From Rain Forest to Desert: Activism, Capitalism and Peyote
(Chapter 5 of Memories and Musings of a Post-Postmodern Nomadic Mystic Madman)
Olywa. That’s hippie/anarchist/freak-speak for Olympia, Washington. Jonah and Cristina and I
had just departed from the magical old-growth forests of the Upper Sauk Wilderness, where Jonah and I
had been employed by a pack-goat packing goatee sporting Forest Service contractor clearing trails of
deadfall as big around as a man is tall, encountering bigfoot and faerie and bear-folk and livin’ the good
life. We were on our way east, but whether to first go south through Oregon, California and Arizona, or
straight east through Idaho to Wyoming was yet to be determined.
I was hangin’ out in the parking lot of the local food co-op, waiting for Cristina and Jonah to finish stocking up on healthy organically grown environmentally conscious chow. We’d already hit the
food bank to fill the cupboard in camper, and were waiting for a half-pound of boomers to serve as our
bank account for the road. In Olywa, magic mushrooms are less expensive than just about anywhere
else in the country, thus offering a significant return on the investment. Psilocybin cyanescens
purportedly even propagate as volunteers on the lawn at the Olympia city hall and the fire station, no
As I stood smoking a cigarette, a lovely and rather voluptuous young woman with dark-brown
hair and rosy cheeks approached and immediately extended a flier towards me, introducing herself as 111
Sarah. She proceeded to explain the plight of the Diné (Navajo) that the federal government was
attempting to evict from an area of the reservation in Arizona called Big Mountain.
“The government enacted legislation over twenty years ago that forced the removal of several
hundred Diné families from their land at Big Mountain, and though they claimed this was to resolve a
land dispute between the Diné and Hopi, it was just another case of kicking native peoples off their land
to gain access to minerals. The Diné tribal leaders had refused to cooperate with the coal company that
wanted to mine on their land, so the coal company’s lawyer—who also just happened to represent the
‘Hopi interests’ in the case that went before Congress, which should be considered a conflict of interest
—anyhow, this lawyer went to the Hopi government. The Hopi already had a big coal mine on their
land at Black Mesa that was run by the same company—you know the songs about ‘the company store’
in Appalachia? Same company. They don’t even pay the Hopi miners minimum wage!!
“Now there are now only a few hundred Diné, mostly elders, who refuse to leave their land at
Big Mountain . . . kind of sparse land that they’d been pushed onto after getting out of the concentration
camps they were held in during the late 1800’s. Hitler even studied these concentration camps to
devise his own version fifty-years later. These people are really tied to the land they were resettled on a
hundred years ago—they even bury their umbilical cords in a corner of their sheep pens.
“A number of outsiders are currently living with these elders as human-rights observers and
helpers, 'cuz most of the young people have left the land. The government resettled about 14,000 Diné
residents to a place in New Mexico that was the site of a large nuclear waste accident, and the cancer
rate there is somewhere around twenty-percent. Is there any way . . . would you be able to help out?”11
At about that moment, Jonah and Cristina stepped out of the co-op, groceries in hand. I looked
at them with a big grin on my face.
“What?” said Cristina with quizzical intonation and expression.
“This is Sarah. She was just telling me about some Native Americans elders in Arizona that
need outsiders to come live with them . . . in ARIZONA!”
Jonah and Cristina looked at each other, then turned back to me with knowing smiles. Jonah
and I had spent long hours in deep conversation at base-camp while we were doing trail-work, smoking
copious amounts of kindbuds and cigarettes as we conversed into the late night, and among many topics
we covered was the possibility of spending some time with indigenous elders before those with
traditional wisdoms and knowledge were all gone to whatever happy hunting grounds, or in the case of
the Diné, pastures.
11 This conversation is a vague reconstruction, as I cannot recall the exact words exchanged, and may contain an
amalgamation of information from various sources regarding the situation at Big Mountain. Some of the words and
certainly the purport closely represents Sarah’s presentation to me in this parking lot in Olympia. I endeavor to be
exceedingly honest and accurate in such tellings as a service to you, dear readers, and likewise to maintain academic,
spiritual and textual integrity. I will attempt to be as precise and historically accurate as I might within and outside the
bounds of quotation marks, but I cannot be held to the perfecting standards of an eidetic savant, so bear with me.
As I already mentioned, we had been undecided as to whether we ought to swing south through
Arizona, where neither Cristina nor I had yet explored, or straight through Idaho to Wyoming. This
encounter and invitation seemed to us a certain sign that we were destined towards the deserts of the
American Southwest. A short while later our investment showed up, and we began one of the best
journeys of my life, and I assume among the most memorable for my companions, as well.
I had met Jonah and Cristina at Stuart’s Coffee House in downtown Bellingham amongst a
motley crew of caffeine junkies and potheads that frequented said scene. Jonah had shaggy blond hair
(or may have already had dreads), wore glasses, was constantly carrying a shiny metal dumbek with a
Kokopelli sticker stuck to the side, and was generally a young man of few words. Cristina, who
hooked-up with Jonah not long after I met each separately, was a short-framed bouncy-mousey x-raver
chick with curly light brown to dark blond locks (not dreaded) who also wore glasses. Actually, maybe
“mousey” is not quite the proper adjective, as her demeanor might better be compared to that of a
bunny. Her nickname was “Thumper.”
Cristina was quite excited that the woman who had served as messenger of this calling was
named Sarah. We stayed for a night or two with another Sarah there in Olywa, and Jonah and Cristina
had a friend up in B-Ham (Hippie/Anarchist/Freak-speak for Bellingham) who was significant in their match-madewhose name was also Sarah. Cristina had a thing for the repetition of names as signs,
which I must admit I have contemplated increasingly in my travels since as potentially important
indices of mystical signification and synchronicity and of a person’s personality.
After reorganizing the Miraculous-Beast-Shanti-Mama (1963 four-wheel-drive Dodge Power
Wagon W-100 complete with cab-over camper on back and an orange and yellow smiling faced
sunshine freshly painted on the passenger-side door by Ellen in Bellingham) we started south. First
designated stop was Portland, Oregon, where a friend of Jonah’s was attending Reed College, among
the most progressive institutions of learning in the United States.
We wandered around the campus, and I couldn’t but compare the composition of the student
body to those with whom I had attended college at Oklahoma Baptist University. Though the quality of
the liberal arts learning at my alma mater was good enough to get me into the University of Chicago for
grad school, freethinkers were few and far between amongst the matriculated population. I had found a
small cadre of liberally minded friends after my disillusionment with the Baptist delusions which had
held sway in my mind during my first few years at said institution, mostly English, History,
Anthropology and Theater majors—“liberal arts.”
At Reed College, freethinking was the rule, not the exception, and I overheard intelligent and
interesting conversations at nigh every turn. As I sat on the patio at the campus coffee house, sipping a
cup and smokin’ a likely weed-spiked hand-rolled American Spirit cigarette, I heard one undergrad
mention Derrida, and noted titles on students’ books that resonated with both my university and radicalhippie-freak heritages.
Jonah and I decided to test some of the mushrooms, for quality control, you understand. I venturedout of the camper, and discovered I was hardly alone in my psychedelic frame-of-mind. It seemed one out of four or five of the students whose paths I crossed were in the same state. I was
invited in to an apartment to smoke some nugs and hashish with a small party of upperclassmen and
women, then set out again, feeling less self-conscious in my altered wanderings than was usually the
case when tripping in an urban setting. At least in pockets like Portland, we got the numbers . . .
Jonah had stayed in the camper with Cristina, who decided not to partake of our taste-test, and
when I rejoined them we proceeded to make impromptu music with whatever instruments we could
make out of what household implements served the purpose. Jonah seemed content to make a waterdrum of his Nalgene bottle, and I proceeded to bang wildly on pots and pans, and Cristina may or may
not have accompanied on the dumbek. Jonah and I both had drums, but this makeshift use of items
meant for other purposes seemed more befitting our magic mushroom state of play. At least this is what
I recall of said trip, though memory-recall and mushroom-consciousness are not perfectly
We headed towards the coast after this, and then drove south to Coos Bay, Oregon, home to
Merlin and Mike (at least I believe Merlin’s traveling companion we’d met in B-ham was called
“Mike,” a stocky non-descript Korean fellow who came to town with the colorfully tie-died skinny
hippie kid who called himself after the mythical mystic sorcerer of King Arthur’s court—long time
ago . . . that is, referring to my imperfect memory of names, though King Arthur’s day was obviously
long ago, too).
We spent only a brief time in Coos Bay, rather unimpressed with what welcome we received
there. At a shopping center parking lot at the outskirts of Crescent City, California, we traded some
shrooms to restock on herb, no sooner pulling up with said intention than two heads happened to walk
up to make the deal. This is what’s called “road magic,” by the way. After this brief stop we continued
on to the next well known stop on the northwest hippie-trail: Arcata—Humboldt County, that is.
Green-gold. California-tea. Yeah, we loaded up the truck and were off to find some weed . . .
The Arcata area, and Humboldt County in general, is one of the most prodigious pot-growing
regions of the country. The outdoor herb cultivated there is about the best to be found east (west?) of
the Hindu Cush. After the logging industry (thankfully) lost steam in the region, marijuana took its
place as the linchpin of the economy, and is by far the county’s largest cash crop—though for that
matter, marijuana is the largest cash crop in the whole country, for those of you who didn’t know.
We immediately headed for the plaza, center of much activity amongst activists, anarchists,
hippies and trimmer-wannabes. “Trimming” buds off the fifteen-foot Cannabis trees that grow so well
in this climate is a major draw to the area for impoverished traveling potheads, come harvest-time.
Wages were around $10 to $15 an-hour, plus all the leftover “trim” (leafs and small “popcorn nuggets”
not on the central cola buds) you can carry, and maybe an ounce or two of heady nugs as a bonus, or
some like combination of compensation. Pretty fair for unskilled labor. We had some hopes of doing a
bit of trim work ourselves, and thus attempted to meet a grower or someone in-the-know on the plaza.
Food-Not-Bombs serves on various days of the week on the plaza, and so we figured we’d catch
a free vegan/“freegan” lunch and likely make some contacts, too. After our ritual of morning coffee
and cigarettes (with the exception of Cristina, who drank tea and didn’t smoke cigarettes), we found a
spot to squat in the plaza. We were informed by some dready kid that in the center of the square was a
digital camera that circled the periphery of the scene to take photos—according to him, as surveillance
of the so called “criminal” activities of the peace-crowd. Though the cops might have a look at what
this camera records—certainly a potential infringement on rights to privacy—so can you or I, as is the
case with so many public places these days, as a web camera broadcasts the scene worldwide.
Nonetheless, if I owned a pellet gun . . .
Though the federal government realizes full well that to no small degree the marijuana trade
benefits the national economy, they still insist on making things difficult for so many otherwise law
abiding citizens who believe that “every green and seed bearing plant . . . is given to us to use,” or
something like said injunction from the Torah/Old Testament, else who realize the truth that Cannabis
was actually much more anciently utilized as a sacrament by yogis, sadhu and the likes. The local
government in Humboldt, however, mostly turns a blind eye to this most important economic booster to
the community, and generally the cops here only bust people for possession who are otherwise
perceived as a nuisance.
If I recall correctly, we camped that night at the city park with the big redwoods. Numerous
squatters make the depths of this park their home, where one can even make a temporary dwelling of a
hollowed out stump big enough to fit an oversized SUV. Next day (or was it the day after?) we started
on our journey again, with the next intended destination Honeydew, purportedly the locale that started
the Humboldt cultivation craze.
Cruising through Humboldt State Redwood Park on a narrow winding road that meanders past
some of the tallest and girthiest trees on the planet, we decided to stop at a campground near the
summit of this little highway sometime around sunset. Quite a blessing this turn turned out to be, as the
magic of the road would have it, indeed. We awoke the next day to discover that next to a picturesque
river there was an apple orchard, presumably planted by early homesteaders of the Redwood Empire.
Numerous varieties of just-ripe pommes dangled heavy from overburdened limbs, red and
golden and dappled-mixed-colored. We filled the food-service buckets we’d acquired for an earlier
entrepreneurial endeavor (“Three-Guys-Pies,” which turned out to be two-guys—me and Jonah, as the
other guy dropped out—plying Tibetan blackberry and night-picked blueberry pies at music festivals
back in Washington). We ate Humboldt apples for nigh the next two months. Apple pie, apple strudel,
apple pancakes, apples stir-fry, apple-you-name-it, we ate it. As it turned out we made a much larger
score of Humboldt-grown apples than Humboldt weed, only ending up with a quarter-ounce of the
Such is the life of the post-modern nomadic (not so much hunting) hunter-gatherers like our
little band. Weed, wildcrafting, and wandering in search of someplace resembling the home we know
must be somewhere, where food isn’t shipped from some other continent cultivated by peasants without
the land to grow their own, nor covered in poison, where nature is respected and revered, real
community exists, spirituality isn’t only what’s proscribed by books written by crabby old men from
some ancient foreign land, centralized government stays out of the lives of everyday peoples—we can
well enough police ourselves, thank you—and “freedom reigns” isn’t just a spin of “the authorities are
free to probe your personal belongings and political beliefs at will, despite Constitutional protections,
for whatever they want.” Those things, and just for the love of adventure.
We stopped only briefly in Honeydew, which turned out to consist of little more than a post
office, a gas station/general store, and if I recall correctly, one or two bars. We continued down the
road to a small community nestled along the Lost Coast called Shelter Cove, where we watched an
eerie fog roll in on a chilly cobblestone beach. After a coffee-stop, we started up the steep climb back
towards Honeydew and the Interstate.
The truck was underpowered and struggling, thus despite my
better judgment I put the truck in low four-wheel drive (something you're not supposed to do in an
older 4wd vehicle) to gain the power we needed to crest the hill. We succeeded in the ascent then
traveled across the central valley with scarcely a pause and on to Tahoe, where we did little more than
gather some giant pine cones, and then proceeded up an even more treacherous incline to the south.
Chugging up towards the mountain pass above Tahoe, the Miraculous-Beast-Shanti-Mama was
huffing and puffing, and I am not certain but that she wasn’t uttering in her engine’s strained labors, “I
think I can, I think I can . . .” I wasn’t in such a storybook mood at the time, however, and proceeded to
curse up a storm. Cristina cautioned me that casting such expletives at the vehicle and at the offspring
of female dogs and so forth was perhaps not the best mode to invoke assistance in our current dilemma.
I had once again locked the hubs and the levers engaging the lowest of six gears to try to eke out the
might we needed to reach the summit. Just after the road leveled and the shoulder widened, we
suddenly lost all power, brakes, steering, and nearly lost the left front wheel as a bearing had blown,
almost eaten to the core. I used the e-brake and guided the truck to a safe halt on the shoulder.
“Thank Goddess we made it to the top!” commented Cristina.
Indeed, had these mechanical failures occurred only a hundred yards passed or further, we
would likely have plummeted hundreds of feet to our certain demise. Jonah hitched a ride to the next
town, and returned triumphantly in the passenger seat of a tow truck. We had the truck towed to the
nearest mechanic, which happened to be in the then “zero-tolerance” state of Nevada.
We ended up stuck in Gardnerville, Nevada, living out of our mechanic’s parking lot for the
next several days. I was able to have the means for the truck’s repairs wired, but we still needed some
cash for living expenses over the next few days. We happened to notice the billboard at the local high
school touting “Drug-Free Week,” yet had only one means of currency or trade beyond twenty dollars
or so in Jonah’s wallet, just the sort of ironic Hollywood scenario setup one might expect after such an
While enjoying some pie and coffee at an all-night diner, Jonah and Cristina struck up a
conversation with a young couple that was interested in purchasing some mushrooms. The male
informed them that he was on probation, and the female was still in high-school. I told my companions
that I wanted nothing to do with such a risky sale, especially considering the age differences, but that
they could do as they liked. The pair bought a quarter-ounce, and expressed interest in acquiring more.
After the bearing came in and the wheel was back on, we still had an issue with an
underpowered engine. We met the probation-violator alone at a local park to make some gas money for
the road. After checking at a couple of the local auto-parts stores for the proper plug-wires to fit the
slant-six that powered our mobile home—to no avail—we decided to park in front of the all-night
diner till morning when we could try another auto parts store.
Instead of immediately hopping out of the truck, as was normally our habit once stopped, we
lingered listening to tunes on the CD player. Whilst we sat, Cristina noticed a girl and an older woman
standing in front of the café.
“Isn’t that the girl we sold the mushrooms to?”
“You guys sit tight, I’m going to check something,” said I, leaving the motor on as I proceeded
out the door and around to the back of the truck. I unlocked the camper door, not with anything
particular in mind except to look nonchalant as I surveyed the scene. I glanced around the parking lot
and noticed a rather rotund fellow wearing a western-style button-up shirt and blue jeans standing at the
open door of a blue Chevy Blazer. In one hand he held the microphone of a two-way radio, into which
he clearly spoke the words, “Ten-four on that location.”
“Oh shit!!!!” I uttered quietly as I quickly closed and locked the camper door.
Swiftly circling ‘round the truck, I made my way back into the cab, slammed the door, and
eloquently exclaimed my concern.
“What? What?” said Cristina with a worried tone.
“Oh shit! Oh shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!”
“What? What? Jeffrey, you’re scaring me!”
I drove the hobbled truck out of the parking lot and turned towards the hill leading out of town
and back into California, adrenaline and an emotive response somewhere between fear of jail time
confinement and Dukes of Hazard thrill coursing through my veins and brain.
The blue blazer followed
us out onto the highway. We prayed and chanted vehemently as the underpowered pickup struggled to
make it up the hill. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” we repeated to encourage the not-so-little
beige truck with an orange sunshine painted on the side. She replied, if not in so many words, “Nope, I
I made a quick U-turn, not certain whether or not we were still being followed. We then turned
off the highway into a suburb at the edge of town and onto a long paved road past dozens of sleepy
suburban abodes. After a couple-hundred yards or so I noticed a set of headlights behind us that bore a
nigh certain resemblance to those on police cars.
“We’re being tailed. Oh Shit!” I uttered as I watched the lights in the rear-view mirror.
We turned left at the end of the main road, then onto a dirt road at the end of the pavement that
diverged into numerous four-wheel-drive trails proceeding out into the desert. Normally I am quite
averse to such desecrations and destructions of the landscape. On this occasion, however, I was quite
grateful that as the ominous lights tailing us started the second turn, the driver of said vehicle of the law
decided better than to try to pursue a high-clearance four-wheel drive truck into the labyrinth of desert
trails. As we watched him/her cease the pursuit from the vantage of rear-view mirrors, I started to
bounce up and down in my seat.
“We got away!! We got away from the cops!! Hee hee! Haw haw!”
Jonah immediately joined the celebratory proclamations, though it took Cristina a few minutes
to recover from the trauma before she half-heartedly joined in. We stashed the boomers underneath a
juniper, careful to leave no tracks by hopping from bush to brier to the tree, then camped for the night.
Next day, we rewired the plugs with functional cables and went on our way, retrieving the shrooms on
our way back to the relative freedom of California. Nevada has since shed the “zero-tolerance”
attitude, I might add, a factor which had certainly increased our edginess as we endeavored to evade
For our next stop we discovered some delightful hot springs near Mammoth, a copious flow
called Hot Creek where we basked in the slightly sulfurous waters and shook off whatever symptoms of
PTSD from our close brush with prison-time. We encountered only one other party at these springs, a
retired couple in an RV on their way to Baja Mexico with a load of stuffed animals to pass out to the
children they’d encounter down there, as they’d told us had been for some time their practice on said
When we ran out of fresh water whilst at the springs, Cristina knocked on our neighbor’s door
to request a quart or so. On our drive out just a few minutes later, a six gallon water container was
placed conspicuously in the middle of the dirt road blocking our progress, increasing our water storage
capacity significantly as we prepared to head into the deep desert, as well as quenching immediate
thirst. This less overtly supernatural providence is road magic, too. Indeed, it’s pretty extraordinary
how much generosity and kindness is to be found amongst the folks you meet whilst trusting yourself to
the wild wandering paths of the open highway. Indeed, encountering vehicles of compassion becomes
almost commonplace (though never taken for granted) once one surrenders to the experience of the
road, and upon learning the art of free-form travel.
We descended from the mountains and into Bishop, then stocked up on food and water for a
much-anticipated expedition in Death Valley. After our routine coffee house quest, a good night’s
sleep, and our ritual morning cup and smoke, we made a turn towards the east.
With a now fully functional Miraculous-Beast-Shanti-Mama, we headed from high mountains to
deep desert, slant six roarin’ like a bull and wheels rollin’ smooth like we were riding on a cushion of
hot desert air. Our primary destination was Saline Valley Hot Springs, an oasis in the low desert
encompassed by Death Valley National Monument. The Saline Valley area was a later addition to the
National Parks Service holdings, which caused a bit of an uproar amongst the desert rats, hippies, wildpeople, and everyday adventurous sorts that had traditionally frequented these springs during the cooler
months of the year.
National Parks Service oversight generally means limits on camping, among other strictures and
restrictions of freedom—whether well advised or no. Due to popular outcry, however, a sort of
compromise was reached, such that many of the usual sorts of limits were waived, and other than the
occasional appearance of the National Parks System logos on the occasional pickup or SUV cruising
by, the place was pretty chill.
A virtual village annually springs up at Saline Hot Springs come the fall, and many reside there
for months on end, basking in the hot waters and creating an impromptu community until the heat of
the following springtime drives most to wherever they called home for the rest of the year. RV’s with
enough clearance to venture the sand-dune hazards of the two-rut road leading in, VW buses, extreme
four-wheel drives, and any number of other odd vehicles line the road near the two wellsprings of hot 127
and drinkable water from October to March or so, and maybe some in the summertime, too, though the
place is certainly much less appealing then with triple digit temperatures and scarce any shade.
On our way in, I couldn’t resist the thrill of hitting the dunes, perfectly spaced, at just the right
clip to almost or just slightly catch some air. It was necessary, after all, to maintain a certain speed to
prevent the trucks rather narrow tires from bogging down in the soft sand, regardless of a want for thrill
With each rise we would whoop and holler and scream with delight as we felt temporary
moments of weightlessness when we crested the little hills (more than a few times bumping heads on
the roof of the cab) whilst blasting funky trance tunes on the stereo as we rode this roller coaster ride in
the dark desert night. As we again met the ground after each instance of experiencing 0g, the deep sand
softened the blow on the trucks suspension, and the leaf springs and springs in the seat bounced us back
up for a secondary thrill.
Cristina had her fill after one particularly hard meeting with the ceiling, so I let off the
accelerator. It was of course too late for the contents of the camper, which were strewn all over the
floor and lower bunk. Cleaning up broken eggs and flour and vegetables took a fair bit of time and
effort, but it was worth every minute for the thrills of the ride.
As we started towards the springs through a groomed thicket that surrounded the pools, a group
of revelers emerged from the line of tall bushes. At first glance, I saw a rather rotund fellow with a dick
that seemed far out of proportion, making me feel momentarily self-conscious, though I am not at all
poorly endowed. On second glance I realized he was wearing a rubber-molded costume that appeared
disturbingly realistic in the fading light. His companions were also wearing some semblance of
costumes. It was Halloween, something we had not even given a thought or at least no mention as we
were quite out of touch with civilization’s mode of timekeeping.
My sense of masculinity reassured, I wandered into the oasis to find a nice pool with room for
me to climb in to enjoy the night sky and soothing hot waters. Jonah and Cristina went off in search of
their own private pool.
As we awoke the next day, I was quite impressed with the sight of the spring and the vista
surrounding this oasis. The valley is nearly devoid of vegetation except directly around the pools,
where palm trees and perennial thickets grow, as well as smaller trees and shrubs and flowers planted
by industrious villagers over the years.
There are several pools of various sizes and shapes, a kitchen
wash station, and a claw-footed bathtub idiosyncratically installed for one’s bathing pleasure at this
wondrous oasis. Fairly steep banks rise at either side of the valley. A large peace sign made of lightercolored stones graces one of the sides of the basin, and a small landing strip for light aircraft can be
seen on a plateau half-way up the valley’s slope. The sun was pleasingly warm on my unclothed skin
as I stood surveying my surroundings, but not at all too hot for another dip in the springs.
We made the acquaintance of a number of colorful characters during this hot springs sojourn,
ranging from the typical desert rat species to young hippies like ourselves to retirees too adventurous to
stick to the paved roads and clothing-required or gender-separated pay-springs in Death Valley itself.
We drove further up the road to briefly check out the upper springs, then after three days or so at these
oases, drove (or dove) into the depths of Death Valley proper.
We had only eaten mushrooms on a couple of occasions since we started this adventure, mostly
relying on them as a source of income. Death Valley seemed an appropriate place for a group vision
quest, and so we searched the map for someplace to spend some quality psychedelic-time, preferably
well away from the main highway. We decided on a particular canyon with an appellation that sounded
promising, and took off in four-wheel drive on yet another treacherous path into the wilds of Death
Valley National Monument.
At one point the road dropped down a steep embankment and into a dry riverbed with waterworn stones the size of basketballs half-protruding from the sand. Yet again, despite a much more ginger attempt at negotiating a desert trail (now marked only by small strips of plastic tape left by parks
service surveyors) the contents of the camper were soundly tossed about from icebox and cabinets and
onto bunk and floor. After a snail’s pace crawl up the riverbed we stopped at the gaping mouth of the
We spent a night that night so quiet it made the solitude of even the high mountains seem like a
wild party. We were below sea level and the air was heavy and thick, despite minimal humidity. I
believe I came to understand the oxymoronic expression, “the silence was deafening” during the dark
of that deep desert night.
The next morning Jonah decided to climb up a steep-sided rocky peak on the right side of the
canyon before our ritual ingestion of sacred soma.12 Cristina and I anxiously watched as Jonah trod the
treacherous cliff-sides on the rocks above. Soon he disappeared from sight.
Setting aside my concerns, I gathered some round river rocks and made a mushroom-shaped
pattern about fifteen feet long on the canyon floor, placing the three-eighths of an ounce or so on a rock
situated in the center of the area which figured as the cap. When Jonah returned from his expedition,
we said a few AUMs and then each walked up the stalk of the mini-Nazca-style monument to pick our
portions. After some improvised ritual we proceeded to munch these magic mushrooms with all due
reverence.12 One of the interpretations of the “soma” of the Vedas is that the sacred substance described was indeed none other
than psychedelic mushrooms or some mixture including these funny little fungi.
I was never fond of eating any sort of fungus until I established a habit of occasionally (and at
times almost excessively) ingesting the psychedelic sort, which by the way are not particularly tasty—if
ya’ didn’t know. Upon the realization of what good they can do for a soul, however, I have not only
learned not to gag when chewing up the psychedelic sort, but have developed a taste for the “edible”
varieties, too (of course, I have also since adopted the practice of drinking my own piss, an Ayurvedic
elixir called Sivambu, the “Nectar of Siva”—in case you had a want to know).
After a bowl and somewhere between fifteen to thirty minutes, the boomers started to do their
work. My knees became wobbly, a clear sign this was to be a powerful journey. Before the trip came
on too strong, we decided to hike up the canyon to explore its secrets. After a short distance, the
canyon’s sides closed in and grew vertical, not over twenty-yards from wall to wall. We continued up
the winding dry riverbed, enjoying the increasingly fluid colors and textures of sand and stones and
water-worn rock walls as we randomly wandered to and fro, as trippers are prone to do.
Around one particular bend in the canyon, we discovered an entrance to a small cave. The
entryway was a perfectly shaped vaulted passage, and a short stoop of a porch even rose from the
canyon floor in front of the quite homey looking grotto.
We had to venture inside, of course, and were quite enjoying this nifty little hermit’s hideaway
until we noticed that at the back of the cave there was a narrow crack, just large enough for a thin man 132
to pry his body through. Jonah, who was more often the risk-taker, declined to slide in to explore what
mysteries the fissure held. He said he had a bad feeling about it. Not heeding his advice, I slid my
body in and up to explore the shallow crack.
As I peered into the dimly lit end of the cave, I discovered a shelf about five to seven feet long
or so just below shoulder level. Upon the shelf was what appeared in the dim light to be a person-sized
glowing chrysalis-shaped form. A bit startled at this sight else perhaps admittedly by my altered
perception’s reception of said sight, I quickly retreated, and with one look at my expression or perhaps
at something I said in my surprise, else some strange sense of dread that followed me from the narrow
fissure, the other two joined me in a swift retreat for the door.
Jonah and I sat down on the stoop, quickly distracted from the apparition in the cave, and
Cristina soon proceeded to rant about the sorrows she felt in this desolate place. “It’s so sad,” she kept
repeating, until finally she took her leave of this odd and mysterious desert locale. I do not at all mean
to belittle her response, mind you. After she retreated to the camper, Jonah soon following, I felt
something approaching the deepest and most mournful solitude I have ever experienced in my life as I
sat bare-chested upon the hermitage’s stoop.
I shortly returned to the truck as well, only to realize I had left my favorite shirt in the spooky
cave. It was one of those short sleeved kurta imported from India that have multi-colored patterns
around the V-neck and hem and sleeves and are not uncommonly seen at Dead shows and like venues.
I decided to go back to retrieve this item of clothing, which I rather distinctly remembered having
removed whilst in the cave. Upon a thorough search, however, I could not find one shred nor thread of
cloth. As we later discussed this phenomenon, we agreed that who or whatever resided in the
mysterious chrysalis must have taken the shirt as an offering to compensate our invasion of his, her, or
it’s resting place.
Back at the mouth of the canyon, the odd phenomena did not let up. We all three watched what
clearly appeared to be an exceedingly slow-flying missile cross the canyon just a hundred feet or so
above our heads. Shortly thereafter we observed two or three unmarked white “planes” that appeared
to be swept-wing fighter-jets spiraling in an odd vortex of rising air and dust several miles away.
I might discount my perceptions of the later two anomalous occurrences, had I not had two
corroborating witnesses by my side. Though the “hallucinations” caused by psychedelic mushrooms
may be explained to the satisfaction of scientists by what is known of neurochemical reactions in the
brain, that three persons witnessed the same oddities is enough to convince me something extraordinary
had indeed occurred. Regarding the glowing chrysalis, as I was the only one to see this strange sight
(though I did see it again upon returning to the cave), I would allow more room for a more “rational”
interpretation, and perhaps my perception can be explained as merely a visual hallucination
transforming an ordinary rock into the enclosure of some odd or extraterrestrial creature.
Soon Cristina’s sense of something not being right returned, and as the overcast sky grew rather
menacing, I became somewhat concerned that a downpour upstream might produce a deluge in the
narrow canyon that could easily sweep us away to miles down the dry wash.
We loaded up the truck
and started to retrace the trail to exit the danger zone. I was probably still tripping too hard to
responsibly drive under normal circumstances, though I negotiated the path exceedingly slowly as we
returned to the steep incline that led out of the riverbed.
I was a bit over-concerned at the prospect of mounting the rise up and onto the level ground
above, so Jonah hopped out and ran downstream to see if there was an easier exit. In my altered state
of perception the fifteen to twenty-foot slope, though indeed better than 45 degrees and rather uneven,
appeared as daunting to ascend as Mount Everest.
I was a bit short with Jonah when he returned, as he gave a rather bewildered blank stare when I
asked if he’d found a less intimidating path to depart from the riverbed, shrugging his shoulders as I
waited for some sort of response regarding his findings. I was very anxious to leave the venue of a
potential flash-flood behind, fears certainly somewhat accentuated by my state of mind, as boomers are
prone to amplify certain emotions.
The few drops of precipitation I recall observing on the windshield, a rarity in this nigh the
driest of deserts, would have raised my concerns to some degree in whatever state of mind. Though I
have never seen a desert wash filled with a significant flash flood torrent from a deluge upstream, I
could tell from the deeply gouged banks of the dry riverbed that this was no place to be during such an
event, if a beautiful flowered sight to see afterwards.
After some more confused deliberations I decided the better part of valor was just to go for it,
though I believe I asked Cristina to hop out in case I rolled the truck on the treacherous incline. I
gunned the motor in low, and as the truck’s hood aimed at nothing but sky I let out a holler, adrenaline
plus serotonin released from the ingestion of mushrooms mixed to make my head spin as the truck
crested the rise. The Miraculous-Beast-Shanti-Mama leveled out, and I could once again see the
ground. We had made it, and though the feared downpour didn’t manifest, we all felt relieved to leave
the sunken elevation of the wash, and even grateful once we again reached paved road. Usually paved
roads were the ones we were happy to leave behind.
After one more night in this deep desert valley, we headed towards so called Sin City. Quite a
startling contrast to go from the wild and strange solitude of Death Valley to the bustling and densely
populated madness of the gambling capital of the world.
Cristina’s father was attending a conference in Vegas, so she and Jonah stayed with him at a
posh hotel whilst I strolled the strip for amusement. I don’t recall having done any more gambling than
to drop a few quarters in the slots, if that. Traded some mushrooms for a bag of herb, and mostly
wandered around watching the flurry of businessmen and women taking advantage of business trips to
indulge their whims, observing school teachers and shopkeepers sublimating suppressed instincts by the
thrill of watching a ball spin around a wheel, and wondering which couples were to be counted amongst
innumerable extramarital flings for which this glittery city is so well known.
I found a drum circle in Sunset Park I had heard touted as one of the nation’s largest regular
gatherings of urban hippies—certainly the highlight of this stop for me. Sat on a slope and shared some
smoke with a local couple, enjoying the tribal rhythms and watching lovely hippie mommas spinning
and swaying to the groove in long flowing flowered skirts.
Yet again I pondered the contrast: less than a mile away, people were frantically fighting the
odds to get hold of fortune’s wheel, to grasp at the version of the American Dream Hunter S. Thompson
critiqued so poignantly; and here in this expanse of grass and trees was a lake with only partially
domesticated ducks floating past in lazy synchrony, fish swimming freely underneath their webbed-foot
paddles, and sitting upon green grass and dandelions a gathering of only partially domesticated people
seemingly want to remember those simpler rhythms that used to time humanity’s lifeways, dancing to
drums made of logs and stretched skins, partaking of smoke so long a part of human life we have
neurological receptors built to take nothing else, and staring at the sky and earth and water with primal
memories rising to the surface even amidst the nearby neon lights and sounds and machines and
money-madness of Las Vegas.
Granted, the grass and trees and lake were artificial, in the sense that these would soon wither
and die and evaporate as soon as human oversight was lacking. Still, this semblance of a more natural
being-human soothed my soul a bit in the midst of the flashing, buzzing, whirling, clink-and-clatter.
As the red sun sunk below the desert horizon the drummers and dancers departed one by one,
and I returned to the belly of the Miraculous Beast Shanti Mama, soothed to sleep by the echoes of
deep booming djembes, varied pitches of dumbeks, ashikos, tablas, congas and bongos still rumbling in
my thoughts, and visions of these ancient rhythms flashing in subtle patterns under my closed lids.
I looked up a cousin that lived in my deceased aunt’s condo, and had a drink with her and her
brother, and may or may not have smoked a bowl or joint with them. After respective family reunions,
I reunited with my traveling family and we quickly departed from this odd oasis in the Nevada desert.
Our next designated destination was Prescott, Arizona, where Jonah’s brother Josh was studying
forestry at one of the local colleges. After a short respite at his home, Josh led us into the first deep
cave I had ever explored. The Jerome cave is a rather unassuming hole on the side of the highway
between Prescott and Jerome, a once ghost town with a very interesting story of revival.
The town called Jerome is built on the side of the slope that leads from Arizona’s pine-covered
high country down to the desert below. The highway winds through this hillside town, once a mining
community which was revived by some hippie colonists back in the seventies. I was told that the long-haired squatters once got caught communally cultivating a crop of cannabis next to a stream that
proceeded from the opening of an abandoned mineshaft. The authorities of course confiscated the crop
(which likely found its way into the stashes of some of the arresting officers, assuming the plants were
mature). The penance these would-be growers ended up serving was merely some hours of community
service: they were court ordered to make improvements to their own town, with state funds. Not bad
as penalties go for an otherwise unjust prohibition and a faulty penal code restricting the farming and
use of a God and Goddess given green thing.
The cave called Jerome is a fairly roomy and straight hole into the ground that proceeds about a
quarter-mile through a small mountainside’s solid rock interior. We walked into the darkness till
meeting the cave’s abrupt end, then sat to smoke a bowl, extinguishing all sources of illumination with
the exception of intermittent flashes from a BiC to burn the contents of the bowl as we partook of some
tasty Prescott homegrown.
Whilst the lights were out and after the pipe had made a few rounds, we heard a thump, then
another din in the darkness between our seats and the exit. Now, whether one of my three companions
had thrown a stone to startle the rest, or whether we had some unexpected company in the depths of
that mountain, I cannot say. Regardless, we immediately ceased our session and headed back towards
the light of day, my companions all seeming equally startled.
Our next stop was yet another steaming geothermal flow, Verde Hot Springs. If you had not
noticed, dear reader, our group was very fond of sojourns at hot springs, those wondrous gifts of this
planet’s geothermal processes, bubbling pools of healing waters which once again show that nature
provides all we need, if we might just adjust our wants to what is natural.
There is little better than to
sit in steaming waters while symmetrically fractaled flakes of snow fall from the night sky, else to
enjoy the cooling twilight after a long and sweaty mountainous trek by plunging sky-clad into mineral
waters heated deep in the belly of the earth, aching muscles and bones soothed whilst watching the sun
set over a still snow-capped peak. Mama Earth's amniotic fluid, blessed succor proffered by Ma
Verde Hot Springs was at one time a resort where the likes of Al Capone purportedly hid away
from the hassles of business, bootlegging and robbing banks. The only way in was by a long, rough
and winding four-wheel drive road, else by riverboat. The resort was closed and boarded up sometime
in the fifties.
I was informed by a campground host that after the resort had fallen to ruin from years of
neglect, it was, yet again, a band of industrious hippies that decided to make a community of a beautiful
site others had let fall to the wayside. They lived in the remnants of the hotel and blissfully basked in
the sun and sweltering waters of the hot pools—until, that is, officials from the Department of the
13 Prithvi is perhaps the most ancient known name for Goddess Mother Earth.
Interior decided they weren’t so fond of these free-living peoples, as has been an unfortunate attitude
characteristic of “civilized authorities” for millennia. Not so lenient as the local courts in the Jerome
case, the Forest Service decided to ensure once and for all that this settlement couldn’t continue in its
communal ways on the banks of the Verde River. According to my informant the feds dynamited the
hotel, leaving only ruins that rather reminded me of remnants of an ancient Roman bath.
Two pools still exist on the tiled floor that remains, several feet above the river’s flow. One is
nestled against a rock-face and is quite deep, about four or five feet wide and fifteen to twenty feet
long. One can float in this pool whilst listening to the rush of river water below, or sit in the smaller
pool which has a small shelter built around it, various whimsical paintings and at least one AUM
symbol decorating the mini-bathhouse’s walls.
We lingered here for a few days and met a number of fellow hot springs aficionados who had
come to bask in the warm waters during the increasingly cool fall weather. A couple of young dreadies
soon showed up, and we shared a few sessions with this pair and some of the older heads of the earlier
generation of hippies who were likewise camped at the campground downstream and across the river
from the ruins of the resort.
Kaili and her boyfriend Travis were awaiting the return of their ride, another wandering wild
woman with whom these two had been traveling with since their departure from Carbondale, Colorado.
When the third party returned, a small drama ensued.
Kaili’s boyfriend had apparently previously hooked-up with the van-drivin’ momma, and the
two had decided they were now the couple, leaving Kaili in something of a predicament. She ended up
choosing to travel with us, which was rather to my liking as I was a bit weary of being the solo third
companion traveling with a rather amorous couple. Not that I held any presumptions that Kaili would
end up my lover, though I must admit I was not closed to something of the sort.
Kaili was generally amicable, intelligent and witty. She was rather short, yet somehow fit all
due curves on the contours of her abbreviated figure, and wore a smile sweet as honey found following
bees from a field of flowers to the hive. Her pleasing visage was framed by an attractive set of dreads
adorned with blown-glass cylinders and skull-beads which oft did rest upon well rounded breasts. I
believe I can say that Kaili was not much unlike her near namesake, Kali, though Kaili had no skirt
made of arms (unless she kept same well hidden in her backpack), was rather light skinned compared,
and did not decapitate anyone whilst traveling with us that I am aware of . . .
She slept in her mummybag next to me on the top bunk with her dog River, a black lab-rottie mix, somewhere in the mix, but
nothing quite happened between us despite the rather cozy accommodations.
We traveled from the springs towards Montezuma’s Castle, an Anasazi cliff dwelling quite
familiar on the Southwest tourist circuit, though decided to take a short side-excursion before going to 142
the National Parks administered monument. We turned south and down a dirt road a few miles before
the “Castle,” parked the Beast Mama, then hiked in to a small river that backed up against some cliffs.
Jonah was certain we’d find some dwellings there, and indeed as we arrived at the river we found not
only a number of pristine ancient homes of the Anasazi, but perhaps the most amazing tree I’ve ever
I am uncertain what species this magical green wonder was, but its growth was uncanny. The
base of the tree was ten to fifteen feet in diameter, though the greatest breadth of this kindly ancient one
only extended up a few feet off the ground. There were several large limbs that branched out from
there, and two flat ‘porches’ on which one could lounge. A large diameter hollowed out limb added to
the jungle-gym pleasure of this wondrous living thing. River-dog got a thrill from climbing through the
angled hollow, as did we humans in our play upon this extraordinary tree.
One growth we found rather interesting or comical was an extension of the tree towards the base
that grew in a small square, rejoining the trunk near where it had exited and leaving a void in the
middle. I decided it was the toilet seat for the shaman who had once made an abode amongst the tree’s
welcoming branches, though there were differing opinions amongst our crew.
The dwellings across the creek were small, and the walls that enclosed these living spaces had
largely crumbled. We sat in the living-room of some family long since passed on to whatever afterlife
the Anasazi disappeared to upon departing this world, smoked a bowl and offered some tobacco and
pondered the lives of these mysterious people that left little more than pottery shards and circular
ceremonial structures called kivas and shelters of varying sizes on the faces of thousands of cliff-sides
throughout the Southwestern United States.14 The Diné, as we later learned, are very wary of the
artifacts left behind by the people they call the “ancient ones,” and have taboos about disturbing any of
the shards of pottery or tools strewn all over the desert floor of their lands.
Our visit to Montezuma’s Castle, though quite a spectacular structure to see and consider, was
somewhat anticlimactic considering the experience we had at the less frequented site a mile or two
away, and especially as the actual “castle” was already closed for the evening once we arrived. We did
encounter a small rattlesnake along the trail, which we took as another auspicious sign, perhaps granted
by a spirit of “the ancient ones” as an indication that despite our pale skin it was sensed that we were of
kindred-spirits to these people who carved out a living so lightly upon the land, so long ago.
We decided against a stop at the nearby famous meteor crater and headed straight on to
Flagstaff, where we were to seek out the support staff for Black Mesa Indigenous Support, the activist
group that was working with the besieged Diné elders at Big Mountain. We found a likely coffeehouse,
of the sort so often the gathering places of those who would resist the inequities of the system, discuss
14 The word Kiva, designating the round half-underground ceremonial structures found throughout the Southwest, is
quite clearly derived from the Sanskrit words ki (“anthill”) and va (“dwelling”). Indeed, the Indians of the Southwest were
truly Indians, descendants of colonists from the Indian subcontinent.
poetry and conspiracy and the news not reported by the mainstream media, and likely the right place to
find our contacts to place us with a family on the rez.
Macy’s European Coffeehouse was indeed the place to be, and we shortly met a pair who were
exactly who we sought at this Bohemian hotspot. We also met a rather interesting fellow there who
went by the name of “Anu,” who later accompanied us to our host family’s home. He said he had taken
his name from a Tibetan mantra, but the name is also, rather curiously, the name of an ancient Syrian
Soon we headed to the rez to make our home for several days with Willie and Sarah Begay.
Recall, from earlier in this tale, that it was a woman named Sarah who had enlisted our help in the coop parking lot in Olywa. Another interesting “coincidence” is the fact that Jonah had worn a thrift store
scored pinstriped mechanic’s shirt for a good portion of the journey that sported the name “Willie” on a
patch on the left breast pocket.
We cruised through Tuba City, then on to the disputed lands. We pulled up to the Begay
homestead and Anu introduced us to our hosts, who came outside to meet us. Che (“grandfather”)
Begay was a kindly, short and stocky gray-haired man with thick glasses and eyes with pupils that
usurped nearly the entirety of the place that’s normally granted to irises. Mesuna (“grandmother”)
Sarah was a rather intense woman, fitting well the images in so many paintings of stately elderly native 145
women depicted in the popular “Southwest” genre. Their youngest son who resided at the Begay
homestead from time to time, who we came to call “Willie the Younger,” was a gaunt man who wore
two long braids.
The main house was fairly modern in its construction, but several hogans were strewn about the
property (if “property” is the proper word to describe the lands inhabited by people who did and do not
share European notions of land-ownership). Hogans are traditional Diné houses, seven-sided structures
with a roof that peaks at the middle with a small hole in the center to release smoke from the hearth
fire. We were assigned to stay in what we were told was a ceremonial hogan that was across the road
and up a hill from the main house. My three human companions, Kaili’s dog River and Anu slept in the
hogan, and I stayed in the camper.
Our tasks were to help around the house, chop wood for the coming winter, cook, and herd
sheep and goats. Rather than watching for coyotes and cougars whilst wandering the hills with these
wooly flocks, we were instructed to keep a wary eye out for the Bureau of Indian Affairs cops that had
been harassing the holdouts to removal since Congress decided to side with the Hopi government (who
were, as previously stated, playing pawns of Peabody Coal Company—as I came to understand, most
Hopi elders were actually against the forced removal of their Diné neighbors). Were we to see BIA
trucks we were instructed to herd the livestock into the canyons to make them less easy to
“confiscate”—read: rustle and hold for ransom.
Almost immediately upon stepping foot on the red sandy soil of Big Mountain, I felt as if
something significant was quite altered of the atmosphere there, compared to where we four came from.
Indeed, the very air of the place had a distinctly different quality from that to be breathed on lands
usurped by the white man.
I soon noticed that a subtle mode of communication ensued between us and our host family that
somehow superseded the need for a common tongue, and that this “knowing” even transmitted into
interpersonal communications amongst our crew. I sensed a different sort of sensitivity to my
surroundings and generally altered sensibilities as I went about my chores, swinging an axe to split logs
needed by the Begay family to stoke their fires for the coming winter, and chewing ephedra (“Mormon
Tea”) whilst walking with the sheep and goats across the hills and mesas and through the arroyos and
canyons of this sparsely vegetated and beautiful land.
On one day when I had not yet been assigned any particular tasks, I stepped out of the upper
hogan and suddenly began to hear the sound of a chant that seemed to be of the Diné tongue. The
sound came out of nowhere. I looked around in every direction, perhaps expecting to see Che, who had
sung something that seemed the same as this melody whilst driving his pickup to check on his herds of
goats and sheep and cattle whilst Jonah and I rode next to him on the bench seat.
After perhaps five minutes or more, I noticed a figure coming over the rise of the hill from the
direction of the main house below. It was Che Willy Begay. He didn’t say anything to me as he walked
past, a few feet to my right. He was gazing at the ground and singing the very song I had heard a few
minutes before, but at rather a subdued volume. As he passed, he glanced in my direction with a slight
turn of his head, lifted his shoulders as a gesture to admit his jest, and seemed to let out a little chuckle.
How he had thrown his voice across fifty-yards or more and over the rise of the hill on a breezy
day, I cannot say. This instance seems rather emblematic of the manner in which the realities of
indigenous peoples and the very atmosphere created by their lifeways differ from those places and
social realities where magic and mystical truths have been stifled by so much doubt and ill-attention, by
hurried and thoughtless lives lived in pursuit of the so-called American Dream, and by the intentional
dissimulation and propaganda promoted by whatever presumed authorities.
That night whilst our crew and Anu sat in the hogan sipping juniper berry tea, I shared an
account of what had happened a few hours earlier. After finishing my tale, Anu chimed in about how
sound travels differently out there in the desert and so forth, seeming attempting to call into question
the credibility of my account. An uncomfortable silence ensued, soon broken by the sound of three or
more voices that began to sing from the midst of the fire burning inside the potbelly stove. I refrained
from saying anything, as I was not inclined to be made to look the fool again. Cristina was the first to
comment upon this anomaly.
“It’s so sad! Can you hear it? It’s so sad!” she said in a lamenting tone, and Kaili and Jonah
made comments confessing that they heard these songs too, as did Anu. I began to weep as the voices
grew louder, singing what was certainly a song of sorrow, perhaps about the loss of freedom and land
and dignity suffered by whatever indigenous voices projected from the flames.
At least two other instances among many magical happenings that transpired during our stay
with the Begay family are worthy and fit to mention. Both were occurrences surrounding the occasion
of a Native American Church meeting that was being held for the children of area Diné families.
On the day before the ceremony, Jonah accompanied Che Begay to kill a ewe to be consumed
by those gathering for the occasion. He later recounted that before slitting the sheep’s throat with a
sharp knife, Che Willie sang a song which Jonah said he assumed was to thank the spirit of the animal
or his ancestors or the spirits of the land (the only “gods” the Navajo know, as I’ve been told of their
beliefs). After this ceremonial chant, according to Jonah’s report, as Che had cut the throat of the
wooly ungulate he seemed to have been thrown back by some unseen force, uttering a grunt or moan as
he was struck by the spirit of this member of his herds or by the pain elicited in this creatures death, or
some such sympathetic transformation of the violence done.
On those infrequent occasions when I have partaken of the flesh of animals since this telling, I
generally give consideration to this intense example of empathy with the being whose death gives life
to those who will consume it’s flesh. Indeed, if the meat industry were so thoughtful and
compassionate as traditional peoples in their treatment of animals I would not so oppose this currently
violent and mean-spirited business.
Kosher and Halal rules dictate a minimal infliction of suffering in the slaughter of livestock.
Many Native American traditions insist upon prayer and ceremony as gratitude to the spirits of the
animals they kill to feed and clothe the people of their tribes. Family ranchers generally give personal
if not affectionate care to their herds. It is only in the cold and heartless modes of modern industrial
society that the suffering of these sentient beings that feed and clothe is considered of little to no
consequence to well trained and desensitized consumers and livestock workers.
Another significant experience I had personally whilst staying with the Begay family was a
dream that came to me on the night of the peyote ceremony. Oh yeah, I had forgotten to mention that
the NAC meeting for the kids was a ceremony where they were to ingest this powerful psychedelic. I
fell asleep in the camper to the sound of a drumbeat, a simple bum-bum-bum-bum-bum which varied
only slightly in tempo over the whole expanse of the night. In my dream, I had a vision of a short
stubby cactus with a button on top that was surrounded by a bright white light, the beat of drums
continuing in the background even in REM sleep. That was the extent of this dream, but it told more
than so many more complex symbols contained in the average mystical vision I’ve chance been
It has become clear to me that the primary reason that “ordinary people” do not have so many
extraordinary experiences (or don’t talk about or take due notice of them if they do), and why average
urban or suburbanites don’t experience mystical happenings on a regular basis is that those venues have
been largely closed by modern society’s collective mind, which has seemingly forgotten the beauty of
our ancestor’s ways, however distant in the past, else compartmentalized such into books of fiction,
fantasy and movies. There was a time when everyone’s ancestors lived closer to the earth, when dreams
mattered and visions were revered, a time before some point somewhere along the way when somebody
decided to replace these ancient and abiding ways with a want for consumer trinkets and mostly
The consensual reality we have built like walls around our spirits has too much stifled the
playful possibilities of life lived as an adventure, as a beautiful holistic encounter between mundane
and mystical, matter and imagination, culture and nature. Many people have been tricked into
somehow believing that playful creativity and want for magical adventures ought to be left behind by
the time they attain second grade, and that their reward for such stoic acceptance of institutionalization
is some pie-in-the-sky to be had somewhere after this life. Properly practiced, these two things need
not be separate. Responsible living and adventure, rejoicing in being alive and taking care of business
can peacefully coexist. Life is meant to be savored—responsibly and mindfully, mind you—and truly
This journey was perhaps the best of my life thus far, wherein adventure and magical
synchronicities, signs and stories to be remembered for a lifetime were manifest, and friendships were
forged that have few comparisons before or since. I have wandered many, many miles thereafter,
assuredly gaining wisdoms I did not have during this blissful journey, and indeed have acquired a great
many deeper knowledges through many (often less pleasant) circumstances and experiences.
Nonetheless, these months wandering from rain forest to desert and innocently playing our way across
the American west shall always be amongst the fondest of my memories, and continue to serve a
reminder of the playful benevolence and innocent magic of life on the road. Perhaps I should end the
telling of this true tale by quoting one of Jonah’s favorite phrases:
“. . . and a good time was had by all.”
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