First Hike of 2012

I have been stuck indoors too much as of late, between book revisions and artwork frenzies. So today we had a warm enough day (in the low 50s) that I decided to venture out to the Gorge for a hike. I had originally intended to do something relatively low-altitude like Triple Falls, since I wasn’t sure how far down the snowline would be out in the Gorge area. However, as I drove further out I didn’t see snow on the lower peaks, and so I decided my first hike of the year should be one of my very favorites–the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop.

Now, I’ve rather out of condition. Up until this past September, I was running 5k three times a week. However, once I graduated with my M.A., I hit the ground running on some creative projects, and unfortunately let the running lapse (though I have been on some hikes in the meantime). So it’s only been in the past couple of weeks that I’ve started to run again, and I’m nowhere near the condition I was before. I was prepared to turn around and go back if necessary. Happily, not only did I make it around the entire loop in three hours, but a lot of my slow-down was due to adjusting my hip pack, taking entirely too many pictures, food/water breaks, etc. I actually did less resting than I normally do, probably due in part to the cooler air, as well as having been cooped up inside too long!

I’ve never done this hike later than late November, when it was still a bit fall-like, and if I recall correctly, sunny and warm. (Autumn likes to stay warm here for a while.) So it was a real treat getting to see what this place is like in full dormancy. The only (not-human and not-dog) animal I saw the entire time was a single female dark-eyed junco in some brush near the end. However, the plant life was incredible! The firs and other conifers were still spreading their branches for sun and mist, and the ferns had nothing left green except their newest fronds, so they were these spectacularly bright green arrays against the dark brown of dead leaves and soil.

One new development was that as I was hiking, and observing everything around me, my mind kept accessing information that I’ve been picking up from science-based TED Talks, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and other videos on YouTube from various scientists. I listen to these and watch what I can while I’m making artwork. Having enriched my store of knowledge about everything from geology to biology to physics and then some, I felt as I hiked that I had more of the backstory to this place I was a part of for that time. It wasn’t distraction, though. Rather, knowing things like just how long the processes of evolution have taken to get to this point only served to make me appreciate my fellow beings more. I could look at the canyons I hiked through and imagine how the rivers and streams had slowly cut down the earth over time, wearing these enormous grooves over thousands and even, in some cases, millions of years. I consciously shared breath with the trees, ferns, moss and other plants in this well of oxygen. I observed the formation of rain clouds in the sky. I knew the fleeting, short lifespan of the little songbird who greeted me so briefly before flitting away and was blessed even more by her presence.

The knowledge of this world is sometimes downplayed for sake of more ethereally “spiritual” interests. One of the points I made in Deep Ancestral Totemism, Part One over at No Unsacred Place is that so much of religion and spirituality is aimed at transcending or otherwise escaping this world, as though it has nothing to offer. The idea is that this world is so flawed that we are encouraged to look to a “perfect” world that comes next. Or, alternately, while we are here we are supposed to transcend and avoid anything of our more animal nature, trying to be “spiritual beings having a physical experience”. And, of course, there’s the very mundane practice of escaping “nature” for the comforts of human technology, which often distracts us from the needs of our bodies, or negates those needs temporarily.

The problem is that so many people are trying to escape the physical realm for various other places that our detachment causes us to take what is physical for granted. Because we can conveniently ignore the world around us, we lose that sense of connectivity. The idea of a polluted river or strip-mined mountain is so distant because most of us in the US don’t have to think about them. And so these actions are allowed to continue unabated because we’re more interested in our selves and our needs and the things that let us continue ignoring, transcending, ignoring, transcending, etc. The more we focus on the mind, too, and virtual reality, and spiritual reality, the more this reality suffers.

So it was a great relief to me to find that the knowledge I had absorbed through modern media had only deepened my connection to the physical Land. I had felt yearnings and appreciations even when I was holed up in my apartment listening to these things, but being out in the wilderness today really confirmed that knowing more = appreciating more.

Anyway–like any good trail, this essay rambles.

My favorite part of the hike was actually the last two miles, coming down the mountain alongside Wahkeena Stream. Why? Because it was raining! I love hiking in the rain, provided it’s not close to freezing. I admit that, selfishly, I like having the trail to myself when possible. But more than that, it reminds me that this area is a rain forest, and to only visit here when it’s clear is to miss out on what truly gives life to this place.

And so that was what grew within me as I hiked, and this is what it became:

Sometimes I think the Northwest is best
When it is being the Pacific Northwet.
The rain soaks into the sun-parched pigments of the soil,
And glazes the fern leaves in a hydrous kiln,
Until all the colors remember themselves more fully.
Even the sky cordially removes his blue cloak,
And gently wraps the sun in a sheet of gray
So that it is the rain forest who shines the most.

You can see more pictures from the hike here.

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Thunderstorms and Wildflowers

(Apologies to those with feeds for the number of pictures lengthening this post.)

Earlier this week, I decreed Wednesday to be “Take a Fucking Hike Already!” day. I haven’t been out as much as I would like as of late, and so in an effort to get more outdoor time as well as make myself some schedule self-care time, I decided to take one afternoon every week for extensive hiking or similar outdoor endeavors. I headed out to Washington to Catherine Creek, which I had heard has absolutely beautiful wildflowers this time of year (or so said the author of the Portland edition of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles). I also recently replaced my old, dying camera with a refurbished Lumix care of Woot.com, and though it’s proven its worth in photographing my artwork, I wanted to see how it did with nature photography.

So I jumped in my car Wednesday morning and headed out into the Gorge. Even in the middle of the week, the parking lot at the trailhead was almost entirely full, though it has capacity for about fifteen cars before you start parking on the grass. The day was absolutely brilliant–sunny, upper 60’s, some breeze from the west. I got my gear (such as it was) situated, and headed on up the trail.

Now, I had had the intention of hiking the entire 4.1 mile loop. However, my progress ended up being significantly slower than I had intended because I kept finding really pretty things to take pictures of. Before I even got to the trailhead, in fact, I had already pulled over to the side of the road to take pictures of some poppies:

And then there were mossy carpets spiked with bitterroot:

Plus some verdant young oak leaves:

And pine trees, both live…

…and long dead…

Never mind the tadpoles.

And the turkey vultures.

As I proceeded up the ridge, I had a great vantage point to see a massive array of dark clouds coming up over the mountains to the southeast. At first I figured they would most likely pass by to the north and east of where I was. However, the wind shifted, and I began to worry as they started my way.

It wasn’t until I heard thunder, though, that I decided that being up on an exposed ridge was a great way to become a headline; “Hiker killed by lightning strike”, while it sounds less dramatic than it probably would be, is not what I’d like my last word in this world to be.

So I made my retreat back down the trail, only having made it a little over a mile up in the first place. The rain started to fall just as I got to my car, and so I headed back west toward Portland and sunnier skies.

This hike really exemplified postindustrial humanity’s relationship with nature in a very basic nutshell. Human being goes out with shiny technology to take a particular slice of nature back with her. Bigger, scarier and much more uncontrollable slice of nature thwarts nicely planned activities. Retreat ensues. Unlike many people, though, I didn’t see it as a waste of time or a reason to curse the storm. I was grateful for the time I got out on the ridge, and was rather philosophical about not having any control whatsoever about the storm coming in and changing anything. If anything, I felt fortunate that I had enough time to get off the ridge and to my car safely, and that I got to see a phenomenon that’s pretty rare on my side of the Cascades (I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard thunder in Portland, which is entirely different from my experiences growing up in the Midwest!).

And I did get a poem out of it, too:

Catherine Creek, 5/18/2011 – by Lupa

Stem-threads bow their heads;
The ladies hold their hats against the wind.
The sun yields to massive paws
Of a bear rumbling across the ridge.
Only the birds are defiant:
Ravens pick at wet, grey fur;
Vultures ride the warm breath;
Swallows look no further than their brush.

Still Not Dead

Though you might not know it from how seldom I post here. I’m still spending more time in the outdoors than anything else as far as my spirituality goes–that and still working with the skins and bones.

The thing is, for the past six months I’ve been going through that tear-down and rebuild process yet again, except it’s even more drastic and bare-bones than when I did it a little over three years ago when I started this blog. I had thought I had stripped my spiritual self naked back then. How little I suspected how much I had left to tear away.

I’m not entirely sure what things will look like for me in another six months, or another twelve. I don’t know how much my practice will resemble what I left off in the spring when this need to tear apart and rebuild came upon me so strongly that I had to act on it. My worldview has shifted so immensely, and yet I’m just nowhere near ready to talk about it yet. Not much, anyway. This is sort of my first attempt, maybe a pre-attempt.

So. I’ve still been hiking a lot, and going out to the coast, and taking my lover out into the Gorge. I’m still running a few times a week, which gets me out under the sky even when I’m too busy to do so otherwise. While ecopsychology isn’t as much of a part of my practice in my practicum as I thought it might be, it still has its own burner. I’m painting a bit more, too. Especially plants. For some reason, the flora of the Pacific Northwest have captured my imagination in my art, particularly my personal, private art. “I am a creature of conifers, ferns, and thick, green moss” indeed.

I’m almost afraid to write this, for fear it will become crystallized and stagnant by being placed into words. But the first thing that really seems to have coalesced into a statement of meaning is the phrase “In relation to”. On Halloween/Samhain, the day before my birthday, I went out to hike Drift Creek Falls. It’s my third year, but my first year going solo. Along with being an opportunity for a rite of passage leaving behind the last vestiges of what used to be married life, and back into a stronger singledom, it also ended up providing a valuable experience in getting to the core of meaning for me.

One of the problems I have–well, sometimes it’s a problem–is that it’s hard to get my mind to shut up. I’ve never been good with “sit down and be quiet” forms of meditation. I can do them, but I don’t like them, and I normally don’t get a lot out of them. However, I was getting frustrated on my hike because I so often found myself spacing out and missing the place I was in while my mind was floating off in a dozen different directions. “How often did I get to come to this place?” I thought. “I shouldn’t waste my time here thinking about things that concern me back in Portland!”

So I decided to just shut the thoughts off. It took a little effort, but it wasn’t more than a few moments before I was able to clear my mind. The result was both startling and telling. My physical spatial awareness snapped into sharp focus. I became very aware of where I was with respect to every tree, stone and animal I could perceive within my vision, and I had a sudden sense of space that put me firmly within my environment. Things that I normally screened out, such as the subtle movement of my visual field as I walked, became more apparent. I became present in a way I very rarely get to experience.

I realized that this feeling I was having through conscious effort of clearing my mind in this specific environment was the same feeling I got when struck with wonder by a particularly beautiful wild place. Only instead of having to be smacked over the head by the experience to actually pay attention, I was allowing it in. And I felt that sense of connection with everything else that is at the core of so much that I think and do. I don’t go throughout my day with a constant sense of that connection, but I remember enough of the times that I have experienced it that the memory is enough to motivate my actions and decisions. My choice to buy recycled paper products, for example, is directly a result of feeling connected to trees that could be cut down for pulp, even if I am not feeling that connection at the very moment I am purchasing toilet paper made from 100% recycled office paper content.

And that sense of connection has always been at the heart of meaning and wonder for me. I don’t believe I’ve ever felt it so purely, though, without the trappings of religion and paganism and shamanism and spirituality. All those things? All those are abstractions of that feeling. This is not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with emanations and symbols.

But one thing I have had many conversations with my lover about is how often people mistake the map for the territory. Therioshamanism, my forays into chaos magic, my extensive explorations with animal totemism–all of these are maps. The maps are meant to help describe the territory of the experience with the world around me, particularly but certainly not exclusively those wild places that are such pure wellsprings of meaning for me.

And I think that’s perhaps where I…well, I won’t say I went wrong, because I don’t believe there are wrong things in spiritual exploration, only meandering and detours and “this is where you happen to be right now”. But I think three years ago I was also searching for the territory without having the map in the way, and I just didn’t quite get as much of the map out of my perception. And now I’m much closer to experiencing the territory for itself.

Hiking in the forest, with my awareness of that place and my place within that place–that is the purest spiritual experience I have had. More than Otherworld journeying that takes me out of an important layer of myself. More than rituals that are supposedly in “a world between worlds”. More than gods of the forest, spirits of the forest, I connected with the forest.

“In relation to.” That is the key phrase. I am just rediscovering where I am in relation to everything else. I am going without my expectations that there are fairies in the bottom of the garden, and without anything other than my own perceptions. Let me see what I perceive there, without what I’ve been told by years of pagan books and festivals and rituals and networkings what should be there.

Let me make my own map in relation to the territory, and let me not mistake the map for the territory.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, Part 2

Eeep. So this was a little later than “tomorrow”. But better late than never.

So I didn’t really get a chance to talk about the big OMGSPIRITUALEXPERIENCE I had when I was out on the wilderness therapy (WT) retreat. One of the tools used in WT is the “solo”, which is basically the really short, really watered-down version of what non-indigenous people assume to be a “vision quest”, though the WT people I was with were well aware of the cultural issues, etc. Anyway, a solo happens late in a WT experience (which generally will take anywhere from a few days to a couple of months, depending on the program). It’s long enough for the individual person to have had a lot of experience not only with practical wilderness skills and teambuilding, but also to reflect on the problems encountered both in the backcountry, and in the setting that person left behind. The solo itself is where the person gets left in a particular spot for a matter of a few hours to a few days to have that time to hirself for reflection. After, there’s a period of time for reintegration back into the WT group, followed by transition back to the life left behind.

My solo was only a few hours, appropriate for a four-day retreat. We hiked up West Hardy Ridge, going about three and a half miles one way, with roughly 2,000 feet elevation, at a pace of about 3mph average. It’s rough, rocky terrain, especially higher up on the ridge, so it wasn’t easy going. In fact, it’s the toughest hike I’ve done to date; we didn’t stop for breaks, and my pack was about a fifth of my body weight since I took a lot of water to account for the 90+ degree heat.

Honestly, there were a few times where I seriously considered just sitting down on the trail and not going any further. I’m in good physical condition, but the many factors wearing at me combined to create a really tough challenge. I have a tendency to get frustrated when things go beyond a certain level of difficulty. But I did recognize that I was getting frustrated, and I was able to take a step back and observe myself in that frustration–and I was able to tell myself that it would pass, and that I had a goal worth going for. So I worked through the frustration, while acknowledging that I felt it, something nearly unprecedented for me (and also an important step in my Elk work).

We made it to the top of the ridge, and we were then escorted to our individual spots. I ended up getting a really choice one, a rock slide overlooking the Columbia River, surrounded by small conifers and underbrush. Granted, the rocks were all small, to the point where I really had nowhere comfortable to sit, and I had to secure my gear to keep it from sliding down the ridge. But other than that? Excellent place.

I took a little time to settle in, getting some water and food, and letting myself rest. Then I took in my surroundings in brief, just to get some orientation for where I was. My clearing was about fifteen feet wide, and the slide itself was roughly fifty feet long from the top of the ridge to where the brush began again.

Then I started thinking about how I should spend my time there. Should I do work with Bear, who had been wanting my time and attention? I’d brought my drum, after all, since it’s not heavy at all and hooks onto my pack nicely. Should I meditate? Should I try talking to the Land? I tried for the lattermost option, opening myself up and expecting a dialogue. Instead, the Land simply kept telling me to look at the plants. So I did. Though I didn’t know most of them, I took the time to study them in detail, how they grew together in layers from the ground up, and how I was surprised by how many deciduous trees there were mixed in there. Then I looked at the stones around me, and the fallen logs. And then I noted the animals, who are normally the ones I notice first.

First came the flies–not biting flies, thankfully, but sort of housefly-types. At first I shooed them away when they landed on my skin, and they persisted. But then I saw that what they wanted was my sweat–there wasn’t any water nearby, so moisture must have come at a premium on that hot day. So, exercising patience again, I let them land on me and drink their fill, even though it tickled, and there was part of me conditioned to feel revulsion at having “dirty” flies touching me. But once they were done, they left me alone for the rest of the time.

Much of my company was flies, a few spiders and other arthropods. However, I ended up with an awesome spot for birdwatching. I startled a scrub jay who was about to come in for a landing on a tree next to me, but then thought better of it after seeing me. There were some swallows (not sure of the exact species) flying overhead, and of course I heard the occasional raven. Later on, a quartet of turkey vultures came flying overhead, harried by a peregrine falcon (the falcons nest nearby on Beacon Rock). And then at one point I heard the “keeeeeer” of a bald eagle, and was fortunate to stand up quickly enough see a mature adult cruising parallel with the river, fifty feet away at the most!

What I realized in all this is that I saw so many things I would have missed if I hadn’t sat down to be patient. I have a tendency to be an impatient person, hence my common frustration. Being out in the woods like that, settling down quietly for a space of hours, showed me one of the many rewards of patience. In fact, this was a really good trip for Elk work in that vein. I had ample opportunities to experience the natural challenges associated with being in the wilderness and to face my own behavior patterns that came up as a result. And I came away with some good lessons.

I also actually got to do my first sort of “official” shamanic work on behalf of others. I know the human-based portion of my shamanic work has largely focused on myself and making myself a better vessel for this sort of thing, but I’m starting (finally!) to get to the point where I can do work for other people. It wasn’t anything too elaborate; one of the instructors for the course asked me to drum as part of the preparatory ceremony before we started out on our hike. (Ecopsychology doesn’t equal animism, but ecopsychologists do strongly draw on animistic practices in a secular context, such as the role of ritual.) So I very briefly explained the importance of my drum and what I was about to do, and told people that I would be calling on Horse, Deer and Elk, and that they were welcome to ask any/all of them for their guidance and protection on our “journey”, such as it was. And then I drummed while one of the instructors smudged all the participants with sage picked in eastern Oregon before we got going.

I’ve done some work since then, but I’m not ready to talk about it just yet. Needless to say, things seem to be evolving more as I’m coming back to my practice more actively. But my wilderness therapy excursion was a definite turning point.

Self-Applied Ecotherapy

Taylor and I went out to the coast today. Our main destination was the trail to Drift Creek Falls, near Lincoln City. It was a lovely hike, and we made sure to detour up the North Loop to the old growth forest there.

Most of the forest, though, is newer growth, recovering from clearcutting in the timber industry. It was very easy to tell when we segued from the new growth to old growth. The most obvious sign, of course, was that the trees were much bigger, and spaced further apart. However, the underbrush, with multiple species of ferns, younger hemlock trees, salmonberry, and other smaller plants, was more varied than in the newer growth. The entire forest had a more completed look to it, more balanced to the eye. Conversely, the new growth had a bunch of trees mostly of the same age (no more than a few decades), a mix of hemlock and birch, and the undergrowth was mostly thick with ferns and other low-growing plants, and didn’t have a very well-developed middle layer with small trees.

On our trip down, I’d had a pretty rough day emotionally. I’ve been starting to wrestle with one of the deepest-seated pieces of bad conditioning in my head: perfectionism. The very short version of this is that I am incredibly hard on myself and push myself to reach impossible standards as a defense mechanism against criticism. I grew up with a lot of abuse from peers, and have continued to encounter people in my adulthood for whom it’s perfectly acceptable to emotionally abuse another person under the guise of being rightfully angry for some wrong that was done–even unintentionally. (It’s a pattern I’ve fallen into myself, but that’s a story for another time…) Anyway, what’s happened is that I learned to try and avoid this abuse of power through self-criticism, essentially trying to make an offering of emotional self-abuse in an attempt to placate anyone who might have been affected by a mistake I made, even one that was accidental. I just assumed that it was acceptable for others to react violently and aggressively when angry, disappointed, or frustrated, never mind the effect it had on me. Shouldn’t I be hurt, since I was the one who fucked up? Don’t we already live in a punitive society anyway, and doesn’t this fit that?

It’s only been recently that I’ve been coming to accept just how unhealthy this is all around, not just the coping mechanism I’ve adapted, but the abusive behavior in people in general. In the former, it’s a matter of harming the self emotionally for unnecessary reasons; my partner S. made the point that instead of tearing myself up, I need to be my best ally, since I have the most invested in my well-being. Therefore, I need to not be so mean to myself. And with the latter, the punitive behavior in others, just because a particular behavior is common doesn’t make it healthy. If I’m screwed up due to others’ revenge-seeking, and using others’ mistakes as an opportunity to blow off unrelated steam, or to otherwise ignore the effects their “righteous” anger has, I can’t be the only one with such scars.

And I was thinking about all this as I was hiking through that forest today, starting with the young growth, and then looping back into the old growth. I identified with the forest as I walked; here are the parallels:

–My emotional health and well-being is like the trees and other plants in the forest. They can be damaged, but the healing takes time, and more damage takes more time to heal. The most substantial parts of the forest, the trees, take the longest to recover.

–The demand for wood products, beyond what can be healthily supplied, is analogous to the demands of other people for emotional response from me beyond what is healthy for me to give. Forests are resources that can be sustainably drawn upon; so are emotions. Take too much, and you cause imbalance.

–Therefore, clearcutting the trees to maximize the immediate profit at the expense of long-term forest health is analogous to my tearing myself apart emotionally to procure a seemingly acceptable offering in the moment at the expense of my long-term emotional health.

–The young growth forest is analogous to the part that grows back to an extent, but historically has periodically been clearcut over and over again to make offerings to meet external demands. The old growth forest is the core that reminds me of what it was like to be emotionally healthy, and what I can be again, given enough time.

I can put the emotional clearcutting to a stop. But it will take time beyond that to allow the forest inside to regain old growth status. I looked at the young part of the forest today, and I saw that it was just beginning to really remember what how to be a forest; hopefully it’s protected now, since it’s a popular place to hike. The old part of the forest contained enough seeds of pioneer species to recolonize the land that had been ravaged by the timber industry and help the growth start anew. And I have, at the core of my being, memory of what it is to be healthy and whole. The pioneer species may not be as sturdy or long-lasting as trees, but they pave the way. As long as I respect my emotional space and give it the time it needs to recover, I can move beyond that disruptive, harmful pattern of emotional clearcutting.

Hiking Near Mt. Hood

Today Tay and I went hiking out near Mt. Hood, on Barlow Trail. This was a new-to-us trail, and one that was recommended as light traffic and not too difficult in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland. Actually, half our hike was on Barlow, and the other half was a detour towards Upper Twin Lake. We really, thoroughly, and truly enjoyed this hike. Despite it being one of the busiest hiking days of the year, and despite the fact that Mirror Lake, just a few miles away, was packed to the gills, we ran into less than a dozen people the entire time we were out there.

It was a six mile hike, three in and three out, and we averaged two miles an hour (though that was including the times we stopped to rest). The weather was absolutely perfect, sunny and upper 70s. The trails were actually pretty level a good bit of the way, and the inclines were easy, no scary, steep switchbacks. While there were occasional rocks and roots in the trail, and a few fallen logs, it was smooth hiking otherwise.

We encountered a pretty decent variety of wildlife. We saw a number of small toads, some greyish-brown, one reddish-brown, and one a lovely leaf-green. I was a bit surprised as we weren’t near any source of water, but I suppose the condensation at night is enough to keep them happy, and toads aren’t as water-dependent as frogs. We also saw a tiny little baby snake, dark dusty brown with lighter brown stripes down the sides and a rounded, non-poisonous head–no more than six inches long! We heard and saw several ravens; I forget just how big they get. No one who has ever seen a raven will ever mistake a crow for one again, that’s for sure. We also startled a lone elk; we both heard it bounding down the mountainside, and Tay caught a glimpse before it disappeared into the trees. There was a single Douglas squirrel on our way out, and a nesting osprey on the Columbia River on our drive home. And, of course, there were numerous blackflies and mosquitoes, who greeted me with “Mmmm, you’re the best thing I’ve seen all day!”

I really need to go through the stack of field guides I was given recently to try and identify some of the plants I saw, too. I know I saw lots and lots of wild strawberries; they were just blooming, and if I were to show up in a few weeks no doubt there’d be fruit (or empty stems, depending on how popular they were!). I know a conifer when I see one, and I’m pretty sure I know which one is Western hemlock, but I couldn’t point out a Douglas fir from a lineup. Clearly I’m not enough of a Northwesterner yet. I can identify cinquefoils, though (five petals!). And I knew that the puffball-looking mushroom near the destroying angels was probably not a safe bet to eat.

As I was walking, I saw numerous hoofprints from horses, the U-shaped imprints from the steel shoes embedded in the dry earth. I imagined the sound of the hooves striking the hard-packed dirt, and while my own feet were too soft, I could thump the ground with my walking stick and pretend. On our way out, not three minutes after I remarked to Tay that we hadn’t seen anyone on the Twin Lakes trail, three riders passed us. The first two were on large brown mules; the third was on a skittish, stocky, short-legged red bay mare who looked to have some pre-Thoroughbred Quarter Horse in her. Tay and I stood to the side of the trail and let them pass.

We really enjoyed the hike, and we intend to go back again at least a few times this year. If we hadn’t been getting chewed to pieces by the bugs (having unwisely not worn any repellent) by the time we hit Upper Twin Lake, we could have added another few miles to the hike, looped down around Lower Twin Lake, and then come back around to Twin Lakes Trail and back down Barlow. So we’ll be doing that another time. Plus there are numerous other trails that branched off from Barlow and Twin Lakes, and plenty of exploring to do. (And maybe next time I’ll remember the camera so I can get some pictures!)

While right now we’re day hikers, eventually I want to collect the right equipment for packing-in camping. Barlow Trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail, which attracts a lot of hardcore hikers who will walk it for weeks at a time. I’m nowhere near that point, but I want this year to at least be one where I get more experience with camping. Even if we don’t do the pack-in thing this year, I do want to spend more nights outdoors.

An Update!

So obviously my posting frequency here has gone down significantly since I started school. My initial reaction when I realized I hadn’t posted in a while was to try and justify my absence. However, that also brought up a recent spiritual experience that I had. I’ve been feeling pretty guilty about really slacking off on journeying and other more “officially” spiritual practices and rituals. I’ve been making my usual observations of the world around me and everyday meaning-making exercises, as well as my usual awareness of my decisions and their impact–and, of course, continuing with school. However, I haven’t really drummed in months. And so my usual pattern was “Feel guilty about not journeying/etc. –> Tell myself that I’ll do it soon –> Not address the underlying barriers keeping me from accomplishing my goal –> Feel even more guilty” (wash, rinse, repeat).

So a few weeks back I was hiking on Mount Hood with Taylor, and had a bit of a discussion with the Animal Father about this whole situation while there. I went in bemoaning the fact that I’d been a slacker, and essentially poured forth all the diatribes I’d been heaping on myself because of it. And when I was done, this is what he told me: “Adjustment is going to be a constant state for you”. This startled me, because he’s been one of the biggest proponents of me journeying on a regular basis. And while the last time I went a few months without journeying he told me he didn’t want it to happen again, he explained that it was pretty apparent that as things stood right then, that just wasn’t going to happen–and that it wasn’t the end of the world.

That made me feel a lot better. I think part of what was keeping me from journeying was fear that the spirits would be displeased at my long absence. Since that conversation, though, I’ve checked in at a few crucial points, and while there’s a desire to connect, there’s also patience with my current situation, and understanding that it won’t always be this way–and that adjustment will indeed always be something that’s a reality in my exceptionally busy life.

This goes along with a greater effort on my part to change the way I approach doing things. I am a recovering workaholic, and my time management involves me pushing myself as hard as I can until I either reach the point of short-term burnout, or someone (usually, though not always Taylor) pokes me and says “Hey, this needs to stop–it’s causing problems”. This isn’t as productive as it sounds.

The thing is, though, it wasn’t until I stopped the guilt cycle that I started making actual change. Pushing myself less and pacing myself more realistically has been a process, rather than an event, and while it’s been slow, I have noticed changes. I’m better at reminding myself when I begin to feel stressed about my ever-present to-do list that “Things will happen in their own time”. And I’ve finally, finally, finally been able to find effective strategies for cutting down on useless internet time and creating more time to actually do things away from the computer.

So there will continue to be a smaller flow of posts than there was a year ago–and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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ETA: Just wanted to add in this link to some thoughts over on my LJ that touch on some relevant topics here.

In other news, Scrub Jay and Stellar’s Jay have stepped (flapped?) forward to offer their aid in helping me connect with the Land and learn more about it. Scrub Jay seems to be more of a help with urban areas, whereas Stellar’s primarily aids with wilderness, though these are not hard and fast divisions. These are the settings where I see them the most, respectively. They help me in that whenever I see one of their children, it’s a reminder to me to be aware of the Land–not just in that moment, but as much as possible. It has helped; I finally remembered to pick up a couple of field guides for local plant life from PaperBackSwap.

I’ve been gardening again this year. Unlike last year, where it was containers only, I have a big planter box and a few extra patches of dirt, along with all the containers and a few extras. I also have slugs. And ants. And other critters vying for space and food. Plus the weeds. So this year’s gardening has been an object lesson in the balance between my own needs, and understanding that if I’m going to respect Nature, I have to respect it when it’s eating my garden. I still pull up the weeds, and I have beer traps out for the slugs until I can get my hands on enough copper wire/coffee grounds/egg shells to act as a deterrent, but I’m also aware that these are not just beings to take for granted as I do so.

I’ve also just begun to read Ecotherapy: Healing With Nature in Mind, an anthology edited by Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist. While I’ve got a pretty good handle on ecopsychology in theory, I want more on the practical applications thereof, and while my ecotherapy class last semester was excellent, there’s only so much you can fit into a couple of weekends. Also, here’s an article on ecopsychology in the local paper, and here’s the very first peer-reviewed journal of ecopsychology, first issue available for free online.

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Speaking of that, Chas Clifton posted a bit on ecopsychology, including a link to my last post on bioregionalism and the genius locii. Specifically, he observes that “But as an overarching concept…ecopsychology does not seem to have caught fire except in a low-level therapeutic way: ‘Gardening makes you feel better’.” Since my response is longer than my average reply, and it’s something that I thought would make a good topic for here anyway, I decided I’d write out my thoughts in this post.

Ecopsychology, not quite two decades from its initial inception as a cohesive concept as per Roszak et. al., is still quite a niche topic. I’ve had a good deal of exposure to it, but I also go to one of the most liberal schools in one of the most liberal American cities. I’m still finding out that not all psych grad programs are based in client-centered practices (which sometimes causes something akin to culture shock on my part), so I’m not surprised to consider that it’s very likely that something so nontraditional isn’t widespread in less liberal areas/schools/practices/etc.

One of the reasons I’m glad I got the ecotherapy anthology mentioned above is that we do need more practical applications of ecopsychology. What’s most commonly seen are either wilderness therapy retreats, or as was mentioned, therapists telling their patients to get outside more. What needs to happen, I think, is discussion of more ways to integrate ecopsychology into an actual clinical practice.

During the ecotherapy class, we discussed including questions about the environment in intake questionnaires; for example, “Are there any natural places that you feel close to?” or “Do you ever feel anxious about environmental issues?” Sadly, issues like these often don’t get brought up in more conventional therapy because it’s assumed that people don’t really feel emotions like grief for the environment, either on a small or large scale. One of the sadly ironic jokes that gets passed around is:

Client: I feel so upset about the environment; it makes me want to cry. I think I might be depressed because I’m worried about global warming, and species extinction, and just how big the problem is!
Therapist: So, tell me about your mother…

Another area where I see potential for more work is in addressing how environmentalists (and others)communicate information about issues. My instructor does a good bit of work with local activists; one of the points he (and other ecopsychologists) make is that guilt doesn’t work–and yet this is the tactic that activists have been using for decades. Guilt turns most people away, and often leads to counterproductive reactions (such as this new creation by Mike Judge, pointed out on Clifton’s blog–ouch!). While environmentalists may not intend to come across as holier-than-thou, because the messages we’re given to pass on are so often guilt-laden, it can be hard to avoid being otherwise.

In order to do this, we need to learn better forms of conveying our concerns. And this is where ecopsychology’s flexibility supports the relevance of numerous topics. One of my classes this semester is Communicating With Compassion; the textbook we’re using is Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. I just finished reading it today, and the class will be this weekend. Needless to say, I’ve picked up a lot of skills that are perfectly suited for not only being a better communicator on environmental issues myself, but that I can potentially use to help clients and others get away from the guilt-speak.

Ecopsychology isn’t a single model of therapy in the same way that, say, cognitive behavioral or client-centered therapies are. It’s more a way to approach all of these therapies, in that along with the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual levels of one’s psyche, there’s also the layer that resonates and responds to the environment one is in. This has often been seen in very narrow contexts, such as “home environment”, “work environment”, etc. (and can be studied in that respect in the field of environmental psychology). And because ecopsychology is a fairly amorphous field, not having tightened up into a rigid set of definitions, there are a number of things that could be considered “ecopsychology” that may not have that label on them, but which fit in anyway.

So I think ecopsychology, while it is still a niche, is a more powerful force than it may seem outside of that circle of folks who are immediately developing and utilizing it. Part of the solution to its low profile is defining more clearly what ecopsychology is or isn’t (and not cutting ourselves off from valuable resources in the process). Additionally, we need to be able to show even more that it has practical relevance, especially when managed care and other such forces continue to make CBT and other results-oriented, short-term therapies practically mandatory in some contexts where they may not be the most appropriate tools. I believe these will go a long way in helping to make it a more widespread and viable part of discourse and practice on psychology and therapy.