There was I time I thought of myself as “Stormchaser”. It was a label I assigned to offset the difficult times that seemed to follow me as a way of reversing the odds.
I saw myself as not only actively engaging those hard times but as pursuing them in a “if life is suffering and suffering brings enlightenment then, for fucks sack, bring it on” mentality.
I was wrong.
Man, was I wrong.
The hard times pursued like a predator on blood scent and I, tough as the wind, really was bleeding, profusely.
I’ve said before how I’m only now rubbing the sleep from my eyes, but I look back with these blurry eyes and see that young man and rather than think “whaddadouche”, my favorite quote when it comes to ignorance, I can say “good start.”
It really was.
Since then I’ve learned that Life is more often concerned with giving lessons than with leading me to them and that the path of life is much more flexible than I thought.
She is the train
I am the rail
Or more like the spike
Or the ground it’s driven into
Or maybe just a house it passes by
That’s my attempt at Zen poetry, which I’m okay with, in a Zen sort of way.
My point is this:
I have felt the storm.
I feel it now inside me.
I’m not sure it ever goes away.
I’m okay with that.
That, by the way, has nothing at all to do with either Zen philosophy or poetry, it’s who I am.
So right about now you’re probably asking yourself what the hell this post is about so I’ll sum it up in six words …
Arms out touching phantom limbs and ephemeral vine.
Closed eyes focused on aery chimera that plays like
faded film, enshrouding me in palpable memory like a mist.
August oaks and resurrection fern and aged buildings
replaced by towering cypress, snow wreath,
rhododendron tall as the homes lining these neglected streets
broken by root allowing the very least of natures
determination to reclaim, one minuscule stem, one straggling stalk,
one unnoticed flower at a time, its verdant refuge,
once sanctuary to boundless existence long since
consumed by distressed homes, distressed economies,
Not now. Not in this moment. In this moment I am alone in
ancient woods making my way along a secret trail
winding through prehistoric marsh fed by countless miles of
free flowing rivers giving life to this lush alluvium filled with
musky smells of decayed wood and stale water and something
sweetly familiar I can’t put a name to.
If you saw me there, on that canted sidewalk, you might think
I was mad or lost or wandering under the influence of
something other than my imagination. If you looked
closer you would see a smile. If you noticed me at all.
More likely you would pass by without second glance
accelerating to whatever urgent appointment or function or task you
scurry to. “Nevermind the crazy man”, mother says to
daughter, ears stopped with buds to obstruct the uninvited,
eyes adjusted to the screen of the tiny world she holds in her
hands while thumbs impulsively tap out affirmations or declarations or
insinuations with inherent indifference to a faceless complicant
selected as benefant, marginally amused at mother’s dumb
mouth, assigning words consistent with expectations in place
of those overridden by disapproved music. “Are you listening to me?”
Mother chatters voicelessly. A silent movie. A mime.
Daughter sneers. Fires a message of discontent into the void.
You have missed far too much.
Where are you going
that you have no time to look?
What horizon are you fixed upon
that blinds you to miracles?
How can you occupy the same space
without sharing it?
I see you drive by as in a dream, intruder, trespasser to my vision.
Out of place and time. The vision is disrupted.
The winding path is replaced by
Smells of sacred land replaced by
exhaust fumes and humanity.
Rhododendron to azalea.
Snow wreath to palm.
Cypress to oak.
Marsh to asphalt.
The veil lifts.
The night is cool and the slight breeze carries the scent of dusty jasmine, it is a welcome relief from the hot days filled with sweat. It holds a promise and a secret.
The promise reveals itself in the mating flight of two eagles that call my name as if to give me cause to look towards the edge of the volcanic cliff they glide dangerously above.
As I glance upwards I see in the stone wall a carving I have become familiar with though it is something most people miss despite its size. It is Malice, Fear, it is the summoning of a guardian to keep those at a distance who have no business being close. This is Diablo Canyon. The carving is of el Diablo himself though I am certain the name it first carried is long lost.
When the railroad passed through here many years ago the Superintendent ordered the demolition of the carving. It frightened the workers. “A bad omen”, they would say, “We are not wanted here”.
They were right.
The railroad failed. The only remnants are the beds upon which the rails once lay and even those have nearly disappeared, swallowed by a landscape that has rejected civilization and its monuments.
This is a sacred place. A place shared by the Jacarilla and Mescalero Apache, and possibly the Anasazi, the “Evil Ones” who inhabited this area long before anyone else.
It is protected by skinwalkers, shape shifters who gave up their humanity in order to live as protectors and warriors, keepers of the secrets it hides.
I once managed to track a skinwalker to its den near here, a vile and dark place that reaked of carnage, purely by accident. Later I found the ring of stones on a butte close by where the rituals were performed to bring about the transformation.
His den was only two ravines away from my own makeshift den, a 1964 International Harvestor with a massive camper built on its extended frame.
I had the permission of the BLM officer, a kind and gracious man nearing retirement, to stay there in exchange for my useless efforts to return the area to a semblance of its natural state. More importantly, I had, I hoped dearly every night, struck the same bargain with the skinwalker.
Many times as I raked the broken glass and gathered the rusted metal, victims of gunfire and carelessnes, I felt his presence and once, while hiking the ravines, careful to steer clear of his den, I saw him in the thick brush beside me, a huge dark form like a wolf but the eyes that stared back at me were the eyes of a man. Or what used to be a man.
I stood still and repeated my vow with my arms out as I did every night, hoping to please or, at least, placate him. “I am here to help. If you do not want me here you need only tell me now and I will leave”.
His heavy breathing, rich with the smell of blood and age and warm on my skin he was so close, paused while I spoke. Then, in a blur of nearly soundless motion, he leapt off and in a second was gone.
I never saw him so clearly, or so surely, again, until this night.
The eagles again called my name as if to pull me from the trance I spent four days acquiring. I was on a vision quest and the vision had begun, but it was unlike any I’d ever experienced before.