Monday, February 23, 2015


Baby Blue Eyes
San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

All photos taken February 21, 2015

“For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever.”

     While the rest of the country is blanketed by snow, the first spring flowers are flourishing on the hillsides of the Sierra Nevada Mountains due to the unseasonable warmth here in California. Yesterday as my wife and I drove to the San Joaquin River Gorge, I was secretly hoping to find at least one baby blue eye flower amidst the blazing fiddleneck and pure white popcorn flowers carpeting the hillsides: When I first encounter a baby blue eye in early spring, my soul thaws in a rush of awe and gratitude. The tape in my head switches off, and, facing a piece of sky on the ground, I take a deep breath, feeling a sense of the sublimity of being. No one can possibly measure the sweetness, the simplicity, the stunning delicacy of the flower. To our great joy, we found numerous baby blues eyes along the trail down to the San Joaquin River--an unusual phenomenon in mid-February. We drove home feeling refreshed, as if the baby blue eyes had cleansed us.

San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

     On the way home, I mused about why I am so enthusiastic about the flower. One year, even though I am normally an extremely unsentimental man, I knelt before a baby blue eye and felt tears sliding down my cheeks. The flower immediately affects me on some subconscious level, an archetypal level, I concluded. It combines the freshest beauty with the severest simplicity in perfect proportion, a combination of two powerful aspects of the life-force, Venus and Mars. 
     As absurd as that may sound, it makes sense on more than one level. The flower has five petals. Geburah, “the Power” referenced at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, refers to the fifth sphere on the Tree of Life, which is associated with Mars and the number five. (Hence, the Pentagon as the nerve center of the military-industrial complex.) Another name for Geburah is “severity.” From the perspective of Mars, life is a severe test or trial, a crucible that can produce great beauty on the physical, emotional, moral, or spiritual levels.

San Joaquin River. 
San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

    Lest you have forgotten, Venus and Mars are lovers. On the Tree of Life, a path runs from Geburah (the sphere of Mars) through Tiphareth, the center of equilibrium, down to Netzach (the sphere of Venus). The ancients realized that the power of the life force manifests in great beauty in the sphere of ethics as well as in the sphere of nature through a severe discipline. As Dion Fortune points out in The Mystical Qabalah, there is a righteousness in beauty as well as a beauty in righteousness.  

Tree of Life

     (The glyph of the Tree of Life is, among other things, a flow chart of evolution, devised long before Darwin ever appeared on the scene.)
     Following the Pillar of Severity on the Tree of Life from top to bottom, Saturn, representing the basis of form, is Mars on a higher arc, and Mercury, representing thought (also a type of form), is Mars on a lower arc. On the other side of the Tree of Life, the Pillar of Mildness represents expansive force. The Pillar of Severity limits force physically, ethically, and intellectually so that it can manifest appropriately in The Kingdom, the physical universe. Mars, despite his reputation as the God of War, is a God of Karma, of Justice, of Ethics who establishes balance and perfect proportion on all levels, but especially in social affairs. 

Pounding Stone by River (center). 
San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

     We want our doctors and lawmen and leaders to be in league with Mars. We want our doctors to have no sympathy for disease. We want our lawmen (who often wear five-pointed stars) to have no sympathy for people who harm others. We want our politicians to protect us from internal and external threats.  As workers we respect the manager who has no sympathy for those who don’t do their jobs.
     As a society we pretty much allow Mars free reign when it comes to matters of health, law, and business, yet in a strange but telling way we sometimes tremble when confronted by the archetype of Mars because the God forces us to come to terms with reality: Mars burns away denial of the truth, whether it takes five minutes or five hundred years. He uses the sword, and he is not at all delicate or subtle about solving problems or dealing with excess. The person who manifests Mars puts the fear of God into you. He is on the side of the underdog who fights for equality and justice and inspires you to do the right thing despite the personal risks involved.

Bush Lupine below Bluffs. 
San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

     Recently, after many years of struggling with food allergies, I discovered that I have a full-blown case of celiac disease, which means that I experience heart palpitations and debilitating stomach problems when I eat a miniscule amount of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Because gluten has eroded my digestive system over the years, stimulants, including coffee, chocolate, and alcohol, also cause irregular heartbeats. The only cure is a gluten and stimulant-free diet. Mars provides the strength and discipline to live within these strict dietary limitations. Thanks to Mars, I have recently discovered that there is a beauty in health that manifests on more than just the physical level.
     As human beings we have to live within the harsh limitations of the environment and society, which means partly that we cannot allow one person or industry to use up all the resources. Mars is a corrective to the expansiveness and the excesses of Jupiter, the God who represents Chesed, the sphere opposite Geburah. Mars is the corrective to Jupiter’s vices--gluttony, bigotry, tyranny, and hypocrisy, which, as I pointed out in a previous post, are the vices of the American Dream.  As I mused about the baby blue eye on the way home, I realized that when I gaze at the flower, I am inspired to save public land like the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area, where such flowers can be found in profusion. I cannot help being ravished by the beauty of Venus and also spurred by the power of Mars to fight an industry that is striving to bury the river gorge under hundreds of feet of water for its own benefit. 
Fiddleneck by Campground. 
San Joaquin River Gorge
Special Recreation Management Area

      In the San Joaquin Valley, the biggest crop is almonds, with grapes not far behind. As Mother Jones points out, it takes over a gallon of water to produce one almond. In order to continue growing these unsustainable crops in a drought within a semi-arid region, farmers are demanding that a large part of the recently passed $7.5 billion water bond be spent to build a dam at Temperance Flat, above Friant Dam. In other words, farmers, for their own commercial benefit, want the public to pay for the theft and destruction of public resources. This fills me with the spirit of Mars: It is this kind of excess, call it greed or gluttony, that must be nipped in the bud.
     At the heart of the archetype of Mars is health and balance. As most parents will tell you, too much laxity results in spoiling the child. As any doctor will tell you, too much overindulgence results in disease. As any leader should be able to tell you, allowing systemic greed results in economic disaster and chaos.  But also at the heart of the archetype of Mars is the sympathy that extends the beauty of righteousness into a desire to protect the righteousness of beauty.

Friday, February 13, 2015


Fiddleneck and Popcorn:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     Recently I drove over Kaiser Pass, edging along the treacherous, single-lane road that forces drivers to take turns hugging the cliffside. Feeling adventurous, I ignored the turn-off to Mono Hot Springs and came unexpectedly upon a small lake, no more than a pond really, where tules were flourishing next to the road. Across the lake a rock formation rose like the grandest, most formidable cathedral on earth. The place seemed eerily familiar, so I parked the car and stretched my legs. Suddenly, as I gazed at the lakeshore, I noticed a blue dragonfly, which transported me back to a moment in my childhood forty years ago. Whatever I was supposed to think or feel or be fell away, and, just like forty years before, I experienced pure being in a timeless place.
     As a child, I usually didn’t associate experiences with specific geographic locations, so I didn't know the name of the lake or its relationship to other places. I’m still surprised when childhood memories unexpectedly flood back to me after I encounter a creek or river or lake that I once haunted for a few hours. My father, in search of a fishing hole, had ended up at Ward Lake early one summer morning, a drive from Fresno of almost three hours. We must have left home during the wee hours because I woke up as he was parking the car, not long after sunrise. The first thing I encountered as I was dashing to the shore was a sapphire dragonfly hovering in the tules. 
The San Joaquin River:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area
     Like all twelve year olds, I had dreams that I was sure were going to come true. Almost all, of course, have since vanished. As I stood gazing at the dark lake as a child and as a man, I wondered uneasily why we choose not to stay in such a timeless place. I concluded as a child that human society must offer something better. As a man, I wasn’t so sure. A place like Ward Lake puts a lot into perspective.

     The quiet lake and the huge trees and the massive rocks gave me the uneasy feeling that most of what we think and feel and believe and dream about is just noise, yet we play the same tune over and over as if the world depends on it. At Ward Lake the tune vanished, and for a moment I felt afraid. I longed to return to a place where I could hear the noisy tune of civilization. At that moment, the tree trunk that I was standing on reminded me only of death and chaos. I had a bizarre desire to clean up the humus and the fallen branches, to pull the dead, water-logged trees from the dark water. I sighed as I stared at the awesome rock rising high over the lake, its reflection extending deep into the water. I couldn’t imagine a way of making the rock less intimidating. I was faced with an “otherness” that I could not control.
Goldfields and Popcorn:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area
     I realized then that I was having an irrational desire to manage an ecosystem that contained its own inherent order. I wanted to recreate the place in the image of humanity, to restart the tune that I understood so well. Yet in the quiet something inside of me said no, let it go, and once again I returned to a state of simply being. I felt complete. It seemed easy, as if all I ever had to do was make a conscious choice to let go of the fear of losing my identity, but I soon suspected that I wouldn’t be able to maintain that feeling for long. 

     The lake and the massive rocks and trees were imbued with a life that did not need humanity at all, which inexplicably troubled me. I strolled back to the tules where the blue dragonflies hovered and bobbed here and there. I remained still, conscious of my breath, letting go of the noise in my head, contemplating the otherness, as if I were meditating with my eyes open.
Fiddleneck and Fiesta Flowers:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area
     I remembered seeing dragonflies all the time when I was a child, sapphire and ruby red and shimmering green, and it occurred to me that I had not encountered one in many years. Suddenly I missed them terribly. Where had they gone? Were their populations decimated by cultivation and pesticides and urbanization or was I just visiting the wrong places? I felt a profound sense of loss as I gazed at a blue dragonfly hovering nearby. I wanted to snatch it and hold onto it. Then I remembered that my father had died about five years after our trip to Ward Lake.
     Once again a sense of chaos and death and the unknown overwhelmed me. I felt like a Puritan at Plymouth Rock facing the dark forests of an unchartered continent. I wanted to cut down the trees and level the ground and create a safe, comforting, glitzy civilization where suffering and death could be hidden away and ignored. I wanted a city to spring up on the hill. 

Popcorn Flowers below Bluff:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     Yet the sense of timelessness again enveloped me. I felt renewed, like I was a child again, like my father was still fishing somewhere by the lake. I wanted him to remain there in the brilliant sunshine, dwarfed by the magnificent trees and rocks, his shining line deep in the dark lake. Of course, I knew he wasn’t there, but because in my mind there had been no passage of time, he was standing there, his body a still shadow in the dark water, the lake even more sublime because of it. 
     I was snapped back by the clock. I had to head home. I shook my head, suddenly feeling queasy, as if my inescapable need for human order was a chronic sickness that always eventually blocks any connection with nature. I wanted to silence the noise in my mind for good and just listen to the quiet lapping of the water and feel the timelessness and the sunshine and the breeze.
     At that point I realized that deep in my soul I needed the quietness and the sense of otherness, even if it was occasionally accompanied by a feeling of being out of control, but I also needed human order, the noisy song of civilization. I needed to strike a satisfying balance, and I hoped that my children wouldn’t lose the rejuvenating sense of pure being and timelessness and otherness. 
     We need wild public lands near where we live, such as the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area, which might soon be buried under hundreds of feet of water if Temperance Flat Dam is approved. We need those places to rejuvenate us and help us maintain our sense of continuity and our connection with something beyond us--with something sublime.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Baby Blue Eyes and Fiddleneck:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area

     Due to recent rains, green grass, hauntingly fresh, has sprouted again in the San Joaquin River Gorge, heralding the first flowers of spring: popcorn, fiddleneck, lupine and shooting stars. Soon the slopes will be covered by spot rugs of goldfields and baby blue eyes, owl’s clover and poppies. Once belonging to Native Americans, this land is currently public land, a remnant of the commons of America. Native American pounding stones can be found in many places within the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area, but the freshness of late winter and early spring obscures the tragedy of genocide.  That very freshness makes the possibility that the land will be buried under hundreds of feet of water seem remote. 
     We haven’t learned much from history. First the land was stolen from Native Americans. If a dam is built at Temperance Flat, the land will be stolen from the American public, a tragedy in which “common” public land and resources become the property of one industry at the expense of the community as a whole.
     Recently, after I described the issue to a friend, she stated flatly, “That’s nothing new." She could not have been more correct, unfortunately. From a spiritual perspective, the pillaging of common resources by those in power is a vice associated with a sphere on the Tree of Life known as Chesed. From the perspective of the Tree, which is a composite symbol of the types of energies that have evolved within the manifested cosmos, the vice has existed since the beginning of time (as we humans know it). The vices associated with the spheres of polarity are the unbalanced aspects of the energies of each sphere or state of being that manifest in the world. Since humans contain the energies of the spheres represented by the Tree, each of us can manifest the virtues of each sphere as well as the vices related to unbalanced energy. 

The Tree of Life
     Also known as Gedulah, referenced as “the Glory” at the end of the Lord’s prayer, Chesed is the fourth sephirah on the Tree of Life, a sphere associated with Jupiter. Known by the Greeks as Zeus, Jupiter is the archetypal king, the consummate ruler and lawgiver, the great up-builder and organizer of civilization. 
     The spheres on the Tree of Life represent types of manifested energy, each of which has been personified throughout history as different Gods and hierarchies of Angels. In addition to their magnificent spiritual virtues, each sphere on the Tree of Life also contains vices because energy manifests according to the laws of polarity. Love is the opposite of hate. Heat is the opposite of cold. Where there is a virtue, there is a vice, except where total unity abides. The vices of the sphere of Jupiter relate to power: Tyranny, gluttony, hypocrisy, and bigotry, as opposed to its virtue, obedience to the law of love, an obedience that can manifest as spiritual magnificence, abundance and harmony.
     The American Dream in both of its positive and negative aspects stems from the archetypal energies of Gedulah, the fourth sephirah, or state of being, on the Tree. At the heart of the American Dream is the belief that each individual is potentially a magnificent being who is capable of creating abundance and harmony and of determining his or her own fate. It follows that the individual who sincerely works hard and plays by the rules should prosper as long as barriers to this potential for prosperity are kept to a minimum. A person who succeeds through intelligence, good fortune and a strong work ethic deserves what he or she receives.
     But the Dream has a dark side. Currently 80 people, the majority of whom are Americans, own the same amount of wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people, according to an analysis released from Oxfam. Four years earlier, 388 billionaires together held as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the world. Wealth is becoming concentrated in the hands of the few at an alarming rate. Those who control the wealth continue to accumulate as much wealth as they can, despite the terrible conditions experienced by innumerable people throughout the world. Not coincidentally, the influence of money in politics is also undermining any semblance of democracy. Because democracy is for sale, the “tragedy of the commons” is becoming far too common.

Baby Blue Eyes, Popcorn, and Fiddleneck:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area

     An economic theory by Garrett Hardin, the “tragedy of the commons” posits that individuals acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource. The term, taken from the title of an article written by Hardin in 1968, is in turn based upon an essay by a Victorian economist on the effects of unregulated grazing on common land.
     In 1833 the English economist William Forster Lloyd published a pamphlet which included an example of herders sharing a common parcel of land on which they were entitled to graze their cows. In English villages, shepherds had also sometimes grazed their sheep in common areas, and sheep ate more grass than cows. For each additional sheep, a herder would receive benefits while the group shared damage to the commons. If all herders made this economic decision, rational for themselves as individuals but detrimental to the group, the commons could be depleted or destroyed.
     Recently the "commons" has come to mean any shared resource, such as rivers, oceans, fish stocks, atmosphere, or even the office refrigerator. The concept is often cited in connection with the need for reasonable and sustainable growth.

Squaw Leap: The San Joaquin River Gorge 
Special Management Area

     A dam at Temperance Flat will turn a majestic  river ecosystem into a storage container for the top few percent in the San Joaquin Valley, the vast majority of the water going to one industry for private gain--much of the water irrigating unsustainable crops, such as almonds, in a semi-arid region. There are currently over 1,400 named dams and 1,300 named reservoirs in the state of California, dozens of which already exist on the San Joaquin River. Each dam and reservoir has destroyed river habitat, but  together they have not ended the water shortage for the farmers of California. 
     The vices of the American Dream are the vices of Gedulah. Many people believe in limiting the barriers to prosperity.  In other words, each individual should have the right to prosper in an unregulated or deregulated market, no matter the consequences to other individuals or society or the world as a whole, a belief resulting in a cultural fascination with the gangster and more recently in the near economic collapse of Western societies--including the United States. Of the vices, examples in America are glaringly obvious. Bigotry has led to slavery and genocide. Greed, another name for gluttony, is readily seen in the depletion of resources such as old-growth forests and wetlands across the continent, as well as indirectly in the inescapable pollution of air and water. Despite a professed belief in democracy, the tyranny of the bottom line dominates corporate life and numerous social relationships, and in competition for material success, hypocrisy--in other words deceit, fraudulence, insincerity--is undeniably pervasive, in the classroom as well as the boardroom, in the church as well as the town hall.
     Belief in the American Dream is the main basis of loyalty for many of the citizens of the United States, and the positive elements of the ethos is drilled into the consciousness of the average American from birth to such a degree that the unbalanced aspects of the ethos are rarely examined. Instead, many unthinkingly accept that the American Dream, a facet of the archetype of Gedulah, means that organizing and building to create prosperity for someone, somewhere is always a form of beneficial progress. Consequently, dams and water works are still viewed by many as one of many great advancements of civilization. However, at the heart of the archetype of Gedulah is balance, which includes establishing sustainable communities that maintain harmony with nature. The destruction of an irreplaceable river ecosystem for the private benefit of the few is not a true manifestation of the virtue, which is obedience to harmonizing love, including love and respect for all creation.
     A belief in prosperity at any cost continues to result in environmental destruction and economic disaster. Something has gone terribly wrong with our interpretation of the American Dream and our use of the energy of the archetype of Jupiter, the upbuilding, law-giving, merciful king of Gedulah. It’s almost in this country as if the vices of the archetype for many have become its virtues.  The true virtue of “The Glory” is the internal magnificence, abundance and harmony of the human spirit, which does not necessarily result in material success, control, dominance, or power that is so often the manifestation of its vices. As a society we need to re-examination the American Dream in terms of the Tree of Life if we are going to revere the glory of creation and reestablish a balance with nature--in order to protect the "commons" and survive as a species.