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[sticky post] For those who wander by

LJ wanderers: I have a very liberal "friending" policy: if you add me to your reading list, I'll add you to mine.

I try to at least skim every post on my f-list, though I tend to skip posts about dreams and most memes. I don't always click on LJ-cuts (which is why I don't usually use them), and I never play videos. I only comment when I feel like I have something to say, and I don't expect any more then that from people who've added me to their f-list.

Swap-Bot wanderers: Unfortunately, all of my craft-related posts are behind a filter, to avoid cluttering my non-crafty LJ-friends' pages. To see them, you would need an LJ, to get on my friends' list, and to get into the "crafty" filter. Though that's not exactly hard, I will occasionally post some craft pictures here (below the cut) so you can see what I'm up to and into. More pictures are also available on my Flickr account.

Four craft picturesCollapse )

Cheers!

Awkward positions

I'm in an abs class at my gym, and I've finally achieved a stable plank with my feet on the ball:

Plank on the Ball

I've held it for about half of the minute the instructor is counting down when I realize that I'm not sure how to get back down. How did I get myself into this position?

I tried a step class once, and it was a complete mess. I am very uncoordinated, and I couldn't figure most of the moves. Mostly, I jumped around waving my arms and laughing at myself until class ended. I vowed to never take another step class.

Nash 360: This class covers all your fitness bases with Nash intensity! Three 20 minute segments of challenging cardio, muscle conditioning, and core training will get you total body results.

Sounds good, and it is on a Friday morning, which I have off of work. I wasn't even alarmed when we all started setting up steps; I'd been to a "Strength and Stretch" class where we used the step as a bench for doing chest presses. But what followed was an hour long step class, sometimes with weights. I'm still very, very bad at step class. I bounced, and flailed, and sweated - even done badly, step is a good workout - and shook my head at myself. I accidentally took a step class: How do I get myself into these positions?

Hatha Yoga: Experience a meditative, calm, yet strong practice. Perfect for beginners or advanced students who seek mind-body awareness and flexibility.

Before today, I'd been to about four yoga classes, all Hatha Yoga, with two different teachers. I'd found them to be challenging in some parts, but mostly relaxing, refreshing, and good for stretching. Today I went to my fifth class, with yet another teacher. Exact same class description as the others, but this was different. I guess the rest of the students are all regulars, so I suddenly find myself in an advanced yoga class for which I was very poorly prepared. As the people around me are balancing on one foot, tying their arms into knots, and pushing themselves into headstands, I hold the last pose I am able to get into and ask myself: How do I get into those positions?

At the end of the minute, my exit from the plank wasn't very graceful - a sort of controlled fall to one side - but it got me down and ready to get into the next challenge.

Commuting with the crows

Every morning, the crows of Vancouver fly from one end of the city to the other. At the end of the day, they fly back. The exact times vary seasonally - crows fly by the sun, not the clock - but for at least a couple of weeks in the winter, their evening commute coincides with my walk home.

At the height of the commute, you can see a river of crows that stretches across the sky, from horizon to horizon. This picture doesn't capture it adequately, but every dot is a bird:

Crow Commute

I don't know which is more fascinating: the periods when hundreds of crows are sitting on the trees and power lines, still and nearly silent, or when the hundreds of crows nearly simultaneously take off in huge swooping flocks.

At least none of them are attacking me.

There's a crow in my neighbourhood that hates me. Or maybe it just hates my summer hat (the one in my userpic); I haven't been willing to run the tests necessary to know. I was walking to work one morning when a crow started swooping at my head, screaming. It didn't hit me, but flew at me over and over as I dodged. I ran across the street, the crow still following, still screaming, and hide under some trees. An old man already on that side of the street laughed at me and said something that sounded sympathetically amused in Chinese. I kept close to trees and sprinted down the sidewalk until I was apparently out of the crow's territory. No crows attacked the old man.

A couple of mornings later, I had decided to myself that it was just a one-time occurrence and I walked along that same route wearing the same hat. I got to the same intersection and then a crow started swooping at my head, screaming. I assume it was the same crow, but I can't be completely sure. If it wasn't the same one, it hated me just as much as the other crow did.

This time, I ran to an industrial building and flattened myself along the wall. It was a two story building with no windows and a flat roof. The crow wheeled above me, repeatedly diving as steeply as it could from the edge of the roof down the side of the building. As I edged along the base of the building, the crow kept following and kept screaming and diving. It couldn't get to me, but it sure seemed to want to try. It gave up after about three-quarters of a block and I speed-walked to work, hugging the edge of buildings and keeping under trees whenever possible.

I don't walk that way to work anymore.

I like the crow commute, but a little bit like someone likes scary movies; I get a little adrenalin rush just hearing the crows cawing.
An important part of safety in paragliding is taking an SIV course. SIV is a French abbreviation for "Simulation d'Incident en Vol", which translates to "simulation of incidents in flight". Over water, you do things to your wing to imitate bad things that can happen while flying and practice recovering. You learn how to recognize problems, learn what actions you should or should not take in various scenarios, get a feel for long it takes for normal flight to resume, and figure out about how much altitude you lose in the meantime.

For various reasons, I was not able to do the iParaglide SIV course in my first two years of flying, but this year, I made it a priority and headed off to Pemberton with another pilot on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, Russ wasn't able to go this year (he has done SIV for the past two years, though), so I was without my usual support system when facing new flying experiences. Fortunately, I'd been flying with three of my four fellow SIV students all season, so I wasn't doing this with strangers.

For iParaglide's SIV, we go to a remote little beach on Lillooet Lake and we use a boat with a special winch to tow each of us, one at a time, to about 3000 feet above the water. Getting towed up isn't a passive process, but one where you have to constantly monitor the boat and steer to follow it and constantly monitor your wing and brake to keep it steady and overhead. The boat gets you up, but you are also flying the whole time, which, as one participant put it, has some advantages over driving up a hot and dusty road to a mountain launch.

Once high over the water, our instructor, Dion, uses the radio to remind you about what you are going to do, then guides you through the process. For example, to do a frontal, he'll remind you that what you are going to do is pull down all the A risers on both sides. He'll say: "So grab all the metal carabiners for both A lines on both sides. On my command, you'll pull them both down hard and then release. Ready? Three, two, one: huy-yah!" And on the "huy-yah", you haul down on those lines and the entire front of your wing collapses and you release the lines and you fall a little until the wing opens again. And as it happens, Dion says: "OK, release. Great. The wing is open again. Good." And then he gets you ready for the next move. It is all progressive: you start with a move called big ears, which is easy and benign, and move up to slightly more exciting incidents that are likely to happen at some point in your time in the air, like frontals and asymmetrics (where some portion of your wing collapses, usually because of turbulent air, and you have to shift on to the good side of the wing and fly with that until the collapsed portion pops back out).

If you are responding well to commands on those first moves, you next learn b-line stalls and spirals, both of which will help get you down should you encounter cloud suck or other undesirable weather conditions. Then you move to the Big Scary for most of us: the full stall. You pull both brakes all the way down and hold on to the bottom of your harness while your wing turns into a flapping mess above you and you rock back and forth and plummet downwards. The important part of the full stall is to release the stall only when your wing is in front of you; if you release while it is behind you, it will start a cascade, so you'll be swinging drastically forward and backwards in a fairly uncontrolled manner, still losing altitude. Dion gives clear instructions, saying "hold, hold, hold, and release", but if you don't respond quickly to the commands, it can still lead to some crazy stuff. Before going out for the clinic, I was worried about my physical ability to hold down the brakes during the stall and about my ability to do just the right thing at just the right time while my wing is flapping around above me. Then there was an incident on my first tow that lessened my fear quite a bit. Afterwards, Dion called it "the most harried thing I've ever seen at an SIV" and if it had happened lower, I would have been in quite a bit of trouble and may have had to throw my reserve parachute and do a water landing:

A graphic representation of my first tow launch.Collapse )

After that, pulling asymmetrics and even the full stall didn't seem so bad. I was a bit discouraged when I couldn't do a B-line stall - I pulled as hard as I could on those suckers, but those nothing was moving - but Dion and I discussed the characteristics of my particular wing and my physical strength and decided to try a C-line stall instead. Usually a C-line stall is a bad idea, but it works really well with my small Icaro Instinct and accomplishes the same thing as a B-line stall: increases your descent rate a lot while staying relatively stable. You drop quickly - it feels a bit like a descending elevator - and you only rock around for a couple of moments until it steadies. As long as you wait until everything is steady before releasing and release slightly more gradually than exiting a frontal, all is very safe and sane feeling. It's a really nice tool to add to my paragliding toolbox, so the whole weekend was worth it for that discovery alone.

I was coming down with a bit of a cold and was so anxious through the whole weekend that I barely ate or slept, so I only managed four tows (most of the other students did six each), but I learned so much and am looking forward to doing it again next year.

Paragliders are just cool people

Many of our paragliding friends have gone on amazing flying adventures: all over the US, Colombia, Australia, and more. One pilot from our school is working on an amazing trip: flying Kilimanjaro for charity. Russ and I are still just getting started with our paragliding vacations, and our first adventure was Nova Scotia this past July. We went with a fellow local pilot, Craig. And last weekend, Russ and I went to our first fly-in, at Black Mountain in Washington State, with Ducky and Jim, another local novice couple.

Flying in Nova Scotia was amazing. It was also completely different than the mountain flying we've done up until this point. Craig had some experience with ridge soaring - where you stay up thanks to the wind forced upwards by the shape of the terrain - but Russ and I have only flown sites that are mostly thermal-driven. Also, none of us had flown coastal sites before. They are different than mountain sites: the winds are higher, the air is smoother, and, in the case of the Parrsboro region, the launches aren't as high.

In learning to fly from iParaglide, we learned our novice safety rules based on local sites, including only launch in winds under 15 km/hour and "height is safety". Suddenly, we were faced with sites that only worked if the winds were at least 25 km/hour and launches less than 100 feet above the landing zone.

I don't think we would have successfully flown if it had just been the three of us. The low winds we launch in for mountain flying wouldn't have kept us up, and our flights would have been 20 or 30 seconds, at the most. And during the higher winds, we wouldn't have had the nerve to launch if it weren't for the best decision we made in preparing for our trip: hiring a local guide.

After Craig came back from a paragliding trip to California last spring, he clued us in to how much he learned from people who had flown the sites before that he did not learn from all the internet research he did before the trip. When we realized that we were going to be flying sites in a small community on weekdays (so the chances of just randomly meeting up with locals would be decreased), we emailed Michael at Pegasus Paragliding and arranged to hire him for a couple of days during our trip.

Michael was fantastic. He was flexible about timing so we could use our time with him on days when the weather was flyable, he was understanding about the challenges we were facing, and, since he is also a paragliding instructor, he was able to coach us through our first coastal soaring experiences. When he wasn't available one of the days, he sent us his assistant instructor, Brian, who was also great. They were both friendly, cheerful, and encouraging, while also staying focused on safety. Thanks to their help, we were all able to have very successful flights at two different flying sites, plus some very short sled runs at a third site. Michael and Brian also introduced us to a number of flying sites we weren't able to try out for various weather-related reasons, showing us the launches and telling us about the typical wind directions, things to look out for, and the best places to find lift. Some of the launches are literally people's backyards and would have been very difficult to find without help. We left eager to return to Nova Scotia for both the friendly people and the great flying. Next time we will be more prepared for those high wind launches!

In Nova Scotia, it was just the three of us and our guide, which was very different than our next flying adventure. Last weekend, four of us novice pilots crossed the border to Washington and went to Black Mountain for the first time. It was the annual Can-Am Black Mountain Fly-In. A fly-in is just a fun excuse for a lot of free flyers to get together to socialize, to eat, and, weather allowing, to fly. There are sometimes fun competitions (a spot landing competition between the Canadians and the Americans, in this case), but the main focus is on fun and enjoyable flying.

We'd never flown Black Mountain before, so a fly-in was a great way to get introduced to the area: lots of experienced pilots to answer questions from lots of other new pilots. The launch is very odd: you stand on the logging road with your wing on a very steep slope behind you and a very steep hill in front of you. That kind of launch is challenging - you have to get the wing up fast without eating up a lot of runway, keep it loaded while on the flat bit, and commit to that steep run-off - especially in light winds, which is what we had that day.

Because of the light conditions and weird launch, Ducky and Jim decided not to fly, so they were our retrieve drivers (and excellent retrieve drivers they were: they picked us up with beer and food ready to go). Russ and I checked our wings out in the parking area and then joined the line of pilots ready to go. The launch is a one-person-at-a-time deal and the light winds meant that people were slow to launch, each hoping for just a little more wind, so the line moved slowly, but that meant there was a lot of time for socializing. It was great to talk with paragliders and hang gliders of all experience levels about where they'd flown, about flying this particular site, about flying other Washington sites.

When you got to the front, the event's safety officer was there to check that you were hooked in correctly and some volunteers would help get your wing set up and would hold it up to catch a bit more wind. Everyone was so encouraging and supportive. When someone had an aborted launch, everyone helped get their wing back in place so they could try again. When someone had several aborts in a row, they would move to the end of the line so the next pilot could go. During each successful launch, people cheered.

The flying was simple: just a sled run, as we all knew it would be because of the weather. Russ tried for the spot landing, but missed scoring any points for Canada. I made the decision to not even try for the target, since it was in a narrow field, and I landed in huge alternative landing zone across the street. No help for the Canadians from us! Still, Russ and I each got a flight at a new mountain to add to our log books, and a new favourite event to add to our annual calendars. We just went for the day this time, but next year, we plan to have our camping gear figured out and go for the whole weekend.

There are some less pleasant people in paragliding too, of course. Our home launch site sometimes gets a little tense when some people with big personalities and incompatible ideals are all there at the same time. But, generally, paragliders (and hang gliders, from what I've seen) are very cool people. It might be the kind of people who are drawn to this weird little sport, but I wonder if it is partially something the sport does to you over time. All that sitting around waiting for the wind to be just right creates patience. Having to check your equipment and check the weather and make the decision about when to fly creates personal responsibility and independence. Flying in itself is an act of joy, of freedom, and of faith, and it requires the pilot to live in the moment and focus entirely on the act of flying. The combined results are people who are generally fun and relaxed, who go with the flow, and who take good care of themselves. Oh, and if our experiences in Nova Scotia and at Black Mountain are any indication, paragliders also know how to eat well. Lobster dinner with Michael (tofu curry for me) and barbequed ribs in Washington (potluck salads and dessert for me) fuelled our flights. Delicious!

Perspective

We were waiting for the same suburban bus. He asked me for the time. I accidentally gave him the time the bus was coming instead of the actual time, and we started chatting when I caught him to correct myself.

He is 70 years old - a wiry, mid-60s-looking 70 - and his watch battery died today and we talked about old-fashioned watches you have to wind every day - like his Dad's watch - and new-fangled watches that wind themselves when you move and cool solar-powered watches, and his first TV, and computers you carry in your pocket, and that he is a psychologist who doesn't really believe in psychology anymore, and the time he went to a psychiatrist but walked right out because the doctor brought out his prescription pad right away, before even getting his name...

And we got on the bus and we talk about the over-prescription of Valium to women in the 1950s and '60s, and the corner store owner that got him and his friends all addicted to nicotine when they were kids by giving them free cigarettes until they were hooked, and that his wife is a social worker and his kids are all social workers and psychologists, and about how he doesn't usually drink, but he had a couple of shots of vodka with his friend today because it is his afternoon off from taking care of his wife who is dying of cancer...

Wait. Deep breath. Slow down.

They just found out a month ago that she has advanced ovarian cancer. It happened fast - one test was clear; the next, only 21 days later, showed cancer everywhere - but that's how it is with this type of cancer. Now he is learning all kinds of new things about medicines, about preventing bed sores, about what conversations really matter.

He says he isn't scared of dying, "but living scares the hell out of me".

He says that he knows she'll be waiting for him. He laughs when I say that she'll get all the paperwork filled out at the Pearly Gates for him. We're both crying a little.

These days, he likes to take public transit and talk to strangers. He talks to people in wheelchairs a lot; "they understand where I'm at". He feels really lucky, because he is healthy in both mind and body, he owns his own house, and he has enough money so that even if he lives to a hundred, he still won't have to go on social assistance. He feels really lucky to have his wife. They love each other very much and they have always gotten along and had great communication, though they had some professional differences of opinion. "I'll get to hold her hand while she is dying."

Before retiring, he used to work with abused kids: "It is amazing what a 10 year old can heal from. I still hear from some of the kids I used to work with. They went through such awful things, but now they are healthy, and they have happy families." He may not believe in psychology anymore, but he obviously helped people. We're both teary again.

We talk about work, and callings, and changing our little pieces of the world for the better using whatever gifts we have. We talk about gratitude. We talk about smiling. We talk about how the world would be better if more people knew that it is OK to cry:

"I wish I'd known that before my wife started dying."

"At least you got to learn it. It's cool that you are still learning things."

"The older I get, the more I realize that I know nothing."

We talk about learning from our parents. We talk about learning from everyone around us. We talk about people watching. He tells me that I should be a social worker. He is going to be alright, but he is sure going to miss his wife. We both have damp cheeks when I get off the bus.

Angus, wherever you are tonight, I am thinking of you and your wife. Thank you for the conversation.
There was a fatality on Monday in the Canadian Paragliding Nationals in Pemberton, BC. The pilot's body was found yesterday. My heart goes out to his family and friends. I'm sure he loved flying, but I'm sure he didn't intend to give his life for it.

***

Russ and I got a late start - 9 AM - on Saturday, since I nearly gave myself sunstroke cleaning the deck on Friday and Russ was out late, and then we just sort of threw wings and water bottles in the truck and started driving. We were going out to Pemberton to meet up with Dion and some iParaglide students and novice pilots and do a bit of flying before the national competition opened on Sunday. We saw pilots, including some friends, registering for the competition, had some lunch, then headed up for our first flight off Upper Mackenzie launch.

Russ and I had checked out the Lower Mackenzie launch on a previous visit to the area, but this was our first visit to the new, higher launch, and our first time flying the site at all. The new launch is gorgeous. The view is magnificent, of course, and the launch is also a nicely shaped slope with new grass and is very wide, so lots of people can set up and even take off at the same time.

IMG_1680

The competition pilots were flying a practice task, but we launched after most of them because us novices like the mellowest conditions that happen first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon and the evening. There was still some bouncing about as I flew through thermals, but I probably only noticed them as much as I did because the last flying I did was in Nova Scotia, where the air was butter-smooth.

I discovered that I love flying Pemberton. Upper Mackenzie is at least 1000 feet higher than our usual site, Mount Woodside, which makes even a sled run (a flight from launch to landing without any lift) about ten minutes longer. To me, it felt even longer than that, though, because you can't see the landing zone (LZ) from the launch. You launch, then fly all the way around a bump in the mountain to finally see the LZ just on the other side of the river. In my novice-level experience, that feels like an adventure.

Before turning the corner, I was briefly concerned about being able to identify the LZ from the air, as all fields look alike from more than a 1000 feet up, but it turned out to be easy: just land where all the other paragliders are landing and packing up.

Seeing as how we'd just gotten back from Nova Scotia a week before and had scrambled a bit in the morning, we'd only been intending to go up for the day and then maybe go up again on Sunday to watch the start of the competition and maybe get another evening flight in. But the weather was looking good for Sunday morning, so Russ and I made the decision to stay overnight after all. While still on the LZ, Russ used his smart phone to find and book us a cheap hotel*. We rushed to the only grocery store still open to get toothbrushes and deodorant before it closed at 9 PM. Turns out that one of our pilot friends had a package of new underwear in her hotel room, so I bought a pair of panties from her. The next day, we bought some West Coast Soaring Club t-shirts in the LZ parking lot, and we were relatively inoffensive, scent-wise.

That first flight on Sunday was one of my favourites so far. Though it was only a slightly prolonged sled run, it was memorable because Russ and I got to fly together for the first time. Despite the fact that we both paraglide, we've rarely been in the air at the same time due to a variety of reasons. Even in Nova Scotia, where we flew at the same time, we were rarely in proximity to each other; we just always seemed to end up on opposite ends of the ridge.

But the launch is huge, so we could set up side by side. I launched first because Russ' new wing is a faster than mine. Shortly after I was in the air, Russ followed me. We flew the typical route towards the LZ, but were able to see each other and call to each other over the radio or even just through the air. I loved being able to see him flying above me, his shadow passing over me, and seeing the sun filtered through his wing.

We arrive at the LZ at around the same time, as there wasn't any sustained lift out there, and Russ pulled a maneuver called "big ears" to descend faster than me. The only problem was that we were so close together at that point that I was getting bounced around in the wake of his glider. We both landed safely and with big smiles.

We did a quick pack and paid for a ride up with one of the competition retrieve vehicles and managed to get another flight in each before the conditions got too strong. I was very proud of myself on this one: I am typically a bit nervous launching in front of big crowds of strangers, but despite a crowd of competition pilots hanging around, I set up and took off. It was a nice, simple flight with even less lift than on the previous one.

Later in the day, I found a shady spot in town to wait with our wings while Russ got another ride up the mountain to pick up The Beast (our vehicle). While up there, he snapped this picture of just some of the competitive paragliders in the air:

IMG_1691

Then he found out that our vehicle was missing. After scrambling around, talking to various competition organizers, they reached a retrieve driver on the ham radio. The driver was in the process of driving The Beast down the mountain, thinking it belonged to one of the competitors. He was very apologetic, and Russ and The Beast were soon reunited and picked me up only a little later than originally planned. Back to Vancouver, tired, dirty, hot, and very, very happy.

* Some of the furniture was broken, the shower was luke-warm at best, and the room was over a sketchy-looking bar - but the bar had been shut down by the police already that night, so it was quiet... except for the train in the middle of the night. No air conditioning or screens on the windows, but they did provide a stand fan. Still, everything was clean and we got showers and some sleep.

Silliest launch

A week ago, Russ, Craig, and I went to Nova Scotia for paragliding. We had a wonderful time, fell in love with the Maritimes, and even got in a bit of flying towards the end of our vacation, despite some weather issues.

The sites we were flying in Nova Scotia were different than we are used to. We're mountain flyers: flying with the eagles, seeking thermals, being 2000 feet up. This was coastal ridge flying: soaring with seagulls, hugging the landscape, only launching from 100 feet up. The launches were also different, and the winds were higher. This led to the silliest launch I've ever had... or even seen.

If you want to understand why it happened...Collapse )

On Friday morning, we went to West Bay. The winds felt calm until we got to the edge of the launch, when we discovered that they were actually about 25 km/hour, with some higher gusts. Still, that's the kind of winds you need to make ridge soaring work, so we set up. Russ and Craig both had good launches, and then it was my turn. I was nervous. Reverse launches, which you need to do in stronger winds, are not my strong point, and these winds are much higher than we ever use at home. Still, I had done a high wind launch the day before at Fox River and we had Brian, an assistant instructor from Pegasus Paragliding, with us to give advice and keep an eye on me.

Because the winds were so much lower at ground level, Brian helped by lifting the edge of my wing up. I pulled up with good control, got the wing stabilized, turned around to do my run, and launched with one step. The only problem was, I launched to where my feet were about two feet off the ground, but I had no forward momentum. Being light on my wing, my trim speed matched the wind speed so closely that I was going neither forward nor back, but just hanging in the air trying vainly to run, like Wile Coyote off a cliff. It must have looked hilarious: I'm in my launch posture - leaning way forward and hands all the way up behind me to keep brakes all the way off - running in the air about two feet off the flat part of launch. Brian managed not to laugh at me, somehow, and had time to walk up behind me while I hung there and started pushing on the back of my harness. He pushed me off the edge to where I could turn so I wasn't flying directly into the wind and could finally fly free.

Yup, that's me: the push-start paraglider!

The lessons I learned...Collapse )

The ecstasy of the agony

The second of my posts about 2012's Gathering for Life on Earth.

The official theme of this year's Gathering was "Between the Worlds", and between worlds we were. There were a lot of workshops about different states of being (expanding senses, hypnotherapy, trance states), along with the usual magic of being in ritual. Besides that, there were just a lot of opportunities to dance, chant, sing, drum, and laugh into a whole new spiritual plane.

There were some big booming drums that vibrated my base chakras like the earth's heartbeat rising through the soles of my feet to my guts. Around the fire, the ground shook with the drums and the stomping of the dancers. I danced, alternating between swaying and circling my hips and pounding the dirt with my ancient tree trunk legs. I danced in and out of a trance state, never quite gone, but wavering in between.

Horse and hattock!
Horse and go!
Horse and Pellatis, Ho Ho!


I went to a workshop on altered states on Sunday. There was a huge amount of useful information about different ways to induce altered states, along with two experiments in reaching them: once with drumming and once with chanting. I skimmed and skipped along the surface of an altered state... closer, closer, but not there.

Strong like the ocean...
Gentle like rain...
River wash my tears away...
Aphrodite.


Sunday night, magic happened. Driven into the main lodge by rain, the drummers outdid themselves, pouring everything into the rhythm as the dancers absorbed and reflected back the energy. People were high on wine and mead, on dance and chant, on mandrake and magic. Women did divination on one side of the room while others chanted over the mad drumming.

I did some chanting and some drumming - enough that my voice was still roughened two days later and I have the start of my first drummer's callus - but I still felt that I drifted through the night, less present than others. Still, an incredible thing to have had even the smallest part in.

I was up earlier than most on Monday morning, woken by my anxiety that I'd miss getting a shower, that I'd miss breakfast, that I had too much to do to take down the Gathering and not enough time to do it. Of course, many people were up much later than I the night before, so I had the bathroom to myself for a hot shower and the staff hadn't even started making breakfast yet. I wrapped myself in my big warm cloak and wandered through the grey morning, enjoying the quiet. I found myself on the docks, watching the last mists drift off the lake.

"I should get in for a swim," I said to myself. I immediately dismissed the idea: I didn't have a towel with me; I didn't know how long I had until breakfast; I'd have to tuck my precious necklace into my shoe rather than leave it back in the cabin like I'd normally do when swimming; I'd been in the water on Saturday afternoon, and the lake had been cold on that warm and sunny day. When I thought about how cold the water would be, my heart started pounding.

If you are scared, maybe that's something you need to do.

I stripped quickly and stood on the rain-slicked dock. I made sure my cloak was folded up so it would stay mostly dry. I walked down next to the ladder, but didn't use it. I crouched on the edge of the dock and lowered myself in to the water in a smooth motion, not giving myself time to stop before I was submerged.

It was so cold that my lungs emptied involuntarily. It was a long moment before I could inhale again. I did a couple of quick strokes, than held on to the ladder, still in the water to my chin. Once I could breath, I hauled myself out of the water and wrapped the fabric of my cloak around me so I was bundled from neck to ankles. After another breathless moment, I felt a flush of heat and a rush of energy. I slipped from ordinary consciousness straight into a kind of ecstatic state.

I am here. I am here. I am alive.
I am here. I am here. I am alive.
I am here. I am here. I am alive.

Where do I usually put my hands?

Just take your clothing off, stand in a circle with other naked people, and the magic starts.

On Friday night at The Gathering for Life on Earth, there's traditionally a skyclad (nude) ritual. I go to it most years; I ran it once.

The Gathering is a lot of people's first experience being naked with other people in a non-sexual context. Sometimes it is the casual nudity of the clothing-optional site, sometimes it is dancing around the fire, sometimes it is skinny-dipping, and sometimes it is the ritual on the first night of the event.

When you go to a nude ritual with people who have done it many times before, it can be very comfortable. As they undress, they take care to fold their clothing neatly, they chat about the room's and floor's temperature, and they tease each other about footwear choices (when naked, slippers look good; gum boots, not so much). Everyone takes off all their clothing the way people usually take off shoes. No one's looking at each other's nudity, but we're not not-looking either.

I went to this year's skyclad ritual. It had a good energy, it was a lot of fun, and it started a bit of a meme for the weekend ("my legs are strong like the trunks of ancient trees"). However, I did find myself with a bit of a dilemma: I couldn't figure out what to do with my hands and arms. I couldn't remember what I usually do when I'm clothed. Clasped behind my back seemed too exposed; in front seemed like I was trying to hide. Hands at my side felt forced. Crossed over my breasts was right out as being too defensive; crossed under my breasts was rejected as an option for pushing everything up too much. I try to figure out what other people are doing, but that leads to looking at areas not normally seen, which quickly leads to not-looking.

The concern ceased to be an issue when it came time to join hands and chant and dance, but I have to remember that for future skyclad rituals I run: give people something to do with their hands. Otherwise: awkward!

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