"She is fully alive." This is how a dear friend described the 11-year-old Lily.
It's not just what my friend said, but how she said it, that made me really want to meet Lily. My friend spoke with glowing admiration, and a deep longing, mixed with a sadness that not more of us could be like that, "fully alive".
So, a few weeks later, on Day 4 of the pilgrimage, I arrived at the Golden Rabbit Ranch in Cazadero, CA, atop the coastal hills of Sonoma County.
Lily have been living on this magical land ("A bit Magic and Spirit, A bit sheep, goats and chickens") for about a year, since she left the Waldorf school in the city. It had become apparent that the school no longer served this young woman who has an intellectual capacity that's years ahead of her peers. Now, Lily is "unschooling" on this permaculture ranch started by Starhawk. Lily is the only kid within a 5 mile radius. The person closest to her age on the ranch is in late 20s.
Given that I could easily slip into glorifying Lily as a subconscious compensation for my longing for the education she has, it might be best to hear from the young woman directly :) Below are snippets from a fascinating conversation with Lily, as wide-ranging as her keen and free interests.
Lily speaks confidently, thoughtfully and engagingly on "grown-up" topics like white privilege, religion, homesteading, etc. Here's one excerpts on technology and addiction.
Lily: "There's so many amazing and stimulating things around here [on the ranch], that being in front of screen all day is just boring. You can go pick fruit, or hang out with the livestock, go hiking, etc. I think it is harder if you live in a place where there's not so many interesting things you can do."
As an aspiring writer + photographer + artist, Lily is also over 100 pages into writing her first novel. Needless to say, I am quite blown away by this young mind. I am even more heartened by her connections to the land, the animals, and her high emotional intelligence and level of empathy.
There are many things to celebrate about this unique person, and her parents' behind-the-scene support, and the village around her. However, I am even more intrigued by the wider implication of this young woman's "coming fully alive" close to the land, outside of the conventional educational system, and without any formal "course of study".
In fact, almost every single home-schooled or un-schooled person I've met, have blown me away in some ways. They have grown up closer to how nature intended it. It is amazing to witness what emerges from the depth of a human being, when we stop tampering with it.
I am very grateful for the chance of meeting Lily (and her mom and their community). It plants a seed of envisioning an "education as nature intended", as I continue on the pilgrimage, and beyond.
Would like to end with this poem, bowing to the forces of mystery, and the rippling effects of the smallest act.
I saw a dead snake on the black asphalt road
Perhaps overrun by a car
Without a head, and without a tail
Like in the Chinese saying
"The sacred dragon has no head and no tail"
The snake's inside spills out on the hard bed of petroleum
What an undignified burial for such mystical creature
Whose ancestors taught mankind the ways of knowing
To move the head- and tail-less body off the paved ugliness
Is the least I can do to pay the debt of my species
But I was pushing a heavy bike uphill in cold rain
And I can hear a car coming from a distance
Who's watching anyway
A friend told me how she saw an 11-year-old girl
Treating a dead snake with such tenderness and sacredness
The story landed in my core
And has stayed with me like a metaphor
Whoever's watching anyway
The snake gods are
As well as the entire creation
Aware of each of my thoughts
Even when I am not
I turn the heavy bike around
Find a stick
Lift the hardened, head- and tail-less body
And throw it into the grass
My conditioned disgust and fears are so strong
That I do not even remember the color of the snake
But it is beautiful, I recall
Long ways to go, for sure
But I give thanks to the 11-year-old
Her honoring of the dead snake
Touched my friend, who shared the inspiration
And gave me the strength to honor another dead snake
It is happening
One dead snake at a time
Who's watching anyway
A pilgrimage around the globe by bicycle, in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.