October the fifth is my birthday, but since I love birthdays and parties with friends, I tend to celebrate for the entire month. I try to plan several fun things to do during for the month, both for myself and with friends. This last October, on the first weekend, I spent with my Women's Spirituality cohort on a marvelous retreat. We traveled together to Mt. Shasta and attended a drum-making class and a sweat lodge. Since I'd very much wanted a drum, and I'd never participated in a sweat lodge before, I was quite keen to try this.

It was wonderful! I had an absolutely fantastic time, I have a gorgeous drum now, and I'm seriously considering seeing if I can maybe be an organizer and facilitator for doing so again with the same — or another — group next year. So here are my random thoughts on the entire weekend, hastily scribbled down so I don't forget them, and can appreciate them later.

Fair warning: part of this posting was written while at the event, and part later — so my grammatical tenses jump back and forth between present and past.

Arriving at Mt. Shasta

Thursday night I get a lift from my sweetie to the local office of one of my cohort. Since most of the cohort will be carpooling together, and they'll be starting in the East Bay, she's kindly offered me crash space at her home in the East Bay. She lives on the top of a hill; the view is spectacular and the insect life is pervasive. Friday morning she has to see a client, which allows me to sleep in. I am a contented slug (even graduated from UCSC! Sorry, inside joke :) and do so, taking my time waking up, prepping, and getting myself together for the trip.

The other two women we'll be carpooling arrive in an Element. I eye it with amusement; I've heard pros and cons about the ugly design, and I wonder how this one will be. We pack up the car full of our duffles and coolers, and I discover the Element is a fantastic vehicle to travel in: plenty of leg room in back! Such a relief, since I'm tall, and in the back.

As we drew closer to our goal on the trip up, we could see Mt. Shasta floating ahead of us above the foggy haze of soft slate blue/gray on the horizon. The mountain had bits of snow accenting its flanks, and initially that was all you could see: this series of pristine white streaks floating in the air like angel wings. As we got closer the snow started to look like a vertical white tribal tattoo shining on the mountain's sides.

Lake Shasta is gorgeous too, and apparently higher than expected for this time of year, although it looked relatively low to me — wide bands of golden-orange dirt streaks under the vivid green parts of the terrain. I saw house boats and a lot of timber floats. Beautiful, heavily wooded areas. We saw a few apparently suicidal ground squirrels which could not seem to decide if they actually wanted to dash across the road — or to fling themselves with mad abandon under the car's wheels. Our much-dismayed driver manages to avoid them all, and I find myself smiling as I imagine them shaking a tiny rodent fist after us for thwarting them in their nefarious sacrificial goals.

Once we arrived and checked in we were given the keys for the house we were renting: the second story of a very large building. There was a Verizon store below us, and while talking with the woman at the counter later I found she'd spent one winter in the rooms we were renting, due to her house flooding. That was nice — to discover the small town looked out for each other.

It's really a small town, too; we were able to walk everywhere we needed to go. You could see Mt. Shasta floating serenely behind the town at all times, when it wasn't obscured by clouds. In the town itself I saw only three or four traffic lights, with not many cars on the roads. The train went through the middle of town, the three churches were within two blocks of each other, and there was the niftiest little police station with a tiny, pleasant courtyard in front of it.

In the courtyard was a water fountain with a little trough at the bottom so dogs could have a drink too, and many of the bricks had 'in memoriam' messages on them — for family members, for town founders, for beloved dogs… it was nice wandering around and reading them for a bit. Their public restrooms off to the side had big locks with keypads on them… and were left unlocked. There was a small grocery store just across the street from us, with attractive wooden shelving and the most artistically perfect vegetable display I've ever seen. It looked like it should be a ten foot long still life or something, and really made me want to buy something. ;)

The second floor we stay in is really nice: a greenery-draped little gate to outside stairs, which open into a small entry room. There's also a walk-through kitchen, two bathrooms, a small back porch that looks out to Mt. Shasta, a living room, and three bedrooms. We are ten women; we sort out who will be staying in which room, then build our altar together on a low table in the living room, each bringing personally meaningful items. It comes out looking beautiful and symbolic of all of us; we happily sit around it and relax while waiting for the last one or two women to arrive.

One of the cohort reads a poem she has written for one of our classes. She says she's not ordinarily a poem-writer, and she mentions how she was inspired to get up late at night and write down this almost dream-like prose story. It's over 12 pages long; she's made a chapbook of it and gifted us each with a copy. The poem is lovely and lyrical, describing a beloved women-only event she attends each year within the analogy of a women's seclusion / red tent. As I sit and listen I find myself in a dreamy half-trance state, beautiful visuals floating through my head. I realize I greatly miss the intense twice-monthly classes we used to have; I hope I can write poetry so deeply passionate and meaningful someday.

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