Elowah Falls

It was an intense day. After a rough night of grieving, I woke a little late and fired up the computer a little too soon to start working. I immediately jumped into juggling several messages, helping a couple of friends with some things, dealing with emails and doing some Many Gods West stuff. Then I had to take a break to pay bills and well – that is never a fun experience. By then, I was done – stressed, frustrated, and quickly spiraling off into some not-so-good place. It was time for some nature therapy. I dug some clothes out of a bag (I hadn’t gotten to the laundry, either – no added stress there!) and hopped in the car. I knew I was going to go for a drive through the Columbia River Gorge on the Historic Highway, but I didn’t know where I was going to stop yet. I was thinking “waterfall” but since there are dozens in the Gorge that didn’t really narrow it down. But I really enjoy just getting in the car and seeing where it takes me – intuition, spirits, and gods guiding the way.

20160526_162415I passed the waterfalls on the way out, and thought maybe I would stop at Horsetail, since I hadn’t felt the urge to stop anywhere else. When I didn’t get the nudge there either, I started to feel like maybe I would just turn around and go home. But then I remembered I hadn’t continued out Highway 30 to it’s junction with the interstate. I drove a couple more miles and pulled off at the parking area before I got back on to 84.

I looked at the sign – Elowah Falls trail. Oh! I had read about Elowah Falls, and the name sounds pretty awesome*. I checked in and got the definite ‘Yes – GO!’ so I tightened my hiking boots and set off, not really sure where I was going or what to expect.

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The trail is just under a mile to the falls, with a few hundred feet of elevation gain; its just enough to make me feel like I’ve worked to get there; combined with the first time on a trail with no guide, it was enough to wear down any resistance. The trail parallels the interstate for the entire length of it, adding some frustration and a heaping dose of paradox.
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It is beautiful – vibrant rain forest above and below. The landscape muffles the highway, but it is such that you can’t actually hear the falls until you get close enough to see it peeking through the trees and you start descending a series of switchbacks. It is a bit labyrinthine – trees growing across the trail at odd angles, washouts and rocks, green leaves and flowering plants obscuring your view.

And then you start to feel the water – the air sings with it, the earth softens with it. The trees and rocks are covered in moist moss. I dipped my hand into the pool beneath the small stream falling from the rocks and touched the sweet water to my head.

20160526_151522A few more steps and I stopped, my breath caught as a rush of energy went through me and tears came to my eyes. Opened before me was a great amphitheater where water played, cascading over rocks and singing with such playful joy. Elowah was falling grandly from the cliff. It felt like another time, another place; something out of a fantasy novel. The spirit of this waterfall had a kind and joyful priestess-like presence.

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As I came to the falls a crow flew over my head, joining a hawk high in the sky. They did not seem to do the usual territorial debate, rather they circled and seemed to danced. Dozens of swallows flit above me, birdsong resonating through the open canyon. There were no other embodied humans there.

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I wept.

I usually do, at waterfalls. At least the ones that aren’t displayed as tourist attractions (*cough*Multnomah*cough* ) Something about the singing in the air, the joyful play, the gentle power – the timeless presence that is constantly in movement. It resonates with my watery-airness in a way that is comforting and pulls me right into energized alignment.

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And I think about how grateful we should all be that such beauty exists. That sense of awe can not be replaced or duplicated. And yet, our capitalist society doesn’t appreciate it enough at all, beyond value as a resource. I wept for the highway that cut through this place, wept for those beings, human and non-human, who used to be here. Oh, the land spirits in the Pacific Northwest are strong and lively beings, make no mistake. But what must it have been like before we paved it over? Before we ran out and murdered the indigenous peoples that knew them as kin? Before we named new spirits in the name of progress?

I marveled at the fantastic geological formations, at all of the forces that merged and dance and broke apart over millions of years to create this place. I watched the faces in the waterfall, and formally introduced myself to the spirit there.

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I’ll be returning rather frequently.

On the way home I stopped for my nod to Devil’s Club. We’re still getting to know one other, this powerful plant and I, but oh is that thread getting stronger.

And then, as I left the Gorge and made my way back into “civilization” I had to stop the car to cry again. I can’t really tell you what that was about. It was a moving cascade of things. Rather like a waterfall.
*A note on the name of the falls – Elowah. In the brief research I have done, it seems no one is claiming to know the meaning of the name or why the falls were named Elowah. A mountaineering club had the name changed in 1915. If it is/was a word in the language of the indigenous peoples, I haven’t been able to find it. In Hebrew, Elowah is another word for God (correct me if I’m wrong). I got the sense that the spirit of the falls liked the name okay and the feel of the word is appropriate, but it is not the right name. As is usually the case.

Did you enjoy this piece? Please consider supporting me on Patreon, where I will be posting even more things like this.

Vulnerability, Community, and Starting my Patreon Campaign

Hey there dear ones. I’m going to get vulnerable with you for a minute. I know I don’t share a lot of stuff here with you that is a glimpse into the heart of my process. It is filtered, it comes after some piece has been resolved, it is a story that needs to be told. It feels far less vulnerable that way.

But starting a Patreon account? That has been pretty fucking vulnerable.

Starting a Patreon account is truly no small endeavor. I’ve been planning and thinking about mine for months, until I was finally at the place where I felt comfortable pursuing it. Much of that time has been spent peeling back layers of conditioning:

• my work isn’t valuable,
• I should just get a “real job”,
• I should become more of an entrepreneur and charge for all of my services,
• no one cares about what I do, I’ve worked so long behind the scenes that no one even knows who I am, or they all take me for granted

It has been a very difficult few months. While moving through these complexes, parts of my spiritual community directly associated with two of the projects I am involved with kinda exploded into some very messy drama. I did my best to not personally identify with any of it, even once some of the mud was slung directly on me. That is always a hazard when doing community work, but the timing could not have been more challenging. Because while going through all of this my younger sister died, suddenly and unexpectedly.

Just typing that moves a sea of emotion into roiling waves, beautiful yet dangerous.

Vulnerability feels dangerous.

Ultimately it was my sister’s death that moved me to launch my Patreon campaign. The pouring of support I received was an eye opening experience. Then I started to think of all of the work that she will never be able to do, all of the things that she was passionate about, all of the dreams she had. All of that potential, lost. I know she sometimes felt like her dreams were unattainable because of the money and time and physical barriers that were in her way – but she never let that stop her.

I won’t let it stop me either.

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Photo S. Nagakyrie

Putting myself out there as a writer and community builder is hard enough; I do it because there is work to be done, not for personal glory. Getting to the place where I can ask for financial support for that work has been really hard.

So I have to believe that the naysayers, the ones who reinforce the conditioning, who think this is a simple thing to do on a whim, or that it is just another ridiculous crowdfunding scheme, must not understand everything that is involved. It is not asking for a handout. It is not laziness. It is not easy.

Much of the work that I do I simply can’t charge for in a traditional way. Who would I charge? And when I am supporting projects that are just barely able to sustain themselves, where would the money come from?

I do believe Patreon is a step in the direction toward a radical shift in how we value those who enrich our communities. It isn’t the ideal model – there is still an entity between us financially benefitting from my work and your donations – but it is opening the discussion in a way that has previously not been possible. It is allowing those within the community who have the means to offer a tithe, to pass the hat as it were. And it is shining a light on work that so often goes unnoticed.

While working on my campaign I began to notice more of the potential that Patreon has while financially supporting cultural creatives. There is huge potential to build community, and to engage in the values of hospitality and reciprocity that strengthen communities. By fully stepping in to our roles as cultural creatives and ending the silence on the need for financial support of our work, we open ourselves and the community to be more greatly influenced by that work. We can have more open and honest dialogue about the creative process and all of the work that goes on behind the scenes to build community, and empower others to do the same. We can allow the community to support us – without guilt, shame, or attachment. And the community can feel good about fulfilling their obligations of hospitality and reciprocity – which includes a responsibility to those who are otherwise unable to afford access.

That sounds like a great recipe for healthy community to me.

You can find my Patreon account at https://www.patreon.com/syren Where you can read more about my work, my goals, and get some great rewards.

A Brief Note on my Writer’s Craft

Given the intense and personal stuff I am writing lately (which has always been my MO, but there are a lot of new people in my life and following my work – thank you!) it seems I need to give an explanation/disclaimer.

Once I release a piece of writing into the world, it isn’t to garner sympathy, or to evoke any emotional reaction directed toward my personal experience.

It is usually because the story needs to be told, because it has worked its way out of me and is begging to be released. Because there is something in the story that I feel people need to read, and experience, and think about; something that may speak to them. Because, as I wrote in my poem Ecstatic Union:

All things seek their purpose,
their potential.
It is the craft of the writer
to help words reach theirs.

Once I release a story, it really isn’t even about me anymore. Yes, you may learn a bit more about me, or think you do. But stories are their own being. I want the stories to be appreciated for the being that they are.

This is what art is about.
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This also applies to pieces of commentary and thought on critical issues. A single article does not represent the entire complexity of my position on any topic. That would take at least a book; as it rightly should for any of us.

 

The First Loss

It was a week past Easter Sunday, a week that we had lived in the hospital, taking shifts from bedside to waiting room. Now the entire extended family crammed into the tiny room set aside for families to hold their tragedy, every hand clutching tissues or tiny Styrofoam cups of something warm, tasting tears. It must have been two dozen people, but the room was full to bursting with more than just physical bodies.

We were barely 19, my high school sweetheart and I. But here we were, deciding whether to remove his father from life support.

He had woken up on Easter Sunday with paralysis in one side of his face and arm. The day of resurrection, for this devoutly Christian family, was the last day anyone would see him rise. He’d been having some numbness in his arm, and was due to see a doctor the next day. Instead, his wife rushed him to the emergency room of the closest hospital – which, being in a poor ghetto, was also one of the most understaffed and under-equipped hospitals in the area.

He sat in the ER waiting room for hours before they finally admitted him. Hours, following the stroke. Hours which sealed his fate.

The first visit, he had some awareness of who we were. He reached with his fingers for his son’s hand, looked me in the eyes with a sad knowing plea.

The first seizure stole all that, and sent him to the tubes and the machines.

Mostly I remember the feel of the room, and the smell. It wasn’t a worldly smell – it was the smell of loss, of Death stalking near. Something that, once you recognize it, you can never forget. No hospital antiseptics can cover it up. No flower bouquets banish it.

I remember feeling so isolated and alone, with this huge family that I barely knew and had no clue how to be around. Extended family was foreign to me; something I’d never known and hadn’t really allowed myself to wish for. It seemed my only value was in the role of supportive girlfriend.

When we went home, I watched him seethe. I watched him eat his rage and pain, stuffing it deeper and deeper. I held my grief for his loss, and my loss. His father had always been so kind and accepting of me, as opposed to his devout mother who was at best wary of my presence. I cried alone in the closet so he wouldn’t know of my grief, and then would beg him to talk to me. I wrote. He drank. I eventually found acceptance. He found the silence of the eye of the storm.

Ultimately we never recovered. Our relationship ended 8 years later – many years later than it should have.

We don’t talk about this, in our culture. How do you bury a parent when you are barely an adult yourself? How do you cope, looking down the long hallway of adulthood, mourning the milestones that aren’t even here yet, that they won’t be at either? How do you carry the burden of grief on shoulders that have barely held life? How do you say goodbye when you can’t even accept that they are gone? How do you fill shoes that were never meant to be yours?

How do we hold each other in our grief?

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Photo by S. Nagakyrie