Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Up the Arroyo, Part VI

               Quite shortly ahead appeared the famed Shanty. The old man was sitting outside his house and saw her right away. He stood up and said something. She came down toward, but not inside of, the wire fence around the property. After some confusing verbal interaction, Laurie realized he was telling her to come around the side of the wire, past the dogs and chickens. She did, and walked right up to don Juan himself.

               Containing her fantasies of magic (in Carlos Castaneda's books, don Juan -- or "man of knowledge" -- was often associated with the term nagual [na'wal], meaning variously sorcerer, shaman, shape shifter, and the "unknown"), she asked him in the best way she could if he had seen anyone either on the road or coming down the riverbed. The answer was a clear no. The only way they could communicate was using numbers, hand signals, and indicating "up" or "down." Four up, one down, then three more down? No, four up. Si, si, four up; but what about down, three down? Anywhere? Forgoing the verbiage, he put up a spindly forefinger and motioned her to wait -- esperas, esperas, momento! It was quite clear to him, and Laurie, that he had decided they needed to go searching. He disappeared inside the house. While he was gone, Laurie checked out the front of his shack and generally looked around, not focusing too hard on anything in particular. Something she did see caused a chuckle: a metal sign reading "¿Traes Chicles?" ("Do you bring Chiclets?") overtop of a 6- x 10-inch wired-in opening in the adobe, one of the perhaps two such ways of allowing light into the dark interior surrounded by dirt and dust.

               When don Juan first returned out the main doorway, he was carrying a very long walking stick; then he disappeared and returned again wearing a wide-brimmed hat; then disappeared and returned once more, with "mis zapatos, momento!", very politely. He even offered a slight smile. The shoes were real and pretty nice hiking boots, albeit dusty and used. He sat on his old bench and put them on, noticeably tying them in haste. "Un momento, por favor!" Laurie tried to answer or converse, but the energy was just not there, and she could not remember any of her Spanish for the moment, except the very basics. And indeed, he had a few teeth missing along with a strong accent, possibly an Indian dialect; so it seemed a real bother to even try holding a conversation....

               Laurie realized vocalizing was unnecessary. She needed only to watch, follow and listen. He beckoned. Along with the dogs, she and the old man headed down the left over uneven ground and rocks toward the arroyo. Don Juan walked spryly over the terrain while Laurie floundered a little, falling behind. At this moment, the "unknown one" turned and said something Laurie never wanted to forget:

               "No tenga miedo, NADA. No tenga miedo--NADA." This means "Do not ever fear--NOTHING" (or "anything," as English would have it). He said this two or three times, with no emotion, no real inflection whatsoever. Yet with pure certainty and authority. Laurie stepped up her cadence to remain as near as possible.

               What an incredible moment this is, Laurie thought. Will it ever end? But, yes, it did. Very shortly after they left the Shanty, in fact:

               Up the now-familiar arroyo lingered three colorful bodies with safari hats on, one about 100 yards in front of the other two. These two stood talking and kicking small stones around, with their heads facing down suspiciously while the lone third safari-covered head walked down the trail and toward Laurie and the old man. Laurie ecstatically yelled out, "Hey, hey, hey! I can't believe it! Are you guys okay?? Look who I found!" There was no response, positive or negative, in Laurie's direction. Joel continued silently walking toward Laurie.

               Laurie felt herself falling, falling down, heavily, into a troubled human body. It was like an airplane slamming into the ground nosefirst. Not willing to go there just yet, she continued:

               "This is my friend, don Juan!!" she smiled at the old man. She then turned in reverence to address him, partially to not leave him out of the interaction, but also in appreciation of his humility and helpfulness. Laurie easily put her arm around him, knowing not to expect anything back, and gave him a hug. Very clearly he was not accustomed to female companionship.... She said,

               "Gracias, muchas gracias, mi amigo!!" as she smiled and shook his slight hand. One finger made an audible cracking noise, and both of them broke out laughing. They couldn't really say anything, but the laughter was freedom to Laurie, and perhaps to the old man as well, just for that last moment.

               Then she sighed to herself and walked up to Joel, feeling both fight and flight, generally sensing trouble. There had obviously been an agreed-upon plan of action, or non-action. Joel took Laurie's shoulder with a soft compassionate touch. Joel and Laurie were very close friends. But she could not tell if the touch was real or merely the habitual manner of addressing his patients in analysis. Whatever, he was good at it, and very convincing. Laurie listened as he began: 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Up the Arroyo, Part V

               Every once in a while, a conscious thought -- usually one based in fear or questioning -- arose. As Laurie continued to keep an eye up the far left side, looking up to see that the paved road and its signs were all still right there, the shanty appeared in her mind; but she had never seen it, and looking on down the arroyo, it was nowhere. In fact -- well, there were no facts for Laurie right now, only her instincts leading her. However, the missing landmark introduced doubt and more fear, and she began to yell again. She yelled out until her voice broke; and the whole time, she still sensed it was a rather stupid and wasteful, as well as unnecessary, expenditure of precious energy. Driving the guilt and fear were dual possibilities: First, that the others themselves had had a problem, an injury, were lost, or any number of eventualities. Second, she was sure that no one, specifically Nate, though, would ever speak to her again -- or at least for the rest of the trip.

               These thoughts -- ideas and fears and doubts and on and on, along with the now-hoarse voice, made Laurie supremely angry. Where is freedom from all of this???, she barked to herself. During this same time, she yet felt so clear and so fine, and bounding, even beginning to run, down the now-expansive arroyo, laughing and fantasizing that she ought to sign up for the Badwater run in Death Valley. So everything was happening at once for Laurie, and she was high as a kite. Shaking a bit, way too hot, and observing that she might just possibly be experiencing some delirium, suddenly there stood the O.J. Simpson white Bronco up ahead on the edge of the paved road. No need to look too closely, obviously no one was there. More fear and guilt and other draining feelings tortured and deleted the ecstasy of the moment. Just seeing the car shut down Laurie's rapture, bringing her crashing to the ground.

               She walked up to the empty, locked vehicle to be absolutely sure it was the one. Looking up the paved road, it was silent. Buzzards flew overhead. Once again, she began yelling out the others' names, cupping her hands around her mouth, until at last the throat shut down and refused to comply. The only thing to do was begin jogging up the mountain road, parallel to the arroyo. The heat from the asphalt seemed to increase the temperature by at least 10 degrees (Fahrenheit).

               Shortly, a tourist van full of air-conditioned visitors came down and simply drove right by her, not even slowing down. This was not acceptable; but without using her "hate gene," for which she had no energy right now, Laurie merely called out and waved them down. It was a short but tough bit of output, as the vehicle was moving somewhat fast. They stopped abruptly. A back passenger side window opened, and Laurie saw about six Caucasian people in the van, two of whom in the back seat stared straight ahead. Laurie also ignored this, but took it in just the same.

               She was the first to speak, asking, "Have you guys seen anyone, three people, walking up or down this road, anywhere??"

               They said, "No, no one is up there, not all the way up." Then, for whatever reason, the passengers looked over at her, checked her out closely up and down, then began to address her as an actual human being. They asked,

               "Are you okay?"

               "I really don't feel well enough to know whether I'm okay or not," she blurted out. "I just need to find these people, it's just so weird, I have no idea where they went...we got separated." She was rambling a little; and one dark-haired, good-looking woman who had been staring straight ahead offered up a bottle of cold, unopened water for the lone traveler. Laurie accepted it immediately, expressing gratitude, and opened it without another word. There wasn't much to say, she needed to get up the road and sensed that they wanted to get down the road; so she offered the water back to the passengers, expressing further gratitude (and secret amazement). The passengers responded in seeming unison,

               "No, no, you keep it. I hope you find your friends!" The automatic window went right back up, and both parties went their opposite ways. Laurie drank and spilled water over her head. The effect was immediate and very clearing. She continued to run and walk up the road, spying down the hill to the left.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Up the Arroyo, Part IV

               It wasn't all that bad, they decided at each turn. At least one person, however, was unknowingly succumbing to a slight bit of heat stroke. It approached unnoticed. There was very little shade in this part of the hike. All four began to feel the need to "have a discussion" around 1:00 p.m. Joel kept pushing for a continuation toward the great reward, of course; but where a convergence of trails met -- one from the left, one from the right -- at a pleasant, palm-shaded and breezy setting, another unspoken decision was made: Sit down. As they rested for a bit, Joel named the spot "the convergence of two ecstasies," amusing himself as always, and insisting, "I really, I really do, I think I see some petroglyphs right up there on the side of the hill -- let's get there." He was ignored. Nate, Takiya, then Joel all remarked on what each in turn had had for breakfast. Nate, who had brought along a full gallon of water and some oranges, lugging them all the way up the trail in his backpack, brought everything out and lunch was served. Laurie had kept begging him to let her carry the water, because surely his 64-year-old back was not appreciating the assault of being bent inward right at the lumbar region. But he, the good Marine (and he was), would have nothing of that.

               Laurie was not completely present any longer. She tried a bit of orange and gave it away, no hunger anymore. How heat stroke feels was not lost on her, but at this point she couldn't have cared less. She began to lean forward with head in hands and eventually to wander ahead and hang on the face of a cool boulder against her forehead, becoming intimate with the rock as she splayed out both hands on it and spoke silently with the breezes in the high palm fronds. Upon inquiry, Laurie said she felt fine. But in reality, she wanted to be alone with Nature in the worst way.
               Joel, the desert expert, had a very clever little electronic GPS device that fit in his pocket. It was like Little Red Riding Hood for tracking and backtracking on trails. He began to study it, thinking that they would want to use it getting back down. Soon, Nate, Joel and Takiya announced, "Okay, let's head down; Joel, shut up." Laurie wanted, as badly as air, to get away from all humans, their voices, their very presence, in fact, from her own self. She said to the others as they beckoned expectedly for her to follow along, "No, I'm staying here right now. Please just leave me alone," her face and closed eyes still plastered against the boulder.

               Nate was frustrated and pissed off. He knew his wife's intransigence, the same as his own; and he was willing, with defiance, to let her stay and "go to hell for all he cared." He never said this, but he thought it in his own fatigued mind and simply walked away with the others. It would be obvious to anyone that this is not done when out in the wild, in the heat, with the snakes, with no water, no food, no sunscreen, and no directions. But nobody in the group was feeling particularly clear at the time Laurie pushed them away, and they just left.

               It didn't take long. Laurie sat and listened to the breezes and the bugs, being as silent as possible. Suddenly, as usually happens when real silence is met, a loud inner voice blasted through her mind like fire from a gaping mouth in the distant mountaintops. She was up and on both feet in a nanosecond, the perceived voice admonishing, "get going, wake up." Not violently, just with absolute authority.

               She stood, uneasily at first, and looked down to the left and to the right. Conflicting emotions cluttered her like Lilliputions: betrayal, confusion, fear, alarm, guilt, uncertainty, elation, excitement...and a bit of anger that not a single human body could be seen as far down as she stared. Not having expected to be left on her own, Laurie had no choice but to start walking; first to the left because it appeared that they had come up the right, rocky side of the arroyo (which they had). But that felt completely wrong and unfamiliar. She turned back and headed down the right side. But...this appeared to be a completely new and different trail. Ummmm, Laurie hummed. She yelled out Nate's name and then Takiya's. No answer. Fear lingered near the back of her mind, but wonder and excitement were mounting with every step.

The Guide
               Suddenly, she spied a blue ribbon attached to a tree on the right side of the trail next to the rock faces. She remembered that the old man had mentioned something about azul mas arriba ("blue more up," basically), pointing up the riverbed. It was a bright blue and she saw it only from the periphery of her visual field. Just like every thought, all was becoming peripheral, nothing was straight on. Laurie had no idea what she was doing or where she was headed. It even felt unnecessary to repeatedly yell out Nate's name, as though she was somehow interfering with Nature's voice.

               At one point, Nate yelled from nowhere -- not close, but not far -- "Just keep going downhill, and you'll be fine." That was buoying. Very buoying. This did feel like the right direction even if unfamiliar, so for the next half hour or so, she ceased the calling and listened closely to her own instincts, feeling it was a most excellent and exhilarating exercise. The feeling grew as she found more and more blue ribbons, still only from the corner of her eye. The arroyo itself was her path, and she bounded down, wondering why they hadn't come this so-easy way in the first place. Laurie still held her bamboo stick, using it in hopes of creating that musical, penetrating reverberation that someone may hear.