Southern Appalachian Seed Camp Solstice

June, 2012, Cherokee Forest, Tennessee

In the grand old Southern hospitality tradition,
the pleasure is all mine –
to welcome my planetary human family
to the cloud-forests of Katuah,
world’s largest outdoor sauna,
to welcome my redneck neighbors Home.

It’s a simple matter of heritage:
my redneck forebears took this territory
from the Cherokee, who took it before that
from the Creeks;
then the Yankees came and took it again
and sold it under the table
to the real estate speculators,
the corporate investors and the financiers.

But these ancient worn-down mountains are done
biding their time.
A tribe of down-home hippies
and pierced and dreadlock’d and tattoo’d punks
has sprung up out of these hollows
like psychedelic toadstools after a rain
to answer the call
of foggy forest glades, grass-covered balds,
rocky streams meandering
like a mountain storyteller
through rhododendron in bloom . . .

We have taken our Appalachian highland homeland
back again
just by calling her true name.


Forgive me, little greenbriar vine,
for sawing you off at the root
with my hopelessly dull pocketknife,
but you’ve drawn blood already
once today, and you know
that only brings out the worst
in a human. Anyway I know
you have strong, deep roots
and you’ll be back before long
– as I will myself, if my own root system
goes deep enough
and strong enough
when my turn comes

Thank you, quiet tent-site,
for absorbing all my clumsy human noises
into your quietude –
my crooked stumbling in circles
through brittle leaves and grasping vines
that first evening just before dark
in search of you
and every night since, finding my way back


Gentle rain at twilight
in the meadow –
a welcome condensation
of the June humidity
after dancing in the sweaty rays
of a long hot Solstice day,
planting the sacred seeds
of a Gathering
in this steep, moist,
breathtaking place
in the heat wave's sweltering

One last smoldering coal
in the ash of the heart-fire
sends up smoke
to the spirits
of this man-made clearing
on the mountain’s slope
as the shadows creep out
from the treeline
to join us

The firewood we gathered
is damp, but
a few dry sticks of cedar
well placed
fire a slow blaze

And when I return
long after dark,
a heart-shaped pyramid of fire
roars in the center of a circle
of voices and drums
and one vagabond flute


If you’re a kid with a toy,
certain things become irresistible:
like tasing a safely unarmed suspect,
or drilling the pristine Arctic for oil,
or buzzing the Rainbow camp
with one hand trembling on the joystick
of your government-issue helicopter
(“N.Y.P.D.,” this one says, oddly enough,
swooping low over the treetops
of a National Forest in Tennessee –)
And the bigger boys upstairs
get the same video-arcade thrill,
I’m sure, with a loftier view
from their offices in Washington
or Manhattan


A tribe of long-legged crickets
has taken up residence
between my tent and its rain-fly
for the duration, it seems,
along with an assortment of spiders
and spider-prey

Thank you, gentle tent-site
for cradling my weary spine
against your bosom of leaves and moss
at the end of each day’s endless
wandering –
trudging dust and gravel and mud
and heat, uphill and down,
hauling cabbage for Kid Village,
plywood for Info,
cornmeal for Katuah Kitchen
and my own two loads of way too much


Eerie dancing shapes of flame
come leaping out between
the shadows dancing
around the heart-fire’s glow

With every fallen limb
the fire-tender heaves across the flames,
whirling embers chase each other
up a chimney of spiraling smoke
through the laser patterns
of someone’s battery-powered

The drummers are working
together, smooth and steady
as a river’s unstoppable momentum
with occasional rushes
of turbulence in the flow

The dancers twirl like eddies
in the current of rhythm
while the singers
spin the hoop of each song
around and around, tossing it high
on their upstretched


Just when I finally earned my Merit Badge
for Decorating the Forest,
my expertly strung banners of colorful cloth
start vanishing one by one –
abducted by a cadre of kids who think
the quickest shortcut to adulthood
is to upset all the grown-ups
and run.

I went through that phase too,
I seem to recall, so I know
the flag-snatching game will pass
and one more generation of rebels
will gradually relax
into the sacred responsibilities of living –
including the task of watching over the next
wave of adolescents –
until their own turn comes
to catch themselves ranting crabbily at kids
about flag-thievery
or some equally juvenile game . . .
(Score one more for rebellious youth!)

But the flag-bandits are not the only kids here.
It’s ten days before the Gathering,
and trading blankets crowded
with glittering toys
already line the main trail
and full-grown men sit idly dangling
an empty pipe
from a length of string tied to a stick
while adults of all ages are hard at work
lashing tarps to poles,
laying miles of waterline,
digging slit latrines in the rocky clay,
preparing a place
for children to play . . .


After all these years, at last
I have a new Rainbow name! Just call me
“Late for Supper . . .”     
                                      I’m hungry,
sure, but I’ve missed more than nourishment –
My hands miss holding other hands
on my left and right. My heart
misses the singing. My spirit
misses the praying. My brain
even misses those interminable
announcements. Dammit, I missed
another circle.


The rain
taps a rhythm on my tarp
in code: the random
spatter and splat
of high truths descending
on a material plane
of bright blue plastic
and running off
unheeded, only briefly
interrupted in their age-old work
of re-hydrating the world
one tiny glimmering droplet
of holy water
at a time

Thank you, patient tent-site
for enduring my restless human
comings and goings,
for watching over my increasingly chaotic
tentful of jumbled objects,
for giving me the peaceful moments I need
for all these gathered glimpses,
insights, impressions
to overflow at last into hasty scribbling
like turning inside out
my pocketful of random trash
at the end of the day


These mountains know
we’ll be back again
a year from now – no more,
no less – to put up tarps
and build a fire and sing

When Summer
comes around once more
and the sun climbs to its zenith
on the longest day, we’ll be here
camped on another mountainside
to greet another Solstice

These children will always know
they belong to a family
that holds hands in a circle
once a year, honoring
the larger circle of Earth and sky
and a bigger Family:
their relatives in the forest,
in the creek, in the air
and in the heart
where all our loved ones
live forever