Cali & Ariel Climb the Mountain

Caliente and Ariel were renewing their childhood friendship by climbing the Mountain on a cloudy day in early October. Black shaggy Lummox pranced before them as they made their way up the well-worn trail.

When they reached the saddle of the Mountain, Cali headed off the main path along a lightly trampled way covered with miner’s lettuce and a little plant she’d never managed to identify. After a minute she slowed and, pointing silently, knelt at the base of a large Sitka Spruce. Digging with her hands, she exposed the top of a good-sized rounded rock. “This is a shrine that Owen and my mom got a bunch of us to carry up here when I was a teenager. The rock is from the beach and connects energetically to a mountain rock we carried down to the bay.” She dug further.

“Here’s the Fibonacci spiral that Raven carved on the front.” Her fingers lovingly traced the spiraling pattern. “We carried this fucking thing up here in a canvas cradle. Taking turns, it still took us two evenings. My brothers powered it up the last bit.”

Ariel was awestruck, imagining the effort of getting the rock to this spot and her good fortune in connecting back with these people who would undertake to do such a thing. She was almost afraid to ask about their intention for fear it would be some disappointingly prosaic reason. The answer when it came was deeply satisfying.

“There was a battle over the placement of a cell tower up here contrary to provisions in the park’s master plan about no further intrusions of electronic equipment. Although a number of us consider this a sacred mountain and we know the native people did as well, we had no legal standing ourselves to enforce its protection. So Owen’s idea was that if we put a shrine up here it would begin to establish that standing.”

“Did the tower happen?”

“Yes, we were unable to stop it.” She paused for a minute remembering the whole process and then grinned. “I gotta say it’s nice to have the cell phone reception.”

Ariel grinned back understanding the ironies. “What did you mean about connecting with the Bay?”

“The Bay Shrine is also in the State Park. Owen and Raven got the rock from the place on the back road up here where they dump the landslide fall from the highway. Mom says that when the two rocks were in place she could feel the zing of a field establish itself between them. Would it be an electrical field or a magnetic field?” Cali mused. “Who knows, but a lot of good things have happened since, more or less between the two rocks – ReBound, the Conservancy Farm, Elk Ridge. Cain’t say for sure they came out of this act but it’s fun to think maybe they did. At any rate, it’s all part of the cool things that have been happening in the twenty years you’ve been gone. And every year in May, around Mother’s Day, a small groups visit both shrines and rededicates them, ending with a picnic at the Bay. I haven’t done it in the last couple of years but my folks almost always go.”

“It really does feel like a remarkable place, both here at the shrine and the community as whole,” said Ariel. “I’ve wanted to come back ever since my parents split. But now I’m realizing that there were reasons to come home besides just the ocean and you guys.”

“Let’s go on up towards the Pinnacle. It’s cool to see the place laid out from there.”

They stood and brushing off their bottoms, set out along the trail that curved around the north side of the Mountain. Lummox raced up from his woodsy snuffling adventures when he saw they were headed onward.

“Didn’t you used to be able to see north up the coast from here?” asked Ariel.

“Yes, when we were little this side was newly clear-cut. But trees do grow and these are now blocking the view. Can’t really complain. I do miss seeing further in this direction but the wind doesn’t whip so much through here anymore.” She shrugged.

After fifteen minutes the trail angled up again towards the ridge and it wasn’t long before they reached the last bit. Rather than a path it was a jumble of sharp toaster-sized rocks heading steeply up. The drop off on either side was precipitous and there was little to grab onto for balance except prickly wild rose bushes. The big shaggy dog bounding between them didn’t help. Cali’s legs were rather shaky and she kept having to stop and catch her breath as she crawled up. What with the baby and all, she hadn’t climbed the Mountain in a while, especially this far. The thought of Menolly made her breasts tingle. She shouldn’t hang out up here for too long.

They clambered up the last bit, and Ariel, who had not been breathing hard at all from the scramble, gasped breathlessly at the panoramic view, South, West and East.

“I’d forgotten!” she whispered.

Laid out below them were the sparkling ocean, river, bay and mountains. There was much evidence of human presence, of course, but it was exciting rather than depressing. They could see the Illahee School playing field with its building tucked mostly into the woods. ReBound was a scar in the dunes but it generated a feeling of accomplishment and hope. The clearcuts and housing developments were less easily forgiven but Cali pointed out the Elder Home now ensconced in one of the former fancy McMansions, as well as the abodes of various people she knew. Her folks’ house was hidden but the very corner of Benden Farm was visible. Cali’s body thrummed again at the thought of her baby down there.

Looking over at her, Ariel snapped a photo on her phone of Cali sitting on the rocks, the magnificent lay of the land in front of her. “Chica…. so many cool things down there that you guys have accomplished….” She hesitated, “But….  do you ever feel a little spooky up here?”

Cali looked at her in surprise. “No. Although sometimes I worry that the dogs will fall off. Mostly I feel power. I feel satisfaction at all that is happening down below. I feel the beauty and ancientness of the mountain. But spooky?”

“Right now I feel like someone is watching over my shoulder – like there is a BIG presence here that doesn’t really want me to be here. It’s almost growling at me. How weird is that?”

“Seriously? Maybe since I’ve lived here all along, I am tuned to the Mountain’s energy…. but I don’t sense that at all.”

“It’s like needing to make friends with a growling protective dog. Like I have to pass muster somehow…. At least I hope it’s a test and not a warning because the longer I’m here the more I want to stay here. In fact, I’d almost say I was meant to be here, that I was called here. Does that make any sense?”

“Yes, it does. Many people feel called here. I was born on the Mountain so I haven’t experienced that feeling either. If there was a call for me it was before I was conceived.”

“I was born here too so the call for me has been to return to my homies.”

With that, a wild high-pitched screeeech drew their attention. Spiraling up towards them were two bald eagles. The young women watched reverently as the huge birds, white heads and tails evident, swooped up past them before peeling off to head west out towards the ocean.

“Wow! It is indeed a powerful place.”

“There’s your confirmation,” said Cali with tears in her eyes. “My brothers used to mischievously call them B52’s. The eagles are welcoming you. I’d say you need to make a conscious connection – make friends almost – with the presence in the Mountain. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I’m guessing it will unfold and you will know.”

“It seems to me since there were two eagles that they are welcoming both of us,” said Ariel. “Or rather saying they’re stoked we’re here and conscious and that we have work to do together.”

“Maybe the eagles were reassuring the Mountain or at least the scary presence you were sensing.”

“That rocks my world! Guess we’d better head back down and get to it,” laughed Ariel. “I wonder what will happen next? Wish I’d gotten a photo of those eagles!”

“We were too amazed to even think of it, weren’t we? Come, Lummox.”

 

The Mountain, of course, appreciated the attentive visit of the two young women, as well as the continued energy shown by them and others to the Shrine, the Peak and the details along the way. “I have special fondness for those born here. They made a choice to come from the get go. Yet, so many of them are wandering now, riding the ripples outward…. Of course, I have an equal fondness for those heeding the call to appear here now for the first time. How challenging it is to come even though they don’t realize they are actually remembering their intentions from the Council Fire to help make the changes here. Guess I should be thanking you, Sister Spider and Sister Coyote….”

“You’re welcome.” Abuela Coyote appeared on the Pinnacle. “All these two legged humans with their blasted free will clause are so tricky to work with. Their twentieth century acculturation has drummed out of them their most basic connections with Earth and Sky, not to mention the likes of us. It’s a delicate business to call them awake. But it’s gotta happen. You’re usually more patient than I am, what’s up?”

“Oh, change is in the air, don’t you think? The fiery one today – she’s aware of the possibilities and is working hard to make alternatives realities. Even spawning new ones to carry on after her.”

“Her attunement to you is muted though. She is so used to your presence. That’s the disadvantage of having been born here. What will it take to really wake her up?”

“That airy angel one, now, is a special case. It doesn’t pay to get too fond of her who has been gone so long, hence my grumble that spooked her. I never quite dare to believe the statements any of them make about intending to stay here but especially the young pups. There’s so much to lure them away.”

Coyote Woman made a sympathetic noise. She knew what it was like to care so much.

“Yet so much is at stake,” continued the Mountain. “So much wanting to happen. I sometimes feel desperately lonely. The tribal Old Ones are silent, mourning their losses. They still hold the space, but barely. We very much need the living ones to wake up.”

“Breathe,” said Coyote sagely. “Just breathe.” The Mountain inhaled deeply and a puff of cloud appeared like a cap at its crown.

Far down at its feet a few sensitive souls felt a subtle shiver in their bones. Ursula looked up from her berry picking and saluted the peak barely visible above and through the trees. Owen cocked his ear as he dug for potatoes in the garden, noticing sweet birdsong all around him. Baby Menolly sighed in her sleep and dreamed of a warm hand patting her bottom in a welcoming sort of way. Carlos, trimming in the orchard, looked forward to the new spring growth a whole season away.

Sustainability Talk

“Welcome to your classroom at Neadatagi House,” said Charley, favorite red teacup in hand as the newly arrived Portland State University Locus students settled on comfy frayed couches and floor cushions. “I’m Director of Cedar ReSources, the local sustainability organizing hub. Just so you know, ‘Neadatagi’ means ‘cedar,’ a tree that was a mainstay of the native peoples of the area. Caliente here is a living, breathing sustainability and permaculture pro…. And my daughter.” Cali took a bow. She sported her usual beret, a red one today that clashed delightfully with her reddish hair. She had left the baby with Carlos.

“What you’re looking at here in our two villages and outlying areas is a broad picture of how a community can learn to take care of itself, no matter what the outside economy is doing. Some of us actually settled here with this vision in mind. My wife and I, for instance, were inspired in part by Portland’s Rain Magazine and the posters they did in the ‘70’s of integrated neighborhoods and communities, both urban and rural.”

“Like the one we have on our wall,” pointed out Michael, his portly form contrasting with Charley’s lithe skinny one. He was practically jumping up and down with his enjoyment of this next stage of his own dream coming alive.

“Yes, that’s one of them,” Charlie grinned. “I love the feeling of slowly but surely making those pictures come true. The dream took a leap when the Logan family transformed their land into a sustainable forestry trust in the early 1980’s. Gordon and Owen and their father who has since died. Their children, Robin and her cousin Obie are now involved. I understand you are going to visit them soon so I won’t go into any detail.”

“So thirty-some years ago,” said Satish, a small, dark skinned young man from India.

“Then in the mid 90’s there were two serious floods – 100 year floods, so-called because they supposedly only happen every hundred years. We’ve had a third one since. At the time of the first our area was completely cut off for several days by landslides and flooded or caved in roads on each of the five ways out of here. Other times big windstorms knocked out power, phone and cell phones for almost a week.”

“I was a kid during those storms,” Michael remembered. “My family was glad we had a wood stove so we could still cook.”

“In many ways it wasn’t that dire that first flood. We all managed. Even the babies who were due waited another week.” Caliente and her dad exchanged glances recalling the family drama of her and her twin’s birth. “But it was a wake up call – and a big goose for putting more of our ideals into practice. What if it had been a major earthquake and its tsunami that affected the whole region? Not only would we be cut off, we would be a very low priority on anyone’s list for digging out if presumably the devastation included Portland and Seattle. What did we have in place if the situation lasted months? It’s one thing to think of the immediate emergency. It’s another to respond after the lives have been saved. And yet another to imagine being self-sufficient if lines of communication and supply (particularly of gas and food) are cut off indefinitely.”

“How did you proceed?” asked Michael.

“We did a number of things over the next few years. Molly Burns and my wife Ursula set up ReBound. We knew it was time to develop the deeper ethic of reuse. We only sort of got it at the time what a community-building mechanism ReBound would be and how it would create such an ethic of the exchange of material goods. I assume you’ll be visiting there soon.”

“Molly and Gabe are giving us an official tour tomorrow. Satish and Zydeco here start work there in the next few days.”

“We also began to get serious about growing our own food and herbal medicines. Community gardens. Farmers markets.” Charley took a sip from his tea. “After we started the Conservancy Trust on an old dairy farm, its barnyard and orchards became the Locavore Center to teach about gardening and research what can grow in the area and what we need to trade for and stock up on. Wheat, beans, coffee.”

“Corn.”

“Chocolate.”

“Almonds.”

“At Benden Farm we’re experimenting with various beans,” interjected Cali, “and olives because cooking and lamp oil is an issue. I wonder half seriously about setting up trade agreements with places in Eastern Oregon if things really broke down. Our crab for Mosier’s grain, for instance.”

“Could be an important link,” said her father. “We also began preserving agricultural lands. Some area growers, including Cali here, now lease land is owned by the Conservancy Trust.”

“The trust totally made it possible for Carlos and I to survive economically,” said Cali gratefully.

“New systems and institutions are important, but community relationships are even more so. It is the connections among us that will keep us safe and secure when things are tough. Thus some activist growers joined the local Grange to cross boundaries with the older farming generation. Plus their building is a good community resource to keep available.”

“We started a Grower’s Guild,” added Caliente as her dad took a sip from his teacup, “so those of us doing permaculture can network and learn from each other. We’re all feeling our way. How does one grow in ways that enhance the earth and its creatures? So much knowledge and skills were lost in just a few generations. We’re learning about seaweed and local plants both for food and other uses. Nettles, for instance, can be used for cordage – rope. So could hemp if we were allowed to grow it legally.”

Everyone laughed.

“We’re proud of our young people taking up this challenge of dancing with adaptability. You folks included,” said Charley. “Maybe this was covered in your class work, but besides sustaining ourselves in the pressure of emergencies, we must also consider the long-term health of the community so we can surf economic cycles. Believe it or not, a high is as hard on us as a low – land prices skyrocket to make housing an even bigger issue for the working people. Luxury stores start to dominate. With our reuse and simple living ethic, we knew we didn’t want to be dependent on chi-chi boutiques. We enjoy the restaurant options of a resort community, but we want those to support local growers.

“Food marketing must have paid off,” said Zydeco, his dark dreads bobbing in his enthusiasm. “I’ve noticed restaurants advertise local produce and meat.”

“We’re proud of that. Have you noticed what else we did?”

“A lot of spas and massage therapists here?” offered Mariposa.

“Right. We figured we’d be better off selling services than importing geegaws. To be known as a re-creation, re-generation, re-storative place. Enter the Healing Arts Guild.”

“Also a shitload of reuse stores and places highlighting recycle art. Did ReBound have an effect on that?” Zydeco was looking forward to his stint at the community’s reuse hub.

“You betcha and our craft stores tend to buy locally or are at least fair trade from elsewhere. The Green Fund helps start-ups and our Local Investment Guild matches up people taking savings out of the stock market to put into local ventures.”

“We’ve all learned how shaky the ‘normal’ financial world can be in the last couple of years,” interjected Michael.

“Absolutely,” responded Charlie. “Why invest your money in faraway corporations with questionable values or even in so-called progressive mutual funds, if you can help forward movement in your own community?”

“Talk about relationship building.”

“Can you give us examples?”

“Buying the River Valley Phone Company when owner Nathan Green died and his family wanted to cash out. We put together three partners, two local and one weekend resident.”

“Quite a coup!”

“Co-op, actually,” Charley grinned. “And its profits go into the Green Fund. Other investment ventures include small elder care houses and affordable rental housing. A retiring carpenter got a loan to go into lawnmower repair at ReBound. Another loan got the Nekelew Hostel going where I hear a few of you are living this fall. Even some of the Conservancy Trust lands have been purchased through investment loans. If you are interested, we could do a whole session on how that all works. The head of the Credit Union would come, I’m sure, and the attorneys and CPA’s who do major share of the Investment Guild’s transactions and paperwork. Michael’s former classmate, Molly’s son, Ethan Burns, is part of that crew even though he lives in Portland.”

“I was thinking to wait for the business students joining us after the winter holidays,” responded Michael. “And let’s take a break right now.

 

Cali sat on the toilet breathing deeply as she thought back on the early days of what her dad was describing. She remembered the visioning murals that her mom and Pia had organized. People at community events one summer had been invited to paint their ideas for the future on aerial views rendered on large plywood panels by some of her artist friends. Little Otter Logan had done a sweetly crude drawing of a fairy house she wanted to build in the forest. Arlo had painted a jitney on the road. Her own depiction of a dream farm had actually come true though not in the place she imagined. How much had they influenced the manifestation of all this? How much had magic been a part of it? Oops, she’d better not dally. Someone else probably needed to pee.

 

“You make it all sound easy, which I’m sure on a day to day basis it hasn’t been. What opposition has there been?” asked an earnest looking young woman when they were all settled again. “Surely not everyone has been okay with what you guys have been up to.”

“We have longstanding adversaries for sure,” said Charley. “They disagree fundamentally with our vision for this place. They think fancy housing helps the community more than conservancy land, not realizing how much the latter raises adjacent property values. But the depth and passion of their opposition goes deeper than that and can get ugly. We represent a threat to the status quo of money valued for itself as a measure of success. In its most crass form it’s about greed and competition. They can’t stand our values of cooperation and sharing. Is it guilt that makes them go after us so fiercely? In denial that anyone could be so foolish as to take seriously values like consensus building and lack of hierarchy. Or, worse, that it could work. That we’re happy.”

“Can you give us examples?”

“I try not to think about them too much cuz I don’t want to give them energy…. The developer who slips in and buys land we have our eye on. Our battle over the Elk Ridge neighborhood. Some city officials were hostile and, at times, downright adversarial. They had trouble groking the need for affordable housing, preferring this to be a place for the rich to vacation and retire in. They stirred up a lot of NIMBY reactions.”

“Nimby?”

“Not In My Back Yard. Visions of meth addicts danced in their heads. They forget that working folks who make the wheels go round can’t afford to be here when land values are high – police, teachers, nurses, carpenters, not to mention waiters and cleaning people. Sometimes out-of-town hirees turn down good jobs at the clinic, schools or the city because they can’t find housing they can afford anywhere up and down the coast.”

“Finding places for students to stay is a challenge,” said Michael.

“Not surprised,” said Charley.

“Some go after us almost on principle,” said Cali. “If we’re for it, they’d better be against it.”

“Of course, in a way they’re right,” said Michael. “You do things differently. Goats and chickens in the middle of town. I’ll bet you drum outside sometimes.” Everybody laughed ruefully.

“’Times are a changin.’ They better get used to it,” said a young man in blonde dreads and raggedy overalls.

“Easy to say but this is a small town and we’ve worked hard to stay connected with all our neighbors. Even the most skeptical and cantankerous are pleased to share a jam recipe or appreciate help with a tree down across the driveway,” said Charley.

“Have people run for public office? Seems like a way to assert power locally.”

“A few, though not enough yet to attain critical mass. Much can be accomplished that way. Personally, I’m better at working outside the system without official support or the constraints that go along with that. But I admire folks who can deal with the bureaucratic sides of things – planning commissions, city councils, county budget committees.”

“The Watershed Council is an awesome cross section,” offered Cali. “Funded by the state, they’re mandated to include the timber industry, local governments and environmentalists. Of course, they’re often hampered by disagreements so there are certain issues they just don’t touch. Still, over the long haul they’ve created useful partnerships that serve all sides. They’ve become real people to each other.”

“We’ve talked about the value of humanizing one’s demons,” said Michael.

“Good,” responded Charley. “You see, we have to work with local governments, et al. because we’re looking to be more than a wholesome tribe underneath the dominant culture. We could’ve gone up into the hills and established a commune. Instead, we’re working for structural change from within. We want to become the power structure from the bottom up. One committee, one group, one idea, one project and event at a time. We bring others of our ilk into the organizations and slowly they come under new values. In a small town there are always vacancies and a need for people to serve. I’m particularly trying to encourage more young people to get involved. It’s great when retirees from the city pitch in but they have a tendency move back when their health becomes compromised or they miss their grandkids or whatever. It’s especially heartening to us when people sign on who have a real stake in the long term here.”

“It’s time for lunch. Thanks, Charley and Cali. This has been inspirational.” Michael made the first move towards winding up the discussion.

“We are so glad you guys are here,” said Cali. “Many hands make light work, as my mom always says. Obviously we’re secretly hoping you fall in love with the place and stay!”

“Even if you move on,” said Charley, “we’re happy to have you spreading the word and starting things up elsewhere. You can reverse our adage and begin to ‘think locally and act globally.’ Ripples on a pond. Don’t forget to check out Lindsey’s and Crystal’s energy efficient buildings and their retrofit of the old school that is the community center in Nekelew. They’ve even hooked up the fitness machines to generators and help heat the pool that way.”

“Bravo!” Everyone clapped.

Marina at a Crossroads

Marina stood at the crossroads – both literally and figuratively. Home for the holidays, she stood hesitating, quite unsure of which way to turn. She’d left the house in a flurry of confusion, needing to stretch her legs and gulp in lungfulls of the sea air she’d been missing.

It was actually a Y intersection, a “Place of Hekete,” Greek Goddess of the Crossroads. To the East was the Beaver Pond. Now part of the local Conservancy Trust, it had been saved by neighbors of her grandparents’ generation from being filled in and built upon. The first eco-battle she remembered. Did the beaver still live there? No evidence of them at the moment. Houses had sprung up in recent years around its perimeter, but the marsh looked healthy, still doing its job of catchment for the waters draining down off the Mountain into this little valley. Certainly the mallards were happy today. In two months the place would be ringing with the territorial sounds of red wing blackbirds by day and the peepers by night… She pulled her mind back from the spring joys of her growing up years here.

A quarter turn to West, huge waves were visible over the wildly waving grasses of the dunes. The tide was high. Even as a child she’d loved this vantage point, the earth of the Mountain firmly at her shoulder while the sea beckoned her to come play. Immediately Northwest, the rushing stream from the Beaver Pond cut through the dunes after passing the tangle of old-fashioned roses and the ghost of the old tavern that used to stand in this spot. Her parents remembered it burning down before she was born. Would her children find these same spots to play in if she were to settle here? “What children?!” she chided herself.

She spun completely to the North to glory in the Mountain, its top ridge voluptuously curved like a woman lying on her back. Marina could draw that outline in her sleep. Indeed, it often haunted her sleep.

Focusing on these landmarks brought her another degree more firmly Home. Should she be moving back to help make sure that all such places were protected? She knew that the Convervancy Trust was starting a push to acquire estuary lands along the bay and…. “Hush! My only task at the moment is to figure out which road to take for this morning, not decide my whole life.” Or was it?

If she headed South she’d soon be in town – coffee, headlines, Shirley’s cinnamon buns and people by the dozen to greet and catch up with. Was she ready for that?  She could shock people in her present life by pointing out that where she grew up there were no traffic lights for 25 miles in either direction. When she brought friends up here, she loved showing off how interconnected she was with almost everyone they bumped into – parents and grandparents of her contemporaries, childhood friends themselves. Those she had ridden the bus with. Those who’d gone to Illahee with her. Those who worked at the gas station now or served her coffee, or had probably made the scones. Those who were teachers – she had a classmate who was Athletic Director now at the high school and another who was the Spanish teacher…. Those with children…. her ovaries ached at that thought.

It would be cold along the beach road. She could take the path that skirted the south end of the pond and up over the ridge. There were new condominiums up there that she had been avoiding, fearful of their impact on the old trail. Would the salal and huckleberry still tower over her head? Could she still look back at the little farms, including her sister’s on the lowest slopes of the Mountain?

She’d come down the road from the East in the new morning, her brother-in-law feeding the animals in the barn, her younger sister Cali still asleep with her baby curled beside her. Other members of the eclectic household had been in various stages of morning business. Back there was coziness and camaraderie. Challenges too. The electricity between her and Gabe had been unmistakable last night, making her wonder why she had stuck to her lonely sleeping bag on the window seat…. Or she could stop at Sitka House to see if anyone there was up. Coffee would be offered or one of Owen’s herbal brews. Perhaps a leisurely breakfast….
To the north was the aerobic trek up to her parent’s house, its very smells familiar. Every light switch right where her hand knew it would be. Every pot that clattered in the kitchen just as it had always been…. Her parents busy with their good deeds, carefully not asking too many questions about her own plans of the moment or the longer term…..

Or she could turn off the side road and head to the Illahee School yard. That beloved place where every stump and thicket held memories. She could while away time on the swings or search out funky hideouts the current crop of children had created in the wooded hollows of the several acre site. She knew where the key was so she could even wander inside for more familiar smells.

As she stood there, balancing on one foot and then the other, a huge red dragon kite – its claws outstretched – rose above her out of the dunes, seemingly in response to her plea for direction.

“Nope. I’ve got no answers for you,” it grinned at her. “Neither would Hekete. I’m a stand-in this morning for the statue of her you haven’t yet made for this crossroads. All I can do is assure you that you’re on the right track. The questions are good ones. You will find your way.”