(Chapter Three from
Memories and Musings of a Post-Postmodern Nomadic Mystic Madman
by Jeffrey Charles Archer)
The vintage green greyhound bus with the words “Green Tortoise” stenciled on the side stopped after a full night of cruising, parking near the base of a great monolith misnamed “Devils Tower.” Indeed, the popular title associating this large rock formation with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic embodiment of evil is not at all the proper name for said place. The current popular name is in fact a misinterpretation of the Lakota appellation meaning “Bear’s Tower” or “Bear’s Lodge.”
We had embarked on this journey from downtown San Francisco in the shadows of skyscrapers, man made promontories of concrete and steel, a stark contrast to this great granite rock reaching towards the sky, which in fact rose high from the erosion of the earth around it and thus did not actually rise at all, save when molten and deep underground. Nineteen or so travelers, mostly students or recent graduates from Europe, Australia and New Zealand, myself plus a couple more American hippies, and two designated and salaried drivers boarded the renovated antique coach to take the slow (if still somewhat scheduled) route across the northern United States. We had left the tall buildings behind, and where we now stood the only thing scraping the sky was a big rock that shall yet stand when the Transamerica Pyramid has long since fallen.
Nineteen or so non-traditional tourists disembarked, stretching in salutation to the morning sky as we stepped out into the fresh-air and sunshine of my home state’s wide-open spaces. On the somewhat-scheduled agenda of our tour was a circumambulation of this grand promontory, sacred to Native Americans for many, many moons (though only recently adopted as a location where prayer bundles tied with red ribbons dangle in pines growing on the slopes around the sacred tower’s base, many likely asking that the white man goes back where he came from), and as a locus to where suburbanites in Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts drive their RV’s and SUV’s as a summer vacation destination, often on their way to or from Wyoming’s other top two tourist destinations, Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, or to neighboring Montana or South Dakota’s Black Hills.
Several of us decided to make the sacred circumambulation, which oddly is counter-clockwise. This is an aberration from most sacred circular journeys that I know of—at least in the northern hemisphere—with the exception of the Bon Po pilgrimage around Mount Kailash, the primary abode of Siva and a center of devotion for Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Bon Po alike, and is a promontory even recognized by Muslims as something of a sacred site.
I departed from the rest of the group, wanting some semblance of solitude as I went about this act of sacred reverence for this renowned rock not quite so lofty or high as Kailash, chanting Sanskrit mantras as I paced the well-worn American Indian trail. Though my choice of sacred song might seem inappropriate considering the context, Lakota, Cheyenne and other plains tribe languages actually contain numerous close cognates to Sanskrit words, vestiges of the influence of ancient Indian settlers (i.e., from the Indus Valley of the subcontinent now called India).
Indeed, Columbus wasn’t wholly wrong then he called the inhabitants of the so-called New World “Indians.” This is also evidenced by architectural similarities between Inca, Aztec and Mayan Temples and those of ancient India, as well as by the numerous cognates to Sanskrit words scattered throughout many (if not most) Native American tongues.8
According to a commonly repeated version of the Native American mythology regarding the origin of said significant geological formation we were circumambulating on this summer’s day, a group of sisters were being pursued by a giant bear, desperately seeking refuge from the mighty predator’s wrath. Hoping for a miracle, they hopped on top of a felled tree’s stump and cried out to whatever god or goddess or benevolent spirit, which promptly caused this stump to rise into the sky to deliver the maidens from danger. The great bear clawed at the sides of this elevating log, resulting in the deep grooves that run from top to bottom of the purportedly petrified stump, and the sisters—varying in number according to various accounts I’ve encountered—then proceeded to ascend into the heavens to become some constellation or other.
Perhaps the spaceship that hovers above the tower in Close Encounters was the triumphal return of these sisters to whence they left this planet. If it is so, ‘t would be rather telling of their assessment of the state of things on this once sparsely populated, unpolluted, wild and free land: the spaceship returned to the sky.
After circling this great igneous phallus, we reboarded the Tortoise and drove on to the Pine Ridge Reservation, where we stopped to meet the westbound bus and to partake of Indian tacos at the home of a Lakota family. According to one of our drivers, a Green Tortoise tour bus had once wandered off the intended path and “randomly” ended up at this homestead. When they sought directions back to the highway, the resident family offered to feed the bewildered batch of hippie tourists, as is the custom amongst the truly civilized peoples of this world. Ever since, this spot has become a regular stop for Tortoise tourists, and thus a helpful source of income for this kind Lakota family living on an otherwise exceedingly impoverished reservation.
As the sky grew dark from an approaching storm and the waning of the day, both groups started to set up tarp awnings from the sides of the parallel-parked buses, anticipating a shower. I refrained from assisting in what I figured a futile task, recognizing in the approaching clouds the signature of a mighty gust-front. As the first drops of rain descended, a wind increased to the point that the rain, also increasing, began to fall as much horizontally as vertically. I now joined the crew attempting to wrestle the tarps away from the fierce gale. After somewhat effectively folding and stowing the tarps, all piled back into their respective buses.
We had ample room and ample alcohol (our crew had purchased copious amounts of booze and beer in anticipation of our rendezvous with the westbound bus), so we started to party inside our temporary traveling home. I rolled up several joints or “spliffs,” a mixture of marijuana (SF kindbuds) and tobacco mixed with other smokable herbs (American Spirit “Pow-Wow Blend”) and some hashish.9
A few of us started to dance in the bus, and as the rain slowed we decided to pile out into the cleansed night air, spinning ecstatically to Rusted Root’s “Send Me On My Way” in ankle deep water and mud. Among those who joined in this rapturous dance was a beautiful young British woman in her early twenties whose name eludes me, and yet who I rather fancied amongst this party which maintained an exceptionally favorable gender-ratio (from a straight male’s perspective, that is). This lithe yet curvy English girl would often comment that my appearance reminded her of “Grizzly Adams,” and with a gleam in her eyes which told she might have had a want to wrestle, Indian-style.
As we wildly danced, I remember this lovely figure’s long and very dark brown hair, doused and flying round her lily face as she spun. I’ve recollection of her relishing the raindrops moistening her skin and dousing her dress, barefoot and free as she and I and several others spun round-and-round like Sufis in this storm’s waning and by then only light rain. This ecstatic dance and transcendent hints of romance in this deluge’s demise might well characterize what compelled and propelled my early journeys in general, the freedom to truly appreciate life’s beauty and the Divine from outside the bounds of stodgy tradition and liturgy, convention or pretension or pretense of propriety, to find and make those moments worthy of literary and artistic praise and transcendent gratification.
The next day we were scheduled to take a seven-and-a-half mile hike in the Badlands, a large section of barren sandstone hills that rise from the South Dakota plains. As most of my fellow alternative tourists made their way to the Lakota family’s house for breakfast, I decided to check out a line of trees that stood about a quarter-mile from the house across a brilliant green meadow. I had a want to bathe, you see, and knew that in this country, water and trees are generally found together.
A dog that followed me to the creek had markings indicating that his ancestors had likely accompanied the people of this tribe for many, many moons. As I stripped and cautiously climbed into the cold clear knee-deep water, the dog sat patiently waiting on the creek’s bank, his or her gaze alternating between me and the surrounding area as if standing guard. I have little doubt this canine was serving as some sort of spirit-guide-dog, and that what I discovered upon stepping out of the purifying waters was indeed quite intentionally placed.
In a round and rather ripe patty deposited beside the stream by some bovine fertilizer factory I noticed several small parasol-shaped growths of a dark-brown hue complete with purple-brown gills. I knew from my amateur but well enough informed mycological knowledge that these were almost certainly Cilocybin dungophilus, a rather mild form of psychedelic shroom. I plucked most of these diminutive mushrooms, assuming they were indeed meant for my consumption and leaving at least one or two for spore. I sampled one to see if a bellyache ensued, then later downed the rest as we arrived at the visitor center at the entrance to the Badlands.
The sky was overcast and the air was hot and humid, sure signs of more storms in this often parched land. I again went my own way as the majority of our group started on the scheduled hike. I turned off onto a side trail and found a nook between two barren sandstone hillsides where a small arch had formed from erosion. I sat next to the arch and gazed at the vividly verdant valley below and at the astonishingly brilliantly colored automobiles passing by on the two-lane paved road. As I sat I smoked the remainder of my hashish on some bright-green-red-haired-purple-Cush nuggets, enjoyed whatever whimsical dissociative daydreams and contemplated the wonder of it all, etc.
The mushrooms had kicked-in, though due to the rather minimal psilocin content—i.e., compared to the commercially grown cubensis mushrooms I normally consume when I do shrooms—I knew this would be a rather mild trip. A pleasant yet not overwhelming alteration of vibrations. After a while sitting and chanting a few Sanskrit ditties and being bemused by the sight of toy-cars trekking the two-lane down below, I decided I’d better try to catch up with the rest of the crew doing the hike.
After returning to the main trail and a few more short stops and side-trips to stare at the pretty rocks and wonder, I noticed a distant rumble of thunder coming from behind. As I quickened my pace down the trail, it seemed but moments until the flashed of lightening and claps of thunder had overtaken me. Only a light sprinkling of rain was falling as I noticed that the intermittent noise of thunder had given way to a constant rumble. I turned to look to the left, and watched in awe as an immaturely formed funnel started to descend on a mesa at the edge of the valley.
“I may be trippin’ but I ain’t trippin’ that hard!” I said or thought to myself.
The small funnel was falling on the mesa at a forty-five degree angle, kicking up dust and making an awful roar. As I gazed at this terrible wonder of nature, I soon realized the funnel and the wall cloud from which it had descended were heading straight towards where I stood. I turned and quickly continued down the trail, picking up my pace to a fast-walk.
After a few minutes not watching the progress of the spinning mass of clouds, I turned to see that this once poorly formed cyclone had taken the shape of a thin pair of legs. After a few moments to convince myself of the verity of what I was viewing, I concluded that indeed, my assessment was correct: a very powerful double-funnel was descending on the trail a quarter-mile or so behind me.
At this point I knew it was time to run, to run away with all due haste from these terrible anthropomorphic whirling winds that had now changed course from the original angled path and were quite definitely following me down the center of the valley. I was being tailed by a pair of giant legs, not quite walking behind me in the Badlands, and seemingly threatening to kick the shit out of me in the midst of this dry dusty valley. Or perhaps—to offer an appropriately trippy image comes to mind—imagine Wiley Coyote being chased by two sexy legs clad in fishnets and a short skirt with puffy white petticoats descending from the sky and riding on roller-skates.
I must have been at the least a slightly silly sight to see, as well: a skinny, bare-chested pale-skinned man in short-pants with bushy long-hair and an oversized-beard in size 13 hiking boots swiftly running away from a two-legged tornado, all whilst singing an imagined Native American song in falsetto: “Hay ya, hay ya, ya, hay ya . . .”
After having run upwards of a couple of miles, I stopped to evaluate the progress of my pursuer. At first I couldn’t make out the form of the tornado, though the freight train like rumble was still sounding. As I refocused, I realized that the whirlwind was no longer a tight double funnel, but had become partially transparent as it was now over a mile-wide. It is possible my moderately altered perception caused me to misgauge the breadth of this beast, but not my much. I watched in wonder as what appeared to be objects the size of trees (or at the least large limbs) were slowly circling in this monstrous vortex.
Again I proceeded to run, glancing from side to side to try to find some deep eroded ditch or other shelter from this storm’s rage. I ran and ran, then paused once more, turning to see a great tower of wind and clouds, rain and hail and dirt rising from earth to sky, not so wide as before, but now a solid black pillar somewhere between a quarter and a third-of-a-mile wide.
I contemplated this form as like the sky and earth in tumultuous lovemaking. I thought of the great linga of the Destroyer and the yoni of the Wrathful Goddess. I thought of the power and majesty of the Divine, at least emblematically manifest as a column of two-hundred plus mile-an-hour winds, dirt, water and random debris spiraling ‘round in the Badlands, and by all appearances quite intentionally following me down a dusty worn-sandstone valley.
Again I continued down the trail, and finally found shelter from this mighty vortex beneath a bridge. The tornado passed my safe haven with a roar, and continued to follow the general course of the trail. I immediately thought of the other hikers and those on the bus, which was to meet us at the end of the trail, asked whatever presiding agency that these be spared from the fury of these terrible winds, and then hurriedly hiked the remainder of the seven-and-a-half miles.
As I reached the trail’s end, I found that the rest of the crew was indeed safe, obliviously preparing lunch on picnic tables. I immediately told of my experience with these seemingly divinely directed winds, only to be chastened by an indictment of my altered mental state,
“Oh Jeffrey, your just tripping!”
The other Tortoise tourists had experienced some of the winds of this storm, as well as a torrential downpour, but had been bypassed by the actual cyclone. When we stopped for fuel, however, an alert came over the radio warning of a large tornado in the Badlands area, verifying my assertions, and assuring me that the mushrooms I’d eaten weren’t stronger than I’d assumed. Under an eerie green and red stormy sky, we reboarded the bus and continued on towards Chicago.
Circling a sacred tower. Spinning ecstatically in the rain and mud. Ingesting mushrooms that might readily be recognized as resembling a funnel dangling from a wall cloud. A tornado that seems to convey consciousness. I guess all this adds up and makes perfect sense, assuming you can detach yourself from the teachings you’ve been taught that tell you life lived and the mystical are unrelated, if you learn to unlearn those lies that maintain this material world has nothing to do with imagination or spirit or the sublime, and forget those purported “common sense” maxims that tell you that tales of a someone encountering the truly magical else meeting manifestations of the Divine are merely fairytales and fantasy. It sure makes sense to me. Now as to precisely what it all means . . .
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