In early 1991, while being smudged with a combination of five herbs sacred to the Yaqui tradition, I had a spontaneous and rather overwhelming out-of-body experience. I met with some deeply spiritual people at church—a very cool Episcopal church in Washington, D.C.—about this experience, and they told they felt God was calling me to do a serious study of shamanism, or was in fact calling me to become a shaman.
Almost immediately I had a driving desire to go to the Pacific Northwest to see the places I had visited in my OOBE. Some of this may well have had to do with the confluence of two television programs, Northern Exposure, a show that had thoroughly stolen my heart and which, though set in Alaska, was filmed in the little town of Roslyn, Washington; and Twin Peaks, the beautiful and deeply twisted drama from David Lynch, which was filmed in the towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend, about an hour from Roslyn. Of course I had to visit these towns as well.
It would take a month. I had $2,000, and a car that had no business being on the road, much less driving across the country and back again. I would spend many nights camping in the national parks and forests, despite the fact that I had previously done only two overnight camping trips before, both of them close to my home, and had a body that was built for comfort, not for sleeping on the ground in a tent.
Along the way, I interviewed a Lakota in Minnesota who was also an Episcopal priest, and was invited to participate in an Inipi, or traditional sweat lodge ceremony. I saw the Corn Palace and Wall Drug in South Dakota, and spent a night lost and terrified in the Black Hills. I lost my wallet for a few days in British Columbia after visiting some of the Canadian glaciers, fell in love with Seattle, had revelatory experiences in Washington’s national forests. And in Montana, where I knew not a soul within its vast 147,046 square miles, I actually bumped into someone I’d eaten dinner with in D.C.
My great friend Indigo Bunting reminded me recently that I had given her a copy of my trip journal, which included a transcription of the tape recordings I had made along the way, the postcards I sent back home to my mother in Maryland, and written journal entries. Superb organizer that I am, I had long since lost my originals, so she was gracious enough to send me a photocopy. I think it’s time to tell the story of that time, that journey that was such a seminal and initatory experience in my life.
I’ll likely interrupt it from time to time with non-trip-related blog entries, and I may take several entries to describe some of the events. I immersed myself in kitsch, had a few bizarre and hilarious encounters, and found a spiritual path that has been profound and transformative.
I hope you will take the trip with me, and will give me your thoughts along the way.
Tomorrow’s episode: What Happened the Night Before.