Molly & Owen Climb the Mountain

“Molly, what’s going on with you?” asked Owen, stepping into her office and firmly closing the door. “You seem distracted and vague. I’ve never heard you snap at your staff the way you have this morning. What’s up, Pal? You can’t hide your energy from a Medicine Circle mate who’s known you as long as I have.”

Molly glared at Owen. He’d come to drop off his recycling and check out the pile of trim wood that had appeared from an old beach cabin somebody’s crew was demolishing. Then he’d hung around, helping sort and stack other material that had just come in. She should have known he was picking up on something. “Umm. Errrr…”

“Come on. Out with it. Something is bothering you and it’s not just the usual. You go into focused overdrive when things here hassle you….” His voice trailed off as tears began to roll down her cheeks. Reaching out, he enfolded her short round body next to his heart. The floodgates opened and she sobbed from deep down in her belly.

It was a long time before she could get any words out. “My breasts…. Raphael Turner – the new doc – is worried…. I could see it in his face though he tried not to show it…. wants me to go get checked out by a surgeon…. but I can’t get an appointment for weeks…. It’ll probably be okay. But, Owen, what if it’s not??” Molly wailed.

Owen pulled away from her and looked into her eyes, now swollen and red from crying. “There’s a lot we can do right away. I’d say some serious healing sessions are in order no matter what is going on. You’ve known for a while, haven’t you?” She nodded guiltily. “Here’s a clean hankie. Just washed this morning. I’m thinking sweat lodge, a healer’s circle, and a little time off. Hmm? Do you want to write the emails or do you want me to?”

“Can’t we just do it without telling anybody?”

“We could but you know how powerfully the magic begins to work the instant you ask for help. You’re always saying that to other people,” he reminded her gently. “It’s different when it’s your own self, isn’t it.” She nodded again. “Let’s start by climbing the Mountain. When was the last time you did that?” He knew full well it had been ages. She hadn’t even shown up for the annual Scorpio birthday climb last week.

“Today?? But, but….”

“Gabe and the others are here. It’s a quiet off-season day. They can handle everything and you know it. Healing means changing your patterns. And I say playing hooky is a great way to start!”

 

Molly and Owen wound their way up the familiar trail. There were still a few yellowed leaves on the alder and cascara branches but most were down in soggy clumps at the sides of the trail. The spruce and hemlock overhead were dripping in plops now and then, though no rain was falling at the moment. Off in the distance a raven called.

“It really is good to be have finally told somebody,” she thought, huffing a little. She was in good shape from bicycling to work and her weekly sanity-keeping yoga class, not to mention running around at ReBound, but going uphill always added a new challenge. And she was still sorta overweight no matter how much she exercised. She wished she could be like folks she knew who climbed the Mountain every morning or at least once a week. “Stop it!” she told herself. Maybe chiding herself was something else she could change. She had her first glimmer of the positive possibilities of her situation.

They stopped at the first spot where they could look out over the long stretch of the spit between ocean and bay. The layers of mountains wandered off to the east and southeast. Below them, nestled in the dunes beyond a mile or so of scattered houses was ReBound. Her dump. “Actually sort of a scar in the dunes,” she thought wryly noting the metal pole buildings standing out starkly. Though clouds were hovering over most of the landscape below, a swath of sunlight glinted off the roof and the various piles were all too obvious to her, though a stranger probably wouldn’t have noticed the detail. Her mind began to stress about all that she wasn’t doing down there….

“Molly,” said Owen quietly. “Come back. We’re here on the Mountain. The wild ginger patch is just beyond the next bend and I have another more crusty friend I want to show you.”

Molly sighed and turned to follow him. “What am I going to do? If I’m sick…. even if I’m not sick…. Something tells me this is a turning point and I can’t keep on the way I have been.”

“It’s a very stressful job,” Owen agreed. “It’s made mincemeat of everyone else who works there and no one takes it home quite the way you do. I’ve felt for a while that you’ve been in denial about the toll it takes on you. What I keep getting is that Cancer often comes from the stress of needing to get out of something.” Owen spoke the C-word out loud for the first time. “Not everyone agrees with me but Uri and I have been talking about how it can be a guilt free way to ‘fly the coop.’ Like, ‘I’ve ‘caught’ this dread disease, I can’t do it – whatever ‘it’ is – anymore.’ I learned from Susan’s death that breast cancer seems to be from not taking care of yourself, nurturing everyone else first. Of course, there are environmental issues too. What about all the chemicals and shit you are exposed to all the time. I’m sure you guys handle various mystery hazards from once in a while.”

“Not often, but yeah, sometimes. And my brothers and I played in DDT when we were kids. We used to ride our bikes behind the truck when they sprayed for mosquitoes in the 50’s. And I don’t always eat very healthily.”

Her mind spiraled again but Owen, in tune, caught her again. “Try not to go into guilt about whatever you’ve done or not done. That’s not very constructive.”

They were quiet for a while moving over roots, little drainage gullies and animal holes, always upward. When they headed up along the section that turned north around the east side of the Mountain, the trees got taller and the understory more uniform in height. Owen paused at the base of a particularly large hemlock. The now leafless huckleberry and thimbleberry grew tall among the salal that never lost its leaves. Sticking out among them all right next to the path were some tall spikes with a few yellowed, particularly large leaves. Owen pointed his finger towards them and a special stillness settled over him that made Molly look at his face and then at the prickle studded stalks.

“Devil’s Club?” she asked.

“Devil’s Club,” he confirmed. “I’ve been watching some other patches a little higher up for the last couple of years but I only discovered these this fall when the leaves first fell off the thimbleberry. They’ve been disguised.”

“You’ve always been fascinated by the plant, haven’t you?” observed Molly. “But I never can remember what it’s for or quite understood what calls you about it.”

“Ryan Drum’s piece on it says he asked a native woman once and she said, ‘Everything,’ rather scornfully like he should have already known that. The books say it’s for diabetes and sugar issues. Powdered, it can even be used for a deodorant. I’ve yet to experiment with it. You know about the homeopathic Doctrine of Similars that says that there are hints to the healing properties of plants coded in their physical characteristics? I’ve been thinking about all the spines – which I understand can be really nasty – and I got ‘repels boarders’ like it keeps off infections or intrusions.”

“Kind of like my cat. You know how she is so prickly but has a lot of healing energy when she can relax and just let herself snuggle in.”

“Or maybe it is some kind of protection since I’ve also been getting that it has something to do with bringing us into our personal power. Getting us past the ways we protect ourselves (or think we are) and allowing us to move safely and courageously into the unknown of our destiny.”

“That would be cool,” said Molly. “Do you think it has something for me and this healing crisis I seem to be in?”

“I’d start by asking what you are taking on, burdening yourself with that you shouldn’t be. Who are the pirates that are stealing from you? What can you shed?”

“My first, obvious thought is ReBound and my responsibility for all that is there, but I immediately feel a lot of rebellion if this means being forced out of that. You mentioned that medicinally it has to do with food and sugars, certain aspects of digestion. The other thing I haven’t told anyone about is my stomach troubles…”

“Oh?”

“Well, my weight for one. Menopause has only increased my tendency to put on pounds and the treats people bring us at ReBound don’t help. I keep myself going a lot of the time with chocolate…”

“I can give you the essence I made the other day from the Devil’s Club root by the Grandmother Tree. I spent the night there recently and had an important journey, though I’ll be damned if I can remember the details.”

“Let’s keep walking,” she suggested.

After another turn in the trail Molly spoke back over her shoulder to her friend, “It keeps going through my mind that Seth didn’t get well – you worked with him too….”

Owen looked both pained and resigned. “I’ve never spoken about this but it’s my sense that he was caught here in a mire he could neither change nor adapt to…. and maybe he had something more important to do from the other side of the veil. You remember, don’t you, his spirit coming to you during the Hallowed Days? Do you think his injunction to do more art might be a healing clue?”

“Hmmm,” said Molly. “There might be a connection there….”

Nearing the top they had to crawl carefully up on the tricky path and as she crept from stone to stone, Molly thought about how like life this was. Upward, yet carefully, feeling one’s way one rock at a time – with tired, maybe even shakey legs, yet full of determination to get to the Pinnacle where their community spread out below them. Yet, they could only stay there for a little while. At some point they’d have to go down again into the fray…..

Owen at the Tree 1

Owen had never known how to describe the giant Sitka Spruce before him well up in the Logan Family Forest, across the highway from most of the houses in the north end of the community. Always he was filled with awe at the powerful presence of THIS GREAT-GREAT GRANDMOTHER OF THE FOREST. The roots and branches – even those several stories above – were themselves the size of most large trees. The ferns growing way up overhead on her thick branches were the size of a VW bug. She was like an elephant, or rather, a whole tower of elephants. Huge legs. Massive body. One could almost see her wise eyes beaming and sense her enormous beating heart…. Yet, none of these images sufficed to express the power of her physical presence. The reverence she engendered was as boggling as a giant cathedral. Her connection to All That Is…. An ancient, gigantic force….

As kids he and Gordy had climbed into those branches. He could still see the frayed ends of the ropes they’d used to pull themselves up, ropes probably strung by their father and his brothers. They had even spent the night there on occasion, but it had always been spooky somehow and by the time they were teenagers Gordy had become disinclined for that particular adventure. Owen had continued on solo for a few years but his dreams while there had become disturbing, and soon his travels away from the community meant that he too left the Sitka behind.

Since his return twenty-five years ago, he hadn’t neglected the tree entirely, but he came up rarely and not to spend the night. The Medicine Groups held ceremony here from time to time. It took at least a dozen people, hands outstretched, to reach around it. He’d also brought Robin and the Illahee children over the years, but he’d been disinclined to share the place with many. It was too special.

He wasn’t quite sure why he had chosen this particular evening, but he sensed that September’s Equinox Labyrinth had woken something in him. Ever since then he’d been feeling a strong call to journey inward, to spend a night in deep listening to the Tree and the forest as a whole.

Owen settled into a soft mossy place in the crook of the Grandmother Sitka’s mammoth roots. He could feel the tree embracing him, loving him. It was almost as if she was congratulating him on following his inclination to choose this spot on this night. “OK, I’ll take that affirmation,” he whispered.

His thoughts as he centered in were full of Daniel Giamario’s Shamanic Astrology idea Pia had talked about the other night in the Medicine Circle – how Rising Signs are what we are here to learn this time around, while Moon Signs are the expertise we bring into the world from former lives. His own Cancer Moon explained his innate ability to care for others, his mothering of Robin after his wife’s death, and even his strong on-going connection at Illahee, both to the group as a whole and to the some of the needier children there. It was so easy for him to reach them through nature. Kids that were having trouble reading, especially those coming discouraged from other schools, thrived when Illahee got them out in the woods. Finding a newt or an animal skull could spur an interest in looking it up and it didn’t take much nudging for a drawing and eventually a little writing about it…. He knew he was also inclined to be something of a worrying mother hen. Maybe that was the shadow side of his Cancerian expertise. His Libra Sun gave him balance, but he could get fretful especially about details and young people.

His mind’s eye flickered over times when he’d been overly fussy about the children’s safety. It was hard to listen to Celeste’s sage advice that huge learning leaps often occurred right after a kid had climbed high in a tree or scaled a rocky incline. It seemed that mastering a physical challenge often meant immediate advancement of an elusive academic skill. Brain-mind connections. Somatic learning. Illogically, he still fretted even knowing his own and his brother’s tree born adventures, perhaps because of those escapades.

His Scorpio rising sign was intimidating. A wizard? He didn’t think so. Although lately the Green Man archetype had been moving him almost to tears. Green Man. Pan. That wild ultra-masculine forest being, the uncontrollable aspects of Nature – floods, typhoons, lightening-set fires. Spring growth. Procreation. Rampant sex.

Owen grinned. It was hard to imagine that part of himself going wild. What would a goatish rampage look like in a sensitive widower tuned into children and plants? Unpartnered too. No easy outlet there. He’d certainly never felt like casual encounters. Was there somebody to play Green Woman to his Green Man self? Goldberry to his Tom Bombadil? For a minute he wallowed in a longing he rarely admitted to himself. He loved Tolkien’s image of the cozy, wooded cottage and imagined a Northwest American version with Tom’s magical appearances here and there to spur the furious growth of a coastal spring and summer – blackberries and Old-Man-in-the-Ground, those vine beings that curled relentlessly, reaching for sun and nutrients. Butterflies. Bees. Pollen. Sex.

Yet right now was the opposite season. The dying back. At sixty-four, his life matched this October season. He listened to a couple of raccoons chittering in the distance, almost a quarrel, but not quite. The bats swooped low. The full moon was hidden at the moment but its silvery light gave an eeriness to the density of the forest. Suddenly he felt a little spooked. All alone in the woods…. on the Mountain…. He could almost hear a hummm, a low throb of the life within the Mountain. He’d forgotten about that pulse. Hadn’t heard it for a while….

He opened the thermos of tea he’d packed. Chamomile, catnip and salal from his garden to ground and calm, with a pinch of lobelia to heighten his sense of adventure, but also to help with any lingering PTSD upwellings. He’d tossed some motherwort in too – its scientific name, Leonuris cardiaca, lionhearted, speaking to courage in transitions which is what he was really asking for. His Libra self liked the balance of all those opposites. An aventurine stone was in his coat pocket. He used to think it was “adventurine” with a “d” but had recently learned that it was about growth, especially opening and clearing the heart chakra which he figured also means it’s about courage for making shifts. “Coeur” meaning “heart” in French.

Leaning back he settled the orange and brown Peruvian woven wool blankets he’d brought a little more comfortably behind and under him, his thoughts drifting to more prosaic topics. His upcoming conversation with Gordy about finances was sure to be unpleasant. An article to be written for the Conservancy Trust newsletter about making peace with invasive species. His nagging question about the importance of Devil’s Club…. He looked towards the stand of Devil’s Club he knew was just outside this clearing, but it was now too dark to distinguish one plant from another. This would be a good place to Journey with it….

Held in the arms of the Great Grandmother Sitka, he mused about all the people who had come into his life since his boyhood days in Mahonia and Nekelew. He had been lonely then for others who loved this place in the way he did. So many of his growing up peers either lived here without noticing or had been set on moving away. He had left too….

The Vietnam War had been calling as he graduated from Nekelew High School and going had seemed the right thing to do. For sure he didn’t have any other options lined up for himself. He wasn’t exactly the studious type. Nor wanting to learn a trade…. The War. Now there was a topic he didn’t want to think about. These home woods were so different from the tortured jungles around Duc Pho.

On the other hand, his visit to the Amazon Basin a few years ago had been all too similar a landscape. The sensory overlap of sound and smells of the two jungles had given him flashbacks of terror in the midst of learning about traditional healing plants on Peru’s Madre de Dios River, making it a truly heroic shamanic dismemberment journey. It had felt like a blowing asunder of his body parts like his recurring flashbacks of others’ deaths and dismemberments. However, the vision medicines had shown him some clear distinctions of time and place that allowed him to make peace with the differing energies. The war was then. The medicine plants were so very NOW. The war and its aftermath had tempered rather than broken him. He had been lucky – neither physically wounded, nor so psychologically scarred that he had fallen into debilitating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Alcohol had been an issue, as had pot. But thanks to his higher powers for AA, he was now clear of those substances. He knew they could be sacraments, but he had overused them and they had taken over for a while. Drinking and smoking too much had worked to drown out the shrieking demons haunting him from the Asian jungle but he knew he had become too deadened to be useful to this world and his deep connection here in the temperate Oregon rainforest.

The people now in his life had shown him the possibilities of a spiritual pursuit and after the Amazon he had studied far afield with different teachers to learn about the sacred inward paths with no further need of outside hallucinogenic infusion…. Thus his thoughts led to the typical drumbeat for shamanic journeying and he began to hear it in his head….