L.R. Heartsong, author of THE BONES AND BREATH: A Man’s Guide to Eros, the Sacred Masculine, and the Wild Soul, recounts his experience of the 2014 Men’s Conference deep within the Northern California redwoods:
Standing in [...]
Men in community, restoring wholeness to ourselves and Soul to the world.
May 5, 2011
I have previously sent you a poem by Mary Oliver and asked of you that you spend some time with it and take it in.
There’s a bit of a story behind my selection of this particular poem that relates to the up-coming conference at the Mendocino Woodlands Camp III in less than three weeks–Thursday May 19 to Sunday May 22 where we will gather in community for the twenty-first time and the very first time in our new home, deep in the Mendocino forest, among the tall redwoods that filter the sun’s rays as they fall through the branches as only redwood trees can.
It is a protected and cared for historic public setting, whose unique history and current scope is well documented on the web site of the Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association ( http://www.mendocinowoodlands.org/home.html). Many of you know the three camps already but for those of you who don’t. I urge you to visit the web site. It is inspirational.
But back to the poem.
Another first for us this year is our hiring of a professional caterer to provide us with nourishment for our bodies commensurate with the nourishment we always find for our souls when we gather together in community the way we do–year after year. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Chef Oscar of The Phantom Cafe who will be preparing our meals for us. Hari Meyers and I met her back in October of last year in Ft. Bragg when she agreed to be our chef. Yes, Oscar is a she, Oscar Ann Stedman, her first name having been chosen by her grandfather, she tells me.
With the conference just three weeks away, Chef Oscar has begun to do the shopping, laying in some of the non-perishable supplies essential to the practice her art and we have had several conversations and have chosen menus selected from the multiple options she offered us. I will not reveal everything to you–the smells that will be emanating from the large lodge kitchen as we go about our work and play together will titillate more than any words I could find to describe this menu or that one.
But since I’ve promised to tell you how I happened upon Mary Oliver’s poem, I will tell you this much. The committee decided to spend a little extra money to have Chef Oscar present us with one of her premier specialties, a fresh caught King Salmon banquet. When I told her this, she was very pleased, telling me she was just that morning talking with local fishermen who were thrilled to be able to begin salmon season for the first time in several years on this very Sunday. She went on to describe her method of baking the salmon–topped with seasoned breadcrumbs, resting in a bath of white wine and lemon juice, which makes it poached as well as baked and through some miraculous chemical or alchemical process of heat and moisture and flesh, the grain of the fish flesh rises to a vertical position, as if the fish itself were a souffle rising, at least that’s the best I can remember what she said. I needn’t tell you I was actually salivating by the end of her description.
But there was another thing that happened–I remembered, vaguely, Mary Oliver’s poem about the bear and the salmon and so it was on my mind this morning as I was thinking about sending out the call for our first Wednesday of the month spoken word gathering. I looked it up and loved it, again, as I most often do with Mary Oliver’s poems. After all, it was her poem, The Journey, the first poem of hers I had ever heard, when Doug spoke it on Memorial Day in the Temple of Melodious Sound at Camp Gualala in the year 2000, that launched me on to my own journey toward being what I was born to be. You may remember this. I have shared it before . . .
The singing had stopped
and with it, for a moment,
our very breath,
as if life itself had been left behind.
In that deep, transported silence
beneath the old growth canopy
where forty men
like ancient monks, in filtered light,
had sung their morning ritual,
a voice—a knowing voice,
deep and rich in timbre, spoke:
“One day you finally knew
What you had to do . . . ” 1
Like the spirit of God hovering above the deep,
these spoken words
and those that followed
breathed life once more into my soul;
and there began, again my journey
1. From Mary Oliverâ€™s The Journey
Such life changing experiences that happen when we come together in community are not unique to me.
So I simply want to remind you each of the richness of experience that awaits us in Mendocino and ask you each to consider coming to join us if you have not already made that decision. Who knows what miracles, what changes within and what connections may be forged among us if we step into this experience together. Think about it and come, if you can. You owe it to yourself and to those whom you love.