Into the Vortex

I’m up in the Great Smokey Mountains in a high mountain valley called Cade’s Cove. I’m peering into the Primitive Baptist church, a very plain white clapboard structure. The interior is entirely unadorned, just raw brown wood planks. Ranks of plain pews fill the rough floor from the altar to the door. There is a congregation inside singing a plodding hymn, but with harmony and a tired kind of fervor. I stick my head a little further into the doorway, and an elderly woman catches sight of me. She motions for me to come inside, indicating that there is a place to sit. I decline, and an elderly man also gestures at where I can sit. But I don’t want to sit there, because although I like to hear the singing, I think that I’m going to like it for about as long as a Charles Currault montage, which means about 45 seconds before I cut away to a new scene. I don’t want to be boxed in between Ma and Pa Kettle when I’m ready to leave.

I’m just turning away from the church when I hear a loud bang and rattle, as if someone had hit a big metal tool box with a sledgehammer. I crane my head around looking for whence the sound came. I see a white van which seems to be parked outside of the parking lot, at an odd angle, backed up to a tree. It looks a lot like mine. I realize in a hot rush that it is mine. I’m horrified. This is the second time this trip that I have been rear ended by a tree.

The first time was in Sedona, Arizona about a month ago. To reach Sedona from the high mountains of Flagstaff, you descend down Oak Creek Canyon, a narrow wooded canyon of the eponymous oak. The road swerves slowly, like a water slide for the elderly. At the foot of the canyon, the landscape opens up and suddenly there are massive red and white rock formation set all around, domes and altars and cathedral spires, a completely different landscape from the cool mountains 50 miles to the north. I arrived at Sedona at sunset, which is its time of greatest beauty. The rock formations glowed in the red light of sunset, and I had to pull the van over to watch the day flare to an end.

The town of Sedona unfortunately does not share the beauty of its surroundings. The main strip is given over to the sale of Native American and New Age tchotchkes . On either side of the highway, the town sprawls in low buildings and cookie cutter retirement developments. Luckily, the town is hemmed in by National Forest, so development is limited in the extent of its sprawl.

Sedona is a place of oddly mixed elements, a stew that has not cooked all the way, so that the flavors remain unmerged. There is the tourist trade, so obvious on the main strip. Then there are the retirees, tucked away in the developments of identical adobe shades. There is also a strong hiking and mountain biking contingent. And finally, there are the rainbow people, occupying a low place on the totem pole, except for where they bring in the tourist trade.

The rainbow people are the New Agers, hippies, mystics and crystal healers. Transient rainbow people used to drift through Sedona in greater numbers, from what I understand. They used to camp in the National Forest. Out west, National Forests often allow for dispersed camping, which means you can camp anywhere you want as long as you are more than ¼ mile away from a main road. A lot of transient rainbow people camped in the woods close to Sedona. The powers-that-be decided that there were too many of them in the woods, so they mandated that camping was illegal within about 5 miles of Sedona. And the Forest service has allowed the dirt roads leading to the nearest camp sites to become badly deteriorated. I drove on one to get to a hike, and I eventually had to stop when I encountered potholes of more than a foot. To put that into a class/lifestyle distinction – a VW van could not drive that road, but a Ford Explorer could.

I camped in Sedona in an RV park of modest size and scruffy appearance right at the mouth of the canyon and the head of the strip. The icy waters of Oak Creek lapped the back of the RV lot. There were a number of RV’s in the park that had not moved in years. People who lived in them were long term residents. One woman I spoke with said she’d been there for six years. She had been in the same parking spot for four years. Her RV was a little tin apartment, a vehicle mostly in theory. But now the RV Park has been zoned for high density development, and the owner is trying to sell to a developer who will make a cluster of small stores which will help feed the aching endless need for more tchotchkes. And so the transients, even if they’re only theoretically transitory will be moved further out of town. Perhaps one day the town will set up a little museum to the Rainbow people showing dioramas of how they used to live in the area.

One diorama would certainly have to do with energy vortexes. (The town already hands out maps to the energy vortexes in the visitor center.) An energy vortex is place where energy is focused so that it is much more intense than in other places, and affects the physical/mental processes of people in and around the vortex. While I was in Sedona, I did my own investigation of energy vortexes. I climbed up Cathedral Rock, a great dome of rock topped with towering spires. When I got to the top of the dome and clambered to a spot between the spires, I found myself greatly afflicted with vertigo. I could not stand up and look straight up the spires. On another hike, I walked into a canyon. As I rounded a turn in the path near a great dead Douglas Pine, I suddenly felt extremely heavy. The sensation was like walking with heavy clothes on through a still body of water. I passed that spot twice on my hike, and both times I had the same sensation.

But I think the clincher was probably my experience with the van. It was morning and I had just had breakfast. I got in the van, ready for a hike, and backed up out of my spot. I twisted around in the seat, looking over my shoulder as I backed up. I looked through the rear window at the tree behind me. I was in the process of backing up and looking at the tree when there was a loud bang, and it was clear that I had just hit the tree that I was looking at. I jumped out and ran around to examine the damage – cracked bumper, dented rear panel, crumpled license plate. I looked around, and all the other campers, their attention momentarily arrested by the loud bang, were already turning back to whatever business was at hand. This was hard to fathom, since I felt that my day was so dramatically altered that it would take a while to become accustomed to its new aspect. But I guess the misfortunes of others quickly fade in our perceptions while our own linger for a long while.

Now one way to explain my accident is that the tree was growing at an angle, the bottom part of the trunk that I hit being about a foot closer to the van than the top part of the tree which I was looking at. Another is that I am a boob and should not be driving, but I reject that one out of hand. I prefer to believe that the accident was the result of my driving into an energy vortex that day, and that the van was drawn into a non-linear acceleration that drew it precipitously into the tree. Maybe the loud bang was the sound of the vortex collapsing and disappearing. This is an important part of the theory because for the duration of my stay I did not see any other vehicle drawn into that particular vortex.

The second time the van leapt rearward into a tree, there in the parking lot of the Primitive Baptist Church, was the result of my being in a little too much of a hurry. I had parked the car and jumped out, only intending to glance at the church. In my thoughtless haste, I set the emergency brake, but neglected to take the car out of drive and put it in park. I was not aware that a car in drive would roll backwards. Now I know that.

Other tourists spoke to me after I had driven the van back into the parking lot and was surveying the damage – heavily dented hatch with the window entirely blown out, door and rear panel creased, bumper shattered. They tried to comfort me and point out bright spots. I was certainly glad that the pilotless van had managed to miss all the other vehicles in the parking lot, and I thank God that it didn’t hit a person. And there was no damage to the frame or motor, so I could still drive it. One helpful woman said that I should also be glad that my wife wasn’t there. Because if I had a wife, and she were there, she’d be yelling at me.

It was only much later when I reflected on this that I wondered why I couldn‘t have been supplied with a non-existent wife that might comfort me. Or maybe one that would have been driving and would have put the damn thing in park in the first place.

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

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