This two-moon journey through California has been a blessing of reconnection amid a challenging moment of transition – a fiery, dying becoming into the singularity of my personal process of wild woman individuation, accompanied by a human-earth crystal grid arrangement of family and friends I experience most accurately (however unwilfully) as the tribe I never knew I needed to survive.
It’s a cryptic beginning for a story, I recognize. So bear with me as a I fumble through the bones of my own cornucopian madness.
In early October, California welcomed us with swollen seas and open doors, as coincidental configurations of family members gathered in familiar homes, among faces and places that lurk among my earliest memories. Together, we did all the things. Surfing. Talking. Smoking. Laughing. Drumming. Supporting. Soaking. Crying. Acting. Overreacting. We cleaned out the van and some closets in need of airing – both literal and figurative – and journeyed up the coast. Van life felt cruisy, just how we had left it in April after our month-long surf trip up through Central America and mainland Mex. This time, north of the border, we stealth camped on quiet streets in Carpinteria, Cayucos and Santa Cruz, snagging some glassy sunset sessions in chilly seas as the seasons changed.
We slipped serendipitously into a week of manual labor at the height of Sonoma County’s greenest bounty, answering to a skinny 19-year-old Salvadoran man we knew mostly as jefe (boss), while mingling with Oaxacan migrants whose border-crossing stories send chills up your spine. High in the mountains of the stoic pine forests left standing after the Santa Rosa fires, impossible worlds collided in smiles and solidarity, across borders of race, class, culture, language and land – all those invisible lines we’ve drawn in the sand.
We escaped to the Western Sierra Nevada to sleep in the wild and hike thousands of feet up into the sky. I celebrated my 33rd birthday by the warmth of a communal campfire and a single candle serenade beneath the grandfather trees and all that unadulterated starlight. I planted my moon at the roots of a dying Sequoia beside the river in Yosemite, returning a seed to my Earth mother, my birth mother, my maternal grandmother, all whose wombs I have once lived within, well before I was even a twinkling in anyone’s little eye. We breathed our way through the racing heart of sheer panic on the face of white granite, naked to the wild blue sky. We soaked our skin in a steaming spring and bathed in the alkaline light of a heavy October moon.
We dried our hair by the fire before bed and made love in the quiet of the forest for what we didn’t know would be the last time, for a while. We gnawed at the delicious flesh of barbequed animal bones and drank root beer floats in Lake Tahoe, the day before we fought over pho as a skin-headed biker gang revved their engines through the shopping center parking lot in a suburban town outside Sacramento. After the highest of highs, we slip-slided away into the lowest of our lows as we reached the East Bay, where the safest decision we could make was to go our separate ways.
Since then, in these three weeks of transition from we to me, I’ve danced my demons into the light and fled the fires of my own heart’s contempt, just as bullets penetrated indiscriminate skin and flames engulfed the homes of neighborhoods I once knew as my own, a faraway childhood finally forgotten if not for the slow-burning embers of faded memory and saltwater tears. And as an otherwise privileged herd of disaster-stricken homeless come to brave the unjust realities so many millions more have weathered in the dastardly dealings of a global system built to turn us against one another while capitalizing on our shared despair, I’ve allowed myself to become uncharacteristically held in the heart-healing hands of sisters and brothers, mother, father, aunties, cousins, and strangers now turned friends.
In my chosen loneliness far from home, I’ve called into my people and allowed myself the guilty decadence of borrowed bedrooms and workless days spent squishing my toes in the sands of sunset, sharing beach blanket daydreams with my sister-friends I haven’t seen in years. I’ve opened into the shady spaces of family histories forgiven at least in my skin if nowhere else. I’ve listened to my sister-cousins vent their deepest distress and celebrated the impressive new lives they’ve birthed into being. I’ve salt-soaked my hair in the California seas with my surf-family from diverse coastlands here and there, and I’ve made an unusual home in this sacred sense of reconnection I can only describe as tribe. People I love who love me and take care of me, just because we are we. And this sort of more-than-happenstance support system is as uneasy as it is gratifying, receiving this profound sense of solace and security among the people whose souls feel safest inside my own. Uneasy, because the most practiced survival instinct I’ve ever known, is to run away and slay my dragons all alone.
As I come to terms with this new strategy of being held by my people while I transition forward and back into my wild woman individuation, I’m interested now in knowing this thing we call tribe, how mourning the ways it has been appropriated and otherwise abused, and how entertaining my cellular makeup as born among tribal peoples, nomads, migrants, refugees and modern day gypsies may help me understand a cellular and soul-level longing I never knew I contained. And most importantly, how our very survival may actually depend on our willingness to live interdependently with one another.
In Women Who Run with the Wolves, “gathering bones” is Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ prescription for beginning to know the strength in our wild woman souls.
I guess that’s what this is. Gathering up my bones.
So it makes sense to start at the beginning.
My DNA ancestry is 95% Jewish Diaspora – Ashkenazi to be more precise. My origins are of a tribal people displaced and persecuted throughout history, now representing only 0.2% of the entire world’s population. While I write from a position of relative privilege (also worthy of meaningful critical review) as experienced by many today in contemporary Jewish culture, from somewhere deep in my bloodline, I resonate with the struggle of migrants and refugees, placeless people everywhere who are forced to flee their native lands and band together for protection and friendship toward a shared survival, across common dangers. And while I’m acutely sensitive to the cultural appropriation of the concept and experience of ‘tribe’ as predominantly belonging to the native peoples of the Americas and across Africa (which means white people need to stop referring to our groups of friends as ‘tribes’, and rightfully so), I’m also getting in touch with what it means to experience my ancestral history as tribal, and my deep needs to keep my people close, in paradox with the way I see myself and live my life as quite independent, perhaps a competing survival strategy in response to the near extermination of my blood ancestors.
This is new to me. Actively seeking the support of my tribe. If I can even call them that. Can a now-tribeless person whose bloodline ties have been stripped by ethnic cleansing and scattered in diaspora about the Earth refer to the friends and family she’s gathered close as bones in an otherwise hermitic life of individual spiritual survival – can she rightfully call these people her tribe?
Honestly, that’s not even the most important question. Because I believe these roots we’re growing together go still deeper than all that.
With all this journeying, bodies dancing here and there, displaced about the land, I find there’s something powerfully mysterious going on. In fingernails and body fluids, footsteps and skin cells, strands of hair and excrement, we leave pieces of ourselves everywhere we travel. And in turn, the elements of the lands we traverse, the people we meet and the seas we surf, weave their way into who we are on both a spiritual and cellular level. In a co-creative process of osmosis and cyclical change, we are mutually constituting selves, societies, energies and landscape elementals, one little step at a time.
And like a dynamic crystal grid, in constant flux, spread chaotically synchronistic across the Earth, I wonder how the divinely strategic meanderings of our nomad bodies contribute to the energetic union of certain tribes or spiritual groupings of people. How we may experience these human-earth grids as loneliness when our journey leads us far from home, by choice or by circumstance. Or by contrast, and perhaps simultaneously, how we may experience them as deep karmic connections and non-coincidental encounters as we greet old friends or meet complete strangers we know we know from somewhere far beyond the realm of scientific explanation. I wonder how deep my need for tribe has buried itself in the fiery ashes of my bloodlines, burnt to a crisp if not for the remembrance I find in the eyes and arms of friends and family who offer hearth and heart in unconditional support across years and borders, differing beliefs and all these dying dreams?
Do I have a right to call this beautiful puzzle of souls who carry me along my journey, despite my greatest attempts to run and hide, a testament to my ancestral heritage of surviving alongside my tribe? I don’t dare an answer to that question as it tugs at the fabric of my flesh. Yet, as I patchwork-piece together the parts of my wild woman spirit remembering herself into this dying-forward becoming of being, I know for certain that these bones I’m gathering among the sandy toes of my sisters and brothers are much stronger than my own alone.
And as the smoke billows across these California seas, and people continue to sleep in shelters, in deserts, at borders, in tents and on streets, I pray we might all remember what it means to find home inside one another. Alongside our Earth Mother as she screams, and to whom we all belong. Because together, I’m slowly coming to internalize, is the only way we might all ever possibly survive.