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:


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.


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.


About Tom Weiser
This blog is devoted to the development of the Bad Lama's Guide to Meditation.

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