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Strange Beauty: Living in a Thin Place



“Beauty is the grandeur and elegance of experience that has come alive to its eternal depth and destiny. True beauty can emerge at the most vigorous threshold where the oppositions in life confront and engage each other.” John O’Donohue


Last week I went to Muir Beach with a friend and our dogs. We made a fire and watched the squadrons of pelicans crisscross across the sky, waves sluice along a beach, the sunset casting glorious shades of orange and blue across the sky and water, and then a waxing crescent moon appeared. We had to hustle out of there before the sun fully set to avoid a parking ticket. I realized that beauty isn’t a luxury for me, it’s necessary for my well-being. It guides me to live a heart-centered and process-focused life in a profit & product-driven world. We all need it for our humanity to evolve and in order to treat the earth, each other, and ourselves with kindness.


Beauty is everyone’s birthright. Though oddly, society has evolved so that we need to designate spaces like national parks and Marine Protected Areas to preserve it, and we have to carve out precious little time in our busy lives to experience it. Despite this, it still finds us. A full moon peered through a window, light puddling on the floor. The smell of a bay laurel tree wafting through a cracked office window. A hummingbird hovering at eye level as when walking the dog.


I’ve been binge-reading the late Celtic mystic John O’Donohue lately. He writes about “thin places” in Celtic cosmology. These are sacred spaces where the “veil” between the seen and unseen world is thinner than in other places. These are the places of deep beauty where we have otherworldly experiences. For me, it’s pretty much the entirety of the Pacific coast; this cold, rich, lost-in-infinity gorgeous chaos of stunning beauty is a “Thin Place." I particularly feel this in Big Sur, Salt Point, Point Reyes and when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.


While reading about thin places, I finally understood the paradoxical experience I have of driving the Golden Gate from Marin to San Francisco. I’m probably running a few minutes behind and stressed about it. Yet to the west is the other side of the veil. Where time does not exist. It’s a white-waved, fog-capped heavenly arcana that tugs on my essence while my mind navigates traffic. It's wonderful and maddening all at once!


From my desk, I have a view of Mt. Tam and think about the fairy circles of behemoth redwoods trees that are unique ecosystems unto themselves; a place where rays of light shine through, and when there, I wonder if I’m about to be handed a new set of holy commandments. I have to go back to scanning my receipts and updating my Quickbooks.


And so last week I resolved to make more time for beauty in my life. To not just let it slip in my window but to seek it out, unencumbered by this life of grids and schedules and chores. To meet it with the presence of all my senses and very little of my mind. As O’Donohue wrote in an unfinished poem, “I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” And with rains triggering the wild mushroom season, there is the bonus to the beauty - pleasure in the form of deliciousness. I went out last night with Flora Jayne to practice nose-training for truffles and we found two old, worm-riddled porcini in a strange little section of woods that still has old chain link fences in it. Baudelaire wrote that "beauty always has a touch of strangeness." S


o Flora Jayne and I are going back out soon to see if we can find fresh ones.


Foraging for wild food is the lure of our upcoming experiences, but beauty is wh


at we are really offering. Foraging wild food takes us into thin places and makes space for beauty and pleasure in our lives. We are having a mushroom weekend at Camp Earnest in the Sierra Foothills in mid-November. We’ll forage mushrooms, watch the stars from the cedar hot tub,

eat fabulous food, pick watercress and nettles from the flowing river, and dance under the moon. There’s also a Winter Revelry on Mount Tam that will have crafting (yep, we are making candles), dancing to a dj, redwood rituals, camping and wild foods – including a wild butter & pickle bar! The one-day mushroom foraging camps at Salt Point State Park are filling up. After hiking on trails looking for porcini and chanterelles, we’ll make a mushroom-centric campfire lunch.





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