Integrity Isn’t Just for the Extraordinary

Little House on the Prairie Ethics

These days many argue that it’s normal not to do the “right” thing. Only “extraordinary” people live life with integrity. That’s too much to expect from “normal” people like you and me, especially in these chaotic times.

This idea is especially being pushed in the media. One example that really got me was Peter Jackson’s interpretation of The Lord of the Rings. Every single character who was supposed to have had a high sense of nobility (right and wise action) – Elrond, Gandalf, Aragorn, Faramir, etc. – was shown instead to be a “tortured soul” who only made the right decisions under duress, and then only barely. (Read the books if you haven’t already – you’ll see what I mean.) Of course, this example is just one of thousands, but being a lover of how Tolkien developed his characters, it still grates, even to this day.

Faramir throttles Gollum
Jackson’s rendition of Faramir lacks much of the innate nobility of the character from Tolkien’s novels. He’s portrayed more as a tortured soul than a character that always strives to do the just and right thing.

The belief that we’re all tortured souls and that right action is extraordinary is ubiquitous in today’s culture. We don’t want to be held responsible for being our better selves. Instead, we want to pretend that only superior people manage to live in integrity – that life is too hard for any but the truly morally elite to keep what in many cultures would be considered basic moral values.

I disagree.

I believe that what I call “Little House on the Prairie values” are accessible to almost everyone.

Little House on the Prairie was a historical drama following the life of the Ingles family in the late 1800s. The themes ranged from faith and poverty to racism and prejudice, but one thing it taught across the board was that everyone can choose to be a good person – even in the face of adversity. Everyday people like you and me can choose to have ethics and integrity that we live by. We might not always succeed in following them, but we can make amends when we stray.

So, in re-watching a good portion of the series (to make sure I wasn’t just romanticizing a childhood memory) these are the morals I came away with:

1. It’s better to live your life by paying cash on the barrel, not borrowing via credit.

2. Stop and help others.

3. Do the “right” thing, even when it’s hard.

4. Make amends when you don’t do the right thing.

5. Don’t take what’s not yours.

6. While interdependence makes for a stronger community, living off of others when you’re fully capable of making your own way is leeching.

7. If you have to take out a loan, make it short-term.

8. Always pay back your loans – no matter who you borrowed from. (See #5.)

9. Keep your word.

10. Tell the truth. (This includes not lying “by omission” or seeing to deceive in other ways.)

11. Someone else’s lack of integrity is not an excuse for your own wrong-doings.

12. Teach through living your truth, not preaching.

13. Practice compassion.

I know that Little House on the Prairie had strong Christian overtones. It also had a lot of other issues – particularly around colonization and how it portrayed indigenous peoples. But its focus on the belief that a just and righteous life is something that all of us can live – not just saints and extraordinary people – is a lesson our society could do well to remember.

What do you think?

Camping out in Nevada City

I arrived in Nevada City on New Year’s eve.

Nevada City, originally a Nisenan village named Ustumah, is a quaint little town tucked into the western side of the Sierras, about an hour northeast of Sacramento. It was first colonized in 1849 and quickly became the most important mining town in California.

In fact, during the Gold Rush Nevada City had over 10,000 souls living there. Only two cities beat them out for ballots cast in the year 1856 – Sacramento and San Francisco. It was quite a crowd when compared to today’s current population of 2,800 souls living there, though many people come up to visit from the Bay area and Sacramento.

Nevada City is a beautiful town, with many historical buildings and lots of amazing, unconventional people living in the mountains nearby. The town, being literally a living museum is fascinating enough, but more attractive to me personally are the people living in and around the area. Having only hitched through the area before, I wanted to spend a little more time there. I was also gambling that a friend of mine might be home though I knew that was unlikely, as he’s usually off fasting in the wilderness at this time of year, like me. I was also interested in the the ecstatic dance that would happen on the 4th.

Arriving in the afternoon on New Year’s eve isn’t the greatest of timing. Most places were closed and I had all my gear with me, so maneuvering around wasn’t so easy. Luckily there’s a great, cavernous coffee house named City Council that was great for studying, internet, and business meetings. I holed up there for a while figuring out where I wanted to have dinner and sleep for the night.

Nevada City at night
A sleepy New Year’s night in Nevada City. This shot doesn’t really show its historical features, but it was decked out a bit for the festivities.

My friend wasn’t home, so no luck there. Not really wanting to stay in the exorbitantly-priced motels, I decided to explore the forested city-owned land along Deer Creek, an easy one-mile walk from town.

Deer Creek was the location of a number of prosperous gold mines, the Gold Tunnel on the north side being the first (1850). Others soon followed, triggering the town’s massive boom.

The walk out, even laden with all my gear, was indeed, beautiful. The roads were deserted, with probably everyone out finding a place to celebrate the turn of the new year. Though not quite a park, the forty acres surrounding Deer Creek is a semi-wild city-owned forest. It includes a number of trails, one being the Nisenan Tribute trail, designed to recognize the Nisenan peoples who were displaced from the area. The suspension bridge is nice feature, providing access to both sides of the creek.

Deer Creek Suspension Bridge

There was ample forest land, but not a lot of good, flat places for sleeping that were out of sight of the trails. In the dark it’s easy to imagine one is out of site, but daylight often brings new awareness. My first sleeping spot was vaguely flat and well out of site of the bridge, or so I thought. Upon waking I found that while I was out of sight while laying down, sitting up was an entirely different affair. I’d need to find a better site for the following night.

Being at the foothills of the Sierras, the weather was quite cold out. My sleeping bag was good enough, but only just. I woke up covered in a bit of frost and not really wanting to get out of my bag until the air around me warmed up a little. That took a while and by the time I was ready to pack up, there were plenty of people out and about enjoying the trails. It took a while to be able to pack up without being seen.

I wasn’t sure exactly where I would sleep the next night, as the ground was relatively steep and the best sites had down the creek a bit had been trashed by whatever houseless population calls the park home. That was sad to me, not just because of the immense trash piles but also because the areas had been largely abandoned and were truly the best places for camping.

Not being able to find much, I decided to head into town and leave the final sleeping decisions for when I returned. Since it was winter and I was off the beaten path just enough, I decided to risk leaving my larger pack in the woods while I hiked back into town. Carrying only my smaller pack was a relief (and made me less noticeable), and I was able to explore the town in a lot more comfort. That day was New Year’s day, however, so most things were closed. Still, the City Council coffee house was open and I was able to get a lot of work done, making it well worth my while.

Coming back to the forest at night, I was relieved to find my pack as I had left it but not as thrilled with trying to find a new place to sleep. Everything was pretty much as it was before – a considerable slope covered in poison oak. (At this time of year poison oak has no leaves and isn’t quite as virulent, but I’m still allergic.)

The only flat options being in direct site of the suspension bridge or over by the house-less encampment, I decided to make do with a slope. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. I found a log that I could nestle into on one side and hoped my sleeping pad wouldn’t slide too much downhill as I slept. All in all, it worked fairly nicely and I was able to more or less sleep without drifting down the hillside.

(When considering whether to bring a hammock or not, I thought I’d have precious few times to use it. This situation definitely proved me wrong!)

Sleeping at an angle
With a little bit of thought, sleeping on a slope can be done. (This is the actual slant of the slope I slept on for three days.)

I stayed in the area through the night of the fourth when the ecstatic dance took place. The dance was…unusual. It was billed as an ecstatic dance but it had much more of a club scene feel to it. Many of the women were scantily clad, all over each other, and twerking in each other’s faces. Others would bend over the stage and twerk at the whole group. The whole thing seemed much more of an exhibitionist event than an ecstatic dance. I was a bit taken aback; it definitely made me miss our ecstatic dances back in Oregon.

By the fifth I was more than ready to leave. Not only had indeed contracted poison oak through a hole in my smart wool long johns, my knee was unhappy with the dancing and I was feeling any from having stayed in one place for so long. Still, I enjoyed my time in Nevada City overall and would love to come back and spend some time there in less inclement weather.


From the Coast to the Blue Oaks

Sunrise Near Clear Lake

The evening was filled the smell of grass and a gentle breeze that caressed my cheek softly. Not the aching, bone-chilling winds I’d been experiencing almost every night I’d slept outside but rather a sweet, loving touch that said that all is mellow, all is well.

I love being alone on the land, and this blue oak savanna felt a bit like paradise. The song “The Golden Rolling Hills of California” kept going through my head. Sure, there was highway noise in the distance bu given that I could have been sleeping much closer to it – or even right next to it – I felt at peace and content.

Sunrise at Cache Creek
Waking up in the blue oak savannas near Cache Creek.

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I was last going down the California coast with a great ride. We’d slept at Clam Beach (which I don’t recommend), had tea and breakfast, and then headed down to Redway. I hadn’t really been planning to go to the Redway/Garberville area, but the turn off inland was just south of Willits seemed as good as any for going east.

I also had an old Earth First! acquaintance in the area – a musician named Darryl Cherney who’s perhaps best known for being in the car with Judi Bari when the feds planted a bomb in her car. The bomb crushed her pelvis and the feds claimed that it was her own bomb. It was since proven in a lawsuit that it indeed was the feds who planted the bomb. Unfortunately, Judi Bari had already passed away by the time the case was over.

Fast-forwarding to now, Darryl happened to home and I stayed with him a few days in the Garberville/Redway hills.

The farm in Redway, Ca
Looking out from the farm in Redway.

It was a good break from the road. I hadn’t been out long, but I’d been cold and wet more than once already and was happy to dry my things out. Clam Beach especially had been decidedly unpleasant for sleeping – in just a few hours my sleeping bag had been completely covered in frost. Not the first time this trip, but not a precisely warm way to wake up either.

Chainsaw carving at Darryl's farm
A chainsaw carving at Darryl’s farm.

I’d only planned to stay three days at Darryl’s but then storm moved in and instead of trying to travel in it, Darryle and I both agreed that it would be better to wait until the next day, which was predicted to be clear. Indeed, the day I left Redway was fine and Darryl dropped me off at the perfect highway entrance to going further.

After an hour or so a young hispanic couple picked me up. The driver was from Michoacán and the passenger from the coast of Guatemala. My Spanish was rustier than I thought, so talking was a bit of a pain but it was good for me. The driver was pretty quiet, but the passenger and I had a great conversation, my crappy Spanish not withstanding. (I’m usually fairly fluent in Spanish.)

They took me to Willits where I stopped and got lunch. From there I walked to the end of town and was picked up by a mom and daughter from the Miwok nation near Sacramento. They took me through the Clear Lake area, which was absolutely gorgeous at that hour. I really should have gotten out there to take perhaps the best photos of my trip, but I didn’t see any places to sleep and/or hitch from and chickened out. It was getting near sunset and I wanted a decent place to sleep. (I’m still kicking myself for that.)

A bit belatedly I chose to get out at the Judge Davis trailhead. Hiking up a trail in the middle of nowhere seemed an infinitely better option than having to deal with truck stops when looking for a place to sleep. It was a bit risky, as it was a pull off that only people going there would be able to slow down enough to stop, but after missing the beauty of Clear Lake I made myself get out.

What a blessing I did!

Hiking up the Judge Davis Trail
Hiking up the Judge Davis Trail at sunset.

The Judge Davis Trail runs along the Cache Creek Ridge to the Cache Creek. You get to it from highway 20 (which is what took me past Clear Lake). The blue oak savannas and woodlands are a key part of the Cache Creek watershed. The blue oaks – also known as “iron oaks” – anchor the soil and prevent erosion, while providing habitat for over 90 species of birds.
For me, I couldn’t really imagine a much better place to sleep. The weather was completely mild, the area much more stunning than the photos capture, and I could have some great alone time.

Judge Davis Trailhead marker
Flora and fauna at the Judge Davis Trailhead off of highway 20.

After hiking up the broad trail at sunset, climbed a ridge, went over a barbed wire fence to get away from the trail and found a great place to sleep under a beautiful blue oak.

Cache creek camping
Sleeping under a beautiful blue oak on a ridge over the Cache Creek watershed.

Until now, it had been too cold and/or wet to get up at sunrise. Not this time.

Cache Creek woodlands
The grasslands are so golden here at sunrise!

My only complaint is that I didn’t have much food with me – just one last Macrobar. I also didn’t have a lot of water with me, as my water bottles are disturbingly small. It was these two things more than anything else that got me on my way and moving.

Going down the trail was obviously easier than going up (at least with all my gear), and I made it in about 30 minutes. As expected it took a while to get a ride, but someone stopping to use the bathroom chose to take me with them. He was a Safeway security guard who was going to pick up his son near Redding. Coming from Santa Rosa it was a long drive. His boy was 12 and he had dual custody. He dropped me off at the Love’s outside of Williams, California and from there I continued my trek towards Nevada City.

to be continued….

Day 3: Redwoods and Magic Mushrooms

Into the redwoods

I always get stranded in the Gold Beach – Brookings area over night.

It just always happens.

Well, almost always. My first time hitching this route was magical. I didn’t get rained on once, though it was storming the whole way down. On top of that, someone picked me up in Port Orford and took me all the way to Big Sur, using the scenic route and taking photos at all the beautiful places. Sadly, that was the only time hitching out of these places had been easy.

Sure enough, after four hours of waiting I managed a ride out of Gold Beach to Brookings, just as the sun was going down. I’d already explored the outdoor sleeping options in years past, and while it wasn’t dumping rain this time, I didn’t even bother. Also, it was Christmas eve and that makes things a bit more unpredictable.

I’d sort of figured I’d be getting a motel somewhere on this stretch (with my history of getting stuck here cold and wet), so I didn’t hesitate. As usual, motel wasn’t worth the $$. The internet hardly worked, it stank, and their was a constant hum from the coke machines outside.

That being said, it did allow me to do the “normal” thing of going out to a restaurant that night. There wasn’t much open it being Xmas eve and all but I found a superb Japanese sushi place. To my surprise, it had amazing vegan noodles for just $10 (super cheap for a tourist town). It was crowded so I sat in the lounge where a dog show was on the tele. Definitely a different slice of life than I’m used to but rather tasty and fascinating at the same time.

In the morning I walked into the adjoining town – Harbor – and after about two hours was picked up by a retired archeologist going over to Grants Pass. His specialty had been pottery, primarily of the indigenous peoples of the southwest. Apparently there’s an early type of pottery that leaves the fingerprints of the potter in the clay – thousands of years old. This had been his thing. He was a great ride and dropped me off in Crescent City, which was a few miles out of his way.

Crescent City beach
My hitch spot at the southern end of Crescent City – a surfer favorite.

The weather in Crescent City was gorgeous and the surfers were all about it. I was relaxed and happy, being dry, not particularly hungry, and having a beautiful place to wait.

(Honestly, being dry and not particularly ravenous or thirsty are three huge factors towards happiness while hitching!)

After about an hour or two I saw a lovely van-sized Winnebago go by. It had large, open windows and the inside was clearly made out to be a meditation space. It even had a wood stove built into it. I knew that was my ride and sure enough, he stopped.

M was an Ammachi devotee in his mid-60s who lives in eastern Washington. Before retiring he’d built up a wooden yurt business, which he sold a couple of years ago. Like me, he was following the current and visiting people he hadn’t seen for a long time. His next stop was a beautiful hike along the Ossagon Trail in the Redwoods and I was invited to go along. He was then heading south towards a sleeping spot outside of Trinidad.

One of the lesser-used trails of the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the Ossagon trail starts in a beautiful redwood grove (see featured image) and then descends into a younger spruce and alder grove. It then gets pretty marshy and a little hard to follow before ending up at a remote beach. The flatlands were indeed marshy. Luckily it was warm enough to go barefoot and I could keep my Chacos somewhat clean.

Ossagon trail
Walking barefoot through the marshlands of the Ossagon trail.

Once down near the beach we ran into a bit of a surprise among the young spruce trees:

An Amanita mascara in the distance
A number of red caps could be seen growing among the young spruce trees.

Upon closer examination it was indeed what we’d suspected – a number of large Amanita muscaria mushrooms majestically dotting the landscaped. I hadn’t ever seen them in the wild before, so was delighted. I also wondered why no one had harvested them yet, as they had clearly been there for a while.

Amanita muscaria mushrooms have been used for centuries as an entheogen by the indigenous peoples of Siberia and by the Sámi, with whom it has a religious significance. In our culture, however, it’s mostly used for recreational tripping and has been quite iconic as a symbol of “going down the rabbit hole.”

This one had a few bites taken out of it.  I couldn’t help wondering if it affected beasties the way it affects humans.

Amanita mascara
There were quite a few of these beauties just off the trail.

For a bit of size perspective, here’s one of the average-sized caps next to my shoes. You can tell it’s a bit old because the white spots have worn away on one side.

Amanita mascara
More perspective on the size. Granted, my sandals are a bit on the smaller size, but that still makes for a pretty big mushroom!

We left the majestic toadstools where they were and headed on down to the beach. Nicely deserted, the beach went on in both directions for quite a while. To the north, however, the Ossagon Rocks make quite a showing.

Ossagon rocks
An elk trail leads to the Ossagon rocks.

It was coming on dusk by the time we made our way back into the redwoods and to the highway. Luckily we came upon a flush of infinitely more edible and less halluncinogenic oyster mushrooms and promptly harvested them for dinner later on that night.

Once back in the Winnebago, we traveled on down the coast, missing our turn off in Trinidad in the dark. As a result we ended up at a Clam Beach, a state park that’s not really worth the stop unless you have to. it’s $25 per vehicle and seems to think that tent campers somehow want to sleep within twenty feet of the parking lot.

We cooked dinner – me sautéing the oyster mushrooms and M cooking soup – and talked for a long while before I went off on the long search for a decent sleeping spot. It took a long time to find a decent flat spot in the dark and it was nowhere near the approved “campground.”

Whenever sleeping near a body of water, i always wake up with my stuff soaked from condensation. Sleeping under a tarp also causes things to get wet, as the condensation from your body heats gets trapped between the bag and the tarp. (The same is true with a divvy sack which is why i don’t travel with one). This time I chose to use my sil tarp, however, as I could tell the damp was going to be intense. It was a wise choice, as the cold was so intense everything was covered in hoar frost when I woke up.

My host didn’t sleep well either, as the RV down the way didn’t think to turn off their generator.

We had a breakfast of quinoa, greens, and eggs – an awesome breakfast for me! (I love getting picked up by drivers with similar diets.)

By the time my stuff dried out it was time to go, so I didn’t really get in any meditation or exploring time.

Our next stop would be the Eureka food co-op and then the little town of Redway, just north of Garberville.

Day 1: Landing at Sixes Rivers

The Sixes river

Like any trip into the unknown, hitchhiking is best done when relaxed, happy, and (largely) unconcerned with the outcome.

I don’t always make it to that place – especially when I’ve had a cold, wet night with little sleep – but my first afternoon on the road was after a sweet weekend with loving folks and a lot of dance. I was ready and eager for the slipstream.

My first ride took me to my hitch spot outside of Coos Bay. He was an American who grew up in a Buddhist monastery in California. He had since moved to Vietnam and married there, raising to dual-citizenship kids. Both his parents were still alive and he was visiting his mom in a Coos Bay Buddhist community in Coos Bay for Christmas.

After that, two formerly dirty kids now turned homesteaders took me to Bandon, inviting me to come stay at their land project just north of there any time.

From Bandon, Eddie, the daughter of the owner of the Port Orford tavern picked me up and when I asked if she knew a place to camp out, dropped me off at the Sixes river. It was getting dark and it took some scouting through mucky puddles of water to find a place to sleep, but I eventually ended up on a sandy part of the bank.

Once there, I promptly sat down and ate a sandwich, content with the world.

The stars were super sharp, the blue hour gorgeous, and the night sounds abundant. The resident beaver family especially were active during this time, with continual plops and splashes.

The Sixes River at night
A winter’s evening on the bank of the Sixes River, between Langlois and Port Orford on highway 101.

I learned later that the Sixes river is an important salmon habitat and fishing stream. In fact, as I would soon find out the hard way, the trout season was just beginning. But at that moment I was content with what seemed an amazing campsite.

After my sandwich and taking a few long exposure photos (like the one above), I began to get my stuff out and get ready for bed. Just as I began flossing and was looking up at the night sky, I got my first real surprise in I don’t remember how long: right above my head and coming straight towards me over the bank of the river was light after light after light as if pulled on a string. They didn’t move like aircraft, but rather like satellites – smooth, apparently round, no blinking lights, seemingly like stars…and super fast. But they were way too low to be satellites.

One after the other after the other kept coming, evenly spaced, and going right over my head to some place behind me in the north eastern sky. For full on five to ten minutes they kept coming – at least one hundred of them. Occasionally the spacing would be off a little and at one point there was clearly an aircraft following along just above them, but otherwise it looked like some kind of alien invasion.

Eventually I went back up to the highway where I had a bit of phone signal and called my partner, describing them in detail and asking him to up whether there was any military activity in this area.

What he discovered were Elon Musk’s SpaceX satellite trains. Apparently people had been calling in UFO sightings all around the northwest because of these.

Elon Musk Satellites
This is a photos of one of Elon Musk’s satellite trains. These particular ones are much higher than the ones I was seeing, but pretty much the same thing.

The image above is similar, but not quite as disturbing as what I was seeing, as mine were much lower and coming directly at me. But you get the idea. In the crisp, dark, night sky of the moment they were quite a sight to be seen.

So that caused a fair bit of excitement. Once it was over and I returned to the river, I noticed that the river fog had rolled in, It was heavy and moist and everything was already wet. Sigh. That’s one of the problems with sleeping near a body of water – everything gets soaked rain or not. It’s one of the drawbacks of not traveling with a tent.

I tried rigging up my sil tarp as protection against the moisture, but I had little to attache to. The bank was just sand and then blackberries, and I had forgotten to bring tent stakes for my tarp. Needless to say that with the lack of strong staking and the fairly strong wind, I had a wet night.

But that wasn’t all.

Fishing on the Sixes is on the bank or by drift boat, with most boats taking out at Sixes Store or Sixes Day Use in the Cape Blanco State Park and exiting exactly where I was camping. Starting at maybe 3 a.m. trucks kept pulling in to take a look at the number on one of the rocks across the river. (I was told about this later.) I was on a narrow bit of sand so each time a truck pulled in I had to wake up and make sure they saw me so I wouldn’t get run over.

And everything was wet.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a night of great sleep. When the morning came along, it was much colder than the day before and it took me a long time to brave the cold and wet. I put on every layer I had and still wasn’t particularly warm (though no longer shivering).

Still, I had a great conversation with the two fishermen who’d come to fish off the bank on my wee bit of sand spit. It took a long time for all my stuff to dry enough to pack up, and while waiting and hanging out with them I got to watch a seal swim up, fish right next to the lines that were set, and snag a large trout from right under the line. It hadn’t been hooked yet, but if any trout was going to find that line, we were now watching the seal gut and eat it.

Seal swimming up river

When I asked why and how a seal would swim so far up river, I was told that it was like hunting fish in a barrel. The fish had no where to go and the pickings were easy. The first thing they do when they catch a fish is gut it and eat the eggs – apparently humans aren’t the only ones who think fish eggs are a delicacy. I had never seen a seal catch and eat a fish in the wild, so it was fun watching it, from the first major splashes to the floating on its back with the fish in its mouth to the gutting.

My gear wasn’t finished drying, but by 11am I was impatient to get going. As I walked out to the Sixes Grange and the highway on ramp I saw quite a few boat trailers and one truck with a large drill in the back. I later learned that the Sixes river is also known for the bits of gold that still wash down it, and that there are still a few miners around. How do I know? One picked me up as he left the grange. You guessed it – the truck with the drill in the back.

According to one of the websites about the region, gold was historically mined in the black sands of the nearby Cape Blanco, both on the Sixes and the Elk, since the cape is flanked by both. Before the miners came in the early 1850s, the river was a primary fishing ground for the Kwatani nation, who were also called the Siksestene (since shortened to “Sixes”). After the miners began moving to the valley, the Siksestene retreated up the river and into the mountains.

The prospector was pretty young for being “retired” – maybe late 30s or early 40s. He was looking for purpose in life and had moved to Gold Beach because no one knew him there and he therefore had no obligations. For him, making on-going friendships meant that you had to share in others’ suffering and he didn’t have the emotional space for that any more (my interpretation of what he was saying). Connecting with strangers whom he wouldn’t have to see again was fine, but not creating ongoing relationships. I couldn’t help wondering when that would shift – if he’d ever find the purpose in life he was longing for.

As requested, the miner dropped me off at the bookstore in Gold Beach. I was looking for lunch and always seem to forget that the bookstore’s cafe only has pastries. Sigh. One thing I did remember correctly, though, is that they did have internet – on past hitches it’s been my main refuge from the storms outside. So I bought a muffin and spent a bit of time getting caught up before going on with my search for lunch.

As I was leaving on the baristas asked me whether the guy I’d come in with lived there or not. I said, “Yes, but he keeps to himself.” The barista nodded to himself, then mentioned that he’d seen him around. Apparently my benefactor was one of those tall, dark, mysterious types you often see meditating on the pier but never share words with…

Dropping Into the Flow

Dropping Into Winter Solstice

As many of you know, I have a (mostly) annual trip that I go on around Winter Solstice. It generally involves hitching down the Oregon and California coasts, over to the Indian Pass wilderness (near Yuma/Winterhaven) for a 7-day fast, and then back up.

Since a lot of people ask about what happens on these trips  – especially with all the hitchhiking – I decided to try to keep a blog this time. We’ll see how it goes. Limited internet access combined with a need to use it for other work might make the posts few and far between, but I’ll give it a shot.

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice Dance Ritual 2019

I left the farm on Winter Solstice. A little later than I wanted to, and with a ride from my sweetie (not hitching), but there was a storm dumping quite a few inches of water all over the area so I figured I’d better wait it out.

In the meantime, we went to a Winter Solstice dance ritual hosted by Joanna Cashman. The ritual grew out of the work of postmodern dance choreographer Deborah Hays and has been alive and well since the early 70s. TI consists of three parts:

  • Invocation and creation of sacred space (calling in the 4 directions, etc.)
  • Surrendering some of the issues that darken our light and preparing ourselves for the sun’s return
  • Becoming the sun, focusing creative power,  and plant our dream seeds for the new year

Personally I tend to have a hard time dropping in during group rituals, but I thought I’d give this one a chance, especially since I was stuck in town anyway (because of the storm). True to form, I rediscovered that I do better in the wilderness and alone or with a small group of friends for such rituals. That being said, my partner and the friend we invited really grooved on the ritual. In fact, everyone I talked to really liked it so kudos to Joanna for pulling off an excellent ritual.

Afterwards I retreated with my friend to the Maitreya EcoVillage, where I got to stay in their cob guesthouse for the next two nights.

Maitreya's beautiful guesthouse
The natural building at Maitreya is truly a treat to experience.

If you’ve never been to Maitreya in Eugene, you’ll quite likely be wowed by the quality of the natural building there. Robert Bolman, the owner of the property, is a fantastic green builder and his artistry really shows throughout the one-acre lot.

The cob guesthouse, while a bit dreary looking in the winter, has a living roof and is fully integrated into a grape arbor which you can see part of here (sans leaves). It looks quite inviting in the summer.

If the wintry outside doesn’t speak to you, though, the inside will likely bring bit of ease and comfort to your soul.

Maitreya guesthouse
The interior of Maitreya’s cob guesthouse is even more beautiful than the exterior.

While the outside wasn’t plastered, the inside was well-finished with a beautiful white plaster, curved cubbies and bookshelves built into the walls, and a lovely earthen floor. The doors and windows were hand-crafted and gave off a feeling of comfiness.

The roof was made of branches, a layer of burlap on top of those, a moisture barrier, and then a living roof. Though the nights were quite cold, the stove put out more than enough heat to be comfortable.

Guesthouse at Maitreya Ecovillage
Cob interiors bring a feeling of peace and groundedness when done well.

Setting Off

The day after solstice was for dancing, online working, figuring out all the things I forgot to bring with me, and waiting out the storm. Luckily the weather forecast was accurate and Monday dawned bright and sunny and even a bit warm.

Normally I would have taken a bus out to the edge of town and hitched from there, but my partner really wanted to go to out Florence as well, so we invited the friend who’d been hosting me and made an excursion of it.

We ended up on the dunes leading to the North Jetty.

The dunes near Florence, OR

From there we did the brief hike tot he North Jetty. We couldn’t have had better weather.

The North Jetty at Florence, Oregon
Looking back at the coast from the North Jetty.

Once we were done with our beach excursion, we set off for the southern part of town where I was hugged well and released into the mysterious world of hitchhiking with a profound feeling of well-being.

What a great way to start a winter trip into the unknown: laughter, hugs, beach time, and lots of dance. AND not getting stormed on!

The next post will start with the first rides. Until then be well, sink in, and enjoy the returning sun!

This Is Not the Way to Stop Fascism

Taunting the riot cops

As some of you know, there was a Patriot Prayer rally and a countering antifa rally in downtown Portland today. The antifa rally was in support of survivors of sexual assault, but though we got there about 1pm, we didn’t see any speakers or organization at all. (The Oregonian reported that there had been 7 speakers, etc.) By the time we arrived, the police in riot gear were preparing to force the counter protest into Chapman Square and away from any contact with the streets or sidewalks neighboring the Terry Shrunk Plaza, where Patriot Prayer was getting ready for their rally.

We believe survivors
From a distance, it honestly looked like riot cops were facing riot cops.

Of course, forcing the protestors, curious onlookers, and media away from the sidewalk had the effect of enraging a lot of people. In fact, the whole time we were there the rally merely seemed filled with people either idly milling about or yelling at, cursing at, and/or taunting the cops.

A protestor speaks with the police

From what I was seeing, I was becoming more and more perplexed about what the objectives of the counter-demonstration were. Sure, I knew that it’s important to show that there’s opposition to fascism, but surely there had to be a concrete actionable objective as well. Later that evening, I looked it up. The organizers of the rally, PopMob, have this to say on their website:

The goal of a popular mobilization, then, is to stop the use of public space for the far right to further organize brutality. With a large contingent, the violence often promised by the far right can be neutralized, as confrontation becomes less fruitful. By the sheer virtue of the popularity of the counter-protest, it can shut down Patriot Prayer and be used as an opportunity to discuss the issues of inequality in our society and enable further organization building apart from the far right’s influence.

But this time the right didn’t come with weapons. At least physical weapons. Their weapons were words. Unlike the Rose City antifa outside, they knew exactly who they were speaking to and why: the cameras and their internet followers. Sure, it was a pitiful turnout for them–maybe 30 people tops, but they don’t really need the physical turnout. They just need to reach the people they can turn to their cause.

Contrary to popular belief (or at least what I was led to believe), the words they were saying weren’t extreme ones like “Kill the Jews” or “White Lives Matter.” They instead aimed to tap into the outrage that many white men are feeling around the culture change that’s happening right now. A lot of men (used to invisible male privilege) are feeling attacked as the balance of power shifts. Patriot Pride knows this. They know this demographic are easy pickings for speakers like Joey Gibson to reach. Their main message: that men are victims too and that masculinity itself is under attack. Many, many people–not only conservatives–believe this. Even many cis-men on the left, though they daren’t say it to their compatriots, have a gnawing feeling of emasculation going on. These men are easy targets for at least some of the the radical rights’ messaging.

Patriot Pride rally

At the Patriot Prayer rally, organizers really went out of their way to connect with a wider audience and distance themselves from the “leftist mob” outside. They had a Latino MC and a trans M-F speaker (among others) and even thew a little “dance party” to try to show how hip they are. Sure, it might seem ridiculous given their poor turn out, but their messaging was consistent and may very well have been effective for their target audience. What’s more, they don’t need a high attendance to reach the people they’re going for–they just need a combination of outside media and good internal social media marketing. It seems to me they had enough of both.

dance party

What amazed me and my friend was that next to no activists were actually inside the Patriot Prayer rally. It’s not like it was difficult to get into. They searched for weapons, but that was about it. In fact, if you looked fairly normal (i.e. not dressed in black battle gear) you could easily get in. Yet there was no interest in doing that from the activist side of things, neither to  hear first-hand what the “enemy” was saying, nor come up with creative interventions (invisible theater, etc.). Instead, they were in the other park spending their time chanting things like “We believe survivors!” at the cops. At the height of my civil disobedience days, people would have scouted all the different possibilities for achieving an objective (i.e. shutting something down) and have been willing to change plans on a dime when they saw an opportunity (i.e. knowing how to get into the rally). This group seemed positively apathetic to anything other than milling about, heckling police, and waiting for the end of the rally when things would (I was told) finally “start to happen.”

While the case can be made that having masses showing up at these rallies can shut them down and/or minimize the potential for violence against vulnerable populations, I honestly don’t believe it’s enough to stop the rise of fascism. I can definitively say that showing up to “punch a Nazi” or to shout at cops is not doing much either. And while The Oregonian did cover the “support the survivors of sexual assault” message of the antifa rally and played down the message of Patriot Pride, that also won’t be enough to stop the spread of fascism.

ready for action
Ready for battle.

If we want to stop fascism, we need to at the very least,

  1. Listen to what the other side is saying so we can understand who they’re appealing to and can come up with ways to counteract it,
  2. Identify clear, actionable objectives per event rally–and no, simply outnumbering them is not purpose enough, and
  3. Create strategies that effectively achieve those objectives.

Of course, much more could be said on all tactics and strategies, but suffice it to say that today wasn’t an example of successful ones.

Female cop looks on
Riot cop or antifa?