Chapter 6 from Memories and Musings of a
Post-Postmodern Nomadic Mystic Madman
The World Is Not What They Say It Is
The circle of cropped grass was expanding bit-by-bit by hours of frantic if rhythmic efforts in a semi-concentric patchwork of red willows and tall grasses and wild mint, all save the scrawny stick willows hewn to just above the root immediately surrounding the hut, which grows as the grasses recede. A hairy man bending down bare-chested, blade in one hand and a bundle of long grasses in the other, utters resonant intonations of an ancient tongue as he goes about his labors. Ancient words rhythmically chanted in time to the rhythms of his work as the tall grasses are harvested, as has been done from time immemorial to fulfill a need for shelter, with a similarly primeval respect for ritual. This seeming anachronistic figure is simply cutting grass to enclose a small thatched hut as a haven from the oncoming cold of winter, though indeed might evoke presumptions of a prehistoric context. Overt appearances, however, are often but a single view of a multifaceted formation or a compound manifestation.
The gathered bunches of grass are bent towards the base, then woven into the willow-stick frame and left to hang like shaggy blond hairs on the head of a Nordic wildman. Slowly the gaps are filled, and the tangle of sticks and straw begin to resemble a home, if humble and somewhat cramped. The red-bearded-long-haired-thin-framed-pale-skinned man pauses to assess his labors. He scratches his head and then his balls, unassuming and not the least self-conscious (though perhaps a bit self-aware). No one is watching. No one, save a few of his fellow tribesmen and women, birds, beavers, muskrats and mice know the whereabouts of his small abode, concealed in a maze of willows just a few yards from the river, framed a few steps from the water.
The hut is shaped like an igloo, except unlike an igloo the door is constructed on the side of the dome, and the odd structure is built around a larger species of willow tree, concealed just a few dozen yards off of the paved trail at the edge of Optimist Park. Joggers in their Nike running shoes, cyclists, in-line skaters and power-walkers regularly pass by the unobtrusive entrance to the narrow winding pathway that passes through the thicket and leads to this partially domesticated wildman’s humble home.
Bunches of sticks tied together with grass are hung as odd ornamentations in the red willows that grow straight towards the sky from the moist ground. Glow in the dark stars and other oddities dangle on strands of hemp, decorations designed to delight those with whimsical imaginations, and to deter the meddling of those who might not take so kindly to a squat situated in the midst of a public park, a homestead hidden just upstream from the West Garfield Street bridge and only a couple of minutes walk from regular and titled homes of stucco and brick and plastic-siding wherein regular tax-paying Americans spend their tired evenings watching glowing screens displaying other people’s lives, factual or fictitious, that are generally more interesting than their own.
The hut has a fireplace built with rocks left over from a city project along the paved greenbelt trail, a counter top attached by hemp string to one side, a plastic crate half-buried in the cool clay underneath the counter for food storage, and a single mattress folded lengthwise to make a couch sitting atop some wood pallets. Under the extension off the dome is a double-mattress elevated on pallets as a bed. The mattress is covered neatly with sheets and several blankets as insulation from the increasing cold of night.
Underneath thatching, the ceiling is covered in a layer of scavenged bubble-wrap to seal against rain and melting snow. One long window is left uncovered by straw to match the suns progress across the southern sky. A two-burner alcohol burning stove sits atop the counter, and various utensils dangle from the woven willow wall above. A small kitschy picture hangs over the hearth with an inscription that reads, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,” a quote from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. A transferred plastic image of a sparrow on a tree-branch adhering to one side of the decal script completes the embellishment of this faux-wood panel.
During my small austerities building this abode in the most-of-the-time solitude of this section of the river, biding my time with various yogic practices, I began to find the boundaries between self-and-other dissolving as never before, tejas (“fire”) well stoked from sun salutations, mantra and trance whilst harvesting the tall grass and thatching. On one occasion as I was feeling particularly high from intense chanting and the onset of a beautiful sunset, I shifted from mantra to pop, and started to gleefully sing “all you need is love . . .” and imagined in my ecstatic trance that other souls could hear or at least feel my jubilant devotions and blissful state of yoga. A train started into town about that moment, and I decided to see if I could share my joyful intentions with the engineer. I swear to you, after I sang in both voice and mind “all you need is love,” the train’s horn sounded in perfect time to the following five beats of this well-known anthem, “du, du, du du du.”
This strange construction was home to a displaced wildman for somewhere around three moons, till as so often happens to wild peoples the authorities of the so-called civilized folk came to roust him from even this unassuming hovel.
Sitting and sipping suds at the historic Buckhorn Bar, I noticed a blond and a redhead I’d not seen there before. The blond introduced herself as Blair, the redhead as Catherine (though whether with a “K” or a “C” I can’t say). They told me they’d met in Africa whilst serving in the Peace Corps. The redhead said she was from my mother’s father’s hometown, a mostly Mennonite community in Kansas. She said she wasn’t a Mennonite. I don’t recall where the blond was from. A skinny sharply dressed fellow was bouncing between the two, seemingly weighing his options for later in the evening.
After another drink or two, the four of us made our way to the “wigwam,” as I had come to call my hut in the swamp by the Laramie River. I had some shwag to smoke (Mexican-grown compressed marijuana, for those not hip to the jargon) and invited these new acquaintances to join me on a jaunt over the footbridge and to the Near Westside and through Optimist Park to my “primitive” abode.
I swung open the thatched woven-willow door, and we each ducked under the door frame to make our way into the wigwam. I started a fire in the stone and mud fireplace and lit some candles, and we enjoyed some smoke, passing a pipe and coughing and laughing. We had each consumed copious quantities of alcohol, and as there were two of each gender and orientation near the same age (at least by all appearances), the natural coupling ensued. Catherine and I began to make-out rather madly, whilst the other pair half-heartedly kissed a bit. Catherine decided to spend the night after Blair and her partner had departed, rather soon after our passionate drunken tongue-tangling had begun.
Not the next morning, but the morning after, I awoke to a loud if shaky-voiced proclamation and command proceeding from the periphery of my “yard.”
“Laramie police! This is the police! Come out! Come out right now!”
Before going to sleep the previous night I had heard the nigh unmistakable sound of a squad car door slamming shut—cop car doors make a particular and discernible din as they are closed, if you grow accustomed to listening. I slid out of bed and pulled on a pair of pants. The shout was repeated.
“Just a minute, I gotta put some clothes on,” said I.
As I opened the door and made my way outside, I was confronted with the sight of a fully uniformed cop half-crouched with his pistol drawn.
“Put that silliness away,” I said with a wave of my hand.
“Oh . . . sorry,” he uttered, seemingly a bit embarrassed at his overreaction.
I suppose the bundles of sticks dangling from the willows on the pathway might have startled him, perhaps with images from The Blair Witch Project in mind as he made his way through the winding willow-lined pathway. I should perhaps have told him, Blair had only stayed very briefly at the wigwam, and had departed two nights previous. I was officially evicted by the head of City Parks a few days later, but my endeavors at least received a nice front page write-up in the Boomerang titled “Wigwam Worries,” and a follow up, too.
Several days later, “homeless” once again, I spent the night at Catherine’s apartment. We had met at the bar, and went to her place to smoke a bowl of some nuggets—homegrown Cannabis indica this time, the dank. During an intimate moment later that night, as I was looking up and into her eyes, something happened that I cannot quite explain to this very day. Gazing at her face mere inches from mine, her visage suddenly morphed into the visage of the last woman I had known in that precise position, and then became again the face of the woman I assumed I was sharing intimacies with. I said not a word, though my eyes may have dilated and my mouth may have fallen agape in surprise. Then gazing down at me, eyes ablaze, she asked or stated rather matter-of-factly, “Oh, you saw my face change!?”
“You’re a fucking shape-shifter!” said I—no pun intended.
“Ah, cheap magic trick,” she replied with a broad smile.
I once watched a shape-shifting lycanthrope run across the road on the Navajo (Diné) Reservation in Arizona, slammed on the brakes of my truck to avoid hitting the beast. Less than twenty yards or so in front of the pickup, this large hairless green-glowing elongated canine creature with human-type musculature scampered across the dirt road and into a ditch. I’ve seen many a mangy coyote and have a respectable knowledge of wildlife, and this was nothing yet described by modern science.
One of the Diné kids that had guided me to a Hopi lady’s house to buy some shwag told me, in response to my surprised utterance, “What the fuck was that!?” that the strange creature we had viewed was a “Skinwalker.” The Diné believe that shamans who have dealt with dark-magic sometimes acquire the ability to morph into these lycanthropic, part-coyote creatures. I have also encountered other suspicious persons I suspected to be of the shape-shifting sort, on at least one other occasion. Perhaps it also warrants mention that I once awoke after a night with another quite beautiful and rather crazy lover, squinting at the sunshine only to gaze down to notice a suspicious and rather large suction mark with a scab in the middle on both my forearms, which left some rather funky temporary scars (not sure whether t’was she or her cat was the vampire). Never before or since, however, have I encountered such a reality shattering phenomenon at such close range as that night in Catherine’s bed. The experience had first hand with said wild shapeshifting redhead has convinced me, perhaps more than any other single momentary happening, that the world is not what they say it is.