Friday, 14 September 2018

Barefoot on the Tundra

Stepping barefoot across the tundra, through mossy hummocks, frigid creeks, and grasses. Absorbing September’s warmth through the soles of our feet. All around us there is color. Reds, yellows, blue, grey, white, and a whole palate of greens.

I can see for miles-all the way up into the Yukon, all the way down into Alaska.

A Golden Eagle soars far above on massive wings, while a Ground Squirrel scurries to its burrow, evading the death grip of talons. In the distance there is a pair of Tundra Swans on a tiny lake. What exemplars of timeless love and absolute grace they are, as their snow white forms glide side by side on a pond of alpine desolation.

To my northern soul, these are the birds of paradise.

I love this land of extremes. Extreme wind. Extreme cold. Extreme exposure when the solar rays beat down upon it with virtually no shade. And yet, if one gets down on all fours like the grizzlies that shamble over this treeless expanse, there are berries to nibble-Crow Berry and Alpine Blueberry. Small–not much bigger than a pebble–but miraculously delicious. I wash the tiny seeds down with clear water spilling down from the ice fields above. To the west of me is a mind blowing jumble of rock-a collision of mountain ranges that hold the largest concentration of non-polar ice fields on Earth. It’s a backdrop that takes one’s ability to speak away.

Enveloped by such beauty, all I can do is shake my head in disbelief that such a place can still exist.

Twenty seven million protected acres is the context over which we wander. A healthy place where, for the most part, the natural forces continue to flow according to their own imperatives, as they always have. The reality of this tingles our feet, stimulating nerve endings that activate and trigger some far back body memory of a time long ago when the simple act of walking barefoot, in humility, in reverence, in awe, and in respect was itself a sacred offering to the living world.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Coughing on Reality

Sitting at a cafe in my tiny little mountain town–contemporary easy listening music playing from the house speakers. Golden sunset light streams through the east facing window, coloring the room like a December evening on Playa Zipolite. But it isn’t sunset.

It is early morning.

The sun is rising over the eastern mountain ridge, its light filtered through a haze of forest fire smoke. We’ve been enveloped in a Beijing-like gray cloud for weeks now as the west burns up. Fires from California all the way to northern British Columbia. Over 600 blazing through this province alone. A record fire year beating last year’s record.

Breathing in this reality.

Feeling it irritating my sinus passages and the back of my throat. The heaviness in the air makes my eyes water. Though I was okay for the first few weeks, now I’m feeling the impacts to my health. No choice but to slow down, stay inside, the windows always closed, tired by early evening. From the table I watch cottonwood leaves flutter in the smokey wind.

I wonder:

What messages do they receive from the carbon their burning relatives are releasing?
Thinking about the land–how it has been treated as nothing more than a resource bank since the white colonists arrived. That truth perplexing me throughout my adult life while today, the smell of charred forests wafts into the cafe every time a patron opens the door. Listening to our small talk punctuated by coughing...

I wonder:
If perhaps the Earth will no longer let us breathe so easily as we go about the business of domination.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Deep Green

Walking up the canyon trail into the deep green. Clear water following its own path through the forest. It slips around the curves of voluptuous boulders–sometimes spilling over granite ledges, sometimes ducking under the root masses of old cedars. 

Water, rock, air, and wood. 

Moist soil absorbing the reverberation of our walking feet. Creek sounds mixing with bird song. Chickadees and wrens inserting notes into the ambience, wild and unbound like the frequencies Pharoah Sanders sent from his saxophone into the upper range. Each player whether bird, stream, or tree contributing to a chaotic yet simultaneously harmonious soundscape. 

The intelligence of wild places. 

Energy flowing where it wishes. Old trees holding space for happy little water ways. Rocks falling into configurations suitable for bear dens. 

Out here there is no need to speak. Nothing to create. Nothing to do but exist. The way of nature is simple steady presence, going nowhere, doing no thing, and yet each place–each canyon, each stream, each mountain side, every glacier and grove of trees actively contributing to the vitality of the whole. 

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

I Willingly Accept

Walking up the Kokanee River, the surrounding woods hued in the vanishing colors of late fall. Slowly, I  make my way on foot, north and west, moving down wind of the animals inhabiting this valley so that I do not scare them. Symbolic markers of their presence are evident: nibbled twigs on the river flats, day beds in the forest, a month old salmon carcass draped over a rock, lines of tracks criss-crossing the mud. My trajectory is guided neither by map nor hiking trail. I have no plan or itinerary. The direction I follow, the speed of my gait, the distance I travel, whether I linger at one spot or another all depend upon the feelings in my gut. I don't know if I'll walk a mile or a dozen. Out here my focus isn’t on getting to a particular spot, but rather simply on experiencing the nature of this place. For these reasons I don’t always make the best hiking partner.

Standing at river side, listening to the sound of flowing water, imagining glacial wisdom being whispered to cobble as it tumbles from the high mountains. I dip my finger into the channel to include myself in the conversation. I love being surprised by feeling the sudden pressure of an eagle’s wings flapping twenty feet overhead, or the primal humility that rushes over me whenever a grizzly emerges from behind the cover of trees, but I also love this–the potency of unmitigated sensation, more authentic than an unfiltered photograph, the simple, sensorial, sharpness of the water’s cold.

In a while I come to a point of ungulate crossing. Dozens of elk, deer, and moose tracks have amalgamated here. A well traveled path cuts a line from the forest to sand bar, than across the river I can see a muddy trail leading up slope. With this many hoofed animals, I expect to see wolf sign but instead find cougar tracks.

A mother and her single kit.

Automatically I lift my head and look around. I'm not afraid, just more alert, my awareness becoming as crisp as the fresh tracks are in the mud. Hunters might call me naive for traveling in the woods unarmed, but in all my years exploring some of North America’s wildest enclaves, these creatures have never expressed anything but curiosity or outright indifference to my presence. If I ever have an encounter that feels dangerous, I'll do my best to respond accordingly, just like any other animal would, but I also understand that by stepping foot unarmed into a wild landscape, I am signing a very old contract–the terms of which I willingly accept. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

From This Side of the Valley

Into the Goat Range in Southeastern, BC, switch backing up the slope. Land changing color–red, yellow, orange, and lime green as deciduous leaves prepare to release.

Up here, a few glacier fed creeks still flow. This seems miraculous after this year's catastrophic fires (more than any year on record here in British Columbia) and many months of drought. My temperate rain-forest home of cedar, fir, and moist spongy moss has became like a giant tinder bundle ready to ignite. The creek I live on ran out a month ago, and some of the most important salmon spawning beds on the north side of this range are now reduced to dust. So it is good to see that here, at least, there is still some liquid flow. I cup my hand and dip it into a swirling pool, lift it to my mouth and drink. Having been raised in the industrial mid-west, where rivers run with auto factory effluent and Great Lakes fish mutate from toxic chemicals, I am ever grateful to sip unfiltered water straight from the source.

Climbing higher. Just below tree line. The autumn air growing colder. My eyes wide in search of animals. Not out of fear, but in longing. For me the wild ones represent all that remains sane and balanced in a world of crazy domesticity. I have had many exceptional human teachers throughout the course of my life, but the animals remain my supreme guides. I pick a bouquet of dry flowers for them–fire weed, aster, and a cluster of orange mountain ash berries and carry it up the mountain with me. I imagine presenting it to any bear, elk, or coyote that appears and, for a moment, believe they will accept my gesture of good will instead of becoming frightened. I know the chances of this happening are slim–especially with it being hunting season and I've already seen the orange vests and pick up trucks with gun racks down on the forest road. 

Eventually I am above the trees. The north slope of Kokanee Glacier spreads out before me. Thick clouds have bunched above the gray ridge line and the alpine bowls. Soon it will snow and the high country meadows in exceptional Fall color will be a uniform, insulating white. I stare at the mountains across the valley for a few moments, taking them in, mind settling, unconsciously mirroring their stoney repose. Gary Snyder’s granite Buddahs sitting in silent contemplation come to mind as the slopes beneath them are ransacked. With my binoculars I can see three men wielding chainsaws and cutting trees. The sound of a backhoe scraping against rock, the buzz of metal saw teeth biting into living wood, the thud of century’s old bodies falling dead to the ground, and the muffled laughter of men just doing their jobs when the machines go silent for refueling.

I shake my head–one part of me cursing them for what they are doing, another part wanting to understand: what happened to these men? What old, original abuse, passed down through generations, is now being re-enacted on the land? As always, I wonder how to make it stop. What 21st Century action will be most effectivenot so much in stopping the bulldozers, but in healing the collective severance from the living world before there is nothing left? As I wonder over these things, my hands automatically start gathering rocks. I arrange them on the ground in a circle and draw symbols I have no words for on their surfaces with a piece of charred wood I've picked up. Finally, I lay the bouquet of dry flowers upon this make shift altar and hear my voice offering the land an apology. For now it is all I can do from this side of the valley.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

It Will Stop

Slocan Valley. Slight breeze coming off the lake at the base of the Vallhalla Range. Melt waters draining the high-country snow fields. River swelling over its banks. All around the white noise of rushing creeks mixing with blackbird song–a multi-layered ambience which loops under a sky streaked by chemicals.

Highway rumble not too far away–the sound of trucks loaded with sections of once living forests on their way to be processed into new suburbs, toilet paper, and box stores. All the necessities.

There are days when all I want is to shut off the the valve to the modern world–a modernity which beams right into my psyche; one which I am no doubt a part of with my factory made pen moving across recycled paper bleached clean, or the daily practice of tapping my fingers on plastic keys.

I am most aware of all that I give up in order to receive the machine's convenience, yet still I know that one day it will stop.

It has to.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Circling Around

In the mountains, snow finally descending as I listen to Psychic TV’s Ov Whales and Dolphins spinning on the turntable. Thinking about the recent visit I had with an elder from the Tsihlqot’in First Nation, how he sat by the wood stove with drum and rattle in his hand, the way his face looked carved from the mountain range he comes from, how his long hair was colored like juniper charcoal and pine ash. 

I closed my eyes when he began playing.

The deer hide stretched over the cedar drum frame reverberated through my cabin with each strike, vibrating both the walls and windows as I was transported to time before the age of disenchantment, when Earth and all of its life forms were considered holy. He sang of the creation time with a rhythm and melody that continually circled back like a round river that flows endlessly.

Gradually, I felt myself being carried by the elder’s rhythm and as I went, I revisited the revolutions of my own life. Circling back twenty years before when I first saw Ts’yl?os, the mountain held most sacred to his people. It stood way off in the distance as I crossed the Chilcotin Plateau in the days before the pine beetle epidemic and the catastrophic fires of the early 21st century. 

How entranced I was by that mountain far out toward the southern horizon. I was just beginning my work with the grizzly bear back then and didn’t know that following their shambling trail would eventually lead me to that very place ten years later. Since then, Ts’yl?os has become quite familiar. The water cascading down its slopes has quenched my thirst, my flesh has been nourished from its abundance, and its contours have given me many stories, some of which are too powerful to be openly shared. And now, two decades after my first glimpse, a respected elder from that landscape has become my friend. 

Again, the circles. 

The next song he sang was for the empowerment of women. In my heart it conjures images of the movement flowering out of Standing Rock. I think of the people who have gathered there despite the freezing North Dakota winter, and the very real threat of violence from the government and its militarized police. Some 10,000-15,000 strong are there to protect the water and defend the sacred, with hundreds of thousands of supporters from all over the world directing love and support toward them. In contemporary times there has never been such a massive convergence of the soul on behalf of Earth’s damaged life support systems. Nor have I ever witnessed such brave determination to stand in prayer and peace to protect life’s most basic and vital element.

As the elder sang and played the drum I prayed for them, as I have been doing every day for over a month, envisioning a circle of protective light around the water protectors and a thousand mother grizzlies broadcasting ferocious love for their children. I could see the multitudes of veterans arriving ready to shield the Natives and their allies from the vicious aggression of the oil company’s guardsmen, while thousands behind them drummed, calling humanity back home to its timeless connection to the Earth with song. I prayed for no more confrontation, but instead that, one by one, the guardsmen realized they were serving the wrong side. 

Remember-there was an officer who took the cup offered through razor wire and drank from the sacred water.

It has been a few days since the elder’s song ended. In that time many more thousands have poured into Standing Rock. On the day before the federal eviction order of water protectors was to take effect, the Army Corp. of Engineers denied the easement required for Dakota Access to lay pipe under the Missouri River. It was an unexpected decision. 

The mainstream media who had been virtually absent for months, even while human rights violations were being committed, were suddenly there proclaiming victory for the "protesters" as they called them. There was a breath of relief, a pressure release and cause for celebration, especially since everyone anticipated that December 5th, the eviction day, would be the most intense yet.

Some water protectors began packing up, but the following day, those responsible for DAPL (Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco) stated with confidence the pipeline would be laid without any re-routing. 

Does this mean DAPL intends to ignore the Army Corp. decision, as it did the last time the Army Corp. ordered it to halt construction? No one really knows, but many at Standing Rock say that until the company agrees to lay no more pipe, water protectors will remain. And so, for them I will light the candle on my altar again, like I have done every night for over a month, and continue to pray for all of those in North Dakota, out in the cold, defending the sacred. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

For Future Generations

On the wide open grasslands, where some of the once great herds of buffalo still roam, representatives of hundreds of indigenous tribes and thousands of their allies from all over the world have gathered. They have assembled to protect the water. Like so many water bodies, the Missouri River is being threatened by the oil and gas industry. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline project intends to insert pipe under the Missouri which will jeopardize the health of the river, as well as all of the life forms that depend upon it, which includes some 18 million humans. 

In prayer and in peace, water protectors led by the Lakota Nation put their bodies before big oil and their armored guardsmen who use billy clubs, attack dogs, chemical weapons, arrest, water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures, and various projectiles and explosives against them, causing serious injury to unarmed people who refuse to allow the health and sanctity of the water that runs through their ancestral lands to be compromised by industry.    

The First People of Turtle Island (North America) are calling humanity back to the earth. We have reached the great bifurcation point, the metaphorical fork in the road. They call on people all over the world to stand with them in defense of the life support systems of the planet–for ourselves, for our ancestors, and for future generations. 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Where the Journey Begins

Night number one. Moon slowly rising over Honeyface Mountain in a soft, salt-lamp orange. Glacial melt waters whisper to stars flickering like tiny kisses as we ignite the first of many fires to come. Heavy smoke swirls around us–the essence of Douglas fir, pine, and juniper permeating our layers of wool and leather, smudging civilization away. Beyond the fire light, the valley is inhabited by many animals: wolves, wild horses, cougars, moose, lynx, deer and foxes, as well as all the grizzlies that have drawn me to this place, year after year. Though they have yet to show themselves, we can feel them out there, animating the night with a tangible sense of their numinous presence. A breeze from the south begins to blow, stirring the lake and causing the yellowing leaves of aspen to tremble. Nuzzling close to me, Stephanie says, “It’s hard to know where the journey begins."

drawing: Stephanie Kellett

Monday, 26 September 2016

Back from the Wild

Back from an extended journey into a deeply wild place that, for its protection, I will leave unnamed. 

The trip developed from an idea that visual artist, Stephanie Kellett, had to create a multi-media body of work based on the theme of re-wilding. She wanted to explore what might happen to the civilized mind from prolonged immersion in deep wilderness. To do this, she chose one of North America's wildest places–one where grizzly bears outnumber humans, the howls of wolves would reverberate through the night, and where the land had been least impacted by human disturbance. I was brought in as wilderness guide and collaborator on the sonic component of her project. 

It was a profound endeavor where moments of exquisite beauty alternated with challenging rites of passage for both of us, sometimes daily, according to the shifting wind and waves. As the weeks passed, nature revealed more and more of itself to us–a great living mystery that often left us speechless. With each new sunrise we were filled with gratitude. The land fed us without eating us. We were humbled by the power of the place yet, simultaneously, it boosted us up. And, of course, the omnipresent grizzlies were so very good to us–exemplars of peace even when encountering them at close range. 

In the coming weeks I will be posting snippets of my journal here for your enjoyment, as well as updates on the progress of Stephanie Kellett's Re-wilding body of work. 

Monday, 25 April 2016

For Prince

My earliest encounters with the music of Prince was in the late 70s/early 80s. I was about ten years old, cruising Detroit's Woodward Avenue with my big sister. She had a brand new snow white RX-7 with red pinstripes and a massive sound system for the time. With the radio tuned to 107.5 we listened as the legendary disc jockey The Electrifying Mojo called another session of the Midnight Funk Association to order–an on air ritual he performed to gather the forces of Soul every night. The show began with Mojo asking listeners to solemly swear their solidarity to the MFA as he called it. If we were at home, he told us to turn on our porch lights; if we were driving he asked that we toot our horns and flash our lights. Dozens of cars would flash and honk as they cruised the avenue while the girls working street corners stood for a moment with their right hands raised, all of us showing that we were "down in Motown." (check out this link to hear one of these funky rituals)

And then the music played. 

Few had the nerve to air Prince on the radio in '79 and 1980. His music was too weird, too dirty, too outside the box. Radio DJs weren't brave enough to air it except for Detroit's exceptional Electrifying Mojo. I was a a baby punk rocker then and associated Prince with the avant guarde. Fingering through the bins at the neighborhood record store I’d find Prince records filed alongside The Plasmatics, Pere Ubu, and Iggy Pop. But it was really Mojo who made the most direct association. He was a genre bending DJ who beamed down alien punk funk from The Mother Ship to all the heads of the Motor City. Mojo mixed wildly. He would spin a Prince track alongside something by Blondie, The B52s, Kraftwerk, or the Talking Heads–all of which were in the punk milieu to me back then. 
Mojo circa 1983

I was a Mojo devotee and a card carrying member of the MFA. Many school nights I stayed up past my bedtime, tuning in and receiving the broadcast, getting butterflies of excitement in my stomach when Prince songs like Annie Christian, Dirty Mind, Party Up, or Controversy came on. His music was far out, bizarre, and subterranean for the time yet always groovy. Mojo loved Prince. He broke him to the Detroit scene which Prince often referred to as his second home town. Mojo would play extended versions of songs, or whole sides of Prince records like he was trying to ensure their riffs made a solid groove in our collective psyches. 

In a way, Prince became a role model for me. 

I didn't emulate his style, but I was influenced by the way he radically pioneered the creation of his own thing, how he used clothing to say something about his true nature, how he wore his soul on his sleeve. He also challenged the idea of masculinity at a time when deviance from the gender norm was severely discouraged. Even as a youngster I didn't relate to what it meant to be a "boy." At least not in the traditional sense. It wasn't so much confusing as it was lonely. I couldn't find any eleven year olds who felt the same way. But discovering fringe artists changed that. With every one I found (usually through record albums) the isolation was lessened. I began to know that I wasn't alone. Prince was a major player in a long line of creative characters who helped me understand that it is possible to forge my own way. 

Throughout my life artists have had a profound influence. 

I am one of those people for whom a song, a concert, a book, a painting, or a really good dance party can change the way I look at things. I could talk for an hour on the impact Iggy Pop has had on my approach to everything. I could write a book on the radical impact–no, the total upheaval that Henry Miller’s work has had on my life, let alone the music of CRASS and Fugazi. But I will save those stories because right now it is Prince who is foremost on my mind. 

Prince was a great cultural outlaw who expressed a new kind of gender reality–one that was an indescribable blend of male and female at a time when doing so was dangerous. He believed in the power of his soul force–a force so strong the mainstream had to take notice. He did good things with his success–giving millions of dollars toward humanitarian efforts, and in his more recent days courageously exposed the corporate stiffs who try to exploit and rule our lives. But more than any of this, Prince gave us some funky ass revolutionary music that will forever be danced to by people all over this planet. And for that I am most grateful.   
Farewell in the beyond.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Real World

On the river flats. Its rocks heated by the sun are warm to the touch. Cottonwood buds have opened and the air smells of their resin. Enveloped in aroma, texture, sound and color we sit facing east, watching the river flow over cobble toward the snow covered ridge line in the distance.

Moose and elk tracks are imprinted into the mud around us, kinglets and song sparrows play the melodies of spring, and a grizzly has left its marks next to books I brought along–the poetry of Michael McClure and John Seed.

Thinking about evolution as a tangible presence–a force intelligent enough to reconfigure particles into planets then eventually give rise to the likes of spruce tree, blue grouse, lady bug, eye ball, and algae. Thinking about the solidity of granite–the mountain's timeframe, its presence and position sitting in the same place above this valley as the world goes about its changes.

I am in love with ecological systems–how every single piece of the whole fits perfectly; how every being is an expert in its field; how each contributes to the overall health of the whole; how giving and receiving come naturally. Here death and renewal are timeless companions. Bloody harmony juxtaposed with nest building. Symbiosis and mutualism–fireweed sprouting up from ground recently burned, deer mice depositing mycelium allowing tree to communicate with tree, the intimacy between snowshoe hare and lynx.

Out here Pere Ubu's Real World comes to mind. This is real life in the real world to me. Where random chaos finds order as a forest filled with acutely aware beings. 

The idea of artificial intelligence does not hold my interest. It seems cold and lifeless compared to the presence of the tangible, breathing, libidinous intelligence of the wild world–one which has given birth to innumerable forms which experience real life through sensorial bodies, a living intelligence so intelligent it found a way to marvel at the sight of itself gazing up at the mountain through me.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Black Wolf

His voice caused me to look up from the page. I scanned the big meadow beyond my window. He called a second time. I zeroed in on the little knoll by the old spruce. 

Black wolf standing on snow covered earth. 

His third howl was long and sustained–the tone stretching out over the trees then down into the glacier scraped valley where it settled with the hoarfrost. I put the book down, went to the door. I didn’t want to scare him away so I opened it slowly. When I peeked out the wolf was gone. 

At the knoll I laid my bare hand where Black Wolf had been a few moments before. He left no tracks on the crusty snow but something of him remained–some energetic signature. I felt no fear. The number of documented cases of wolves killing humans could be counted on one hand. Instead, I felt grateful to be so close to a creature such as him. That feeling of gratitude increased as I looked at the northern vastness I had positioned myself within. My life had become progressively more rich and more wild since leaving my home city of Detroit several years before. Following the primeval trail of grizzly bears was what led me north to Alaska. On the edge of the largest protected wilderness on the planet I had built a cabin with a woman who gave up fashion modeling in LA to become a modern hunter/gatherer. Black Wolf’s presence that morning validated every step I had taken on the path back to what was wild and true, leaving me with the feeling that I had chosen a good place to call home.   

Drawing: Stephanie Kellett
I didn’t expect him to return but he did. Same spot on the knoll the next day. Again he howled. Each one followed by a long pause of silence as if waiting for his pack mates to return the call. Just like the previous day, Black Wolf disappeared as soon as I peeked my head out. I didn’t blame him. War had been waged against his kind with poison, dynamite, bludgeon, and the gun since the first colonizers arrived in North America. It continued to the present day with wildlife management agencies using faulty science to justify the eradication of wolves to bolster ungulate populations. Perhaps the worst case in modern history is being carried out right now in British Columbia where the government shoots wolves from the air for the crime of preying on caribou. My stomach turned wondering if Black Wolf was the only survivor of a pack a local trapper had been after that winter. I had a run in with the man one afternoon on the river flats. I asked what had possessed him to kill animals such as these. It was his christian duty, he said. 

To him, wolves were “the devil’s animal.”

Black Wolf came back for five days in a row before I finally stood outside with him. It happened early one morning. I was collecting firewood from the wood pile behind my cabin when I heard the howl. I got excited. I set the bundle of wood down. Quietly, I walked around to the front of the cabin. The wolf’s long nose was already pointed in my direction. For a few moments we both just stood there, two life forms taking each other in, breathing the same air in a landscape of incomprehensible vastness. 

“I love you,” I said out loud at a volume just above a whisper. He howled again, I howled back then he left–disappearing into the spruce. 

Alien Soundtracks
Trumpeter swans began singing from the nearby marsh–their song reminded me of the strange experimental sounds on the second Chrome LP. I closed my eyes. When I did, I could still see his green eyes–how they looked at me. It was as though he read not just my physical form–facial features, posture, and body language–but went way further, reading what was written in my core. I have been eye to eye with animals such as grizzlies, lynx, mountain lion, and humpback whale. These close encounters are the most intimate. I remember each one as though it happened yesterday and I remember the broadcast I received from being in such close proximity. I’m often left wondering if the memory of me stays with them–if in their own way they remember meeting the rare human creature who greeted them with love and welcoming rather than fear and hatred. 

Black Wolf didn’t come back the next day or the day thereafter. I asked the few people who lived on my side of the valley if they had seen him. One man had but he shot the wolf for eating one of his free ranging chickens. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Silver Halo

Watched by eagles under late autumn blue
The steady trickling ambience of the nearby creek
Sandbars marked by primeval animal art–
wolf, moose, deer, and otter symbolically represented by their tracks
A big male grizzly appears, walking upstream–
the sound of his paws dipping into the river, his silver halo of guard hairs
Following that presence, that wild solidity for twenty years now... 
On the day of my birth I'm eating homemade cake in the sun where the Great Ones still walk
Blowing out candles lit by my love
Feeling like I have nothing more to wish for.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Party of a Lifetime

Journeying from the forested bottomlands all the way up to the high-country, above tree line, where granite kisses the clouds, we assemble. The moon has risen, coming into its near fullness above the gnarled and rocky Purcell Range to the east, casting silver light upon the meadow of our gathering. In down parkas, overcoats, and blankets we’ve come to bask in it–150 people embarking upon a contemporary mountain pilgrimage to be together for the lunar eclipse and experience a party of a lifetime. 

Because we are a dancing people, turntables, a mixer, and speakers have been brought along. They are as integral to the culture we are creating in the Kootenays as skin drums have been for First People the world over. For two hours I’m given the honor of using them to broadcast music. I feel things while I spin it: the moon at my back; the mountain goats that have walked through the meadow; the snowy owls that are undoubtedly watching us. There is a glacier behind me. Water falling from its ice sheet hums as it cascades thousands of feet down, blending with the sounds of space disco transmitted from the speakers. 

The experience is magnificent, profound, sweet, and sublime. Like Donna Summer, I Feel Love for this place, the animals, and the constellation of people who’ve gathered beneath the diamond sky, dancing in the firelight for the moon and each other as Earth people have done since time immemorial. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Earth Disco

My first impression upon entering Bloom Nightclub, in Nelson British Columbia, is that I've just stepped into a state of the art earth disco. Considering that it's several hours from a major population center like Vancouver or Calgary, and is situated way out in the mountains, there really is nothing like it.  

Located in the basement of one of the city's historic buildings, it's a space contained within natural stone walls that were hidden for decades but are now beautifully exposed. Massive antique timbers holding up the ceiling have been revitalized and are proudly showcased as part of the decor, a gorgeous living wall of plants literally breathes life into the room, and the art Nouveau aesthetic combined with warm lighting is both comforting and sensual. 

At 10 pm the doors open and people enter. They've been waiting to get in. I see them at the bar ordering drinks, getting comfortable, so I play slow jams at a lower volume for them. It doesn't take long for a small group of dance floor pioneers to appear. We make eye contact and I nod my head. I want them to know how much they are appreciated, for it is their willingness to put themselves out there on an empty floor that will soon draw others in. Watching how they respond to different melodies, genres, and bass lines also helps me select tracks that will be the foundation for the vibe we're creating. 

Within half an hour, things are happening. The club gets louder and my dedicated crew of rural dance freaks have arrived, getting down to a mix of disco, hip hop, and funk. I play a Casual Connection rework of a Mary Jane Girls track which bumps out of the speakers alongside Grand Wizard Theodore and a Jungle Brothers mash up. The dance floor swells. There's that familiar pressure in the air when the slow jams become faster, but you're still in the 105-110 beats per minute range. The energy builds, the music and the dancing getting more intense, until the party reaches the turning point where the whole room is ready to blow up. At the end of a Badboe track it happens.

Time to go off! 

Steve, Pamela, & Jon Horvath
Photo by Mark Randell

In tribute to our fallen soul brother, Jon Horvath, I cut into the beginning bars of his classic track, Funk for Peace. The crowd goes wild. They're jumping around, clapping their hands, screaming and shouting and singing along, smiling wide. Some know it's a Fort Knox Five song, others just know it sounds really good. By playing the music, it feels like a portal has just opened for Jon's spirit to enter the room. DJ Hoola Hoop gets on the mic to pay respects to this funky character who traveled the world spreading infectious party music that was positive and conscious. Jon loved this town as much as the party people in it loved him. He played Nelson often and his shows were always sold out to a crowd who usually left an FK5 night feeling better than they did when they arrived. When I play "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life," I'm not concerned that the song has been played thousands of times in clubs all over the world because, tonight, the song is a thank you to him. 

A few tracks more and then my first set ends. I step away from the decks, passing the turntables to Mich Duvernet, the creative director and architect of Shambhala Music Festival's Living Room stage. He takes the party into the realm of deep house and I move to the dance floor to get the people's vantage. 

Bloom's layout is exceptionally conducive to dancing. The main floor is sunken and demarcated by tiny lights, while two additional wings provide space for people who need a little more elbow room without being the center of attention. With all the people dancing beneath a massive overhead LED display which provides motion and alternating color on the ceiling, one gets the feeling that the entire room is alive and grooving. 
Bloom's designers have created a comfortable environment to conjure dance floor magic. And they've done such a good job, it seems like nearly everybody in the room wants to take part in it. You pretty much have to. Even the bar is situated so that it is directly connected to the dance space. The energy feels cohesive instead of being cut off, and the layout encourages people to get involved in what's happening rather just than standing around to watch.    


Photo: SugarBear, by Samuel Stevenson
When it's time for my second set, I come on strong with sleazy disco, grimy hip hop, funky house, and booty breaks–a genre blending mix that I describe as wild ass dance music.  My first track is Good Times, by Aquarius Heaven. It's sexy and minimal. The man's voice and music works like a voodoo love spell to pack the floor. People start whooping and grinding, getting out of their heads and into their animal bodies. A woman jumps up on her friend's shoulders to crowd surf. For the next hour and a half it's wild and basic. The songs come effortlessly. The selections are being drawn from the people's feedback and energy. From behind the turntables, I can see that we're all getting high on the music and each other, escaping the world's craziness for a few hours to inhabit a unified space where things simply feel exceptional. Nothing else matters except this good sensation, this funky frenzy where an undulating mass of humans get tribal at the earth disco and undergo some kind of retro/futuristic dance floor healing. 



Friday, 21 August 2015

Smoke on the Water

Standing in a spot in the river that is usually waist deep this time of year, but today it barely covers my ankles. In this channel, the flow from the main stem is almost entirely cut off. I’m not surprised. I’ve had a whole season to watch the water level diminish. Back in early March–a time when there is usually a few feet of snow on the ground in this mountain range–I was preparing garden beds wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. Most of the low to mid elevation snow was gone by then. Without that snowpack, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that during this time of year–the scorching month of August–the river would be exceptionally low. 

People who’ve lived here for years said not to worry. June will be rainy they said. It’s a natural occurrence that the old time farmers of this region have always counted on. But this year, it didn’t come.

Things are no longer how they were.

Along many stretches of the river, one can walk right across it in knee to ankle deep water without being swept downstream. 
All of its feeder creeks are low–lower than anyone whose been here a long time has ever seen. Two that I know of have completely dried up. One of them was nothing but a trickle two months ago. 

Today, the scene around me is apocalyptic, smokey and surreal. Massive fires to the south are consuming the forest–forests that have decades worth of piled woody debris stacked up on the forest floor. Back in the day, periodic wildfires cleared this material from the understory with a hot flash of tremendous heat that moved through and burned out quickly, without wreaking total catastrophe.  

Nature assigned fire a role that worked to create more balance and harmony.

But now, with over one hundred years of fire suppression designed to suit industrial forestry, a tremendous fuel load exists in many areas. With drought driven by climate change and its exceptionally hot temperatures, it was inevitable that the west would go up in flames.

Standing in the river trying to cool off, I strain my eyes, peering into the gray smoke blowing up from the south and try to make out the usually distinct lines of the mountains. 
Visibility is poor. A few hundred meters and everything vanishes. Closer, all the lines are softened like a charcoal drawing on paper. 
The wind is blowing hard as it often does now (something the old timers say is a new phenomenon), and the leaves of cottonwood trees are raining down with ashes. It’s scary. The mountains are burning. There’s a water shortage. Some people have lost everything they have worked for. But again, like my own dwindling river, none of it is surprising. Our collective disengagement from the natural world has led us to this point. The result of corporate driven disrespect for air, trees, water, and animals can no longer be ignored. We must do something different. Simplify. Downsize. Grow food where possible. Become bioregional. Connect to the fecund world of the woods. Gather your tribe, coalesce with your community, listen to what the land is trying to tell you, even if it is under a thick layer of concrete. Doing these things won't stop catastrophe, but they will help prepare us to live more harmoniously in the world that grows out of the ashes of the old.  

Tonight I will dance for rain, but if my prayers go unanswered, I will not shake my fist at heaven; I will not curse the fire because a part of me knows that Earth now demands we face the burning, choking reality that we’ve created and then, just maybe, we'll be able to create a new existence–one that is reverent,  respectful, and in balance with this planet that is our home. 


Saturday, 15 August 2015

Farewell, Soul Brother

As I steered into the blackness of the highway last night, I wondered if the machines keeping him alive had been turned off. Feeling him...mixed with thoughts of ravens gliding into the void, their wings beating in time to the rhythm of the Great Mystery. I imagined Jon with them, rising in weightless rapture towards the ancient lake we talked so much about visiting, a place where grizzly bears imprint golden tracks upon the numinous shoreline, and wolves sing their songs of tribal kinship beneath a starred sky that stretches beyond beyond.

When I first told Jon about this place, he listened intently, as though I were speaking about some heavenly realm attainable right here on earth–a landscape of incomprehensible vastness, untrammeled, and imbued with rightness and peace. I gave him an open invitation to come along. He smiled wide, excited by the thought of someday seeing this place of natural wholeness for himself.

We made tentative plans to journey there, plans which had to be postponed as Jon was on a serious mission to spread the music of Fort Knox Five
around the planet, totally driven to funk for peace. Seeing him at Basscoast 2015, the first thing he asked was: "How are the bears doing?"

"Well, you know how it is these days," I said. "Things aren't so easy for wild things." Jon nodded his head. He was connected to the earth and knew exactly what I meant. "I still want to come out with you," he said, "just a couple more years than I'm out of the city."

"The invitation is open, my friend. Anytime you're ready."

I thought about our final moments together as I drove down the valley last night, and with tears in my eyes said goodbye to this Soul Brother, this Renegade of Funk whose genuine sweetness will forever be remembered by those who were graced by his presence.

Farewell, Jon. Thank you for the gift of your music; for all those nights where you were the DJ that saved my life; and for the passionate, tenacious example you set as one of the most committed artists I've ever known.

May the wild vastness welcome you back home.