First Balance, Then Movement

I am walking blindfolded through the woods near Hollyhock. I am sweeping my feet along the ground in front of me in order to feel the path. Tom, who is my guide (I guide him for half of the trip) has pretty much let me feel my way forward on my own. I am pleased with my progress , but when I announce how confident I feel in my ability to navigate the woods blind, it turns out I have wandered off into the ferns, and he amusedly guides me back onto the path. Now we are approaching Judyth’s deck where we practice T’ai chi. The path is very difficult here. Tom tugs on my jacket to slow me down. “Do the Crane thing,” he says, and I go into the stance “White Crane spreads wings”, my right hand sweeping up above me head to ward off a high blow, my left hand sweeping down to ward off low. I step forward and feel the roughness of the bark of the tree slanting across the path at head level. I move under it, and continue shuffling forward toward the deck.

Hollyhock is a holistic center on Cortes Island, which is between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland. There were three separate workshops going on at Hollyhock the week I was there. There was a shamanism workshop, an Afro-american singing workshop led by Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock, and the t’ai chi workshop of which I was a participant. Each group had a very different population.The shamans were off on an intense journey. They would march off in the morning, accompanied ominously beating frame drums, looking half delighted and half in dread. They tended to stick together, and their separateness made them the butt of jokes. The other campers thought about playing pranks on the shamans, but we didn’t have the nerve because nobody was sure what kind of damage a pissed off shaman might do.

The singing group was more open to non-participants. I spent a fair amount of time in the hot tub singing with them. I got to use the gospel voice that I found behind the circus tent at Camp Winnarainbow during vocal improv classes there.

The t’ai chi workshop was led by Judyth, Weaver, a small graceful woman in her early 60’s who has been practicing t’ai chi for 31 years. She was a dancer, and you can see that in the lovely lines of her movement. It is fascinating to watch her practice t’ai chi. Many ages of womanhood emerge kaleidoscopically as you watch her move, sometimes girlish, sometimes profoundly old.

We took many classes on Judyth’s t’ai chi deck — a wooden deck that sits high up on a bluff about a mile walk from Hollyhockthrough ferns and under shaggy barked cedars. The view is astounding – over the bay, over small rocky islands in the foreground to larger green curved islands in the middle distance and finally to the blue grey snow clad peaks sometimes hiden with low clouds. It is perfect. When Judyth first had the deck built, the contractor felled a number of trees, and she wept for them. But now there are some more trees down the hill which are beginning to encroach into the view, and sad as she might feel, I think she’ll have them topped. Deer wander by as we practice t’ai chi, and a pair of bald eagles often converse in the treetop. They have oddly high voices for such a large bird, more like seagulls than what you would expect.

The more I did t’ai chi, the more I was able to relax into the movements. That is the first rule of t’ai chi: relax. Judyth talks about sending a root down into the earth, and I did feel more rooted, and began to appreciate the slow sensuality of the movements. It is like being underwater, like scuba diving. There is no point in hurrying your arms anywhere. Move your center and the arms come along floating up and over like kelp. You find your point of balance and only after that do you move on.

One night I was practicing with Howard, a pilot for fed ex. Howard was at Hollyhock because his wife wanted to do the shamanism workshop. He’s trying his best to absorb this t’ai ci stuff, but had certain reservations. “When we’re moving this slow”, he said “the other guy is just going to punch us.” As we were practicing, I hurried through the initial movement. “Oh”, I said to him “I forgot to sink my root.” “That’s what she said”, he replied, and we were unable to continue for laughing. It is a long way to enlightenment.

The entrance to Hollyhock is through a beautiful organic garden. There are flowers everywhere – dense interplantings so that each stand is like a bouquet. Vegetables are interlaced amidst the flowers, and there was a big stand of raspberries that I would wander into and munch like a contented bear. All of the gates have handles or latches made of drift wood, each one different, so that at first you have to ponder it. How does the gate open? This handle pivots , that one slides. The gates and fences are solid below and open on top, with driftwood forming rays above.

There is a beautiful view from the deck, and an irregularly shaped hot tub looking over the bay, and there are round buildings name Raven and Sanctuary and Kiakum with skylights and interesting driftwood integrated into their structures. There are delicious vegetarian meals from the garden.

It is lovely, lovely, lovely, and at first it made me want to scream. It took me a while to figure it out why, but finally I was able to put my finger on it : too much reverence. It felt too precious, like everyone was talking too quietly. It felt like it was draining me of vigor. Some of the guests seemed stunned, etiolated, like a loud noise could knock them over. (Etiolate – to make a plant pale by depriving it of sunlight. A composition teacher once described one of my pieces as etiolated, and I saved the word for the aptness of its barb.) As if the thoroughly protective place also saps some of the strength one gains from standing on one’s own legs.

When talking about it later, I was reminded of Carl Jung’s dream, where God craps on the church. For me, reverence must be balanced by irreverence (and vice versa) The deeper the reverence, the louder the barabaric yawp has to be on the other side to balance it.

Happily, I soon found the irreverent members of the crowd and so managed to achieve balance and enjoy Hollyhock. And then I could see that sometimes people were talking quietly because they did not need to talk loudly to be heard. And sometimes, they just needed to have a little encouragement to get loud. On my last evening, I was having dinner with the lingering t’ai chi-ers, a fairly low-key group. Somebody mentioned the 5 buddhist sins (greed, aversion, sloth, restlessness, and doubt – I am definitely plagued by the last two). I countered by asking for the names of the seven Deadly Dwarves. Someone else asked for the names of Santa’s reindeer, and the only way we could figure that out was to sing Rudolp the Red-nosed Reindeer. Which we did, full-throated, in the dining room. The new arrivals looked at us, unsure. Was this a Hollyhock tradition, and if so, what song would their table be called upon to sing?

The last day of T’ai chi class, we practiced on the beach. Judyth had us group together in threes. The center person closed his/her eyes and put a finger on the back of a hand of each of his/her guides. My guides swooped and spun, hands heading together or in opposite directions. We splashed into the water. We twirled around the beach. In the middle of a twisting dancelike sequence, one of my guides asked me “Are you disoriented?”. “No,” I said, “I don’t care which way I’m facing.”

And so I don’t . I know less and less where I’m going, and find myself more and more at ease where I am. I am relaxing into my own blindness. Now I’m not certain when I’ll get back to New York, and how long I’ll stay there. I’m just trying to find my balance, sweeping my feet out in front of me, feeling the next step. Trying to truly experience the next step. Can I put my weight there? I think so. And step.

You are all my guides, helping me when I need it, but mostly letting me go my own way, which I appreciate. I’m sure at some point I will announce to you all happily “I know just where I am”. At that point you can be sure that I will have wandered far into the ferns. They are lovely this time of year.

Serenade for Kelp Horn

We are paddling down an inlet between granite islands covered with dark green conifers. The rain has let up, but the atmosphere is still thick with moisture. The sky is a grey pot lid and wisps of clouds rise like steam from the hills. I am trailing behind the group and I see the bald eagle dive down toward the water and then swoop back up. As it rises, I see the feather fall from it, drifting down dark brown with the white at its base gleaming. It spirals as it falls. “Look!”, I shout, “It dropped a feather!”. Then they all see it, too, and we start forward towards where the feather must have landed, where it must be floating on the same ebb tide that is carrying us forward. I try to make up the distance so that I can be the one to find the feather in the water, so that I can have the feather. But it is Jari in the double kayak, with Bruce, the guide, who finds it. Jari, 11 years old, always underfoot. Jari who has decided that since I am the other unattached male, I must be his playmate. (“Hey Tom, do you want to try to make it all the way out to that little island without getting our feet wet?” “No Jari, these are the only dry shoes I have.” 11 year old boys are not concerned very much about consequences. 40 year olds may be a little to preoccupied with them). Now Jari holds the feather aloft, waving it like a conductor’s baton. It is a bitter moment, because I know that since he picked up the feather, it is his. I paddle up alongside “Can I see it?” “Here,” he says “Take it. You saw it fall, I only saw it in the water. You have the eagle eye.” I take the feather and put its quill under a bungee on the deck of the kayak, greedy and abashed. Later, when we’re back at the lodge, I offer him any of the various treasures I have collected in repayment, but he doesn’t want them. “We come here every year, I can always find another feather” But I know that he has been generous and bestowed me a blessing, even if he is a pain-in-the-ass kid, and I don’t want to be one down in the blessing game, so I search my belongings to find something of mine I think he’ll dig on. I come up with a Wingfest tee-shirt. Fifth anniversary design – the famous Flaming Nancy shirt. He loves it. So now there’s a kid in Calgary with a Wingfest shirt. Perhaps you’ll see him at the Stampede.

I have been kayaking with a group of six campers and two guides around the islands and waterways of Desolation Sound between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular – everywhere you look there is postcard beauty. Intricate coast lines of gray granite and distant snowcapped peaks peeping out between rounded green shoulders. Sometimes you can look down a channel and see hills echoing each other and fading into a blue distance. And between them all blue water, clear and cold. It gets so you almost want to see something ugly to rest your eyes.

We had two guides with us. One is named Merlin – he’s the lead guide. Merlin is tall with a hooked nose and a massive jaw and a drooping black moustache. He has the disconcerting habit of looking at you deadpan for about 5 seconds whenever you ask him anything. During those 5 seconds you wonder – Did Merlin hear what you said? Is he ignoring it? Is he confused? Did you piss him off? And then after that delay, he’ll answer your question, always on an even keel, often with a dry sense of humor. Bruce, the second guide is the naturalist. Bruce has a long nose and glasses and he would run through the shallows looking for interesting specimens to show the group. At the campfire, Merlin read “The Shooting of Dangerous Dan McGrew” and Bruce read poetry.

On the first day, we stopped at a rock beach for lunch. I headed off to the crest of the beach to see what I could see, and there on the ground was a beautiful brown and white striped feather. I brought it back to the group. “That’s a barred owl” said Bruce. “Good find”. I took this to be an excellent omen. The beach was littered with dozens of oysters. I opened one and ate it. Later that day, we camped in an abandoned homestead with a field of foxglove. Six foot tall spikes of purple trumpet shaped flowers. The tide was high, so I could not get more oysters. Jari was my tentmate, and we slept side by side outside on an abandoned dock. Jari liked to chat before sleeping. He wanted to know if I had read anything good lately – for instance, had I read the Star Wars books? I had not.

The next day, we paddled toward a place called Surge Narrows. Since all the tide must pass through this choke point, the current gets very intense. The trip was planned so that we would arrive there at the slack – that part of the tide cycle when the tide is turning, and the current pauses before turning the other way. In the morning, our guides made sure that we were making good progress. I got a little concerned because my back was getting a bit sore, and I needed to take breaks to stretch. Is kayaking a good idea for people with lower back problems? Probably not. Merlin told me that at the end of the season, he would usually have a good case of sciatica. But I figured out how to adjust the seat, and how to change postures, so I mostly avoided much back misery.

We arrived at Surge Narrows at just about the right time, but now the wind had picked up. It was approaching gale force, and we could see white caps streaming down the passage. Merlin paddled around the bend where we were resting in our kayaks, sheltered. He came back and said that the wind was too strong, we were going to have to camp and wait for it to die down. We paddled over to a small island with a cove full of bull kelp. Bull kelp is brown with a large bulb at the end and a tube which trails behind it, narrowing down so that it looks like a bullwhip. Perhaps that’s how it got the name bull kelp, although I think that it may be that the kelp looks like that part of the animal which marks it as a bull, in contradistinction to its joyful mate, the cow.

As we pulled out the kayaks, we spotted sea urchin around us, little green ones about the size of tennis ball. “Uni!” I thought, being a sushi fan. I picked up a sea urchin. It waved its spines about, and it had a small beak at the bottom. It was clearly a living creature, much more alive looking than an oyster or a clam, both of which look more like rocks than pets. I gazed down at it. “You’ll have to look deep within yourself” Bruce said ” And decide whether you want to disturb this ecosystem”. I looked at the helpless creature in front of me, and at all its bretheren around me. I decided that there were plenty of them there. “Sorry, my brother” I said, and cut into its surprisingly thin shell – it felt like an eggshell under the knife. Inside, I found the uni – sea urchin roe, and licked it off the knife. It was surprisingly sweet.

Later, Peter, Jari’s father, took me to a part of the island a little further where there was a colony of large purple urchins. They were clinging to the side of a granite wall that sloped down into the rising tide. They were beautiful, raspberry colored blossoms waving in the tide. Peter pried two off the rocks and we carried them back. It was bigger than my hand, and waved it’s spines aimlessly like a baby waving its arms. This one was even more difficult to cut into because it was so beautiful. Again my knife bit through, and now I found big pockets of roe just like in my favorite Japanese restaurants, and it was better and sweeter, only I had a hard time separating all of the urchin’s internal organs from the roe. But I served it out anyway and Merlin had some, and some of the other campers, and I hunkered down scooping out the uni, licking it off the knife as the urchin stained my fingers with its gorgeous purple color. Mary, Jari’s mother looked at me with undisguised disgust, and indeed I felt like an animal hunched over my kill. A predator enjoying its meal of sweet entrails.

Later, walking over the island, I found an eagle feather lying on top of a hill. It had what looked like a small notch cut out of it. I was delighted – clearly my animal totems were pleased. Later that day, I put it inside my dry bag, but in my haste to clean up, I folded the bag with the feather inside it. The spine of the feather was bent and dented in several places. When I realized what I’d done, I was distraught – I was sure I had ruined the medicine of my magic feather. I mentioned this to Bruce “Well,’ he said. “Maybe that’s your medicine – part cut out of it, bent and broken” “But still an eagle feather”, I added.

Finding a camping spot on these islands was a challenge. Since they are composed of granite and very little soil, it was very difficult to find a flat place of any size. Mostly it was a question of deciding which series of planes best corresponded to those presented by your own body. All three nights of the trip I ended up sleeping outside. The second night on that eagle feather island, I lay in a small depression like a shallow grave where the moss grew green and soft. The wind whistled around me that night, but I slept snug in all the layers I had brought with me, my sleeping bag zipped tight all the way around my head. In the morning, I found Bruce nearby. “Look,” he said – the most beautiful bird in British Columbia,” and there in the golden morning light were harlequin ducks swimming in the bull kelp lagoon, now flooded with the tide. The male is a cacophony of color – blue with red sides and a red strip on the head and white spots and streaks scattered about the head and body.

We kayaked for several more days. I was still concerned about the eagle feather that I had cracked. On the last day, hanging in our kayaks in a light rain, waiting for the tide to get to the right point so we could enter another narrows, Merlin showed us how to make a kelp horn. You slice off the end off the bulb, and cut the tube so you have a floppy, conical segment of kelp with about half a bulb at the end – it looks kind of like an english horn. Then you blow into it like a trumpet, or more reasonably, like one of those plastic horns they sell at football games. It makes about the same sound as one of those, too. We entertained ourselves with that for a while, and I strapped one of those to my kayak, because I liked it so much. Then we paddled toward the narrows, and the eagle dove and dropped a feather for us.

After Jari gave me the eagle feather, we stopped at the entrance to the narrows, still waiting for the tides to turn. Two eagles sat on trees in front of us. I was fairly sure that one was the one that had dropped its feather. I decided that I should serenade them in gratitude for the gift. I discovered that you could play the kelp horn like a digeridoo, blowing one note, and singing a series of others. And so I floated in the mist, bobbing in my kayak, the eagle feather safe under its bungee, playing kelp horn digeridoo in thanksgiving to an audience of two eagles. I am certain that they enjoyed the serenade, because they did not fly away.

Post Cards from Red Lodge, Montana

I took a writing class at the Audubon workshop, and it nearly undid me. Perhaps I responded badly because I was tired. I tended to stay up late at the campfire, drinking with the help and singing songs instead of trooping off to bed like the dutiful school teachers who were my fellow campers. I felt compelled to get up in time for breakfast, though. Having grown up in a large family, I’m very sensitive to food which is available for a limited time only. Late to bed and early to rise made Tom a fuzzy and tetchy guy.

The writing teacher was the editor-superego personified. “Rewrite!” she said, light flashing off the large square glasses that were the windshields of her soul. “Rewrite!” Her small rodent incisors bit off the word. “Thoreau rewrote Walden 22 times”. I sat on the porch of the cabin that served as our classroom. The dry wind moaned over the valley, and sucked the moisture out of my mouth, eyes, skin. The stream gurgled and chuckled. There was lots to write about, and absolutely no graceful way to say it. My pencil hovered in the air like the swallows over the stream, swooping down, never alighting. My internal editor vibrated in joyful response to the teacher’s command. Practically nothing got written.

All this is to say that my inner editor is mortified by the miniscule amount of editing that goes into these postings. But there is so much to say and so little time, that I feel that I must dispense with any artistic merit, and simply try to keep you up to date on where I am.

And so, a postcard of Fourth of July.

I started off the Fourth in Red Lodge Montana, where I had camped on the rodeo grounds. There were a lot of other RV’s, especially the RV/pickup combination. I think they were mostly cowboys for the rodeo, but I didn’t go a-knockin’. In front of one RV was a hay bale with the plastic head of a calf (or sheep?) on it. Two guys spent their spare time roping it.

I decided to drive along the Chief Joseph scenic byway in the morning. This is an astounding road. It goes up into the Beartooth mountains over Dead Indian Pass. At the pass, you look over about a 270 degree vista. Grey peaks with capes and patches of snow ring the horizon, lower peaks thrust into the valley. It was here that Chief Joseph led his tribe, the Nez Perce, fleeing from the US army. They didn’t want to live on the reservation, and were trying to escape to Canada. Without the Nez Perce, it is pretty clear that the Lewis and Clark expedition would have perished 75 years earlier.

Over the pass and along the Clark’s fork of the Yellowstone, following the route of the fleeing Nez Perce. Then ascending again, reaching the zone where snow lay about and the meadows were brown and sodden. Some lakes still had ice slush in them. Algae bloom on the ice tinted one frozen lake red and blue. At the top of Beartooth pass, at 10,900 feet, the thin atmosphere, the wind and the endless view all conspired to tear the breath out of my mouth.

I arrived back in Red Lodge just after the rodeo was starting. Several events stick in my mind.

In one event, they called for all the 3 to 7 year olds. Once all the kids were in the center of the ring, a sheep was released into the ring. It had a bunch of 1 and 5 dollar bills stuck to it. The sheep looked at the crowd of kids warily. They weren’t moving yet, so it kind of edged off, keeping its eye on them. Then the judges said “go”, and all the kids rushed at the sheep. I was not aware that a sheep could look startled. In memory now I see it with its eyes bugging out and and its neat mouth forming the words “Oh shit!”. It took off with the horde of munchkins hot on its heels. It managed to evade them for a good long time, but finally they pinned it against the railing. The audience let out a sigh of sympathy. It was a little like Lord of the Flies, I thought.

Another sheep event was called “mutton busters”. In this event kids in crash helmets are placed on the back of sheep. The sheep take off and the kids cling on for dear life looking for all the world like little rag dolls sewn on to the back of sheep. If the ride is successful, the announcer has to plead with the kids to let go, because Dad told them to hold on no matter what.

For me the most compelling event was the bull riding. Maybe it’s just because I’ve seen horses ridden so often that it seems natural, but to me it seems clear that the bull will never be ridden for very long. I went back to where I could see the cowboys preparing to ride. The bulls are penned in very small holding areas, backs and sides pressed against the rails that hold them in. The cowboys climb up the railings of the pen and hang there getting ready, tightening ropes, preparing for the ride. At this point the bulls seem if not cooperative at least resigned. Then the gate is flung open and the bull bursts out, pivoting and leaping, huge and muscular, its backside smeared with bright green reeking shit. When the cowboy is either flung off or leaps off — which is never more than about 10 seconds — the bull trots off snorting out great strings of saliva. It heads for the gate with a swagger that suggests that the cowboy was lucky he only tried that for 8 seconds.

There is nothing abstract about riding a bull.

Later that night, I went up to the bluff above the town to see the fireworks. It was very cold and a thin drizzle came and went. I put on most of the layers I had in the van. I pulled my van next to a family which turned out to be from San Francisco. I looked at other families wrapped in blankets, and the couple with the wooden lawn chairs in the back of the pickup truck and remembered sitting on the flat roof of my grandparents’ garage, huddled under blankets with my brothers and sisters, watching the distant fireworks across the bay. It was fun watching the Red Lodge fireworks, and the San Fransiscan’s commentary was lively enough but I missed my family and friends. Fireworks, I think, should be watched in the company of loved ones.

I think I should mention that although my last posting focussed on the joyful parts of camp, it’s not all roses out here. Often when I’m driving by myself I get lonesome. Sometimes I wake up in the morning not knowing what I’m going to do, and am sure that no good can come of that day. I worry about the health of the van, and obsessively check its coolant level, sure that at some point whatever is leaking will give way in a great rush, and I will be unable to drive, stuck way out on some alpine scenic drive that I was foolhardy enough to attempt. Then a tow truck with a large dollar sign on the side will drag the defeated van off to a backwater service station, where an inbred looking mechanic will scratch his head and say “golly, I never worked on one of these before!”

Just so you know. I’m still me out here, and would probably manage to drive a passenger to distraction. Since I don’t have one, I just grate on myself.


A Shout from Thermopolis

Two or three days ago, I rode in a van back from Grand Teton park with about a dozen of my fellow Audubon campers. The group consisted mostly of grade school teachers, on the surface a rather staid and conventional bunch. We had spent the day birdwatching, hiking, and rafting. We were all pretty tired, but as we drove, we began to sing. For the entire two hours and change back to Dubois, we sang in the dark, pausing only once to howl at the full moon when we saw it rise over the continental divide. At the end of the camp, one of the campers tried to explain how that had happened, how this conventional group had yowled through the a repertoire of musicals that would have done justice to the most flamboyant of theater crowds, ending with a rousing version of  Copacabana. My explanation was that we had spent the week experiencing joy with one another, sharing the experience of nature that brought us joy. In the van, in the shared dark, we just jumped the borders, and the joy that we had been sharing in nature poured out in music. Silly music, occasionally serious and sentimental music. I think we would have gone on singing as long as that van kept driving.

I realize now, having gone to three camps, that I am privileged to visit various transient communities of joy. This is where people go to soak in the things that give them joy, and when they give weight to their joy, they begin to glow. Then god knows what boundaries they may jump over – they are empowered, and boundaries are not as meaningful as in ordinary time.

Maybe we are like rivers, usually flowing at low water through the high banks of the channels we have carved for ourselves. But when we are filled with joy, when our waters rise high enough, we can jump our banks and flow over the moonlit plains, join others and become a sea, or carve new routes for ourselves through unfamiliar country.

But I wax poetic.

I have been meaning to write several letters – I certainly have a lot to tell all of you about. The problem is that I never have the time or energy. There has been very little down time in this trip. At camp, I plunge in to the activities offered. All of them. I hate to miss a class. This is typical of campers. We go to camps because we love a thing and are thirsty for it. Then we put our mouths up to the fire hose and our feet shoot out behind us as we try to drink in as much as we can. We leave camp, dazed uplifted, drunk with the knowledcge that there is a community whose joy looks like ours, whose appetite and obsession is the same as ours. We are not alone.

During camp, there is little time for reflection, less for synthesis. Camp is all about filling up. I barely have time to write in my journal, much less put thought together in a way that every one else can understand.

After camp, I have been driving and soaking up the landscapes. Watching the change of the land, one eye on my coolant level, since the van has developed an ominous slow leak. There are hikes to take and birds to watch, and camp to set up and dinner to cook, and then again I have little time to synthesize. This leg of my trip promises to be a little more leisurely, and so I hope to be able to put some thoughts together to share with you.

So far here’s the chapters that I have not synthesized for you yet:

Catalina

I went to swing dance camp on Catalina with 1200 or so other swing devotees. Classes were huge – sometimes as many as 300, I think. Although we rotated partners, you never got to dance with everyone in class. At night we danced in the Casino ballroom, a huge circular art deco room overlooking the harbor. Swingers from all over the world littered the thoroughfares of Avalon, practicing new moves, video taping one another. I stayed in a condo with a pool and 4 roomates.

Scuba

Then I went scuba diving, and despite the grim warnings of the man that rented us the scuba equipment, my friend Michael and I did not drown. We did manage to execute a few swing steps underwater, and swam amidst the kelp. The kelp looks like large golden corn plants 40 feet high. Its branches wave slowly, furling and unfurling. I saw an octopus, so I guess I was indeed in an octopus’ garden, in the shade.

Wavy Gravy’s camp

Next, I went to Laytonville where I attended camp Winnarainbow. I was skeptical at first – I don’t even like clowns, and had scant interest in the courses in juggling, stilt walking, and unicycle riding that were offered. But the camp turned out to be not so much about people doing circus things as it is about people playing. In swing camp, technique is all important, at camp Winnarainbow, launching yourself into the unknown is most important. I took a lot of improv classes –vocal improv, contact improv, even comedic improv. Behind the circus tent in the vocal improv class, I uncorked my gospel voice, and the spirit got hold of me. I was one of the last campers to leave camp Winnarainbow (partly because I had started teaching a swing class there, and I owed one to some of the instructors.)

There were about 50 campers at Winnarainbow, and most slept in teepees around the fire circle. There’s a lot of spiritualiy of the post hippie/neo-pagan/amero-buddhist variety. At the end of camp, one of the campers said that I was a radiant being. How could you not like that?

On the Road to Dubois

I went from Laytonville to Arcata where I walked amidst redwoods in a bowl of green and gold light. Beautiful, but sad, too, because amidst all of the young redwoods were huge grey-green stumps three or four times the diameter of the current generation – these were the original trees that had been clearcut earlier this century. Then on to the Trinity Alps of northern California. Grey jagged creeks, and a lake of cold clear water. When I emerged from a cold swim in the lake, my back cramped up. This was an incredibly scary moment. Was my trip over? For those of you who haven’t experienced a back spasm, half of the horror of it is the strange way that your body relays warnings. It says, “Do not turn that way. If you turn that way, you will exprerience stabbing pain.” And you believe it, and do not turn that way. My days became filled with tentative movement and grim foreboding. I proceeded in short stages, getting out of the car every hour or so to move around. I got a new back support for the car seat (ironically the very one that my Mom had suggested from Long’s drug, the one I rejected as too low tech). It seemed to help. I stayed the night at a hot spring in the high desert of eastern Oregon, where I saw the casual nest of an avocet. An avocet is a bird that nests in the prairie. The eggs aren’t going anywhere, so it builds the most rudimentary of nests – perhaps three sticks. My back began to feel better. I went to Weiser, Idaho (that’s pronounced Weezer) where I found an old time fiddle festival. Whole families staying in their RV’s jamming hoedowns and waltzes. I stayed at Idaho Falls where the river has been dammed right down the middle. Half of the water flows down the falls, the other half glides off under a bridge, like a magician’s assistant gliding offstage while we’re distracted by the show up front.

Audubon Camp

Last week, I got to the Audubon camp near Dubois. I stayed in a rustic cabin with one other roomate. There were 20 campers, almost all of them teachers or park employees, sent by their school. I felt like I was the only one who had actually paid for the camp. The camp mostly consisted of walking around Torrey Valley with various naturalists. The skills represented were geology, botany, ornithology, and the study of mammals. Since I like walking around with knowledgeable people telling me about my environment, this was an excellent format for me. I definitely respond to peripatetic teaching. We took one day trip to the Grand Tetons. You have heard about the van ride home above.

The high point of the trip may well have been watching one of the instructors embody a male bighorn sheep doing his threat display. In the end, he reared back on his hind legs and charged at his opponent, head cocked to one side, and slammed down to the ground, hind legs flipping up in the air.

On the Road to Vancouver Island.

That’s where I am right now. At Thermopolis, named for it’s large hot spring. Originally this had been part if the Shoshone reservation, but when the whites figured out that there was a nice hot spring, they got the Indians to sell it to them.. Indian givers.

I soaked a bit today, and did some yoga. My back is feeling pretty good. I have bought a six pack of beer at the drive-through (Can you believe that Wyoming has bars with drive through windows, so you can purchase beer right from your car?) I’m in good spirits, though tired. I intend to check my e-mail, and try to get at least one of the above episodes fleshed out. There’s so much to tell…

My love to all of you. I love getting your e-mail even though I don’t always get back to you very quickly.