Enough beating about the bush. Enough of the Euro-blogs. I have traveled in the land of the Cathars, the Visigoths, the Merovingians and the Catalans (born of the Proto-Celtic Urnfield people, the Phoenicians,  Carthaginians and the Romans; once ruled by Charlemagne and, unforgettably, Wilfred the Hairy). Now I am back in Upper Ojai where human history is recent but the primal energies of the land run deep. I have been toying with these questions for far too long: what constitutes a mystical landscape and just how soulful is Ojai?

I am working, first raking the detritus of this spring's clover from beneath bunch grasses and deerweed, collecting the skeletal stalks and grey seed balls into soft piles of kapok - then across the meadow, I pull out laurel sumac stems from the dark, dead carcasses of the trees that were cut down a couple of years ago. The stumps are dead but the roots, sometimes as much as twenty feet deep into the ground are alive and well and, having supported a tree fifteen to twenty feet high have all the energy in the world to send out shoots and saplings with trunks as much as an inch thick in a frenzied attempt to re-colonize their patch of chaparral. I cut them back, push over the bigger stems with my foot, which often snap, and if they do not, a tug pulls them, and bits of white root (blushed with red at the base of the stalk), clean out of the ground.

It is about ninety degrees farenheit. Today is cooler than usual, hence the opportunity to do a little work. I attack the task with manic rushes of energy and then fall back and rest a while on a rock. Rocks are everywhere and laurel sumac (Malosma laurina) likes nothing better than to emerge from beneath, within and around these great, fractured sandstone boulders. The tree is relentless, its life-force is awesome. Around me, the wind is caught in my flapping shirt and drying my sweat. Above the Topatopas rolling cumulus clouds are massing, puffy, bright and white against darker smoke-like vapor. A storm is brewing, at around 6,000 feet. All I experience is the ariel sturm und drang and the gathering wind: the sun is hidden for a while and by about five, the temperature has dropped into the low eighties. Later, there is a stunning sunset with washes of grey and orange like some improbable, amateurish water color.

This land is raucous, loud with elemental energy, fierce in its beauty and pungent in its scents; yes, but is it mystical? I get back to the house reeking of laurel sumac. I shed my heavy Carhartt denim work trousers and damp shirt and go for a swim. The water is dark from the brooding sky. Sky Bowl, Lorenz calls it. This is a site that is only partly of Ojai, it transcends its locale: it speaks of some universal wildness, it resonates with the raw beauty of primitive places. Living here affords the opportunity to wrestle with the chaparral's intense life-force, and then slip into the pool and shake off its dust, its smells, its hard, spikey, sclerophyllitic leaves and wrap oneself in the sensuality of crystalline water. These are not the conditions for evaluating mystical content - this is the life of a sybarite rather than an anchorite.

Laurel sumac sucks the oxygen out of its room - few other plants even consider setting up shop anywhere near the dirt floor where this priapic root system shoots off its sap quickened stalks. But in clearing the plant from the landscape around the house - it is notoriously flammable - I was aware, this year, that sawtooth goldenbush (Hazardia squarrosa) appears to be a companion plant, happy enough, at least, to lurk beneath laurel sumac and eke out an existence in its shadow. It flowers in the late summer. When not flowering it looks a lot like a dwarf coyote brush (Baccharis Pilularis) and for some time I also confused it with California brickellbrush (Brickellia californica). Margot set me straight.

Early this morning a woodland kerfuffle woke Lorrie; the open doors of our bedroom give onto the oak grove that sits up on a rocky knoll above the east end of the house. Still half asleep she came into the kitchen where I had closed the windows and doors against the morning chill. She invited me to contribute an analysis of what the heck was going on 'out there'. We opened the sliding door and listened. Somewhere in the mix was a great horned owl hoo-hooing, and what sounded like a cat-like mewl. Triumphant owl and cowering bobcat? Peterson's Field Guide to Western North American Birds 4th. ed., New York, 2010 was a likelier source of explanation than yours truly, and so it was. We were hearing a young owl begging its mother for a share of her kill, vocalized as a plaintive squawk or mewl. When it was light I walked up to the trees to see if there was any evidence of this domestic drama but there was none. Across the seasonal creek were the piles of laurel sumac I cut yesterday. I could still smell the sap. The leaves have already begun to pucker. The goldenbush appeared alone and altogether heedless of the chlorophyllic carnage that lay about it.

There is in England an outfit called Research into Lost Knowledge Organization or RILKO. Here is collected many of the geomantic fringe-dwellers and tenured academics dabbling in out-of-area arcana in one foundation dedicated to the meeting of mind and topography, of land and soul. One of its founders is Keith Critchlow, a respected academic specializing in sacred space and associated both with Prince Charles' failed school of 'traditional' architecture and now his Foundation for the support of same. They should know something about mystical landscapes. A leading luminary, Paul Devereux, writes,

“The approach to the forgotten knowledge of the past must involve the most comprehensive and inclusive attitudes of which we are capable. There is room for all approaches, orthodox archaeologists, geometers, mathematicians, folklorists, occultists and geomancers. All these approaches can provide valuable perspectives on ancient understanding".

I have conducted a very light gloss on the shamanic practices of the Chumash; Sarah Munster has done a little dowsing over the land while I have remained alert to faery's, will o' the whisps’ and woodland elementals but none have appeared before me. I have spoken to bobcats, called to coyotes and cursed at bears, whispered to screech-owls in the night and cooed to quail in the morning but none have answered me. I have searched the land for ancient painted rocks but know it is highly unlikely that I will find them. I have not experienced that 'flood of ancestral memory' that Alfred Watkins experienced when looking at an Ordnance Survey map of Herefordshire and realized that there were a series of alignments between ancient monuments, burial mounds, cross-roads and pre-historic earthworks - what he called straight tracks and later became known as ley lines (Stoned). I have written of old Chumash spirit paths, and I believe, run on them, but have not mapped them or established their beginnings and ends.

What I should be doing (apparently) as Devereux urges, is

"exploring a wide range of topics based in and around archaeology and anthropology, such as archaeoastronomy, archaeoacoustics, sensory archaeology, the prehistory of mind, modern discoveries of mind-body interaction with sacred places, ritual, magic, shamanism, rock art, folklore, mythology, ethnobotany, the phenomenology of landscape and of time, and more".

Instead, I swim in the shallow pools of the present, I am beguiled by the now, I am, God help me, fascinated by the new. Is it any wonder that the 'doors of perception' remain mostly closed to me? Oh, and I do not ingest Datura. I dabble in chaparral, in archaeology and rock art. I refer to my book on Chumash ethnobotany and have Milt Mc Auley's Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains on the breakfast table at all times. I return from runs with pockets of hastily picked botanical specimens. These, perhaps, are eccentricities enough. I write my blog. Parsing mystical (or not) landscapes is, as they say, above my pay grade.

Richard Leviton, author of Geomythic Earth. Readings and Field Notes in Planet Geomancy, iUniverse, Lincoln, NE, 2006) and the founder of The Blue Room Consortium (A Cosmic Mysteries Think Tank for Earth Energies, Mapping and Interaction) in Sante Fe writes,

"Pilgrimage destinations, holy places, power points are all names given to places of heightened presence, or quite simply, sacred sites....I use the term 'visionary geography' to describe a planet filled with geomantic nodes"

He travels the world seeking geomantic engagement and penetration of the Earth and its mysteries. I walk, or run the surface - I survey the mantle - rock, dirt, water and bio-mass. I lift my head to the sky and study the vaporous canopy. But I penetrate neither. I am unable to plumb the soulful depths.

I skim.