I have just returned from my favorite place in all the world. Jenner by the Sea, a small community on the Sonoma Coast where the Russian River flows into the Pacific Ocean. This section of coast is one of the most dangerous in California, and its wildness stirs me in a way that is difficult to describe. The thrumming of the wildlife here reveals a thriving ecosystem. Hawks, frogs, seals, birds, fish, and plants are all abundant and happy, filling the hills with their song. It rained off and on throughout my visit, adding that wet lushness I adore about winters on the California Coast. At night, mist crept up the river and caressed the canyon with its otherworldly tendrils, and my heart was captured.
The moment we arrived, I felt it; a return home. Even I, with my unquenchable wanderlust, have a place that feels like home, where my soul belongs, and is a part. For this I am truly grateful. As I combed the beach that first day, on my way to visit the seals who breed and give birth there, it struck me; I feel close to the Gods in this place.
What I mean by that is, this area has a presence, a consciousness that is very distinctly its own. In a place such as this, it is no wonder that we perceive our earth as sentient. The Pagan gods make complete sense to me in this kind of environment. I could almost see a face overlaid amidst the natural beauty, sometimes temperamental, but at this time, sated and benevolent, fed by the calm rain that brought clean fresh life to all the creatures living there. In the presence of such palpable consciousness, is it any wonder that we anthropomorphize, for we feel such a sense of kinship that these overlays of human characteristics come unbidden, a natural effect of encountering consciousness that feels so familiar, so compatible with our own. Poetic license on our part, perhaps, yet such a natural thing to do, for do our own faces not also tell stories, revealing the qualities of our souls and the kinds of lives we have led? Is it any wonder then, that a place might reveal to us a face that reflects its stories, its distinct qualities of soul? Also, If the ocean can reveal an aspect of itself in human form, are we humans not also capable of shapeshifting and becoming part of the ocean? In this way does communion with the natural world occur. Or at least, this is one way that we can translate this inexplicable kinship. This is one way we can interface with these presences as we seek to understand this kinship within our own psyches. And, in me at least, it happens of its own accord, not something I coax or strive for, but as a natural response to my immersion in the soul of nature.
In these moments I truly do feel a oneness with the natural world. Not a sameness, but a sense that we are part of each other, our boundaries permeable as we flow into one another. Truly my soul is ravished by the beauty and wildness of this place. I am swept away, my breath catching in my chest and promising to overtake me in swoon, as though in the embrace of a lover.
I feel myself to be an integral part of this place, and that this place is a part of me. I feel this coastal spirit inside myself. Even today, back home on the San Francisco Bay, I feel this. That presence of wild aliveness that lives and breathes in Jenner has permeated my cells, my soul, my psyche. I am flooded not with anxieties but with mist. The clamor in the back of my mind is not from the news of the day but from the robust chirruping of frogs. The rain and the salty sea have washed me utterly clean. I belong to Jenner, part of its ecosystem just like the frogs are.
The Gods of Jenner feel strikingly Celtic to me. The tales of Manannan mac Lir and the Celtic heroic legends came back to me with a vengeance during my time there. I am sure this says more about my own inner workings than it does about exactly which Gods live where. Presumably a Native American God-name would be more appropriate to this land. But such is the nature of Gods, I think, that they speak to us through the stories we carry within us. We translate their communion into languages that we know. The stories of our Gods don’t come directly from the Gods themselves, but by necessity must be an interaction between human and God, human and nature. Can we really know a thing independent of our own observations? I tend to think not. I believe our experiences of Gods are always an amalgam of pure presence mingled with our capacity for understanding. We filter these awe-inspiring encounters through our own poetic tendencies.
I lose this feeling living in the city, I must admit. I have to work to maintain my connection to the Gods. In Jenner they envelope me unbidden. No incense or incantations needed. In this environment, I am left with the conviction that we are part and parcel of the soul of nature, and that, in seeking to protect ourselves from the harsher aspects of nature, we have overshot the mark. We needed shelter from the storm, surely, and warmth on a cold night, and more stability and security in our methods of obtaining food. But did we need shopping malls? Cement poured over everything? Electronic devices that keep us disconnected from our neighbors as they connect us to the world? In protecting ourselves from nature, we have distanced ourselves from nature, too much I think. We have lost this feeling of aliveness, the visceral experience that we are an extension of nature. We are part of this pulse, not separate from it, and in remembering we are part of nature, we find a sense of meaning to our lives that we perhaps had forgotten.
We are part of an ecosystem. It is my hope, moving forward in life along our human destiny, as we by necessity figure out what it means to live sustainably on our Earth, that we come to our solutions by way of cooperation rather than competition. We are part of an interconnected, interdependent whole. It is my hope that we can shift our mindset from “survival of the fittest”, to a spirit of partnership, whereby we find value in all beings, all life processes. I think we can accomplish these goals while still keeping many of the conveniences of modern civilization intact. We just need to prioritize this interconnection, to value it for the pearl beyond price that it is.
Such are the ways my Muse is awakened by this patch of coast. I plan to spend much more time here in the coming months.