2012 has been a year of travel for me, both for business and pleasure; nothing out of the country, and mostly staying along the West Coast. But I’ve been all the way through California on I-5 and 101, in new portions of Oregon I haven’t visited before, and even to the Texas thornbush country.
Each of these places has its own distinct ecosystem, and resident land spirits/Genius Locii. And crossing their boundaries can be a more complicated experience than a simple road trip.
There are places I have gone into that have welcomed me immediately. The portion of the Columbia River Gorge around Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls took me in as soon as I set foot there, and I’ve had that repeated all throughout the Gorge. On the other hand, the deserts of Texas were a tough sell. Their spirits matched the prickly, thorny, dry landscape–my greeting when I first set foot on the dirt was a sharp, prickly burr in my shoe, and the land felt similarly offputting.
I grew to be more comfortable there, though, even though it was a short visit. And I’ve managed to integrate myself into other places even in brief periods of time. I spoke earlier in the year, over at No Unsacred Place, about the philosophy of my approach to this sort of Land work. Here, I want to get more into the practical side of it.
Just as a note, this may not be suitable for beginning practitioners. It involves opening yourself up to new energies and spirits, so this is recommended for those who feel confident in their ability to defend themselves and maintain their energetic integrity. In all my years of connecting to wild places I’ve not had a horribly bad experience that left me out of balance. The worst was living in Seattle for a year, and that was more just a matter of it being too big a city for my tastes–I still appreciate a visit now and then. Still, having the ability to not let a place “eat” you, as it were, is a must for this activity.
The first step, not surprisingly, is to be open to the Land. The manner in which we approach the spirits of a place can have a very strong influence on how we’re received. While I understand that there are people who find certain places to be very hostile, I do have to wonder how many times it’s because we expect, on some level, for it to be hostile in the first place. On certain levels, yes, a place can kill you. If you go into a deep wilderness unprepared, you may end up dead. And I don’t think that having a good relationship with the land spirits will automatically get you an easy out in an emergency; they may just be sadder if you die.
But before you even get out of the car or step off the plane or train, meditate about your biases about the place you’re going. Do you have any negative attitudes about it, either because of the natural ecosystem or the human society? If you just get “a bad feeling”, can you pinpoint why? Even if you do get that feeling, leave yourself open anyway (if a little more cautiously).
When you have the opportunity, spend some time connecting to the place. This is best done on foot rather than in a vehicle, and with enough time that you can go at your own pace. I’ve gone for hikes in new places, sat at the edge of the ocean, and even gone for a run through a farm-lined suburb. The important thing is to be able to make that physical connection and to not be too concerned about time limitations. Here’s the basic process I go through.
–First, go out into the place at a point where it’s relatively safe on a physical level, taking your outdoor skills into account. Know where you’ll be going and how to get back. If you want to take someone with you, make sure they know why you’re going out.
–Next, start your walk/hike/etc.–your introductory journey. As you go, open yourself spiritually to the place. Take in the ambient energy of the place, and start to shift your energy to match. This may not be an easy or quick process; it can take time to “shapeshift” in this manner, and you may feel some unease, especially if it’s a very unfamiliar territory. Give yourself time and patience to adjust. If at any point you feel too uncomfortable to continue, simply shift yourself back to your baseline state; if you’re having difficulty with that, turn back and try again another time.
–Once you feel your energy has shifted to match the place, start seeing if any of the local spirits seem interested in you. You may just be seen as a temporary inconvenience, or you may be a curiosity. I’ve rarely found anything that was openly hostile, especially after blending myself into the landscape. Interact as you both/all choose.
–You may wish to let the Land itself, the Genius Locii of the place, know that you are there, and how long you will be there. You may also wish to discuss protocol for the next time you come through. Some places may not care one way or the other; others may wish for a small offering, or at least a heads-up upon your arrival. If a place is hostile toward you, it doesn’t mean you can never, ever, ever come back. It just may mean that you need to shield more heavily when you’re there, or try more diplomacy.
–If the Land accepts you, it may make an offering of a small gift to you, such as a small stone or stick. Assuming you’re in a place where it’s legal to take such things (many state and federal parks and other lands prohibit it), graciously accept the gift, and give it an honored place in your home. You can even create a place altar specifically for these connecting items.
–You may also wish to leave an offering to the Land. My preference is a small lock of hair, as it’s biodegradable and it infuses my energy into the place. Water also works as a gift, especially in deserts and other dry places. Make sure you don’t leave anything that could be toxic to the environment such as metals or nonbiodegradable chemicals. I also don’t recommend leaving food; many of the things we eat aren’t good for wildlife (such as giving bread to ducks and other birds) and it can encourage wildlife to associate humans with food, which almost always goes badly for the wildlife.
These are just some basic steps to connecting with a new place. Details for each place may arise as you spend more time in them. And don’t be surprised if your relationship with a place changes over time, especially if the place itself is changed. The second patch of woods I played in as a child used to be a happy, welcoming place. After it was mostly bulldozed for yet another new sprawling subdivision, the remains of it now push me away every time I visit, not wanting me to get hurt the way it did.
Keep in mind, too, that this is just the introduction. Anywhere you go, the Land is full of many beings, physical and spiritual. Some of them you may grow fond of; others you may learn to avoid. But always, always go in with respect and appreciation; these things will serve you well in your explorations.
And finally, just a quick bread-and-butter note–if you liked this post, I cover more ways to connect to the land, and especially the animal totems thereof, in the Bioregional Totemism chapter in my newest book, New Paths to Animal Totems, which just came out from Llewellyn Publications. I have copies on hand if you want one signed directly from me–details at the link above.