Zen Ritual Embraces Poetry of Mount Tamalpais
07-24-2018    Marin Independent Journal
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<DIV align=center><STRONG>Matthew Davis of Mill Valley walks atop Homestead Hill&nbsp; (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)</STRONG></DIV>

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<DIV align=center><STRONG><BR>Matthew Davis of Mill Valley turns his face to the afternoon sun&nbsp; (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)</STRONG></DIV>

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<DIV><SPAN lang=EN-US>Beth Ashley, <A href="http://www.marinij.com/">www.marinij.com</A>, Marin Independent Journal, December 11, 2006</SPAN></DIV>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="on"><SPAN lang=EN-US>San Francisco</SPAN></st1:City><SPAN lang=EN-US>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">USA</st1:country-region> -- One day in October 1965, poets Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg and Philip Whalen performed a ritual walk around <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Mount</st1:PlaceType> <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Tamalpais</st1:PlaceName></st1:place>, following the Buddhist meditation practice of walking clockwise around a venerated object, pausing for worshipful chanting.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>The walk grew out of the poets' study of Buddhism as well as their love of nature.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>The poets left the mountain long ago, but a <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Mill</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Valley</st1:PlaceType></st1:place> man -- 71-year-old hiker, Buddhist and nature lover Matthew Davis -- has replicated the walk more than 160 times. February will mark the 40th year he has been spiral-walking the mountain.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Four times a year, he leads groups big and small on the walk, circling <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Mt.</st1:PlaceType> <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Tam</st1:PlaceName></st1:place> on a daylong, 15-mile route from sea level to mountaintop and back again.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>En route, the hikers pause at 10 "stations" -- an ocean view, a spring, a cairn of rocks -- where they give ritual chants including the heart sutra, which Davis calls a condensation of "hundreds and hundreds of years of Buddhist teachings."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>The walks, and his love of the mountain, have become a way of life for Davis, who has lived in the same spot above <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Homestead</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Valley</st1:PlaceType></st1:place> for more than 45 years. He bought a plot of overgrown land and a chicken house where he lived while building his home and the extensive gardens beyond. "I feel kind of married to this piece of ground," he says.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>He has written a book, "Opening the Mountain: Circumambulating Mount Tamalpais; a Ritual Walk," with fellow walker and sociology professor Michael Farrell Scott of <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Berkeley</st1:place></st1:City>, who also took the black-and-white photo illustrations.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Snyder, who lived in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Homestead</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Valley</st1:PlaceType></st1:place> in the '50s, at one point sharing a cabin with Jack Kerouac, wrote the introduction. Snyder now lives in the mountains above <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Nevada</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">City</st1:PlaceType>, where <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Davis</st1:place></st1:City> has visited him. The poet has returned from time to time to "reopen" the mountain.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>"Whenever I can," Snyder writes, "I still go hike that same route on Tamalpais, chanting and making my bows. Walking is a deeply satisfying way to move. It is also traditionally considered one of the two effective modes of meditation."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>"He's kind of the godfather of our walks," says <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Davis</st1:place></st1:City>.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><st1:City w:st="on"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Davis</SPAN></st1:City><SPAN lang=EN-US> has been a walker all his life, inspired perhaps by his mother, who grew up on a <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Wyoming</st1:place></st1:State> homestead. He is a lifelong artist who studied architecture at the <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">University</st1:PlaceType> of <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Oregon</st1:PlaceName> before joining the Navy and serving in the <st1:place w:st="on">Far East</st1:place>.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>In <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Japan</st1:place></st1:country-region>, he learned "the profundity of walking as a meaningful way to see the world."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>"I would leave the world of boats and in 10 minutes I'd be out in the country where the landscape changed and Japanese men would be bowing to me. It was the big 'aha' of walking."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>After the Navy he earned a degree in art from <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">San Francisco</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">State</st1:PlaceType> and settled in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Mill</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Valley</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>, where he got a job at Dimitroff's framing shop which he later bought and operated with partner Richard Pervier. In 1960 he married Suki Westerland, now a widely known ikibana master. He bicycled to work every day.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>A chance meeting with Bill Kwong of the <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">San Francisco</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Zen</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Center</st1:PlaceType> (now head of his own center in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Sonoma</st1:City></st1:place>) sparked his interest in Buddhism. Kwong conducted a morning meditation at the Almonte Improvement Club.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>From the beginning, he was a dedicated hiker of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Mt.</st1:PlaceType> <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Tam</st1:PlaceName></st1:place>, and has a paper bag full of journals to prove it -- books that cover decades of walking, written in a tight, artistic hand, with detailed drawings of leaves, flowers, birds and landscapes. For a time he contributed accounts of his walks to the <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Homestead</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Valley</st1:PlaceType> newsletter, and in 1980 compiled a booklet, "On Foot in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Homestead</st1:place></st1:City>." For 10 years he was the <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Homestead</st1:place></st1:City> correspondent for the Mill Valley Herald.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Fifteen months after Snyder, Ginsberg and Whalen made the first circumambulation of the mountain, they invited others to take part, and <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Davis</st1:place></st1:City> joined Snyder and about 70 others on the walk. "I got hooked on doing it," he said.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Davis</SPAN></st1:place></st1:City><SPAN lang=EN-US> led his first walk on Buddha's birthday in 1968. Some time later, wanting to do it more often, he began leading walks on the equinox, both spring and fall, and on the summer and winter solstice. The solstice walk this winter will fall on Christmas Eve, "not a good time for first-time walkers," he says, though he plans to do it.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>"Last winter we walked in a raging storm. Two of us did the whole walk."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Scott, the book's co-author, is a steadfast walker, too, having made the walk for 15 years, usually in the company of his wife, Vicki Piovia.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Scott first heard about the walk when he taught at the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">old World</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">College</st1:PlaceType></st1:place> West, which initiated new students with a ritual full-moon walk from the Marin Headlands to Alice Eastwood Camp. Scott began photographing the mountain to honor Davis, "the guy who's kept this thing going for so many years."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>After years of discussion, the two produced the book. The book was designed by Victor Ichioka, Scott's closest friend.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>All are welcome to join the walks, <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Davis</st1:place></st1:City> says, and anywhere from 10 to 30 show up each time, some of them regulars, others first-timers. "We have had walks of over 100 people."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><st1:City w:st="on"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Davis</SPAN></st1:City><SPAN lang=EN-US> has organized walks for wilderness literature students of David Robertson at the <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">University</st1:PlaceType> of <st1:PlaceName w:st="on">California</st1:PlaceName> at <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Davis</st1:place></st1:City>, and about five years ago led a walk that was part of a nine-day Stanford symposium on Snyder.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Newcomers sometimes shy away from reciting the Buddhist chants, but Davis hands out written sheets for people to follow, and by the time they reach the 10th station, "the heart sutra is usually sung as though from a single voice, full of appreciation and love."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Some of the chants are Muslim, and one follows the Vedanta tradition of <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">India</st1:place></st1:country-region>.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Davis</SPAN></st1:place></st1:City><SPAN lang=EN-US> also carries a Buddhist prayer flag, in a case he treats as an altar. At the Redwood Creek station, he deploys the flag, burns incense and displays a hawk feather given to him by a native American shaman.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Except for the chanting, the walks are done in silence.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Davis, a wiry man with steel-rimmed glasses and a trim white beard, sold the Dimitroff shop six years ago, leaving him more time for walking and gardening. He is separated from his wife, though they still share the house they created. He has begun a new relationship with Dhun Sharma of Tiburon, a native of <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">India</st1:place></st1:country-region>. "I am introducing her to the mountain piece by piece."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>One relationship in his life has not changed: his love of the mountain. As he wrote in the 1980 hiking booklet, "When you step out your door with eyes and heart open, the land unfolds as you walk it."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Today, he adds: "What walking does is it really grounds your life. Every time I walk I feel more part of this place."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Contact Beth Ashley via e-mail at <A href="mailto:bashley@marinij.com">bashley@marinij.com</A> </SPAN></P>
Editor: Wang Xinyu
   
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