My friends sleep naked beside me under the rare shade of an alder tree. We are precious and precarious beside snakes, winding creeks, empty modelo cans, a watermelon lugged down the steep hike and dropped on its head across a sharp rock. We are healing our bodies in this ravine, giving thanks, there is a sharpness, an aliveness. We make fragmented rituals, pick blackberries. I always wear my favorite silk shirt camping. We’re not trying to win at anything. An entirely different game, we rest when we rest, work, fatten, wildness, bodies meeting the elements and reaching only towards a moment’s curiosity. The ants crawling up my legs don’t bother me anymore.
The day before we took acid and ate gummy worms and felt the rocks with the whole of our bodies. I’m convinced this is an ancient place and it is, though young geologically-speaking. 150 million years ago sediment settled on the ocean floor. Forces deep within the earth pushed subterranean plates against each other. Skittering eruptions of the serpentine mineral rocks. Glaciation and erosion stirred this red and green rock in archetypal formations: cave, cathedral, chasm, well, spring. The gulch is constantly changing—serpentine is a weak rock prone to landslides. I don’t know if it's just the acid but this place feels holy and aren’t all places holy?
I am with men in the supple mouth of the Eel River. We journey for days. We remember discovering was never discovery at all but the welcome embrace of the chaotic, chthonic serpent of life welcoming us home all along. And what do we do, we fill her belly with aluminum foil, dregs, peelings, our undersides and still she blooms verdant roiling masses of algae: green, tan, pale, hanging on against the current, coating the walls of these holes we come home to.
We mother and father and lead and follow, nurturing, antagonizing. Our feet are dirty and covered in burrs, traveling seed, sticky pollen of the tarweed and madia. We talk about queer compounds and raising daughters. We talk about never having jobs again besides dancing and digging. I wonder what these dreams of homestead, commune, and community can really become for us. Children of colonization living on stolen land.
I step away from my napping friends to pee. Squatting in the creek. I sit under a boulder in the midst of tumbling down, shading a pool of fish and tadpoles. I sing into her darkness and ask her all my questions. Always the same answer, to dance and to dance.
At night we sit around the fire. I crouch on a log gathered for burning and tell them about this feeling I’ve had, this feeling of losing hope. It was a feeling that started out as a depression but has changed, losing hope feels freeing, or at least more alive. Not a giving up as much as an expanding out. Hope can be like a drug and I’m glad to be off it for a while. I’m feeling greener. A slow but forceful tearing where there was once bolstering, hardening, reaching towards something better.
I’m braver without hope. It is a healthy burn revealing seeds and enlivening lost lands. Or is it forest fire, set by an arsonist, maliciously or carelessly flicked matches, destroying all living and latent forms in its path. Either way it’s happening and I’m getting off this hope stuff and it is so much alive. Many more narratives and fewer places that scream into silence when I brush up against them. There is nothing but all this livingness now, this dance, this death. The cliff walls are caving in, the serpentine collapsing before our eyes. I lie in the remains and place the shards on my body. Two arrows on my hip bones, another on my sternum, diaphragm, throat. I will crawl along the wreckage of all the falling apart pieces, but I will not go back to the smaller and smaller island of hope.
Before we go to sleep we pull our tents close to each other, closer to the fire. It feels good to be close, it feels good to be a body, in the brush, among the manzanitas, in the grassland, descending ravines to the water. We are children, sand, dark lizards, the millions of black larvae hanging onto the cascading waterfall’s edge waiting for our moment to release into the current.
I wrote this about a weeklong camping trip I took with a couple friends last week around Middle Fork of the Eel River. It was incredible land to experience and journey with and I can’t wait to go back. Apparently this area of the Mendocino National Forest is old growth. I’m not sure if we were in that exact area, but it was really special to be in a much more wild California than I’ve visited before. Driving in we went through the town of Covelo, which is in the Round Valley Indian Reservation, a sovereign nation of confederated tribes. The land we were on is the land of the people who came to be called Yuki, and are the ancestral people of the Eel River valley. Along with the Yuki people, Wailacki, Concow, Little Lake Pomo, Nomlacki, and Pit River people also live in Round Valley. I learned that these groups were originally forced to migrate to the reservation throughout the mid-19th century on the Nome Cult Trail from their neighboring tribal homelands. These violent migrations pushed together neighboring tribes who had no relation to each, came from entirely distinct language stocks and ancestries, and who had already survived over 100 brutal years of discovers, missionaries, and settlers coming from the north, south, east. Through all of this a unified community emerged and in 1936 the people formed a new tribe on the reservation through the adoption of a Constitution and created the Round Valley Indian Tribes.
With this at heart I want to thank the First People of the Eel River area for their long stewardship of this land and this water. I give thanks for the knowledge, home, and hearth I experienced through connecting with this land. I acknowledge this land was taken by force and with violence by explorers, by missionaries, by miners and settlers. And as an European-descended immigrant to California, to America, my existence in this place is tenuous, unearned, unresolved. Holding these complicated relationships, I give thanks and offer my heartfelt prayers for the advancement of Indigenous movements for sovereignty and self-determination, and a prayer that people around the world may align in service of Indigenous visions for a future in balance with our living breathing world.
[photo by dear friend with a sharp eye, Alex Girard]