Before sunset on the Vernal Equinox we climb the wooded hillside across from Heidelberg castle, ascending the trail to an old stone amphitheatre. Emerging behind the round stage, we cross the grassy stone-rimmed platform and head up the hillside center aisle to the upper rows of the theatre. Then up the next trail towards old monastery ruins topping the hill where a former roman temple once stood. The sun is almost setting in the west, directly to the left of the ruins. Two corner towers remain and we can see the old layout of the monastery, the foundations and some walls are intact and different rooms are apparent. The ancient temple that the cloister was built over has been indicated on the ground and it is right in the center of the monastery floor plan. It is small, much smaller than the monastery, and was dedicated to whom, I wonder, standing in the temple outline near the top. I wonder also what significance the temple placement might have held, especially on an equinox. “What is this?” I say out loud, looking up at the white flakes that begin to fall from above. My sister laughs at me. I seriously wonder what they are at first, these white pieces of fluff are so large and soft and the sky is so clear, it couldn’t be snow. Before long, the enormous, lightweight flakes of snow have covered the ground completely and it is becoming very cold and the air is dark blue. A full soft blanket of bluish white covers the hilltop as we gaze out over the valleys from the top of the centuries-old tower. It seems benign, yet cold and powerful, this large flaked snow, and we can see each crystal snowflake clearly—perfect sparkling six pointed snowflakes, just like the drawings one sees of snowflakes.
This spot is the site of a roman temple with a monastery built on top of it. Both are long gone. I don’t know the particulars of what happened to the temple, or the monastery, but many have considered this a spiritual place, for whatever reasons. Possibly because it was a good lookout, or maybe something else. I shiver a bit, not just from the cold.
As we descend the hillside back to the amphitheatre, it continues to snow thick and white on the ground. The amphitheatre looks completely different from when we arrived. The snow has come from first the north, then the south, then east and finally from the west as we go down the hill. When we move through the theatre, the snow begins to subside, and tapers off completely, leaving a quiet, sparkling luminescent nighttime behind and we look down into the low valley where the little village of Heidelberg lies, emerging into view from behind clouds of fog, the enormous ancient castle glowing gold in the night across the river.
The entire idea of “power spots” is an emerging mystery these days. Long gone are the days when cultures purposefully used them in reverence, although many are unwittingly used today anyway. In most cases, it seems to be Catholic churches and monasteries built on old temple sites. The Catholic Church has been diligent in absorbing ancient traditions into itself wherever it goes, whether Europe or Central or South America. The Protestants don’t seem to do this and therefore, in North America, it has not happened much, but knowledge of the places can sometimes be found through old stories, others by chance or direct intent. Our very own Sonoma Mountain is an area were Native Americans went for stories. Mount Tamalpais, on the other hand, is sometimes said to be a mountain that white people had a hard time finding a guide for because no first nations person wanted to climb it. In any case, places give stories. Some places more than others.
An area’s unique attributes can be discovered and amplified through knowing the landscape. It used to be a matter of survival, now it has been reduced to exploitation of natural resources and forget about the source of the knowledge and the wisdom that comes with it. But this doesn’t last long. Seven generations, is the usual amount of time given in the old stories to think ahead to ensure there is no system failure. And it does seem to have taken about that length of time of consistent environmental exploitation in North America to incur serious environmental damage that poses a threat to the natural systems that sustain life.
I think we are beginning to see that the metaphorical stories of indigenous peoples are just that; they are truths spoken in beautiful metaphorical language, as opposed to our absolute language with all our verbs and states of being. The stories about the land are not just fanciful tales but practical maps for living that may sound fanciful to us because we do not usually speak in metaphor. They hold the keys to stewardship of the place.
We are seeing a collapse of the bee population meaning no pollination and therefore a sketchy food supply in a few years. We are seeing a situation where almost all water is polluted, where ancient trees are all being cut, where land is paved over where food used to grow and animal populations roamed. Our technology has grown faster than the wisdom that is supposed to go with it. And stories from our own landscapes that show us how to live in a way that sustains all of us are missing.
The stories in each landscape (yes, even ours) can help grow the wisdom part of the tree that has been suppressed for so long. Technology will not fix what technology has broken. Careful listening to the land is not magic. Although it can feel that way, like a sudden snow on a hilltop feels magical, understanding relationship, causes and effects is just pure common sense, and its subtleties and lessons will be necessary to bring our culture into balance.
amphitheatre looking down
monestary ruins with outline of temple (the little arch near the left is the top of the outline)
amphitheatre after the snow, looking up from the stage
view of Heidelberg with glowing castle and river
all images by Scott Hess