A hummingbird dashed past us while we were sharing pastries from a box out of the trunk of my car. On my drive up to Sugar Loaf Ridge Park last Saturday, March 7th, the original plan was to stop at Rustic Bakery in Larkspur to pick up one of their divine breakfast panini, that are substantial enough for me to have half for breakfast and half for lunch. Except the exit ramp off 101 was closed for some reason and the swing around would have taken longer than I had time for. Bummed as I was in those first few minutes, it came to me that I could stop to pick up something somewhere in Sonoma. That is when I remembered this little bakery I had glimpsed just outside of town along Hwy 12. I hoped it had not been a mirage, and kept my fingers crossed that it would be good. It was better!
Crisp Bake Shop in Sonoma is one of those little gems where, when it is your turn to order, you are still not sure what you are going to get because everything looks delectable. Of course, I had to pick at least four different things. How could I not?!
Anyway, this explains why we were standing around nibbling goodies in the parking lot.
It was another one of those perfectly glorious days at Sugar Loaf last Saturday: sunny and warm, but not hot, and with a light breeze. Nature around us had taken a few more steps towards spring: the grass was greener and dotted here and there with tiny wild flowers. The early blossoms on the fruit trees were gone and replaced by tender green leaves, while the forest canopy was generally thicker with new growth. I was so happy to be back in the same sweet spot by the creek, and as we closed our eyes during our stone circle check in, I felt like swaying. When it was my turn to express gratitude, that is what I shared: how grateful I was for this place and the glorious weather we were blessed with that day.
The short iPhone video below gives you a quick view of the area.
As we focused inwards while Amos’ voice guided us, I noticed something unusual occurring – something that had not happened before. I would think of something, feel like something, or an image would pop into my mind, and within minutes Amos would either mention the same thing or suggest just what I had felt like doing. I am not sure if I was picking up on what he was about to suggest, or if he was picking up on my imprint. It was uncanny, and it continued for a good hour or so before tapering out.
Stepping in and then out of our stone circle, the first invitation had the seven of us slowly meander in quiet and observant mode while picking our way towards another sweet spot Amos had scouted for us earlier. It was off path, visible but hidden at the same time, a true children’s enchanted playground, filled with treasures to discover. I think the moment we turned into children was when we climbed over the branch to get to “the other side”. I could feel myself and observe the others as we gradually progressed from quiet zen observation to silent but playful discovery mode.
Here is another quick iPhone video to give you a sense of the place.
The thing I enjoyed the most was putting my feet in the cool water of the creek. At first I tried going in barefoot, but the rocks were hurting my feet so I figured I might as well baptize my slippers. It was just water after all.
I hadn’t done this in a long time and once more a memory of the Swiss Alps was triggered. This time it was a relatively recent one, from late April 2002, when my beloved dog White (the one who is over the rainbow) and I drove to Switzerland for the day for a hike in the mountains. It was a perfect day, with just him, me and the cows, and I could let him off leash. Though he had a good life and was spoiled rotten, I think that was his happiest day, and the happiest memory I have of us together. I watched him run around the grassy slopes, check out the cows, look up to make sure I was within sight, run back to me, run out again. If I hiked ten miles, he must have run at least fifteen. And when we crossed the creek, he splashed about like a duck, and even gingerly lowered his belly briefly in the water, testing it before just splashing in completely. He was fun and funny to watch.
He was so happy end excited, he started jumping over rocks, some quite large, until he caught his leg in one and howled so loud I think they heard him all the way down in the valley, and we were at 5,500 ft.
“Shit! What if he has broken his leg? There is no cell phone signal here, and how am I going to get a big dog back down to the car by myself?” Luckily, the wild thing had only banged it. A little rest, a lot of fuss on my part and he was up and running and splashing all over again. When we came down the mountain, before heading to the car, we stopped at a local bar and picked up his favorite treat: popsicles. One for me and one for him, which I held while he took measured bites, then asked for some of mine.
I wish I had a photo of him to share, but all the ones I have are prints from film and not scanned. To give you an idea, he looked like a white Golden Retriever, though he was a mix between an Italian Maremma Shepherd and an English Setter, and had hazel eyes. He looked a lot like Snow the water boy, and like Snow, I think White would also have enjoyed jumping into tide pools.
As you relax and spend time in one place, you slowly begin to notice more and more details, like the roots in the image above, that reminded me of how entangled life is. Just like those roots that hold the ground together and prevent landslides, life’s entanglements also hold things together, allowing for a structure that enables us to evolve. Not quite sure what I am trying to say here, or if I have expressed myself clearly. Maybe you understand anyway.
The Spirit of Place was strong here, and it stimulated an ultra-sensory conversation, a quick back and forth question and answer moment I had with the forest while sloshing about in the water. I was unsure about a decision I had made and whether I should continue on that track, so that is what I was examining. I heard pretty clearly in my head “Do all that makes you happy, that you enjoy!” and at my “But…..?!”, the answer was: “You are in a safe place.” There were a few more details than that, but since it is something I am still working on, I will leave it at that for now.
The others were also very much in their own world even as we shared space. As I came out of my reveries, I noticed several were holding treasures or arranging them artistically. Then someone, I do not remember who now, discovered the Breath of the Earth. A large, moss-covered tree by the creek had a naturally occurring hole in the lower and wider part of the trunk. If you placed your hand close, you could feel a cool breeze flowing out from it. We each took turns in doing that, but also in breathing the air that was coming from somewhere deep within. It was cool and pure and carried a rich earthy fragrance. My first thought was of the unexplored life in the hollow space below the surface crust of the earth. There must be air down there, and it must vent in and out of somewhere. Why not a hollow tree trunk?! Hence “Breath of the Earth”, which sounds very Indiana Jonesy, don’t you think? Good thing there was no booby trap!
It was after this incredible experience – which we would not have found had we just hiked through the place – that we gathered in a circle and shared organically about our discoveries and the little treasures some of us had found. The speaking piece for the day was an interesting animal bone, probably a vertebrae, Sanam had found. It looked like a happy face with a big smiling mouth.
Amos observed how every place seems to have one or more shrines, special places where the energy is particularly strong in a positive way, naturally inducing feelings of reverence. Maybe this tree in this hallowed spot by the creek was one of those to be found at Sugar Ridge.
Even though we shared from within with the usual focused support from the others, there was still an inescapable playfulness about our circle. We were at the creek for quite some time, and even after Amos headed out, the intention being to lead us wayward children to our next location, the rest of us lingered, unwilling to leave the playfulness and all the treasures behind.
We finally headed out, touching base at our circle of stones to collect the items we had left there, then crossed the bridge and reconvened in a clearing canopied by some tall trees. After pointing out the newly leafing poison oak, both in appreciation of its qualities, and to make sure we were careful, Amos gave us our next invitation. It reflected something I had already spontaneously done at the creek. We were to find a tree that we felt a connection with and, after introducing ourselves to said tree and the forest in general, then stating our purpose for being there, we were to have a conversation with it or with the forest. If we had a particular question, we were to ask it and see what answer would come.
As everyone headed out to find their tree, I could not get away from where I was. I thought I might as well talk to the tall tree that was right in front of me. Except when I tried to introduce myself I instantly heard: “We know who you are. You have been here before.”
“Well, yes I have. I was here a couple of times about three weeks ago.”
“No, you were here already before that.”
And I knew that I had been, in another timeline. It seemed that the whole forest was having this conversation with me. I could feel the love flowing from the forest to me and from me to the forest. Since I had already asked my questions and received answers down at the creek, I decided to do a circle of light for the forest and everything and everyone in it right there and then, in gratitude for the gifts and healing I was receiving by being there. I called in my invisible Gang, then watched as the Light pooled with me as the center focus and then expanded all around, becoming bigger and bigger, and I made the intention that all the critters and humans passing through this forest receive a blessing, for whatever they needed and for their highest good.
This is what I shared when we assembled again to talk about our experience, as gratitude and relaxing into joyful wellness seemed to be my theme for the day. We circled around the path, just a little further ahead, and exchanged stories. Three of us had unknowingly been attracted by the same tree – which one called the dancing tree because of the way some of the branches touched the ground while others reached for the sky.
It was a day of treasures it seems, as more of us had found some. So I took a photo as a memento of this particular treasure-filled day.
We continued a short way up the path to reach the site of what was to be our next invitation: sit-spot. A tree was offering some lovely shade and underneath it, in just the most perfectly restful place, was a bench. Unfortunately, two young boys were sitting on this bench, invading our space. At least that was my first reaction, until I noticed how they were quietly talking among themselves, clearly enjoying the beauty around them. It felt like they were having their own spontaneous Shinrin-Yoku experience, and it was interesting to notice how their energy was not dissimilar from that of our group. Shortly the adults came along and they all left, leaving us our space.
I had spied a small grouping of trees offering some shade just fifteen yards further along the path, and that is where I headed for my sit-spot. I spread out my beach towel, placed my backpack next to me, my camera in my lap and sat cross-legged, enjoying the quiet and peacefulness of the place. Except for Joyce, whom I could see sitting on the liberated bench nearby, the others had scattered out and were not visible to me. It may have been March, and still this side of the equinox, but it felt like a summer afternoon. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, immersing myself in the present moment. The breeze rustled the grasses and tree branches, passing by my ears, whispering the kind of song you can only hear in this type of deep quiet.
I was in meditation mode, and acknowledged how much nicer it was to do this here instead of in an enclosed environment. Even in the quietest room inside a house, for as comfortable and protected as it may be, it is never truly quiet. There is always some noise, even if muted, that seeps in: a car passing by, a lawnmower buzzing, or even the almost imperceptible hum of electric appliances. I am hearing it now, as I type, this illusion of quiet. It is the inescapable nemesis to the otherwise appreciated comforts of modern life.
I also felt quite safe. I could come back here and do this by myself because I felt safe.
After a while I opened my eyes and looked around. Without shifting position, I took a few photos of the details I saw around me, then I removed my notebook from my backpack and started writing whatever occurred to me from the day’s experience.
The way I was sitting and holding the notebook flashed me back to another time, a few years ago, when I experienced what is called a twidder (which auto-correct insists on it being a twitter, but it isn’t). Twidder is an acronym created to mean any episode in which a spontaneous time-slip or dimensional leap-frogging occurs. There are many documented cases of these occurrences, and if you are interested in reading about them, I can recommend the book Twidders by Anita Holmes, which I recently read, thoroughly enjoyed, and look forward to more of the same.
I was living on the Big Island of Hawai’i at the time. There was a book proposal I needed to read and, since I was to do the photography for it, I really wanted to read it someplace where I would not be disturbed. I drove to Lapakahi, an old Hawaiian healing village along the Kohala coast, which is open to visitors, but is never crowded. It was morning, and aside from the Kupuna (elder) who was the keeper of the place and hung out by the cabin near the parking lot, there was nobody around.
I headed for the beach and sat on the rocks. The only sounds I could hear were the rustling palms nearby and the ocean gently swishing over the rocks. I took out the folder with the proposal and immersed myself in it. After a while, I heard sounds coming from the village behind me, like people doing things, talking, walking around… the general bustling activity of a small village. I stopped reading and looked up at the ocean and then all around. The sounds instantly stopped. Nobody was around. Nobody. I resumed reading, and after a while the sounds of activity started again. I looked up again and the sounds went away, nobody in sight. I got up and headed for the area where the sounds had been stronger. Nobody, not a single person.
That is when I knew I had accessed some other time, or other dimension in some way. I remember and feel this as if it were yesterday. It has not happened since, not that I am aware of, anyway.
As I came out of my reverie I heard Amos’ flute and saw two hikers approach the trail from my right. As they saw us, they stopped, hesitating. They looked at us and whispered to each other. To the outside world Joyce and I were not doing anything other than sitting there relaxing, but they must have picked up the shift in energy because they remained uncertain whether they could continue on and invade our space. It was perfect timing, and I noticed how nobody else had come along the whole time we did sit-spot. Once more we had entered our own dimensional bubble.
We all convened again under the tree where Joyce was sitting and shared our sit-spot experiences and anything that had come up for us. I really enjoy listening to everybody’s experience as they deepen mine. We talked about the quiet and the lack of human-made sounds. It seems that Sugar Loaf Ridge is the only place in the world where one can experience such complete quiet as, even in the remotest of places – like a desert – there are still airplanes flying above. Sugar Loaf must be out of the airlines’ flight path.
Amos had searched for herbs with which to make tea, but could not find anything viable, so he used some toasted bay nuts he had brought, and which he ground into the water. While the water was simmering, he passed one of these nuts to each of us, encouraging us to crack it open with our teeth and taste the fruit inside. The shape was similar to a hazelnut, but we were surprised to find it tasted like cacao with a hint of coffee thrown in. Even the texture was similar to the cacao nibs I had tasted. The tea made from it was quite pleasant and held the same taste, and a fragrance strong enough for me to pick up at a distance as the steam wafted towards me with the breeze.
This is the informal time of Shinrin-Yoku, as food comes out and, even though we tend to stay on topic because of what we just experienced, conversation is more organic. Soon after we headed back to the parking lot, where a few of us nibbled on some more of the goodies from the bakery box which, being too big for my backpack, I had left in the car.
The next forest bathing would be at North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park, just across the highway as the crow flies; or maybe the turkey-volture, since I have not seen any crows up there. My camera and I did a Snoopy happy dance at the prospect of a new location to explore and photograph – all on the inside, of course.
Until the next Shinrin-Yoku.
If you wish to learn more about the practice of Shinrin-Yoku, how to join a walk or become a guide, you can check out this website.
Read about the other walks in this series by clicking on the links below:
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