It was when I bought land in the northern California coastal range mountains, homesteaded and lived close to the earth and sky, that my deepest experiences with nature began.
There was nothing on this land except beautiful nature--earth, trees, plants, wild animals and fresh air. For the first few summer months I slept in a sleeping bag under a tree on a high hilltop. At first I felt a bit alarmed when I saw scurrying shapes and glowing eyes in the night. But within a week, I was used to that. I was isolated from other humans or any hints of civilization, unless I walked four miles to the county road.
In the autumn I erected a tipi and spent the coldest winter in 30 years sleeping on wet straw, with rain and wind blowing in (no matter how much I rearranged the canvas or poles). In periods of snow, the sides of the tipi had to be scraped to keep them from caving in. I hand-dug a well through rock, carried food from town on my back, planted fruit trees, and in the summer, lived on one or two gallons of water a day. I was surviving as one on a wilderness trip, the difference being that I was trying to create a home, without the training or skills ordinarily required. But through all the hardships and strenuous effort I loved the silence, sun, rain and the green growth of nature. I was not yet aware that the trees, deer, birds and land were aware of my presence. They later revealed just how aware of me they were.
After building a small octagon on the edge of a knoll, I decided to add a sun deck below, facing south, whereupon I could practice yoga, write, read and sew naked. There I could gaze across mountains of forests all the way to the Pacific Ocean. I felt as though I was on the edge of the world. The wind currents were good for large soaring birds such as eagles, falcons, vultures, hawks and ravens. I often watched them gliding, and swooping overhead. I felt as though I was taking flying lessons. Perhaps spiritually, I was.
After several months of sunning on this deck, I became aware of a large buzzard that swooped down over me almost every morning. A lovely feeling pervaded my being as I realized that the buzzard was aware of me. He would dive low, close to my body and then sail out into space again. I was convinced of our inter-relatedness in sharing space.
Later, I began to notice a falcon who met me at the gate of the ranch when I returned from town and flew with me four miles to my home. Being much swifter than a two-legged creature, it would fly around above me, soar off on air currents, but usually remained visible during my journey home.
One day after working with some fruit trees near the well (which I had divined for water with a metal rod), I lay down on the grass to rest. In the sky above me I observed several eagles slowly gliding in circle formation for quite a long time. I felt this was some kind of ritual. They communicated a name to me that I later used--"Soaring Eagle"--and a song. I wrote down the words and composed music for this "Eagle Song" which is still a favorite of my "Spirit and Nature" series.
I was grateful for my relationship with the large birds, but little did I know that soon it would have even greater value to me. I had been chopping down some small fir trees one day (thinning a crowded wood) to use as fence posts to protect my baby fruit trees. It was a sweltering hot day and I was wearing a thin, short cotton dress. The hatchet slipped and swung into my right calf, gouging a long deep wound into the bone. With blood streaming out, I tore off my dress and wound it around my leg as a tourniquet. I crawled naked up the long steep hill to my cabin, managed to put on another dress, find the car keys and crawl down to my VW bug. I drove down the bumpy dirt road toward town feeling pretty weak and wondering whether to go straight to the hospital or stop at a neighbors for help.
Then I noticed a falcon flying low in front of the car. It flew over the left fork which went to the neighbor's house. Taking this as a sign, I followed it. The eldest son came out and drove me to town in my car. I was then able to place my right leg up on the dash and thus reduce the throbbing and slow down the bleeding. Two miles before town, we ran out of gas. My driver took the gas can and hitched a ride to the nearest gas station, returning quickly to drive me onward to the hospital. Had I driven alone I would have been in a pickle. Thanks to my dear bird friend, my life was possibly saved.
But my main contact with these fine feathered friends has come through my singing. All over the world, when I sing, birds come, listen and respond. Pigeons, ducks, small birds and larger ones gather around me in parks, gardens and cathedral squares when I troubadour. They dance excitedly in the air near me, and are especially responsive to high notes, voicing their own replies in chirps and twitters with the music.
After seven years of semi-solitude, I was preparing to leave my mountain home in California to visit a friend in Denmark. The morning I arose to leave my Valhalla, I was amazed at the sight which greeted me as I sat up and gazed sleepy-eyed out the windows of the octagon. Eight deer were quietly circling. Having appreciated my land as a sanctuary from hunters for years, they now came to bid me farewell as I journeyed off to carry forth the spirit and songs which the land and all the creatures thereon had been muse to. I walked out into the early morning sunshine, beholding the magic of the land and their gentle loving nature. They invited me to touch them, to hug them in a farewell party of silent but strong communion of love.
Tara Sufiana has lived in Mendocino County since 1971, with intermittent travels abroad. She has written for magazines in England, Switzerland and the US. She is currently finishing a book about her experiences in Egypt.