Underfoot Earth Turns

Image: Tom Killion

1. Not the True Way
May 11, 1996

If a path that can be followed is not the true path, why do Bears shit right on the trail?
— M.G.

Standing on the stream-smooth rocks in the bed of Redwood Creek, the water’s not that deep, and I begin to blow the conch, then chant the “Heart of the Perfection of Great Wisdom Sutra” in both Zen-Japanese and Americano, plus some other old magic chants in no known language, while more conch-blowers join in. Those who know the cantos start in chanting. The group circles closer and the last shoes are tied and water bottles packed. It’s mid-May, a great day for another walk on Mt. Tamalpais. It must be about seven-thirty in the morning.

Carole and my stepdaughter Robin KJ had driven in to the town of Davis the night before to join me. We ate dinner out and put up in the Ecolodge Motel with a five a.m. wake-up.

Just light, we drove the 80 west to the 37, west to the 101 down to coast highway numero uno, going over and toward the ocean past Green Gulch and back a bit up the valley to Redwood Creek and the lower Muir Woods parking lot. Now we are at the bottom of the water cycle almost at sea level in the endless play of rock and rain.

Friends turn up in cars, and three whole classes of students from UC Davis. Also there are a few faculty colleagues who are not ashamed to be walkers.

We cross the creek on a rickety temporary bridge, duck through some overgrowth, and head up the (famous) Dipsea trail — soon in the open — stretch our legs out along the meadows and live oak groves. It feels like I’ve been doing this for lifetimes now.

This is an excerpt from the article published in the March/April 2009 issue of Orion. Purchase a print & digital subscription to gain access to this full article. 

Gary Snyder is an American man of letters. Perhaps best known as a poet (often associated with the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance), he is also an essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist. He has been described as the “poet laureate of Deep Ecology”. Snyder is a winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the American Book Award. His work, in his various roles, reflects an immersion in both Buddhist spirituality and nature. Snyder has translated literature into English from ancient Chinese and modern Japanese. For many years, Snyder served as a faculty member at the University of California, Davis, and he also served for a time on the California Arts Council.


  1. Thank you Gary Snyder for sharing a lifetime of your wanderings and thoughts about deserts, mountains, rivers, literature, the earthy mundane, and the spiritual universe.

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