European Preview

The sky is growing bluer as my plane races eastward to greet the rising sun. Below me is the Gulf of Mexico, its sparkling surface now marred by slicks of oil that continue to gush from ruptured pipes along the seafloor. It won’t be long now before the orange glow rimming the horizon is pierced by sunlight, birthing a new day on this our wondrous but ailing planet.

My journey has begun: half spiritual pilgrimage, half worldly adventure, but as a whole something more mysterious than I can yet fathom is luring me to Europe. I await the revelations grace may bestow upon me this summer. I’ll be landing in Fort Lauderdale shortly, where I’ll stay for a few weeks to catch up with family and friends. I realize how much San Francisco has changed me only when I see myself through the eyes of those I left behind.

On June 19th, I fly to London. Upon landing, I immediately catch a train and head 3 hours southwest to the town of Totnes, where I begin a course at Schumacher College co-taught by Sean Kelly (a cultural historian and professor of mine from CIIS), Stephan Harding (ecologist and Gaia theorist), and Rupert Sheldrake (biologist known best for his theory of morphic resonance) called “Gaia theory and the Evolution of Consciousness.” After two weeks of study with these brilliant thinkers, I head to the airport a short distance away in Plymouth to catch a flight to Dublin. There, I’ll meet up with my friend Kelleigh, whose grace and joie de vivre will surely make this leg of the journey especially exciting. Theory will be put to practice in Ireland, as the Gaian ecology learned at Schumacher should give me a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the living landscape. After enjoying the culture (and Guinness!) of Dublin, we head south to the sacred ruins and protected valleys of Glendalough. I’ve recently been reading the story of St. Kevin, who was told by an angel to journey alone to the slopes of Glendalough, where after years of solitary prayer he learned to commune with otters in the lake and birds in the sky, beautifully exemplifying the intimacy with nature so characteristic of Celtic spirituality. The next leg of our Irish adventure takes us west toward Galway. From there, we’ll make our way down the coast by train or bus, stopping in pubs to meet locals and fellow travelers. Eventually, we’ll find ourselves on Dingle peninsula to hike the foothills and gaze across the Atlantic from the edge of seaside cliffs. On the 15th of July, we arrive in West Cork to farm with our WWOOF host, John Dolan, for about a week. Waking up before dawn to tend to the needs of the soil is something I crave, even if I’ll only get a small taste of what such a life in constant communion with the earth is like. From the Dolan farm, we head to Wexford county on the east coast of Ireland to camp and participate in a sustainability and survival skills workshop. That will bring our stay in the land of ire to an end, as we’ll hop on a ferry at the port and cross the sea to Wales. Once there, we’ll rent a car and drive to Brecon Beacon to hike and maybe even camp, then to the town of Hay-on-Wye, famous for its multitude of bookstores full of old classics. I’m on the lookout for some early printings of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, a book of poetic philosophy I’ll be drawing from for my dissertation. I imagine Kelleigh and I, bibliophiles that we are, will need to ship a box or two back to the States before we leave! Next, we head towards Glasonbury to soak in the ancient energies of Stonehenge, perhaps built by Druids, who perhaps had help from whatever is responsible for the regular appearance of crop circles in the area. Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to arrive at the right time to investigate a new one. Then, the first day or two of August, we drive to London to drop the car off and head our separate ways, Kelleigh to Belgium and I to Dornach, Switzerland. I’m attending an English language conference at the Goetheanum (world headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society) on the future of spirituality. The controversial esotericist and Sophiologist Sergei Prokofieff is the only lecturer on the schedule whose name I recognize, but my advisor at CIIS, Robert McDermott (author of The New Essential Steiner), who is well-known among Anthroposophists, assures me I will not be disappointed with the rest of the line up. Prokofieff is an outspoken critic of Valentin Tomberg, whose spiritual classic Meditations on the Tarot: a Journey into Christian Hermeticism (transl. by Robert Powell) has profoundly influenced me. I’ll be interested to hear the angle Prokofieff takes, as I’ve not yet read any of his work.

From Dornach, I head to Italy to visit Florence and Rome for a week each. I have to thank my friend Fr. Thomas Matus for drawing up an extensive itinerary for me during this leg of my journey. He lived for some time at the monastery of St. Gregory the Great in Rome and so knows the city and the culture quite well. There are too many highlights to mention now. I’ll have plenty to recount afterwards, I’m sure.

Rome is the end of the line. My flight back to Miami leaves out of London on the 23rd of August, but I might try to change it to fly out of Rome to save myself a train ride back to the UK. I’ll spend a day or two in South Florida and then fly back to San Francisco to get ready to drive to Nevada for Burning Man on the 30th. It’s my first burn, but I’ll be camping with a bunch of regulars, so I’ll probably survive!

I’ve been dreaming of this summer since my senior year of high school. I actually almost sold my car and dropped out my freshman year of college to backpack through Europe. I was fed up with the assembly-line education and military-industrial funding funneling into UCF. In hindsight, I’m glad I decided against it. I’m in a much better position now then I probably would have been.

The plane is making its final descent. The sun has risen. My summer is just beginning.