retreat. We planned rituals to honor the four faces of the Goddess: Maiden, Enchantress, Mother and Crone, so that each woman would learn how to embrace the Divine Feminine within themselves and other women.

We were the only Westerners at the small resort where we stayed for one week. The resort owner explicitly told us that we must not “over-socialize” with the native Fijians. They would show us their school, welcome us to their kava ceremony and lead us on hikes. But there was to be no deep human connection, lest our Western ways leave a sour taste with the native peoples and inspire them to leave their island and their culture.

That seemed ethical.

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But one of us had an affair with one of the native men. This shouldn’t have been a problem, per se, as this gentleman was well-versed in English and had many opportunities to leave Kadavu if he wanted and remained on the island. Except that the resort owner was also having an affair with him. The young man found his voice and discovered how to stand up for himself.

We were not allowed to tip the native help, lest we provoke jealousy. Then we learned they had not received a raise in many years and so the same woman who had the affair began a scholarship for the children to pay for secondary school. Every woman who came on the retreat adopted a child’s education as their responsibility.

IMG_3375We had a lusty ritual for the Entrantress which provoked two native cousins to have an affair and created quite the scandal and hardship for the woman. We didn’t know they were watching us dance topless in the ocean. For this, I am truly sorry. I don’t know any details of what became of the child. I do hope some women began to understand a little more about the power of the pussy and wield this power as their true sovereignty. I hope we sprinkled some Divine Feminine upon this village.

However, I am most proud of breaking the stigma on sexuality. During the Mother ritual, Nila provoked a conversation that forced me to admit my bisexual tendencies. I liked kissing girls but saying it aloud was literally ground-breaking.  My admission drew me to an effeminate native who wore pink every day. I taught him how to give a massage based on the techniques I had learned at the Mueller School of Massage. I later learned that his bisexual nature had ostracized him from his small island community who believed he was an inherent sinner (based in large part by the mission-installed Christianity). With his new skill, he left Kadavu and found work and a new, empowered life on Viti Levu, the main island.

Lesson learned. Don’t accept bold, sweeping statements without looking first at the Divine humanity and the individual Light.

The Land of Fey

The Land of the Fey (or Faerie) exists anywhere magick is taken as fact above fiction. In these mystical places I so adore, serendipity, mystery and connection reign as high truth.

As we flew over Ireland, the Emerald Isle, I shuddered in delight and tears filled my eyes gazing down upon the carpet of green and craggy shoreline. Myths have been born here and exist as more than fables or stories with little bearing on the world today. The lore and magic that has been passed down through the centuries has been carried like the Holy Grail Itself.

I wanted a wee bit of Irish faery dust and leprechaun luck to bless me and keep me good company. Many years ago, my Priestess Connie de Masters gave me a light from the Goddess Brigid’s Sacred Flame. One of her students had come to Ireland and held a lighter to this flame igniting the sacred protection of the Patroness of Ireland and brought it across the Atlantic. I carried this open flame in a 7-day advent calendar from Connie’s home and lit the furnace in my home with the sacred flame.

I no longer have that flame that represented all of Brigid’s power of fire to forge smith tools and craft, divine poetry to ignite the heart and gain wisdom from the deep wells of inspiration and healing. However, a week before my departure to Ireland, I was gifted with a Brigid weaving from Julie who had attended my class Womyn Meet Death where I paid homage to Melinda and our beloved on the Other Side. I carried this weaving and a bottle of blackberry cordial (Brigid’s herbal ally) in my suitcase for a very special offering.

Our first night in Trim’s Kiely Bar proved to be an auspicious start. The next morning Joey drove us to the Sacred Hill of Tara. It was on this soft, mounded, grassy knoll where a huge rock stood. In Ancient Celtic Times, men vying for the right to be King competed in many daring feats of strength. They had to be strong and good – but only if the sacred stone spoke their name when they touched it would they be deemed worthy to take the crown.

I placed the weaving at the base of this stone and poured a libation of cordial on it. I could feel the magick pulsing.

We the visited the Hill of Ancient Ones and discovered spiral carvings representing the Goddess, a wishing tree with ribbons waving from every branch, and a splendid cemetery with moss covered tombstones.

IMG_3033Just steps away, we happened upon a bookstore where I found a book called Tending Brigid’s Flame written by Lunaea Weatherstone, who was once my teacher for a yearlong study in sacred sisterhood. We then found the gallery of Courtney Davis. I sat before the altar set up in the shop, lit a candle and wrote down a wish. I held the small piece of paper with my wish to the flame and release my desire to Brigid to fulfill. I was particularly fascinated with a painting of a Raven in the center connected to Goddess Brigid, Kuan Yin, Kali, White Tara and Corn Mother – all Goddesses who have called to me. The artist told us about the sacred well less than a mile away and gave us two small bottles to fill with the blessed water. We made our way down the path, through the iron gate and up to the dark pool that rested in a cave-like opening. I knelt down on the stone and reached into the pool to fill the vials.

Guinness and other pub adventures awaited us in Galway and the Aran Islands (a most lovely place untouched by modernity, including street lamps). Magick graced us once again when we came to the Dingle Peninsula and drove the breath-taking Slea Head Drive in the Wild Atlantic West. We experienced breath-taking cliffs, crashing waves, epic sprays at least 30-feet high against rocky outcroppings and sites that have stood since the Iron Age. The first of these was a Fairy Fort.

This sacred site, most likely misunderstood by most, which I say because the draw seemed to be a two euro purchase for pellets to feed the nearby sheep, consisted of a circular hedge of Hawthorne bushes surrounded by a moat. Hawthorne is believed to be the bush that marks the entrance to the Land of Fey: that magical, mystical place where the warm light of Twilight suffuses the air with golden tones and faeries alight upon the air as glitter in a perpetual Midsummer’s Night Dance. This spiral of Hawthorne hedge was clearly fairy-built. In my mind’s eye, I could see faeries dancing in wild abandon along the thorny rows in a spiral dance and upon the hedges with something of a burlesque flair. Or at least that’s how they make me feel.

The moment I stepped foot into the ring, a rock turned my ankle and I tripped into the Hawthorne bush where a thorn pricked my finger. Blood entrance. The faeries knew a believer had arrived. Soon after I found a bright magenta foxglove (also known as fairy fingertips), my favorite color.

We journeyed onward and soon stopped in a bookshop where I bought a book of Peig Sayer’s stories. Born in 1873, Peig lived on Dingle Peninsula until she married onto the Blasket Islands where she became a storyteller of legend. My finger tingled after purchasing the book: a sign that the Fey were pleased with my honoring of the lore and lyricism of the peninsula.

We ended the scenic drive at a tour of Dingle Distillery where we toasted the Fey & Bridget with a supremely delicious, caramel-tasting whiskey, the first independent Irish whiskey made in over one hundred years.

In Ireland I found the magick I was seeking.  I define magick as nature speaking to me of beauty and connection without logical understanding, leaps through time and space and assurance that all of life belongs and is accountable to each other.IMG_3031

I Came to Ireland to Meet You

 

I pulled my sweater tight as Joey and I walked the dark, narrow streets looking for a place to grab a pint. Thirty (or turty if you’re using the Irish accent) hours without sleep but I made it to Ireland: the first European country to call me in with its joviality, magic and fierce loyalty.

We passed the Kiely Bar and laughter exploded from inside. It was the sound that I had come for and it caught my fancy

like a faery to a fire ring. But shyness overtook me and we kept walking. I looked back at the laughing man painted on the side of the large brick building and felt a tug as my heart and soul wanted inside. The cold, wet wind blasted and a light rain fell as we circled the streets of Trim, County Meath. We came round again to the Kiely’s Bar and the mirth tumbled out as a couple exited and shouted back to the locals inside.

I didn’t hesitate this time but pushed open the door and entered the small pub where about five guys of varying ages stood at the bar. The crack of a pool game resounded from the back of the house. Joey ordered a Guinness for me and a Smithwicks for himself. I left for the toilet (Irish word for bathroom) – and delighted at how the aging floor dipped quite steeply – a taller person would have to be careful not to bash their head on the lintel.

When I returned to the bar, a behemoth of a guy had his arm slung over Joey, my quiet, mountain man. “Do you like to sing?” our new friend asked. I laughed.

“You’ll have to forgive my brother Mark here. I’m George,” A smaller version of the good Irish man leaned over to shake our hands. “Mark thinks it’s his job to make everyone feel welcomed to Ireland.”

“That’s right.” Mark grabbed the Smithwicks out of Joey’s hand, slammed it down on the bar and held up a full pint of Guinness. “Don’t care if you like it or not, mate. You’re drinking Guinness as long as you’re in Ireland. Not that fucking Smithwicks.” He stuck a cigarette in his mouth and waved at us to follow him with Joey’s new beer. “Come on then, I need a cigarette.”

Joey smiled at me and laughing we followed the pied piper with the Guinness in hand to a large outside patio. James with the pointy chin, hook nose and missing teeth where the perpetual cigarette dangled and Kilkenny Ed, a man with a genuine smile and honest eyes, joined us. For some strange reason the cigarette smoke didn’t bother me as we huddled around a bar table.

 

“It’s black going in,” Mark held up a beer for a toast. “And black coming out. Sláinte!”

“Sláinte!” We chorused the Irish salute to your health.

“Do you sing?” Mark asked again.

Joey shook his head no.

“You will,” Mark put a hand to his chest and belted out an Irish tune, more like a story and with his round face and open blue eyes, Mark became a modern-day, drunk, affable bard.

George beat his cigarette lighter against his beer glass as if it were a bodhran. “We used to have a shite band. But it was the craic!”

After a few more tunes and a lot more Guinness, paid for by the locals, we told the boys of our travels while in their country. “Ask anyone about Mark Watson when you get to Aran Islands and they’ll know him. And when you’re in Galway go to Mc Cambridges and ask for Tara, that’s Kilkenny Ed’s daughter.” Kilkenny Ed smiled broadly and said something in a strong accent I couldn’t understand but tried intently to decipher. “I love how she’s trying to understand, Ed. But not even I know what he’s saying most times,” George said affectionately to Joey. The Irish men had this respect for our relationship not often seen in America. “The Kilkenny cats wouldn’t fight with us, but we like Ed okay here. Everyone loves Ed. We’ll be highly insulted if you don’t say hello to his daughter.”

I wrote the information down on a napkin certain I wouldn’t remember the details in the morning. James wrote Souvenir from Kiely’s Bar, Trim on a napkin and handed it to me laughing. Kilkenny Ed recited his wisdom several times which I took down but still don’t know if I truly got it right: Always nice for nice, because you can’t take it and you can’t sell it, to a fault.

Mark grabbed hold of Joey’s long, goat-like beard and gave it a tug. “I’m not gay or anything, but I just had to do that. Come on now, what song will you sing with me?”

“Whiskey in the Jar!” I shouted. I had taken Joey to enough pubs and festivals stateside to know he had heard this song a few times.

Mark nodded and we all began to sing. Even Joey.

“What brought you all to Ireland?” George asked when the song was over.

“I came to meet you,” I replied.

Between me leaning forward and my eager brown, Bambi eyes as wide and round as a deep well, my answer may have been too much. Brothers Mark and George Watson brushed me off like I was a little crazy, and James shook his head. But Kilkenny Ed looked at me sideways with his bright blue eyes, mumbled something endearing I couldn’t make out, then he lifted me in a bear hug clear off my feet. And I knew he understood.

 

SanTana’s Fairy Tales

Neither Sarah or I can remember where we met. A bar? A literary event? Las Comadres meeting? Regardless, I’m proud to call Sarah Rafael Garcia a friend. She slept on my couch right after I moved out on my own and she returned from a walkabout through Australia. She taught me how to live frugally at a time I didn’t know how to be anything but comfortable middle class. We organized and gave book readings at schools, stores and universities. We started Wild Womyn Writers. I was one of the first writing teachers for Barrio Writers, an organization she started. Sarah went on to gain her MFA (impressive) and then she won an artists’ year-in-residence (wow!) to gather Mexican American community-based narratives to create contemporary fairytales and fables. I love having creative, smart friends!

The culmination of this research, writing and organizing skills occurred last Saturday at a literary event called SanTana Fairy Tales in Downtown Santa Ana that included an impressive collection of local visual, musical and performance artists, bilingual single-story zines, a fully illustrated published book, an ebook, a large format classical book with graphic art and interactive ipads. The exhibit will be up at the CSUF Grand Central Art Center through mid May.

For me, this performance brought to life the different experiences of the devastation and sorrow of becoming obsolete and marginalized in your own hometown. On display were excerpts from the collection of fairy tales, graphic illustrations for each story and central in the room were parts of the carousel that was taken down to make room for gastropubs and other hip businesses that would attract urban youth.

I was mesmerized by the carousel horses, the marque letters spelling “Fiesta” (the “s” is missing) and Aztec artwork that had once adorned the quaint carousel. I never rode the carousel but I have always adored it’s mythical quality and seeming permanence as the very fabric of this Hispanic community.  I remember seeing the carousel for the first time while driving home our live-in maid Rogelia. I was twelve. The image was so clear with the fruit stands and men in their large vaquero hats and huge belt buckles, I included the scene in Rogelia’s House of Magic.  Now that the carousel is gone there is a gaping hole – as if there is still a ghost of its presence. “Vas a ver, first the carousel and quinceañera shops, soon los fruteros, and one day it might be us!” – SanTana’s Fairy Tales.

The event began with a monologue from a circus ring master in which she attempted to win over the crowd for the revitalization of the “rundown streets of Santa Ana.” Her wicked laughter and the jingle of coins in her pocket gave her true intentions away. The next performance was a haunting instrumental while two children wove in among the crowd as if they were crossing the border, or perhaps just crossing town, and afraid to be caught. The following song remembered the first trans who was murdered. Other fairytales included the woman who refused to move her house for the traintracks and the young vato who painted a mural, a vision of oral history honoring the Mexican American veterans, which provoked the mayor to understand the difference between public art and graffiti.

My takeaway from the event was a deepening of my humanity and pride for la gente who hold onto each other and keep their stories alive despite the powers that are tearing down their safety and cultural cornerstones. I’m so proud of you Sarah!

I Finally Did It!

They say my Santa Ana Canyon, early Californio ancestors were “Born to the Saddle.” Before I left Orange County, I was determined to touch the horizon that dominants the skyline: Saddleback Mountain. My ancestors and this land have lived in me as a River Beneath the River, always guiding and affecting my life. It is my destiny to record their story in the grandest novel I could conceive.

I planned the hike for Spring Equinox, the day my youngest son turned 18. It was a day to claim freedom and stability. When I heard the NFS was dynamiting historic dams and prohibiting access via Holy Jim Falls, I found another way. We hiked out of Blue Jay Campground – a 28 mile roundtrip with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet, vs 16 miles from Holy Jim and a 4,000 ft vertical climb. I made myself forget how far that distance actually was.

Two miles of climbing later, I pulled out my phone, looked at the map and had a truly spectacular hissy fit. It was too far. What were we thinking? Why didn’t we go the other way? Joey tried to help which made things worse. Slowly I pulled myself together and we started to walk again.

We passed through a pine forest and the scent lifted my spirits, along with the vibrant yellow primrose flowers and the shiny brick-colored manzanita bark with white flowers that look like tiny beads when they fall on the decomposed granite path. The blooming white sage and  century plants infused me with endurance. And then around a bend, I saw Santiago Peak. Tears came to my eyes. I was filled with such a fervent desire to stand on that mountain. The wind blew in the bucolic ranchero era that lives in me so deeply, so passionately. The ancestors and this land gave me the strength to push onward. I couldn’t think. I was like an animal, simply aware of being aware, walking mile after mile: 11 miles the first day, 17 miles the following day.

I told Joey the story of the young boy who cut a hole in a cocoon to help a butterfly that was struggling to free itself. The child did not know the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly had a swollen body with shriveled wings and would never, ever fly.

I have long struggled living on a land that does not coincide with the freedom and natural beauty that I see when I close my eyes and look inward through the memories of my ancestors. Though I love this land so very deeply the struggle is over and I see things as they are. In three months, I am moving where wildflowers grow, rivers run and stars speak and I will write a tale of family and land inextricably woven together.

Valentines in the Mountains

img_1759The adventure begins on the back of a sled attached to a snowmobile. I step on the grate and grip the bar as Brendan, an employee of Rock Creek Lodge, takes off into the woods. We wind through snow-covered Lodgepole Pine and over a running creek as a flurry of snowflakes drift down upon us. I look over to Joey and he’s got his mouth open to catch the snow.  The ride is over too soon. But our rustic cabin is perfect. It’s only 11am. Dinner is at 6.

The day unfolds before us: hikes through the woods, snacks of cold cuts and cheeses from Claros Italian Market, out loud reading Of Mice and Men, romantic sensual fun, a delicious nap, happy hour with red wine.

image1Early evening we walk hand in hand in a winter wonderland to the main lodge. We chat with other guests in the cozy den. Brendan uncorks and pours our wine without a service charge (although they do serve wine and beer). We adjournimg_1770 to the next room, sit down on long wooden tables and eat family style. The rosemary focaccia bread is divine dipped in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The creamy red bell pepper soup that follows is only marginally beat by the honey sesame salad. (We’ll be recreating that dressing!) It’s all so damn good. Quinoa and pork loin with a reduced pinot and blueberry sauce rounds out the main course. Chocolate mousse with Kahlua ice cream follows. I’m served a dairy free coconut ice cream that reminds me how much I do miss this treat.

The other guests who are celebrating their 50th birthdays invite us to their cabin for a little party. This group of guys grew up on the same street in Eugene, Oregon since they were five. The camaraderie is infectious. Mike breaks out a guitar and passes out percussion instruments. We fall into a jam session illuminated by ambient light. As the night closes Joey and I stroll under the stars to our cabin in the woods.

fullsizerender1 Breakfast the next morning is yummy. Brendan offers to take our gear down on the sled and rents us cross country skis. We trek uphill a mile on groomed trail then overland through a foot of powder to Rock Creek Lake. The sun is warm on this bluebird day. Then it’s three miles downhill to the Sno Park on corduroy snow that img_1797sparkles, reflecting tiny rainbows. Snow coats drooping branches of the looming, bone straight pine trees like big white mittens. Wind lifts a fine layer of snow from the treetops and sends it swirling down in a mist of glitter. It’s only my second time on cross country skis so I’m not exactly graceful, but I am full of joy and childlike wonder at the beauty of this world.img_1774