Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Blind Tiger Dream

I live in an orphanage. This is not uncommon for me in dreams, and, contrary to the stereotypical idea of an orphanage, I’m pretty well-cared for. We’re even going to have a huge Halloween feast. And there’s a ton of beautiful food set out on a table in the middle of a room with lace curtains and huge windows which look out into the autumn forest beyond the lawn. It’d dark outside, and the waning moon is just a sliver in the sky, framed by a ring of fog that makes the light travel in an eerie manner.

Before the feast begins, I hear word that a psychopathic killer from the nearby mental ward has escaped into the woods outside. I know exactly who it is, as I killed him once in a dream I had many months ago. He is the only person I’ve ever felt the need to kill out of spite, and I know that I my friends are in danger.

Sure enough, a note appears on the foggy window outside my sister’s room: “The game is on. You’re next.”

We call the police. They don’t take the message seriously. So we take matters into our own hands: Mary and I gear up and prepare to fight for our lives, but a friend steps in to help. Tyler is armed with brass knuckles, and inspires one of Mary’s friends to join the gang, as well. I am, as usual, armed with nothing but a hardwood staff fashioned from a broomstick I’ve found in a closet. Weapons are not encouraged in the orphanage for obvious reasons, so we must be creative.

With that, I grab a bit of food from the feast table, abandoned by the others who have gone to hide in their rooms, and we trudge off into the fog-heavy woods.

The path is lined with gravel, which crunches in the cold air beneath our feet. The moon casts a silvery glow which turns orange when it filters through the fall leaves of the trees overhead. I feel chilly, but there is a warmth in my chest borne of anticipation and a readiness to fight. I want to end this man; and this time, I want to do it right. But I don’t want to kill him –I merely want to leave him unable to harm any more of the people I care for.

The problem is, this man is no normal man. He is a shape shifter, and can make himself appear crippled when he is not, frail when he is strong, and old when he is in fact quite young. I underestimated him when he murdered my friend Grizzly Bear; I thought I’d killed him by driving an ice pick through his tear duct, but I guess I was wrong. This time, I would mangle him far worse. He wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone once I was through with him.

Tyler, walking slightly ahead of me, suddenly stopped and held his arm out to keep me from taking another step forward. There was something ahead of us on the trail, laying in a heap beneath a clearing in the treetops so that the moon shone down on it to reveal fur, and stripes, and heavy body that appeared lifeless.

I pushed Tyler aside and walked toward the motionless tiger. Everyone else remained a fair distance behind, apparently safe with the idea of fighting a murderer, but not okay with the idea of fighting a wild animal which appeared dead to begin with.

I leaned down to see the big cat’s face, and with a sudden growl, it lifted its head and started directly at me with two blind eyes.

Before I could move, it lunged past me and leapt at Tyler, but I lifted the broomstick over my head and brought it crashing down onto the big cat’s spine. It let out a snarl and fall limp at my feet.

I was about to let out a sigh of relief, when another, bigger tiger lunged at us from the hillside to our left. I faced him with the broomstick at the ready, and felt his warm breath reach me, even from several feet away. The swatted, testing my reflexes, and I blocked his massive paw with my staff. I told him in my mind, “I don’t want to fight you. I didn’t want to fight your friend. We’re not here for you; we’re here for a man-killer.”

And the tiger lowered his head as I relaxed my grip on the broomstick. He walked past me to nudge his blind comrade, and, much to my surprise, the blind tiger lifted himself off the ground and walked away with the other, seemingly unharmed aside from a mild limp. He paused just for a moment to look back at me with his big blind eyes, and they glowed pale blue in the moonlight. I was glad that I hadn’t killed him.

Further into the forest, we encountered an old man. I thought, for a moment, it might have been the killer, so I questioned him and threatened him. But he was not the snide, sarcastic, defensive old man our target disguised himself as. On the contrary, this old man was most helpful: He told us that there was an old RV abandoned in the woods not far from there we were headed. He’d seen a light on in there, which he’d never seen before the murderer’s escape. We followed this lead deeper into the forest, and soon found the RV the old man had been talking about.

Sure enough, there was a light on.

I was about to advance toward it and bash down the door, but a sound from the treeline behind me made me turn around. The killer, now disguised as a middle-aged businessman in a gray suit jacket which and been torn and tattered by the woods, was standing behind me, looking somewhat confused. He saw me and froze for a split second, giving me the opportunity to charge at him. But he pulled out a series of small pointed wooden dowels from within his suit jacket and grinned. He held up the strange little weapons for me to see before throwing one at me, knocking the broomstick staff cleanly out of my hands. I looked around for a solid stick instead, but there were none that were sturdy enough. I found one that seemed to be strangest, and lunged at the man, hitting him across the chest with the stick.

But the stick merely bent and snapped. However, it was enough force to cause the murder to lose focus for a moment, and I grabbed both his hands so that he could no throw any more of the strange wooden dowels at me. I grabbed one, and, just as I had with the ice pick months beforehand, I stabbed the pointed end into the inside corner of his left eye. He laughed as I did it, and this angered me, so I took a stab at his throat to make him silent. But the stick would not penetrate his skin, so Tyler stepped in and decked him hard upside the head with his brass knuckles. The man fell back with a grin on his face, blood seeping slowly from the corner of his eye.

I retrieved my broomstick and hit the man hard across both knees so that he could not walk, and we left him there in the woods, hoping that the tigers would find him before the cops did.

Back at the orphanage, the fanfare over the psychopathic murderer’s escape had died down. We told no one of what we had done or where we had been. We merely joined the feast and then went our own ways, but a short while later, I noticed an old beat-up RV in the parking lot…

Wasting no time, I called the police and told them once again that we had a problem. They laughed and said there was no way the murder could have survived in the woods; the RV outside was probably someone visiting the orphanage, and was nothing to get concerned over.

But I recognized the RV. It was, without a doubt, the killer’s, and I was not about to let him sit out there and taunt me.

However, before I could do anything about the situation, I awoke to the sound of my alarm, and as soon as I opened my eyes, I could feel the pain from my migraine wash over me. There was no way I’d be able to make it through class. I turned off the alarm and went back to sleep.

The dream had changed.

I was now standing beside a creek at the Oregon Country Fair, except it was not summertime, and the people gathered around me were not peaceful hippies. This seemed to be more like a renaissance festival, and I was somehow coerced into fighting with my broomstick staff against some of the best fencers out there. But, true to form, I never lose a fight in my dreams, so even though it was tiring and painful, and I had no idea what I was doing, I beat up everyone who dared to fight me. When it was over, I didn’t claim my trophy; I wandered off to be alone by the creek for a while.

But the creek had changed to a river, which widened into an ocean. I’ve dreamed of this ocean before; it looks like the ocean in Cayman, except that the coastline is not flat and sandy; it is rocky and jagged like the Oregon coast, and dotted with tiny islands connected by a network of sandbars which one can walk across barefoot, though they appear to be sitting in deep ocean water.

At a point in the coastline, there is a cove which hides the very top of an old mansion with a lighthouse perched atop the roof. I walked over to this mansion to find that it was abandoned, and let myself in through a broken window. Everything within is beautifully decorated with deep red velvety colors and dark hardwood floors. There are boxes of personal belongings stacked all over the place, and a wood stove fireplace in one corner. Outside, overlooking the coast, is a hammock made from the same deep red velvet that accents the rest of the room.

I hear a thud come from the lighthouse portion of the house.

Upon investigation, I discover that the stairs leading up to the top of the light house also lead down into the depths of the house. This is where the thudding sounds are coming from. Curious, I follow the sounds into a basement full of more boxes, and sense the presence of someone familiar here.

Amid the boxes, in the dark room, I can eventually make out the outline of a man in a suit jacket. He is swinging from a rope around his neck, and each time he swings back, his boots strike an empty box behind him, producing a thudding sound. He appears dead, but I know better than to believe this. Instead, I tell myself that I have dealt with him enough for one day, and bring myself to a state of wakefulness, though I know that the pain from my migraine will probably be worse than the pain I may experience if I allowed the dream to continue. It’s time to take some meds anyhow.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On Finding Your Totem Animal

Before reading, it is important to first realize what a totem animal actually is. You won't find it based on some online personality quiz, nor is it always your favorite animal. According to numerous cultures throughout history, humans have had a deep connection to the earth and the world's natural energies, which many people believe can be channeled with the help of an animal guide. According to others still, a totem is the animal manifestation of a person's very soul, or even the form a person took in a past life, prior to being human.
The way I see it, a totem animal is whatever you make of it. I personally believe that it's a combination of all the above, though is, most prominently, an animal which is a reflection of yourself.

From a social standpoint, a totem animal says a lot about how a person lives out their life, and indeed, many behaviors which are natural to their totem animal are also displayed in the individual. As a Leopard totem, I'm pretty well-known for being an adrenaline junkie, and for biting off more than I can chew, especially if I'm caught up in the moment. On the other hand, I'm not a very social person, and prefer having just a handful of close friends instead of numerous casual acquaintances. These traits are obviously somewhat 'Leopard-like' in nature, though could also be applied to other creatures, as well. It took me many years to figure out that Leopard was speaking to me instead of Jaguar, Bear, or some similar animal.

Since then, I've been asked the same question a million and one times: "How do I find my totem animal?"

And the answer is never really clear. This is because each person is an individual, and, as a result, each person must find their totem in a way which works best for them. I found my totem, the Leopard, in a dream. I know many other people who have found their totems in dreams, as well. But even so, spontaneous dream totems are exceptionally rare, and seem to be unique to individuals who are already accomplished dreamers, with the ability to not only have the dream, but also to remember it.

For most people, the best way to find a totem is through meditation, preferably in a place further from human habitation such as in the woods, if possible. This meditation does not require a perfectly cleared mind, and you don't need to reach any state of 'higher awareness'.

All you need to be able to do is focus your brain on creating the vision of a scene: Start in a place in nature which you naturally feel most drawn to. It could be a forest, a desert, a river, the ocean, and so on.

Once your brain is there and focused on the surroundings, pay close attention to the things you see around you. Most people do not instantly incorporate animals into this early stage of the journey, as they should be more focused on the atmosphere and landmarks which make up the scene, but if you do see any, feel free to ask yourself if they have something important to teach you.

Walk about the scene; take in the feels, the smells, the sounds. And once you feel comfortable there, open your mind and focus on the living things which inhabit the area. For the purpose of this exercise, I've found it good practice to imagine yourself in an alternate plane of existence, where all animals can live in one environment despite geographical differences. This means that you have the ability to see many kinds of animals all together in one niche.

After this, it gets kind of complicated, and it's easy to lose focus, become overwhelmed, or even grow frustrated if you see no animals at all (this happens quite often, so don't feel upset if you see nothing. It just means you need to spend more time in your vision, or perhaps move on to a different environment).

The first animal you see is not always your totem, so don't become too attached unless it just feels 'right'. Each animal is there for a reason, and they all have a lesson to teach you, so try and remember which species you see and under what conditions. As with any normal nighttime dream, things you see in a vision during meditation are often manifestations of events, feelings, and thoughts you've experienced in real life.

Your totem animal may not appear to you during your first attempt at meditation. But when it does, it's something you just know. Some people say they see their animal as ghostlike, whereas other animals in the vision are normal-looking; some say that they appear to glow or simply stand out for a reason they cannot explain. Either way, I've heard it described as a very strange feeling, almost like running into an old friend in a place you least expect to see them. I felt this way in my Leopard dream.

Most people are surprised to find that their totem animals are indeed NOT what they expected to find. Just because your favorite animal is a wolf doesn't mean that's your totem. If I had chosen my totem, I believe it would have been a Snow Leopard, or at least a melanistic leopard. I'd never have expected a spotted Amur. But once it appeared to me, it seemed to make perfect sense, and I wondered why I hadn't known it all along.

Some people will turn to drugs and hallucinogens to help aid in their vision quest, and if that's what you think is best for you, then by all means, have at it. Native Americans used peyote cactus on many of their vision quests, and I've heard first-hand accounts of its use proving to be quite effective in helping people identify their totems. This is not to say I encourage drug use; I am merely stating that if you believe this is what will work for you, and you're okay with it, then go ahead. Just keep in mind that there are alternatives to drugs, and they are not a requirement for discovering your totem by any means.

Other means of aid in meditation include music (preferably music without lyrics and without a lot of background 'chaos' such as electric guitar or heavy, rapid drumming). The best kind of music to listen to is the sort of stuff that is actually written and performed for the purpose of meditation. There are also breathing exercises which help immensely in reaching a good state of meditation, as I have discovered first-hand since I began playing the Native American flute.

Perhaps one of the most profound methods of finding a totem animal is to actually hike into the wilderness and find it. I have learned many lessons from real-life animals in the woods, which are hard to pass off as mere coincidence. They've appeared at points in my life when I needed their guidance, and in times when I took their advice, I've found my life taking a turn for the better. Of course, the issue with this is that it's very hard to find wild animals, and you also need a proper understanding of wilderness survival. I've only met a handful of people who've discovered their totems in this way, and I believe that has something to do with the fact that not everyone lives on the same continent as their totem. Likewise, the chances of actually seeing a wild animal, especially one that is rare or hard to spot, are very slim. More commonly, people who venture into the woods discover an animal guide rather than a totem.

A guide and a totem are not the same thing. Guides are merely animals that you may feel a strong connection to in a vision or in real life (which is why it's important to take note of all animals you see during your meditation), which is there to teach you something and help you reach a state of spiritual or emotional balance. Every animal carries a different message. It's up to you to decide what it means.

For example, Wolverine recently entered my life when I received a box full of vintage tails from an auction I won on eBay. When I pulled the tails out of the box and held them, I felt an odd urge to see and feel a full-sized Wolverine. That night, I dreamed about the so-called Devil Bear, and realized that he had entered my life to teach me when I was being too soft on my enemies and too hard on those I loved. Though not a totem, Wolverine is one of a small handful of guides which I keep close to my heart because of the lesson he taught. My other guides include Lioness, Great Blue Heron, and Kookaburra.

There are also animals which I consider to be 'visitors', who enter our lives briefly to teach us something important, and then move on. I was visited by Black Bear in the woods one night a few months ago, and he taught me a lesson that I'll never forget: It's dangerous to let my guard down around Bears (this was ironic because, at the time, I was friends with a boy whose totem was a Grizzly Bear, who ended up hurting me profoundly). If I hadn't been so angry at the Black Bear, I'd probably have realized this sooner.

Keep in mind that there are probably a lot of other ways to discover your totem animal. The methods mentioned above are simply ones that I know to be tried and true for numerous people, whom I've talked to first-hand.

Also note that finding a totem animal may be a long and arduous journey. It took me years to figure mine out, and I'm still discovering guides and visitors as life unfurls before me. The best thing to do is not to rush it, and trust that you'll find it when you need it most.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Owl Man Again

Went the visit the Owl Man today. Hadn’t actually planned to walk so far up the creek, but as I was laying in the crutch of a fallen log, playing my flute below the Mean Man’s Road, I saw a guy with a military-issue pack on his back walking by. He stopped and listened to the sound of my music, trying to figure out where it was coming from, but his ears were apparently less-attuned than most;  either that, or I’m pretty good at not being spotted, even while playing a dual-toned flute. 
He never spotted me.

But I got a good look at him, and I nearly choked. He looked so much like Grizzly Bear that I felt my hair stand on end. I’d spent my previous night venting to the girls on Rion’s front porch about how much of a dick that guy was to me, and every single one of them agreed that, “Hey, even if you do see him, he’s not worth a smile in passing. Oh, and punch him if he tries to talk to you.”

Seeing this guy on the road made me feel uncomfortable. No one is allowed on the road to begin with, and he was walking up there as if he owned it. I wondered if maybe he worked for the company at the top of the mountain. I wondered if he’d spot the Owl Man at his place by the creek, and I wondered if I should run ahead and warn him. But the Owl Man was a smooth-talker and a vigilant forest-dweller. He knew how to avoid conflict, and he knew how to avoid being seen.

Nevertheless, I put my flute back in the caribou hoof carrying case and scrambled up the trail, leaping and ducking and climbing up the rocks along the creek until I reached a spot where the path leveled out with the Mean Man’s Road. Though I knew it was a bad idea, I climbed up onto the roadside and hurried up to the area where the Owl Man was sure to be.

And sure enough, I spotted him with his dog, Sita, down the embankment not far from the road. He had been taking a creek bath and was wearing no pants, but thankfully, his shirt was long enough to cover everything. I called his name to let him know I was there, and Sita growled protectively as I headed down to meet them. The Owl Man put his shorts back on as Sita and I played fetch in the sand, then he packed a bowl in my pipe and we smoked and talked. He asked about my classes, and I told him about the park ranger who tried to arrest me. We concluded that he was a twisted man.

Earlier in the week, I had met a woman who’d been walking her two dogs along a vacant trail, and the ranger tried to give her a $400.00 fine because the pooches weren't on a leash. One was an Akita and the other was a Pit Bull. The ranger cited them as ‘dangerous’ breeds and even tried to increase the fine as a result, though thankfully, the tag was reduced to $200.00 in court because the woman brought the dogs with her to prove that they were friendly.

Later in the conversation, I thought I saw the guy with the military pack again, and Sita stared up the road in the same direction, but her head back down on her paws after a brief glance. I figured it was nothing, but said to the Owl Man, “I’ve been seeing ghosts everywhere today.”

“What kind of ghosts,” he asked curiously, taking a long drag on the pipe before handing it back to me.
I laughed. “Just thought I saw someone walking up here earlier that looked just like a guy I knew. An enemy of sorts.”

“You have enemies?” the Owl Man asked curiously. I shrugged. “Only one. And he’s not really an enemy, he’s just…” I fumbled for words, which the Owl Man found for me: “He’s just the subject of your intimate dislike.” And I had to smile.

But just then, Sita and I spotted movement on the Mean Man’s Road again. It was the guy who looked like Grizzly Bear. He stopped when he neared us, and I looked up at him with scrutiny, trying to tell if it was him or not. He looked so uncannily like him that I felt my hands ball into fists. But I said “Hey!” and the guy hurried off.

“Was it him?” the Owl Man asked. I shook my head. “Would he come here for you?” he ventured. And I shrugged again. “Doubt it,” I admitted, “But I came to know him all the places I wander. We went for a lot of hikes together out here.”

“You’re just worried that he’ll know where you are,” Owl Man observed with a knowing nod, “like you’ll find some part of him remaining out here.”

I agreed. But we both seemed satisfied that the traveler was not Grizz, and we smoked a few more bowls before I headed off back down the creek, promising to return next week. I moved low to the ground as I went, crouching on the rocks and listening ahead over the sound of the running water, just in case the traveler had left the roadside and was now moving along the creek as well.

Sure enough, as I leapt atop a particularly large boulder and perched momentarily, he was standing in the pool just a few yards downstream, looking somewhat startled by my sudden and quiet appearance. Knowing now that it was not Grizzly Bear, I merely paid him little mind and leapt down from the boulder to a smaller rock and continued on. By the time I got halfway to his former location, he’d disappeared up onto the road again and was hurrying away, almost as if he didn’t want to be seen.

I found this a little odd, but kept on going, running low to the ground and being as silent as possible. Though I wasn't running to or from anything, I figured it was good to stay in practice, as moving through terrain such as that is difficult and requires a quick eye and quicker feet.

Once I reached the pavement at the roadside, I adopted my normal stride and headed back to town.
Past a storefront, I heard someone call out, “Hey, miss!” and when I turned, a scrappy street man was standing there with a huge smile on his face. “You dropped you smile,” He informed me cheerily.

“I hope you picked it up for me,” I replied, and we ended up going to the nearby pizza place for lunch. It was apparent that, as a street man, he’d done a few too many drugs, and it had messed with his brain to extent that it was hard to keep up with him in conversation. His thoughts were like packing peanuts swept up in a wind tunnel. But he was happy and had a permanent smile on his face, which I appreciated. I gave him half of my pizza, since he was kind enough to pay for it in the first place, and I knew he needed it more than me. I’d have gotten it for myself, but he insisted. “Not every day you get to buy lunch for a pretty lady,” he said, and then added, “You actually look like that Avril chick, the singer chick, ya know? Like, if you were shorter by a few inches, and had a sweatshirt on with the hood up, I’d have sworn you were her. Met her at a bar once in Hollywood….” And his story went on from there.

Back at the dorms, I dropped my flute bag on the bed and paced the room a time or two. It was deathly boring here. I felt fidgety and depressed almost instantly, and would have gone back out for another walk, but I was getting a headache and my body was exhausted from my walk to see the Owl Man. To keep from going insane, I opted to take a nap and woke up when it grew dark outside.

Reflecting back on the day, I can say that it was pretty eventful and rather mind-opening. Strange things happen when I play that flute of mine, and the City of Ashland has a strange way of taking care of my wounds for me. I only hope that with the coming of winter, the depression and boredom won’t grow too much worse. I have, after all, lost many of my friends to the workforce, and Rion’s house, though always open to me, has been a place of drama since he broke up with his girlfriend. On the bright side, there is always the Owl Man, and I always have my music to keep me company….

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Owl Man

I'm really out of shape. Got to the fort and tidied it up for proper living. Not too hard, as it seems that someone else has been here before me. It’s quiet. High fire danger. Just going to have a cook-fire tonight and nothing more. Left my gear in cave and will try to find the pond before nightfall.  

Didn't find the pond on a map. Found one of the many mine shafts scattered throughout the mountains instead. Found lighter and incense at back of said mine, which I lit and rested on a rock, then played my flute in the dark. I'll admit, I was half-expecting to find Grizzly Bear there, and when I heard the echo of my flute fade away, I half-expected to hear my friend’s demented screams take the music’s place. I was terrified. But heading back into the light, I felt much stronger. I know many people who would could never have done it. If I hadn’t had my flute with me, I probably wouldn’t have myself.

Hard to sleep last night with no fire. Woke up early, tidied up the camp a bit, then went back to sleep. Woke a while later. Ear hurt. Piercing is infected and swollen. Hole was plugged with pus that smelled quite bad when I tried to clean it out. Won’t stop bleeding. Had to take a photo of it so I could assess the damage, since I don’t have a mirror. Looks like it will need antibiotics. Cleaned with water. Need more water. Must find water today.

Ear is still a bloody mess. Couldn't find water. Maps were misleading. Any water they showed was already dried up or too hard to get to in the steep terrain. Stunning views, though. No manmade structures to be seen anywhere. I’d love to stay here in the mountains but with so little water around, it would be impossible. Heading down toward Lithia Park. Hate to be so close to people now. Want to stay put in the woods. But I spotted cougar tracks on the trail. Don't want to be so close to a large predator without a decent structure for safety and the cliff overhang is not suitable due to the high amounts of human traffic passing through nearby. This cougar was a big cat to boot. Paw as wide across as my hand.

Wanting to return to civilization now. Ear is hot to the touch. Still bleeding slowly and oozing some kind of clear yellowish liquid. Even if I found water now, I probably couldn’t stay another night out here without antibiotics. I hate to face this reality – Ashland seems boring without my friends there to keep me company. The woods are much better.

Hiked back to the parking area to find the path that leads back into town, miles and miles away. I know it will be a long trek, which I’d been planning to cover in two days instead of just one, but now the game has changed. I wish I'd picked a place I'd been to before. I wish the summer hadn't been so dry.

On the trail, I ran into an old man and his dog. Old man had a pack on his back and looked rugged; watery bloodshot eyes, stubbly white facial hair, and a weathered face. Made him look like an old owl. His dog was skin and bones. But both were happy. He asked how long I'd been out. Not long, I admitted. I asked how long he'd been out and he laughed. Said he lived there. Would show me his camp and I could sleep there and get water if I wanted. He was obviously a kind, bright man with an impressive understanding of life in the woods, though he went about things in his own way and had had no formal wilderness survival training. Nevertheless, I looked up to him.

We smoked a few bowls on a downed log not far off the trail and then I followed he and his dog, Sita, down a steep mountainside to a clearing he had leveled out. Had been there 7 years. Loved life in the woods. Had been a businessman, working in the corporate world, with people under him doing anything he wished. By the way he talked of his past life, I knew it was something he wasn’t proud of. He’d chosen a life in the woods because it was simple, and free of drama and politics, and made him feel human again. We talked of how people who call people like us 'homeless' simply have no idea what kind of life they are missing. They are so afraid of the woods. The Owl Man and I are not. He shares some water with me and we smoke some more, talking in-depth about the order of the world, laughing and, at many times, on the verge of tears. I play my flute for him. Sita wants to play fetch.

Sita is a slinky black dog that looks like a cross between a black Lab and a golden retriever. Her hair is smooth and silky across most of her body aside from her belly, tail, and the back of her legs, which feature longer tufts of fur that catch the pine needles as she walks. Her muzzle is white around the cheeks, as if she’s old, but the Owl Man assures me she’s still in her prime despite her looks. With a sad expression, the Owl Man says she’s skin and bones because of some mysterious illness, and I can tell that he is deeply concerned for her. He has brought her to the vet’s office several times, but they cannot provide an explanation and want to run tests. But the tests cost money, of which he has none. Says money makes people evil. And yet, despite her condition, Sita is a sunny, happy dog who wants nothing more than for the Owl Man and I to throw sticks for her to catch. She stares into my eyes and I feel her talking to me. The Owl Man understands what she says as clearly as he hears me, but I have a harder time learning her language. Nevertheless, she is patient with me and teaches me how to throw sticks for her in a manner that she most likes. I tell the Owl Man how lucky he is to have her as a companion animal. He smiles and tells me of his previous dog, Sita’s mentor, a German shepherd named Jake, who faced off with a mountain lion for him and ran with the coyotes at night. I’d have liked to have met Jake.

At midday, it's time to walk to the creek to get water for Sita. The Owl Man said he'd show me the path back into town from there if I really want to go. Reminds me that I'm still welcome at his place. There's another camp downhill from him that I could occupy as well if I’d like a bit more privacy, yet it's close enough that I could walk up the hill to join him for dinner at night and breakfast the next morning. He shows me where it’s at on the way to the creek. Calls the place 'Chicago' because the people who lived there beforehand were from there. Wandered in one day and joined the Owl Man, though much to his dismay, they weren't cut out for life in the woods. They left right quick, and probably for the better. The Owl Man talked of how he hates drama. They were drama.

Drama is fabricated by people who want a more interesting life. But it’s a fake interestingness. It’s not real. Real life is fending off a mountain lion with two dogs and a tree branch, or running into a wonderful stranger in the woods.

Down at the creek, Sita enjoys the water. I notice trout in the pool and get out my gear. Catch a tiny trout within 5 minutes but it's too small. I take the trout off the hook. Despite my joy in catching the fish, I know it’s not right to kill it, which is why I’ve crimped down the barbs on all my hooks, thus causing less damage to a fish if I wish to throw it back. I do so and try again, hoping to catch something for the Owl Man’s dinner, but the fish are more wary now and refuse to bite, so I end up empty-handed.

The Owl Man shows me the trail to take back to town. He once more offers me a place to stay the night. We could cook hot dogs and noodles and smoke some more. But I promise to come visit him another time. He gives me a big hug and I toss a few more sticks for Sita, who seems to know I’m leaving and begs me with her eyes to stay. So I stand a while longer with the two. Owl Man and I talk of Poe and Hawthorne, and I finally leave. I can tell he is lonely. But even so, he is happy with his life, and I have much respect for him. He is able to live in the woods because no one but a small handful of people are even aware of his existence, and they bring him food and water out of the kindness of their hearts. In much the same way, the Owl Man showed me kindness in giving me water and sharing his weed with me, then offering me a place to stay. He trusted me enough to show me where his camp was, and I plan to go back and visit him often, bringing more books for him to read and hopefully some information and medication to help Sita recover.

I think of all this as I walk down the trail that the Owl Man has told me to follow. Stop to pick blackberries. Best I've ever had. Not too sweet and not too tart. In my state of survival mode, I think of collecting a whole bunch in one of my empty canteens, but the pack is too heavy to take on and off for such a trivial thing. I'll be back in town soon anyhow. Must remind myself not to waste energy. It’s a long trek, after all.

Finally make it to the reservoir just before sundown and try fishing there, planning to cook it back at the dorms that night. Trout here are smarter. They take the bait but not the hook. Hook is too big. So I walk up to the Fairy Ponds and try there. Am interrupted by a park ranger. The Owl Man has warned me about him; says he’s mean as all hell, and something of a pervert, too – I suspect this means he likes to watch the girls swim naked. Ranger asks to see my fishing license, which I show him. He seems surprised I have one, and asks if I fish often. I tell him yes - I've fished all over the world. Even hand-lined a shark once. He then asks if it's legal to fish in the pond. I tell him I don't know - that's his job. I don't have the book on me. So he asks then if I'm camping there for the night, nodding toward the thirty-five-pound pack I’ve got with me. I tell him no, I'm not stupid - I know camping isn't allowed there.  He asks then why I have the backpack, so I tell him the half-truth: I just got back from visiting a friend across town. He seems satisfied with this, and allows me to continue fishing. Says I have to read the book “The River Wild” as my get-out-of-jail-free card and asks what I’m doing with me life. An odd question from a ranger, but I tell him I’m a taxidermist studying Fine Art at SOU. He tells me he’s a hunter himself, but has always left the hides in the field to rot. I feel my stomach knot at the thought of letting such a thing go to waste. The Owl Man is right – the ranger is a nasty man.

On the walk back into town, I feel exhausted. It’s getting dark. I have blisters which are filled with water, and my muscles ache all down the backs of my legs. I had no idea I was so out of shape. I feel guilty all over again. I feel as though I’ve let myself down. Later, further into town, I run into a guy who asks where I've been traveling, so I tell him I've spent the night in a cave. He probably thinks I'm just a crazy drifter and smiles, “Gotta find my own cave for the night, then!” he jokes, referring undoubtedly to the fact that all the hotels in town are full on account of the Shakespeare Festival.

Finally, back at the dorm, I clean the infected ear, forcing out the last of the ooze until new, bright blood leaks out in its place. he hydrogen peroxide bubbles up on contact with the sore, but I can't feel anything. Once that's taken care of, I take a nice long shower. I try to crash but cannot sleep. I have eaten and am not hungry, but I make some tea instead and watch some TV.

I'll go back to visit the Owl Man sometime before the weather gets too harsh. He is a good man with an excellent education and an impeccable vocabulary which he has undoubtedly picked up from his vast library of books. I'll bring him some more reading material if I find something I think he may enjoy. I feel kind of like he's the father-friend I never had and I know we have a lot to teach one-another. I want to help Sita, too. Thinking of starting some kind of fundraiser on Etsy for her. Sell a few things to pay for a vet to figure out what’s wrong. I know the Owl Man loves her so much, and it breaks his heart the see her suffer. He said she used to be even more playful than she is now, and I can imagine it. They live a beautiful life, and a part of me wants to join them.  Yet I know I have an obligation and many ties to my life here in the world of cars and computers and money. 

That doesn’t mean I can’t visit. And that doesn’t mean I can’t dream, either....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Burning Man: House Rules

I'd been alseep on the bus for what seemed to be only an hour, curled up beside Jake with Ashland the mountain lion draped over my body like a blanket. I'm sure the cars passing by nearly veered off the road if they saw it and didn't realize that it was just taxidermy. We got honked at a lot, though that probably had more to do with the fact that we were driving a HUGE bus with "NOW IS ALL YOU HAVE" printed proudly across the side, with "ON TO BURN NOW" written in duct tape on the back trailer.

By the time we'd slowed down enough for me to realize the change in motion, we were nearing the line to enter Black Rock City. It was about 4:00 in the morning, and the sun was about to rise over the peaks of the mountains in the distance, lighting up the edges of the horizon behind them, leaving them back-lit and black as ever. The only other light on the scene came in the form of a great yellow-and-red snake, moving slowly through the valley on its way to the Playa. These, of course, were the thousands and thousands of cars which had, like us, made the vast pilgrimage to Burning Man.

Though I hadn't gotten much sleep, I was excited. My cousin Marty, a veteran Burner, had explained that the wait was like one big party, and indeed, there was an energy in the air that seemed excited, calm, and utterly happy all at once.

I wanted to go out and explore, so I put Ashland the mountain lion on my head, and Danny donned a gigantic tea pot costume (think Disney's Beauty and the Beast). Then the two of ran up and down between the rows of cars, shouting, "Tea time in ten minutes!" and asking people with their windows down if they "Fancied a spot of tea?" It was a riot of laughter.

At last, as we inched forward, the sun began to rise over the black mountains in the distance, and Danny, still wearing the tea pot costume, turned to me, still wearing my mountain lion, and nodded toward the mountains. "Race ya?" he suggested jokingly. But I raised an eyebrow at him, and suddenly, both of us had begun a mad dash between the cars, under the boarder fence, and off across the wide open Playa, out-of-bounds, toward the mountains, which only seemed to grow smaller the closer and closer we got. Finally, we both realized that it was a fruitless effort and turned back, much to the disappointment of a cheering crowd.

Back in line, Danny and I climbed atop NIAYH's sister bus, aptly named "Swamp Thing" due to the unsightly drab green and rust orange paint job.

A few others from the group joined us, and we sat there, passing around a freshly-loaded bowl and a few bottles of beer to pass the time. Several people walked by and gave me compliments on Ashland, asking if it was real and where I got him and such. I was impressed that no one had given me any snide remarks yet, but Marty had told me that it wasn't in the spirit of Burning Man to pass judgement without asking questions first, and thus far, no one had had any issues with the origin of the pelt. I was pleased. One woman even told me that it was the most awesome costume she'd seen at Burning Man in over ten years. I laughed an merely reminded her that there was a whole week ahead in which to find a more extravagant outfit than mine.

She smiled then and handed a little note to one of the young men sitting on Swamp Thing's hood. "I found this. Pass it on!" and she left, disappearing into the rows of cars.

When the note finally got to me, I smiled and had to photograph it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Burning Man: The Man Burns

I stood, leaning forward over the open hole of the porta-potty toilet. Someone had ripped the lid off the seat, which I thought was kind of funny as I retched and tried to hurl. But nothing came up and I nearly choked instead.
This was a battle between me and my body: I knew what I needed to do, but something inside me was not co-operating. Something inside me did not want to come out.

I closed my eyes and focused on the spinning sensation which overwhelmed by brain. I was really, really, really high.

And I really needed to vomit.

But even with my eyes closed, focusing on the pain, I couldn't do it. This ugliness inside me wanted to hold on for a moment longer and I suddenly felt angry at it. I wanted it out so bad that I felt myself shaking.

So I rocked my head back and forth quite violently, making myself feel affectively sicker. I tried again to throw up, but only managed to make a hideous choking sound, which drew the attention of someone in the stall next to me.

“Y’okay?” they asked.

“Never been better,” I shot back sarcastically, then closed my eyes and shook my head around again.

This time, as I leaned over the bowl, I thought about things that made me feel sick: Roller-coasters that spin, cheddar cheese, peanuts, Dani—

And I finally hurled.

Several times.

When I was done, my headlamp caught the color of my vomit and I recoiled, nearly falling backward – it wasn’t the color of my food as I’d expected. It was instead the color of Grizzly Bear’s personality.

As a synesthete, it’s hard to describe the emotion I feel when I see a color in “real life” that I see for a number, letter, or person I usually see only in my head. I once saw the color of my own cartilage and it was the color of my 2s. So even though I was a bloody mess, I pointed it out to the doc, who probably thought I was crazy.

Anyhow, seeing Grizzly Bear’s personality color escape from my body in that manner made me feel shocked, amazed, and totally relieved.

It was over.
I could move on now.

I had literally expelled him from my life in the most perfect, fitting way imaginable: Staring into a disgusting porta-potty on the Playa at Burning Man, the very night they had set the Man on fire.

This is what the veteran Burners call “Playa Magic”. It’s the crazy, divine co-incidences that leaves us thinking and questioning all we know about ourselves, our lives, and our spirituality.

Such is the way of Burning Man.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


We'd all expressed our pains, and fears, and joys on the walls of the great white structure. I had written about my car crash and the person who saved my life, then betrayed me. I doubt I will ever talk to him again at this point. I literally expelled him from of my system and I'm not going back (more on this story later).

For many people, the Temple Burn was something of a melancholy, contemplative moment, meant to be a time of meditation and reflection. For this reason, my group and I chose to watch the burn from a distance, and I'm glad we did. Not only did it provide a better view of the event, it also helped us realize how HUGE the resulting flames were.

And it also gave us a better view of the mysterious red light that crossed the sky that night...

I'm sure that hundreds of people saw it. I myself saw it and took a few images of it (coming soon). It was nothing more than a single bright light moving across the sky, which eventually stopped and sat for 15 minutes to the right of the temple. After the 15 minute-pause, it did something I've never seen an aircraft do before: It dropped another smaller red light out of from under it, which flashed on and off until it reached the horizon, at which point, it went out.

Thereafter, the red craft that dropped the light began to move slowly toward the temple, and then suddenly zoomed off and disappeared into the sky.

Now, I have seen some strange things in my life. But I'd never seen anything like that. I'd seen other UFOs, however, and there were some similarities that I was sure to note. Firstly was the manner by which it "took off" into the night - I'd seen a white ball of light in the sky do this exact move nearly two years prior while camping on a private island near the Oregon Coast. At another time, also in Oregon, I have seen another white craft zig-zag over a short distance like the red craft did over BRC. It also pulsed like the red UFO, and didn't appear to be very high up.

Ironically, I'd had a few dreams about UFOs and extraterrestrial life earlier that very week, whereas I normally don't dedicate much time to thinking about such things (my interest, after all, is with the living creatures of earth). But something about that red light did seem very intriguing to me and I'd like to know more about it.

In short, if anyone knows anything about this event, I'd love to hear from you. There must have been hundreds of witnesses and I've heard from some that they took video of it (though I have yet to see it myself).

The following are images of the craft which I took with my Canon EOS 7D DSLR camera, using an 18-55mm lens. I set the camera on the solid Playa ground to ensure that the shots I got were as clear as could be given the low lighting. I wish with all my heart that I’d had my 300mm and a tripod on me, but alas, I did not. I heard from another photographer, though, that he did, and he planned to post the images online (again, I have yet to see these).

This photo is a zoomed in view of the red light before it dropped its second light. You can see that it seems to have a ring of yellow around it, followed by a halo-like aura of more red. The light was flashing for a while, so this may just be a part of the flash, yet it appears in my other images of the light as well, leading me to believe that it’s actually something in the nature of the craft. Again, though, I’m not sure. I wish that I had a bigger lens for this.

And this is where things got interesting: You can see from this series of shots that the red UFO has now dropped a smaller red light toward the earth. This flashed on and off (all images here show the light while on) and then disappeared when it reached the horizon about 15 to 20 seconds later. My boyfriend told me that this 15-to-20-second drop time means that the original red craft was only about a mile high in the sky, which is quite close indeed, raising my suspicion that this was some kind of hoax.

This next image was taken with a 20-second exposure. The close up in the corner was sharpened to show detail, but is, like the rest of the photos, completely unedited aside from cropping and the signature included for copyright purposes. 

Again, I MUST re-iterate that I simply have NO idea what this thing is. I'm not trying to claim that it's an extraterrestrial spacecraft, nor am I taking the firm stance that it's a hoax. I'm simply saying that I don't know what is, and I think it's a very interesting experience which I'm glad to have had. Once more, if you know anything more about it, please feel free to share! I'd love to hear what you have to say.