Hometown Shrines: Guest Post from Norm Halm

Gentle Reader,

I am thrilled with the way the Hometown Shrines project is growing. I have received several e-mails from folks who are willing to share their own sacred places, and you'll be seeing a combination of photographic and video accounts of these in the coming weeks, as well as my own continued documentation. If you'd like to submit a video or photo essay, please send the youtube link and text and/or images to me at rabbit (at) sacredwell (dot) com.

Today, we enjoy a guest post from Norm Halm, one of the herbalism students from my Witch's Garden class at The Sacred Well. In addition to being a wonderful herbalist, he is a brilliant photographer. I have included his photos on this blog, and you can see more of his work here and here. Enjoy!

Thank you, Norm Halm, for this account of your Hometown Shrine!

After watching all three of your Hometown Shrines video segments, I realized how lazy I can be sometimes. I've been using living in downtown SF as an excuse... As if I have to leave this concrete jungle in order to make contact with trees. As if I have to go to all the way to the woods or something. And that means I don't make contact with trees on a daily basis. Not very often at all. It also means that I've not had an outdoor holy place within walking distance of where I live. I realized by your example, that making contact with trees and the ground often, right in my own inner city neighborhood, is a necessary addition to my daily spiritual practice of prayer/meditation, etc. To sit with the trees. To listen. To revere them and adore them. To bring them offerings for their wisdom and companionship. Regarding trees in this way is not new for me, not at all. I've just put up some blocks.

I remembered some old friends I'd met about 14 years ago, who live about a mile away from me and I have neglected the relationship. It's really no big deal for me to walk a mile each way to get something done everyday. These old friends are a group of 4 trees in a sort of old concrete enclave near Lafayette Park that I used to visit. (I attached some photos from my iPod touch.)

The place always felt special to me. It's the trees themselves I'm sure, but it's also where they live: in the middle of an old brick paved street. The Bay shinning like a gem in the distance. It's one of the only few brick streets left in SF. The trees are breaking through the concrete that was built around them when they were much younger. This structure already feels like a sanctuary to me. This "sanctuary" was built as a boulevard decoration in the middle of Octavia St hill, with steps that lead majestically up to the trees. I have no idea how old the brick street is, or the concrete enclosure, but there is a sense of "different timeness" there... not just in the age of the man made structures. It's a strange feeling that time moves around that little space differently, like the way wind goes around the trunk of a tree without blowing it over.

So earlier in the week, I went back to this place after several years. I needed a tree to make an offering to of the water from my sacred foot bath anyway, as you assigned at the last Witch's Garden. My friends the trees were still there. I was very happy the see them and I enjoyed offering them the fragrant water.

Their "sanctuary" was littered. People had slept there. Broken bottles had been left. And beer cans. Used hypodermic needles had been left behind also. And plastic baggies and fast food containers. Several old forgotten blankets caked with mud were buried under a season's worth of fallen leaves. Wow, I thought... even here in grand Pacific Heights; not just down in The Tenderloin where I live, but right next to the Spreckles Mansion even, people are hiding in bushes and trees to shoot up. Talk about liminal spaces and privilege. It wasn't attractive but the litter didn't bother me too much. It did give me an opportunity to serve my friends after all. I promised the trees to clean the place up. I didn't say when, but I promised to come back with my man-purse full of trash bags to clean the place up.

Today I went back to visit my friends the trees, but not with the intention to clean up the place on this day... But ya know... magical things just happen sometimes. Really simple things, but nonetheless, magical. I did happen to have one small paper bag in my man-purse. I had used it to cary some whole Yerba Santa leaves as an offering. The bag was big enough to hold two small cognac bottles, a needle (I was very careful), and a few broken Corona bottle pieces. I really wanted to clear out more garbage but didn't have anything to put it in. I took the little bag of trash to the chained down trash can at the park half a block away, and there was a perfect unadulterated empty Whole Foods paper bag just sittin' right on top! This was GREAT. Just what I needed! So I took it back to my trees' place and filled it up with more litter. But there was still more junk to clear like the heavy and sopping wet muddy blankets buried under the leaves. I thought, "I'll have to use a plastic trash bag to grab this stuff with and haul it off in." But of course, I didn't have one with me. I just assumed to come back some other day with my trash bags and finish. Not 3 minutes later... Lo and behold, a single, perfectly clean, empty and unused white trash bag with red drawstring handles blew right passed me and down Octavia street! I did have to chase after it for more than half a block, being so windy today, but that was fun. Talk about being in the spirit of manifestation for the sake of service! I literally LOL'd when I saw my needed trash bag arriving on a gust of wind. This simple little fortune of 2 bags for trash was a nod that I am indeed to nurture my relationship with this group of trees in the middle of Octavia Blvd. These trees and I are meant to provide a holy place for each other :) Obviously, no one had looked after them, or at least cared enough to maintain their space with some dignity for quite some time. I do love them so.