Andrea Ross

‘I first circumambulated Mt. Tamalpais in 1998 as a graduate student at UC Davis studying poetry with Gary Snyder. Another of my professors, David Robertson, periodically led students up Mt. Tam in the spirit of Snyder, Ginsberg, and Whalen’s 1965 “opening” of the mountain with Buddhist and Hindu chants, sutras, and vows.

One chilly March day, I joined David for the circuitous 14-mile route up and back down the mountain, stopping to chant at the ten pilgrims’ stations the trio of Buddhist-poets had consecrated 33 years prior.

As I trekked among groves of coastal live oak, Douglas fir, and Sequoia sempervirensacross grassy hillsides, and through California bay laurel-scented fog, I was thrilled to peek into history, retracing steps and voicing words of the original circumambulators.

Still, I wondered: as a non-Buddhist, how did these incantations apply to me? Was it appropriative to invoke them? Or was it enough that I wanted to learn about them and honor their traditions by performing them? When I asked David, also a non-Buddhist, he explained that circumambulating Mt. Tam was a way to create meaning for himself in relation to the natural world. That sounded pretty good to me. And Gary himself had once said that the purpose of circumambulating Mt. Tam was not just “…to pay your regards” but also “…to play, to engage, to stop and pay attention.”’ (from

The East Peak disappears into the clouds on my recent ride up the mountain.

Several people I know have been involved in quarterly circumambulations of Mount Tam, on the solstices and equinoxes; I am almost embarrassed that I have not been able to do this yet, as I seem to be teaching, or away, or in the case of last December, choosing the World Cup Final, which comes around with one-sixteenth of the regularity of the seasonal markers. Nonetheless, it is on my list to do – as long as I can get a ride out to the start point – not least because I have only seen Tam from the roads, never from the trails.

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