Tuesday, December 06, 2016

A Tree Swing in the Yard

This is a story I wrote for a magazine about 12 years ago. I don't think I ever put it here, and I saw it for the first time in yeas and thought it worth sharing:

A Tree Swing in the Yard


Sometimes the simplest changes in our lives make the most difference. I was reminded of that about a year ago, not long after I’d moved with my kids from Manhattan to Joshua, Texas.
         It was a difficult time for my family. My wife and I had separated, and she’d moved to the Fort Worth area to be near her sisters. She left with Madeleina, our 5-year old girl, and I stayed back in New York with our boys, Italo, 16, and Marco, 13.
We’d initially thought the separation would be short-term, but after some months my boys told me they thought otherwise, and that if I wanted the three kids back together we’d have to move to Texas. It would mean giving up the closeness of my family, my job as a magazine editor, my friends and the familiarity of my home.
            I decided that having the boys back with their sister and near their mom was the most important consideration, so after a three day trial trip to look for homes—my boys picked one just south of Ft. Worth—we set off in a rental truck with our world packed in boxes.
         We arrived and entered a period of adjustment: I was suddenly an out-of-work freelance writer at 50, the owner of a small house on an acre-and-a-half of yard dotted with lovely old sycamores, cedars, gnarly oaks and hackberrys, in a rural area where small ranches and farms dominated the landscape. It was bucolic but everything was new to us: I’d never even started an electric lawnmower, much less owned one, the neighbors didn’t know what to make of us Yankees, and we had to work on turning our new house into a home. We hung our pictures and unpacked our books, found out where the local supermarket was and got the boys enrolled in the local high school. It was all made easier by having Madeleina nearby and with us a few days a week, but none of it quite did the trick.
         And then one day, maybe two months after we moved in, Madeleina asked, “Dad, are we going to have any tree swings?”
         I’d never thought about it but after a moment said, “Sure, if you want one we’ll make one.”
         “Can we do it when I come back on Saturday?”
         “You got it, kiddo.”
         It seemed like a simple enough request, but never having made a tree-swing before, I wasn’t sure how to do it. I asked Italo and Marco what kind of swing we should make and they decided that a tire wouldn’t do, that we should have a board-seat swing.
         We’d been replacing rotting boards on a foot-bridge over a seasonal creek and that ran through our property, using water-resistant, heat treated 2” X 10” pine, so as we had that around we decided to go with that for a seat. For the length, we had Madeleina sit and open her arms as if she was holding on to the swing’s ropes: 30 inches was a generous fit.
         For stability we decided to go with a four-corner design: two ropes, each thrown over a tree branch, passed through holes we’d drill near the corners of the board and tied-off underneath. For rope, I though nylon would be the strongest and most weather resistant, but when we told the attendant at the local ranch store what we were going to do with it he said that the nylon would stretch and that our swing would be sitting on the ground in no time. Instead, he suggested a 3/4 inch rolled cotton rope. “That will last, won’t stretch, water won’t hurt it, the bugs won’t like it and it’ll be soft to hold onto,” he said. “Plus, it’ll hold about 600 pounds, so you won’t need to worry about it snapping any time soon.”
         By Saturday, when Madeleina arrived, we were ready. We asked her which tree we ought to put it on. “The chain tree, of course,” she said without hesitation. The tree she’d picked was an old hackberry, maybe 40 feet tall. It had been hit by lightning at some point years earlier and the stout trunk had been split. The previous owner had double-wrapped a thick chain around the trunk about five feet above the split to keep it from falling, and the chain was now embedded deep with the trunk and the tree remained healthy and strong. It wasn’t far from the house and because of that chain, was our favorite tree. Best of all, it had a good thick branch growing horizontally out from the trunk about 15 feet from the ground, perfect for a tree swing.
         We drilled half-inch holes an inch inside each corner of the swing seat, then Italo scrambled up the tree and threw the ropes over the branch. Marco and Madeleina and I pulled as hard as we could to test the branch’s strength: the branch hardly moved.
         Confident it would hold him, Italo climbed out on the branch and notched the places where the rope would sit. He eliminated the bark without cutting into the wood, giving the ropes a good smooth surface to ride on, as well as a place to sit so that they wouldn’t slide sideways.
         While he did that, Marco and I taped the ends of the ropes tightly and forced them through the holes in the seat. We set the height so that a grownup could sit on the swing with their feet flat on the ground: for Madeleina it meant boosting herself up a bit, but she was growing fast.
         We leveled the seat and tied large triple knots just beneath it, then stepped back: The 13’ foot white cotton ropes almost glistened in the afternoon sun. The swing looked like it had been there forever.
         Italo and I got on the seat to test the rope: perfect.
         Then it was Madeleina’s turn. We put her on and she grabbed the two ropes on either side of the swing, her little hands clutching them tightly as we gave her her first push. The swing began to mark an arc that grew greater with each ensuing push. Madeleina began to laugh, her laughter trailing all the way from here to there and back again. “Higher! Higher!” she giggled, swinging back and forth, her long hair flying, until it seemed she might just take off. “That’s enough! That’s high enough!” she laughed, and we slowed her down.
         “Well,” I asked when she got off. “Does it work?”
         “That’s the greatest swing ever, dad!” she beamed. “Thanks for buying this house with that chain tree.”
         And that was it: our house was our home. And that swing has been used Madeleina and her friends, the boys and their friends, and even dad once in a while, ever since.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Immediate follow up to Sapo Collection Post

On that forum where I occasionally post, someone questioned whether it was right to collect the frog medicine (Sapo or Kambo, depending whether you're in Peru or Brazil), given that it caused fear in the frog. The question was really about whether we could justify using the frog medicine given that to get it we had to stress out the frog. I felt the need to respond. Here's what I wrote:

 I think you've got to imagine what the spirit of the frog is thinking, or sensing: I'll bet they don't like the 5 minutes of inconvenience/torture, but that they would prefer that to being boiled in soup. The indigenous who live in the Amazon, at least in the old days when there was not much agriculture, depended on harvesting wild foods, some tree barks for starch, fishing for those who knew how to do it, and hunting. There were not a lot of alternatives. Yes, they knew that if they ate a pineapple and tossed the top on the ground that when they returned there months later there would be a plant with harvestable pineapples, but those would be eaten by the first people who came on them.
To have a medicine that would steady their hand, stave off hunger/thirst/need for sleep, and eliminate the killing grippe had to have been a godsend. And the frogs are not dumb: They, like all of us, would choose inconvenience and some short-term fear over death.
In terms of us, now, yes, I think there is over-harvesting, bad harvesting, people who don't know what the heck they're doing and so shouldn't be doing it (you can buy egg yolk dried on sticks being sold as sapo or kambo in Iquitos; you can buy candle wax being sold as sapo or kambo in Iquitos; you can buy the medicine from frogs who are kept in a camp and harvested over and over--which will produce really lousy medicine; and a host of other icky or bad things). But harvested correctly, used as real medicine with good intention, I suspect the frogs go along with that. It's a very brief process of a couple of minutes from top to bottom, they are then released and put on their tree of preference, and if they have an obvious mate, they're put near that mate.
In terms of humans needing this, well, if you're 20-years old you might not. But if you're 50 or 60 or 70, the idea that you can eliminate the plaque from your arteries, trim the fur off you heart valves to eliminate an irregular heart beat, and cleanse your liver and kidneys in 15 minutes--or in 15 minutes a day for 5-10 days in a row--well that's pretty good and necessary medicine. If eliminating plaque from your arteries provides you with the space in those arteries to deliver just 3-4 percent more blood to your organs, that's 3-4 percent more oxygen getting to where it's supposed to go. That extra oxygen will improve your eyesight, your hearing, your balance, your heart rate, your pulse, your ability to assimilate and eliminate foods....that's pretty important. And if you maintain doing the medicine a time or two a month, well, you'll keep those arteries clear, you'll keep your heart beating regularly, you'll improve your kidney and liver functions. And most of us, at least us old timers, even if we eat organically and live in the country, are suffering from chemical waste inhalation (cars/coal/oil/shale drilling/cement factories) and so we really do need this boost. So yes, it is a very necessary medicine for a lot of people. And the frog is just doing its part--a bit cruel and insensitive, yes, but beats being soup meat.

Sapo/Kambo Frog Medicine Collecting

So on a forum to which I occasionally post, one thread has been discussing sapo/kambo, the medicine extracted from the Phylomedusa Bicolor tree frog that is such a great body cleanser. And one person wrote a long entry on the pain the frogs must suffer when they are tied up and stretched out between four little posts and sticks are rubbed along their bodies to collect the secretions which are the medicine. She wondered if the fear caused by the collecting process meant it was something we humans ought not to do--the fear creating an imbalance in the general universal harmony.
    Well, given that this is a topic I deal with a great deal, I weighed in with my two cents. Here's what I wrote:
Hello. In my experience, which is tons with this medicine, certainly the frogs are inconvenienced and probably scared to death for a few minutes while the medicine collecting is done. But then they are released. While they are tied up like green trampolines, the chambira fibers generally used to hold them leave marks around their wrists and ankles. The frogs are not collected again until there is no trace of those markings--which can be up to two weeks. In areas where there are large numbers of the P Bicolor frogs, some frogs are probably never caught.
   According to the Matses/Mayoruna who introduced me to the medicine in 1986, the story goes that they were going to eat the frogs but that the frogs suggested that their medicine would be better for the hunters than eating them would be. So they began to collect the medicine. And yes, it was much more valuable than the two ounces of meat (or so) they would have gotten in a soup would have been.
   In all likelihood, the Matses and other indigenous groups who utilize sapo or kambo collected the frog to eat when there was no bigger game around and the frightened frogs gave off their "venom" which went into cuts the hunters had on their hands and they quickly learned about the medicine that way. It's about 15 seconds from application (intentional or not) to effect, so the indigenous would have no trouble identifying what caused their initial sickness and subsequent strength and clarity. (As a result, all good collectors of the P Bicolor collect the frog by cutting off a section of the branch the frog is on and bringing that, with the frog, back to camp so that the frog is not disturbed and does not give off its initial, and most powerful medicine in the collection process.)
   While the medicine has a diminished value for indigenous groups that no longer depend on hunting, it remains valuable for breaking a fever, general well-being, and several other things. In my experience among people who depended heavily on the frog medicine for an extra edge while hunting daily, the frog was always held in high esteem. I never saw one injured, hurt, or abused beyond the abuse of the collecting of the secretions. I imagine that holds true among all groups that utilize the medicine.
   And I'll bet if the frogs could talk they would say that while they hate being caught and tied up, they much prefer it to being boiled in soup.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Suddenly lots of people reading this blog...

Suddenly, lots of people are reading this blog. Not lots of people like the big blogs get, but instead of 100 people a day, for the last couple of weeks it's been 300 a day. And they are coming from the USA, though I don't know where in the USA. I'm still getting 40 a day or 50 a day from countries all over the globe, but the majority of the additional 200 daily reads are coming from the USA.
     Now a few years ago, I had one day where I chanced to look at the numbers to see who was reading what, and it was a day when there were 6,000 views from Germany. That blew my mind. It was as if the students at a small university was given the assignment to read one of my blog pieces. This sort of feels like someone has given high school students the task of reading my blog daily for a couple of weeks. Why? To see the range of topics a writer might post on; to see the style of writing in my blog, who knows why?
    If these new numbers are from that sort of assignment, please let me know. I'm curious. On the other hand, if there is some wild and crazy speed freak out there reading and re-reading my posts all day long during a two-week binge, I'd like to know that too. Don't hesitate. Thanks.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Here's what I'm wishing for:
For those who have no food, those who are starving, I want you to find access to healthy food beginning today.
For those without water, I'm praying for rain for you, enough rain every day to keep you healthy, and not too much to cause flooding.
For those who are physically ill, I'm singing for your recovery.
For those aching from loneliness, I hope you meet a friend.
For those with broken hearts, I wish you a glimmer of love to ease your pain.
For those suffering mentally, I pray for sudden and wonderful clarity.
For those suffering spirituality, I sing for balance for you.
For those suffering from the horrid effects of war, I pray all of the war machines just stop functioning and people realize they're no longer needed.
And for all of you, I hope/sing/pray that your life suddenly fills with absolute joy and laughter, and the strength to deal with hard times.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ayahuasca Dreaming

A new magazine publisher in Italy read the Italian version of my book, Ayahuasca in My Blood-25 Years of Medicine Dreaming. She wrote to ask if I would permit her to pull a few excerpts, and if I would also give her 500 new words on Ayahuasca. No pay as they are new. I said okay. This is what I gave her. I hope it resonates with a few of you and if you are in ayahuasca groups and it does, please feel free to share it.

The medicine vine rises high above me, so broad she looks as wide as an oak or an elm tree. I look up at her and ask her to bathe me in her essence. The sap begins to flow, pouring down on me, covering me. I feel the change begin. In short order my imagining of the vine as a huge oak will be replaced by actual visions: Some of them will be remembrances of things I’ve done or things that have been done to me: Mostly bad things, hurtful things that I will get to revisit and relive, sometimes several times in the course of just a few seconds. They will sear me. They will frighten me with my own callousness. Why did I treat someone that way? Why did someone treat me that way? They are painful to relive, but the medicine is urging me to let them go, to release them. They are dead weight hanging on my heart and soul, bearing me down. Remember that I did them and don’t do them again: Perhaps I lied to a lover, knowing it would hurt her when she discovered the truth but I didn’t have the courage to tell the truth. Perhaps I was not generous with a stranger when I had ample opportunity to be generous, yet still acted selfishly. Remember the memory, commit to being a better human next time, but let the guilt go. The lover I hurt has already moved on; the stranger has no recollection of me. Relive it, then vomit it out, hurl it into the ground, allow the medicine to eliminate it, allow the medicine to make me lighter, someone who can move more freely in both the medicine world and daily reality.
   And once cleansed, the medicine, the ayahuasca lays me down, immobile, and imparts a dream. It won’t necessarily be what I want to dream, but it will certainly be what I need to dream. It might be of human suffering, horrible images of pain and anguish, shown me to steel my back to doing my best to prevent that kind of suffering in the world; it might be of dancing flowers encouraging me to share their joy with everyone I meet. It might be a glimpse of other planets, other beings, other spirits; it might even be simple answers to questions I’d never thought to ask. 
    Once, while I was going through a terrible end of a marriage, terrible enough that my children, our children were being badly affected by the pain and acrimony, the medicine whispered: “More joy, less pain”, to me. I took weeks trying to reason out what that meant, how to work that into my life. And then it came to me. Every time an argument arose between my ex and myself, I was to work at creating more joy and less pain. If I wanted to fight and knew I could say a phrase that would set her off, I had to bite my tongue and say something completely different, something nice instead. If she wanted to fight and pushed a button that would cause me to roar back in anger, I had to bite my tongue and either ignore it or find something to disarm her instead.  It took weeks to learn how to do that, and I failed many, many times, but once I got it, that was the end of the anger, the end of the acrimony, and the beginning of the healing of my family.
    Ayahuasca didn’t solve my problems then, and she never will. But she pointed me in a direction that, if I worked hard at it, would allow me to solve my problems.  That is ayahuasca healing, and that is ayahuasca dreaming. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Follow Up to "Name Caller" Trump

In a follow up note to my last post here, I wrote this--and I know I was shouting, so put ear muffs on, okay?:

Some people I know are saying "Give Trump a chance." Not like he or the Republicans ever gave President Obama a chance. Well, I'm watching and gave Trump 72 hours. That is the end of his chance. Here's what I say:
Hey, people! Stop! There is no giving this asshole a chance! He's got Ku Klux Klan in Bannon running his show. He's got a number one guy for Supreme court who wants to imprison gays. He's got a vice-president who thinks gay conversion therapy is how to handle LGBQT issues and that no abortions are allowed--and he even includes miscarriages--without a formal burial. He's picking Jamie Dimon to run one end of the economy, and Mnunchin, who has been charged with racist lending policies, to run banking. He's got a retired general with serious Russian ties to be the head of National Security Administraton. He's got Cory Lewandownski saying he's grateful that the FBI's Comey interfered with the election and credits him with glee with turning the election. He's offering John Bolton, who wants regime change forced on Iran, as his number one choice for Secretary of State. He's got a coal mine owner who's had a lot of his miners die in mine collapses and explostions pegged for his Secretary of Commerce. He's got a guy who wants to eliminate the EPA in charge of the EPA; He's got a guy who wants to eliminate the Consumer Protection Bureau to head the Consumer Protection Bureau, which, despite tied hands, has returned $12 billion to 27 million people bilked by bad business practices, including the freaking shame of the Wells Fargo Bank. He's got a person for education secretary who says that only Creationism can explain the world as we know it. He denies Global Warming. Are you guys paying attention? This is surrounding himself with the worst of the worst--I mean, there is not a 90 IQ among them--because, as Trump says: "I like to hire dumb people because that makes me the smartest person in the room!"  Trump says he wants to carpet bomb Isis, make friends with Assad. No. NO forgiveness, no space. Trump is an idiot. He gets no quarter. Get rid of him now. And if the Electoral Collage did it's job, it would lose him next month. It's job is to avoid a populist idiot from becoming president. I hope they are paying attention.

which got a lot of attention, some of it quite angry. One fellow even asked me if we could make a bet: If nothing really happens in the next four years, he would win; if something bad happened, I'd win. This was my response to that, with a little less vociferous tone of voice, thank goodness...

Well, we'd need to agree on "nothing really happens" just to start, before we could even begin to think of betting whether or not this administration will be disastrous. With a Republican House and Senate, for instance, there are going to be a lot of federal and then a couple of Supreme Court justices put in place. Skewed anywhere but dead center and fair--no political Scalia's please--those decisions will have a huge effect on our future. I don't believe there will be much more wall than there already is, but the pathway to citizenship for Dreamers might be blocked. That would be awful. Any continuation of the fear engendered by P-E Trump and his legions would be generally disastrous for the country. So if the criteria for "nothing really happens" only means there is no nuclear war or no actual civil war, well, I wouldn't go along with that. If "nothing really happens" does not include leaving Obamacare alone or improving it to single payer, or does not include leaving Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare alone--except for raising additional funds and disbursing more money, well, I couldn't go along with that. If "nothing really happens" does not include improving rights for women--including vastly expanding birth control and abortion availability, along with good sex education in schools; and if it does not include widening the embrace of LGBTQ people in every aspect of society, then I could not go along with it. If "nothing really happens" does not include raising taxes on the wealthy and closing loopholes that allow the very wealthy to avoid paying the fair share the rest of us pay in taxes to keep this all working, then I couldn't go along with it. So I'd be willing to bet, but there would need to be parameters on how we define "nothing really happens".

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Some people say President-elect Trump won because...

Some people say that President-elect Trump won because he's a street-brawler. In fact he's not a brawler, he's a name-caller and that's all he's got. From trying to tear down Senator Warren to his crazy birther take downs of President Obama, to his work with the slew of other undeserving Republican nominees for president, all he ever did was name call. And then push buttons: Get rid of them gays! They want your guns! The illegals are living like kings! Bring the Jobs back! I'll raise taxes on the wealthy! We'll build the best wall! We will pay pennies on the dollar for our debt! We will never touch your Social Security!
    And now, 10 days after he's been elected by nearly half the voters who got around to voting, he's put together a transition team that will try to unravel social security and medicare and medicaid--you know, the things we pay for with every pay check we ever get, even after we're 65-years-old. And he's backed down on the Wall idea. He does want to deport 3 million illegal alien criminals. Good luck with that: Even if they existed, and they don't, except for the misdemeanor of entering the country illegally, the local cops would get them if they knew who they were and where they were. It's not like the police throughout Texas are hiding 200,000 dangerous felons, or the cops in LA are hiding another 43,000. But even if you did find them, it costs minimally--if you don't send them to a private prison first--$10,000 per person to deport them. 3 million people comes to $30 billion. Not chump change.
   Okay, so for those of us who knew he was wrong, we won't be surprised; hopefully we'll be ready to educate people so that we can raise our voices to our legislators to stop the worst nonsense, like eliminating the EPA in an effort to go back to grey skies in perpetuity again. For those who believed his bombast, well, you're gonna take it hard in all likelihood. And no matter what jobs he produces you'll still never get to stay in one of his hotels, lounging around a golden pool.
   And what bothers me about the people who believed President-elect Trump had any real message was that they didn't see he was a name caller, not a street brawler. Name calling was apparently enough to get them to sign on the dotted line. Is that who we, as a people, in the USA, really are? Go for the easy kill rather than work at things to improve everyone's lot? Are we gonna cheer when national forests are further opened to drilling and our precious rivers are running in oil spills and our trees are cut even further back? Will we go wild when some LGBTQ kids get bullied out of school and some of them bullied into suicide? Will we get any joy out of marginalizing huge swaths of the population, denying women the rights to their own bodies, keeping people we helped make refugees from coming here because they wear hijabs?
   If that's who we really are, I'm disappointed. I always thought the people in the USA, rural and city alike, were, in the end, a fair bunch overall. I thought we sneered at the gutless wonders (yes, name calling myself here) in the KKK, not cheered them. I hope I'm right and the majority of the people decide to be decent and push back, through legislators both R and D, to demand equality for all and things like clean air and water. We can do it. We just have to decide to do it.

Having one of those mornings...

Having one of those mornings where I am totally embarrassed by my behavior last night. For some reason, I got dead drunk on wine. Had a lot, but it was over the course of several hours, during which time I worked quite a bit, cooked up a storm (salmon for Chepa; chicken breasts for the girls; chicken legs for the dogs and pork chops and sauerkraut for me and anyone else who showed up), and so did not think I should even be high, much less dead drunk. But there I was, losing my balance in the bathroom while I brushed my teeth, and there I was this morning, seeing a couple of drunk-posts I made on fbook. Yikes! The moral certitude! The abject idiocy! I wanted to crawl under a rock and die! But it's too late, of course: Once you write 'em, you own 'em, and you can't return and replace them. Oh, my, I have not done that in a long time. I know not to get near a computer if I'm high, but then last night I was dead drunk and it probably seemed like such a good idea. Oy, vey!
    I hope all of you woke with a much cleaner taste on your tongue than the bitter, angry, what-a-fool-I-am taste that I'm still trying to eliminate.
   Peter Gorman, 65-year-old wise man and idiot, all in one package!