The Holt

When I was a kid, I used to go out to Lincoln Park in San Francisco by myself nearly every day. These days, you can get a call from the cops if you let your pre-teen kids out of the house without supervision in California, but back then, it was completely normal. Every day after school, when my homework was done — or when I claimed that my homework was done — I would head out the front door and up the hill a couple of blocks to the playground. The park would usually be full of neighborhood kids and only rarely would there be any adult at the playground at all. We’d play until the sky started to go pink, and then we’d all rush home to be in before the street lights turned on.

One day when I was about 9, it may have been early on a summer’s day or a weekend morning before the park filled up, I went to the playground and headed straight for the swings at the back of the park. There were two teenage girls there. One with long carrot-colored hair and one with dark brown hair. They were both dressed like something from a fantasy novel, though I’d never read that sort of book at that time. The dark haired girl was dressed more like a man than a woman, and the carrot-top was in a peasant girl’s dress. The cross-dresser pushed the peasant girl in a swing a few feet away from me. They spoke with put-on accents and role played, laughing and having a great time. I pumped my legs, pushing my swing as high as I could and I stared at the pair.

A groomed footpath in Lincoln Park, San Francisco

Photo by Szilveszter Farkas. Click image to see original on Flickr.

They noticed, of course, and must have thought that I was worried about their strange behavior. I wasn’t. I was just highly amused and attracted to something about them.

“Hail, fair maiden!” The dark haired cross-dresser called to me, “Do not be concerned! We’re just elves!”

I smiled a giant smile, “Oh, I understand. I’m a pixie!”

They stopped dead. Surprised. I don’t think they’d ever run into a pixie at the park before. Of course, I knew I was a pixie because my mother always told me so. Whenever I did something strange she’d tease me, “You aren’t my daughter. You can’t be. Your a changeling. The pixies must have brought you!”

The cross-dresser introduced herself to me as Whitewolf. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the redhead. This might have something to do with the intense crush that I had on Whitewolf over the next few years. (A crush I wouldn’t know how to explain for a very long time.)

After our first meeting, we ran into each other at the park several more times. They called me “Pixie”. It was more than a year before I learned either of their real first names. Whitewolf introduced me to her younger sister, and we became the best of friends. Together we read Elfquest comics, listened to Adam and the Ants’ music, drew fantasy characters in the style of Wendy Pini, danced like mad in Whitewolf’s living room and explored the hidden paths of Lincoln park.

Lincoln Park was our Holt, like the original home of the forest elves in Elfquest. Whitewolf’s mother was a witch, and my first introduction to the living practice of neo-Paganism was in my interactions with these teenage “elven” friends of mine. It was a blend of fantasy and reality, where we earnestly looked for the places where the world of stories seeped into our plane of reality. I can tell you without a drop of doubt that we did meet elves in that park, and found many other wild things as well. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning to work with thoughtforms and spirits of Place who show themselves in the forms our minds make available to them.

Most people who visit Lincoln Park in San Francisco only know it for its golf course or the museum at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Local families know the playground at 33rd Avenue and Clement. Veterans know the VA hospital at 42nd Avenue in the park. But for us, the Park was all about the trails, the marked ones and the unmarked ones. We would head down to “The Ledge”, a place the Sea took more than 20 years ago now, to talk and think. We would climb cliffs. We would seek the inner secrets of the trees and the spirits who lived among them.

If you asked me back then if I were a Pagan, I would have said no, of course not. If you had asked me if I believed in elves, though, I would have quickly sized up your trustworthiness before deciding whether to admit to you that I knew that there were indeed elves, fairies and other beings, and I knew how to find them.

A number of well-meaning people tried to dissuade me of my belief in these non-human beings. When I was in foster care in my teens, one psychologist caught wind of the fact that I believed in fairies and proceeded to write a report for the court explaining that I was emotionally stunted, holding on to fantasies of early childhood. The adults in one Christian Girls’ Home where I spent 6 months nearly convinced me that all such things were demons and other tricks of the Devil.

Land's edge in Lincoln Park, San Francisco

Photo by Szilveszter Farkas. Click to see original on Flickr

Even now, at 42 years of age, I can go back to that park and feel the eyes of the Others there. There are pockets where they used to be more active that they seem to have moved away from, but other places are still thick with their presence. I realize now that those were the years that I learned about the Spirits and the Spirit of Place.

About Sterling

When Sterling was 3 years old, her parents packed everything they owned into storage, put a roof rack on their ‘66 VW Bug and spent three months driving with her across the US and Canada. She’s been a nomad ever since. She’s lived in El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada, England, Scotland, Israel and several states in the US. Every place is a new spirit to get acquainted with, fall in love with, or struggle with. Her path within Druidry is a spiritual dance of learning the relationships of all the people, human and otherwise, in the context of place.


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