We filled our car with camping gear, food, two hesitant rabbits and headed out into the rain. Our weekend destination was the Groundswell Institute, an ecovillage and queer retreat center located two hours north of San Francisco in southern Mendocino County. Surrounded by forests, rolling green meadows and a creek that flows year long, Groundswell is the perfect setting to find inspiration and decompression from the outside world. In addition to the lush natural environment, there are nine cabins, a campground area, a clothing optional ¼ acre swimming pond, a dining hall with a commercial kitchen and soon you’ll be able to enjoy a soak under the stars in their new outdoor hot tubs.
On the weekend of Feb. 17th, MD and I attended Groundswell’s Queer Forestry Camp where participants would “explore the surrounding forest and its relationship to the watershed of the land.” With that in mind, we brought along our tent, but due to the recent rains, I was less than enthusiastic about sleeping outside. Luckily for us, and thanks to the generosity of our hosts, we were able to share a dry cabin with a few other campers. Similar acts of generosity and inclusion would become commonplace experiences during our stay.
Not sure of what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful, informative activities and conversations that took place over the weekend which included a discussion on Science, Nature and Heteronormativity and a hands-on erosion mediation class. In one of the outdoor sessions, we assisted in clearing a section of overgrowth that was stunting the health of an oak, and in the process MD managed to chop down a tree for the first time. One impressionable take-away for MD was that they never felt feminized – the assistance received from the more experienced campers was a combination of instruction, encouragement and trust – which left MD feeling empowered and connected to the act of felling this particular tree.
Our first night at Groundswell, camp attendees gathered together after dinner as DoubleSnake, the camp facilitator, led a discussion around the question, “Why do we tend the forest?” A multitude of brilliant answers were received; all true, necessary and timely for the current state of the world. But, the universal reach seemed to be that we tend the forest to heal and reconnect with our humanity through nature. As queers, we’ve been force-fed a narrative by centuries of imposed patriarchal colonialism that we are unnatural – not of nature. But, that belief is a fable because when you start to take it apart, you quickly find that nature is pretty damn queer. Queer has always existed in nature – in the plants, the animals and among the original stewards of the land – native people that respected nature and did not view it through a lens of separateness and who embraced queer members of their tribes commonly referred to as “Two Spirits.”
Under this current regime, if we are to overcome the attacks to our welfare, our environment and our communities – we need to look through a different lens and attain the necessary tools to keep our spirits intact and our resistance on track. Places like Groundswell serve as a spiritual refuge and refuel station. The retreat center hosts a series of a programs and workshops that serve the lgbtqi+ community centered around art, leadership training, wellness and eco-skillshares. They also rent their facilities to groups and organizations. The next time you’re looking for a place to host a weekend gathering, take a workshop on food fermentation, or to just celebrate your beautiful self with other like-minded queers, be sure to check out the Groundswell Institute.
**For a powerful critique of neo-Darwinism and the theory of sexual selection, check out Evolution’s Rainbow by renowned ecologist and evolutionary biologist, Joan Roughgarden. She’s spent years researching the animal kingdom and documenting the vast diversity that exists in the sexual spectrum of nature.
“Sweet Drank” by Tori Roze and the Hot Mess
Forest sounds by reinsamba under the Creative Commons license on Freesound.org