Sage Knight

The recommended method for avoiding injury while setting up a Sansbug is to toss the 20” disc into the air, then stand back as it springs to life and lands at your feet. Voilá! Instant shelter.

The pop-up tent is just large enough for a sleeping bag. I’ve added a pillow and three blankets, taken from the upper bunkhouse where my luggage is spending a week with three other women. How anyone can sleep indoors with redwoods, cedars and pines beckoning through the window is beyond me.

At the orientation, a representative from the Ben Lomond Retreat Center cautions us to stay on the trails to avoid poison oak and ticks. This strategy, however, will not protect us from all danger. About two months ago, a woman encountered a mountain lion—on the trail. Hands go up immediately.

“They don’t come on the grounds, though, right?”

“Sure. They like the deer who eat apples in our orchard.”

“Where is the orchard?”

“Right outside the dining hall.”

She advises us to hike with a buddy, a great idea I have no plans to implement.

At night the sky is so dark I cannot see the path to my tent and have no clear idea of where my next step will take me, a perfect metaphor for my life. As an elder once told me, I “really love the wild.” Not just the animals, but dirt, the Moon and darkness. However, the trail to my site is flanked by a steep incline, so, in an effort to postpone death, I cheat. Out comes the iPhone and, with one swipe, I have, if not a safe walk, at least one where I can stay on the trail and see the cats. I’ve been here four nights. So far, the only danger is blood loss from mosquitoes. Sleeping between a Redwood by my pillow and six others at my feet, I feel safe and by no means alone.

I came here to join sixty other brave souls on an experiment to create, on a tiny scale, systems that replace the ones perpetuating separation and violence in the world. The curriculum is both rigorous and emergent. We are designing, from the ground up, systems which are always in operation, but which we may not notice. They run, or are run in the background, often by someone else, because either we don’t know we can create our own or they take so much work to reinvent that it’s easier to follow what is already in place, even if what is in place harms ourselves or others, systems like Decision Making, Resource Allocation and Information Flow.

At a retreat, these are usually handled by the “leaders.” Here, we are all leaders. The retreat is positively wonderful. It is also a mess. Like the birth of a child, the birth of a world is messy. We are on track.

On the first full day, a facilitator speaks the following words: “Sitting in silence to make room for those who don’t usually speak is part of the work.”

The next morning, I don’t raise my hand. I sit, listen, hold space. She was referencing people, but in her words, I hear more. I hear animals, soil, stones. Mostly, I hear trees, the sentinels of silence. Trunks toward the Sun and roots deep in the Mother, whose body sources every single item we’ve ever “owned,” Trees are poems of integration, bridges between Earth and Sky. They are true connectors and listeners. No wonder kids climb them.

It takes two days to carve time to write, two days of struggling to fit into this gorgeous group of humans doing work I love. But I don’t fit in.

On Sunday afternoon, a shamanic healer from Mexico walks with me. I tell her I may give up my role in charge of Decision Making to be with the trees. She beams.

“Yes, Sage! Do it!” she says. “You don’t belong here. You belong in Nature, in the Woods.”

“What about the people?” I ask.

“Let other humans take care of the humans,” she says. “We all have our place, and this is not yours. You need to be in your habitat.”

I hug her and feel profound joy.

The idea is both preposterous and wonderful. I run it by my empathy team, which today, at my request, meets under “my” redwood canopy. At the end of our session, I look down. Resting in my lap is my mesa, a medicine bundle of Stone People.

I awake today at 3:28. It’s about 50 degrees F, and I am in my jammies. Picking up the mesa, I walk across the path to a set of steps leading to a clearing and a Labyrinth. Holding the mesa, I ask for guidance from Spirit to help me find my way. Trees tower around me, a circle of friends, offering support and love. In the center I do my daily practice. I feel my feet grow roots and remain for about an hour in the cold. I hear pine cones, leaves, unidentified somethings falling to the ground. As I walk out I am clear.

We all need connection. Sometimes connection is easier sans humans. Sometimes connection with the Earth and her systems needs to happen first. As I explore this path, if a lion blesses me with her presence, I have no idea what I’ll do. I do know that each night I thank G-d I get to sleep here again.


Sage Knight sits in the silence at Top O’ Topanga with her Golden Retriever, Shiloh. She welcomes your visits to He welcomes treats.


Sage Knight

Sage is alive and well, living at Top o’Topanga with Shiloh, the Golden Retriever. Visit her at

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