Beltane was delightful, terrible, joyful, sad, and a thousand other things all rolled into one.
We gathered at Treehenge, our eponymous grove in north Fort Collins, and the day blessed us with sun and warmth. We had a large group — nearly 20 people, and all of them bearing familiar faces. Iannin led the rite, and wanted to honor Marta and me as Flower Queen and Green Man respectively; we played it up and pranced, and danced, and ran between the fires like two young lovers on their way to the woods. It was beautiful.
The sadness comes of leaving this community of Druids, of course. They are, each and every one, remarkable, irreplaceable people. Thoughtful people. Compassionate people. Deep, rich-in-spirit, listening people.
If we lived in the 1800’s, and were joining a wagon train headed West, I’d be in tears much of the time — because the odds that I would ever return or see any of them again would be close to zero. But we don’t live in the 1800’s. We live in the early 2000’s, and while our advanced computer and transportation technology may eat itself and most of us in the next fifty years, it is there right now, and — as I keep reminding people — we are only an e-mail away.
Even so. I am both joyful and sad.
After the rite, Tina asked me an interesting question. She asked how I felt about leaving my Home. I’ve capitalized this word, because the capital letter was clearly present in her question.
My answer, which was spontaneous and unconsidered, surprised me.
“I’ve never felt at Home here,” I told her.
I’ve been thinking about that answer for two days, now.
I grew up forty miles from here. I’ve travelled a little — parts of Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Amsterdam, England; then Colombia, recently Sydney — and spent about thirty months on Long Island. After the Long Island stint, I came back to Denver and Fort Collins, and have never strayed for more than a brief vacation. You’d think this was my home.
But the truth is, it isn’t Home, and never was.
I could not leave my hometown fast enough as a young man. For all my deep familiarity and childhood memories, my hometown was never Home. Now that my parents and late mother-in-law have passed, there is nothing there for me: merely one friend, one of those permanent friends who would be no less close if she moved to Antarctica and I to the North Pole, and we exchanged letters once every five years.
Those thirty months on Long Island were traumatic, for many reasons; one of them being that it was definitely not Home. While I was there, I gained an appreciation for the idea that a vampire cannot rest unless he is on his home earth — I never felt I could truly sleep, and I relaxed for the first time in two-and-a-half years as I was driving westward in the mountains of Pennsylvania with the City far behind me. I came back here seeking refuge in the familiar. Kids happened, work happened, houses and divorces and girlfriends and parties happened, and I’ve stayed for thirty-three years.
But it isn’t Home. It never really was.
Part of it is the people. I don’t fit in around here.
J.M. Greer commented once in passing about the “failed colonization of the Western Plains,” and it gave voice to something I’ve long felt. This entire area, West of the Mississippi all the way to the deserts in the rain-shadow of the Rocky Mountains, is hard country, high country, dry country. The further from the Mississippi you travel, the harder, higher, and drier it gets. You can’t become a prosperous farmer here with one mule and a mail-order bride. Call it a “look in the eyes” — people who call these high-plains deserts Home have that look, and I don’t.
I don’t fit in.
This is the land of cattle barons, and nomads, and reclusive mountain people: of grifters and drifters; of survivors; of the lucky and the unlucky, and (in these latter years) of grasping urbanites and shallow suburban Libertarians, who shout about “freedom from taxation” while using chlorinated, cholera-free city water to keep their Bluegrass lawns green and their garages clean. City folk will pass you on the right and flip you off as they roar past. Townies drive “compensation trucks” that don’t fit in any parking spots, yet don’t show a spot of rust or old manure in the truck bed. Rural folk vote for Sarah Palin and post anti-abortion signs in their fields near the highways.
I don’t fit in.
But the deeper question is about the Land, and Tina pressed the point. Do I feel at home with the Land?
I’ve been sensing the Land for a long time. I used to sit outside at night in the freezing cold as a child to watch the stars and feel the omnipresent wind in my face. Nature — raw, wild nature in her untrammeled form — has always been a part of my life, and an essential part. Since I’ve embraced a more Pagan, animistic world-view over the last two decades, I’ve become more adept at giving language to what I’ve always felt.
In becoming more aware, however, I’ve also come to understand that I don’t really “get” the Land here.
In the late 1990’s, I went to Dallas on a business trip in July. Dallas-Fort Worth is a dual city deeply mired in Christian Fundamentalism and early-twentieth-century Prohibition, mixed with the anything-goes abandon of the desert whorehouse. On my way through the sweltering afternoon furnace-heat to the airport, I stopped for a beer in one of the few venues that served beer, and noted that the empty back corner of the restaurant was roped off with a big sign proclaiming “Bob’s Bible Study” or some such sentiment, a reflection of the smarmy “Jesus Saves” billboards all over town. While I sat there, enjoying the mild buzz from the beer, I decided to see if I could touch the spirit of the Land.
I think I did. Something like a giant lizard deep beneath the ground, a creature of fire and earth and little else, sleeping. This encrustation of loud Christian piety on its back was barely enough to irritate it a bit: the hint of a vague dream of an itch to be scratched. It made me pity the Fundamentalists of the area when the Land finally rises from its sleep and notices them. I bid it good slumber, and withdrew.
Texas is not Home.
Or there was a visit to Portland, Maine, where Poseidon reigns. Wet beyond imagining to a desert-dweller like me: deep water, oceanic abysses of water, dark and cold, powerful, ubiquitous and overwhelming. Only hard basalt could stand as earth against it: all else was varying thicknesses of water, whether murk or mud or damp black earth. Wind was heavy with moisture, and even the candle flame was subdued and chill.
Maine is not Home.
The Land here strikes me as new, not-quite formed. Not that long ago, in geological time, it was a deep seabed, and the Rocky Mountains did not exist. Mountain edges are still raw, still glowing with the energy of recent fracture. Where we live, tilted slabs of sandstone form the “foothills” that preface the sharp slopes of the Rockies, something once flat and stable that crumpled catastrophically in a huge geological fender-bender. Trees and grasses are the newcomers, along with migratory bison and the flickering bird-shadows of humans who follow them.
This is a place full of pockets of deep magic, and when you find them, they inspire, energize, fill one with awe. But the Land, mostly, doesn’t yet see us humans — we’re too recent. There is no relationship.
If there is, then it isn’t working for me.
I don’t fit in.
Something is calling me Westward, from a land of fire and flood and drought, to a land of earthquake and flood and drought. I don’t know what the experience will bring. But the call is clear, and I’m answering it.
We’ll see if I come Home.