Welcome, my sun-dappled satyrs, to the Botanarchy Newsletter: Topophila Edition! Coined by poet WH Auden and popularized by humanistic geographer Yi-fu Tuan in his book Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes and Values, the word topophilia literally means ‘love of place.’ But to say merely ‘love of place’ betrays the vast intimacies and intimations the word contains, for to love a place means you court its ordinariness and woo its banalities, you see the landscape around you without makeup in its period underwear, and with worshipful eyes exclaim “how magnificent you are, lover!”
Topophilia evokes the bond between people and place, the environments that shape our lives and the various cultural and natural histories that a place ensconces. To be a topophile is to know in your bones what a vast privilege it is to be included in the coterie of elm fronds, mourning doves, and lawn shrooms that surround you, to listen with bated breath to the stories of the soil and exploits of the architecture. There is a magical process that occurs in the Venn diagram where the specific topography of a lived body intersects with the local environment, memories embed themselves like mycelia in the stucco. Through worshipful adoration, or sometimes, merely attention, senses become sorcery and PLACE comes alive, a steward of the shared experiences between humans, buildings, and the more-than-human world.
Though the poetics of place are forever on my mind, topophilia always beseeches me this time of year. Spring is nature’s debutante ball, the season that groundhogs and humans alike crawl out of the hole they’ve been living in and cower sheepishly in the sun to ponder the pros and cons of venturing out. I for one would crawl right back in that hole exclaiming “FIVE MORE YEARS OF WINTER!” but alas, everyone knows better than to grant me such liberties. So here we venture, forward with gusto! In springtime, the Spirit Of Place begs you to come hither, and despite my propensity for courting rickets in dark caves in order to maintain my goth street cred, I graciously acquiesce.
In traditional Taoist medicine, spring is the season of the Wood element, who’s energy is all about about forward momentum, reaching upwards and outwards toward empyrean expansiveness like the branches of a tree. As such, this newsletter will be all about the courtship of inner and outer landscapes, deepening our bonds with them like a Chaga conk embeddeing itself in Birch bark. There’s DIY flower essences with the local herbaceous hoi polloi, a traipse about town with California’s most infamous wolf OR-93, a rumination on navigating transition zones in the inner & outer wilds, an AcuSpell for grasping the wind, and enough drunken Taoist nature poetry to fill your drinking horn to the brim. My hope is that these practices will support the flowering of your inner nature like boughs of cherry blossoms that unfurl wantonly after spring rain.
In health and solidarity,
By Carolyn Barron
It’s no secret that poets love two things with wild abandon: flowers, and stealing souls. We can’t help it, we are slutty succubi that long to suck rarified beauty through a straw of jangly language, to inhale the essence of an object and transmute it into semantic splendor. Flowers receive our undying love because they speak to the temporality of beauty, whose transience can only be remedied through - you guessed it - trapping their soul in a medium of language to preserve it forever in amber. Attars, aconite, azaleas, asphodels… we can’t keep our hands and words off of ‘em! Just look at Rimbaud, flaunting this harsh truth so flagrantly:
By this very decree, flower essences are the medicine of poets. For the uninitiated, flower essences are dilute decoctions infused with a flower’s energy. To create one, freshly picked flowers are submerged in a bowl of spring water, placed in the sun, then filtered out and preserved with a tipple of brandy. This process creates an energetic imprint of the flower in the water, imbuing the liquid with the healing archetype of the plant. Unlike essential oils and herbal infusions, the finished product contains no part of the plant’s active medicinal constituents, yet still has the ability to shift matter on a profound level. Flower essences possess a subtle mystery, like ancient botanical grimoires waiting to be unlocked. They are animist elixirs that unearth hidden potentials within the imbiber, and we should all be swooning before their rarified feet.
My earliest teacher of plant alchemy, the aromatist and archaeologist John Steele, taught me that flower essences can be thought of as the soul of a plant suspended in water:
John calls flower essences an “archetypal matrix of botanical intelligence” containing “the photosynthetic, biochemical, soil, and water cycles of the plant, plus its pollinators, predators, bacteria, worms, insects, as well as its relationship to other plants, animals, and humans.” Our local flowers are the elixir of the land that raised us, an alchemical preparation that ensconces the spirit of place. When we drink deep from the chalice of our land, we can directly experience the soul of the plant and the spirit of the soil that sprouted it. Flowers are reminders that we belong to the animate earth, and their essences have the power to touch and transform the very depths of our being, watering the seeds within us from the Well of Remembrance. The resulting botanical gnosis is extraordinary in its subtlety, beauty, and wisdom.
To liberate the soul of a plant and drink deep its myriad medicines, one need not be a chemist or even a disciple of Paracelsus. All one needs to make a flower essence is water, flowers, sunshine, and the punch-drunk reverence of a poet.
The adventure is the blossoming of your floral reconnaissance, where you get to make like a punch-drunk poet and perambulate the neighborhood wilds. All good adventures begin with seduction, and seduction requires deep listening, presence, and the willingness to be totally transformed by beauty. As you will be charging your flower essence in the strength of the noonday sun, the adventure should begin in the morning, when flowers are flinging open their boudoir doors to put on their make-up in the morning light. Arm yourself like a lover does with a basket and a pair of garden shears. Add a glass bowl and a jar of spring water to your knapsack.
Perhaps the flowers have already called to you, preening in the sun like Lolitas in heart-shaped glasses. Or perhaps you will be carelessly whispered to by a patch of purple Opuntia’s defying all odds in a freeway underpass. Maybe you have a type, I would never judge. The only requirement is that the flowers sprout from the soil that supports you, as this particular flower essence is an exercise in terroir & topophila. That, and check google to make sure your beloved isn’t terribly poisonous. ‘Not terribly poisonous’ plants are fine, as no molecular trace of the plant will be found in the finished essence. ‘Terribly poisonous plants’ still have a way of being terribly poisonous despite our best efforts, alkaloids leaching into skin and what not. Leave that to the mad poets like Paul Verlaine.
There are tons of compendiums from Bach and back again that list which flower essence does what, but they all kind of feel like eavesdropping on your aunties gossiping over stale coffee. They can certainly tell you who they think did what - that Heather invades your space and Larch gets in bar fights - but the only way you will ever truly know is by asking the plant itself. When asked how the ancients compiled such vast botanical knowledge in the absence of chemistry, all of the pharmacopeias I have poured over for decades say the same thing: THEY ASKED THE PLANTS, AND THE PLANTS TOLD THEM.
I urge you to make your own meaning when encountering plants in the wild, like a gnostic botanarchist eschewing books in favor of direct transmission. Thus spake Morrissey: Nature is a language, can’t you read?
You don’t need to know what experts think this flower does, or have any knowledge of its medicinal properties. That will all come later, if ever. Find the flower that beseeches you with such bravado, that you must, SIMPLY MUST, possess and imbibe a fraction of its soul.
On my very first date with my first husband, he and I greeted each other without a word, sat across from each other under a Pine, and eye-gazed in silence for 20 minutes. I knew within the first 4 minutes that I would marry him. This courtship ritual works just as well with plant lovers as it does with human suitors. I recommend reprising it with your chosen flower.
During your visual tryst, see where the flower’s stems and stamens take root in your body. Talk to the flower, with your eyes and your heart, even aloud if you are so inclined. Plants are loquacious, both with and without words, and plant communication is almost synesthetic, coming in colors and tastes and shapes. Drink it all in. Set a sacred intention for what you wish to discover through imbibing this plant’s soul. Casual! Convey your desire to make medicine from the flower, and ask for its permission - consent is Nature’s way. Respect a no, if you feel it in your bones, for who knows what kinds of things this plant is up to behind closed doors, what kind of contract it maintains with the local Landvættir.
Make out jamz for you and the blooms!
The Alchemy section of our adventure requires you to set up your DIY alchemy lab with the following accoutrements:
Pour your spring water from the jar into the bowl. Chose a few of the most vibrant and provocative blooms for your essence, without being greedy or egregious (leave that to the plant). Use your manners, do not pilfer or pillage, and abide by the forager’s creed of always leaving more than you take. You’ll want to have enough flowers floating on your bowl to cover the water’s surface, like catching the full reflection of the moon in the circumference of a wine glass.
Gather your blooms beneath your bowl, and drop them in one-by-one, cutting them free from the stem with your shears and letting them fall directly into the water. The alchemist’s way is to keep the energetic imprint of the flower intact, so don’t pervert the sanctity of your blossoms by putting your smutty little hands all over them.
Once the flowers are collected in the bowl, place it in a patch of sunlight for a couple of hours, making sure to move it along with the cadence of the sun so that it does not become obscured by shadow (that’s how you make a Moon Essence, a sexy goth alembic that we’ll create together in autumn). This is an excellent time to repose in the grass with a book of poems and a tipple of drank. I’m currently reading this and dranking this.
At the closing of the sun’s doors, remove the flowers with a wooden spoon, or pour through a strainer if there’s any plant material loose in the water. Transfer the flower essence water back into the wide mouth mason jar, filling it about 80% full. Fill the rest of the bottle with organic alcohol to prevent mold & microbes, labelling your essence now with a sharpie marker to prevent cacophony later.
This original flower essence preparation is referred to on the streets as the mother essence, which can be used to make a stock, or daughter essence, for daily use. A truly egalitarian form of herbal witchery, one mother essence can make years’ worth of daughter essences, kind of like a kombucha scoby that threatens mutiny in your pantry shelves.
To make your daughter essence for daily use, add 10 drops of the mother essence to your 2 oz amber bottle, and fill the remainder of the bottle half with spring water and half with alcohol. You can either keep going with this ratio and fill up a handful of 2 oz dropper bottles to disseminate to friends and local land stewards, or store your mother essence in a cool, dark place to make more potions later when duty calls.
The standard flower essence dose is 4 drops under the tongue repeated 4 times a day. Because flowers like to be first, best, and only, try not to combine with food, drinks, or other herbs. If you find yourself needing more support, you can increase the frequency of use, not the dose size. Essences are safe to take long term, but since this is an exercise in becoming a more sensual being, have the depth and presence to know when the spell has woven its magic and it’s time to respectfully move on.
A flower essence is an invitation to be transformed, to allow Nature to make Her way with you. Before using the essence, remember that you are drinking in a part of the flower’s soul, be open to the ecstasy of enthusiasmos. Take a moment to pause and remember the feral floriography of your first encounter, when you eye-gazed with a flower and she winked the secrets of the universe. Hoist your essence to the sky, make a toast, or borrow this plant-blessing from Milton that I always keep in my back pocket for such an occasion:
by Carolyn Barron
It is said that in spring, the Bluegreen Dragon Of The East blows the eight winds into the earth and brings forth a thousand flowers.
Spring in taoist medicine is the season of the Wood element, and its dominant climate is wind. Like the fecund ferocity of the season it blows through, wind amplifies the potentiality of everything it encounters, and with a skyward wave of its invisible wand, all things become intensified and their latent powers unleashed. Wind is known as the ‘spearhead of a hundred diseases’ since it can drive other pathogens like cold, damp, dryness, heat, and fire into the body with the breath of its bellows. If you’ve ever been beseeched by Bell’s Palsy after a wanton dip in a frigid lake preceded by an all-night solo wine orgy followed by a bike ride down a hillside path, you know just what I’m talkin’ about. Potentiated by the moxie of an errant breeze, weather systems gently blowing though our internal ecosystem can suddenly become like storms, and maladies such as chills, fever, stiff neck, headache, runny nose, scratchy throat, and infection can befall us.
‘Wind Strike’ happens when our boundaries have been eroded and our immune system weakened. If our drawbridge gates have been lowered by reckless indulgence in too much wine, women, and song, winds can blow through our hallowed halls and carry pathogens with them. Although Hetero-Capitalist Monoculture comes with an implicit denial of cycles and tomatoes all year round, you are still weather’s bitch, and if you doubt this fact I dare you to wear a crop top with wet hair in a convertible on your period. Peter Deadman, cherished teacher of the Chinese ‘Nourishing Life’ tradition, writes in his book Live Well Live Long:
“It was recently discovered that roughly a quarter of our DNA changes in response to seasons. Levels of inflammatory gene expression, for example, increase in Europe in winter - probably to help resist infections like cold and flu, while in Gambia they increase during the rainy season when malaria is rampant.”
Winds are also vectors of sacred chaos and change, and if our embodied Wood element is nimble and nourished, we can harness their diaphanous oscillations with the grace of a limber tree. Through bending and swaying to the cadence of invisible forces, the tree allows tao to move through it. If we aren’t engaging well with change within and throughout, all that sagacious stirring might leave us feeling shook. Winds remind us to be limber, pliant… to have a plan and grow towards it, but be open to being blown somewhere else entirely. There’s a concept in taoist medicine called grasping the wind, which is a process of engaging with the forces of change in a way that is both assertive AND yielding, reminding us that the medicine of duality contains both stillness and action, as Nature is a switch who doms and subs with the best of ‘em.
The Wood element within is represented by the Liver and Gallbladder, who grace us with the capacity for direction, growth, vision, and movement. Winds are intimately embroiled with the Gallbladder meridian in particular, whose superficial trajectory runs along the side of the head, down the sides of the torso, and along the lateral side of the leg to the toes. Flexible movement in the tendons and ligaments it flows through brings the ability to pivot and bend, move side to side swiftly, and extend the body forward in dynamic strides. The Gallbladder can harness wind power to guide us where needed, and put the visions and plans of the Liver into clear action via the brain, legs, torso, and feet.
The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic, the foundational text on taoism and Chinese medicine, tells us that “the spirit of the gallbladder, like a shining dragon, is called Strong Brilliance.” A functioning Gallbladder imparts the faculties of decisiveness, uprightness, and clarity, empowering us to discover our tao and supporting us in living it. The Gallbladder meridian houses a sacred repository of wind magic within acupoint Gallbladder 20: 風池 Feng Chi. From taoist scholar Debra Kaatz:
“Great spirit is thought to be born in the winds. It is the winds that direct all the seasonal changes on earth. The winds move with great force, direction, and articulation, directing the changes of weather each day. Feng Chi is the reservoir of the winds, and a place of great reserves of energy. Feng is drawn as an insect surrounded by motion. It is an old saying that when the wind blows then insects will be born. In spring time when the insects are born they move in great numbers with great force. This is the moving strength of the winds.”
Feng Chi translates as Wind Pool, so-named because the point resembles a small pool within the landscape of the body that rests at the nape of the neck where wind pathogens tend to blow. Wind Pool is located on the base of the skull, just below the occiput, in the tiny pool that forms between the upper portion of the sternocleidomastoid muscle and trapezius muscle. If you’ve ever covered your neck with a shammy to protect it from the elements, you were ensconcing your Wind Pool in protective magic.
Stimulating Wind Pool aligns our actions with the breath of nature, courses wind and clears heat, clears the head and opens the portals, brightens the eyes and sharpens the hearing, subdues energy that has risen too high, and relieves pain in the head, neck, shoulders, and back.
Go ahead - have a gander! Move your thumbs outward from the nape of the neck. Like the poet Li Bai who tumbled into a river and drowned trying to embrace the moon, it’s impossible not to fall in. Working this point releases wind from the body in its myriad forms, be it ‘wind cold’ which parades as a common cold with a runny nose, cough, chills, and headache, ‘wind heat’ that brings flu-like symptoms such as body pain, fever, sore throat, and stiff neck, or ‘internal wind’ that takes the shape of things that shimmy, spasm, and shake.
The taoist sages are fond of saying that a tree simply absorbs what nature gives it, and grows from what it is given. My botanarchist teacher Dale Pendell is fond of saying that we must seek out the Wild Redeemer and claim our feral nature, to allow nature to have her way with us so that we live a life in accordance with her call. The tree is the Wild Redeemer, both hollow and rooted - a channel between heaven and earth that allows tao to flow through it. In the spirit of Wood season, I offer up this AcuSpell For Grasping The Wind, to align your daily actions with the breath of nature. This is an Anarcha Taoist riff on an ancient qigong form called Beating The Heavenly Drum, which empties the mind to let fresh energy course through it. I think of it as opening the window to the sky, so that we may harness the power of the winds to guide us towards tao.
By Gabriel Barron Garcia
On a desolate, unknown and wild stretch of borderland between California and Oregon, in early spring, when the first whispers of running water begins to melt from languid, weary snow, and where the forest lands eventually meet the foothills of Mount Shasta, a silhouette paced out from the horizon, a sleek, young gray wolf quietly crossed the border to the untrodden golden state where he lived the final, awe inspiring year of his life, here in the land of Condors, Gold and Giant Sequoias.
We attribute the saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” to Lao Tzu. And these first steps out of Oregon were the beginning of the ultimate journey for OR-93. It was approximately a year later he found his final resting place in Kern County. On November 10, 2021, the California Department of Wildlife and Game found him lying peaceful and lifeless, having transitioned to the great beyond. An investigation determined cause of death: blunt force trauma consistent with a vehicle strike. He was but 3 years old, and lived that last year in solitude while searching for a mate. The fearless journey he had embarked on took him much further south that any wolf had dared in a century. He dared, and he bore us magic for it.
Way back in Oregon, OR-93 was outfitted with a tracking collar. Shortly thereafter he left his pack, taking up a sacred charge, a station in life, to form a new family. It is a path few wolves find success in, and yet a necessary act for the whole of the species. It was at the border crossing between states that the tracking device failed. At that point, there was no way to know were he was, much to the disappointment of scientists.
OR-93 hailed from the White River Pack, a small grouping of wolves formed by the same methods OR-93 sought to replicate. When the pack got too large, he needed to head out on his own. OR-93 was unique, with a greater vision than any wolf in recent history. Strong and still growing, by the time OR-93 trotted across the border to California, he had already traversed nearly 400 miles, hunted alone for countless meals and rifled through his ancestral memories to find long forgotten wolf trails.
He found nooks to curl up for cold nights without companionship. I like to think of him, in his first California eves, sleeping under a canopy of pine trees, flipping through old copies of the great California writers... Henry Miller or maybe Anais Nin, all to the tune of Ryuchi Sakamoto’s Amore. Alas, this was just the beginning of his journey...
Spring is the season of love, a frenzied chaos of new leaves on trees, symphonies of polychromatic flowers and bird nests fetched and fashioned from the inexhaustible shedding of mammal summer coats. This is the time when Wood becomes the dominant element, shaping existence out of the winter’s dormant potential, each new acorn, each new shrub and grass representing the sharply focused, leading edge of time itself. After much radio silence, it was quite a surprise when, in the spring of 2020, a trail camera spotted our gray wolf in the Central Valley having crossed multiple dangerous freeways and highways. By this time he had traveled close to 900 miles. His tracks were lost again, and then towards summer, he was spotted again in the area of Fresno.
I picked up the story one morning while checking the weather. I became obsessed with OR-93’s travels. I sought new information every day, each new spotting eliciting an audible sigh of relief. I folded the story into almost every conversation I had, and even wrote a large portion of a speech I had to give around the search for love and OR-93’s confounding reach for his own ecstatic truth, his Tao. Wolves live for about 5 years. Why would OR-93 use one of those years to travel so many miles south? During one of the worst droughts, increasing heat, and wildfires? He was likely blazing a trail alongside the devastating Dixie fire. He weathered lava beds and snowy passes alike.
As far as I can tell, wolves sometime leave a pack to find a mate, when there’s too dense a gene pool and the population needs diversification. One will leave and travel into the unknown, just like his parents did to form their pack... all for what we might call love. He answered the call of spring. And the path to love can be challenging and full of danger... trappers trying to shoot you, scarcity of water, mini mansions, speeding driverless Teslas, and parched highways to cross. These are things dogs and people sometimes have to face on the road to partnership. Wolves have long represented evil and power, but also our displaced self-hatred many try to ignore, and as such they become an easy target for the projected shadow of our own psyches. Many people still carry undeveloped and regressive notions that we can’t coexist with these creatures, and long to exact violence upon them.
This outward drive to violence is the guilt, regret, and trauma we hope to escape in ourselves, the refusal to take responsibility for our own roles in the ecosystem and the ill effects we have had upon the earth and land. The attempt to demonize wolves is a lack of courage to self-reflect on psyche and actions. This leads to a cowardly aggression that perpetuates a denser and denser self-hatred over generations. To be unable to imagine a coexistence with wolves reveals a simple deficit of the imagination and denialism masquerading as power, domination, and force. Wolves are much better at managing land and letting it thrive than any human machination. The reintroduction and study of the wolves of Yellowstone highlights this. A different study dispels our self projections and uncovers the misguided ideas dominator culture holds in regards to “leaders” and “masculinity”. The alpha male wolf and its pop culture influence is a distorted fantasy, couched in capitalism, greed, and inauthenticity. The “alpha males” are gentle protectors and nurse the sick, they are beings that collaborate, play, and know when to defer to the ladies (the females tell a pack when and were to go to hunt).
Some people think OR-93 is the insane one, a confused and wayward beast who lost his way... I mean, who would move from Oregon to Cali right now anyway?! Recall that in those years there are other conditions which made his timing favorable. It was those years that us humans were in various stages of lockdown, with businesses and schools closed and people working from home. Our goodest boy was not only searching for a mate, but likely hiking solo in Muir Woods. He perhaps had Yosemite all to himself for months at a time. Not once did he poach anyone’s cattle when hungry. Instead, he was hunting and camping in the majestic Sierras unencumbered, free...“I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom, for me and you, and I woof to myself, what a woofy woof world.”
In this sense, the journey is bold and worthy of the highest honors. It is a display that demonstrates we should trust the world and that we might find home, a partnership, and create new kinships. OR-93’s solo walkabout should inspire us to get right with ourselves as well, to learn to be confident and peaceful in solitude when big Tao is expressing itself in our lives. I see him as an intrepid traveler, enduring unimaginable odds to keep the chain of love unbroken, link by link, in precious, consecutive sequence. The story of love is the story of life. It begets itself.
You already learned regrettable the fate of OR-93, but his message will not be forgotten: we can be better than that, we must be more loving. As spring continues to explode around us and we reflect on the glorious quest of OR-93, let us dedicate to him a sacred, honorific death poem, by the Tanka master Saigyo:
Gabriel Barron Garcia is a therapist, writer and woodworker living in Los Angeles. (And less impressively, he is also my husband).
The Botanarchy Coven is comprised of gnostic naturalists both living and deceased who shepherd the spirit of Botanarchy. This is a treasure box of discoveries and cultural ephemera culled from excavations of inner and outer worlds.
SPRING is full of frolicsome vignettes that move with the pace of a breakneck flipbook, as electric orange Orioles make their pilgrimage across the Cahuenga Pass from their winter chalets in Mexico, and Matilija Poppies open like paper saucers punctuating the sunrise with a ❣. The qi flow of spring is ‘ascending yang’, meaning energy accelerates and expands with quicksilver swagger, growing fuller, lusher, brighter, and bigger. There’s so much movement to be savored, blink and you’ll miss the baby hawk trying its wings over Barham Boulevard and will be left cursing thee Old Gods with a skyward fist wave.
I get painfully sad this time of year when I watch the sunset. As a reverent observer and cartographer of the cosmos, it feels like a stack of stories the size of the Encyclopedia Mythica are being painted across the skyline, and I’m too busy to read them all. 18 unread texts confound me as I glance back at my iPhone, and patient charts from 6 days ago are lingering on my desktop perpetually unfinished and ready to incense the medical board at any minute. No matter how hard I try to hold it all together and maintain my practice, health, relationship, friendships, and family obligations, I feel like I am always failing. Because I am! Thus is the lilt of life in the grindhouse slasher film called Late Capitalism.
This is when I turn to the sparse magic of the recluse poets, whose radical refusal to bend to the cadence of culture has served as an escape hatch for my over-stimulated nervous system since my best friend and I used to pretend we were Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac manning a fire lookout atop Crater Mountain as wayward 90’s youths (I love you, Luke Warner!). Mountain hermits from China’s golden age of poetry, the recluse poets enshrined the balladry of the turning earth in their prolix prose, speaking of seasons, elements, solitude, simplicity, and the interpenetration of it all. Believe me when I tell you, these poems have it all, and they will solve 99% of your existential problems. Solo wine orgies under the pregnant moon? Check! The religiosity of foraging for medicinal roots? You betcha! Bark hats and birch clogs? LOOK NO FURTHER.
To stoke the balefires of your springtime heart, I offer you this audio and visual dossier of meditative magic from my favorite topophilic taoist recluse poets.
A true topophile if there ever was one, Han Shan’s name translates to Cold Mountain, and speaks to the mountain hermitage he made his home. But here’s the ruse - no one knows who he was, when he lived and died, or whether he actually existed. Jealous! Legend has it that he wore a simple fur cloak and a cap make of birch bark, and carved his verses onto rocks and trees. In the absence of being able to read his work on bark and burl, one can behold his splendor in the marvelous little film Cold Mountain, which captures his essence through interviews, stories, and poems read by Red Pine, Burton Watson, and Gary Snyder.
Recommended Reading: The Collected Songs
Of Cold Mountain
Wild man, taoist recluse, and the quintessential archetypal free & easy wanderer, the poet Li Bai is said to have died whilst drunk in a boat, as he fell into a river and drowned trying to embrace the moon. Which is to say... Li Bai is queen. Here are three of his most Dionysian springtime reveries.
Recommended Reading: Poems By Li Bai and Tu Fu
My most recent bout of springtime ennui was cured full stop by listening to zen master Shiwu’s poems in the bath. Such is the sorcery of simplicity, of moss-slick elegies to mountain mist and the profundity of pine pollen as an evening meal. Shiwu translates to Stonehouse, an homage to Cave Life and the delights found therein. A Chinese Chan poet and hermit monk who lived during the Yuan Dynasty, Master Shiwu used poetry as his medium of instruction for Dharma. Sure, you could read his 148 Mountain Poems aloud to yourself in the bath, but you would inevitably render it useless for life by accidentally dropping your paperback in the tub. This would likely delight the dickens outta Stonehouse, a perpetual wiseacre who is famous for saying "Do not try singing these poems. Only if you sit on them will they do you any good."
To preserve the sanctity of your sacred tomes, I recommend listening to Stonehouse’s poems instead, by way of this languid, lolling, meditative podcast that is on heavy rotation in the Botanarchy Hermitage:
Recommended Reading: The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse
Ever a vessel of gnostic Botanarchy, I have recently taken up the habit of sitting at dusk with a flask of wine whilst generating spontaneous nature poems about LA. The spirit of the recluse poets can live through you too, dear reader! I recommend a moonlit perambulation through the neighborhood with the intent of composing an impromptu ode to the first vignette that catches your eye. The voice memo app on your phone is just begging to be used for such grandeur. No editing! Just go! Here’s mine:
Gabriel, my Anarcha Taoist partner in crime and matrimony, polished his apple with a bit more shine, generating verse on our evening walk that he cobbled into a proper poem in the ‘morn:
If your amble yields a verse or two, I would love to hear! Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. ♾️
This month, I asked my favorite queer nature therapy guide (who also happens to be my best friend) to riff on the topography of transition zones in the inner and outer wilds.
By Luke Warner
Ah, “place”. You can be a trick of the eye and a trick of the heart and yet we come when you call.
I am currently returning to a place. Southern California, unceded lands of the Tongva people, is where I became and its particular golden sun is in my bones and in my blood. I can describe it no better than Angela Carter did:
Each beam a thread to the cosmos’ blazing heart transmuted into the scent of ozone and salt on warm skin. The widest of hearths around which we can all gather.
In my twenties, I wanted to get a tattoo of California. I was living and working in the home of economist & author Winona LaDuke on Anishinaabe-akiing ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ (aka Northern Minnesota). At dinner, over a bowl of beaver tail soup, she quickly concluded that this was a stupid idea. I was honoring an arbitrary border, some nonsense lines on a nonsense map drawn by nonsense men. These were other peoples’ lands that had no business being bound by someone else's right angles.
Memory of place invites memory of a time. Love of place can change over time and time can change that place. And maybe a place can change places.
As a queer teenager, a favorite place was my lesbian English teacher’s room - ordinary with its four walls in a row of unremarkable squares - but it was covered with bumper stickers taped everywhere. My place wasn’t those four walls, it was the cradle created by the careful selection of those paper-backed pieces of plastic evoking action, justice, liberty, diversity, hope. Was my cradle that room, inhabited now by another teacher and perhaps blank walls? Likely not. Recently my teacher found a bulging manila folder and, over dinner a few weeks ago, she “bequeathed” the sticker collection to me. Now, in my hands, I wonder if that “place” I loved can be created for someone else, somewhere else?
And who decides what place is a place? Those long halls were and still are part of an all-girls school, but as I drove by today, as a man of trans experience, I still felt like it was my place. Daily I am learning ways in which queerness and trans-ness echo and enrich and expose the the ways we traverse the land, how we approach borders, how we experience our own edges. And I am not the only one.
Recently I completed my nature & forest therapy guide training at a retreat immersion on Kuupangaxwichem land. I arrived knowing no one and soon learned that those remote acres have been tended for the last 30 years by queer spouses Caitriona and Michelle. It was unexpectedly powerful to be in a place that had been co-cultivated by a woman of trans experience, a former Buddhist teacher no less, who welcomed us at our first dinner. The strength, wisdom and energy inherent in the land were apparent but the history and experience of the current stewards of this place gave me uncanny cosmic solace, comfort and clarity. In an article for Turning Wheel: The Journal of Socially Engaged Buddhism, Caitriona wrote it best herself:
Is a place defined by its borders or by our way of being in it, or of how it makes us feel? Is it a room that will never be the same as it once was? My body is a place that I inhabit but not in the same way that I did in the past. I have traveled in it across the world - perhaps it is a place within a place.
And, in case you were wondering, I got the tattoo. I agree that it’s pretty stupid and I still don’t know where California (the place, the idea, the dream, the myth?) begins and ends or even if it does at all. I have yet to learn a new way to draw this place where I now sit so I will still do it the same way, just as flawed and riddled with faults as I did as a child. And I love it just the same.
Luke Warner is an ANFT-certified Nature Therapy Guide crafting connections between lgbtq+ communities, earth, & peace.