The Big Trip: Illi-noise


I left the idylls of Ohio for the ills of the interstate. At least it went by quickly. The moment I got off the interstate, I saw twenty-five vultures (yes, I counted them: twenty-five turkey vultures) gliding in a vague circle above a stand of trees. Of course my mind immediately goes to the macabre—has the highway killer struck again?but it was more likely a dead or dying animal in that little grove. Twenty-five of them, just soaring and circling. Waiting.

Then the wind starts whipping up. I had forgotten what the prairie winds are like. Even the big rigs seemed to be having trouble staying where they should be. I was being seriously buffeted.

When I drove through Gary, Indiana, I was shocked to see no smokestacks billowing forth. Fifteen years earlier, the sky was a sickly gray-green from all the pollution, and now—nothing. Clear skies. Clean city. Amazing how things had changed so dramatically. It gave me hope.

Coming back into Chicago gave me a definite thrill. For four years I took the train from Lake Forest into Chicago frequently, once or twice a month at the very least. I saw a stunning production of Equus there the first week I was in town, and I dearly loved the Art Institute and the Chicago Symphony and shopping at Water Tower Place. But I admit I went there most often for more prurient pursuits, and I felt a stranger there from first to last. The city always smelled of desperation to me. Continue reading

Categories: Shamanism, The Big Trip, Travel | 3 Comments

The Big Trip: Day 1


Silver Spring, Maryland, where I lived at the time, is terminally suburban. It creeps up to the border of Washington, D.C., and sprawls for miles into Montgomery County, becoming the second largest city in Maryland after Baltimore.

I grew up one town over, in Takoma Park, but after college, Silver Spring became our home. Not Home in the big sense—that will always be Vermont, despite the fact that I only lived there for two years—but it’s where my parents lived, where my first apartment was, where my father died, where I shared a house with my mother. Leaving Silver Spring on a great adventure was a symbol for leaving an inherited mindset behind and trying to see with new eyes.

It is September 17, a Tuesday. Somehow it’s important that I mark the time of my departure precisely: 11:26 a.m. My trip takes me up route 270, where I visit my great grandmother’s homestead in the tiny town of Boyds, Maryland. My great uncle’s general store there still bears his name. Such a flood of memories: summer nights chasing lightning bugs and drinking black cows, screen doors banging as children ran in and out of the house happily, sitting on back lawns with friendly neighbors, the sound of cicadas buzzing furiously, the feel of the graveyard beneath my feet at the little country church. There was something quietly mystical about that town back then. There still is. Continue reading

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The Big Trip: What Happened the Night Before

When they heard about my impending cross-country trip, my friends Wayne and Sue arranged a Talking Stick ceremony for me. We had done these sorts of gatherings before. Theirs always centered on a single individual who was in need of support. Perhaps someone was facing a health crisis; perhaps another needed counsel and guidance on a particular topic. But most often it was done for someone undergoing a transition in his or her life: the end of a marriage, the beginning of a career. For me, it was this trip, this quest.

Sue invited me over early, and suggested I go down to their basement and take a sauna. It was one of those free-standing sauna rooms that could seat one or two at the most. And it was lovely. I cranked up the heat, way higher than was recommended, leveling off only when I started experiencing an . . . altered state of consciousness. That wasn’t my original intent, but it served as a fitting symbol for the trip to come.

At one point, as I shifted position, I burned my butt on something. Made a serious welt, like I had been branded. As I was majorly communing with the Divine at the time (the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, not the late drag queen of John Waters film fame), I called it God’s Burn for the duration of the trip. Continue reading

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The Big Trip: Prologue

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. Continue reading

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