RIDGES AND RIVERS

Someday I’ll learn the identities of clouds. Buy the chart, memorize their qualities and forms, and then watch the flowing sky afresh. This is, after all, yet another strand of mapping.

From childhood, I’ve absorbed maps. Mind travel. Concepts augmented by photographs and writings, which have often furnished a sense a such familiarity that when I arrive in a new place, strangers stop me to ask directions, even on my inaugural visit. Foliage, waters, buildings, and people fill in the lines of his maps as they stretch toward some new border. But this move, with its desert, has been an exception. Nothing’s been predictable or particularly comforting. Besides, I experience a vague agitation when venturing to the edge of my known universe. If possible, when visiting new locale, I push out a few miles further, to determine what’s over the next ridge or river — or at least down the road — as if to anchor myself within some context, rather than remain at its periphery. Curiously, I feel more secure when placing that border at some shoreline or rise — countryside, at the least — rather than within seemingly endless tracts of housing, factories, stores, and pavement. Even a round earth has places where monsters may lurk. Gaps exist in any map. Consider the clouds. Everything is, after all, changing. Even that rock, where Kokopelli is sitting.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

IN THE DIMENSIONS OF DAILY EMPLOYMENT

Any workplace holds confidences you can never reveal. Not that you don’t want to expose company secrets. Then, considering the office computers, fax machines, and photocopiers, you realize they’re incapable of guilt. They simply do their job — and you might find that unsettling.

Whenever I do manage to tap genuine emotions regarding this employment, no one’s more shocked than myself. Take something as simple as a pane of glass between my desk and the trees outdoors. Even on my job in Appalachian mountains, I wanted a window. One the size of a book would suffice, although a picture view would be preferred. I’ve always appreciated a panorama, a sense of precisely where I fit into the weather of a particular day. Instead, I feel trapped underground, half-buried in regulations and routine. Only a band of natural light at the far end of the fluorescent-and-steel expanse hints of sun, moon, sky, or clouds — and even that aperture is tinted. Why are my hours on the job so cut off from the rest of life? “We may as well be coal miners in carbonized veins or muscular razorbacks sweltering in midnight foundries. Is it only the sun we miss? Examine the calendar. Check on the moon’s phase.”

I could just plot my escape. I am surrounded by desert. Trek there alone. Right to the heart.

He recall the words of another friend who spoke of the paradox of Zen Buddhist freedom: the very limitations the practice imposes also lead to an extraordinary freedom. An individual who’s free in the Spirit can be placed in prison and yet not be captive — persecuted and yet unbowed — denounced and still spotless.

The Dedicated Laborious Quest, as my Teacher taught, is a truly free way.

Free, yes, with the labor.

I pick up the phone and hear Kokopelli’s whistle. He wants us to get going. Then tells me of the dance where we’ll be playing.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

MOUNTAINS AS A RELATIVE MEASURE

As I listen, I realize the locals don’t consider the surrounding ridges to be mountains. Although these “foothills” or just plain “hills” are as tall as Pennsylvania’s Alleghenies, shorn of trees, to speak of “mountains” signifies that one must drive away into forest. The time comes to hike in unfamiliar high country.

I drive west, into a mountain pass, and park at the trail head.

Climbing through clouds on Sheep Lake Trail, I identify snow lilies, phlox, two whistling marmots I mistake for groundhogs, and a ptarmigan. In these topless mountains, snow and rocks glimmer atop jagged white threads that twist, plunge, and roar over miles. In this clarity I recount a friend’s determination to perceive the important task to perform each day — a focus she achieved in the sunset of her young death. Go on.

The next outing, I follow another friend’s favorite trail. My valley of orchards and meadows stretches behind in a twilight of small-city lights and barren blue ridges. In golden splay dusk, I learn to fear glaciers atop volcanic spines and in their grooved depths, too. So much depends on which way you turn. Clouds, one moment pink, shift into slate-blue. Think of a great-uncle’s farm in Ohio flatlands when green-wood ringed the fields and autos were novelties; and how, when the United Brethren in Christ build their new sanctuary, one tree furnishes enough lumber for all the pews. Such timber is long gone from most of the Midwest, and nearly gone here, as well.

Strangely, adjusting to such disorientation can allow one to see more than the landscape with fresh eyes. I begin reckoning my birthplace afresh, too. I perceive a native poetry now vanished: in flat terrain they coined Sweet Potato Ridge Road when they became sensitive to what had been called Nigger Pike, after work crews that came out from the workhouse jail in the city; Diamond Mill Road was made of limestone gravel flecked with quartz or mica, but named for the distillery beside the rails. What could be in those rural lanes I had sped along on the way to the farm to cause their ghosts to arise out here? I think, too, of the hayloft I had delighted climbing in, even though the old folks feared I’d fall through and be trampled by cattle; more ominously, some shed rafters I walked like a high-wire artist had hogs rummaging below, with razor snouts and teeth and a latent taste for blood. That farm acreage is scarcely like these Western orchards or open ranges, yet something echoes. It’s earth and air. Sunshine and clouds. My days in the mountains are airy conifers. I could be a pioneer, in spirit, at least. My ancestors settled those Ohio tracts. Another line, a bit earlier, settled North Carolina Piedmont. Here, I find unspoiled corners.

Perhaps bears do drink beer. Rocks, leap from mountaintops into oceans. Naked breasts, swell from snowmelt pool to sky.

Against this wall, between his desert and the frigid sea current, I declare my vast ignorance: left to myself, I’d likely starve, soon sicken of berries, and have never caught fish properly or gutted a rabbit. Somehow, I wait to be fed. Thus, one point of my Dedicated Laborious Quest involves learning to be wholly myself — embracing flaws as well as talents, as I search out my own boundaries.

Away from the office and encircled by an ever-renewing earth — even an apparently lifeless desert that restores his sanity and a brand of insanity, too — you may find that every trail you follow brings you closer to your own attainment, your emerging sense of place and mission within the universe. As for looniness — ah, loco! — you soon appreciate how all are in some way at least un poco, indeed.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

LIBERTY

Few people move to desert out of any desire for its peculiar landscape. True, there are those who hope its dry air will alleviate some health problem, yet even they typically install green lawns and shrubs requiring frequent irrigation. There is the prospector expecting to strike riches to squander elsewhere, or the cowboy or shepherd accompanying the herd or the flock, or a refugee or smuggler moving across the opening as a place of the least likelihood of detection or the least resistance in the border. Admittedly, some come to a particular job or to retire. Some come for opportunities of outdoors recreation — proximity to forested mountains or snow-fed rivers rather than the tawny dry ground itself. Almost all, however, have taken flight from something back there — whatever their birthplace or last residence — more than any deep conviction that this horizon embraces their Promised Land. They arrive with boxes and garments, with reminders of conflict or distance. Moreover, they cling to the desert fringe — settling in oasis towns or cities where irrigation water rushes along cement ditches — rather than miles beyond their next neighbor, with only buff surroundings.

My wife and I are no exception.

At the office, I’m asked, Where were you born? What brought you here? Where are your parents? I calculate: few children live within a day’s drive of grandparents, aunts, or uncles. Compared to my birthplace, cemeteries are rare. Nobody admits fleeing family, which is a fact of life. The trout fishing, they say, is unsurpassed. There is salmon. If you have water, you can garden nearly anything to perfection. You can hunt elk in the mountains or various quail in the foothills. You can raft on the river. There’s no rain to speak of, and overcast days are infrequent, excepting the winter.

I explain my reasons were professional. I’m establishing a career and am something of a specialist whose last job was eliminated by sharp, painful budget cutbacks. Here, at least, I have opportunities to advance as a manager, working under a progressive-minded mentor. I accept this move as a shortcut before moving on, to bigger things beyond that horizon. Besides, I’ve promised my wife that somehow we’d relocate to this corner of the nation, a place she fondly remembers from four years of childhood. Following me in this move, she’s distraught to find desert where she anticipated rainforest. In short, both of us suffer dislocation.

Here, then, a rewiring begins. Some of it connects the person to the place. Some of it, the two people to each other. Some of it, the individuals to their dreams.

Horses preserve a way of desert life. Consider rodeo. Agriculture is spelled rancher, not farmer: Even fifteen acres becomes a ranch. There’s great distance nearly anywhere you’d want to go. Religion polarizes into New Age, on one hand, and fundamentalist, on the other, with little in between; this condition is as true within denominations as across the diverse range of religions themselves. There’s a different spectrum of ethnicity to contend with, too — Native-American, Hispanic, and Asian. More, too, than the Eurocentric nationalities and African consciousness he had seen Back East — to say nothing of rearranged economic strata. Within and without. The bum on the corner turns out to be a multi-millionaire who owns a thousand acres. Here cattle are not cows; it’s beef rather than dairy. Federal government agencies are omnipresent: the Bureau of Reclamation manages hydroelectric generation and irrigation; beyond, there are military bases, national forests, tribal reservations, high country meadows, famed parks, Corps of Engineers reservoirs, state-owned sporting grounds, horticultural boards, Extension Service projects. People apply to the Feds when they file for grazing rights or mineral mining stakes supposedly there for the taking. You’ll observe unspoken contradictions, beginning with the right-wing rhetoric common within these federally subsidized communities. As for the Bureau of Reclamation: how dare we say we’re reclaiming when we’re merely putting our human stamp on a piece of soil by diverting water and planting? Maybe we’re declaiming or proclaiming instead. The Bureau of Indian Affairs appeared even more unsettling. Chiefly …

I am learning. There’s good reason the rattlesnake-infested, corrugated humps encircling the orchard valley are pale brown: they receive none of the snowmelt impounded from late March into July in the high mountains. Agencies release and distribute that water through blazing summer into October. Green agriculture parallels the river and irrigation canals, defying the tough, roasted inclines above, where sagebrush and bunchgrass stroke tawny eternity. In this compass, wind rarely precedes rain. Beyond lucrative strips of orchards, the principal agriculture involves herds or hay; because of irrigation and unfettered sunlight, five mowings a year are common; bales are trucked to dairy cows and pleasure horses on the rainy side of the tall mountains. Desert has few chickens — and no pigs to speak of. Somewhere out there, Basque shepherds elude the heat. Forests begin at the top of high ridges observed fifty miles distant.

In the Far West, most men hunt and fish. Their goal is big game: deer and elk, especially. Big trout and salmon, too. Everything else remains “Back East” or target practice. Its vastness hammers the imagination.

On our journey westward, we notice that Custer National Forest flanks the barren holdings of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations. Somehow that summarizes a Far West polity in what I thought would be a classless society.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

IN SEARCH OF DEEPER EXISTENCE

We made a leap, heading off nearly stiff-necked to find ourselves, as some diners proclaim, “served where quality counts.” Over steak dinners, this quaking closet monk is surprised by how much change can happen when I think nothing is moving. Just pass the salt, sugar, coffee, cream — thunder, please — in what they call the Brand Room surrounded by “Western art,” supposedly realistic styling of cowboys, Indians, and wildlife in dramatized poses. People from all over the world come to a few tiny rodeo towns like this to collect such canvases. Examine the pieces closely, though, and you perceive the false notes. The clothing, poses, landscapes distort. The artists react against the very masters they wish to emulate. Much of it is cranked out without looking acutely at the things being portrayed. Some may be driven by a worship of a past that never was quite that way; some, by a retreat from current events. Most viewers merely acknowledge symbol and go on as though sleepwalking, an act that continues misunderstanding. The rifle, saddle, spurs, and cougar evoke no real emotion: they are foreign to the touch and nose. But I desire to perceive this territory afresh — no matter how startling my findings deviate from convention. When I meet a bear or a buffalo, it won’t be like the dilated scoundrels in these paintings. My horse won’t rear behind me. He’ll simply center in his tracks — quiet, aware, efficient. He knows how it will be.

The Dedicated Laborious Quest begins with sustained exercise of a specific activity: a sport, an art, a science. Anything that requires years of individual exertion, even solitude, drawing upon many facets of the practitioner’s being — heart, mind, soul, and might.

Somehow, the novice begins dancing, if only in his head. Something simple, at first, until familiarity gains ground. Feet, legs, torso, arms, and hands eventually follow. A reel leads into a jig. Thought and emotions balance. Head and heart dialogue. With confidence comes freedom. More and more, the aspirant concentrates on partners or the group or motion itself, rather than his own next step or position. The music becomes more textured, until the hornpipe stands as the liveliest structure. So it’s been in this landscape. This is not just any desert, for there’s nothing generic about any detail encountered closely. With both people and places you come to know dearly, you find nuances and subtle contradictions will blur any sharp image. It’s easier to describe someone or something you meet briefly than what you know intimately. To say desert is dry and sunny misses the point, especially if you arrive in winter. At first, like so many others, we didn’t even consider this valley as desert, for it has no camel caravans or mounds of shifting sands with Great Pyramids on the horizon. One word or phrase can be misleading. Even the Evil Stepmother from folklore and fairy tales must have possessed some redeeming qualities. Could we be more specific than “evil”? Simply selfish? Or was she mean, jealous, domineering, afraid of whatever, from the wrong party? Suppose she was really a victim of some deep abuse? The portrait changes. Has anyone detailed how she dances? In the end, it’s either entertainment or worship, depending on the individual’s orientation. An authentic spiritual discipline teaches, through experience, we are not gods. Choose, then, good or evil, flowing or hoarding, living or dying.

Matching maps to the landscape, I look vainly for towns that do not exist or discover attractions placed on the wrong side of the road. Admit that everything is moving and transitory, even the mountains. Mariners, too, will speak of shifting sandbars as only one hazard of sailing on charts. Pay attention, then, but never toss your maps overboard. Are they all that different from Holy Scripture?

In a multitude of ways, people fear religion will lead them not just into wilderness but a desert. Demand, in fact, they leave everything behind. The description will vary by tradition. Entering the Void or emptiness, becoming selfless or egoless, abandoning the Little Self for the Big Self, achieving annihilation and sacrifice, attaining renunciation (Sannyasa), taking up your own Cross — these are a few of its names. Marriage adds its own complications.

Having come to the desert, we now know the fuller value of water. Something simple, essential. No one can live without it. The list of necessities is a short one; the possibilities of embellishment, endless.

There are rivers on every map you rely on. Sometimes when I walk out into the expanse, I encounter one. Sometimes, one deep enough to block my way. And then I turn to the page for a bridge.

Or, better yet, call out for my buddy, Kokopelli.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

THE INTERIOR SURPRISES

When the Pacific Northwest is mentioned, most people envision lush evergreen rainforests amid glacial mountains; few consider the desert that occupies most of Washington State, Oregon, and Idaho. I now explore the western end of the largely treeless expanse beginning within the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas and extending almost to the Pacific Rim itself. Remember, a leafy tree requires thirty inches of rainfall a year to survive; an evergreen, somewhat less. My valley received an average of a little more than seven inches a year. Having grown up adjusting to muggy summers, I find a desert can affect my spirit in more ways than I ever would have imagined.

But you can choose, too, not to call everything by the names on maps. As geographies are being transformed ever more rapidly, few outward specifics hold long. Seek instead the vibrations of a site, sense its unseen roots and unexpressed timeless potential. In that vein, another depth appears. Perhaps each human inhabitant will go beyond basic misunderstandings. As I still hope.

Some maps are even jigsaw puzzles. And you think they’re for children?

Returning from that first trip to India, my spiritual mentor remarked that each village had felt different. “It’s more than appearances. The difference is the distinct vibration of a site. Many of their deities belong to a specific locality. One village will worship one god; another will enshrine another.” That’s how they identified the unique quality of a spot, just as Westerners have chemical elements to define physical qualities of a substance.

Even though I wasn’t quite certain of their origin or all of their psychic flavors, I sensed such subtleties. There are spiritual fingerprints certain people leave behind: a Quaker or Dunker neighborhood, for instance, may have a distinctive feel even a century after those worshipers depart. The same seems to be true for American Indian sites.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

MAPPING MORE THAN GEOGRAPHY

I had no knowledge of the streams of quiet rebels who experience divinity directly, thanks, in part, to the map of their heritage as they work with the soil and their own bodies. These days, they resist as best they can the manufactured desires beaming from satellites or television airwaves, even while they watch many of their children succumb to these temptations. They could tell us about Elijah or Jeremiah, the Babylonian captivity, or the Maccabees’ war of independence, in addition to my own ancestors’ sufferings recorded in The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians or Joseph Besse’s A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, for the Testimony of a Good Conscience. When, at last, I reclaim this legacy, piecemeal, I ask, “So whose story are you telling, anyhow? Which grandparents are yours?” Opening their maps, I follow their footsteps, even in a strange land. Well made cartography includes supplications and blessings, as well as warnings.

My own homeland once included many woodlands well into my grandfather’s childhood. A balance of forest, with its firewood and construction timber, and farm fields and pastures. So much so, in fact, that people could travel dozens of miles on roads that never left forest between cities. By my own childhood, however, most of the trees had been leveled, and even the woodlot on an uncle’s farm doubled as pasture for hogs and cattle. In winter, the countryside was a stubble wasteland.

Similarly, a prairie denuded of buffalo is impoverished. How much poorer is a suburban lot occupied by restless greed? Here I am, dwelling in desert I consider healthier and more vibrant than the construction I see overrunning the lands around cities and towns. “Rebuild at the core,” I urge the wind. “Repent!” Turn about! Bring back the buffalo and the buffalo nickel, as well as amicable urban neighborhoods. There are all kinds of communities, and humans are only part of the equation. There is land, there is sky, there is water and flowing. To say nothing of what exists beneath them.

A person who comprehends maps will appreciate history as well. Perhaps even musical scores, as another kind of map with a dimension of time.

I listen to my wife and learn of the mental maps many women carry. The ones of kitchens or gardens. Others leading to childbirth and parenting, or even away.

I, meanwhile, come here for a taste of primeval wilderness — a hope to experience a timeless reality that holds humanity in a state of awe rather than arrogance. Just look to the mountains for salvation. Look as well to dreams, each one having one foot in your past and the other in your present.

Carried to an intelligence that daylight conceals, I sense that within many rapidly fading distinctions I’ve scorned are important markers; these ranged from where to harvest wild berries and their uses as food and medicine to my own ancestors’ hymns and religious teachings. To be creative means building on what’s come before, rather than entering a new universe. The path on the map goes from one place to another. Respect is essential — another way of honoring one’s fathers and mothers. There’s still time to cultivate individuality and character in the field. Sometimes, even where homogeneity is perceived, a people can differ as sharply among themselves as they do from others. Ponder Polish Catholics in Chicago, Congregationalists in Ohio’s once-Yankee Western Reserve, and fire-breathing Baptists and Pentecostals in Detroit and what they might do to enhance each other’s heritage, rather than striving for some common denominator. That’s another way of lifting up mountains, rather than leveling. Even on flat land, each body leaves a hidden stamp on its soil. Learn to read vibrations of an environment, and you identify communities dwelling therein, sometimes a century or two after their departure. Through the news and entertainment media, I grew up knowing more of Manhattan and Capitol Hill, though they were only incidentally closer geographically than Kansas City or Minneapolis, supposedly within my Midwestern realm. I knew more, too, of Hollywood back lots and Beverly Hills. Indeed, not until much later had I recognized the Midwest I’d considered so conservative and culturally backward was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a hotbed of radical politics and organized labor. Many of its cities elected Socialist mayors only to replace them with Ku Klux Klan within the decade. Talk about upheaval! In the front parlors of homes in many small towns across the Plains, the latest wave of European high culture was performed; three of the nation’s oldest handful of symphony orchestras were organized (St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati). In the machine shops of isolated barns and backyard stables of small-town entrepreneurs, curious Midwestern farm boys tinkered perfecting the automobile and a thousand other industrial marvels. Kite-flying bicycle-building brothers put men in the air.

Much of this I did not understand or appreciate when dreaming only of escape. Only now did I come to see what remains of a once rich and varied heritage. In those days I looked off to the limits of a world; fixes like Boston and Seattle as strands of Utopia. What I encountered instead was a step beyond the anticipated. Of the neighborhoods I would come to call home, none quite fit what people expect of East Coast, Midwest, or Pacific Northwest, either.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

MULTIPLE MAPPING

Knowing how far to go — and when to turn back, to the best effect — are difficult matters. The wise traveler relies on those who have gone there already and returned. You hope they speak truthfully. Often your life will depend on their directions. Even knowing what to pack and what to omit may be based on their counsel. Mountains and rivers are only the beginning.

When there’s too much to remember, a map begins forming. That or a guidebook. But the map presents more possibilities than the book, with its linear narrative confined to one route at a time — even maps with vast portions blank or missing. Take two points on a map and connect them, this way or that. Add a third. And then a fourth.

I never would have arrived in this desert without maps. The airliner’s navigation charts, of course. And then the highway atlas. Many others, as well, become useful. Those that show back roads. Others, topography. Still others, property divisions — including the Indian reservation and Army artillery range, both declared off-limits. Maps of emotions, economies, explorations. Maps of oceans, weather, the heavens.

Disembark and you go to work filling in details and then connecting points like a spider. What’s around that corner? What’s over that ridge? Where will we stay, and what’s the best way to get there? A single map is only an blueprint. The particulars never quite fit. Especially in two dimensions. A breeze lifts the web. Coyote walks through it.

Each one distorts — some far more than others, and rarely by intention. Who made the map in your hands? And to what purpose? Some were mathematicians of few words. Others were empire builders or real estate developers. Some weave the directions into the stories they tell beside the campfire. Some ignore shadows. Fail to repent, ask forgiveness, extend blessing. Others know survival, as well as play, requires definition and decision. Obligates searching within, as well as around, in fullest candor. Some even deceptively point you away from your destination (why should they reveal their secrets?).

Those who were born and raised here know it in a different way from those who have migrated. Magpie will tell you one thing; a Canada goose, another. Same goes for where they’re positioned. Jackrabbit and dragonfly take separate pathways, as does beaver. You simply log where they cross and hope to find meaning.

I had thought maps were the essence of geography. Now the definitions spill over into history, geology, meteorology, political science, psychology, and much more. Because many misunderstandings afflict each life, there are bound to be collisions. Sometimes you move into a thorn that pierces consciousness, but even that rarely brings clarity. You see there’s endless discord among individuals, clans, tribes, nations, denominations — all to be traversed and mapped in the search for ways out and back safely. In this knowledge, jobs, aspirations, faiths, possessions, social standing are merely reflections of fundamental conflicts between human consumption and the good earth itself. No one can dwell anywhere without disturbing the whole; individuals and collectivities distort and contort to their own ends, some more benignly than others. The lines on the page do not hold their place. Without a divinity as a guide knowing these connecting pathways, then, there’s no return to full measure and health. The breath people exhale, fires they build, grains and flesh they devour are diverted to their chosen applications. “Tell us something better,” I implore. “Teach us the highest way.” Where anyone takes it from here is another matter.

Sadly, whether this transformation’s harmonious and renewing, guiding individuals as merciful stewards and co-creators with the divine, or self-centered and destructive as thieves, is rarely considered. Just observe how communities rationalize, arguing that the welfare of their women and children comes first, even as they bankrupt the farm to support worldwide armies or strip timberlands in a rutting for coal and iron.

You could perceive many aspects of this in these orchards within desert. While the choice of irrigating and producing fruit sustains many more humans than the arid range would, also ponder the long-term impact of the poisons applied through each season. Kill harmful insects and molds, but what else? And how soon before it seeps into the groundwater and household wells? It’s all an interplay of good and evil, which I observed through a giant spider web. As a practice within my spiritual discipline, the Dedicated Laborious Quest, I place maps atop other maps and find they are drawn to different scales. Many of the words require translation, which introduces its own misunderstandings. Some of the maps are even of places far from here, landscapes in memory.

Too many details and the sheet becomes a scribble. Maybe that’s why here, at an extremity of the continental United States, I now comprehend the American Midwest of my childhood and early adult years as something other than a uniformly Protestant corn belt. Even overlooking ecological differences between woodlands and prairies, or between the Great Lakes and the Missouri or Ohio river valleys, I reconsider its varied ethnic traditions and the hidden cost of the melting-pot focus. Speaking with other exiles like myself, I become aware of unique distinctions some of our ancestors resolutely upheld, at the cost of their own lives, if necessary. There were strains of Scandinavian Lutherans in the Dakotas, Russian Mennonites in Kansas, and Scottish Presbyterians in Iowa, whose distinct cultures were eroding like the topsoil itself. You would hear, too, why so many had fled. Some, desperately hoping to forget forever their terrors or shame, buried the evidence as best they could. Others, however, defiantly kept it aloft as a reminder of their liberation and a warning.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

ROOTS THROUGH THE SKY

Ours was not the journey of Ulysses. There had been no dramatic battle. No obvious defeat or shipwreck, either. We weren’t accompanied by our own troops. I intended to make my home here, at the edge of wilderness, and venture into its realms, rather than circle back toward some faraway but faithful woman or goddess.

With the exception of my spouse, who also traveled with me, I was fleeing my own people and hoping that strangers would be better, or at least different. Crucially, I would continue to enter the back country to be reminded of some mystery, as if on this edge of the continent some faithful remnant was making a final stand in defense of Old Ways handed down through practice from antiquity. Still, you could look at the ground and be disgusted here, too, to find white fibrous butts, the thimbles of broken cylinders left behind wherever man goes, along with the larger, inescapable debris. Look up and see contrails of airliners and military aircraft. You could scoff that in vapor-lighted cities, where cancer is the predominate cause of dying, few inhabitants are aware of the flickering stars or the planets in their orbits; the populace is ignorant of the very lunar phases you will so closely follow here. Taunt them, arguing that Jesus is the only bum welcome on their streets and parking lots, and accepted in their midst only because he’s conveniently dead. Maybe he’s not all that welcome, either, if you look closer. Meanwhile, vandals spray-paint his name on forest boulders alongside highways, as though a word alone can distribute clear-cut salvation. Ponder the contempt for both creation and creator. The Old Orders dismiss superficial religion. There’s fasting, and then there’s starvation. The soul knows a hunger, one that comes at the beginning of prayer. Some practitioners know this opens a furrow their horses help plow. For now, I would venture into high places to be reminded of the ancient interplay of dualities. Not just good and bad, but the overlapping harmonies as well. Make my rounds, however quickly at first, acknowledging the slower nomadic practice.

When I packed for this move, I preferred boxes over baskets. Something squared, for paper and recordings, especially. Typewriter. Electronics. We weren’t transporting dried berries or salmon. Blankets cushioned furniture and china. The cardboard presented fewer overlapping harmonies. Learn to weave baskets and I might learn something of the Cross. Especially in its curving.

Handle with care, all the same. Let go of one, something shatters. Or the other, something bounces. Baskets stack differently than boxes. See which one fits a squared room better. Which one, a hogan, wickiup, tipi, or kiva.

Step outside. Turn to the four directions. Then name them.

MALE / SUN
FEMALE / MOON.

Turn again.

AIR / FIRE
EARTH / WATER.

Once more.

SPIRIT / LIGHT
FLESH / SHADOW.

Draw out their colors according to tradition or your own intuition.

Soon the divisions break down, into Yin/Yang swirling.

This is where prayer begins its dancing, even without Kokopelli’s piping.

In such turning I was brought to the edge of my intellect. Facing the expanse toward the horizon, my knowledge of geography, geology, botany, zoology, astronomy, and survival itself proved defective. The edge and depth of my emotions, too. Return to my religious texts and I’d find a different story. Not the one taught to children, but more sinister dimensions. Walk far enough away from the village or highway into open fear, admitting this experience might break me. This Dedicated Laborious Quest draws on all my ability — mental, physical, and psychic — until I’m forced to pull strength from some kernel of infinity within myself. As you pull, roots come forth. Draw them from the emptiness within the basket. The emptiness waiting on the horizon’s circle, as well. More roots, reaching out like cosmic rays through the sky, are visible only to the spider — these beads on a rickety filament.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

A DESERT AND A SEA

A hundred miles inland from the nearest port, we encountered a three-legged tree. Until looking closer after being told the house beside it was built a century earlier by a retired sea captain, you’d have no clue a whale jaw had been leaned against the young trunk, where they grew together.

Irrigated, of course, this being desert.

The question remained. Who was farther from true home?

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.