His name is Kevin Richardson. He is a lion whisperer.
Click pic to watch video
His name is Kevin Richardson. He is a lion whisperer.
Click pic to watch video
Last Friday I took a drive out to Spruce Woods Park to see how the little park overwintered. Park workers have cleaned up most of the debris that cluttered the ditches. The plastic and metal grid dams that were washed away and strewn about the park have been removed. Some infill in wash-out areas, such as around the park sign and in ditches where water stood all last year, has been done. The huge pile of trees next to the bridge has been removed, likely providing the park with firewood for the next five years. The low road to the campground is still impassable and there remains plenty of evidence of the flood’s impact on the landscape.
According to Manitoba Parks, the entire lower campground (bays 1 – 7) and all the campground buildings at Kiche Manitou in Spruce Woods were completely destroyed by the floodwaters. Currently the department is assessing damages and planning reconstruction, however, the lower campground will NOT be open for the 2012 season. The upper campground and yurts will still be available.
I stopped at the trailhead of Spirit Sands and took a few pictures. Though they never moved all last summer, the three covered wagons await their horses and a flood of tourists to carry out to the dunes. Other than the lower campground closure and most of the trail system needing repairs, the park will operate more or less as usual this year. I’m looking forward to watching the natural changes the park will undergo this summer.
The status of several other provincial parks damaged by flooding last year remains uncertain. The department is reporting that availability of parks around Lake Manitoba inundated by high lake levels will vary. Since its campground and park infrastructure were completely destroyed, camping at St. Ambroise Park will not be offered this year. Also on the lake, Watchorn Park was damaged badly and assessments are currently underway, but it’s uncertain whether camping will be available this year. The campgrounds at Rainbow Beach and Manipogo Parks are now under repair with the intent that they’ll be open on May 11. Lundar Beach Park suffered extensive damage and, although repairs are underway, availability of camping this summer is uncertain. Slowly our parks will bounce back.
There have been changes this year in Manitoba Parks. Camping fees have increased slightly, between $1.05 and $3.15 depending on services offered. Park entry fees will be charged this year, ending three pleasant years of free park entry. Annual permits are just $30, amongst the lowest in Canada. Three-day passes are $8 and single day is $4. Permits are required after May 1 and can be purchased by mid-April at any Manitoba conservation office including campground offices, large stores like Canadian Tire and small stores that cater to fishers and hunters.
The Manitoba Provincial Parks Reservation System kicks into life tomorrow, April 2, 2012 at 7:30 a.m. They should have the latest information on campground availability around the province. In Winnipeg call 948-3333, elsewhere toll-free 1-888-482-2267. Their website is manitobaparks.com
The mighty Assiniboine that caused havoc last year at this time is a much more peaceful river today as you can see. Here it’s rounding the bend at Spirit Sands trailhead. I’ll have many more reports on Spruce Woods Park and my other travels this summer on my blog. Stay tuned. Happy trails!
“Sandy, the fireworks are hailin’ over Little Eden tonight, forcing a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this warm July.” – Bruce Springsteen
My high school English teacher, Mrs. Smith, along with my teacher Mom, instilled in me a deep appreciation of images conjured out of mere words and the power that ability holds. They made me realize that to stimulate the imagination of others using language carries a mysterious power, creates a direct bond between people and satisfies our need to share experiences. I have pursued the satisfactions of words ever since, in what I write, what I hear and what I read. I am always listening for an original turn of phrase, a dazzling metaphor, an unexpected linkage of images to include in my writing. I admire writers who do this with alacrity and clarity. Annie Proulx’s best work is a cascade of exciting and unexpected images. Almost every page of her fiction offers something that makes me think, ‘Yes, that’s a unique way of expressing it.’ Annie intimidates me and inspires me with her imagery.
Songwriters have garnered my admiration for their abilities to build pictures with words, especially Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen. Last summer, when I listened to music on my travels in the mighty Avenger, it was almost always Bruce Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ and The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, both released in 1973, the year Bruce turned 24. That year I started at CFRW-FM in Winnipeg doing a free-form evening radio show that often spun tracks from Greetings… When the second album came out in the fall, it became a huge hit on my show with listener requests every night. The Boss had arrived!
This revealing picture of Bruce was taken by Lynn Goldsmith and appears in her 1995 book Photodiary. Opposite the full page picture the copy reads: “Once during a studio shoot Bruce started taking off his clothes. I yelled at him to stop. He thought it was funny. I was angry. I told him that if he ever took his clothes off for any photographer he’d be putting himself in the position where one day the pictures could be published.”
The work on Bruce’s first two albums reflected and, to a degree, created American mythology, some of it dredged from adolescent fantasies, some captured from flocks of fresh and fleeting visions in the form of stream of consciousness rants.
Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
released January 5, 1973
Greetings… consists of nine songs, all written and arranged by Bruce. Every song is infused with youthful vigour and keen enthusiasm, images tumble by as a peculiar cast of characters emerge, live their short urban lives then recede only to be followed by others. The album quickly, and somewhat justifably, earned Bruce the title of “the next Bob Dylan,” an endless quest of 1970s rock journalists. Bruce’s encyclopedic knowledge of 1950 and 60s rock and roll combined with the heavy influence of American movies meant the images from Bruce’s first album already felt familiar. Most songs on Greetings…, especially Lost in the Flood and The Angel, have great cinematic flare. Bruce writes what he knows. His milieu is the big city and seaside resort as experienced by a bright curious American boy. Right from the album title through the postcard cover design to the last track, Bruce invites you into his world. His vision has knowable, safe parameters and sources; he is confident that his world is worth visiting and he is ready to show the rest of the world why.
I always like to know the first words of an artist’s career, meaning the first lyrics they sing on the first track on their first album. In Bruce’s case, Blinded by the Light kicks off Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. with these words: “Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat in the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat.” That’s a helluva start to a career! And only the beginning as a rampage of characters follow. In 1977 Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had a #1 hit with their dreadful version of this tune but you need to know the original. It is Bruce’s first song.
Growin’ Up is a wistful mid tempo rocker that demonstrates Bruce’s evolved perspective on vanishing youth. Bruce was 23 years old when this album was recorded.
Mary Queen of Arkansas appears to live on Dylan’s Desolation Row having just returned from My Last Trip to Tulsa on Neil Young’s first album. Harrowing, sparse and personal yet lyrically opaque, Mary has just enough ambiguity and heartbreak showing through to make us yearn along with the poor confused boy.
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? One of rock’s great question songs, it’s a peon to entertaining yourself by people watching while riding the bus. A favourite line is, “Man, the dope’s that there’s still hope.” Bruce conjures another wild cast that build to a gorgeous cinematic finale.
“Everybody’s wrecked on Main Street from drinkin’ unholy blood,” – an apt description of the misfits and cops who populate Lost in the Flood. Three things about this track: it has some of Bruce’s most dramatic poetic images that build in an enticing musical and lyrical swell, Steven Van Zandt makes his first appearance on a Bruce album providing “sound effects” (he’d next appear on Born to Run two years later) and I love this track. It takes me there every time! Back in the day, that was the end of Side One of Greetings…
The Angel is the outline for a movie, sung plaintive and plain with a denouement I wish I’d thought of. It demonstrates that right from the get-go Bruce wasn’t afraid to use quiet strings and solo piano to frame his stories.
For You is another cascade of brief but urgent glimpses into the psychic field between devotion and rejection, disease and healing and all the angst contained therein. Bruce and the boys relay the emergency convincingly.
One of Bruce’s sexiest grooves, Spirit in the Night is my favorite track here. Today Martin Scorsese would direct the movie in which this is but one marvellous scene. The characters are high, happy and horny and the events at Greasy Lake are your basic orgy on the beach. Body and soul unite in a magical sex flight “where the gypsy angels go. They’re built like light,” one of my favourite Bruce characterisations. Clarence, who is under used on the album, establishes and maintains the bubbling groove and reenforces it with a fine break. Wild Billy has “a bottle of rose so let’s try it” which I take to mean Wild Irish Rose, a long-time harsh and cheap bum wine. The hint of sadness in Bruce’s voice in the last verse when they leave Greasy Lake makes me feel very nostalgic for youth, for the freedom the unknowable future encourages.
As if he foresaw or richly imagined the life and work ahead of him, such as becoming a Planetary Treasure, It’s Hard To Be a Saint in the City is tongue-in-cheek bluster from one of the coolest guys Bruce ever described. Pumping along, high definition city core images arise then sink back into the steam in the street. The tune and album end with a burbling fadeout.
The E Street Band was in its formative stages on Greetings… The only players here who became permanent band members are saxman Clarence Clemmons and Garry Tallent on bass. The album suffers from muffled production by Mike Appel and Jim Creteros. The biggest drag on the band is the ham-fisted drumming of Vincent Lopez, one of rock’s worst over-drummers. Otherwise the playing is worthy of the songs, Bruce the lone guitar on the entire album.
In order to save some of the cash Columbia Records had advanced to Bruce, Greetings… was recorded quickly in an inexpensive studio in Blauvelt, N.Y. and it sounds like it. The tunes and the songs are there, the talent is evident and the whole album has the feeling of being just the tip of a very large iceberg but the production detracts more than it should. Nonetheless an auspicious beginning!
The album only sold about 25,000 copies in the first year of its release, but had significant critical impact. On its 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, Rolling Stone ranked it #379. It’s #57 on my list.
The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
released September 11, 1973
This was the convincer for me. Like Axis: Bold As Love, Hendrix’s second album, The Wild… proved without doubt Bruce was a force that the future required, beckoned, quickened. Although again produced by Appel and Cretecos and recorded at 914 Sound Studios, the same studio as the first album, this outing is less muddy than the debut, in fact almost throughout it’s downright bright. Future permanent E Streeter, Danny Federici, turns up on keys, everything’s bigger, even Vini Lopez steps up a little – maybe it’s just how he was recorded this time. Again Bruce is the only guitarist on the album. The Wild… is attractive, convincing, eloquent, beautifully sequenced so every song complements and contrasts the ones around it and Clarence gets to wail!
The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle kicks off the escapade with clattery horns resolving into a smooth groove maintained by Clarence that bounces around under a story of sexy youthful diversions performed by a fleeting cast. The last minute and a half feature a sweet guitar break followed by a funky percussion workout to the fade. Sweet and a perfect introduction the next track.
One of my all-time favourite Bruce songs, 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), like all great rock and roll, is about fucking and the pursuit thereof. It’s Sandy’s big chance for sex with the needy poet boy from the beach. The fireworks of the first line promise orgasms later. Throughout he’s telling Sandy what he thinks she’ll buy, what will make her sexually sympathetic to him. He mentions getting stuck on the tilt-a-whirl, shares boardwalk gossip, explains his break-up with his waitress girfriend, tires of the factory girls who tease him, generally uses all his “lines.” To create empathy, he tries to explain that he and Sandy are the same stuff, know the same lives. I like how during the line “And the wizards play down on pinball way” Bruce’s acoustic guitar imitates Pete Townsend’s work on Pinball Wizard. Near the end of the song Bruce promises that if she loves him tonight he’ll love her forever. The delivery of the word forever is truly marvellous – a mixture of sexual urge, youthful promise and doubt with a huge scary question mark beside it which acknowledges the understanding between he and Sandy on this potentially special night! Beautiful! But he’s quitting the beach scene and encourages Sandy to do the same, to give up the “carnival life.” Although the song ends without a denouement, I like to think it all worked and they had mad, once-in-a-lifetime sex under the boardwalk that night creating more fireworks as promised.
Kitty’s Back is the perfect companion piece to Sandy, filled with seaside characters and their relationship to Kitty. Bruce’s sweet guitar playing sets the tone for the piece which has a free-for-all break that allowed most of the band members to improvise during concerts. This tune and Rosalita were the album’s most requested songs on CFRW-FM.
Continuing the fast-slow-fast-slow flow of the album, Wild Billy’s Circus Story ends side one with a delightful visit to the circus and some brief glimpses of its odd denizens. Garry Tallent pumps the tuba, Federici provides accordian and Bruce strums guitar and mandolin to create a midway atmosphere so pure and convincing you can smell the hot dogs, taste the cotton candy and hear the screams of the roller coaster riders. Bruce writes what he knows yet the tune only hints at the drama that awaits us.
Side two consists of three epics starting with Incident on 57th Street which features Spanish Johnny and his adventures in bed and out on the street. Here’s Bruce’s opening description of our hero: “Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night with bruised arms and broken rhythm and a beat-up old Buick but dressed just like dynamite.” The whole song could be the outline for a great movie script. The track is dominated by gorgeous piano and organ work from Federici and David Sancious and a bunch of tedious over-drumming from Lopez.
Fuelled by Clarence’s sax and Sancious’ organ, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) rocks! A long-time concert closer, it’s the story of our poor boy pursuing beautiful Rosie, his “stone desire,” against the strong will of her parents. He’s sure things will work out because “The record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance!” – one of Bruce’s happiest deliveries.
New York City Serenade offers romantic mythology couched in dramatic piano work from Sancious. The entire epic floats, buoyed by Sancious’ piano and string arrangement and Clarence’s sexy sax wail. A new cast arises, starting with Billy and Diamond Jackie getting it on in the backseat of Billy’s Cadillac at “midnight in Manhattan” with hookers, jazz musicians, small time crooks in “a mad dog’s promenade.” Clarence’s contributes glorious sax throughout. On a personal note, there are two lines from this song that I have said aloud to myself every night for the past 20 years just before I fall asleep. These words have become my day-ending mnemonic device to induce sleep: “Shake away street life, shake away city life.” Works every night. Thanks Bruce!
In 2003, The Wild… was ranked #132 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. On my personal list, it’s #17.
FM radio caught on to Bruce right away. He was hopeful, humorous, intense and great fun! For me, from the beginning, he was a breath of fresh and honest air in a growing sea of mediocrity dominated by phony bands like Kiss.
Bruce Springsteen changed my life. Find out how in this post https://readreidread.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/linda-and-the-boss/
Next my Bruce post is Born to Run. Coming soon to blog near you.
Six weeks after I had double bypass heart surgery in 2002, I wrote this piece about healing and prayer circles.
Before we got our home desktop, whenever my computer-literate friends would talk about virtual reality, virtual communities, virtual museums, virtual anything, I would smile, nod and appear to know exactly what they meant. I didn’t, of course.
I understood the word ‘virtual’ and the concept they were using it to support but I was not adequate to their meaning of the term. It was the context I was missing. I didn’t have the necessary tool to create the possibility of something/anything being ‘virtual’ in my life. That changed the day I unpacked the computer. Soon I’d be keenly aware of the new meaning of this word ‘virtual’.
It was Valentine’s Day 2002 when I found out I needed double-bypass heart surgery. The stress test, angiogram and nuclear heart scan all pointed to the same conclusion: two of my coronary arteries were almost completely blocked. Surgery was recommended though not urgent since I could function with medication and moderation.
Ten years before, at age forty-two, I’d had a heart attack shoveling snow on another February day. It was my wake-up call! I paid attention. Changing my diet, habits and attitude, and walking twenty miles a week for a year at a rehabilitation-fitness centre saved my life. I had ten good years before my “genetic predisposition” caught up with me. The cousin who minds the family tree mentioned how many of my male predecessors had heart problems and attacks. The surgeon who performed the bypasses commented on how I’d gotten a bit of a raw deal genetically since I was slim, otherwise healthy and “young.”
There is a limit to the amount of responsibility for one’s situation you can attribute to “genetic predisposition.” The guilty food pleasures, the walks I should have taken but didn’t, the negative thoughts and aggression that always work against the heart; this is where my responsibility lay, how I started to jam up my own arteries. And now the consequence, the feedback was making itself known. Heart surgery!
Nothing virtual about it. This was a problem at the level of matter and meat. It was something we could fix, do fix everyday, almost routinely, with modern medical tools and skills. A re-arranging of arteries and veins, the right drugs for the various stages of the procedure and afterwards, the pump to take over from the heart and lungs, the drainage pathways required, the restricted movements to allow proper healing of bone and flesh – all this we are very accomplished at doing.
I had the surgery in mid-June. With at least six weeks of recovery after the operation, some financial planning had to be arranged and I needed to research the surgery and the alternatives. I spent many hours online reading about the heart, bypass surgery – often in full colour graphic detail – and the other resources available.
After weighing the alternatives, Linda and I decided the surgery would be my best option at this stage of life. I was strong and healthy enough to survive it intact, we were confident about the skills of the surgeon and the surgical staff.
One idea I came up with during this time was to create a prayer circle of family and friends online and elsewhere when the day of my operation neared; a ‘virtual’ prayer circle as one of my friends dubbed it.
As resilient and resourceful as the human body is, it necessarily houses a spirit that requires expression in the world and thrives on love exchanged between beings. That was what I wanted to tap into with the prayer circle.
I was on the cardiac surgery waiting list four weeks. On a Friday, I got my date. It would be in one week. Linda and I kept the date to ourselves during the weekend giving us a chance to mull it over and feel more settled about the whole procedure. It weighed heavy on my mind.
When we live more intensely, as in a pre-operative state, life begins to manifest itself in ways that are necessary and appropriate. As we began to inform family and friends about the surgery date, something wonderful happened! When we shared the burden of knowing, an increasing lightness started to grow in both Linda and me. The simple act of sharing the burden relieved the weightiness of the immediate future. With each successive person we informed, anxiety melted away. An unexpected confidence started to build in me, complete certainty that this was the right thing to do.
Two days before surgery I emailed the prayer circle request to about 25 family and friends. It was straightforward with date and time of surgery, approximate hospital recovery time and a simple sincere request:
“Please join together in a circle of love during and after my surgery with your prayers and positive energy. Your loving help means so much to us at this time and will aid in my full and speedy recovery. Thank you for sharing in my healing. Now that you have read this, the healing has already begun!”
Several people emailed me right back with their messages of hope and loving support. The rest I felt in my heart. On surgery eve, I was awash in the positive energies and expressions of love generated by the prayer circle; bliss in full measure took over my being. It was palpable. Linda felt it too. I had invoked the healing interplay between body, mind and spirit and wept at the sheer perfection of its unfolding. I was ready for the repairs!
There was nothing virtual about it. The reality of love and friendship, expressed with singular intent across many miles from many sources, converged in me. This aura of love carried me through the surgery, the immediate recovery and onto the ward where I spent four days. I basked in the afterglow of this healing intent, aware of how it was fueling my recovery, abetting the natural regenerative abilities of my body and lifting me when I felt some post-operative depression.
This outpouring of loving support manifested in other ways. It helped me sustain a positive attitude during my hospital stay. The people who noticed this immediately were those angels of mercy, the nurses. They’d seen people deal with this same situation in all manner of ways, some more successful than others. Maybe it was my spiritual preparedness or the intangible support that I brought with me; whatever it was, the nurses and staff recognized something extra was happening.
Looking back on this I now realize what was happening: the ‘virtual’ was being made real in the world. The prayers and loving intent that I asked for ‘virtually’ online became my reality. While the computer tool made the virtual prayer circle possible, it was the spirit and expression of our loving first nature that made it real in the world. I was living those special conditions.
And what was my responsibility? The answer came to me with such brash certainty I could not ignore it. It made perfect sense. The only way I could repay my family and friends for their limitless sharing of love was to recover fully, completely. It would answer their prayers. It was the exchange the special conditions demanded.
In the six weeks after the surgery, my recovery was nothing short of remarkable. My heart, with its new stamina, allowed me the increasing exercise I needed, the flesh and bone healed with little scarring and no infection. An unexpected benefit of the procedure was increased creativity. Suddenly I had all this extra blood flowing to my brain causing fresh new ideas to spew out of me. For a writer that’s almost a miracle! One of the risks of heart bypass surgery is cognitive decline. For the exact opposite to happen is an unexpected bonus.
The fact is, love lives large in the world and, when focused, produces amazing results! The love shared by my family and friends merged with Linda’s unconditional love and devotion resulting in a perfect healing environment for body, mind and spirit. Nothing virtual about it.
Read an earlier post about my heart surgery.
In the cemetery of the church yard around St. Francois Xavier Roman Catholic Church in St. Francois Xavier, MB stands a huge tree, once magnificent in every season, now dead every day. On its naked branches, some entangled in the church steeple, European starlings gather to discuss important bird business. In the neighbourhood, Rover barks at imaginery foes, halftons roll past one by one and the dead are patient, as ever. Click the pic to watch my latest video, Tree Birds Dog Trucks Dead.
UPDATE: As of summer 2013, the tree has been cut down, just a low stump remains.
I’ve spent more glorious nights at The Convent Bed & Breakfast than any other lodging on my prairie travels. Its appeal is powerful and pleasant, relaxing yet stimulating at the same time. The combination of a serene old building and the caring owners creates a peaceful and rare experience. The picture above is The Convent’s charming dining room overlooking Grasslands National Park.
Val Marie (pop. about 130) is located at the western end of Grasslands National Park and features the park office and visitor centre. It’s about an hour south of Swift Current off the Trans Canada Highway. Few accommodations for travelers exist in the little village making The Convent even more precious. An actual convent used as a teaching facility into the late 1960s, the Ducans converted it into a bed and breakfast in the late 1990s. They retained many of the features, such as blackboards, chapel including confessional and woodwork from the original building. Take a video tour of The Convent inside and out with me by clicking on the pic below.
Eleven years ago today my dad, Bruce Dickie, died. He was 83. I miss him every day. I wrote about Dad last year on this day, too.
Recently I came across an article about how the ravages of war become etched on the faces of young soldiers. They show close-up pictures of dozens of Scottish soldiers before, during and after serving in Afghanistan along with their comments. If you ever needed further testimonial to the insanity, destructiveness and uselessness of war, look into the eyes of these men. In every case, the innocence, hope and clarity of the first photograph transmogrifies by the third photograph into reflected horror, soul death and hopelessness. Instead of innocence, their faces convey only fear, instead of hope there is loss and despair, instead of clarity, they are haunted by memories of unspeakable horrors.
Similar changes were wrought upon the face of another Scotsman, my father Bruce Dickie, before, during and after he saw combat as a lance bombardier in WWII from 1942 to 1945. In a series of pictures he sent Mom while he was overseas, the transformation of my father’s face is obvious and frightening.
This first picture was taken in London just after he arrived overseas in 1942. He was a fresh-faced farm boy from the Canadian prairies.
The next picture was taken in Aberdeen, Scotland in late 1943 after Dad had seen combat. Experience and sadness lurk in his eyes and his serious expression.
The third picture was taken in Amsterdam near the end of the war in 1945. Innocence is gone, replaced with aggression, his eyes are wild and his teeth are bared. No other image ever taken of my father is more heartbreaking for me than this one.
The horrors of battle that Dad witnessed become progressively more evident on his face in each photograph. Dad signed each picture he sent to Mom but it was only on the last one that he mentions love. Dad lived another 55 years after that last picture was taken. Quietly and peacefully he died of old age eleven years ago today. Luckily he never had to live in a post-911 world.
I’m calling this My Year of Being Grateful because time after time, day after day all year I found myself expressing gratitude for an aspect of my present life. Wherever I was and whatever I was doing was exactly what I wanted to be doing at that moment! I am an incredibly lucky man. Although my year began with a short hospital stay for a small physical tune-up, it improved greatly thereafter.
Reasons to be Grateful
Friends, new and old, and travel have helped me this year, providing continuous opportunities to grow and evolve while offering support and love. It is a luxury to be understood. I am enormously lucky and grateful for my friends. Their healing love comes in many forms from company in the Avenger’s passenger seat to a spontaneous breakfast to an accomplice on the Midnight Ride to a cup of coffee to a drive-by hug. From hikes along lush valleys and across the sweltering dunes of Spirit Sands to day trips exploring hidden places, sacred sites, getting a Skinner’s and doing flood recon to long trips into the SK Holyland, I have shared the miles and my experience with only wonderful people this year. Every mile was enhanced by their presence and curiosity and I appreciate that they allowed me to share my enthusiasm and intensity with them. For all the above mentioned reasons, I am grateful to Vonda, Kenny, Chris, Terry, Troy, Mark, Garcea, Mike, Marce, Steve, Mitch, Travis, Susan, Kevin, Sharon, Alex, Ernie, Marc, Cynthia, Jim, Wanda, Roman, Kenn, Liz, Mike, Brenda, Cheryl, Tillie, Robert and Mette. I felt Linda’s watchful presence, her benevolent, beautiful energy with me wherever I went.
My Blogging Life
It’s a numbers game. In the last year almost 93,000 hits have accrued to my blog, an astonishing number! It averages about 240 hits a day now, a steady and changing audience. I went seeking an audience with this blog and my other internet endeavours and I found one! Thank you for being part of readreidread.com
The flood was the major story on my blog this year, attracting a large percentage of hits. Reporting on it was easy because it was so widespread in MB and SK. Everywhere I went, there was a flood. This is a picture of the Portage Diversion filled to the brim. The Diversion was the major cause of flooding around Lake Manitoba. The other big story, virtually exclusive to my blog, was the huge sinkhole south of Dauphin, MB. My post on June 19 about the sinkhole garnered the most daily hits of any post this year with 1561 views. The short video of the sinkhole on YouTube is the most viewed of my 125 videos now on the DickToolCo channel. The picture shows the sinkhole in July. I became a double blogger this year when I launched a blog devoted entirely to my hometown’s history. Find it at www.shoallakehistory.com
Good Stuff Bad Stuff
Best hotels of the year: Delta Vancouver Suites (the picture was my view from 20th floor), The Convent Country Inn, Val Marie, SK and Canalta Hotel in Weyburn, SK. All offer superior accommodation, excellent amenities and good value.
Worst hotel of the year: Country Boy Motel, Coronach, SK. Humour and horror combined for a trying stay. Try not to stay there. Find out why. Coronach itself is a pleasant little town in the midst of millenia of fascinating history and pre-history.
Good Company: Enterprise Car Rental for another year of excellent service, economical rates and reliable vehicles. Over 5 months I put 23,000 km on a 2011 Avenger and encountered not one problem of any kind with the car! It deserved to be called the Mighty Avenger.
Bad Company: H & R Block for committing obvious errors on both Linda’s and my income tax and causing me months of grief. They settled. Go to a CPA.
Music: I attended three excellent concerts: The Tragically Hip at the Winnipeg Goldeyes’ ball park, k. d. lang at Regina Folk Festival and the spectacle of Prince at MTS Centre. The Avenger’s CD player was dominated by Bruce Springsteen’s first two albums. I’ll be posting about them in January.
Grieving: Linda’s toothbrush. In my post I Had a Wake-Up Call Today I admit that after 15 months I still couldn’t throw out Linda’s toothbrush. Strangely, the toothbrush became a symbol that grew in significance after I wrote the post about it. My words seemed to imbue it with a special connection to Linda, more intimate than other items she used daily. As with so many other events, things and memories, the toothbrush’s time to be reckoned with arrived. In early December I pledged I would throw out the toothbrush the day after Christmas, two years and a day after Linda died. The day and time arrived, I kissed the handle of her toothbrush, thanked it and put it in the wastebasket. Then I said to myself what I’d said the morning after Linda died two years prior: Today is the first day of the rest of my life. The meaning of this saw from the 1960s is much different today than it was in my youth, looking at it from the other end of life. It still seemed apt. Now that it is gone, the toothbrush has acquired new significance. Now it symbolizes progress, acceptance and hope, an emblem of my endurance. Truly what the toothbrush must be is yet another subtle wonderful gift from Linda. Thank you love.
Spirit: My gratitude extends beyond the organic realm to include the helping and loving spirit helpers and power animals who humble me with their ongoing assistance. Always and all ways, there is Spirit ashimmer with unconditional love and proper guidance. I am all gratitude. It was an extraordinary thrill for me to take several of Linda’s friends for their first hike on Spirit Sands this summer. I felt privileged to share my special experience with all of them and watch them become quickened and present as Spirit moves through them.
With a year of posts under my belt, I’ve created a month-by-month guide to my life and blog with links to some of my best writing of the year.
January: The year began with some chest pain, a few days in Health Sciences Centre followed by grateful recuperation at home. My post, called Six Days Among Angels, recounts the events in the hospital. Mid-month I posted a historical piece I’d researched and written several years before about Rooster Town, an early Winnipeg ghetto. This proved to be one of my more popular posts. The tenth anniversary of my father’s death inspired a piece simply called Dad, another popular post.
February: February 1st is Grasslands National Park Day on my blog, celebrated with three posts about the park and region. Lise Perrault, who lived in Val Marie, SK on the edge of the park, painted many scenes of GNP in an appealing folk art style that I have long admired. Prairie dogs still abound in several dogtowns in GNP so when I came across this prairie dog image I did some research and posted Prairie Dog Rapture. GNP pictures and commentary gave some local background. In mid-February I posted Weasels Ripped My Flesh about Frank Zappa’s album of the same name. This is consistently among the posts most viewed on my blog.
March: The posts I’m most satisfied with in March deal with Linda’s death and that of an old friend, heyoka and a tandem post with Chris where we ponder the big stuff. Sacred Clowns explored the role and significance of heyokas, “contraries” in tribal cultures. In my post I Had a Wake-Up Call Today, I recount the last moments of Linda’s life in language one friend described as “startlingly candid” and try to update my grieving process since that has always been one of the reasons for this blog. Wake-Up Call was difficult but cathartic to write as was my tribute to a friend Linda and I had known a long time. David Marks died in mid-March. I have fond memories of David. He was one-of-a-kind. On March 26, Chris and I tandem-blogged on the same topic: Have I found what I’m looking for? with interesting results from two different generations.
April: This was the month my traveling began with a week-long stay in Vancouver visiting old and new friends and having a ball. In April I posted two practical pieces, both dealing with some aspect of death: Obituary Euphemisms and Do You Have a Last Will and Testament? I took my first long drive out of Winnipeg to Dauphin in late April and recount it with lots pictures in My Weekend. It was April 28 when I did my first flood report: an aerial view of Morris surrounded by water.
May: A vivid memory from my youth growing up in a little prairie town was my first hearing of Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles, a post that draws some attention. I celebrated the life and influence of my mother on her deathday in early May in a post called Mom. My flood coverage began in earnest in the first week of May and continued through most of the summer. I picked up my summer horse, another mighty Avenger from Enterprise, in mid-May. It was exciting to take day trips, often with friends, to view scenes of the flood and bring back information and pictures for my posts. I’ve had many comments both on and off the blog lauding my reporting and praising my mix of fact and dry wit. And of course, May 21, 2011 was The End of the World. Remember? Didn’t notice? It was a blogger’s dream come true and, as The Rapture proceeded, I did three posts that day, each more sardonic than the last. Here’s the first, second and third post.
June: A month of many changes. The flood dominated my attention and the blog most of June with daily coverage including the Lake Manitoba Flood Protest at the Manitoba legislature. I seemed to have the exclusive on the huge sinkhole near Riding Mountain National Park and blogged several times about it. June 14 was the ninth anniversary of my heart surgery and I wrote about it in the post My Fixer-Upper. On June 19, Chris and I drove west into Saskatchewan and encountered that province’s floods in Weyburn and area. We spent a few days together, visiting sacred sites and enjoying each other’s company. I bought my camcorder on June 24 and it went with me everywhere thereafter.
July: My travels continued all over Manitoba and back to Saskatchewan in July with pictures and videos coming thick and fast. Floodwise, I visited Souris several times to see their flood preparations and the crest of the river. Several popular posts and videos ensued. Though there was little to do in Spruce Woods Park because of the flooding Assiniboine River, I spent two enjoyable days yurting there in mid-month resulting in a post called Yurting at Spruce Woods. Late in July I posted three items about my early childhood in rural Manitoba. Hayfield – A Manitoba Ghost Town explained the place’s history, My Memories of a Ghost Town described Hayfield from the point of view of a child (me) between four and eight years old, and Hebron School – 1 Room 8 Grades 30 Pupils 1 Teacher explores my early education in a reopened one-room schoolhouse until halfway through Grade Three when we moved away.
August: My third trip into Saskatchewan and the opening of Spirit Sands were August highlights. The eight-day SK trip resulted in a post called Out There It’s Summertime. Early in the month I offered a series of pictures and video of the flood damage to precious Spruce Woods Park and later in the month, once Spirit Sands opened, I took pictures and video of my hikes. I stayed in a yurt in Spruce Woods Park again in August with the resulting video. My post Journeys of the Heart, Journeys of the Soul gives a good overview of how I was feeling late in the summer as a result of my travels and their revelations. The Doll House is an art project by Heather Benning situated by the side of Hwy #2 in western MB that I reported on in August.
September: July and August were hot and dry and the fall continued with warm, fair weather prompting more day trips and a few overnights. I wrote about one of my trips in a late September post titled Equinox Journey. Shoal Lake, MB, my hometown, provided the inspiration for a piece I’d had published in the local paper Crossroads This Week some years ago, about Art Moderne Texaco Filling Stations. Such a building remains in a prominent intersection in Shoal Lake and in Dauphin which I visit frequently.
October: The mighty Avenger returned to Mother Enterprise in mid-month but not before a few more visits to Spirit Sands, my last one on October 11. This picture shows naked trees on a late fall hike to Spirit Sands. Two Days Out recounts a trip into the heat-broken prairie early in October. Before and after pictures of the flood, bottle buildings and wild epitaphs highlight the report. My post called The Real Work, inspired by friend and Old Soul Chris Scholl explains some of the work of Old Souls and, on Thanksgiving Day, I offered a public service to anyone not able to find something to be thankful for called If you can’t think of anything to be thankful for today, I have a suggestion. This post resulted from a friend whining at me this very line, “It’s easy for YOU to find things to be grateful for!”
November: I sublimated my wanderlust into several dozen coffees with friends as the days grew shorter and colder. I have been celebrating people’s deathdays on my blog which caused confusion and even consternation among some readers and friends. I clarified it a bit with a post called What’s With Happy Deathday? A post called Between Shark’s Teeth and Stardust details a midnight hike on Spirit Sands during a full moon. The government notified me in November that Linda had officially ceased to exist as a taxable entity which prompted my post Death and Taxes about how many different ways we can be dead in this society.
December: Another full coffee card this month as I spiral into the Big Day. I repost my two stories, Dancing Horse and Messenger, which commemorate Sitting Bull’s death on the anniversary – December 15, 1890. Tradition held with another 12 Days of Christmas series, this year it’s churches in rural Manitoba. You can find them all on my Churches page. And here I am at the edge of a new year feeling thankful for friends who have become family and family who are friends, for imagination, intuition and everything that happens before I think about it and for grateful.
My luck holds out! The sun sets in an orange blur along the TCH, the rumble and groan of semis dissolve into the harvest glow. Once again the full moon rises between the old wise spruce in the autumn haze, the whir and slur of traffic on the TCH sings a lullaby to the nightbirds fitfully dozing in the cottonwoods overhead. Tranquility base, earth shine, we have seen it and been it all before.
Peace in your heart creates peace in the world. May the moments you find rare, precious and beautiful abound in your life in the new year and every year. With love, Reid
Taken December 31, 2011
SITTING BULL AND DANCING HORSE
December 15, 1890
Sitting Bull’s Camp
Grand River, South Dakota
Commotion was his cue, his spur, his trigger. Gunfire, whoops, whistles and yells! Dancing Horse needed no other prompting. He began to perform his repertoire of tricks; the seven Bill Cody taught him and the two he learned by watching other horses. He was a smart horse who learned easily.
Though it was the middle of a cold night and the years had slowed his gait, it all came back to Dancing Horse. As the air filled with noise and bullets whizzed around him, the horse pranced and danced, sat on his haunches and raised his front legs, waving, whinnying and shaking his mane. He cantered in a circle, stopped, backed up and cantered on, a curtsy, a bow and, his finale, a high wild buck accompanied by snorts and a long careening whinny. Then he started again.
The horse was born to the circus. Bill Cody had gelded him himself and taught him tricks. Dancing Horse was the gift Buffalo Bill Cody gave Sitting Bull when Bull retired from the Wild West Show. He’d spent recent years on the quiet prairie with Sitting Bull, far from the cheering crowds.
At the door of Sitting Bull’s log shack, melee built into frenzy. The holy man, now 60 summers old, lay propped half-naked against the doorframe, dying; his blood, loosened by two wounds, soaked into the snow. Sitting Bull’s spirit soared over the scene, its grief brief for the hard and desperate life just lived, now elated by the familiarity of death and the antics of Dancing Horse, moving like a white ghost in the snow below.
Long after the fighting ended, as the prairie filled with mournful keening, Dancing Horse continued to perform, repeating his act over and over. The horse had danced through the mayhem without a single bullet hitting him.
He did not perform for the incredulous and spooked Sioux who stared in awe. Dancing Horse had an audience of one. His old friend Sitting Bull watched long in delight, solely entertained by the horse’s show, then he turned and his spirit embraced The Light.
As the first rays of dawn swept over the frozen land, Dancing Horse collapsed into the snow, exhausted. A little boy dressed in buckskin advanced toward him, extending a handful of sweetgrass.
December 15, 1890
Overhead Orion paused in mid hunt; half a moon lit the prairie snows. The Spirit, its message clear and urgent, rose from the shabby encampment on Grand River, the scene of the crime.
Wearing only paint on his body, riding a horse with arrows and lightning bolts painted on its white flanks, the ghostly Messenger held a human skull on a stick. Half his face was red, half white, his heart was painted with a blue starburst and his body had wavy yellow lines running from foot to throat.
Sailing through the clear cold air the Messenger traveled north over the rolling hills of Standing Rock Reservation to Cannonball River, the end of Hunkpapa land. Every tiny cluster of tipis with warm dreamers inside in the camps of Thunderhawk and John Grass got the news as they slept. Some awoke keening in grief.
The Messenger turned south, crossed over the Grand River in a single bound and headed toward Cheyenne River Reservation, home to the Minneconjou. In his dream, Yellow Bird, the medicine man received the news with a jolt, grabbed his rattle and woke the camp. It was nearing dawn but still dark and cold as Kicking Bear, the high priest of the Ghost Dance, his wife Woodpecker Woman, and all the Minneconjou were informed. Further on, the camps of White Swan, Bear Eagle and Hump were next to be grief stricken. Off the reservation, the camps of Touch the Clouds and Red Shirt received word.
The ghost Messenger leapt the Cheyenne River and flew southwest toward Pine Ridge Reservation. Passing over Bad River, through the eerie Badlands past Castle Butte and a leap over White River got him to Pine Ridge and the camps at the headwaters of White River. Black Elk, the mystical shaman of the tribe, received the news and told the Oglala chiefs Red Cloud and American Horse. Ghost Dance priest Good Thunder immediately began to beat a hide drum and chant.
Spirit Messenger turned eastward just as dawn was blemishing the blackness. A leap over Pass Creek, through coulees and around buttes and Two Strike’s camp was informed; the ghost dancers Short Bull, Mash-The-Kettle and Plenty Horses began to paint their bodies with grieving symbols.
By the time the sun rose, the Great Plains was lit with grief. As far west as Tongue River Reservation in Montana, Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and as far south as the Kiowa Reservation in central Oklahoma – they all knew what had happened. Even the people of Walker River Reservation in western Nevada, home to visionary Wovoka who brought the Ghost Dance to the people, knew.
Except Orion, no one saw the ghostly figure riding the strange awkward horse but they all reported his message with sad accuracy:
“Sitting Bull is dead.”
“During shamanic flight the soul doesn’t fly. We expand our limits to include aspects not usually part of our being.” – Hans Peter Duerr
Before you begin reading this, if you haven’t already done so, please read Part One and Part Two in the series and study the Map of Consciousness supplied in both parts and below. Checking out my FAQ page will help as well.
One purpose of this final part in the series is to share some of the specific inner experiences that occur at each stage of super-consciousness. Extraordinary experiences need extraordinary and uncommon language to describe them. Shamanic experiences are often stage-specific, that is, they have meaning only at certain stages of consciousness which is not easily transferred or even described in another state. However, being the naming animal, we have discovered certain language that describes rare stages of mind and exceptional access to consciousness. I have Ken Wilber to thank for bringing forth some practical terminology during his 30 years of meditation practice and philosophical explorations. His terms were invaluable filling in the blanks on the Map of Consciousness.
For example, Wilber uses the term bliss currents to describe an extremely subtle sensation of loving happiness pulsing slowly through your awareness. When I first read it, I knew exactly what he meant. I’d experienced it many times but never had words to describe it. Still, sweet and descriptive as it tries to be, the term is lame when compared to the actual experience!
When I embarked on my spiritual journey my most basic intent was to become less culture bound and more inner directed, that is, live more from inside myself than from what is applied to me from the outside. Shamanism created the path for me to do this inner work I needed to do.
Now, once the drumming begins, I can feel my restive rational mind settle and focus on the steady beat. A wonderful moment of calmness and freedom ensues when I transcend reason and open up to exploring the parts of my consciousness that lie beyond. My first expansion lands me in the Psychic (F7) realm, immersed in Nature mysticism. Some typical experiences in the Psychic realm include:
Not all these experiences occur every time I access the Psychic realm but all of them have arisen at some point during my years of shamanic journeying. Most frequently, I experience the first seven items. A preliminary meditative state is always part of my intent, which, with the help of the sonic driver, sustains the shamanic journey. The outcome of the journey is mitigated by its particular intent, which varies from journey to journey. Much of Psychic is an adaptation for me.
My early meditative practice focused on awakening kundalini energies and bringing them to full expression. Kundalini energy lies coiled three and a half times at the base of the spine. Arousing it releases an exhilarating and dramatic array of experiences, many of them physical expressions of inner directives. Teacher Christina Grof and her husband, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, did invaluable research on kundalini energy. They list some of the effects awakening can have:
Since I am familiar with kundalini energy and open to it from my early practice, my visits to sacred places often arouse this energy to varying degrees. You may recognize some of my experience at Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel in Part One as kundalini awakening. The most intense kundalini occurrences happened to me at the Thunderbird Nest as described in detail on the Sacred Places page. Releasing kundalini energy at that site provided an avenue of expression for my spirit helper Webbed Flight and let him “live again.” Hope you read my FAQs.
The next stage is the Subtle (F8) realm where processes well beyond my gross waking consciousness begin to manifest. Subtle experiences arise solely from within me and require special attention and quietude to perceive and appreciate. More depth is required of me now. Spirit helpers, power animals and the Divine are most potent in the Subtle and are accompanied by inner illuminations and patterns and by blissful states of love and compassion. Peace and serenity settle into my awareness. Experiences in the Subtle realm include:
In Subtle abides enormous peace and serenity where quiet forces become evident via gentle perceptions, where love and compassion feel like the only possibilities. Brief flashes of the Divine shimmer through my awareness evoking bliss and unbound gratitude. Access to Subtle for me is generally plateau but adaptation when spirits and helpers are involved, that is I can readily call them if needed in any state of consciousness. Bliss currents and inner luminosities are plateau experiences for me so far.
Approaching the Source occurs in the Causal (F9) realm. All I experience is an unbound sense of freedom, freedom to create, to be, to do, an ancient flicker in the heart of Emptiness, a shadow on a cave wall. Being and Doing happily coalesce in me. I recognize myself as Emptiness and blissfully watch the arising world come and go through that awareness. Experiences in the Causal include:
My access to the Causal is through peak experiences as needed although this summer I had several extended plateaus floating in Causal. Often, if I am writing and can’t come up with an idea, a phrase, even a word, I’ll sit back on my chair, close my eyes and send a flare to the source of creativity. The reply is usually instant and substantive.
The three stages of consciousness I just described are conduits for the content, information and messages that Spirit wants to convey to me. They are the means, not the end, the method, not the result. Shamanism opens up the conduits so Spirit can flow! Spirit doesn’t just exist when we need or want it to; it exists all the time, which is incorrect since it exists completely outside of time which for us is “all the time.” Clear? I digress.
Another purpose of this essay is to shine more light on the stages of consciousness used in shamanism where spirits (animal powers, helpers, nature spirits) manifest themselves in our consciousness and help us. We are always surrounded by spirits but most people haven’t developed the inner technology to perceive them and, using intent (shaman’s secret), put them to work for you. That’s rather crass because the spirits are in charge and do what they need to do. Shamanism is a process of dropping assumptions we hold about the nature of reality. Instead of assuming limitations, shamans assume the opposite – unbound, freedom, creativity – and, using those eyes plus intent, find out what’s there. Astonishing things are there…and everywhere!
Spirits offer benevolence to everyone. Not everyone has the training to use their own inner technology to contact spirits for help. That’s what shamans do. I don’t think there is exclusivity to being a shaman. At a shamanism workshop last fall, everyone there, eighteen people, easily went into drumming-induced non-ordinary reality the first time they tried it. Fifteen of them got power animals on their second journey that day. We are hardwired for this access but few persist at it, few hear the calling or see the use. Shamanism is complicated, scary, ecstatic, boring, exhilarating, life-like and needs a certain kind of cat to dance with. Even though I searched for 45 years, I still feel it found me more than I found it. It’s like coming home.
Even if we don’t, can’t or won’t feel attuned to the spirits, they are attuned to us, watching over us. Spirits want to help everyone. A big human discovery was some people found a way to ask spirits for their help and get it. My relationship with Webbed Flight, my old friend and spirit helper (he is the spirit of a shaman who lived in eastern Manitoba about 1200 years ago), has matured in the 12 years we have known each other. Relationship? Webbed Flight tells me to cross the street sometimes if he doesn’t like who is coming toward us (Linda came to appreciate this after initially being unsettled by it), warns me about deer on the road, even dead ones, supports and protects me when I am in trance. I am way past being attuned to him; he is a living part of me. Ever protective, kind and curious, contact with Webbed Flight went from being an occasional peak experience to being able to contact him for longer periods, plateauing. Then he became an adaptation, a benevolent spirit that abides with me. That three-step process – peak, plateau, adaptation – took about 18 months with Webbed Flight. This is sounding so technical! Timely aside: What would the spirit of a 1200 year old shaman, when allowed to live again in 2011, find most amazing? TV? Cellphones? Uh-uh. The two things that blow Webbed Flight’s old mind are glass and indoor showers. Ha!
I met Maug (rhymes with blog) about nine months after I started my shamanic practice. She is a fascinating and energetic tree spirit and helper. When I first met her, we went through the three-step process in about 20 minutes and she’s been with me ever since. On my About page, in a piece called The Day Before Yesterday which recounts my ten most recent incarnations, you will find the details about Maug.
From Ken Wilber’s map in Part One you are familiar with the evolution of your consciousness. You are not alone on this journey. It is shared by all humanity. Nor is this journey new to any of us. For hundreds of thousands of years each of us has evolved through these same stages, following the same subliminal basic moral imperative: to preserve the greatest depth with the greatest span (Wilber). We have discovered ways of being in the world and intuited maps and techniques to guide the way to fulfilling our imperative. We have found methods of moving Spirit out of Emptiness, from inner space to materialization in a mound, a circle cast in stone, an image of an animal, the language of the soul writ on the land. There we commune lovingly, peacefully.
Imbued with Spirit, sacred places become custodians of the Divine, keepers of our very essence, but not hoarders. Sacred sites are open and expressive, appealing to our awareness, usually somewhere in the Psychic-Subtle-Causal realms. Each level allows greater access to deeper and fuller parts of my being, more intense experiences and contact with Spirit. The depth of my experience at these places is relative to how developed each of those realms is in me, how adequate I am to accessing them. Shamanism taught me the process, Ken Wilber expanded my understanding and now I proceed into the mystic at will, confident, experienced and some day, if I am very, very lucky, I may figure out how it works on my own.
Meanwhile, I will continue to visit sacred places and perform rituals based on my inner directives. I will continue to journey with my power animals and spirit helpers to imaginal worlds to fulfill healing intents. When Spirit draws me close to absolute awareness, the site of peace and compassion, I will recognize myself as Emptiness.
Over the summer of 2011 I was lucky enough to travel to more than a dozen sacred places in Manitoba and Saskatchewan recording reports on my little camcorder at most of them. While Spirit manifests at every site, there was one in particular where the message Spirit needed to convey was clear, reportable and captured on video. Please read my original post called Shining a Light Into Hidden Places and watch the video called Three Stones at Pine Cree Park which details my encounter with Spirit on the night I camped in the park.
Rustakoomaw crouched in the shade of the cottonwood that grew next to a dry streambed. It was the only tree for miles, an imposing sentinel against the sky. He held a small round drum made of hide and wood that he beat steadily and quickly with a fur-tipped stick. His voice accompanied the persistent beat, sailing across the still prairie, mixing with the whispers of cottonwood leaves the slight breeze spurred. Eyes tightly shut; his body weaving slightly, Rustakoomaw approached the trance with awe and respect. He stepped inside.
Immediately his power animals were with him, ready to accept and follow through on his intent. Rustakoomaw had come to the trance for help. His people were sick and dying, the rain had not appeared for many moons and the buffalo herds had deserted the prairie for the wetter north country. The grass was drying up on the hills, creeks and sloughs were now just smooth stones and crusted earth. He was asking Great Spirit to feed his people and bring the rain so the buffalo grass would grow again. His power animal Wolf linked the shaman with the Divine. Tears rolled down Rustakoomaw’s dark face, landing on his bare chest. He beat the drum harder. Wolf beckoned him.
The shaman found himself being lead toward a high hill that he knew very well. It was at the eastern edge of the region he and his people hunted. It overlooked a vast rolling plain; below it was the white shore of Bad Water Lake. The grass grew tall and green surrounding the hill. He stopped at the foot of the hill and looked up. At the top of the rise, he saw a wavering vision begin to take shape. Emerging from the shimmer of the heat and the clear cloudless blue beyond, Rustakoomaw began to make out a shape, an animal shape.
Like a jewel atop the verdant hill, the image of a huge white buffalo appeared. It turned and looked Rustakoomaw in the eye, nodding its shaggy head. He began to climb the hill toward the buffalo. As he approached, he realized he was suddenly getting wet. It had begun to rain. The vision of the white buffalo dissolved in the sheets of rain that slashed at the land. The sky was still bright blue and cloudless but the rain continued to fall in Rustakoomaw’s trance.
That evening as the small band devoured a thin white-tailed buck, a lucky hunt by one of Rustakoomaw’s sons, clouds began to roll in from the west. A gentle rain began that persisted all night and into the next day. Every evening that week the rain came. The parched earth drank every fresh drop and the grass returned to the prairie, along with it the buffalo and the health of Rustakoomaw’s people.
This is my friend, Chris Scholl. He is happy in this picture. This is a link to his blog post today. It’s called “Happy.”
The old saw goes, “The only things you can count on in life are death and taxes.” At some point these two parallel inevitabilites must intersect.
Apparently we aren’t truly dead, bureaucratically dead, until we experience tax death. This week Canada Revenue Agency sent me a letter saying that Linda is now tax dead (my terminology). That means that every level of government is satisfied that she owes them no further taxes. Hey Baby, off the hook! You win!
This got me thinking about all the different ways we can be and need to be dead in this culture. Physically, when the body stops and certain disposal processes start, you end up six feet under in a tight one-room apartment with no doorbell, or your anonymous ashes dust away somewhere appropriate or inappropriate, depending on how clear you were about this with your family. That seems easy and familiar. Being the 21st century, there are numerous new ways you can dispose of your precious remains ranging from being shot into space to being liquified and flushed to being buried inside a large dead animal instead of a coffin. Seriously!
Mentally, if you are very lucky, some of your ideas and/or creations linger on after you die. This can happen through children, media exposure, art, notoriety, genius, setting an example and so on. Soul persists past physical and mental death yet it is the one aspect of ourselves we are most uncomfortable with and least educated about.
An oft-used crossword puzzle clue is Last words? with the answer obit. Your obituary proclaims and asserts your death by recounting Part One of your story, or, most likely, your story as interpreted by family members or friends under duress, each of whom would write a very different obituary depending on how close they were to you. Sometimes agencies or companies you deal with after a death will request a copy of the obituary.
Here’s a great idea! Write your own obituary! I did. Tell your own story. It saves time and confusion and illustrates your understanding of what your loved ones are going through after your death. It’s an expression of love. For more information on writing your own obituary, read my post called Obituary Euphemisms.
Part Two of your story is your last will and testament or what happens to your worldly stuff now that you are dead. This is an important part of your story because it directly states your wishes and enables an orderly and fair dispersion of your estate. Keep it simple and honest. Some people see their will as one last opportunity to be small and extract revenge. Try not to be that person. Be large and grateful instead. If you are over 18 years old, you should have a will. Like writing your own obituary, creating a will is your opportunity to have your life story end exactly the way you want. As luck would have it, I have written about wills.
What other parts of your story remain to be told? Bureaucratic death must be satisfied. Almost immediately after a death, the province issues a thwack of death certificates because every company and level of government you deal with is going to ask for one. You are now dead to the province. Insurance death was, in Linda’s case, quick and efficient, though often it is not. Her estate was not complicated and she had a clear and concise will. Linda’s tax death, other than, what my Mom would call, a schmozzle with H & R Block (an eye-roller for a later post), was smooth and sympathetically administered by Canada Revenue Agency. This means that Linda is, officially and in every other way, as dead as she possibly can be.
In a shaman’s world, in my world, Linda lives on, in my heart, as a spirit, as a helper, infinitely. She guides me every day; we communicate in a pure and direct manner using shamanic techniques and a special agate. We exchange a love that transcends death by accepting what death is – natural, neutral, necessary. Linda is never far away.
To a shaman who accesses non-ordinary reality, the old saw now goes: The only things in life you can count on are no death and no taxes.
Today I celebrate the 17th anniversary of my first shamanic journey on November 11, 1994. It was the day I became a warrior of a different kind. I’ll recount the events that led to that pivotal moment.
In 1992, at age 42, I had a heart attack after which I shed my sedentary lifestyle, regained my health and counted myself among the lucky. Mom died in spring of 1993 and that set me on a course of intense curiosity about life, death and the whole damn thing. My work allowed me to read for four hours a shift during which time I devoured over four hundred books on topics ranging from nanotechnology to philosophy to ecology to near death experiences to Way of The Shaman, a little book written by anthropologist Michael Harner that I read in October 1994. That was the book that changed everything.
I suddenly recognized a new and significant part of myself in the arcane information Way of the Shaman conveyed. It felt familiar, necessary, useful. I immediately saw myself as a modern man exploring the spirit world using a technique that’s probably 100,000 years old. I had found My Way.
At the time, Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies offered a cassette tape of solid drumming at the right number of beats per minute to induce non-ordinary reality and give access to the spirit world. I found the cassette at Prairie Sky Books on Westminster. I would wear out this cassette and go back a year later for a new copy.
I kept a handwritten journal of all my early shamanic journeys, which was extremely useful in learning the new spiritual territories that had opened up to me. By journeying I gained experience in non-ordinary reality; the Upper and Lower Worlds became familiar to me; my power animals and spirit helpers appeared and offered their help. The journals are fascinating to read now since it is clear how accurately the spirits predicted my future, the people I would meet and lose, the way everything would proceed. My first two journals contain vivid accounts of over 150 journeys in the initial two years of my shamanic practice.
To give you a brief peek into a shaman’s journey, I am sharing you my journal entry written right after my first journey on November 11, 1994.
First time shamanic journey to a non-ordinary reality. Traversing the tunnel was rapid and effortless arriving in a beautiful natural setting. When my eyes became accustomed to the light, I saw a small stream about a foot wide and a foot deep set at the bottom of a canyon. I followed the stream to a mound some distance upstream that appeared to be the source of the stream, perhaps an artesian well. When I arrived at the small mound I found it to be a huge eyeball, three feet across, that was crying and making the stream with its tears. This seemed perfectly normal.
What looked like a large house cat came walking toward me from some brush. It was a tiger cub and its mother was close behind. We greeted each other. The tiger said her name was Beba and the cub had no name this time but would the next time we meet.
I asked her if she was my power animal and if we could meet here. She said this was likely but I wouldn’t recognize her at first. As we talked I played with the cub which soon tired and began to suckle Beba who lay on her side. I sat next to this huge purring tiger, caressed her, smelled her wild scent and felt her trembling power just under the fur.
The three of us sat in the hot sun and enjoyed the silence. I tasted salt, my tears. I cried because I felt, in my soul, for the first time the truth of unity, the oneness, the sighing insignificance of the world and all its amazing qualities and I wept there in non-ordinary reality next to a tiger and her sleeping cub.
Quickly I learned to remember most details of my journeys by intending to remember them. Of all the places I have visited on shamanic journeys, about half of them were at the same stream from my first journey. It became a familiar peaceful place to meet and get to know my new spirit friends.
Beba, though a tiger, was not my power animal but Tiger was, whom I formally acquired two or three journeys later. Tiger from that day on has given me the gift of joy, the gift of be happy. The eyeball: literal Cry Me a River? Never did unravel that one. The feeling of unity would grew stronger in me as my shamanic practice and connection to Nature mysticism deepened.
I no longer keep journals of my experiences because I have adapted to being in a world where spirits communicate and cavort with me. My journeys are very focused on specific intents now. I know the terrain. I am more relaxed about it, a better listener and get practical results and/or sound advice from almost every spirit source that I contact.
After 17 years of regular practice, I still feel shamanism found me and that I didn’t find it. It always feels like coming home. I am an incredibly lucky man for which I am grateful every day.
What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
Tied her with fences and dragged her down
Please watch this
“Nothing is lost, nothing is created … all is transformed. Nothing is the prey of death. All is the prey of life.” – Antoine Béchamp
“All goes onward and outward. Nothing collapses. And to die is different from what anyone supposes…and luckier.” -Walt Whitman
A good question and one asked of me several times since I began the Happy Deathday features on the blog. Don’t misinterpret this as me being happy these people no longer live. That’s not the point at all.
My perspective on this is shamanic and incorporates a shaman’s understanding of death which differs vastly from the mainstream idea of death being scary and unknowable. In the shaman’s world death is simply a change of being, a moving from organic to inorganic, from flesh to Spirit, that faithful old process we’ve lived and died with for eons.
Death is our next opportunity to express our spiritual evolution and put to use the soul building we have done during our life. It is a celebratory moment when we face Great Spirit and obtain final clarity for that lifetime. If we are prepared, if we have trained well during all our lifetimes, we transcend reincarnation, become enlightened and merge with The Light. If we still aren’t ready to achieve that, we contract away from The Light back through the mental realm as a sexual thought then reproduced again in a gross body with all its suffering and bondage. This is also our next opportunity for personal evolution, for pursuing our next level of soul building.
Because we communicate with spirits directly, shamans know that Spirit persists after the elemental needs of the body are gone and the mind is relieved of its duties. Seen simply, sometimes we are alive, sometimes we are dead, always we are Spirit. Since the aftermath of birth is life in the gross reflecting realm and the aftermath of death is heaven, it’s just as appropriate to wish someone a happy deathday. The hope that accompanies the loving wish is that you have used this life as a stepping stone on your path to enlightenment and eternal bliss, that you have done the real work, the necessary work.
“Those who do not fear Great Spirit are not strong.”
PLAINS SIOUX PROVERB
“Make my enemy brave and strong, so that if defeated I will not be ashamed.”
“Give me knowledge so I may have kindness for all.”
“You can’t get rich if you look after your relatives properly.”
“Everything the Power does, it does in a circle.”