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Dune Blessing

I am simply reaching for a book when the jet comes screaming over head flying no more than 150 feet off the ground.  I hear the roar and suddenly the sound waves become so solid they rattle the pot on the burner, the dishes on the shelf, the clothes on the hangers in the closet, the frame and canvass of my pop top camper van, the bones inside the flesh of my body, dropping me to my knees my forehead pressed into the seat cushion.  Throughout the day there are several more fly overs, slightly higher and less cellularly disruptive, but enough to send my dog into shakes each and every time.


I have been coming out to the desert every Spring for close to a decade, but in all that time I have avoided this place: The Eureka Dunes in the Northern part of the Death Valley National Park.  Mostly I avoided it because I have avoided all desert places with dunes, thinking somehow they were sterile and uninteresting and held no wisdom for me.  The jets on training missions from the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station seem to confirm my past decisions.


It was my traveling companion who wanted to see and climb these dunes.  I was deep into research for my next novel, set in San Francisco around the turn of the 20th century, and figured I could read anywhere, so I was fine with three days here before moving into Death Valley proper for the rest of this year’s pilgrimage.  I stayed in the van and read about the geology of San Francisco before humans.  As I read I began to realize that San Francisco was once sand dunes drifting from ocean to bay, interrupted by a few solid and rocky hills.  The book I read detailed a pre-human ecosystem filled with rich plant and animal life thriving in those dunes.  The next morning, with a slight glimmer of curiosity from reading about the dunes that once were San Francisco, I decided to climb these desert dunes.


The first level was covered in plants that had mostly lived their lives for the season and were now the elegant tangles of twig and stickers left behind after the more fragile green parts had died.  I picked my way through carefully so as not to scrape or scratch my legs or catch my skirt as it fluttered in the slight breeze.  The next band of elevation seemed to be simply sand.  I left my shoes to walk barefoot, knowing I could retrace my tracks and find them easily on the way down.  The sand and my feet embraced one another as if they were old friends.  


Now that I was actually up on the dune I realized there were so many tiny plants nestled in the sand, sweet and tender shoots each with two little leaves.  I knelt and exhaled on one, offering it the carbon dioxide from my lungs, and inhaling the oxygen offered from its fragile little being.  As I walked higher and higher, leaving the imprint of my barefoot tracks, I marveled at the variety of other tracks mine were crossing:  tiny bird feet, coyote paws, mouse toes, snake spines, and places where the sand hinted that they may have encountered one another.


Near the top I stopped and lay on my back on the dune.  I felt the tiny grains packed on and around each other to create this place, both solid and constantly shifting and moving.  I felt my own body open down into the dune, tentative at first, waiting to see if I was a welcomed guest.  Suddenly, flowing back from my host, was waves of bliss and delight and ancient wisdom.  


I experienced the wisdom of how to be grounded and strong while made up of billions of tiny independent grains.  I felt the delight and pleasure of the network of plants germinating and growing, withering and dying, over and over, season after season as they thrived in the sun and precious moisture, held like a sponge, by this mass of sand.  I was moved by the ecstatic art of shape ever shifting as the winds caress the surface leaving fluid patterns that ripple and renew each day.  I felt the love generated by the relational connections of the sand with the moisture, moisture with seeds, leaves with mice, predators with prey.  I heard the whisper and song of eons of geological time.  I saw The Dunes themselves as the living being they are, and I lay there pressed into the wonder and awe of this sacred sand.  


Without warning two jets appeared right over me, as low as the one that had brought me to my knees the day before, but closer because I was now high up on The Dune.  I began to panic with the anticipation of how much more forceful the sonic shake would be - but somehow even though the jets were closer, The Dune seemed to absorb the shock, and their passing simply left me with the feeling of gentle rocking.


The wisdom and bliss continued to flow in and through me and I began to laugh with joy and slowly sat up with The Dune songs rising and rushing out of my mouth in delight.  


I eventually retraced my tracks in laughing conversation with The Dunes.  When I found the place I left my shoes, I knelt and kissed my new love in gratitude for the wisdom and delight.  Then, gently brushing the sand from my forehead, nose, and lips, I slipped on my shoes and walked back through the stickers and tangles to my van, wiser and more humble because of this ancient pile of sacred sand and the blessing of its complex and wondrous being.



For more info on The Eureka Dunes go to and

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Lizann Bassham was both an active Reclaiming Witch and an Ordained Christian Minister in the United Church of Christ. She served as Campus Pastor at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley working with a multi-faith student community. She was a columnist for SageWoman magazine, a novelist, playwright, and musician. Once, quite by accident, she won a salsa dance contest in East L.A. Lizann died on May 27, 2018.


  • Elizabeth Creely
    Elizabeth Creely Monday, 04 May 2015

    Love this! And I love that you found a relationship between where you were (Death Valley) and the City. I've never been to Death Valley. Sounds lovely. Except for the military exercises.

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Monday, 04 May 2015

    Thanks Elizabeth - it's been fun learning about SF pre-humans and tracking particularly the changes in the tidal areas over the last three centuries….

  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis Sunday, 17 May 2015

    I enjoy reading people's experience. They usually mean more to me than someone's abstract ideas.

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Sunday, 17 May 2015

    Thanks Francesca! I feel the same which is why I enjoy your writing as well!

  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis Sunday, 17 May 2015

    Wow, thanks! Yay!

    Somehow the rest of my previous comment didn't get posted. Here it is:

    I used to live in San Francisco, and studied its geology with a geology professor there. As part of my urban shamanism, I wanted to be more cognizant of the land beneath the concrete and its history.

    I miss SF land. I have lived here in pa for over ten years, and still cannot connect with the land in a fully satisfying way, not the satisfying way I managed to in San Francisco. I keep trying but… perhaps you provided a role model: maybe I'm not sufficiently appreciating what is here. I tend to appreciate what's right in front of me but maybe I have to work at it more re the land here. I'll check that out in ritual today. Thanks!

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Monday, 18 May 2015

    Francesca - Blessings on your journey of deep connection with the Spirits of the Land there in PA. I look forward to reading about your journey....

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