What’s in a name? Last Sunday I hiked up Sweeney Ridge, a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area I had never visited. It was a beautiful, if very windy and chilly, day; very clear. The deep purple Douglas iris was blooming, and countless other flowers. Rabbits and ground squirrels were out.
This is the heart of Druid practice, I feel: walking on the land. From high up this ridge so much land can be seen, and water too—from the ridge top, both the bay and the ocean are visible, a rare event. Besides the immediate surroundings, the growing vegetation, the wind sweeping through a grove of eucalyptus, stretches a vista that reveals how dynamic, even at times violent, this land can be: the reservoirs that mark the San Andeas Fault shimmer below. There is history here—this is where the Anza expedition first realized there was a huge bay here. And deep ‘history’ too; I look down on the bay, surprisingly blue on this sunny day, and think of that catastrophic flooding that occurred at the end of the Ice Age, an inundation which drowned a huge valley, and filled it with the waters that today we call San Francisco Bay. The land holds history, memory of prehistoric events, and more recent stories.
I’m bearing my own stories up here also. For I find myself thinking of Mad Sweeney, Suibhne Geilt, a figure beloved from Gaelic lore. This is a common name, so it of course has nothing to do with him, the mad poet living in the wilderness. And yet, I feel it makes perfect dream logic to associate this place with him. On the ridge top in the buffeting winds, I think of him hungry, foraging for berries and greens, blown about, as I look over the ubiquitous coyote brush and ceanothus, and imagine him flying back after a day of foraging into that grove of huge eucalyptus, their bark peeling, hanging lose, and swishing in the wind.
I pay my respects to the spirit of Sweeney and continue on. The land holds more history. Up ahead is a ruinous Nike station (interesting how the US military named these after a Greek goddess of victory). The buildings are covered in wild graffiti and the roofs are half collapsed. In one building a huge Parry’s Nolina grows, the land reclaiming these archetypal Cold War installations. I grew up in the Cold War. I feel personal history resonant in this pace, my mother worked for an aviation company… The passage of time, the past clasped in the present, the land rolling away in great waves down to the ocean far below and the shimmering of the Pacific. The Land, the Sea, the Sky.