Just a few days ago we were floating in a hot spring, rusty, opaque, iron-rich, tasting of blood, flowing from deep in the earth. I felt buoyant, safe. I carried Ash, the baby in the womb between us. We, its parents, curled around it, felt we were in turn held in a kind of womb, the warm water sanguine and close, an echo of when we were yet to be born. In this place where my ancestors were born and were parents and died.
For humanity to exist there has been our unbroken chain of life, the blending of sex, sperm and egg, the child growing in the living mother. In our culture we think of each person as separate and distinct, but there is this unbreakable link between us and the life we grew from, what created us, and the future, the life we create. Jeffers’ ever-returning waves of grass, equaling the life of a mountain. One conscious note in the sweep of the perdurable. What John Berger calls the dead, not absent but surrounding everything we do, our most basic context.
So on that small wild island, outcrop of volcanic rock thrusting out of the Atlantic, I felt both foreign and native. The land I have grown from, that made me, by food, air, scent and sight, is the California coast, and in my blood, my genes, this wave of life through time that is my ancestry, is this volcanic soil, this ocean wind, these island forests thick with bird song. The blood of beef cattle, the thick pasture grass.
Over and over the wild diving cliffs and crashing breakers reminded me of Big Sur, and so I started to see the connection as more than accidental. With this place in my blood maybe I was ready to love Big Sur and also made ready to hear Jeffers’ words. Then I was equally ready to read and write for the Dark Mountain Project, that takes its name from Jeffers’ poem, thinks with his inhumanist perspective.
Ash and I married, and at the center of the ceremony was that ethos of integrating us two into one, into our humanity in the fabric of land and place. Then we conceived a child, further integrating, placing us in the wave of humanity through time.
And then we heard of a class through Dark Mountain, on the other side of the world, and we both thought, It’s time. And if we were to attend this class, in Europe, then it only made sense to visit our ancestral homelands.
Nothing overly mystical, no unseen forces acting, merely life feeling itself moving in its circles, returning to its origins. Feeling again the safety and buoyancy of the womb, even while growing a new life. Tasting the basalt, the iron, the sulfur, the salt spray, the fermenting humid grass. My conscious mind not very much involved, as though the life in me had made the plan itself.
Now we have come to England, and this place is in my blood too, though not so recently. Like a more distant memory, more vague. To compound this feeling, we are moving through the surreal spaces of aircraft, terminals, hotels, expressways. As if moving as far and as fast as we have were not enough, these spaces seem designed to displace. Or perhaps they merely reflect what is inherent in them, this unrooted passage of multitudes, shuffling from chair to chair, catapulted ahead by the flame-out of fossil fuel.
To look at us now you’d think we grew from this black muck, that makes all we have from clothes to walls to vehicles and their energy to fertilizer for crops. This toxic ooze from deep in the earth that nevertheless has a rich irresistible flame.
We ride south on the bus, through the Midlands. Not much different in this careening passage from California’s great valley in winter: bare oaks, green pasture, wide band of highway full of cars, close gray clouds. Swallow-tailed hawks, high tension lines bowing over the trees, the bare trees full of crows and mistletoe. A blue heron flapping away. Damaged landscapes, digging machines, great mounds of earth or crumpled metal, great edifices of industry. Also like the Azores, the hills parceled out by stone walls and hedgerows, spaces for human use.
We have not truly landed; we are in another country but we are not here yet. It requires walking the land, drinking the water. We are still in that womb-like pool, floating, looking up to see the native hawks wheel, their white underwings, the birds for which those islands were named.