In December 2014, I attended an event hosted by Point Reyes Books at the West Marin School Gym. The gym was sold out, packed with over three hundred people. Point Reyes Books co-owners Steve Costa and Kate Levinson stood up at the beginning, announcing their upcoming events, including the Geography of Hope weekend conference on “Women and the Land.” I sat up in my seat and leaned in, listening intently to the list of events that would focus on nature, spirit, place, and women environmental writers. Immediately my interest was piqued by the subject matter, the crowd gathered that night, and the organizers, Kate and Steve, who seemed to be such a dynamic duo. My kind of tribe. Having lived in San Francisco for nearly two decades, I had made frequent visits to West Marin my entire life, specifically Bolinas, but was not familiar with Point Reyes. In that moment, my life indelibly changed.
The name of the conference, Geography of Hope, came from Wallace Stegner’s 1960 letter to Congress in support of the Wilderness Act. In fact, the first Geography of Hope conference, in 2008, was focused entirely on Stegner, my all-time favorite author. In high school, I read Crossing to Safety and was instantly hooked by Stegner’s reverence for the west and his eloquent yet straightforward style of writing about its people, wildernesses, and places. In the years that followed, I read every one of his books and still clearly remember the spring day when I heard the news of his tragic death. Wallace Stegner was and still is one of my literary heroes.
That this independent bookstore in Point Reyes held an annual conference inspired by Stegner felt like kismet. I signed up as a volunteer for the next year’s conference, “Women and the Land.” At the time, my health was severely compromised, and I was finding new ways of being with and healing my body. Meditative walks in nature and laying down on the earth were especially potent medicines. The messages the presenters shared that weekend—about our need for fierce protection of the Earth and the importance of the relationship between people, place, and nature—hit home. The incredible range of women writers included Robin Wall Kimmerer, Kathleen Dean Moore, Kat Anderson, Camille Dungy, Gretel Ehrlich, Wendy Johnson, Melissa Nelson, Claire Peaslee, Lauret Savoy, and Rebecca Solnit. After the weekend, I felt aligned, awed, and energized—and part of a newfound community.
I immediately handed my resume to Steve and Kate and began working with them soon after on their newly formed non-profit, Black Mountain Circle. My first assignment was finding speakers for the next Geography of Hope: “Call of the Forest.” The theme was inspired by environmental visionary Diana Beresford-Kroeger and her mission to educate people about the ecological and spiritual importance of trees and to mandate planting them. The weekend included the screening of Diana’s film, Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees, panels of speakers and activists, and a guided walk among the redwoods in a nearby state park. I learned firsthand about the essential Geography of Hope ingredients—a plethora of dynamic and diverse presenters, direct experience on the land, a strong call to action on behalf of the Earth, and scholarships that enabled young people to attend, as well as delicious food, generous hospitality, and community building.
Steve Costa and Kamala Tully
In 2017, at Geography of Hope: “Ancestors and the Land,” the conversations centered around honoring ancestral connections to place and frank dialogues on community, culture, immigration, and land. Diverse, intergenerational storytellers from around the country—Lyla June Johnston, Nikky Finney, Winona LaDuke, Cecilia Rodriguez, Larry Mercullieff, and Greg Sarris—shared their wisdom, determination, clarity, and care for humanity and the Earth. We engaged in spirited conversations about our histories and nation, centering BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) voices. These riveting speakers called for greater accountability, truth telling, and transparency.
At this juncture, we changed the format, wanting to go deeper with fewer speakers. For the final two gatherings in 2018 and 2019, “Finding Resilience in Nature in Perilous Times” and “Pilgrimage Redefined,” we decreased the number of presenters to just a handful so we could delve further into their personal stories and activism and increase engagement among participants. The focus also changed from inviting writers to inviting activists and movement leaders. We still honored the direct connection to land—planting trees and willows along Lagunitas Creek and walking together in potent silence on a pilgrimage walk in Point Reyes National Seashore. We came together to collectively listen, speak, sing, pray, honor, witness, and hold ourselves accountable for the impacts of climate change on current and future generations. Our aim was to create more interactive and generative gatherings, serving as a means to build community resilience and provide an antidote for the political, spiritual, and environmental upheaval of the times. This shift felt like an important one in the evolution of the Geography of Hope—not only offering inspiration and wisdom but encouraging action, accountability, transparency, and collaboration.
In 2020, the Geography of Hope chapter came to a close. Over the past five years, Black Mountain Circle offered more than seventy-five events and nine Geography of Hope gatherings. Operating an events-based non-profit in the pandemic with so many unknowns—how long it would last, the impacts of the economic freefall and social-justice reckonings, and the basic needs of housing, food, and day-to-day survival—we decided it was best to put our organization to rest. With Black Mountain Circle’s remaining funds, we “seeded” other like-minded organizations in our local area, including Sogorea Te’ Land Trust (Ohlone), Indian Cultural Organization (Winnemem Wintu), West Marin Climate Action Network, Mesa Refuge, Natura Institute for Ecology and Medicine, Weaving Earth, Walking Water, Windcall Institute, and Earth is Ohana. We see the work of these organizations as integral to this moment and as continuing our mission in various forms.
Black Mountain Circle’s work has always been about offering experiences that directly and tangibly connect us to land, community, and spirit. I sincerely hope we have also “seeded” hundreds of people with a deep understanding of this vital and life-affirming connection and the knowledge that our actions—how we live, the choices we make, and what we center and value—matter, not only in this moment, but for future generations. It is thanks to the Geography of Hope that my life intersected and became powerfully interwoven with Steve, Kate, and Black Mountain Circle; the Center for Humans and Nature and other like-minded organizations; countless wisdom-keepers, storytellers, and activists; and our community in Point Reyes and beyond. Even as the final chapter for Black Mountain Circle is in sight, I know we are part of a worldwide community that will carry on.