Wildfires and Magic

Friday.

We begin the day setting up camp at Starbucks in McKinleyville. We’ve secured a corner for ourselves, with not two but four outlets this time. We plug both our laptops in at the table, then both our phones at the booth across the aisle. It’s an invasion. Ben likens it to a detective movie, as if we’re buckling down to crack the case. Except instead of your regular coffee and donuts desk, our scene is full of sand covered paper and notebooks strewn across the table along with equally weatherworn books, bags of carrots and apples, hot chocolate and a green tea, bar soap for taking bird baths in the Starbucks sink, and toothbrush and toothpaste just in case we ever get around to it.

I grab free hot water from Starbucks before we leave, and make my own tea.

“Who knew you could get free hot water from Starbucks, bro?”

He rolls his eyes dramatically. “What a fucking miracle…”

My brother makes another face as we get in the car and set off for Oregon around noon.

“This is the thing. Most people who don’t wear deodorant also don’t exercise a lot. No athlete would ever willingly give up deodorant. You can’t go for a run this morning, and then just expect to carry on with your day.”

“You can’t be that hard on me.”

“You can’t SMELL that bad!”

We go on to discuss deodorant versus no deodorant. I argue that humanity has lived without deodorant for much longer than it has with it. Hunter gatherer societies were athletes, but didn’t originally lather Old Spice under their pits. And a lot of cultures still don’t even worry about body odor in the world, it’s just a part of their daily life. It’s considered healthy.

“Hunter gatherer societies are exempt from this conversation. You really want to be the paleo diet of smells?” My brother asks me in an acidic tone. “Besides, you don’t even eat meat!”

I explain that traditional diets vary by region, so the closer to the poles you are, the more meat in your diet. The closer to the equator, the more fruits and vegetables.

“You can’t just DECIDE to be an Equatorial caveman, Anne. That’s not what you are. You have Nordic blood, you’re from a meat eating stock. Your genetics are not used to sweating as much as you do. You sweat easier and more than people from the Equator.”

And so it goes for another fifteen miles or so, before we both become frustrated with one another, and we begin talking about the road.

“You’ve always been the more chaotic type. This isn’t what I usually do… taking off on a hefty road trip without plans for the future.”

“I’m proud of you.”

“I’m proud of myself, too.”

We’re taking a scenic wildfire drive on Highway 96, through Trinity county which is probably making national news around lunchtime.

I tell my brother my fears of blowing all my money on this road trip, after saving up all year.

“You work your ass off and save up money, and then do shit like this. This is your bread and butter, Anne. This is what you do and it’s what you’re good at. Giving up short term comforts like financial security for the long term comfort of having slowly built a life and career you can continue to build and be proud of. ”

I smile and thank him, and then begin panicking about the fires a soon after. “This smoke. Should I call someone, you think?”

“Oh. I’m sure you should. They probably have no idea that their forest is burning. ‘This girl. This girl here, she took it upon herself to pick up her cellular device, and save the forest.’”

We pass the Hoopa tribal lands, and the fire warnings along the highway have the arrows in the orange. There are so many hitchhikers walking along the road. If they were living peacefully in the forest before, now is the time to jump in a car and get out of town for sure.

My brother continues to play this damn Celtic music on repeat that we’ve been listening to for a week.

“I feel a certain affinity to the Irish people,” he begins his monologue. “They charm me. Celtic woman have that ability to reach elements of joy and pain at the same time. It’s humor, in the dark awfulness of it. That’s their strength, as a people…” he drones on, imitating an old Southern man, his gift for the stage never clearer.

“Whoaa… slow around those turns…”

“Thanks, chief. I appreciate Houston backing me up. Sage advice.”

Smokey mountains. Even when we escape the bulk of the wildfire.

“That’s the appeal of California. The murkiness of it, the haze. If you could see everything clearly here, there wouldn’t be such a draw.”

I’m starting to feel sick on the ever winding mountain turns, and look at the map and realize we have another good three hours of this. We pull over to the side of the road, and I grab the wheel for the rest of the 96.

Soon after taking the wheel, I realize that I am still going to need notes taken. And my brother cooperates with me for some quality note taking from the passenger’s seat as I drive and commentate. I ask him to write down his own quotes as well, and we discuss artistic integrity and copy writing. If you hear someone articulate something in a perfect way and you write it down, is it then yours to do with what you wish?

The 96 follows the Klamath river for awhile, and the gulping gaps in the mountains allow the sky to flow into view, an eagle or two soaring along the blue to keep you on your toes.

I mention fears, and my brother scoffs. “Oh, please. You writer types, you want chaos. It behooves you to fall in love and sometimes ruin your lives over it. Because that makes for good literature. Career types that stay in the same place forever- that does not make for good reading.”

We’re eating carrots from the middle console in the car, and passing through the town of Orleans.

Fire danger is red now, and the toxic algae level is off the charts.

“Gross.”

“…That is really gross.”

My brother takes out my bottle of tea tree oil, and wets a napkin with it. Then puts it up to the air vents in the car.

“You’re not really…”

“I am. And I will continue to until you find an appropriate substance to put under your arms.”

We pass through Happy Camp and we are greeted by a hitcher in a purple shirt, bright green oval glasses, bell bottoms and a lanky frame. He looks like he’s straight from the Emerald City, now drifting along the white perimeter line of the road in California. There’s a big statue of Big Foot that we should have taken a picture with, seemingly built out of pine needles and standing thirty feet high. The dirt is red up here like Oklahoma land, and the smoke is slowly starting to clear out of the air.

“These are happy mountains. Breathable mountains, you know? Agency, compared to Witch Mountain we discovered a few days ago. Not being trapped in the victim mentality, this kind of environment blows your world wide open. It’s a cycle, not a lifestyle.”

We pass a sign on that side of the road that says ‘Save America. No more monuments.’

“Actions behind words, man. That’s a novel. How much will you put up with? The more you move, the less shit you take?”

We discuss actors in relation to writers.

“An actor is waiting to be told they can make art, they’re waiting for that part. The writer can create art on their own time, and share at their own leisure.”

“But the actor recognizes impermanence. While the writer is continually trying in vain to grasp some sort of permanence.”

Seeming to soar above the landscape we pass the California border and land in Oregon around five in the evening. Oregon opens up wide, and though the mountains are towering in every direction, the highway is spread out enough that it seems you are on par with these giant beasts.

It begins to sprinkle rain the minute we enter Oregon and the air is filled with that fresh rain smell, as if on cue. We’re leaving the land of fire and smoke for a land that’s a little more nourished.

The foothills and mountains remind me of the southwest, and New Mexico in particular. The golden mountains with tiny dark round shrubs and trees populating the vast slope like the spots on a lizard. The mountains in the distance are blue as well, just like the ones in Albuquerque. They are a mass of delicate flowing blue running inexplicably together, dense with no see through spots, but also not overwhelming. The mountain trees know their place and their charm here, and they don’t need to overdo it or overwhelm the rest of the environment. Individual delicate, symmetrical and neat trees that take up little lateral space, collectively creating a horizon. Hazy storybook hills and soft colors, Oregon greets you.

Wide open mountains with space to breathe and think compared to the all consuming Northern California mountains. Clean mountain feel, it feel like you could eat them instead of the mountains eating you. Vastness. Possibilities in the air.

I scratch my head, and sand falls out of my hair like rain. My brother lets out a pained noise. He hates the sand. I think he wanted to come inland to Ashland just to get away from it.

There are pastures all around as we drive toward Ashland, and the view is amazing. We pull into town, and get out at a tiny, local grocery store. It is oppressively hot outside, and we can hardly believe it. That humidity. It’s back.

All of the diners we try to check out are closed, and we think maybe we’ve stumbled upon a dud of a town. Is anything happening here? As far as we can see there is just a highway, and a shit ton of vet clinics. We drive a little further, and find out that it is a university town, Southern Oregon University. I sense its college town vibes, and it reminds me a bit of Lawrence, Kansas. Though I’m still not sold on Ashland, yet.

“Have you been having strange dreams?” a sign outside of the gas station asks. “We are researching a bizarre spike in strange dreams… please call this number for more information…”

We’ve definitely stumbled upon something here, but we’re too tired to pursue it any further. Where are we going to sleep tonight? We get out the GPS and ask it to lead us to campgrounds.

We find an RV/tent campsite right outside of town for $25 a night, and it’s a little too pricey for us. So we decide to try one more.

We’re both getting tired, and we’re both pretty hungry. We haven’t had a real meal all day. On a whim, we head for the “hot springs” campground that pops up on the GPS, right outside the other part of town. We don’t have high hopes at all, and right before we make the last turn for it, Ben expresses foreboding.

Taking an immediate left on the highway, we are brought into a small driveway with a sign announcing “Hot Springs!” with a dancing Ganesha elephant leading the way.

Oh, this is real life. Trust me.

We pull in, and realize that this is not just a hot springs. This is a little spiritual community. Parking the car and questioning if we’re invited here or not, we walking into the office.

A beautiful woman behind the counter with sweat on her brow is busily managing ten or so campers with a take-no-shit-waste-none-of-my-time attitude. They are a bunch of shirtless men and bikini wearing hippie women in long flowing skirts. The woman at the counter asks us if we’re planning on staying too, and we say sure. And she throws us two or three liability forms that we have to sign, and my anxiety rises with the moment. My brother is all about it though, and he’s paying for the campsite tonight, so I’m just going to go with it.

When you find a place like this, I think the only thing you can do is go with it.

While we’re waiting for registration, I look around. There is a calendar behind me with a list of activities by the day, mostly including goddess worship. Sadly, I realize we missed the Earth Mother dance for the night. There is a tiny cafe to my left, where a peaceful man in a chef hat fixes curries and falafel and chai teas.

There is a case full of organic soaps to the left, and then there is a board full of local events directly in front of me. This place is the definition of over stimulation, in the best way. As long as they don’t make us drink any kool-aid.

“When is the smoke supposed to get to Ashland?” a health obsessed man like me asks the take-no-shit girl behind the counter.

“Like, now. I told you this earlier.”

“…that not good…”

“Um. It’s nature!” the girl yells, in a hilarious and jarring sequence of events.

I flip through a pamphlet on finding your “inner goddess,” and then we pay the bill. Only $35 for a place to sleep, and a strange and unique you-only-do-once experience.

We go back to our car to collect our things, and I look up to see the sun setting in the now smoky sky. Blood red and skirting beneath the jungle green trees. The smoldering gray sky magnifying any existing color in the world.

My brother puts a towel around his neck, and heads off to the hot springs. I decide take a walk around the property and fully take in what it is that we’ve walked into here.

I pass houses that have huge OM signs on their sides. Tapestries for doors. Wiwams announcing the professions of the people that live inside them: “healer” “divine mother worship.” Lots of Tibetan peace flags, the homes seeming to merge with the Earth. Soaking into the world around them instead of drawing attention to themselves.

Intentional.

Down the road, there is an entrance to a walking path. By the path is a community board of events, including more goddess worship, along with “open minds open hearts open mic” nights, “Ashland family song” night, “spiritual guitar lessons.” There are native poems posted, and there are Earth Mother gatherings announced.

I enter the garden, and am greeted by a duck, a chicken and a rooster guarding the organic garden. The garden is a part of the hot springs campground, it provides medicinal food for every part of the body. The garden is grouped by the plants’ relation to the human body. I walk further on, and find out that the Ashland Goddess Temple is right here. There is a trail and a temple and an educational experience to be had, aesthetically stimulating with intentional magic around every corner.

First stop is the Elemental Faery Ring.

Stone in your Bone, River in Your Blood, Wind in your Breath, Fire in your Heart.

“If you choose to enter this magickal Ring, please receive permission from the Faery Realm and then enter through the Tiki Torches which hold the placement of where we are in alignment with the seasons.”

I ask permission, and I enter. Inside the circle are five or six alters, each representing different elements and lifestyles. There is a little faery home in the corner, a circle of many wee little houses.

“The faeries invoked a ceremonial space. To honor the season, to claim their place. To dance their balls, and to share their song. To the sacred Elements we belong.”

Next is Apple Island, and you must use the bridge to cross the moat and get to it.
“The vortex point. The powerful Heart Chakra of the Land, called forth the placement of our Goddess Temple. ‘Clooties’ are the ribbons, yarn and offerings that hang from the Apple Trees. If you are called, please receive a ribbon from the basket, make your prayers, tie it to a limb, and trust the Elements will carry your heartsong.”

Inside the Apple cove across the moat is a big statue of a bear woman, with giant breasts and offerings from all over the world adorning her.

“The Standing Bear Woman holds our Ancestor Altar. The bear who taught the First Nation People that these Waters were scared healing springs.”

There is “Ye Old Broom Stand” to the right of the bear, and a few brooms and a pair of shoes lie against a tree. There are offerings saturating the tree branches in the cove.

I walk along the path, and up a steep trail following Tibetan Peace Flags.

At the top of the hill is a bench, and I sit and write. Taking it all in. There is a wigwam with a girl bowing in devotion to candles inside of it below me, and an organic farm spreading out to create a healing human body, and then the Oregon mountains in the distance.

A cat is walking down on the path below, and I realize that the stones of the path are cut to resemble the phases of the moon.

I come back down off of my perch, and I walk through the Seasonal Wheel Garden, a medicinal garden tended

and harvested by the Ashland Goddess Temple. It replicates the web of life, and aims to show our place in it.
“It is important to nurture our connection to the living land we sleep on, as well as the cycles of the sun, moon and seasons. They really do affect us as individual organisms as much as they affect the great organism, Gaia whom we all live upon. When we allow ourselves to find the connection to explore these inner and outer landscapes and the powerful medicines they hold, we gain wisdom and growth.”

My brother walks up as I’m kneeling down, reading and writing in the garden.
“It’s not really a talking kind of place, huh?” he asks me. “Everyone’s really in their own world.”

Right behind us is the moon lodge, and I walk away from him, fascinated.

“Feed the dragon of the place. Anoint the canvas of the Earth and grace this space.”

Right next to the Goddess Temple wigwam, this is a place for women to come during their period. I push the cloth canvas door aside to peek inside, revealing a box of Kleenex, big silky red pillows, books and notebooks.

“We welcome you to offer your Yoni Mead into your personal fabric or chalice. Use it to nourish your personal garden, or use your holy blood to paint your prayers on the inside canvas of this tipi.”

The Goddess Temple wigwam is alive and well late on this Friday night. An “interfaith and intercultural sanctuary for nurturance of the Divine Feminine.” There is also a sign warning to please be aware, this temple holds a sacred container for clothing optional events. I hear laughing inside, all women’s voices, and the name Bernie Sanders. I am unsure whether his name is used in a positive or negative light, but I would love to  be a fly on the wall in that wigwam. I almost walk up to the door to get a closer look at it all, and I realize that there’s a chance I might be invited in.

I pass Hectate’s garden, the Greek goddess of magic.

And then I pass the goddess altar, tucked into another garden.

The mother here is sacred mud

The water here is scared blood

Sit within her womb of rebirth

Feel the presence of eternal earth

“We welcome you to massage Her body, get close and receive.”

Nestled in a little cover between plants is a blanket spread out on the mud with ferns over it.

I take a break and sit under a maple tree with little houses handing in it. Next to the bench is an offering tray, with tid bits that people have left on their travels in appreciation. Bracelets, lip balm, snake skins, pens, bubbles, nests, coins, a big lump of yellow unidentifiable material that looks like a big wax hot dog.

Walking back to the campgrounds and hot springs, I notice a little stage tucked away into the forest for performances, or rituals. Leaving the Goddess Temple, I read their mission statement, “Preservation of the environment, as well as awareness of ethical conduct toward oneself and others, and the community at large.”

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