March 20th. Vernal Equinox – the days grow longer, the light increases.

Trust the Poets.

A 15-mile walk around Mount Tamalpais in Mill Valley. Spiraling around it’s massive circumference with about 20 people, walking in silence. An “opening of the mountain”, this walk was started in 1965 by Buddhist Beat poets, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen. The practice of circumambulation in a clockwise direction is an ancient practice. Walking “the way of the sun” is carried on to this day, right here in my backyard. Circum = to Circle,  Ambulate = to Walk. Most people know the word, Circumnavigate, but we are not in boats, to be sure.

Stopping 10 times to chant, pay our respects at rock outcroppings, springs, serpentine power points, tree and meadow.

Wild Calypso Orchids a rare, tiny highlight.

Walking walking. It takes a day.

A scramble up a rabbit path, engulfed in manzanitas, grabbing strong smooth branches to keep me from sliding backwards on loose stone. Practically crawling on all fours.

The summit. Colorful prayer flags, and sometimes plain ol’ plastic bags, tied on as celebratory mementos to the fire look-out hut. Flapping, they seem to say, “we did it!”

Spectacular dream-time panorama.

Little Wu-Tai rocks look like China.


Loose gravel, watch your step, rolling down into deep dark redwoods. Cool air and the sweet smell of mud. Aching knees.

The low evening light dapples the fern creek, illuminating wild trillums and three leaf clovers and I wonder, Why Three?

Our Venerable Guide, Matthew Davis, has made this walk over 160 times, and leading since 1974. He is swift, sure footed at age 74. A sweet spirit, he fills his bottle at Moss Tea Springs.

His trusty spiraled madrone walking stick is at least two decades old, he presumes. “Needs to be oiled” he told me on the way down.

Thank you to Mark and Meri for introducing me to the mountain in this way.

Further Reading:

Opening the Mountain, Circumabulating Mount Tamalpais A Ritual Walk, by Matthew Davis and Michael Farrell Scott (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006)

Mountains and Rivers Without End, by Gary Snyder (Counterpoint, 1996)

Tamalpais Walking, Poetry, History and Prints, by Tom Killion and Gary Snyder (Heyday Books, 2009)

Mt. Tamalpais from Bulkley Ave., Sausalito ©2009 Tom Killion



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