It’s the Winter Solstice, and I got my Master’s Degree, and the worst year ever, 2016, is almost over! So obviously, witchcraft in Death Valley, I mean right?

December 20th, 2016 - filed under: Furthermore » Inspiration

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We met this little red fellow on the road to Jubilee Pass, and we hung out for a while, and I’ve never been so close to a wild coyote before, and it was un-freaking-believable.

Well, I finished school.

But I don’t really know what to say about graduating. The experience was at once both strangely anticlimactic, and totally transformative. Since I finished mid-year, there was no official ceremony. It was just . . . one day I was working really hard on my final paper, and the next day my committee was saying “Cool, this is good, we’re done here.”

And then I sort of wandered around the department saying good bye to people, not really knowing what to do with myself. I cleaned out my desk, and I picked up my last prescription at Student Health, and I paid my outstanding parking tickets. Then I got in my car and drove away. And I just . . . never went back. That’s it.


Photos can’t capture the stunning colors at Artists Palette, it’s so surreal.

At the same time though, I have to acknowledge how completely changed I am. I mean, I am a different human being than I was 3 years ago. Profoundly different. When I entered graduate school, I was a bit of a wreck. I was still figuring out my divorce, freshly landed in Santa Barbara, I had tried to make it work as a freelance writer and as a vegan health coach, but I just couldn’t meet the bottom line of life in oh-so-expensive southern California. I felt like a failure, like I wasn’t good at anything, and definitely like I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grow up.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but my new plan is to just mostly not grow up.

Here’s what I do know: I am smart. For the most part I don’t like *doing* science, but still, I am a scientist. And I do love *teaching* science. I can write a kick-ass grant proposal (100% success rate). I can lead a meeting like a boss. I can manage a project like a pro. I can oversee a team. I bring creativity and playfulness to science education. Most of my peers don’t “get” me. But my mentors and superiors respect me. I do things my own way, sometimes to my delight and often to my chagrin, but in the end: my own way works.


Coyote is an omen. Coyote warns of trickery. Be wary of deception. Stay vigilant.

Those are the things I really learned in graduate school. I guess I have a bigger brain now, and I get a nifty piece of paper that says so. But mostly, for me, what this experience has been about self-building. I am confident now. I feel solid, and capable. I feel like I have skills and those skills are valuable. I am valuable.

And right now, with the world crumbling all around us, with the incredible uncertainty of what this coming year will bring, I am so, so grateful for all that I’ve gained in graduate school.

I feel strong. And, I want to grown stronger.


The vast salt flat of Badwater Basin.

I also don’t really know what to say about Death Valley. Except that, it calls to me. This was my second pilgrimage out there this year, and I know that’s just the beginning of my relationship with this strange, sacred place.

Death Valley is a landscape of extremes. It is one of the hottest, and driest, places on earth. And when you’re standing in the valley, between two mountain ranges towering thousands of feet above you, you’re standing where dinosaurs used to swim. Can you imagine that? It all used to be under water, and dinosaurs used to do the backstroke down the valley, millions of years ago.

If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

My favorite place in the park is Badwater Basin. My partner-in-adventure and I stumbled upon it the first time we visited Death Valley, wandered out barefoot over the great salty flat, felt the crystals crunching under our toes, felt millions and millions of years of stillness surrounding us, and we knew: this is a special place.


When you stand on the salt at Badwater Basin, you’re standing at the lowest point of elevation in the entire western hemisphere. 282 feet below sea level. You are, quite literally, as close to the heart of the Earth as you can possibly get.

It’s a powerful place to practice magic. And I knew that after finally finishing my degree, after this terrible tragedy of a year where everyone good died, including The American Experiment, well — I knew that I had to go to Badwater.

So that’s just what we did. We walked out into the middle of the basin, far, far beyond the end of the path. Far, far, far away from any other people.

We called the corners, and we cast the circle, and we invited the power of the desert.



My dearest sacred botanist witch sister, clearing the space with smudge. // Cactus fruit brandy cocktails that we rimmed with Badwater salt.

It’s amazing what you can discover when you open yourself up to the wisdom of the Wild. We learned so much out there. So much. Death Valley did not disappoint us, and we left the desert strengthened for what lies ahead.

Happy Winter Solstice, my dear ones. Happy holidays, and may your new year bring you a little bit closer to the Wild.


♥ ♥ ♥

  • Jayne

    Every time I read your blog I am so profoundly grateful you allow us on your journey. When I am at my little alter tonight, and honoring the solstice transition, know that I will be raising my glass in your general direction from my east coast home and giving thanks to you.~Jayne (otherwise known as tripocket in a few other places)

  • Lina

    Happy Winter Solstice, Sayward! Thank you for sharing 2016 with us. :) <3

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Happy Winter Solstice to you too, Lina! And thank you for being here for me to share with. ♥

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks so much Jayne, and I hope you know how much that goes both ways! I am deeply grateful to have this space, and all of you, to accompany me on this journey. Bonzai has always been about *community* and I feel like that’s what the world needs now, more than ever. So thank you for being there! ♥

  • Jenn

    You’re awesome Sayward! I read this once: “you’re an original, don’t die a copy” so I def think you should keep on walking on earth in your own unique beautiful way :)

  • veronika

    Congratulations!!!!! That is such an achievement. Did you wake up feeling like you’ve *truly* slept for the first time in years? Like something big just got done?? I hope so.
    Like so many important things, it is hard to verbalize, but it is there, and it is yours forever, and you did it, and we know it. And you deserve to celebrate and be celebrated.

    Congratulations on getting it done. Big time.

  • Alanna

    “Most of my peers don’t ‘get’ me.” I so identify with this. They always say you will find your place in the world once you’ve found your “tribe,” but what if you never find it? Or, even scarier, what if it doesn’t exist? I’ll be 35 next month and am partnerless, without close friendships, and my family relationships have always been complicated. I always believed that I eventually WOULD find my tribe, but the evidence of a lifetime points away from that likelihood. Life is SO lonely when you feel like you’re perpetually in it alone.

  • Sarah Baker

    Congratulations! I was really absorbing your reflection on getting your degree. I am in my last semester of physics for undergrad and I am applying for grad school. It is refreshing to know that you learned more about yourself and that you do things your own way. This totally resonates with me. Thank you for sharing.

  • Angie

    Congratulations! I am so proud of you, what an accomplishment!

    Death Valley is a truly magical place. I once walked all the way across Bad Water Basin, it was such an interesting experience.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    WOAH! That sounds amazing Angie, how long did it take you? We walked for what felt like forever and when we looked back, I couldn’t believe how “close” we still were. But I would love to walk the whole thing, some day!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Oh absolutely! Grad school is about so much more than building a bigger brain. I 100% learned about how I work, what works (and what doesn’t), what I’m good at (and what I’m not), etc. it’s funny because grad school was full of failure, but also, I came out feeling so confident and strong. it’s a great experience — congratulations on going for it!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you so much Jenn!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Veronika! And you are so right, it’s a feeling that’s almost impossible to describe. But amazing, nonetheless. ♥

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I’m so sorry you feel all alone Alanna. I have struggled with this my whole life as well. ♥

  • Angie

    It took about 4 hours total. It was a trippy experience. The mirage effect definitely played a role and I didn’t realize how far it actually was. I got to this point though where I had gone so far and I just HAD to get to the other end. I wish I had packed a better pack (more water & food) but I am super glad I did it. It was an amazing experience to get to the other side and be in apart of the world where hardly anyone had ever been.

  • Alanna

    Thank you so much, Sayward.

  • Rebecca Carnes

    Congrats on graduating!!! That’s an amazing accomplishment…. and from what I can tell, people who walk their own path in this world usually leave it happier and more fullfilled;) I now have to add Death Valley to my must visit list!! So many cool places to see that are in my own backyard.

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