How does one come to grips with a friends passing? I sat here a few hours after getting the news that Dale, a friend for nearly 20 years passed early this Saturday morning. Even expecting it, it still came as a blow. Dazed, but thinking. Lots.
At first I just sat absorbing it in. This, is not unusual. Still, the day was surreal. We had been expecting it for the last few weeks. He was supposedly given to the 1st, but he went nearly 2 weeks longer than expected. He had a rough go over the last few months. He harrowed physical hell. The cancer that the liver transplant had meant to stop had jumped pre op, blooming over a year later in his spinal column. You can read about it more on his web page. I am not going to dwell on it here, it was hard enough to read and hear about from where we are. I will say this, he and Laura stayed the course together. That, is love. I cannot imagine what it was like.
What gifts does a person bring? Dale had a generous heart. He brought the gift of observation, and immersion. He brought foremost, conscious poetry to the table. We had conversations over the years about Poetry, Sympathetic Magick (see Salting The Boundaries) and many other things. We were working on having an article of his poetry and an interview for The Invisible College Magazine. He informed me a few months ago that he could no longer type. He was looking for voice to computer software before things got bad. Now, it will be poetry and my thoughts. We had talked about this for about a year, and I hesitated tied up with other matters. This is the type of thing that drives me mad… putting off what one needs to deal with.
We met years ago at the Salvia Conference at Breitenbush that Rob Montgomery put on (bless his departed soul as well!). I fell in love with Dale & Laura, and their beautiful energy together. In the years following, it only deepened. Their love was a joy to step into, to observe. You could see it crackle across the room when they were giving their presentations. If you want to know what magick was, look to their relationship.
I have his books that he sent, plus the beautiful galley copies from the Pharmako series that he gifted me at Sacred Elixirs. He was encouraging me even then to write, having seen Turfing evolve on almost a daily basis. He laid out clues for me to follow to improve my writing. I have taken them to heart, but haven’t his discipline it seems. Still, one must try.
He kept working I believe for as long as he could. There is another book coming out. I know he wanted to see it, but.
We all come to this shore. There is no escaping it. Dale left the world a better place for his passing, with his poetry, ideas, but especially his deep and abiding love.
We shall miss you Dale.
Gwyllm, Mary & Rowan
If you start anywhere with Dale, start perhaps with his poetry. Here are 3 pieces that I love. I hope you will as well.
Some Of Dale’s Poetry:
Having a nightmare, I
must’ve been moaning
or whimpering, my cat
woke me up by
licking my arm, realized
that I did the same
for her, just, not
using my tongue.
Do lizards dream? I
think I heard that but
it’s hard to tell
A blue-bellied fence swift
closes its eyes
on a rock
in the sun.
(From Equations of Power)
The shadow of your eyelash extinguished my plans-
a vowel curled from your lip and stole my speech.
A dark wood grew from my shoulders:
vines and branches, caught on my feet,
pulled cities behind them-
hungry ruins, enchanted cemeteries,
gold, somewhere, buried I suppose.
If there were a crossroads between the path to hell
and the road to paradise,
neither of them knew it.
I held your arm, you balanced, bent, cut.
I did the same.
More like two fish turned to the same stream,
or two hungry buzzards, acting sated, both attracted
to the same gnarled branch.
(From Salting The Boundaries)
Chance favours numerous habits:
hap and portent,
Favors, chance favors, fortune favors
the bold, the prepared.
“Alas, m’lord, by chance…”
Perchance on a stochastic fulcrum,
a shuffle dance crane-wrought
in ominous glyphs-
A pachinko telos
cascading from a hand
with 2,718 fingers,
or a ghostly rebellion
against the stacked deck of privilege.
Prayers incline her way,
betting on a knucklebone revelation.
(it depends on us):
a lucky fall.
Chance is the accidental liberator of heaven,
an apocalyptic alternative cast by lot,
the occult avatar of nihilistic fair play.
immortal threat to eternal order.
Ground of existence.
Hope for newness.
Smile of mantis.
The last excuse and the final request.
Necessity is her twin.
(Prelude from “The Language of Birds” Some Notes on Chance and Divination)
One of his narratives. We walked their land together. An absolutely beautiful place up in the foothills of the Sierra. Dale and Laura were very attentive to it, living with, and not on so to speak. They both understood that community did not stop at two leggeds, or even four, but that community was the biome that we tread through. There could be delightful conversations arise out of this of course, and did. A lovely piece:
Holes in the Ground
A catalogue of creatures
living in the soil
I live off a dirt road, so the road to my house is also
dirt. The only paving on the property is the concrete
slab under the house and a couple of the outbuildings.
Otherwise, it’s all dirt: the paths and trails, and the ground
along them, whether covered by meadow, brush, or forest.
Everywhere I go, the dirt has holes in it. And for years now
I’ve been trying to find out who is responsible.
Easing into recovery from a recent surgery, I’ve been
going for daily walks. Or, let’s say, I’ve been sauntering, or
ambling. And the slower I go, the more holes I see—even
in these summer months when the meadow is all dry straw
and the ground is brick hard.
These Sierra foothill soils have to be some of the worst
in the world, with every nutrient but iron leached out. A
pick won’t dig a hole when the dirt is as dry as now, yet
new holes still appear. There are pencil-sized holes, dimesized
holes, quarter-sized holes. The more I look the more
I find. This isn’t even counting the larger and more ob-
vious holes—mole and gopher holes, or ground squirrel
holes or owl burrows—I know who makes those. But who
is making all these small holes?
A List in Progress:
First off, the Mammalia, our own dear class of milk drinkers,
are responsible for the largest holes, that’s clear. We dig
holes ourselves: postholes, outhouse holes, and trenches for
pipes—but they are usually filled in. Soldiers, of course,
dig holes, or used to, and call them foxholes. And foxes do
dig holes, though our foxes seem to prefer an abandoned
Rabbits dig warrens, which are holes in the ground,
though they must dig them in the densest and most inac-
cessible brush thickets, because I never find them. Many
rabbit warrens, it is said, are connected underground. We
have skunks, and skunks have long claws and dig dens.
I think I found one of those once. Opossums will nest in
holes if they can find one, but I’ve read that they don’t dig
their own. Sometimes they live in trees.
And the coyotes dig holes and live in them. I found one
once, with pups in it, dug into the side of an embankment.
Actually, my little dog found the hole before I did. He
was just a little scamp Peekapoo with long curly hair and
big eyes that said “I love you, just stroke behind my ears,”
but when he heard a coyote howl, he put his chin way up
in the air and made this sound like a coyote and trotted off
like The Fool headed for the cliff. After about five minutes
I heard a terrible yelp of pain way off in the manzanita and
figured I’d better go find him. I did and there he was, kind
of bloodied up and needing a stitch or two, and there was
Mama, standing in front of her den looking at me, and
behind her coyote pups looking out and thinking this was
all the coolest thing that had ever happened.
Ground squirrels dig holes, of course, and they are easy
to spot, as are gopher holes and mole holes, with the dirt
piled around the entrances.
Moles tend to have their entrances in the center of
the excavated dirt, so it looks like a volcano, while gopher
holes are eccentric.
Moles and gophers make a lot of holes around here.
I’ve lost a dozen fruit trees to gophers—but there may be
even more moles. The cat catches gophers but she doesn’t
go after the moles. At least not anymore, not since one she
had cornered attacked and grabbed on to her paw with his
teeth and wouldn’t let go. For a nearly blind animal that
spends its whole life underground eating bugs, moles are
Besides moles and gophers, there are shrews, mice,
and voles. I’m not sure why voles are called “voles,” which
sounds like “moles,” because it’s shrews that are like moles.
Voles are like gophers. Voles are often called “meadow
mice,” and I realize now that many of the small “gophers”
caught by the cat were actually voles and that voles are
probably responsible for a large number of the excavated
holes that are slightly smaller than mole holes but have
dirt around the entrances. Like gophers, voles are mostly
vegetarian and seem to be better tasting to cats than the
insectivorous moles and shrews.
Whoever is digging exactly which hole, there is a lot of
bioturbation going on, and it is not all done by mammals,
not by a long shot.
Maybe some lizards dig holes. Skinks do, for sure. Alligator
lizards dig to bury their eggs, but mostly I find them
just under boards and under stuff lying on the ground.
Fence lizards, whiptails—I don’t know but they’ve got to
Some spiders dig holes: deep, clean holes. Trap-door
spiders. And around here big wolf spiders dig a hole like
a trap-door spider, just without the door. Close to quarter
sized. The cat never sniffs at these holes. I had to go out
at night with a flashlight to see the spider, and I did. It was
there about half an inch down the hole with its legs on the
rim. So I took a piece of straw and rustled some dry grass
a couple of inches outside the hole. And, like, I knew what
was going to happen, but when the spider rushed out I still
jumped a foot into the air.
Most spiders, of course, live in webs.
Then there are the insects. And some in-between critters
like centipedes. Centipedes dig holes. Mostly, I think,
they dig holes and live in them. Except for the ones who
come into the house and hide under a sofa until you are
walking by at three in the morning headed for the kitchen,
when they lunge at your toes. I hate that. Why do they do
that? It makes me do that-forbidden-by-the-Buddha.
But insects, yes. Now we are getting to the pencil-sized
holes, or mostly.
Among the Hexapoda the most obvious and numerous
hole diggers are the ants. Lots of them, and they seem able
to dig into the very hardest of the hard-packed dirt right on
the driveway. So we see them a lot.
In fact, I’m watching them right now. These are fairly
sizeable ants, but fifty yards back there is an active nest
of very tiny ants, and both colonies may move the same
amount of dirt. They like to work in the cooler hours during
the summer, late afternoon, and early evening. In the winter
when it rains, I suppose these ant nests will become potholes.
I’d tired out early, as I’m still recovering from a chemo, so
sitting next to an ant hill seemed like a good place to rest.
Then, as a result of my treatments, I had half of a mental
whiteout: it was like a dust storm had come through and
half of my brain was left resembling the Playa at Burning
Man. Laura was with me.
“You know,” I said, “there was an early tribe of humans
who, being particularly observant of nature, decided that
underground was the proper place to live. They saw other
animals digging holes so they decided to do the same thing.
They were called troglodytes and they ate lizards and other
reptiles and small mammals and were known to be the fastest
runners in the world, which is strange, if you think
about it, because most of their lives they lived underground
in Ethiopia and were so poor of eyesight that they took to
herding large groups of moles from underground room to
underground room with short sticks. Caesar wrote about
them, but the book is lost.”
“Caesar, huh,” Laura asked, “like the salad?”
“Well, yes. And then Xerxes tried to hire them to dig
tunnels under the walls of a city he was besieging in Lydia,
but the troglodytes refused, explaining that such use of
their chthonic skills would be sacrilegious and offensive
to the gods of darkness, an explanation Xerxes accepted.”
“Xerxes, huh, are you sure you don’t mean Cyrus?”
“Yes, Cyrus, that’s who I meant. … The problems all
started when a Lydian king fell in love with his own wife—
that ended up being how the Persians found out about
the Greeks and went to war against them and why we run
marathons. The Greeks all wished that the troglodytes had
been more helpful to Cyrus and had finished the whole
thing before the Spartans arrived, so they passed laws protecting
people who lived underground in holes, exempting
them from certain taxes and service on triremes. Cyrus
and Croesus talked about it with Solon after they figured
out who was the happiest person alive.”
The fog was slowly lifting from my brain.
“See,” I said, “the barbarian women considered it an
affront to be seen naked … kind of like goddesses.”
“What’s this have to do with troglodytes?” Laura asked.
“Oh, because the troglodytes moved to Italy and became
Christians, and then they moved to Cappadocia.
One of their underground cities had eighteen-story buildings
and a population of twenty thousand. Nobody believes
that anymore, but you could look it up.”
Laura said she knew about Cappadocia.
I returned my attention to the ants. Some couldn’t
seem to find their way back to the nest. One, holding a
huge seed in its mandibles, missed the nest twice, and
was now more than a foot away and walking in the wrong
direction. Other ants touched antennae with it, but it still
hadn’t got the message.
“See,” I said, “the continued existence of underground
civilizations is a tightly held secret of the government: the
very existence of these cells is such a threat to national security
that they release occasional pictures of ufos instead.”
At that Laura concluded that I needed to walk some
more, so she helped me up and we started off again, but
now my eyes were tuned in to holes and we had to keep
stopping. I saw one very clean quarter-sized hole, or nearly
so, that I was sure was a new wolf spider hole. It even had
some paper-like web around the wall of the tunnel. I didn’t
stick my finger in.
Once we watched scores of flying ants hatching out of
several holes right in the driveway. They were orange and
black with blue wings and they just kept crawling out of the
holes and taking off into the air. I think the ants opened
new holes just for the hatching and then abandoned the
nest. At least the holes always seemed to be abandoned, until
I happened to walk by them one night when the moon
was out. Then I saw that the holes were indeed occupied, by
largish red and black ants that only come out long after dark.
Diptera: Flies, Midges, Gnats.
Not many insects live underground as adults, but many
live underground as larvae or pupae. I’ve see crane flies
dipping their ovipositors into the ground laying eggs. And
after the larvae pupate and the adults emerge, they leave
little holes behind them. Most of the little holes that are
left open are probably emergence holes—kind of like an
inter-dimensional passageway. Holes in regular use get
stuffed with gravel or straw.
Most Diptera prefer soil rich in decaying matter. Here,
that’s under the oak trees.
Hemiptera: True Bugs.
This is such a large order there must be some of them that
dig holes. Cicadas, for sure, in the suborder Homoptera,
produce large numbers of emergence holes.
California has the western subterranean termite. As their
name implies, these termites nest in the ground, preferably
in a buried log. Their nests can get quite large, many galleries
connected by tunnels, the whole thing sometimes
hundreds of feet in diameter.
Mole crickets live in the ground. The one we see the most
is the Jerusalem cricket, also called niña de la tierra. Is
there any bug more definitive of bugginess? I mean, they
are bugs. They’re huge, and they have those bald heads
that look like the bugs in the game “Cootie.” They are
harmless, but they will hiss and spit at you if you “bug”
them too much.
Laura and I were still walking but I could feel the
white noise returning and closing down the left side of
“You see,” I said, “the verb to bug, as in ‘don’t bug
me, man,’ actually does come from bugs. Well, more from
beetles. From that annoying characteristic of beetles, in
particular, to come right back at you after you brush them
away. It’s like, you try to be nice and just knock them ten
feet away from your sleeping bag instead of crushing them
and what do they do? They turn right around and come
back. And they’ll keep doing that. And that’s how the verb
to bug came about, from backpacking beatniks, Jack Kerouac
and Japhy Ryder, I think, who finally said ‘Hey, that
bug is bugging us.’”
Laura: “Uh huh.”
“Well, yes. Or maybe it started before then, maybe in
Harlem, in some seedy jazz club, with cockroaches.”
Laura, who had lived in New York City for years,
thought that the latter etymology was more likely.
There are also some ground crickets in this order that
dig holes. And the California camel cricket, Ceuthophilus
californianus, lives in underground burrows.
The subject of grasshoppers brings us to blister beetles
and thus to the Coleoptera. Blister beetles get their name
from the ability of some species to secrete cantharidin,
which blisters human skin. Cantharides is also known as
“Spanish fly.” It should never be used as an aphrodisiac, but
preparations are sold as a topical treatment to remove warts.
There are more than a hundred species of blister beetles in
California, but few if any of them cause blistering.
Female blister beetles lay hundreds of eggs in meadows
or other grassy areas where grasshopper larvae are
in the ground. The blister beetle eggs hatch into a larva
that looks like a cross between a silverfish and an earwig.
These crawl around when it is warm, checking out every crack
and hole in the ground they can find, looking for a
Entomological writing gets more colorful the further
back one goes in time. This may be because the earlier
generations of entomologists spent a lot of time lying
on the ground on their stomachs. Here’s Robert Evans
Snodgrass (1875–1962), on the triungulin of the striped
“Though the young scapegrace of a beetle is a
housebreaker and a thief, his story, like that
of too many criminals, unfortunately, makes
—Insects: Their Ways and Means of Living (1930)
Finding a nest, the triungulin devour the grasshopper eggs
and then molt into a completely different-looking grub.
Eventually, after a number of successive moltings, a pupa
hatches into a new adult, which crawls out of a hole in
Besides blister beetles, the most obvious diggers in this
order are the burying beetles, Nicrophorus. Beautifully
described in Bernd Heinrich’s Life Everlasting: The Animal
Way of Death (2012), Nicrophorus beetles can dispose of a
mouse carcass in hours. If the ground beneath the carcass
is soft enough, a pair of beetles, after a brief marriage ceremony,
together dig the ground out from underneath the
carcass, meanwhile chasing away wasps, flies, and other
beetles. When the carcass is buried, the female lays her
eggs on it. I haven’t seen these colorful beetles yet, though
I keep hoping to attract them by putting out half-eaten
mouse carcasses left by the cat.
I’ve read that if the ground is too hard, the burying
beetles will crawl under the carcass, turn over on their
backs, and walk the carcass off of them with their legs. This
I want to see! I mean, how do they coordinate that? “No,
darling, I think we should go this way.” “No, you always say
that, but what happened last time, huh, bug guy?”
Most of the other subterranean beetles live in the
ground during the larval stage, such as the stink beetle
and the tiger beetle. Entomologists calculated that in southern Wisconsin,
depending on the type of soil, an acre of ground contained between fifty thousand and two
hundred thousand grubs.
Eleodes larvae live in the ground until they emerge as
adult beetles. The Eleodes beetle is a large and all-black
darkling beetle that will stand on its head if disturbed and
spray a foul-smelling amber liquid, hence “stink beetle”
or “stink bug.” My mother called them “pinacate beetles,”
a name more usual in the Southwest, derived from the
Nahuatl word for “black beetle.”
The best study of holes in the ground that I know of
was by a Kansas entomologist, H. R. Bryson, in the 1920s
and 1930s. He described the types of holes made by a wide
variety of insects (mostly Coleoptera and Hymenoptera),
along with the soil type, the depth of the hole, the characteristic
branching, incline, diameter, length, and even
weight of the excavated soil—as close to an identification
key as one is going to find.
Hymenoptera: Wasps, Bees, Ants.
While beetles inhabit the ground almost exclusively in the
larval stage, the Hymenoptera typically live in the ground
as adults. Bumblebees and mining bees dig burrows, as do
many solitary wasps. Yellow jackets also live in the ground,
in large nests (as anyone who has ever disturbed one knows),
but evidently they don’t dig the burrows themselves, instead
relying on finding abandoned mouse or vole holes.
Solitary wasps that live in the ground include the
cicada killer, eumenid wasps, digger wasps, sand wasps,
and spider wasps. Many of these wasps have to deal with
parasitic wasps that will steal into their burrows and leave
their own eggs to hatch and devour the original eggs or
pupae, so many digging wasps disguise the entrances to
their burrows, making them hard to find. For one, they
disperse the excavated soil, so that predators or parasites
won’t be able to spot it as easily, and then they also plug
the hole when they go out and often cover it with debris.
That leaves the worms.
I guess they’re out there—it’s just hard to remember that
in the summertime. Charles Darwin calculated 53,767
earthworms per acre. That was England, of course, where
it rains a lot. Darwin’s last published book was on earthworms,
called The Formation of Vegetable Mould through
the Action of Worms. The book was surprisingly popular,
selling more copies than the initial edition of Origin
Once he had an estimate of the number of worms per
acre, Darwin went on to measure how much soil passed
through each worm and how much soil there was in England,
proving that all the topsoil in England had passed
through the intestinal canal on an earthworm many times.
He also calculated the rate at which earthworms bury ancient
ruins, doing his fieldwork at Stonehenge. Darwin also
performed extensive experiments with earthworms, establishing
that though they could not hear they could detect
vibrations and that they were intelligent and could learn.
This last assertion is an embarrassment to those who still
cling to the tenet that intelligence is a distinctly human
characteristic and that whatever animals do, especially invertebrates,
is something called “instinct.” Myself, I think
intelligence is still a good idea worth trying.
I could feel another whiteout coming on. Darwin had
filled the dining room with jars of worms and it was creating
a domestic crisis, Mrs. Darwin saying, at last, “You have
to choose: it’s me or the worms,” and Charles inventing
and calling in a “worm-mediation specialist” who brokered
a compromise, the worms getting Mondays, Wednesdays,
and Fridays and Mrs. Darwin getting Tuesdays, Thursdays,
Laura was talking to me. “What?” I said.
“It’s getting cold.”
You have to dig to find earthworms here. Or wait for a
rain. Laura grabbed an arm and we ambled on.
To know Dale one felt his deep connection with Buddhist tenets, and the practice. I leave you with this: He walked his walk. An authentic being. It was a deep privilege knowing him.