Walking through the morning dew of Branscomb, picking the seeds of the sweetest water-stressed blackberries out of my teeth with a grass stalk. Deer and quail, suddenly realizing that they are not actually invisible under the heavy cloak of mist, scatter before me. There is a smell of moisture filtered through Redwood lofts and coating the fields of grass and star thistle, below. Ravens gargle heartily to one another in the treetops.
Branscomb is, in fact, a town. At least more of one than I remembered or expected—but a town still largely asleep beyond roosters and wildlife—which is how I planned it. Stealth camping in today’s world of “No Trespassing” and “Private Property”, requires it.
And don’t get me started about that. Okay, well, now I’m started.
Fifteen years ago I was a new mother living outside of Ukiah, when Mendocino had the inspiration, in a stroke of privileged ignorance, to illegalize homelessness. I was there at the supervisors meeting to speak against it, along with probably a hundred other outraged community members.
There was a single supervisor opposed to the ordinance, which made sleeping on Mendocino County, public or private land without title or written permission, punishable by $600 or 6 months in jail, per night. This solitary, oppositional supervisor spoke eloquently and articulately from his perspective as many of us had. As soon as he finished, the other 6 supervisors, without pause, moved into a discussion of how to word the law so it didn’t include their rich relatives parking on the streets in giant motor homes.
How can we own the land (or the water)?! It is the birthright of every being. There is no human that doesn’t need to occupy space and sleep somewhere, regardless of their financial status. I am certain that one day humans will look back on land-ownership much as we now, mostly, view human slavery. You can’t own another person—most of us finally get that—we don’t even really own our own bodies. Bodies behave in ways that we cannot control, and then they die and become clearly part of the universal fabric that they always were.
And what happens when we believe we own something? Familiarity breeds contempt. We consider ourselves entitled to abuse and exploit what we own. We don’t owe it anything in return for its support.
Even more harmful than the effects on others—the homeless and have-nots— the belief that we own the land hurts the landowner, first and foremost. Ownership implies separation and domination.
There has been long discussion about the decline of humanity beginning with an agriculture-based lifestyle. The concept (and that’s all it is!) of land-ownership, of necessity, began at the same time, and is synergistically powerful and insidious. It nips in the bud our connection with nature/Source. It is why modern agriculture had such a disastrous effect.
People often say to me, “Well Dakota, for better or worse land ownership is here. No one is going to agree to go backwards and give up what they have.”
Maybe there won’t be agreement. Maybe it’ll happen with kicking and screaming like our long and continuing process of ending other forms of slavery. But it will happen. It has to. There is no sustainability in this track we are on, and institutionalized division from Nature/Spirit is at the core of this imbalance. Letting go of these devastating beliefs is not regression. It is the necessary dawn of a new and viable future.
Evidence of our proprietary right to kill and destroy, I feel sick these days, watching the rate at which our forests are being hauled away on overloaded trucks. Branscomb Road is no exception. Every road I have traveled on is the same. Hundreds of truckloads per day—mostly Redwood, some ancient, grandmother Fir. We are all doing this. It is our beliefs, our constructs and our ardent support of them–our global autoimmune disease.
I am a traveler, dependent on this land for not just my sleep, but my survival. I am caught between the Christian/Buddhist/meditator tenants of not trespassing—not taking what has not been freely given—and faced with the real question: Given by whom?
Today, I am sweating along the road beside the beginning of the Eel River, last night’s fluid bounty long since consumed. It is 80° out, I am thirsty, and my canteen is dry.
This entire route is lined on both sides with barbed wire and “No Trespassing” signs—the sign of our times. Several people have offered me water in plastic bottles (another rant for another time), which I have declined.
Then, the Mother provides, as she always does. Another sweet, bubbling side-trickle, a gap in the barbed wire, a cold, clean bathing pool without Poison Oak, under gentle cover of a giant eucalyptus.
Is this trespassing/stealing? If it is, I am guilty and unremorseful. I do not recognize anyone’s right to control the gifts of Nature.
Refreshed by my rebellion, I continue on toward Laytonville. Having inhabited the North Coast, Great Lakes region these past several years I had come to recall that California was devoid of seasons. I am happy to report that it is in fact not, and that the advent of fall is well underway. It is evident in the smells of ripe, seeded grass, the dry call of Raven, the eucalyptus leaves drifting lazily on scant creeks, the angle of the sun which a month ago would have challenged me heartily.
Very excited to reach Laytonville—a day early—I had to check my speed (see photo). I learned just before arrival that there was no longer a health food store or library in town, so I went to Geiger’s, bought an ice cream bar, and sat in the shade to wait. I didn’t know who I was waiting for, but they showed up prolifically, anyway. People who had seen me, or their partners/friends/coworkers had seen me. People wanting to know about Symposium or those who were already familiar. People encouraging and congratulating, offering food, water, rides, a place to stay. Amanda, Andrea, Michelle, Kelly—and many whose names I will never know. Oh, people. We do come through!