Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Vision Quest, Part 5

Although I’d intended to use my “Thoughtful Thursday” posts to explore the journal I kept during my first vision quest experience, I was compelled to deviate last week in order to share my yoga woes with you. What can I say? The kitty looked so darn cute under the yoga mat, I simply had to rethink my intentions.

But, this week, I’m back in full vision quest mode. In case you’re utterly confused, please check out my four previous posts about the weeklong vision quest that I experienced during the summer before ninth grade, in the woods of southern Mississippi.

My five fellow questers and I spent six days under the tutelage of a long-haired, big-hearted vegetarian named James, who lived on the expansive, wooded property with his wife and two daughters. What I remember most about James was his hearty laugh, his intense eyes, his bushy mustache, his refusal to watch television, his passion for the environment, and his fascination with Native American myths and traditions.

In previous blog posts, I covered most of what happened on Monday, June 25, and Tuesday, June 26. On Wednesday, June 27, it seems that I was in a serious writing mood. I even recapped the initial events of the quest:

The first day was rough. When we got here, we rode to the camp in James’ flatbed. Then Margaret [James’ wife] checked our supplies, and we were on our way. We trekked with all of our heavy things through the woods, up hills, across the creek, to our campsite. After some instruction, we found our areas (now called homes) and set up our “tents” (a tarp over a rope tied between two trees). The rest of the day we just got settled. After dinner, though, Steve, Keith, and James talked to us about "warriors" and the ultimate one, Don Juan... [not the infamous lover but the man featured in Carlos Castaneda’s mind-bending books]

The second day, we cooked our own food and washed our own clothes in our Maytag™ or Kenmore™ (really buckets to scrub our clothes with Octagon™ soap and rinse them twice). I finished mine late at night, missed eating dinner, but got to eat a few eggs instead. I’m going to have to use my pot somehow though – if I want to get the full effect of independence. We had also gone swimming in the creek for the second time. Then we were allowed to clean off (Advice: Use just a little Octagon™ soap – it goes a long way). After that, we planted our stave in the ground that has the medicine wheel colors on it. Then the Three Musketeers [Julia, Antonia, and I] carried two buckets of water uphill from the creek without a mishap. (Daryl fell in yesterday...)

At night, we went to a Council of the Great Spirit. We smoked the pipe twice and James read something about the Great Warrior Chief Seattle, and we passed a rock around (sort of like a conch) and could only speak when given this rock.

James said we’d be different now. It feels more like a family...

The rest of the day’s scribblings focused on the events of the third day, which mostly consisted of listening, learning, and meditating:

Today, he [James] talked about Little Mouse, who was busy working when he heard a roaring. He asked two other mice [about it] who said they hadn’t heard it and kept working. The mouse went back to work, but heard the roar again and went to investigate. He met a raccoon who showed him the roaring river and a green frog on a green lily pad. The frog told him to crouch and jump; the mouse did this and saw mountains and forests; he fell into the river, thinking the frog had tricked him. He was scared, but swam to the bank. The frog reassured him...

Did I mention that much of the vision quest consisted of learning myths? Of course, some made more sense than others. The above one, about Jumping Mouse, illustrates a willingness to leave innocence and security behind. But this next myth still boggles my mind a bit. Perhaps you can shed some light on it:

James read us a story about two fawns whose mother is killed by their aunt, Bear. They know she will kill them, too, so they leave to go to their Grandpa, Lizard. They take all of their baskets except one. When Bear returns, she sees they are missing. She goes after them but hears a whistle (from the last basket) and returns home. This occurs continuously, each time with her getting angrier and angrier. Meanwhile, the fawns cross the river on Daddy-Long-Legs and go to the Lizard, explaining the situation to him. Bear finally gets to the river and Daddy-Long-Legs sticks out a leg, but then tips her over. She proceeds to the house where she is told by Lizard to climb down the smoke hole with her eyes shut and mouth open. She does this and he thrusts hot coals down her throat; she dies...

I must admit, that one leaves me a little clueless. Do you have any thoughts?


Angie Ledbetter said...

I think Mr. James had been toking on the pipe a little too long when he shared that legend. :)

Becky said...

ROFLMAO! I had the same exact thought as Angie! When I read it, I laughed so hard!

Whew! I'm just trying to imagine how James fit into that part of Mississippi. The family we know who lives there is ... let me see, how do I put it... very "red-blooded American"... I bet he was quite different than the rest of the folks in those parts. Does he still live there? I think we went canoeing once in that river, followed by line-dancing at the local bar.

I'm all for vision quests. I take a mini-one each morning when I walk with my pup in the woods, but I guess I'm far too cynical when it comes to most spiritual aspects. Maybe it's the rebellious teen in me.

I think the important part is that he was doing his best to provide you and your friends with a rite-of-passage ceremony.

Steph Damore said...

Hmmm... I'm not sure. It seems like it's a type of good vs. evil with good always triumphing type thing. I know there has to be more to it, but I'm not sure. Don't piss off your granddad maybe? J/K

I thought I'd do some research (because that's what I do) and I came across this website which houses Pohonichi Miwok legends and has a similar one titled The Bear and Deer Children which talks about how thunder came to be. Check it out and let me know if you think it could be a version of the same legend.

Becky said...

OK I just have to add one thing to clear my conscience. As a parent, I'd be very upset that an adult was abetting smoking with my child. Even if that "child" was taking part in a ceremony. Sorry, but something just doesn't sit right with me about that.

Lazy Writer said...

I've got to agree with all comments above. What was in the pipe anyway????

Bane of Anubis said...

This is what happens when you go to hippie camp :) -- BTW, one of my wife's nicknames for me is 'Bear' and thus I felt a little kinship with the villain of this story (though, given the overcrowding of deer populations, I think 'Bear' should be lauded)

Laura Martone said...

Angie - You could be right. The whole week felt a little otherworldly... and NOT because there was anything more than bark and seeds in the pipe. It wasn't THAT kind of vision quest. LOL!

Although I had a powerful desire to do a "real" one with peyote and everything (I was a little too fascinated with Native American traditions back then), James was very responsible with us... we were just kids, after all. ;-)

Natalie said...

Huh. What is it about gruesome folk tales/fairy tales? All I can say is that I wouldn't want to run into that Daddy Long Legs.

Laura Martone said...

Which brings me to Becky's concern... I'm not a parent, so I can't begin to speculate how I'd feel about the smoking bit. As a non-smoker (then and now), I didn't inhale the smoke into my lungs... but, of course, I didn't understand about second-hand stuff then.

But the fact is... all the parents knew what James' methods were like. They'd met with him in New Orleans and checked him out, so to speak, before unleashing us on his property for a week. My mom, in particular, was rather over-protective, and she felt comfortable with him - and his intentions, which, as you suggested, were to provide us little Unitarians with a memorable rite-of-passage ceremony.

If we hadn't felt comfortable with the smoking bit, he certainly wouldn't have forced us to do it. But we were all game! And our parents knew that it was a different kind of "smoking" - my mom, for one, knew I'd never start that bad habit, which I haven't.

But, even as a non-parent, I can understand how you feel.

As for James, yeah, he certainly stood out from the locals. Often, he had to chase "red-blooded" poachers off his land... they'd start messing with the medicine wheel and try to accuse him of other kinds of rituals, but the sheriff knew him, knew what he did was legit, so it was the poachers that usually got in trouble. LOL! (And, as far as I know, he still lives there, though last I heard he spends part of the time in San Fran, getting a masters, I think - I'm still in touch with his daughters, but I owe him a call, for sure).

P.S. I agree with your assessment of vision quests, to a certain extent. While I think there's something to be said for the ritualistic, spiritual aspects, I think all of us can have that sort of "vision quest" experience just walking in the woods or sitting on the beach. It's all about meditation.

P.P.S. Wait, I just have to say... the rebellious teen in you is a non-smoker?! That's kinda funny.

Becky said...

San Francisco seems a lot more "compatible" with how you've described him!

As to the rebellion, my dad was a minister, and I'm not quite an agnostic, but pretty darn close. DH is as atheist as they get (he also came from a VERY religious Catholic family)! I'm definitely the "black sheep" in the family as far as religion goes :-).

Laura Martone said...

Steph - You're probably onto something. Good does seem to triumph over evil in the story - and the Lizard is certainly no one to trifle with. As for the myth you found... wow, I thought this one was gruesome, but that one is even worse! And it does seem awfully similar... could be a variation on a theme. James followed Yaqui legends, if I remember right - so perhaps that just goes to show you how similar lessons were across tribes.

Susan - LOL! Poor James. I feel like I really misrepresented him... As for the pipe, if I remember right, it was just some dried bark and seeds. Nothing hallucinogenic, which, at the time, I thought was a bummer.

Bane - Leave it to you to call it a "hippie camp" - ROFL! That's hilarious about the "Bear" nickname - that's my husband's nickname, too. Okay, the similarities are starting to get a wee freaky... he even says "bollocks" a lot, just like the title of one of your recent posts. As for your take on the bear/deer myth, you could be right. What's wrong with a little thinning of the herd?

Natalie - You have a point. Most fairy tales and myths are gruesome life lessons - myabe adults figure they'll stay with kids longer than nice ones. After all, the real LITTLE MERMAID still haunts me... and, no, I've never been a fan of Daddy-Long-Legs either.

Laura Martone said...

Becky - When you consider James' hippie tendencies, yes, San Francisco seems more "compatible" with him, but somehow, he seemed to fit in the woods of southern Mississippi. Hard to have your very own medicine wheel and teepee in San Fran, methinks.

BTW, I was kidding about the teenage rebellion... I know, those come in all shapes and sizes. I only wish I'd been more of a rebel back then... I was way too compliant.

As to religion, though, Dan and I are both staunch atheists, so we're with your dear hubby all the way! We're proud to be the black sheep... although to be honest I've begun to conclude that my mom and dad are secretly atheists, too - both escapees of a Catholic upbringing in New Orleans.

Strange Fiction said...

Oh my goodness--what to say--what to say... :)

'Every positive change--every jump to a higher level of energy and awareness--involves a rite of passage. Each time to ascend to a higher rung on the ladder of personal evolution, we must go through a period of discomfort, of initiation. I have never found an exception.'
~Dan Millman

Laura Martone said...

Terrific quote, Deb. And so true. In my limited experience, no achievement has come without a few growing pains and struggles beforehand.

Julia said...

I think it all worked because it felt so real. James wasn't putting anything on. He ran the quests based on how he lived, based on his connection to the land and the people who lived there, and the systems that he felt explained the way things were, or at least, should be. There's always the potential for chicanery and new-age illusion with this kind of thing, but James was honestly the most down to earth person I knew. The structure of the quest was about stripping away a lot of the bullshit teenagers surround themselves with, and it was quite an experience out there in the Mississippi woods.

The neighbors did scare me, though. I wrote in my journal about hearing the dogs and the chainsaws off in the distance.

Laura Martone said...

Hey, Jewels! Thanks for sharing your own thoughts about what we experienced.

You're absolutely right. It did feel real, and James is still the most genuine person I've ever known. I agree that he based the quests on how he lived, what he believed, and how he wanted the world to be - I think our parents sensed that, too.

It's hard to put an experience like that into words sometimes, difficult to explain it to others without it coming off as some sort of New-Age hippie camp, but what I got out of it was a chance to, as you said, strip away all the bulls**t, focus on our inner selves, and contemplate our place in the universe. It truly was a momentous experience - I'm glad you felt that, too - and I agree that the neighbors freaked me out a little bit. Dogs, chainsaws, and rifle sounds. That's southern Mississippi for you. ;-)