View from Mount Tamalpais

Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpais

A Video Poem by Forrest Gander

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The Circumambulation of Mount Tamalpais:
A Limited Series

From Forrest Gander’s book Twice Alive, with Ashwini Bhat and original soundtrack by Mohi Bahauddin Dagar.

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Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpais

By Forrest Gander

maculas of light fallen weightless from
pores in the canopy our senses
part of the wheeling life around us and through
an undergrowth stoked with the unseen
go the reverberations of our steps



 as we hike upward mist holds
the butterscotch taste of Jeffrey pine 
to the air until we reach a serpentine
barren, redbud lilac and open sky, a crust
of frost on low-lying clumps of manzanita



at Redwood Creek, two
tandem runners cross
a wooden bridge over
the stream ahead of us the raspy
check check check of a scrub jay




hewing to the Dipsea path while
a plane’s slow groan diminishes bayward,
my sweat-wet shirt going cool
around my torso as another runner
goes by, his cocked arms held too high



Cardiac Hill’s granite boulders appear
freshly sheared Look, you say,
I can see the Farallon Islands there
to the south over those long-backed hills
one behind another a crow honks



the moon still up over Douglas
firs on the climb to Rock Spring yellow
jackets and Painted Lady butterflies
settle on the path where some under-
ground trickle moistens the soil



I predict you’ll keep to the shade of
the laurels to nibble your
sandwich while I sprawl on a boulder
in full sun sucking a pear



the frass of caterpillars tinkles onto beds of dry
leaves under the oak where a hawk alights
with its retinue of raging crows we are prey to the ache

of not knowing what will be revealed as
the world lunges forward to introduce itself



clusters of tiny green dots, bitter oyster,
line the black stick held in your hand, weak
trees leaning into us as if we were part
of the wet dark that sustains their roots
under dead leaves and that Armillaria



since honey mushrooms suck from
the soil chemicals that trigger a tree’s
defences, they leech the tree’s sap
undetected all the while secreting toxins
to stave off competing species



but in the inseparable
genetic mosaic of their thin
root filaments the identity
of any singular species blurs among inter-
active populations, twice alive



near the summit, a gleaming
slickensides outcrop
sanctifies the path winding
through a precinct of greenschists
whose lethal minerals sterilize the ground



the hum of some large insect
Immelmanning around
our heads calls to mind,
you tell me, the low drone
of a Buddhist chant



but now we really hear chanting
we can’t decode —Don’t
be so rational—a congregate speech

from the redtrembling sprigs, a
vascular language prior to our



breathed language, corporeal, chemical,
drawing our sound into its harmonic, tuning
us to what we’ve not yet seen, the surround
calling us, theory-less, toward an inference
of horizontal connections there at



ground level, an incantation in-
dependent (of us) but detectable, consummate
always resistant (to us) but inciting

our recognition of what it might mean
to be here—  among others human and not—



here, home, where ours is another of the small
voices taking us over, over ourselves
over into the nothing-between, the out
of sight of ourselves, a litany from
spore-bearing mouths as



hyphae stretch their long necks
and open their throats opening
a link between systems
a supersaturation of syntax
an arousal even as slow-



rolling walls of high-decibel
sonar blow out the ears of whales and
fires burn uncontrolled and
slurry pits leak into the creek, etc.
etc., femicides, war, righteous



insistence and still
and still the lived sensation fits
into the living sensorium, can’t
you hear?—Don’t be so
rational—the world inhale?—hear



the call from elsewhere which
is just where we are, no, even
closer, inside us inside the blood-
pulse of our bodies, the bristle of
our mosses, the embrace—, and exhale


The word circumambulate, from the Latin roots circum (around) and ambulare (to walk or go about), denotes an intentional meandering that celebrates the sacred by entering into relationship with it through movement. Circumambulation is practiced by many religions around the world as it cultivates devotion and unity, both in an individual’s mind and body and in the community that practices together, as one. In 1965, poets Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsburg, and Philip Whalen created a route for a circumambulation around Mount Tamalpais—Mt. Tam, just north of San Francisco—with designated places to stop and chant along the way.

In this limited-run series, four writers from different backgrounds share their own experiences about the circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpais. Each of them offers a unique perspective on their relationship to ceremony, their connection to the mountain, and the transformative nature of this practice. Andrea Ross’s essay speaks to the power of observation and of seeing “familiar things in a new way;” Forrest Gander’s takes us on an audiovisual journey into “lived sensations;” Judy Halebsky’s abecedarian poems move between the mundane and the spiritual: “send up a flag so the spirits can find me. / when I call, they come.” And in the final piece, Catherine Girardeau guides the reader through each of the ten stops of the mountain, where she finds “clarity out of confusion” and a way home.

  – Leonora Simonovis
     Series Curator and Currents Editor


Forrest GanderForrest Gander, a writer and translator with degrees in geology and literature, was born in the Mojave Desert and lives in northern California. His books, often concerned with ecology, include Twice Alive; Be With, winner of the Pulitzer Prize; and the novel The Trace. Gander’s translations include It Must Be a Misunderstanding by Coral Bracho, Spectacle & Pigsty by Kiwao Nomura (Best Translated Book Award), and Names and Rivers: Poems by Shuri Kido.

Header photo of view from Mt. Tamalpais by Zach Reed, courtesy Shutterstock. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.