We are nearly religious about using the clothesline to dry clothes. Today was not that day!
First known case of COVID-19 reported in our county this evening, in Chico, about 40 minutes away.
The San Francisco Chronicle is doing a great job of mapping this thing in California:
Johns Hopkins is doing it globally:
Instead of a bus in Alaska, I chose a Tipi along a stream in California.
It was 1994.
I didn’t stay until Winter killed me out there by myself.
A Tipi because the previous year was full of vivid, unsolicited, Native American, Spirit and animal dreams. I don’t know what triggered that prolific run of stunning and instructive dreams, nor why they eventually went away. I do suspect disillusionment with human shortcomings had something to do with the dreams’ arrival.
I planned to be away from people, from civilization, for up to a year. I said goodbye to my partner and put him in charge of personal things. My close friends and family were worried, but they also trusted that this was something I needed to do.
A dear friend helped me haul poles for the Tipi down a rugged foothill trail to a gravel bar on a bend in a secluded mountain stream. This is where I chose to stay, isolated from civilization, for as long as I needed to. I brought food in five-gallon buckets, enough to last a year: dried fruit, freeze-dried vegetables, nuts, seeds, lentils, black-eyed peas, beans, and whole grains, and a box full of medicinal herbs and extracts. I had a hunting knife, a camp stove, a couple books on shamanism, some art supplies and a journal. I did put an air mattress into the Tipi, and had a number of blankets and a sleeping bag.
I did not have music, sugar, flour, coffee, dairy, meat. I had a cast-iron skillet, a plate, fork and knife, and a few changes of clothes. I had a hammock, and a few mandalas for meditation.
Routine came easily. Woke with the light. Slept with the dark. Boiled grain for cereal in the morning. Slept, daydreamed, hiked, meditated, wrote or sunned on rocks by the creek during the day. Around noon, ate some seeds or dried fruit snacks. Boiled beans one night, lentils the next, and black-eyed-peas on the third day, over and over. Dreamed at night.
Cooking food became an anchor ritual. The stream sourced my water for clean-up and bathing. I periodically hiked the Tipi trail, barefoot, with a five-gallon bucket, to get spring water from a hydrant my friend had on the south end of his property. Sometimes I would snag a tomato or a peach, or some basil leaves from his garden. He lived in his bountiful little valley at the head of the Tipi trail, but after initial assistance, he went about his life, which was already one of solitude, and allowed me to pursue the extreme solitude I had set upon.
At first, my digestive system was in complete revolt. It took about two weeks to come to grips with the new diet. During that time, I did also sample local foods like berries, mushrooms and fir-needle tea. There’s a lot out there, but it takes a large number of acres to feed a hunter/gatherer. Shocking when the world human population is nearly 8 billion.
After about two weeks of solitude, waves of incredible sadness washed over me. Deep, cathartic sadness. I just let it wash over in waves. And then that stopped. When that stopped, I noticed a new ability to relax and focus. I felt clean and open.
Then I started to notice rapid-fire insights. Like the fork I had in my hand one night at dinner – I could not make that by myself, where I was, in a lifetime! A fork! What an amazing thing! Or how easily my body fell into a natural rhythm with the sun and moon. When living in a Tipi, the moon becomes as noticeable as the sun. There’s an entire rhythmic cycle that is actually a felt experience. It takes more than a couple weeks camping out to experience this. The moon cycle was, somehow, spiritually and intuitively instructive. It was even easier to dream.
Part of what pushed me into isolation like this was negative energy I had built up about humanity, about our shortcomings, hypocrisy, inability to see our impacts on our natural world, dependence on god stories, greed … at some level I fantasized about it all being wiped clean. I guess that’s not unlike those yearning for apocalypse now, or swamp-draining, or any other end-times fantasy. At some level, in human civilizations today, there are fantasies about blowing it all up because it has gone so completely wrong. It’s easy for thought to go this way when we believe that we have ideals, dreams and hopes that we can do better, that we are better.
However, among one of the more important insights was that blowing things up is a completely destructive, non-solution. When isolated from all the noise and stimulus of modern culture, it’s easy to understand and organically feel that we are all part of the same thing, and that we are not really separate from each other. I think we are easily overwhelmed by the rush, push, crush and over-stimulation in which we have unthinkingly embedded ourselves. I actually came to suspect that our capacity for human tolerance, for community, is limited to a sphere of about 200 people that we know. I don’t know where this number comes from. Maybe it’s tribal, or something left over from necessities of living as hunters/gatherers. But the insight was that on this planet at this time, we are not organized in ways that allow us to be open to each other. We are always trying to drown or shut each other out. There’s just too much stimulation. Some people actually seek to keep heightening stimulation in order to feel something, feel anything at all.
Something else happened that surprised me. I began to notice that I was noticing. I did not have a meditative practice before this experience, but an ability to just observe what I was observing developed over a period of weeks. I think it’s a natural part of being human!! This kind of experience is difficult to describe for those who have not yet experienced it, but it is familiar to anyone with a meditative practice.
As the days got colder and shorter, I bathed less. Creek water was absolutely breath-taking. But for months after this experience, I really disliked hot showers. Hot showers were offensive, uncomfortable, abrasive after getting used to cold water. I didn’t expect that, either.
One day, it started to feel like it was going to rain. It was sunny and clear, a typical end-of-summer day in California in early October. There was no outward indication that it was going to rain. But I started gathering small sticks, anyway. I had built a fire pit in my Tipi, and so when it started to rain the next day, I had sticks for a fire! I was set. I quickly learned that a Tipi needs a fire-tender, and small sticks. Otherwise, one person tending to all things leads to either 1) a cold, dwindling fire or 2) smoke inhalation. Still, it’s nice to have a circle of fire in a circular house.
After several days of rain, I noticed the noon sun had dipped below the southern horizon of my camp site. I realized it would stay hidden for months. I began to wonder if I had experienced all that I needed to experience. Forty days was not the year I had prepared for, but maybe it was enough, and prudent to pack up.
I was living in mountain lion and bear territory, oh, rattlesnakes too, and scorpions (I discovered lots of scorpions living under my air mattress when I packed up to leave). I never saw a lion, but Bear showed up on my last day. I left some of my dried fruit for it. One day I did see the largest rattlesnake I’ve ever seen; it was slithering up the hill, big enough to crunch leaves and looked to be about as big around as my calf. I’m glad it never came to visit.
I eased back into the world at my friend’s house, cooking simple meals and intoxicating myself on the smells of food in a fire-warmed house on cold Fall evenings. I had lost 15 pounds. Coffee and chocolate were beyond describing. A mall was horribly over-stimulating and I discovered that the smell of fast food grease guards the boundaries of most small towns and cities. Yuck. I made my own bread, by hand, for almost a year. Grocery stores were fascinating.
Lore has it that Jesus was crucified at age 33, and that he went out into the wilderness before that time. So, for me, 33 is “The Jesus Age”. I decided that men are subject to transformation at about that age, for better or worse. I started my experience disillusioned and without hope. I came out of it transformed.
When I went to bottle-feed Goatie’s orphan at 2:00 a.m., Girl Story was just beginning to show signs of going into labor. By 6:00 a.m., the two pictured above were already walking around and mama is fine. This is Girl Story’s first time to kid. She was one of the three orphans from Story. Girl Story’s sister, Toy Story, is Cracker’s mom.
This is the end of Bucko‘s line on Two Bucks Ranch. He was a very productive buck. We had three goats when we got him a few years ago (two does: Goatie and Story, and a whether: Guru). Then we bought four more does. Now we have 31, counting the new kids. This should be enough to keep the brush and grass tidy and under control here.
A collection of video clips …