Walking around Mt Tam

One of the most beautiful and least known poetical flowerings of that outpouring of youth and art we call the 60’s was, arguably, a journey on foot around Mt Tamalpais, in Marin County north of San Francisco. This honoring of “the quiescent one,” this circumambulation, a walk completely around the mountain, following with our feet the way of the sun, from bottom to top and back again, was a brilliantly ceremonial idea first tried by a Buddhist monk and two important poets from the 1960’s.

According to the history of this formalized journey — “Opening the Mountain,” by Matthew Davis — the walk grew out of the famed San Francisco demonstration in Golden Gate Park known as the “Human Be-in,” which apparently went extraordinarily well, and inspired those at the gathering to think of other new forms of socializing. Participants went on to events like Monterey Pop, the march against the war in Cambodia, and Woodstock.

But to me this relatively modest day-long journey on foot, from the redwoods of Muir Woods to the manzanita around Inspiration Point, from the soft loam of the deep forest to the rocky peak of the lookout tower and back again still stands as one of the purest and sweetest expressions of that mixed-up era. (When the book arrives I’ll quote and link to a poem Gary Snyder wrote for the occasion and I think you’ll see what I mean.)

At ten points on the mountain the original journeyers — Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder — stopped to honor a place on the land. The first such example was a substantial lichen-speckled boulder split by a sturdy oak, draped with moss.

Tree Rock

My companion, I’m happy to say, was my indefatigable friend John Chiosso, who had the sense to bring the book. He wondered, reading the book before the walk, if we would recognize the first “glorious one.” Would a small tree growing out of a rock be easily visible? (It’s a reasonable question: some other notable sights on the trail — such as lone redwood on a ridge — have in fact vanished. The lone redwood is now lost in a forest of Douglas Firs.)

But Tree Rock was never in doubt: we saw it at a glance. I think all the sites in the book were recognizable to our eyes, and yes, even quieter sites — a mossy grove, perfect for lingering for tea, or dappled sun, or what have you — felt irresistible. We often (if not always) read the chants to these “glorious ones” along the way. We walked from dawn to dusk, and as the light rose we came up out of the dark woods near the sea to the hard rock and gnarled chaparral around the peak. Beauty surrounded us from start to finish, as varied and exuberant in its worldly way as a melody. John will testify so, if you don’t believe me.

One thought on “Walking around Mt Tam

  1. It sounded wonderful. I wish I could have made it, but such is life. i had my own spiritual journey with family, less fun, but easily as important.

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