Sebastopol, California, is a wonderful place to find yourself for a few weeks, snugly tucked away in a lovely home with the look and feel of a Hobbit house. There I danced naked under the Pisces moon, her light as creamy as butter. Then I bowed to the rose, to the redwoods, and to the kingdoms of the earth, giving thanks to what they offer us.
What you’ll find below is a chapter from the working manuscript of my third book Blue Skyways, plus photographs from Sebastopol, California, where I wrote this chapter. I hope you enjoy it!
No job. No wife. No house. A little money...and 12 months of free airfare.
What would you do?
That's the question I asked myself at the beginning of 2019, leading me on the adventure of a lifetime, from the coast of Portugal, to the sands of Morocco, to the islands of Panama, with many places beyond and between.
Blue Skyways tells the astounding stories of the people I met on that journey, how I was affected, and about the perspective of a man who has been around the sun 63 times and across the world a few. As you will learn, death became my travel companion, partly at my invitation.
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Moondance & the Meat Eater
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
It’s nearly impossible to escape the natural environment in Sonoma County, California, not that anyone would want to. That place is as pretty a country as I have ever seen. During my nearly month long stay there, I found myself hustling through my moments indoors — cooking, sleeping, showering — just so I could spend as much time outdoors as possible. And the house I was staying in — a cute bungalow that reminded me of a Hobbit dwelling — made it superbly easy to get outdoors.
Just outside the front door was a small patio, enclosed by a fence and stuffed with flowering plants growing happily in a variety of pots, planters, and trays. Wind chimes hung from the wooden beams that framed the sky. Hundred foot tall redwood trees towered overhead, their branches swaying and dancing merrily in the soft, salty breeze that blew in from the Pacific.
On several mornings, fog rolled in with the dawn, and the redwoods, their piney leaves genetically disposed to convert fog to rain, moistened the quiet with artificial rainfall as soft as a jazz drummer’s brushes. By noon, the fog would evaporate, and the sky would grow pale blue and cloudless — another fine day in Northern California.
The light is different there — I don’t know why. I noticed it as I puttered around the house and grounds, sometimes naked, often stoned. The extraordinary things were easy to see in this light. Swatches of pink “naked lady” flowers on their leafless green stalks. Gnarly grey oaks, their branches as twisted as a politician, host to silvery lichens and the red-headed woodpecker. Flocks of wild turkeys, sometimes as many as a dozen, foraged in the dry meadow just outside my window.
Then there was the moonlight — creamy, rich as butter, haunting. It would flood through my bedroom window in buckets, and I would lay awake deep into the night and watch it move like a silver ghost across the room. Then was one of the few times I wished I weren’t alone in that single bed. Those moments were magical, and I wanted to share them with someone special.
One night, when the moon was especially full and bright, I went out onto the patio and danced naked in her pale light. At the time, I had no knowledge of what the moonlight might do to me, spiritually, physically, or emotionally. I only knew that at that moment, I craved a connection with earth’s ancient neighbor like a man who craves the caress of his lover. I wanted the moon’s light to bathe my skin, to penetrate me, through and through.
The next day, my beautiful niece, a free spirit who studies natural rhythms, explained to me that the moon with whom I danced was a special one, not to appear again until 2049. She said it was a “Pisces Moon” with the sun in Virgo and the moon in Pisces. The Pisces moon is a sign of dreams and mysticism — a water sign. The symbol of Pisces is a fish swimming upstream and a fish swimming downstream. Pisces is about duality, and about complementary but apparently opposing movements. Philosophically, Pisces implies that two truths can coexist, both equally valid, a form of duality.
Duality is a hard concept for me to grasp, as I was taught for over 30 years that there exists a single absolute truth, that is, “God’s truth,” and that no other truth exists but that one. Furthermore, I was taught that any other truth but “Gods truth” is a lie espoused by Satan, who is trying to trick me. I was taught the devil is prowling behind every mulberry bush “seeking whom he can devour,” as the Bible says. This kind of teaching is the perfect recipe for paranoia, which I find many evangelical Christians experience. I certainly did. Duality is an antidote for this kind of paranoia.
The best description of duality I ever saw was a graphic image drawn by some brilliant, anonymous person, showing a cylinder with a length and diameter of equal size. The cylinder is suspended in front of two planes (walls) joined at the corner with a 90 degree angle. The cylinder is illuminated so that it casts two shadows, one for each wall of the corner. On one wall the shadow appears circular, and on the other wall the shadow appears square. If one were to observe only one shadow, or the other, one might deduce that the illuminated object was square, or round, when it is in fact both. To fully understand the source object (the cylinder), one must observe both shadows and accept both as true. Duality.
Hard-core Christians generally don’t like the concept of duality. It allows too much moral ambivalence, such as “situational ethics,” an anathema to them. Dual truths, both equally valid, suggests a God that is not in control, not resolute, an indecisive god who is unclear, weak, and wishy-washy. This kind of “Pisces” god is wholly unacceptable to them.
But I see things differently. I believe that “God” – the infinite, the unboxed, the indescribable, the omnipotent, is great enough to allow multiple truths to coexist, more than duality (two), but even plurality (many). This is God. Unrestrained. Indefinable. Out of man’s box. Out from under man’s control and understanding. Infinitely resourceful. Not just a cylinder with two shadows, but something (or someone) beyond light itself, beyond words, beyond ideas, and beyond simple graphics.
So I danced in the Pisces moon, worshiping the God who created her, thanking the natural world surrounding me, feeling the milky photons of moonlight penetrating my skin, altering my cells, readjusting my brain waves, transforming my spirit. I bowed deeply to the rose — she is the queen of the garden. I bowed to the redwoods — they are the kings of the forest. I petitioned them to thank the plant kingdom on man’s behalf for its service to mankind, for fuel, for medicine, for food, for timbers that build man’s ships with which we cross the seas and cultivated our adventurous spirit, for pens and paper, with which we write poetry, and Shakespeare, and even this humble book, and by which we communicate with each other. I thanked plants for oxygen, without which man cannot even survive the moment. I thanked them. I bowed low, long and with earnest.
Then I rose to my full height and accepted the Crown of Creation. I am Man. I am king of the natural world because I can both destroy it, or save it. All other kingdoms on earth, Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archea/Archebacteria, and Bacteria/Eubacteria, are subject to man’s vast power, and yet, I bow to them all. I thank them all. As Man, the king of kings, I owe it to them to be wise, to be discerning, to hear them, and to know them, and to protect them as any wise king would his royal subjects. We humans must be benevolent dictators over the natural world. It’s a huge responsibility.
Before I leave the subject of plants, I want to relay an encounter I had with a local woman while staying in Sonoma County. She was, no doubt, a breathtaking beauty, intelligent and personable, and deeply wed to a carnivore diet she had been on for about a year. I must plead total ignorance as to the health benefits of such a diet, but based on this woman’s glow, I would say it was working fairly well for her.
Over the course of our date, I learned quite a bit from this woman about meat versus plant-based diets, and why (in her opinion) the former is better for both humans and the planet. She made a convincing argument except for one thing she said that I had trouble accepting.
She said plants evolved to protect themselves with toxins that we humans ingest whenever we eat fruits and veggies. In other words, she believes that plants hate me and want to kill me with their natural poisons. “They can’t run away, you know,” she said. “So they evolved to defend themselves in other ways.”
Now do I believe that? Do I believe that a juicy, ripe, sweet, South Carolina grown, splendorous, “I can only get it right at a roadside stand,” peach, somehow does not want me to eat it?
Not a chance.
I am grateful to be an omnivore. It only makes sense to me that a “survival of the fittest” survivor extraordinaire would want to expand its food supply to as many varied sources as possible. Eat animals. Eat plants. Eat bugs even. Eat all of it.
I think about nature when I eat, how it provides my sustenance, and how it only makes natural sense to protect our Mother Earth with as much fierce tenacity and heart as we would protect our own mothers. Maybe more, because the earth is something we pass on to our children as a gift – the greatest one we could ever give them.
I am suspicious of world leaders who don’t spend time in nature, or who see it as something to be conquered rather than nurtured and loved. Leaders of this persuasion are too easily disconnected from everything around them, from their mythic roots, or even from themselves.
For example, while walking through the hills of Sonoma County, it was impossible not to be impressed with how dry it was. The danger of wildfires were not far from anyone’s mind, and I could see why. Everything I touched, even if it was green, felt dry as a bone, and the ground crackled under my feet when I walked. I could see how fire would tear through the country, leaping from tree to bush to house, raging out-of-control.
I shook my head with disbelief at an American president who suggested, as one did, that this dry condition was the result of the local people’s poor management. This is a man, I thought, who needs to walk the hills and trails of this country, examine the trunks of ancient redwoods scarred black by fire, and feel both the land and the people who work it. This is a man who needs to steep himself in nature, and not just by riding in a motorized cart around an irrigated golf course. This is a man who needs his soul restored.
I am also suspicious of leaders who don’t clean their own houses and don’t dance. These should be mandatory for every person who seeks political office, because each of these activities connects you with something profoundly important.
Cleaning is hard work, as anyone who does it knows, and as my mom used to say, “hard work never killed anyone.” The politician who cleans his own house connects with the millions of people who literally put their backs into their work, day in and day out. Factory workers, stock clerks, bakers, nurses, roadies, farmers, and yes, house cleaners, are just a few of those people.
When you clean your own house, your back gets sore. Fatigue sets in. You get dirty. You imagine what it feels like to get up every morning knowing that you have eight, 10, 12 hours of that kind of hard work ahead of you, and that tomorrow will be the same. You take steps to make things easier on yourself, like keeping your house manageable. When you clean your own house, it’s hard to be cavalier about immigrants and dark skinned people who do the lion’s share of our planet’s hard physical labor. House cleaning humbles a person, fosters thrift, and cultivates empathy, qualities that are in short supply among our leaders.
Finally, I believe every race for political office ought to include at least one dance contest. One of my favorite sayings is the Celtic proverb, “Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.” That is to say, if you find yourself in a situation where you have lost your humor, your warmth, your willingness to break bread with strangers, your capacity to see beauty, however subtle, or your ability to hear the rhythm of distant melodies, no matter how far off, then you must surrender your sword.
If you cannot see the art or poetry in a situation, then you are in danger of becoming a cold-blooded killer, estranged from your humanity, dominated by the tyrannical power of your rigid dogma. You are in danger of killing like a beast or acting like a machine, rather than thinking and feeling like a human being. Those who cannot dance are deep into their ideological echo chamber where no outside voices are tolerated, and I don’t want anyone like that in a position of power, regardless of their political orientation.
Can you dance, my friend?
Then travel inwardly and outwardly until you hear something, a distant and unfamiliar melody, sung in a foreign tongue around a strange fire. Break bread with those you find there, the “others.” Listen to their stories. Pay tribute to their gods and warriors. Honor their ancestors. Feel their hearts.
Then, when the feast is over and the last drop of wine has been drunk, lift your hands to the open sky, and join the human tribe as we dance together in the light of the moon.
For Christmas 2018, my brother, a pilot with American Airlines, gave me a gift that became the experience of a lifetime: 12 months of free travel anywhere American Airlines flies.
Thus began a year long journey that took me from the rocky coast of Portugal, to the hot sands of Morocco, to the mangrove swamps of Panama, with many places beyond and between. In cheap hostels and the backwaters of the nomadic milieu, I discovered a treasure chest of colorful and fascinating people. I tell their stories and mine.