Sometimes a Blue Dick is just a Blue Dick. But these native hyacinths also appear, after a storm of ceanothus blossom has blown through the chaparral, as harbingers of spring. We have arrived at that time of the year, at least in Ojai, when we are again reminded by the creaking of the seasonal gears that all of life is transitory - that nothing lasts forever. The entire planet is date-stamped.
Heading into the holiday season, what passes for our winter – an occasional cold snap or rainy day – held a firm grip on my imagination: Spring was not even the palest glow on the edge of the event-horizon. Six weeks later, I am inclined to believe again in the reliability of the celestial clockwork.
Another spring is also heralded by the sickening candy-pink of prickly phlox flowers, often alongside more demure corn-flower blue solanum and white, wild cucumber blossoms. Crinkly leaves of soap plant are emerging from the hard-pack and goosefoot (Chenopodium californicum) is in full leaf. Poison oak gleams malignantly from its shiny new foliage. The native peonies are almost done, true denizens of the topsy-turvy world of the chaparral where plants flourish in winter and begin to wither and die in spring. High on a hill, California poppies nod toward the south. Owls head clover has appeared in the meadows. Lupins are flowering and blue Ceanothus spinosus, which blooms a few weeks later than the white varieties (whose massed polar clouds are now diminishing), is freshly in evidence.
It’s that time of the year on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills when spring and summer collections are on display in the flagship stores of international brands that line both sides of the street between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire; (within too, a courtyard mall that worms its way into a surrounding block and along a street that wriggles through another section in the development parterre).
Just a week ago, walking along these bastions of early twentieth-first century global-consumer capitalism (sound track supplied by Maserati and Lamborghini as their pilots trawled the gold-paved streets) deep in the maw of our profoundly egocentric culture, I was reminded how different is the experience of living apart from such displays; of how my psyche has been split asunder living in Upper Ojai where the portal that yawns before me leads not towards Ralph Lauren’s new spring/summer collection, but directly into the World Soul.
Lorrie and I were headed to a restaurant to meet friends: Chinese tourists bustled past us clutching their newly bought fashions, equally available in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong - and perhaps other Chinese cities of which I remain unaware; but here at the heart of the American dream, their goods come branded with the unique frisson of having been purchased on Rodeo Drive (on a warm winter’s afternoon). Here too, global brands are richly burnished by the triple imprimaturs of the eponymous Hillbillies’ town, Los Angeles and Southern California. Rodeo Drive represents, for the out-of town, lustful consumer, a quadruple threat.
Cloistered beneath the crumbling face of the Topatopa bluffs, I daily face a similarly multitudinous threat to the erstwhile sanctity of my ego. That’s a good thing. Jung re-established the eternal truth that the earth is more than matter, it is spirit. It is that spirit that now erodes the primacy of my ego, nurtured in some of the most consumer-centric cities in the world – London, Sydney and Los Angeles. Walking down Rodeo Drive represented a mannerist mirror to my past, a ghastly, glittering apparition of the road not taken. For in each city, despite being lured by their urban surfaces polished by desire - by the continuum of fashion-driven development over the ages - I have also found some refuge in more elemental circumstances: the woods and downs of darkest Surrey, the beaches and bush of Sydney’s North Shore and the bay beaches and chaparral edges of Los Angeles. Now in Ojai, I am able to fully allow what Jung called the ‘conditioning of the mind by the earth’.
David Tacey, in Edge of the Sacred – Jung, Psyche, Earth, Daimon Verlag, Zurich, 2009, explains. The history of human spirituality has been divided, he suggests, into two broad streams: the sky-pointers who see the heavens as representing the sacred realm and the earth-pointers who understand that the sacred inheres within the earth. These two distinct spatial heirophanies are represented on the one hand by the major monotheisms and on the other by polytheistic animism. This spatial mapping of the sacred is reflected, in Jungian terms, within the human psyche.
For Jung, the psyche included both conscious and unconscious psychic processes. How the elements, or forces, within these processes are resolved results in individuation. The ego exists at the center of the field of consciousness and stands guard at the border of the inner and outer worlds. The unconscious is the repository for all past and future thoughts and repressed emotions which are not being experienced in the moment. Within the unconscious there resides the shadow, an underworld that aggregates the parts of ourselves we most fear as well as the intelligences that reside in the collective unconscious, or group mind, and ultimately, is attuned to the World Soul. For Jung, it is the shadow to which the earth speaks.
In the global north, at least since the Enlightenment, and arguably since the rise of patriarchy and monotheistic religion, the ego has enlarged its domain within the psyche at the cost of the shadow within the unconscious. Thus the earth has increasingly gone unheard.
The shadow world of the subconscious, what Jung calls the chthonic portion of the psyche, was fed by the ancient religions of pre-modern humanity. Jung notes that ‘dark powers, witches, magicians and spirits’ represented the forces of the earth and these archaic forms held sway over an emasculated ego in primitive humans. But this form of magical thinking was undermined by the rise of science; Jung writes,
“This was the first stage in the despiritualization of the world. One step followed another: already in antiquity the gods were withdrawn from mountains and rivers, from trees and animals”.
Jung posits, in his Terry Lectures from 1940, that the dominant, modern form of thinking leaves us bereft: in a spiritual and emotional wasteland where the earth has become desacralized and is plundered to satisfy our gross egotistical desires. Thus he predicts the psychic roots of our growing environmental crisis.
Yet spirit still inheres in the land. The spirit dynamics of the earth can overturn and replace the aspirations of the ego. Material desire can wither and die as connections are made with the natural world. The shadow can rise again and fully inhabit the unconscious creating a base of spiritual profundity that can heal the individual: in society, such a realignment might heal the planet.
Here, where all is sky and bio-mass, damp earth and trickling streams, is a world that calms - a world that subtly shapes one’s psyche. On a meadow, just up the road, blue dicks rise out of the grasslands, or sometimes push out of bare, sun-splashed rocky soil. Violet blue, their flowers are the color of the heavens: but they direct our attention not towards the empyrean, but to the spirit earth, where primordial forces may one day link again with humanity and bring an ecological order to the planet.
For the Chumash, this plant they called Shikh’o’n was a valuable food source. Their bulbs were roasted in communal lily (Brodiaea) roasting pits (Timbrook). It was a beloved plant that featured in their tales of Coyote trickery: it was deeply rooted in their magical thinking. It helped sustain, as did all things of the earth, their psychic balance within a world of enchantment. More than a harbinger of spring, it represented a complex spirit essence; it spoke to the deep chthonic streams within the Chumash psyche.
This early spring, it spoke to me.