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…..

Calling Durga

Some people left after Owen closed the Day of the Dead circle. Cindy, for instance, felt she needed to get home to Van, while Celeste and June declared themselves too old and creaky for sleeping bags on the floor. “I’m a Taurus, you know,” said Celeste. “I like my own bed!”

Most of those remaining headed out for the hot tub. Returning in after a bit, cider and brandy came out as people began to brush their teeth, find their nighties and unroll their sleeping bags onto pads they’d brought or ones rounded up by Ursula and Charley.

“Let’s all put our heads to the middle like we did a few years ago. Maybe we’ll dream together,” suggested Pia.

“Listen!” said Ursula. “Is that an owl?”

“Some would say that’s an indication that the dead are close by,” commented Pia. “Or that we’re meant to go deeper.”

“There it is again.”

“Tell us a story, Ursula.”

“Oh yes, please!”

“Funny you should ask. I’ve been hearing Durga nagging at the edge of my consciousness all day and I haven’t known what to do with her besides get her picture out.”

“Isn’t she a Hindu Goddess?” asked Alex.

“Yes, one of the early ones. Some say the very first Goddess, Mother of the Universe,” replied Ursula, moving to the mantle to retrieve a colorful postcard of a many-armed woman in a bright red sari, bedecked in gold. “See, she’s riding a tiger, though some say it was a great lion. Durga means ‘invincible.’”

“Somebody get Ursula a cup of hard cider,” said Pia.

“And grab her feathered rattle from the bucket under the window,” added Charley.

Ursula settled her blue power shawl on her shoulders, and took a goodly swig of the potent apple drink made last year from the Benden Farm trees. Her hands began the rhythmic shaking of the rattle that was one way of put herself into deep storytelling mode. Her voice went all dreamy.

“Durga came to the rescue at a time when our world was in very bad shape. The demons of lust, greed, discontent, and jealousy were in ascendency. Everyone was at each other’s throats, often literally. The crops were poor because of quarreling over boundaries and how to apportion the harvest rather than folks putting their energy into the good of the whole. The markets were full of shoddy goods because artisans had become sloppy, more concerned with making a profit than in providing something beautiful to last many lifetimes. Villages were fighting with each other. Half the people hung around idle with little in the way of skills to make their way. Nor were there entrepreneurs to provide capital or employment. Priests were preaching the value of obedience, yet dispensations could be bought, and in the shadows many so-called holy men were cuckolds and molesters. Inebriation from various substances was rampant and too many cared more for their next fix than they did for the health of their family or fields or a craft. Governing bodies argued endlessly over turf and spoils, while petty despots both official and unofficial held sway. The trustworthy were few and far between, even within one’s own family where ‘power over’ was more important than care and consideration and nurturing. Rape, one of the worst forms of ‘power over’ others was common….”

“Sounds like today’s world,” a voice interjected interjected.

“Hmmm, it does doesn’t it,” Ursula replied with a twinkle. “In most versions of the story, the rampaging demons are characterized as enormous ogres and ghouls – great frothy mouthed, ugly beings with fangs and warts and pudgy groping fingers. Many were winged. When they went into battle they rode monstrous, many headed steeds with scrambled animal parts including terrible talons, hooves and tails. But I think a case could be made that the world was filled, just as it is now, with ordinary people, both the powerful and the downtrodden, who were caught in abusive cycles and had lost their way.

“In any case, the gods decided to incarnate in order to intervene. They recruited cadres of souls who still had a conscience to form armies to fight the nasties. Now to me many images come to mind. It could be seen as a kind of Onward Christian Soldiers thing, marching off to war…. men and women armed to the teeth to fight the bad guys…. even if they were your own neighbors…. Or perhaps it was in the form of NGO groups like Doctors Without Borders, our own CASAs who work with abused and neglected children, or Gameen banks making micro loans in villages. It was undoubtedly also courageous souls acting alone with random acts of kindness and bravery, both planned and spontaneous.

“Any way you want to look at it, they were mostly unsuccessful in the larger picture and both sides fought themselves to a stalemate. Oh, the good guys had a few victories here and there. Saved a child, rehabilitated a substance abuser, helped a woman create and market a clothing line that brought prosperity to one little hamlet. In other words, the demons were fought into corners occasionally for short periods. But mostly, the abuse and power wielding went on and on. Some on both sides got killed or maimed but the bad guys continued with their rapacious ways.

“One propitious spring, despite feeling hopeless, the gods concentrated their energies for one last try. This time, by some miracle, flames poured from their mouths and Durga – the many armed – sprang forth.

“Although produced by the gods, she was stronger than any of them, or even all of them together, and she was eager to fight. Fierce eyed, her ten muscled arms wielded magical sword, spear, bow and, interestingly, a lotus flower. She mounted a lion (some say it was a tiger) to ride toward the demon’s chief, the evil Mahisa. In the ensuing fight, Mahisa changed forms many times but was unable to prevail. Finally even though he assumed the form of a buffalo much larger than she was, Durga was able to slay him, freeing the earth of his energy. But on they came, more and bigger monsters.

“So like Neo in The Matrix, she flew at the enemy and won many victories…. Even taking on the Evil Warrior King himself in a last hand to hand combat. Did they have laser guns and kung fu moves? Something like that anyway.

“When it was all over, the evil ones lay vanquished. A sweet air blew over the lands. Durga with her helpmeet Kali Ma (who some say sprang out of Durga’s head) were triumphant. The people and the gods rejoiced, of course, and asked Durga to stay on Earth to rule over them. A benevolent despot sounded pretty good after all they had been through. But Durga declined, saying that she preferred to go back to her heavenly kingdom. After much begging from the people she finally promised to return whenever they really needed her. Not just sorta needed her. But really needed her.

“Durga, it’s time!” said Pia, her voice strong and clear.

“It might well be,” said Ursula. “But I’m thinking that in this round we all need to be Durga. Perhaps everyone was Durga then too. Or maybe she really was a being come down from the sky to help. But this time…..” Ursula’s rattle moved for a few more ever slower rounds…

“It’s like the Hopi saying, ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,’” came a quiet voice.

“Or the idea that the Second Coming of Christ is the energy Jesus manifested appearing in all of us…. “ offered Charley as he got up to put on a CD at Ursula’s whispered request.

“This is Durga Pahimam by Jai Uttal,” said Ursula. “Let the chant fill you and rock you to sleep.”

“Hey Ma Durga, hey Ma Durga, hey Ma Durga Pahimam……” the melodious, deep, resonant voice intoned. Ursula could feel the group slipping into a trance that would soon become dreams. “And let’s make the intention that we use the energy of this night when the veils are thin to dream of manifesting, no…dream of BEING Durga. May all the brambles clear away. We can share about what comes through first thing in the morning before we get up.”

“Sounds good.”

The silence among them deepened while everyone nestled down, and letting the music seep in, set their minds on that intention.

“Nigh’ night, all.”

“Sweet sweet dreams.”

Dia de los Muertos

The circle sat quietly in sacred space, men and women. Some in chairs and some on pillows on the floor. Candles were aglow on a center altar cloth with a sparkly spider web design, as well as a small mossy animal skull, a piece of Ursula’s grandma’s hand-tatted lace, and a bowl of marigolds. It was the Day of the Dead.  Dia de los Muertos.  All Souls’ Day.

The larger, more public ritual at the Community Center had gone off well. People had brought mementos of their dear departed to create a huge altar in the west that glowed with multi-colored electric lights, fall flowers, gaudy Mexican hangings and a great deal of love evidenced by photographs, artwork, and bits of the lives of those who had passed on.

Molly had explained that many traditions considered that the veil was thin between the worlds of the living and the dead at this time of year when the leaves were falling and the harvest was mostly in.

People had spoken the names of the deaths in the previous year into the circle and everyone repeated the name twice. The tissue boxes scattered around the circle came into good use as tears flowed. At last, when it had been quiet for a bit, someone began to sing softly, “May the circle be unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by…..” Immediately everyone had joined heartily in on the chorus. “There’s another home awaiting, in the sky, Lord, in the sky.”

They had ended the circle with a woman from the city leading them in a few of the Dances of Universal Peace. Afterwards there was feasting on the food people brought that reminded them of a loved one. From blintzes to enchiladas to Ritz crackers and salami, the beloved dead had their due.

Now in this circle it was time for the smaller after-session, held this year at Charley and Ursula’s house, chosen in part for the availability of the hot tub. Joining them as usual were several not usually part of the group who had lost someone during the year and who were open to a deeper connection than the larger circle allowed.

Cindy sat with bowed head. She used to feel pressure to “produce” at these occasions and then worried that what came to her was a product of her imagination. The training of generations to doubt psychic “knowings” was hard to dispel.

I-mage-in. Magic. Imaging. Being a mage. After several years of doing this she’d acquired faith that what came through to her had relevance, so she didn’t care as much what others in this intimate circle thought. She trusted the effectiveness of the invocation at the beginning to allow in only those energies dedicated to the highest good of all beings. She was comfortable doing this in small groups where she knew most of the people. Maybe some day she would be willing to be more public but for now she still wanted some degree of invisibility.

She didn’t think of it as a séance. In fact she shuddered at the word and its connotations, especially as it was one her husband, Van, threw at her when he was being particularly skeptical of her gifts and process. But she knew it was true that she had a special connection with those who had passed over and this was the time of year when their disembodied voices seemed to press on her most forcefully and persistently. It used to be that she and June were the only ones to “receive” but increasingly in recent years others experienced connections as well. They had an agreement that whoever popped in their heads was considered to be present. Given all the people they knew who had died, it was no longer a stretch to say that the ones who appeared in their minds wanted to connect. It was always interesting to see who “showed up.” And who didn’t, which by definition wouldn’t be noticed until afterwards.

 

Molly hummed notes without a tune to herself. Others soon picked it up and it segued into toning that soared, multi-leveled and glorious. As the harmonies and disharmonies wove in and about, a palpable cone of power rose above them. Some could actually see it shimmering. June and Raven, for instance.

Suddenly, with no word or direction, the tone broke off. All of the voices fell silent. Some touched their hands to the floor to ground the energy into the earth. Some covered their hearts to take it inward. Some reached skyward to call in the dead.

Molly spoke into the silence. “As I was toning, I kept thinking of Seth – my dear work companion at ReBound – gone several years now. I could feel his energy around me wishing me well, apologizing for ways that he let his ego and insecurities get in the way and let me down. Thanking me for taking on Loki-dog until she died. This is the first time I’ve felt him in circle. Occasionally he comes to me at ReBound, though it’s hard to separate out his actual spirit presence from the memories of him associated with so many aspects of the place. Maybe there is no difference….” Her voice trailed off.

“I remember how much he loved odd metal bits,” said Owen. “He got a lot of people started welding. And he could fix anything.”

“He never met an engine he didn’t like,” laughed Alex. “When we cleared out his work area and then his house after he died, there were dozens of them.”

“He could be pretty hard headed and not everyone got along with him, especially our younger staff,” remembered Molly. “He was always so charming though, I forgave him even though perhaps I should have been harder on him for some things. We both were such rule breakers…. He sure was a teacher for me about trickster energy.“ Ursula and Raven each reached out from either side to put hands on her knees.

“Is he wanting anything from us?” asked Pia.

“I’m getting that I’m to pay a little more attention to the garden where his sculpture is… and… he wants me to do some of my own art…. I’ll try if you’ll help me, Seth.”

The group lapsed into silence again. Then Cindy spoke up, “Alex, I sense Jed here, your dear partner of so many years. Can you feel him?”

Alex began to weep softly. Ursula handed him one of the cloth hankies she kept in a basket. “There are more here if you need them. Put the used ones in the smaller basket when you’re done,” she said softly as she passed the basket around.

“The manner of Jed’s leaving was such a gift to the community,” said Charley. “I loved that day when we all came through to say goodbye to his body lying there in the bed surrounded by candles and flowers. I was so grateful you let us all take part in that. You were brave to keep the mortuary people at bay.”

“I was grateful that it worked out for me to be at his side as he died,” said Pia after several quiet heartbeats. “I saw his soul lift up. In fact, I haven’t told you this before because I was a little afraid you’d take it the wrong way, but I helped a little with my breath and hands. He was working very hard to do it well, but he needed just a little assistance in those last moments to actually leave his body.”

I’ve felt guilty that I was asleep when he passed,” said Alex. “But you helped me to understand that sometimes people need to do that last step without the presence of their loved ones. That for some it’s too difficult to leave otherwise. Still, I so wanted to be there. If I’d known how quickly he was going….”

“He wants you to be in contact with him now. He says you have some work to do together…..”

“Man, he would have hated that implication before he died – he was so science minded and so clear that pesticides and other shit killed him. So certain that death was the end…..” His voice trailed off and they all waited in silence to see if Alex himself could pick up anything.

“Blackberries,” he said finally. “Blackberries. I’m supposed to chop the brambles. What on earth can that mean?!”

“It’s not exactly on earth,” quipped June. “Perhaps it’s about clearing the path between your different worlds. And maybe teaching the rest of us about that.”

“Maybe you can come for a tarot reading soon and we can look at that more deeply,” offered Ursula.

“Don’t forget to listen to your dreams,” said Owen. “It may be a soul contract you made somehow that you have to stay connected.”

“I did have a particularly vivid dream about him recently, “ said Alex. “I knew he was trying to tell me something. But I couldn’t make out what it was.”

“Keep listening. I think that’s what he means by blackberries. Those huge tangles of prickers are in the way of you guys communicating. He’s saying he loves you very much,” said Cindy. Again there was silence to see if any more would come about Alex and Jed.

“I’m getting all sorts of local creatives flashing through,” said June. “Klaus Jordan, a painter on the Mountain who died 30 years ago and dear Brin who taught music at the Community College. I think we all need to be doing our art more no matter what the medium in order to find out more about ourselves.”

“And I just got Marta who landed here for a bit so spectacularly a few years ago with her shamanistic paintings,” said Cindy. “I think these folks will help us if we let them in and pay attention to their whisperings. We all need to clear the blackberries.”

“I’m getting something about – from? – the native peoples of the Mountain and our river,” said Charley. “They just popped into my mind anyway so I thought I’d better mention them. But I can’t…. I have no idea what they’re trying to say.”

They all sat breathing quietly, listening, reaching out…. Until finally, “Thanks to you, spirits, for coming through to us tonight,” said Owen. “We will work with your messages.”

“Ho!“ Said everyone in unison.