I've been on the road since a few days after I wrote the last blog post, driving almost 4,000 miles in two and a half weeks. Which may prompt you to ask, "Didn't you just write about re-learning your limits?"
I did. This trip was very much an exercise in making time to remember what I do well and what inspires that doing. With reminding myself (again) how intimately linked the doing good work well and the taking care of myself are. One does not happen without the other. And remembering (again) that doing what I love means nurturing myself in the doing.
I drove to central California via the southern route (St. George, Utah, Las Vegas, and Bakersfield, California) in order to avoid spring snowstorms in the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada. On my way, I stopped to visit a couple of places Richard and I always intended to see but never made time for, including Carrizo Plain National Monument between California's Central Valley and the chaparral-covered, sage-scented coast ranges. (Photo at the top of the post.)
I drove into the faulted, grassy hills of Carrizo Plain from the south end, on a paved road so little used the prairie is actively reclaiming the edges and the middle is crumbling. The road follows the fracture of the San Andres Fault, so its term is limited anyway. Nature, as the bumper sticker says, really does bat last.
I spent a couple of fruitful hours there with absolutely no agenda other than to stroll the unpeopled expanse of grasslands, searching for spring wildflowers and listening to the wind whisper in last year's silvered grasses as meadowlarks fluted around me. I saw one other person, an intern who had driven the 50-some miles from the interpretive center to check on the un-staffed kiosk near the south "entrance," where the barbed wire fence is the only sign of the monument's boundary. We chatted about bird songs and wildflowers, and his work interpreting the Painted Rocks archeology site. And then he left, his truck rumbling away over the far ridge, leaving me with the peaceful winnowing of wind in the grass, sun warming my skin, and those melodious meadowlarks.
Next stop: San Luis Obispo, where I took the time to spend the night with my dear friend Sharon Lovejoy, author and illustrator extraordinaire, and her husband Jeff Prostovich. (Here's a blog post that gives a wonderful taste of Sharon and her work.) Some years back, Sharon and Jeff invited me to stay with them in the charming loft above Sharon's painting and writing studio, with its walls of books old and new on nature and art and life. On subsequent trips to California, I have never had time to take them up on their offer. This trip, I made time, and had the gift of dinner and conversation in their Mission-style Craftsman bungalow, sleeping to rain pattering on the roof, and waking to birdsong and Sharon's garden.
Part of Sharon's garden, a riot of plants, from edibles like lemon trees to native shrubs and wildflowers, and a mecca for birds of all sorts.
From Sharon and Jeff's, I headed north to the Bay Area. The traffic on the 101 was miserable, and it rained almost all the way to San Francisco, but I saw two double rainbows on the way, which I took to be a good omen.
The sun came out as Red and I wended our way through the city and then across the Golden Gate Bridge. I made time to stop in Marin City to meet with Nita Winter and Rob Badger, the two incredible photographers behind The Beauty & The Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change, a traveling museum exhibit and coffee-table book in progress. (I wrote an essay for the latter.) Seeing their photos up close was inspiring, as was trading stories of our work.
From Marin City, I wound my way north and west to Fairfax, and up the narrow road with blind curves to the hillside house of my friend Jenny Barry, designer and packager of award-winning photo, illustrated, and cook books (books she has created have won the James Beard Award, the Colorado Book Award, and many others). Jenny's husband, architect and sculptor Tom Powell designed their house with its clean lines, great light, and wonderful view. She needed a Girls' Night, so we wound our way back down the hill to Tamal, a restaurant inspired by the cuisines of southern Mexico, where we ate a leisurely and delicious dinner and talked about our passions: books and publishing and kids and caregiving and ecological restoration.
The next morning, I got up early and drove west toward Tomales Bay through fog giving way to sunlit meadows and the deep shade of redwood groves, aimed for Point Reyes Station and the Geography of Hope Conference. The Conference, an annual gathering focused this year on "finding resilience in nature in perilous times," was my reason for the trip. When I first saw the announcement, the theme spoke to me on all sorts of levels: in terms of my ecological restoration work, of finding and nurturing resilience, and just the idea of turning to nature when times feel perilous, as they have for me since the year I midwifed my mother, and my husband and the love of my life through their deaths.
I saw the announcement, read the theme, and said to myself, "Oh, I would love to go, but I don't have time." And then I realized that I needed to make time to go to the conference. My intuition said, "Go! You will find what you need." I argued, but my inner voice held firm. So I made time.
And therein is one theme of this blog post: Being the best me I can be means finding time to do what feeds heart, mind, and soul. That is the essence of learning both my limits, and how to love me while doing the work I am passionate about: healing and restoring this earth and we who share our singular blue planet. Finding time, making time, taking time... to do what matters, what inspires, what helps me be who I am, and fuels what I love about what I do.
The conference promised inspiration in building spiritual and emotional resilience, using nature as a touchstone. We heard from and were inspired by Peter Forbes, former Vice-President of the Trust for Public Land and now Vermont farmer, educator, and facilitator in the areas of leadership, conservation, and social justice; Rue Mapp, founder of the conservation and outdoor leadership program Outdoor Afro; and Caleen Sisk, Spiritual Leader and Tribal Chief of the Winnemem Wintu people, the "Middle River People" of the McCloud River in northern California. Three very different people with very different stories, but all resilient and optimistic about the power of nature and culture to help us survive and even thrive in these perilous times.
Their words and stories shook and reformed my understanding of what it means to be white and privileged, what it means to share the outdoors with people of different cultures and his/herstories, and what it means to have a deep spiritual relationship with a place stretching back many generations, and to heal the wounds of being ripped away from the place, and in the case of the Winnemem Wintu from the source of your identity, the salmon and the river.
Even more inspiration and leadings came in conversations and stories of of other conference participants, having lunch with Susan Page Tillett, Director of The Mesa Refuge, where I have been fortunate to have a writing residency. In hanging out with Gavin Van Horn, Jeremy Ohmes, and Kate Cummins of the Center for Humans & Nature, a co-sponsor of the conference and an organization I write for now and again. In walking the marsh near the conference center with Kate and talking about our passions, being female in a perilous world, and about dealing with wrenching change.
Sky Road Webb kindling fire with a horseweed flower stalk in a cedar plank. It's like magic...
And more still, especially the hands-on work when 100 or so of the conference attendees, ranging from upper teens to 80s, gathered on the banks of Lagunitas Creek to plant over 300 native trees and willow cuttings and restore habitat for the creek's unique winter-run Chinook salmon. First we searched the muddy banks for dry lichens and twigs to help Sky Road Webb, a Coast Miwok born to that watershed, kindle a sacred fire with a fire-stick of horseweed and a plank of cedar. Then Sky sang and taught us Coast Miwok songs for the creek and its salmon beside that sacred fire, so that by the time we broke into small groups to do the planting, we were singing and laughing and celebrating the work and the water and the land.
I told myself that if I was going to take/make the time to go to the conference, I would open myself to whatever came. I did that all along the way, and at the conference I simply listened, not taking any notes other than what wrote itself on my heart and spirit. I kept that attitude over the thousand-mile drive east to Santa Fe, and during the week I spent in the City of Holy Faith before driving the last leg home. What I heard and did opened doors I hadn't realized even existed.
I'm still contemplating what it means for my path. For now, it's enough that I'm home in Cody, with snow flurrying outside, and my newly planted tomato, basil, and herb starts--the beginnings of this summer's edible garden--are cozy on their heat-mat in my greenhouse window.
Happy Easter, Passover, Oestre, Spring... It's the season of renewal and new life, and I feel that deeply in my heart and in my spirit. As the year turns toward light and new life it's time to listen closely to what that renewal is asking of us. I want to honor that turning by continuing to stay open to what I hear and feel. Blessings!