The Salmon Lie Rotten in the River

I have an image in my mind, of a river, along its banks I see the rotting bodies of salmon, and I hear a voice speaking: the salmon feed the forest, bringing the vast wealth of the ocean far inland, the salmon feed the life that feeds their soon-to-hatch babies. The salmon, rotting, falling apart, barely held together, on this one you see a chunk of its back missing, its spine exposed, but still it pushes and swims upriver, only to spawn and die, feeding the world in its death.

I find this notion unspeakably beautiful. I can’t imagine anything more perfect or more profound. I feel sometimes that my life has shrunk to a tiny pinprick of irrelevance, not for some innate reason specific to my own nature, but rather the opposite…the thing that my body hungers to die for, the thing that my heart hungers to bleed for, I haven’t done this thing. I don’t do this thing. I watch. I wait. I let this thing pass.

For the first time today, I really learned something about the salmon, by watching a DVD on their lives here in the Pacific Northwest (obviously a real world experience will teach me even more). I feel like I’ve come to the edge of some great abyss of unknowing knowingness, some vast well of transformation. I’ve studied and watched animals and their sign for several years now, yet I’ve always avoided the in-depth study of fish and aquatic life. They just didn’t seem to matter.

I come by my foolishness honestly, at least. A fool, convinced to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, who can blame this fool when he continues to watch the pretty show on display, instead of digging, asking, questing for the root.

Well, I’ve found the root, or a piece of it. The salmon’s lives ring to me of Marv’s life in Sin City: The Hard Goodbye. Given a body, given strength, and finally given love and a purpose: who wouldn’t do absolutely anything at that point? Absolutely anything, as one’s body rots away around them, in unbelievable pain, pulling themselves closer to the place where they can finally feed the children in their death.

I wonder sometimes how domesticated I’ve become, and how I can possibly escape it. I usually think of myself as a wild and iconoclastic thinker, one who gets out of the box as easily as breathing. I’ve always noticed the flip-side to this…the dull grinding daily ache of finding the box still there, all around me, and what have I done exactly?

What have I done to nourish the Earth, and my Grandchildren, exactly? I feel like I play with toys, broken toys, made of repellant day-glow plastics. I want to break them further. I want to break out of this heaving nightmarish prison, and reclaim a life worth living, or losing. Maybe right there I’ve said it: I want a life worth losing, a life that has earned real feelings of loss when it goes, rather than simply fear and hollowness from resistance to change.

I want to go out with a “bang”, as they say, a bang that may amount to no more than a richly joyful extended family, connected to all life, full of sorrows and celebration, who needs no masters to tell them how to live, or what to think, or sing, or do.

I find the work inherent in that goal unfathomably immense, however, and I have no idea on god’s green earth how I’ll get there. None.

I think back to Powhatan’s family, his people, in the movie the New World. How do we get there? How do we build that life again? I know some might hear that as “going back” instead of “going forward”.

Well, hell. If I simply needed to “go back” to accomplish that, I’d do it in a heart beat. Just going back? Just try it. Just try to build a life a fraction as enriching and full as that. We can’t go back, not because we’ve “advanced” too far, but because “back” didn’t wait for us to go to it. I’ve read and listened and discussed enough on this to know that the treasure-house that native peoples (our ancestors included) possessed held human riches beyond the imaginations of the most earnest anthropologists. We had so much. And we have to put it back together again, for our own sake, and the sake of life as we know it. And everything in this culture wants us to forget that.

The Four Margins: Beside, Between, Behind, Beneath

Wildness flourishes on the edge and in the margins. Those places where secret things can incubate and grow. Natures loves the marginalized, and the hard-to-find.

The city provides an excellent example of this. Where do you find wildlife in the city?

You find them Beside things (Crows at a food kiosk)…

Behind things (wildflowers and weeds in an abandoned lot)…

Between things (rats in an alley, mice in the wall)…

Beneath things (opossums sleeping under a shed).

Where the margins live, life itself lives. The more margins, and edges, the more places that connect two places together (the white space between letters and words brings them to life), the more abundance and life.

Of course more margins exist, too, but in a sense, they simply vary the ones already mentioned. “Above”, for example, just describes something between earth and sky. I can think of one exception to this though, one margin that I haven’t mentioned…

Once, as a boy in my ninth year, I played a game of hide-and-seek with my friends. I chose a hiding spot behind (a nice dependable margin to choose) an armchair, pressed up against some curtains. The seeker easily discovered the spot, and as he approached, I squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as I could, and wished myself somewhere else.

After looking behind the armchair, the seeker passed on, without saying a word.

At the end of the game, I had to ask him, why didn’t he call me out? Why didn’t he say he’d found me?

‘What do you mean?” he said. “Where did you hide?”.

If I have to explain to you the profound sense of justice and fairness certain boyhood friends have, in not giving special favors or lying to their trusted inner circle when a good game lays on the line, then you may never understand what this incident meant to me.

It meant I had found the fifth margin.

I had gone Beyond.

The Riddler’s Way: Mastering Riddles

You’ll find here a simple list of practices to build your ability to create and solve riddles. However, the discipline of Riddling runs so far and so deep, this can only scratch the surface. Nevertheless, the more that learn even the little taste offered here, the more likely the tradition of Riddling will not fade into the whirling modern vortex of consumable entertainments.

I speak for myself, first and foremost, in all these things. Know this now. Yet what I have discovered may help you find your own heart-hidden-in-a-box.

The word Poet has always had far more easy fascination for me than an actual poem on a page. That poem stares a challenge: the Universe speaks plainly only to the Dead, or the soon-to-die. If you would live a life, cunning and richly, it behooves you to learn a subtler language than that of bluntness and injury. A knife cuts, yes. And? How did that knife come to cut you, of all people? Backtrack before it ever happens, read the future before it arrives, solve the Riddle before it comes to pass.


The Question

Everything in the world has a voice, and tells its stories over, and over, and over….everything. You must challenge yourself to open a vaccuum, a pulling space, in your mind, in your senses. You must become a constant wordless question. The great Riddlers of old would fade away to nothing more than a human ‘?’, invisible ghosts upon the land,. Stretched out to the horizon, they knew everything that happened the moment it occurred.

It all begins with a question. Nothing more.

Pick a single object, the more mundane the better. Once a day, for a week, ask 50 questions of this object. Pick a new object every day, if necessary.

Count off the questions with your fingers. When you reach ten, touch your head with that finger, as a marker. Starting with your fingers again, count until the next ten, touching your left shoulder to signal twenty. Then the right shoulder. Then the left hip. Then the right hip. You just marked off 50 questions.

Does 50 questions sound impossible? Good. Find them anyway. Cheat (and if you can, you’ve probably discovered some foolish limits anyway, that you’ve imposed upon yourself for no good reason).

You do not have to answer any of the questions, though you may find yourself curious about them. Do what you like with the answers. For now, just the questions.

The Web

Much like a spider’s web, you now weave a map of connections, everything leading back to the center, that object upon which you asked the 50 questions.

Once a day, find 50 links back to that object, 50 ways it connects to other things in the world. Count off the same as before. Links can consist of links-of-links, as far removed as you like, as long as they lead back to the center. You can consider the links in the web as metaphors, or associations, or poetic allusions, if it helps. Find those kinds of connections.

The Chronicles of the Dreamtime

Every night, when you go to bed, one part of you sleeps, while another wakes up. This one will teach you to master the riddling world, if you learn to speak its language.

When you wake up, you have two options. Immediately tell the story of your dreams, or what momentary snatches of them you remember, to the person next to you. Or, write them down. It amounts to the same thing. Some cultures honor the telling of dreams, and make space for it. In ours, you may find your best audience in the pages of a journal.

Write down all the details that you can remember, even the stupid, foolish, unpleasant, inconvenient, embarrassing ones. Especially those.

More layers exist for this, but essentially, take nothing for granted in the dream, and begin your mapping web on it. 10 links for every detail you can single out. Results don’t matter at this point, but the practice does. You don’t want to find out what anything ‘means’ – you want to see what connections you can make.

The ‘Aha!’

Having said results don’t matter, you may notice every once in a while, you get an ‘aha!’. Something clicks. Something makes sense. You accidentally decode a little piece of dream language. Good for you. Write it down. But don’t let it suck you in…this concerns the practice, not the results.

The Waking Dreamtime

If this next notion doesn’t turn your world upside-down, I don’t know what will. Because before you now lies the task of treating your waking world like a dream. Take one short interaction, between yourself and the world and treat it like the dream. Find the connections, 10 connections to every element you can single out. How short? Make it short it enough that it seems easy. Then make it a little longer every time you practice anew.

The Door Has Opened A Crack

You’ve just learned the most rudimentary practices of Riddling – rudimentary, but unspeakably powerful. Any single one of them could turn a life upside down, if practiced consistently. Consider that, if doing them all seems like too much. Start with one piece, one practice. Then add more practices, slowly, one at a time.

And the door will slowly open, inch by inch…you’ll hear the hinges complaining, but pay them no mind. Uncared for, abandoned, rusted with old grief, they have the right to complain, the Riddlers of Old (that took such care of them) having long ago disappeared into the maw of the machine that eats beauty and excretes despair. Make yourself indigestible to that machine. Keep the door opening, and oil the hinges with your Riddling mind.

The Eloquence of the Court: A Game of Tradition

Whence comes the word Court, and its relatives: courtliness, courtesy, courtier, to court, a curtsy, and courteously? All point to a certain way of relating. Can you see the Royal Blood in the person next to you, even if their clothes look torn and dirty? Can you elevate every day life by offering dignity and respect usually reserved for those of the highest station?

In the space of the Queen’s and King’s Court, all Nobles (the players), in consenting to their new elevated status, also consent to a higher level of speech.

How the Nobles do this remains up to them and the Host of the Court. For inspiration, they may read famous rhetorical works; whether political (like the Declaration of Independence), literary (as in the works of Shakespeare), or poetical and multilayered (like the Tzutujil Maya’s  spoken traditions as recorded in Martin Prechtel’s Long Life, Honey in the Heart). Wherever they find a style to key off of, they can run with it, as long as it sounds regal (or at least aims to sound regal). If you fear to fail, don’t worry; aim (in the words of Martin Prechtel) to Fail Magnificently!

Owing to that, the Host and the assembly all encourage one-upmanship and over-the-top speechifying, learning from each other and keeping the stuff that they like the best for the next session of Court.

The Consensus of the Court: A Game of Tradition

All the Queen’s and King’s Courts run on a consensus-based system. This does not necessarily mean everyone must agree.

The Form of Royal Consensus

Any player may have three reactions to a proposed decision. They may agree fully, signalling this with a thumb’s-up. They may not agree fully, but feel willing to go along with the will of the group, signalling this with a thumb’s-sideways. Finally, they may disagree, block the proposal, and request to speak, signalling this with a thumb’s-down. A thumb’s-down signal requires the player to speak; they cannot block a proposal and remain silent.

If it looks like a majority, or even a substantial minority of the group has a thumb’s sideways, going forward with the proposal will probably not deliver good results. Asking for more information from the thumb’s-sideways players will usually clear up confusions and make workable consensus happen.

The Lifetime Quota of Thumb’s-Down

Each player in a Queen’s Court gets only one thumb’s-down allotted to them, for the duration of the Court. Players can also decide to minimize the quota even more, including multiple sessions of the Queen’s Court, or over a certain timeframe. In any case, players should treat the thumb’s-down as a last resort, rather relying on opening up conversations and discussions with thumb’s-sideways as a guideline.

The King’s Court: A Game of Tradition

This game concerns the deliberation over the remedy of disagreements and conflict amongst the group of players. A King’s Court can only take place in a session of a Queen’s Court.

Convening the King’s Court

Any player in a Queen’s Court can propose a King’s Court, by simply saying “If it please the Court, I have a question for the King.” If the consensus of the other players accepts the King’s Court, the Host announces “The Queen accepts. Welcome to the [say the date, moon, and/or location]session of the King’s Court. If they deny it, the Host says, “The Queen Denies it”.

Assuming the group consents, you then move onto the issues at hand.

Deliberations of the King’s Court

You can invent complaints, but the players will enjoy themselves far more if they can dig up some unresolved tensions, conflicts, injustice, etc., that concerns only those present. The players must make fair efforts to include everyone in on the King’s Court that the deliberations concern; but purposefully avoiding a King’s Court gives others permission to deliberate without you. The players decide whether or not they perceive this occurring.

The player who proposed the King’s Court has the first right to speak until finished, without questions. They name all those directly involved, and describe the situation as regally as possible, overplaying the importance of all parties involved as much as they can. Then any other voices may speak, but first among them, if relevant, the other party to the complaint.

All present, except for those directly involved in the dispute, deliberate on a remedy for the dispute.

When the Court has reached consensus on a solution, they then pronounce it. All decisions of the Court rely on the honor of those present to carry through the judgement.

The King’s Court stays open until all players feel they have spoken on whatever complaints they need to resolve. At the consent of all those present, the Host then adjourns the King’s Court.

Introductions: An Eloquence Game

Anyone can start this game, as long as it takes place in the space of either a Queen’s Court, or a King’s Court.

The one starting this game, often (but not necessarily!) the Host of the Court, signals it by announcing “If it please the Court, Introductions!”. Those present affirm their consent by nodding. The first one to put their hand on their heart performs the first Introduction. In this manner, as the game proceeds, others announce their intentions to perform an Introduction.

The Introduction

The Introducer chooses one other person in the circle, and in as regal a manner as possible, the Introducer asks those present to formally meet this person of their choosing. The Introducer proceeds to satisfy the following points of introduction, not necessarily in this order, in as laudatory a fashion as possible:


The name consists of an relevant nickname first, chosen on the spot by the Introducer, or inherited by past Introductions. They then say their heritage name (if they have one), and explain its origins. Named after who? Why? If the name on their birth certificate belies their true origins (as in the case of slave names, etc.), explain this tragic and curious wrinkle in their ancestry.


Continuing the theme of ancestry, begin the long count of (staying to male ancestors if male, and female when female) parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, with the goal of at least seven generations back of naming.


Now speak of the places they have lived, from the point of view of the Land itself. What rivers, what valleys, what strange living beings grew and walked in those spaces? What fruits could one eat?

Personal Heroics

Speak of the most amazing feats this one has accomplished, the things that impress you the most. Make it Epic!

The Wrap-Up

“With that my Introduction ends, but not my gratitude for you as an audience, nor my affection for [insert their nickname, heritage name, lineage name, or tax name here]. The very next person to put their hand on their heart after this, performs the next Introduction.

None of these categories fall in any particular order, except the Wrap-Up of course comes last. You can also mix categories to play them up.

Ending The Game

If you have an odd number players, someone must volunteer to Introduce two people; once begun, the game cannot end until everyone has had someone Introduce them, and the Host of the space declares, “Well Spoken!”. If the Host declares the assembly “Well Spoken!” before all Introductions have occurred, the responsibility lies with the other players to make sure the game finishes honorably by saying “Introductions!” to signal the error and keep the ball rolling.


The design of the game purposely pushes the players to learn more about the other participants, during time outside of playing the game. It also pushes them to learn more about themselves, in order to answer the inevitable questions about their name, lineage, places, and more.

You can make the game easier the first couple times you play by having people Introduce themselves, in a variant of the game called Remedial Introductions. Do your best to move on to the standard version of Introductions as soon as possible.

Host vs. Guest variation: If you have already determined Host and Guest teams, then The Introducers aim their words at the other side, rather than all present. When a team finishes, the Host says “Well Spoken!”, signalling the other team to begin.

The Table has Turned, another variation: The Host can signal the Nobles to Introduce different players than last time, or than they ever have before, by saying “The Table has Turned!”, at any time between Introductions.

The Queen’s Court: A Game of Tradition

The Queen’s Court describes a particular ‘game of tradition’, i.e. a game that anyone can start playing at any time, and end at any time. It only requires a few particulars.

The Particulars

Of course, the game requires at least two people, with no upper limit, except that determined by the players.

Firstly, the one beginning it must see an opportunity to lay claim to a Queen’s Court. The Queen’s Court can take place in any situation, whether in your home, at a restaurant, at a park, at a coffee shop, anywhere. What does it mean to ‘lay claim to a Queen’s Court’?

It means that you own that space, as a caretaker. It doesn’t necessarily belong to you in the sense of a possession, but the responsibility to care for it and the people in that space does. You have entered a specific imaginary realm, and you announce your decision to do so by saying, “Welcome to my Table!”* If the others present reply, “Hats off!”, and form a circle, they become Nobles, and everyone has consented to the formation of the Queen’s Court. If someone present doesn’t reply with “Hats off!”, because they do not consent, then the Court may allow them to stay as a ‘Page’, or must relocate. In any case, a Court must contain only consenting Nobles. ‘Pages’ stay at the permission of the Nobles, with non-Noble status, no responsibilities, and must leave the circle at any time a Noble announces “Nobles alone!”. This does not require consensus.

The Space

Once you’ve created the Queen’s Court, the one leading it can play all kinds of eloquence games in that space. As the Host of the Queen’s Court, they have the option of setting and determining roles for certain supporting games, such as Host’s team and Guest’s team.

The consent of the players to rise to the status of ‘Nobles’, means they agree to play any eloquence game within the space, comporting themselves if not with total dignity, then at least with panache and florid speech.

One can announce one’s disengagement from the space and from Noble status by saying nothing more than, “I offer up my seat!”, waiting for those present to affirm this with, “We accept!”. To enter vacated space, or to enter as a new player, you can say “I ask for a seat!”. If those present consent, they’ll respond with “The Queen accepts it!” Everyone in the circle must consent in order to invite players from outside the space. They can also spontaneously offer a seat to one who has not yet requested to participate.

If those present refuse a returning or new player by not arriving at consensus, they can answer any inquiries with “The Queen denies it.”

Adjourning the Queen’s Court

To close the space, the Host has but to say, ‘I offer up this Table!”. In acknowledgement, the others playing say “Hats on!”, affirming the closing of the space, and the game. At this time, anyone else can lay claim to the space as a Queen’s Court.

Maps and the Four Spiders

The Mythic Cartographer bundles up his possessions and wanders onto the land, in search of the day’s lessons.

Today the spiders want to teach about mapping.

The Orb Spiders speak up first: ‘Well, my fine sir, notice what we’ve woven…an interlacing of routes, of strands, of paths and ways. Some sticky, some dry, some dangerous, some safe. Look here and notice what we’ve woven. A Map.’

The Trap Door Spiders speak up second. ‘Truly, look down here, at this little hole in the ground…and covering it, see the little flap I’ve made of web and soil. Underneath I lurk. I guard this place. I, hermit and gatekeeper, wait and wait for who stumbles here. I keep the intersections on my brother’s map.’

The Hunting Spiders speak up third. ‘Ah-ha! But who makes the paths that intersect, my friend? I do! I crawl and stalk through an inch-high jungle, I, the wanderer past crystalline boulders, rotting carcasses, gaping crevasses. I find the safe paths, and wait alongside them.’

Then the Jumping Spiders speak up fourth. ‘Safe, indeed! And who will bridge those crevasses, my friends? Who will jump high, and far, and string a line out behind them, for those that come after? I, the ever-searching Scout, the eyes of the spider people. I make connections where others claim it impossible. I make the edges of the map.’

And so the day ended.

Good, Evil, Blood, Sweat, and Tears: My Moral Compass

In a conversation with my two friends Peter and Lisa yesterday, I realized that I do a crappy job of communicating how I relate to the world.

Somehow they think I see reality in a dispassionate way, voting for calm and reason in all things. Somehow I’ve given the impression that I think ‘peace’ means not feeling anger, sadness, horror, fear, hatred. That I think a beautiful life means censoring the urge to stand up and yell, shout, scream at all the inhuman grinding of the cynical and invisible iron gears of a monster that eats us all alive, everyday.

In fact, reading the Mythic Cartography Explained series, other folks might have gotten the same impression, that my goal lies in the direction of some kind of yogi-like passiveness to the vicissitudes (great word) of life.

Holy hell! I better get it out right, right here, right now, because my sloppiness in that regard will kill life.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

What we do, in the our relationship to Land, to Family, amounts to no less than the rescue of our hearts, our souls, our spirits, the future of all things, the sweet bright eyes of infants bobbing in a tub amongst the countless towering ink-black waves of a world-ending storm.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Our hearts tell us where to draw the line. Our souls tell us when we will tolerate no more. Watching forests fall and die, children hypnotized into self-loathing, rivers run poisoned and stinking, friends marching the zombie path of nine-to-five. Our hearts tell us when we’ve begun to starve, to die; as a people, and as a place. We stand in the middle of that hurricane of emotion, without flinching or backing off, and feel the rage and fear and agony enter every cell of our being, and every gap in between them. Shaking and moaning, thrashing and kicking.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Not hiding, without shame, we feel all the taboo things. Inside our bodies, grand and glorious weather fronts smash and hammer at each other, the colors our deepest needs make when awakened. Fully aware and immersed in this, we can then call ourselves a human being.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Everyday, we lose absolutely everything, We’ve failed before we even open our eyes in the morning, because we wake to a world weeping in its own agony.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Now what do we do about it? Fueled on the intense truth of our self-destruction, we can let our eyes sparkle and flash, fully awake to what we need to do:

Create beautiful lives for us, for our family, for our mothering land.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas

So what does this all have to do with a moral code, good and evil?

With savvy, cunning, discerning eyes that flash and sparkle, fueled on the oceans surging in our unstoppable hearts, we use our minds to plan, reflect, choose carefully. Measuring twice, cutting once. Discerning the way through the hazardous thorn-pricked paths; choosing wise paths mean we get a little more every day, of that beautiful life. Choosing foolish paths means exhaustion, suffering, distraction, and spiritual death.

Will raising the sword create that life? Then do it. Hack away at the thorns.
Will eloquence? Then do it. Charm the pricks right off of them.

To me, Good means the flowing grace which increases life and opens hearts. And Evil means the sticky addiction that destroys life, and closes hearts. The compass for determining the difference between the two? That same heart. How well can a closed heart see the difference? Not very well, if at all.

When a lion kills a deer, what does the lion’s heart say? And the deer’s heart? The compass beating in their chests compel them to create far different worlds. The same applies to us. Time spent on what another should do to create life for themselves, exactly equates to time spent ignoring where our own compasses point in that same moment.

So I don’t speak of what others should do, but what I will do.

I don’t speak of good and evil for others, but for myself.

I don’t question other’s motives, but further clarify my own.

Knowing myself, I know the world.

Knowing the world, I laugh, I cry, I forget my keys, I write, and yell at my favorite fools.

Cascadia: A State of Mind

Within the past month I’ve really felt something hit home for me…funny, because I’ve known about the idea for quite a while. It concerns Cascadia, the name for the Pacific Northwest Bioregion that starts in Northern California and extends up to Alaska.

A colorful map of Cascadia

Now I’ve even bought a flag (not cheap!). Why? Not for political purposes, certainly. I have no plans to push for secession, writing a new constitution, or anything of the sort.

I’ve become so alienated from this country and the values it stands for, that I’ve begun to identify more and more with the land, and with others who connect with the land, that a little Cascadian Revolution has begun in my heart. I belong to none of the First Nations…I don’t consider myself Native American in any conventional sense. But I do feel native, in some new sense, that has to do with belonging to a place. Not owning it. Belonging to it. Not having rights to it, or deserving political recognition, but taking care of it, celebrating it, crying for it.

I grew up in Brookings and Coos Bay, small towns on the Oregon Coast. They ruined me in a beautiful way, with their krummholz pines, salmon berries, and salt-tanged aire. The modern world has always run at odds with my sensibility. I didn’t camp, or go on wilderness treks, or even join the Boy Scouts as a child (though I did want to join the Boy Scouts – my father had acquired strong feelings about the organization as a youth. I assume so anyway – he refers to them as “paramilitary pedarasts”. Does that sound like strong feelings?). I did, however, get to know my green neighborhoods and the close coastlines, from the time I could walk. I’ve heard the stories a thousand times, about the police returning two-year old me from trying to cross the highway, or on some expedition that makes sense in a toddler’s mind.

Cascadia’s coast shaped me from the beginning. From the coast to the Willamette Valley at the cusp of puberty.

I know this place, the city of Portland, much less than I know the place of my birth and childhood, though I have lived here for twice as long. Twenty years, as opposed to ten years on the south coast of Oregon, in the neighborhood of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

I recently found out that the Willamette River, that runs through the middle of Portland, sometimes runs upriver. Insane. I have just begun to really know this place, though as a naturalist I have more of a conscious knowing of the names of wildlife and habitat here.

In the sense of the Wandering Free Families, and as I mentioned before, I have no political ambitions for Cascadia. My cultural ambitions for her, however, have no bounds. A great tribe-of-tribes, family-of-families, lies at the horizon of my consciousness. Someday, one living room at a time, one hearth at a time, I see a whole new world replacing a dying old one. Cascadia and her people; the Land and her children.

A Theory of Riddles

At the College, we consider Dreams, Riddles, Poems, Memory, and Story the same beast. To study any of these, you must study all of them.

I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details. -Einstein

If a divinity had thoughts, would they not most closely resemble dreams?

Myths are public dreams…Dreams are private myths. – Joseph Campbell

Listen to a world of riddles that comes to us through folktales, myths, and dreams. A riddle, spoken by a character in a myth, represents a double riddle: the riddle itself, and the riddle as a single line in the great riddle of the story itself.

Riddles ask us to associate, to think in metaphor, to see things as layered and poetic. Could we describe a riddle as “a poem with an (as yet) unknown subject”?

In panoply of painted feathers
I shrug off a cape of small sooted wings
Rising resplendent from the pavement
Born of outcast crumbs and forgotten foods
I’ve died crushed underfoot
I’ll die again torn by talon
After I scatter my spirit to the sky.

So to write a riddle, study your dreams. Learn the dream language of poetry. And write a poem with an unstated subject.

Sweat on the table
Yet chilled to the bone
At first, kissed and cradled
Once drained, left alone

But why stop there? Why not use riddles as a vehicle to a sense of place.

Big hands catch the glint of coin
though it may remain forever out of reach
I’ve learned to stand tall and spread my arms wide
Lest golden fortune slip between my fingers
And when those around me perservere
begging for handouts though the coins
have begun to fade
I withdraw my begging bowls
I retreat deep within
Nourished on the syrup of my soul
And wait for better days
to spring forth.*

We propose that riddles originally served that exact purpose. To awaken our minds, and to connect us to the knowledge of our place.

*Acer macrophyllum, Bigleaf Maple tree

Lovesick Gods of Heaven and Earth

In this story I want to tell you, a great deception took place, long ago.

Long, long ago.

And yet, the world had left its youth far in the past, by this time. In fact, if one stacked the bones of every human grandmother and grandfather that had lived till then, it would look just as big as that mountain over there.

In this story, only the Gods had a newborn’s face. Of all in their time, they, the youngest and the freshest, wobbling on their newfound legs, wavering in their newfound power, they destroyed and imprisoned a nation of beings. But let me describe these Gods.

The Goddess of the Harvest. The Goddess of Weaving and Spiders. The Father of the Gods, lightning bearer. The God of War. You know the roll call, for every culture with gods of this sort, a farmer’s gods, had these same ones, though by different names.

These gods all had this in common: the lack of family ties to the humans over which they ruled.

But since when did the Gods belong to our family, anyway?

Grandmother Spider. Sister Corn. Father Sky. Brother Coyote. Grandfather Pine.

Once upon a time they did, all around the world, in all human cultures. Once upon a time humans shared the common bond of looking out at the entire world and saying, “All my relations”. So what happened? How did we go from sharing our family with Sister Corn, to looking to the heavens for the aid of an untouchable and remote “Goddess of the Harvest”?

…”One of the most remarkable features of mythology is that the Giants (greek: “earthborn”) could only be overcome by the joint efforts of a god and a man. Zeus required Herakles to dispose of Porphyrion. The god laid him low with his thunderbolt and the hero finsihed him off with his arrows…”

Around the world, every farming civilization that emerged, seems to have a story about the battle between the Gods and the Giants.

“…Apollo blinded Ephialtes in the left eye, but needed Herakles to complete the killing by shooting the giant in the right eye…”

“…but Vishnu, concerned lest the gods should lost the advantage….immediately…transformed himself into a mighty hero, joined the gods against the titans, and helped drive away the enemy to the crags and dark canyons of the world beneath…”

“…Norse myths…say that the gods fought and conquered the race of giants…”

Giants…monsters, of course. The size of hills, made of stone and ice, cruel and capricious, responsible for earthquakes, falling boulders, blizzards. Look at them. Terrible. But wait, doesn’t that monster’s face look a little like a mask…

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! -the Wizard of Oz

Before civilization, a globally prevalent value system existed, called animism (and continues to exist today, where its cultures remain intact). Though the details vary according to region, all animists share the perspective that they belong to a community of life, and everything in the world has intrinsic value, has life.

The farming gods seem to have emerged to justify a new way of relating to the world. Denial.

…The world period of the hero in human form begins only when villages and cities have expanded over the land. Many monsters remaining from primeval times still lurk in the outlying regions…They have to be cleared away… -Joseph Campbell

I am a lover of knowledge, and the men who dwell in the city are my teachers, and not the trees or the country. -Plato

And this denial unleashed a great expansive power, for to deny the intrinsic value of the world, heavy with metaphors and lessons to teach us, means you can do whatever you want to it. Look out there, at those vast forests, open plains, what do you see now: untilled land, of course.

…The elementary deeds of the hero [of the city] are those of the clearing of the field… -Joseph Campbell

…The gods emerged from a spot in the primordial ice, warmed by the licking tongue of the Cosmic Cow… – Norse Legend

Where does this “new” mythology take us? We knew it even then.

When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain he wept,
for there were no more worlds to conquer… -Legend

It takes us to the very end of all things for the human family. It takes us to the loss of the world as a human habitat. We’ve almost arrived…perhaps, before it’s too late, let’s look again at the giants. Who hides behind those masks? Perhaps an animist would know – these giants must have existed before the farming gods came into the world.

Let’s ask an animist.

In Japan, where the some still practice the animist Shinto religion, something noteworthy happens. Japan, with its orgiastic industrial economy, should look like Manhattan by now. Why doesn’t it? Why can you still find rolling countryside, forests, uncut mountains, in a tiny island nation that prides itself on its technological progress?

The nature giants have slowed them down.

Sometimes the winds bring nourishing rain, sometimes they bring the hurricane.

Sometimes Godzilla saves Tokyo, and sometimes Godzilla attacks Tokyo.

They haven’t killed Godzilla yet. They haven’t made up their minds. They’ve made her ugly, they’ve made it palatable to destroy her, but they haven’t dropped the axe yet. And so their green lands last for a while longer, their sacred mountains stay pristine for just a little more time.

Take that mask off of Godzilla, and you’ll find the Five Wind Brothers, you’ll find Grandmother Ocean, you’ll find all our relatives who we’ve hidden, like unloved and neglected grandparents exiled in a locked attic, you’ll find the mass deception that each one of us perpetrates every day.

The lie that we don’t belong to the rioting, celebrating, evolving family of the living earth, sky and stone.

We do belong. And we must unmask the Nature Giants, and release those within: flocks of faeries, spirits, angels and demons, lords and ladies, all our relatives hidden within those monster’s bodies. And we can’t blame the agricultural gods for our trouble, because remember:

…the Giants (greek: “earthborn”) could only be overcome by the joint efforts of a god and a man…Apollo blinded Ephialtes in the left eye, but needed Herakles to complete the killing by shooting the giant in the right eye..

That arrow belongs to us. The humans. Only we can pluck it out. It took the coldness of a human heart to finish the job the farming gods started. It will take a great thawing and warming of that same heart to heal the damage done, by our own hands.

Giants, Gods, and Spirits. Different words, for the same thing: a human relationship to the world.

Gods die…Gods miss each other…Gods miss us… – Martin Prechtel

Praise for the Dead: A Funeral Game

How to improve your ability to grieve openly and cleanly, and put the “fun” back in Funerals!

If you wonder why this would matter at all…um, well…

A) The wild green world actually likes crybabies. Vulcans, robots, and techpriests really scare it. So learn how to cry like a baby, fer cry’s – sake

B) Ok so you think you don’t need to cry. But really, can you cry? At the drop of a hat? I mean, I understand not seeing any value in it, but lacking the ability to even do it, I call that a handicap.

C) Get some emotional range, people! [pause while I decide to start taking my own advice]

Pick someone who died, whose funeral you missed, or in which you didn’t really cry well. Get some pictures of them (as many as you can find). Any possessions of theirs you’ve got, or others have (and don’t need anymore), grab ’em.

Get some friends together – the ones you can trust to get a bit nutty. Maybe even a musician or two.

Make a little shrine out of the pictures and objects. Enjoy it – take some time at it. Make it pretty. Serve lots of water.

Circle up around the shrine. Get into mood. Grab a glass of water, dip your thumb into it. Let a drop fall of the end of your thumb onto your little shrine. You’ve just let water shed the first tear.

Now your turn has arrived! Start talking about the dead one – introduce them. If necessary, lie about how much they rocked. Tell amazing stories, whether you remember them or not. Make stories up. Paint them as heroic and beautiful as possible. Make up poems about them. Sing songs that tear your heart up. Take turns, bouncing around the circle, everyone trying their hand at beautiful lies, and heart rending expression. Make weeping noises. Really imitate someone in the throes of grief, to the point where you may even begin to lose it yourself. Think about other things that make you sad. Grab your hair and thrash around. Fall on your knees. Get into it! Beat your chest. Cry!

Coaching point: you can kick start the grief maelstrom sometimes by imitating the universal sound of grief, a strange moaning sound, somewhat like “ehhhhhhhhuhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”, with a kind of raspy sound in your throat, and rocking back and forth. Fun!

C’mon! Really get into it!

Egg each other on. See who can get the most into it, the most over-the-top. The game ends when you all feel exhausted.

Extra points for:
Embarrassing moments
Frazzled appearance
Soiled clothing.
Running mascara.
Burning and/or burying photos and possessions of the dead