Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Political Lession 101- Media Manipulation in Your Favor

AN August 27 report released by the United Nations claims that Afghanistan's opium production has again reached record levels, despite $600 million contributed by the US to stem the farming of the poppy crop in that country. Moreover, the Taliban, once the scourge of poppy growers in Afghanistan, are said to now be protecting the crops as a means of raising funds for their continued insurgency. Ironically, the US once promoted opium production by the tribal leaders and warlords in Afghanistan's north as a means of raising funds to continue their insurgency against the USSR takeover of that country--and later against the Taliban (which the US ushered into rule there in the first place).
One news story on UN's report particularly caught my eye. It was the Aug. 28 New York Times story, in which the reporter noted that "Afghanistan still produces more [opium] than Colombia, Peru and Bolivia combined."
In the very next sentence the reporter notes that Afghanistan "accounts for 93 percent of the world’s opium..."
Now the actual UN report said that Afghanistan produces more 'narcotics' than the three Andean countries, but the Times didn't include that. So, going by the Times story, given that Mynamar (nee Burma), Mexico, Pakistan, China and India also produce commercial quantities of opium, how much of the 7 percent of the opium not produced by Afghanistan might be produced in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia? One percent of the world share each? Less? Okay, if that’s the math, then how on earth can it be said that Afghanistan produces more than Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. That's not more, it’s at least 93 times more than any of those three countries.
So why put that in there if it's such a ridiculous comment to make?
Well, and here's the political lession: It was put into the Times story to keep the Andean countries involved in Plan Colombia and the Andean Initiative on the tip of the tongue right next to the words opium production, from which heroin derives. To keep Plan Colombia and the Andean Initiative coca-plant eradication money rolling in. No matter that coca and opium are worlds apart. No matter that the story makes it clear that those three countries produce only an infantessimal amount of opium. That's a detail most readers miss. What was important was to get those countries named in a story about hard drugs and by extention, terrorism.
And the NY Times fell for it. Infuckingcredible. Way to bend over and take one for the Feds, Gray Lady.

One of the comments asked which companies were benefitting from Plan Colombia and Andian Initiative. Someone else asked how a line like that might have ended up in the TIMES story.
Here's the response off the top of my head. Smarter men could be more specific but this is one prong of the fork.
DynCorp and Halliburton are the two biggest recipients of Plan Colombia/Andean Initiative funding that I know of. But then there is the company that makes GLyphosate--the name of which I'm drawing a blank on this second but which has traditionally had many US govt. contracts. Then there are the arms makers, with whose arms we are arming the armies down there. Then there are the covert cartels whose black-market monies the US government needs to keep its unfunded black-ops (as opposed to its funded black-ops) funded....hmmmm. Then there are the oil and mineral companies who not only stand to make a great deal from these places, but who hire the companies whose men protect those oil lines (some are US troops; others are generally former troops hired as...well, mercenaries, for lack of a better word) who also make a great deal. Toss in Lockheed Martin and the jets needed in the region, Bell Helicopter, and by gosh, you've got a smorgasboard of US companies each taking a piece of a very large pie.
As to how the line gets in the story, well, the word "narcotics" not 'Opium" was in the UN report. Normally an editor, in my experience, wouldn't add a line like that, but might suggest that the writer had missed something potentially important. EX: "X, do you realize that Afghanistan is now producing more opium than Colombia, Peru and Bolivia combined? That might be something to mention to give the story a tag that readers can relate to."
That would be an agregious error but possibly human.Really nothing more nefarious than that. But the writer, if he didn't put the line in him/herself, and if he/she is under deadline and not thinking clearly, will generally go along with his/her editor in order to minimize arguments in the newsroom.
Now even the editor might not realize, under deadline, that they're being manipulated or simply equated "narcotics" with "opium". The whole reference might have come about when a congressman or senator or an aid to one or the other, called the Times heirarchy and noted that there was something important in the UN report that they wanted to be sure the Times didn't miss. That might start the ball rolling.
And even the Times higher-up who got the heads-up didn't realize they were being manipulated. Given all the ink that Colombia, Bolivia and Peru have gotten for their newish poppy fields, on first glance it might seem something to include. It's only if you take a step back and see that 8-9 countries are now being held responsible for 7 percent of the world's opium traffic that you notice that this is a red herring.
And if you have been following things and know that the opium yield in Afghanistan is sufficient to supply the world for nearly 10 years with each year's crop, then you know that the other countries are irrelevent at this time. Their opium is mostly being stockpiled, in Newark, in South Carolina, in Wyoming and elsewhere, for some future time when there is a clampdown on Afghanistan.
It's mostly just round and round the mulburry bush and little else. Everyone needs the money from the illicit trade. That's a fact of life in a capitalist world. Cash still counts despite everyone using credit cards. And dope is cash. Twenty-dollar bills. Unmarked. Spend them where you want to.
Step right up.
Step right up.
Three for a dolla.
Three for a dolla.
Step right up.

BILL WEINBERG, a fantastic reporter and my former partner in the hard news section of High Times magazine who runs World War 4 REPORT (WW4REPORT.COM) has posted my original post here on his site and added this commentary at
Did Gorman shame the Times into correcting an error? The story by David Rohde in the Aug. 28 print edition states clearly: "...the amount of land in Afghanistan used for opium production is now larger than the amount of land used for coca cultivation in all Latin America." But a Google News search for the offending text (sans clarifying reference to coca) indicates that it appears (verbatim) in the Detroit Free Press. Strangely, Rohde's piece also shows up on the Google search—yet the reference to the Andean nations does not appear in the actual text. This indicates the text was there when the Google-bots first crawled it, but has since been removed. The Free Press presumably picked it up from the Times before it was removed. The version of Rohde's piece in the International Herald Tribune states (correctly) that "Afghanistan still produces more narcotics than Colombia, Peru and Bolivia combined." (Emphasis added.)

So are the folks at Times (whose garbled Mexico coverage we recently had to call out) reading Peter Gorman's blog? We didn't think they were that smart!

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Trouble With Names in the Age of Homeland Security

Man, oh man, I never thought names would get us into this pickle. Here's the family problem, typically a la Gorman's, which means there's more drama and fireworks than there should be.
In 1992 I met Gilma Aguilar in Peru. In January, 1994 I married her. At the time she had two boys: Italo Marcial Coral Aguilar and Marco Vinicio Ruiz Aguilar. The way they do it in Peru is to put the dad's name first, then the mom's father's name. So Chepa--Gilma was always called Chepa, which is short for Josefa, her middle name, as it's an extreme invasion to call someone by their first name--had been married once, to Italo's dad (Italo and Marco both insist we use their first name, against Iquitos' type) a man named Coral. Now Mr. Coral disappeared about the time Italo was born, victim of a Colombian neck-tie, a particularly brutal way to go and generally reserved for talkative drug-dealers, which he probably was as the Peruvian government forfeited everything Chepa had on his demise. What did she know? Probably not much, being a girl from the chacra--a field girl--who married at 16 and had a son before she was 18.
She subsequently spent a couple of years living with and bearing a son, Marco, to a man named Ruiz. I met Mr. Ruiz. Not a bad man at all, but somehow he and Chepa split up.
So when I met her and she went to work for me out on the Rio Jivari in the middle of no-man's-land in the Amazon Jungle, she was free. And I fell for her like something out of a storybok. She schooled me on how to pilot a boat on the dangerous Amazon, stood with me as the two of us held off a boatload of marauding priates with just two machetes and a knife ("First one of you on the boat is going to die. So is the second. Who want's to be number one and two????), and was beautiful to boot.
Anyway, we married and had Madeleina.
Now Madeleina's last name is Gorman. Same as me.
But Italo and Marco came to the US as permanent residents before their adoptions were done. And because both of their dads were not in the picture, the Peruvian Passport agency gave them the last name Aguilar on their passports. But the US Embassy gave them the names Coral and Ruiz on their green cards and Coral Aguilar and Ruiz Aguilar on their social security cards. Their Texas Driver's Licenses have them as Coral and Ruiz. At schools in New York and Texas they always went by the name Gorman.
It's a small problem we've been trying to fix for 12 years. And nobody will give. The adoption papers from peru, which took several years to get, have me as the birth father for both Italo and Marco, but the US won't accept that because there is no record of me having known Chepa at the time of the boys' births. The local colleges won't let Italo attend as a local because he graduated from High School as Gorman and his driver's licence says Coral. He works under the name Aguilar because bosses always insist in seeing his passport, which means he's been given a second social security number under that name. And now Marco is losing jobs because his Passport reads differently from his green card and Social Security Card and both read differently from his High School Diploma....
Oy vey. So I'm trying to fix it and now that they're both over 18, I called a dirty lawyer in Cleburne, Texas--a lawyer I've called on the carpet for corruption in printed articles, but one who can get this sort of thing done--to ask for a hearing before a judge to get their names changed officially to Gorman, assuming my kids want that. (They both did until last night when I yelled at them both for not pitching in on the lawn or housework, assuming I'm a happy slave to them.) And the lawyer will represent us for the name change for a measly $2,500 but when told the story of the three names said the price might go up geometrically. "Hell, they're latinos to begin with, and in this age of Homeland Security, plus you being a former editor of High Times magazine, well, the court is libel to see them as some sort of who knows what? In which case my fee would be $25,000. Course we won't know that till you pay me the $2,500 and we get to court. All I'm saying is I'm not promising anything in this time of terrorists and what with your kids having multiple names..."
Know what? They're my kids. Cut us open and the same DNA will appear. I've raised them for 14 years. That ought to be enough.
It may not be. Welcome to 1984 in 2007.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lawnmowers and Kids

You ever get a couple of acres, most of it grass, you had better get good lawn mowers. And you'd better have enough money to pay someone to take care of it.
For five years I've been out there pushing a mower almost daily from April till October except when I'm in Peru and then raking. Raking and raking. I mean 25 wheel barrows each time I mow the lawn.
And now my stomach's bad. The kids, 22 and 19, were going to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, they tell me they can't get the small tractor to run. Forget the three lawn mowers or the edger or the weed-eater. Forget the machetes.
So I'm looking at three weeks of lawn, the worst in Texas, and no one is responsible.
So I'm going out with a machete and I'm going to do it.
And I might just take the kids' cars away this week and see how well they do walking 30 or 40 miles daily. I'm just in that kind of mood.
I don't think all of you will understand, but I'll bet there are some of you with lazy teens who will know just what I'm talking about. You know, plenty of time to party and plenty of time to get 20 bucks from dad, but not one minute to keep the place up.
And then, just 10 seconds ago, when I told Madeleina to get her butt out to the yard to do something--play with the goats, kick a soccer ball, rake, put bird food in the feeders--she said "you jerk", under her breath as she left.
I'm sure I am, but how the heck am I gong to get a cover story done, a new part of the shamanism piece finished and more school-clothes-shopping done for her by Friday if I don't buckle down? And how am I going to get everyone fed tonight if I don't have a little pitch-in from the troops.
Problem is, mom left without notice for a couple of weeks yesterday to see her boyfriend halfway across the US. And that's my fault for being such a lousy husband that she left. And the kids have to take it out on someone. And I get that. But I still have to deal with the reality. And my reality says you cannot have six Brigs-and-Stratton motors all under a year old, all die on you the same week.
Ahhhhhh......Why didn't my father clue me to some of this?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tough Being a Dad Sometimes

Most of the time I think it's the greatest job in the world, but sometimes being a dad stinks. Yesterday, for instance, me and Madeleina had a great time driving into town to pick up a paycheck. We blasted music on the radio, caught every traffic light and stopped into the grocery to pick up the ingredients for Uncle Clem's Chicken. Clem was my uncle and god father. And about 30 years ago he won a national cookoff for a cooking oil company that netted him a new car and $5 grand, as well as got his picture in all the major women's mags of the day. He did a basic chicken/asparagus/cheddar cheese thing with a tasty sauce under the cheddar. Clare years ago bastardized it into a chicken and broccoli dish with a great sauce baked under mozzerella.
So I was having fun being a dad and planning dinner. And Italo was going to be home and Chepa and Sierra were coming over--only Marco, whose girlfriend's birthday it was,and Sarah, who was working, weren't going to be there.
Anyway, dinner was great, but at the end of it Chepa pulled me aside to let me know she was leaving town for a couple of weeks to visit her boyfriend. She was leaving this morning. Which sort of stunk because it was then left to me to tell the kids mom left town,
And then Marco came in and said he wanted to go to an orientation at a school he applied to, a tech institute. Well, we'd been there several times. It's a national chain but I know nothing about it--like whether it's good or not-but I do know that it costs about $44,000 for a two year associates degree. Which is a lot of dough, something like $700 per credit hour.
I'm not sold on the school. They were upfront about the costs but said the were great at getting grants. I followed along. Then they gave Marco a test in private and came back and said he'd passed.Marco said it was a crazy test with questions like "Favorite color?" on it.
I didn't think much of that until I saw the same recruiter we had tell a dozen other kids they'd also passed, including one who admittedly couldn't read. So I was suspicious, right?
Then last week we had a meeting about finances. The financial aid officer shows us a video about a parent PLUS loan and in the video they discuss loans with interest rates of 6 Percent. When it's done I suggest that 6 percent seems high for a college loan and she mentions that the loan rate is actually 7.8 percent. I didn't care for that little bait and switch at all. (In fact when I checked the loan rate for the PLUS loan on the computer at home the rate is actually 7.9 percent.)
But the financial aid officer says that while we watched the film she's gotten Marco a Pell grant for $3,500 and another kind of loan for $3,500, leaving us just $9,800 or so to cover with the PLUS loan.
Now that's just for the first eight months. We'll borrow that $13 grand again in April (if there's another Pell grant) and then another $10 grand for the last 8 months.
So I ask when the loans kick in and they tell me the first day of class. But then they bring up the orientation today and I ask if that counts as a class and I don't get an answer. I ask again and they tell me not to worry about it.
I didn't wind up signing the application for the big loan, but had already signed off on the smaller loan and the Pell grant before they could even find out if we were eligible.
When we left, I told Marco that I wanted him to find me five companies that recruit grads from this tech school and I'd call their Human Resources departments and find out if they geneinely do recruit, and if they do how they rank this school's graduates and what sort of jobs they get.
I reminded him again three days later that I wouldn't consider signing for a loan that will cost more than my mortgage and will be backed by my house unless we knew more about the school.
Short form: he didn't. But funny enough, the school put in an application for the loan anyway-in Marco's name--and just yesterday morning I got a rejection on it because Marco has no credit history. I thought that odd, since I was holding off on applying for it, and Marco hadn't signed for it himself.
Then last night, just after Chepa told me she was leaving town for a couple of weeks, in walks Marco and says he needs my car to go to the orientation at school this morning. And I had to tell him that since he hadn't even bothered to stop by the school once in the week to get me the names of the companies they brag recruit from there, well, there wouldn't be a loan right now. He said they were insistent that he go to the orientation anyway and I had to tell him that I think that if he did the $3,500 loan would kick in and that they'd probably collect the Pell Grant, at the least, and perhaps even charge me the other $9,800. So he couldn't borrow the car to go to the orientation.
He was devastated. He looked at me with such anger, such hatred. He felt and feels I'm trying to ruin his life by keeping him from this school that he imagines will be his open door in life.
He hated me even more when I told him he ought to go to Community College for a semester, get a job and between now and January, when the tech school has another starting class, find out something about the school.
I know I'm right on this. The school's too much about the money and the money is too high-I'll bet you could go almost anywhere in the country for $700 a credit hour. But the slight deceptions, the filing for a loan in Marco's name that marco didn't sign off on, the video of a 6 percent loan that actually goes for 7.9 percent, the ambivalence to my question of whether orientation counted as the first day of class for the purposes of the loans kicking in....well, I just think they probably paint a true picture of the place.
But it sure wasn't fun being a dad and having to squash Marco's dream, even if it's not a realistic one.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Truth Is....Well, Little Truths and Iced Coffee, Anyway

Truth is that when I ask you readers to respond, I don't mean to say I expect you to have lots to say. IF you do, that's fine. I would never underestimate you as I think you're all a pretty discerning lot. But just getting the occasional nod from a reader lets met know that there are readers out there. And that is enough to make me want to write more for you. I already investigate dirty politicians for a living. I already try to find the lie in the well-spoken phrase. Something like this blog is more me just talking with you. I always imagine we're sitting in New York or at a bar in Texas or Iquitos, having a beer and you've asked me something. Often I delete entries because I realize the question I imagine you've asked is something I can't answer, not just with authority, but even decently. So I'm thinking of you as intimates. Like it's a round table and this blog is my turn at the table. What a wonderful thing that you give me this space. Thanks a million!
Someone, for instance, just said they didn't often have much to add to a post and didn't want to simply repeat: 'Nice writing' for fear it would sound old hat pretty soon. Fact is, I don't think it would ever sound old hat, just like I don't think standing when a woman comes to your table is ever old hat. It's simply a bit of respect and Women's Rights included, is a nice thing to do.
So by all means, please think of this as your blog too. Ask questions. I'll be honest if I don't have an answer. Most of you already know what my strong points are and where I'm weak. If you ask me how to fix a transmission, I'll have to come to your house and beat you. But if you ask what it feels like to be bitten by a baby bushmaster or have a septic wound that results from a relative of the brown recluse cleaned by riverinos using the ultra caustic ubos tree, then I'm someone who might have something interesting to say on the subject.
My goal here and elsewhere in my life is to be brutally honest: With my flaws, my convictions, my crazy life. With one codicil: I'm allowed to exaggerate my family to make a story better. But even then, I've never told you anything that wasn't true. And my invite to come to dinner if you're in the neighborhood is legit as well: Tonight we're falling back on bar-be-qued country pork ribs with grilled asparagus and a potato-egg salad. We're starting off with some cold mussels I cooked a couple of days ago and will probably include a few shrimp in vinagrette as I've got some that might go bad if we don't eat them soon. So if you're nearby, come and get it.
Which leads to this, in an odd sort of way: As a former chef---no credentials, just having run restaruants in New York City for 18 years or so and getting some pretty good write ups during that time at some of the finest joints in town, (Joint is a NYC term for bar-restaurant: A place that depends on food sales till 11 PM and liquor sales from 11 PM till 4 AM)--I grew fond of a lot of things. I grew fond of being able to get a fresh strawberry shake at 4 AM coming home from work. I grew fond of places that aged their meat till it was just rotten enough with bacteria to be tender when served raw or near raw. And I also grew fond of good Iced coffee. After I quit cocaine in 1980 I still needed something to keep me up and so Iced coffee was it. At work I'd always make my own. But to chill out afterwards while waiting for Claire, who was a waitress at different restaurants, to get off at 5 AM (an hour of cleanup after the bar closed) I had to find places that would serve good Iced Coffee. Now there is a soda sold on the east coast in 8 oz bottles that was basically just that. It was fantastic: A sugary sweet drink of strong coffee with milk and a spritz of bubbly soda water. I forget the name now though I'll probably go to hell for that because I must have drunk 10,000 bottles of it in my lifetime.
Anyway, it gave you the rush that existed before Redbull and all the copycats without the dangerous things I believe you get with those drinks.
But last week I went to one of the most venerable coffee shops in Fort Worth and ordered an Iced Coffee and the guy takes $2.87 and then gives me a cup full of ice and points me to the coffee in thermouses in the rear of the store. So there I was with a cup full of ice and a thermous full of hot Ethiopian coffee. I put some sugar and milk in the cup (I drink coffee black but take a little milk in iced coffee) and then put the hot coffee on top of it. So I ended up with a three buck cup of lukewarm, watered-down coffee. Madeleina laughed as she watched me try to drink it and spit it out from the 1994 Ford Ranger window on Interstate 35.
"What's the matter dad? Don't like the coffee?"
"Baby. How about you take this?"
She took a sip and handed it back.
"No dad. How about you take this?"
Man, that was just awful. Who the heck makes Iced coffee by pouring hot coffee over ice?
You have to brew regular coffee or expresso, then let it sit, off the heat, for a couple of hours. It can't sit in the sun. It can't cool in the fridge. Just put in in a good container-porcelain is the best--and let it sit in a cool, shady place on the kitchen counter for a couple of hours till it's cool. Then cover it and put it in the fridge. Add sugar while it's hot because neither sugar nor sweet and low will mix well with cold coffee.
Then wait a couple of hours or a day. If it's covered well it won't pick up any refrigerator smell.
Then, when you want to serve it, put the milk or cream in the bottom of the glass over ice. Then pour in the coffee. Then stir as fast as you can to try to make a bit of froth (ok to use an electric beater or stirrer or even a blender at this point if you like, and then drink. that's cold on your tonsils. And that's caffeine in your blood stream. That's true iced coffee.
And all truths are as simple as that, even if I'm not smart enough to elucidate them all. I still know truth is simple. Like good Iced Coffee.
So ask me questions. I'll give the best I got.
And thanks for being at the bar with me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fellas and Gals...Let's Get to It....

Look. I don't mean to be a nudge. I just mean to be me. Here's the deal. Is anybody reading this stuff? You got to let me know, cause I'm not Emily Freaking Dickenson who writes without response. So for the four of you who write regularly, forgive me. For the rest of you, stop being bums and sign in, register, go through whatever hoops you have to go through and let me know you are reading. Reason I've never published books is I don't want to do the work without knowing that a couple of million of you are going to read them. Not buy them, just read them. Reason I'm spending this much time writing things on the blog is to inform/be interesting/affect you. If I'm not doing that then I'll stop. I don't mean to waste your time. I certainly would rather be retying my shoelaces or sweeping the floor than spending 30-40 hours writing something on Shamanism that only 5 of your are going to read.
At the same time, I understand that these pleas for response are inappropriate for the few of you responding, so please forgive me. And L, Arbol, Bamboo, Dr. Grossman, The Grudge, Triche, Wind, I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about the others. Certainly I love your posts, but I'm getting tired of not getting posts from the others.
What a wimp I am, eh? I'm just the fourth kid of six and so I guess I need attention. HA!
But I never meant to write to an audience of six. I am trying to change the world here, in at least a little way, and I want to know if it's affecting people.
So those who regularly respond don't need to pay attention to this. The rest of you, get with it, boys and girls.
Or else....what?
I don't know.
But it might just make a stinking shambles of your lives. SO START RESPONDING!
Peace, love 'n out,
GORMAN, the hell raising Queens Boy.
Careful of us.
Peter G

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Yeah, Well, Good and Bad Stuff Happens

Yeah, well, good and bad stuff happens. The bad has been the hurricanes to the Islands, Jamaica and Mexico this week. If I was a shaman maybe I could have changed their course. I suspect that some real shamans did, so that while there are still dead, the toll is smaller by geometric proportions than what was expected. Thanks you beings of light for that.
The bad was also the earthquake in Peru last week. The death total is at about 550 as I write this but I expect it to be much higher once things are investigated. And nearly everyone I know in Peru has family affected. Aunts, cousins, people who used to live with them.....the extended family has long arms, and in a situation like this, where most are too poor to help, the arms reach out to gringos like me, friends of the family. We do what we can....I'm already stretched pretty thin. But if you want and don't know where to contribute, I'll do the legwork and find out which outfits are really getting aid to those who need it. And there are a lot of people on the Southern Peruvian coast who need it. Unfortunately, there are already--and there will be more--more than enough phony groups collecting money that will go no further than the local bar. And while I support my local bar, I don't do it with monies given in the name of someone else's tragedy. So don't do it either. Contact the Red Cross or someone like that: WHile they probably use too much on overhead, their heart is in the right place.
Now here at home, Chepa was due for another sonogram. Not really due, but she hasn't been sleepng well and the baby hasn't been kicking hard during the last week so she was frightened. Well, her doc charged her $500 for a visit and sonogram last time and that's simply not possible, so che called me, freaking, and I told her I'd look into it. And three hours later I found a clinic in Weatherford, Texas, that gives free sonograms to anyone. So I jumped on that and the good news is that Chepa is going to have another in her incredible string of beautiful babies.
I wish it was mine, but I don't really care: I care that the fetus is healthy and jumping around inside her water sack like a dolphin. Two arms, two legs, one head. All good signs.
Even better, My Madeleina got to watch the sonogram and see the little thing jumping around. Afterward I reminded Madeleina that I had footage of her doing a series of front kicks that turned her completely around and around in the womb, making a fantastic mandala in slow motion, like a nautilus fossil.
Sierra, on the other hand, had to be removed from the sonogram room because she kept trying to touch the million buck equipment and I couldn't afford to replace it. Instead, I let her slide off the roof of my Ranger and into my arms for an hour. She loved it. I loved it too, but my healing stomach is still not certain if that wasn't more than I should have been doing.
Then I was thinking about a few of the meals I made this week: Last night was grilled marinated chicken thighs, sweet and smoked sausage with grilled broccoli, tomatos and onons; the night before it was mussels--in garlic, onion, fresh tomatoes and white wine with good garlic italian bread and fresh steamed spinach; the day before that it was roasted country stle pork ribs with garlic with basmati rice and kidney beans along with fresh asparagus and fresh corn off the cob seared with garlic, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar.
Tonight I'm alone so I made a quick putanesca: garlic, onions, diced tomatoes, black olives and capers over bow-tie pasta. I might have a piece of left over chicken parmesan we made a few days ago and some of last night's left over grilled broccoli, onions and tomatoes.
So today was about sonograms and the food you can afford if you can find a sonogram that doesn't cost you $500.
Ain't we lucky sometimes?
Anybody who's hungry, we generally eat pretty good over here and have enough left overs to feed a couple more. So if you're in the neighborhood, do drop in and we'll see what we can fix you up with.
What a world, eh? I mean, I was going to write something sour and I wound up writing a "YeaH God!" type of piece. Who'd a thunk it? Guess there's a part of me that is still simply amazed that I am allowed to be part of this sideshow called Earth.

25-Years of Shamanism—Part 4

Readers: This is the fourth part of an ongoing series related to some of the highlights of my experience working with Shamanism. This was originally planned as a talk I was to give at the 3rd Annual Shamanism Conference in Peru in July, 2007. I never gave it because on the day I was to speak I had need of emergency surgery. The other entries are also in this blog.--Peter Gorman

25-Years of Shamanism---Part 4

Two years later, in 1990, I had another extraordinary experience with ayahuasca at Julio’s. I was in Peru with my friend Larry. I’d been hired by an Italian scientist, Vittorio Erspamer, to bring back a live example of the frog the indigenous Matses utilized to make their sapo medicine. I’d already tried three times and failed at the task. This time out Larry and I were going to walk across the Peruvian jungle from Genero Herrera to the Rio Galvez. I hoped that my friend Pablo, seeing that I was willing to do such a difficult hike, would reward me/us with some of the frogs whose medicine I’d used a number of times, but which I’d actually never seen.
We left Iquitos via riverboat and 17-hours later reached Herrera. But instead of immediately heading off into the jungle we decided to go on to Julio’s house to drink ayahuasca before the trip. We all felt it would fortify us for the several days we’d be hiking under the canopy.
On the day we were to drink, Larry and I spent much of the time watching Julio prepare it. He was up before dawn cutting the wood for the day-long fire while a new woman he was living with, a beautiful old curandera named Sophia, filled the great iron pot with water from the Auchyacu. Despite their age they refused all offers for help and as they worked the years fell away from their faces. Julio especially: The sinewy muscles on his tiny frame seemed to grow younger and more taut with each stroke of his axe.
By noon the several gallons of liquid in the pot had been reduced to perhaps a quart. He strained it through an old pair of pantyhose into a large plastic container, cleaned the pot of the crushed vines, leaves and tree barks he’d cooked, then refilled it and began the process again. He worked quietly, intensely. Now and then he chanted softly or blew mapacho smoke into the pot. At one point he tossed in several whole mapacho cigarettes.
"Muy bueno por los espiritos," he said, smiling. Good for the spirits.
When the second pot full of liquid had also been reduced to a quart or so he strained it off again, cleaned the pot, then combined the reductions and cooked them down together. What had been maybe 20 gallons of water at the start was less than a quart when he was done.
I’d asked Sophia whether she would join us that evening. She had said no, ayahuasca was not for her. "It’s not a very friendly spirit to me," she said. "But it seems to like Julio quite a lot."
That evening, in the time when we generally sat silent before the ceremony, Larry asked Julio what his visions were like. Julio smiled. "I see many things. I see boats, planes, people, spirits. I talk with them and they tell me things. Some of them are dead family members or old friends. Some of them are the ancients, spirits I don’t know. There are a lot of different spirits that speak with me. Some of them are good and some of them are not. But they are only spirits. Some of them let me see what illness a person has and what plants I should use to cure them."
He chuckled, then stepped into the walled off bedroom of his otherwise wall-less platform hut to retrieve the medicine. Normally that was the moment when Moises stepped away from the little circle where we sat to take his position as a sort of guard to keep whomever was drinking from falling off the platform. This time he didn’t and I was surprised.
"I’m going to drink tonight."
I reminded him that I’d never seen him drink before.
"I’ve never done it before," he said.
"You’ve never done it?" I asked. "But you were the one who suggested we use it on that first trip!"
"Too dangerous," he answered. "But I have a feeling that I should use it tonight."
I resented him not telling us years ago that he’d never even tried it.
"If I start to wander into the river, stop me," he said quietly. I assured him he wouldn’t but that if he did, we would.
Julio returned and placed a sheet of blue plastic on the flooring in front of his chair. On it he put his mapachos, his perfume, a bottle of camphor, cumalunga and garlic teeth in cane liquor, a bottle of Agua Florida, his chacapa—a leaf rattle—his old stone axe-head and the bottle of ayahuasca. "Bueno," he smiled. "Ready?"
We all nodded. Julio reached for a mapacho, lit it, then pulled the shriveled piece of corn cob he’d used as a stopper from the bottle. He hunched over, held the bottle-neck close to his mouth and began to pray. With his free hand he smoked: Short, rapid puffs that he blew into the liquid. When he finished the first mapacho he lit a second, then put the bottle down, cleaned out a small plastic cup with smoke, filled it with ayahuasca and began to sing.
The words were clear, the song rich and beautiful. It seemed to echo off the trees around his house and fill the night air. When he finished he handed the cup to Larry, who closed his eyes and drank. The cup came to me next. The ayahuasca was as thick and dank and difficult to get down as always. Julio repeated the process for Moises and finally himself, chanting all the while. What power he possessed! With each song he seemed to grow stronger and more luminous in the light from the little kerosene lamp.
When we’d finished drinking and he’d passed the other things around for us to inhale—to help keep the ayahuasca down for at least a little while—he put the bottles to the side of the circle and flicked off the lamp with his chacapa. I closed my eyes and listened to the hissing of Julio’s fan as he shook it in time with the songs. In moments the visions began.
Green points of light appeared in front of me, like a dot matrix. They combined and made the skeleton of an archway and ceiling, a sort of luminous green skeleton of a cathedral ceiling. I opened my eyes: They lights didn’t disappear.
They didn’t last long either. In a few minutes I found myself in utter darkness, eyes opened or shut. I saw bright fruit handing from trees and realized I was in a forest full of trees bearing mangos, papayas and bananas. I reached for one of the bananas. To my surprise it began to peel itself. Instead of a banana it revealed a small beautiful reddish-brown monkey with shining eyes. It began to grin and I felt myself grinning back. But the monkey’s grin kept growing wider until it was a hideous, jabbering mouth screaming obscenities that broke off finally into a sort of insane laughter.
I recoiled and opened my eyes. I’d never had such a dream-like vision while using ayahuasca before. But when I closed my eyes the image returned. It laughed at me and when it did finally disappear it was followed by a series of visions I can only describe as a trip through a funhouse of desires and fears. I was in a place of roller coasters and huge slides. Faces appeared out of the darkness while I rode on the rides. There were demons and beautiful women. There were funhouse mirrors in which I saw a thousand versions of myself—some normal distortions, and some in which I watched myself—or was forced to relive—some of the worst things I’d ever done. It was a strange and haunting voyage, altogether different than what I’d expected or anticipated.
The women were cartoonish and sexy, with huge breasts and round hips and dark Peruvian eyes. They called to me. I wanted to be with them. All of them. And then I found myself as a tiny me facing a huge inverted ‘V’. It was a luscious vagina seen from below on a giantess of some sort. I began to hurtle towards her. As I grew close she turned and I realized to my horror that it wasn’t a woman at all, but a giant with a giant penis. I thought of the sexual connotations of the monkey in the banana peel and resigned myself to the homophobic implications of the naked giant. I was disgusted with what I thought was my mind playing a cruel joke on my sensibilities but as I moved closer I realized I was not titilating myself with a secret urge so much as I was being driven to confront myself. The closer I moved the more awful the thought of having sex with the giant became; simultaneously I felt I was supposed to embrace it, deal with the implications.
I resigned myself, but just as I got within inches the giant turned around and became the giantess again. She was beautiful, with brown hair and sparkling eyes and she was laughing. She danced above me, tantalizing, a fantastic bronze goddess. I shivered ecstatically and rushed toward her, burying myself in her inviting vagina.
But I didn’t stop. I found myself hurtling up the tunnel of her vagina. I grew younger and younger the deeper I went, younger till I was a child, a baby and then in the time before I was born, a kind of amorphous embryo buried in the deepest well-spring of life. I was surprised that I seemed to understand more about the nature of the universe than I’d ever known, as if in that state before birth all things were common knowledge. It was a brilliant state of awareness.
I looked around the space where I’d stopped. It was warm and soft on three sides; on the fourth there were prisonish bars. I was a prisoner of time and the moment of birth, afraid to regress further, afraid to come out of the cage. But something was prodding me to leave and I wasn’t strong enough to fight it: The bars gave way and I began to emerge. Down the tunnel I slid. There was a light at the end of it. With every moment closer to that light I could feel my knowledge and awareness slipping away. I wanted to stop. It was an awful and cruel joke played on humans by the universe.
The moment I emerged, the moment I was born I separated from the embryo and watched the baby emerge. All the knowledge I’d had just a moment ago was gone, all the awareness vanished except for the bitterness of knowing that I’d known and didn’t know any longer. I could feel immense loneliness coming from the baby’s tiny spirit.
The baby disappeared. The image gave way to a space filled with beautiful women draped in brilliantly colored materials. More than colors and material, they were draped in iridescent light the nature of which I can hardly describe. It was more vibrant and exciting than anything I’d ever seen was. I wanted to stay with them forever, but the patterns of light became a light glinting from the scales of a thousand snakes. One in particular seemed to notice me. Its head was triangular and glowing, but though I recognized it as a viper I knew it wouldn’t harm me. I tried to travel with it but it reared and wouldn’t allow that. I tried harder and lost the power of movement altogether. I couldn’t even open my eyes.
When I finally relaxed, beautiful feelings of warmth washed over me, filling me with joy. I basked in them but in an instant the joy was transformed to something ugly and paranoid. I felt so meager and weak, so cruel and unworthy. I was useless and had always been useless. I was small. It was a waste of life that had been given to me.
I was sure that the others could see me for what I really was and I wanted to hide. I could hardly live with seeing this, the real me, and certainly couldn’t live knowing that Larry and Julio and Moises had seen it as well. It occurred to me that hiding would not protect me from their awareness of my meanness. The only thing to do was to kill them all with my machete. I pictured myself hacking them up and tossing them into the river. I could return to Iquitos and explain that we’d had an accident in the canoes. By the time we returned to look for their bodies river predators would have finished them off.
I fought to control the urge and as I did I felt a warm wind on my face. I opened my eyes. It was Julio, blowing mapacho smoke on me and fanning me with his leaves. He chanted softly.
"You don’t have to act on everything you see on ayahuasca, Pedro," he said softly. "Still, I think I’ll just put the machete away."
I felt a wave of relief shudder through me and knew that the moment of uncertainty had passed. But I was breathing heavily and soaked with sweat. I lit a cigarette and looked around. Larry was walking in the trees nearby; Moises was leaning over the platform, vomiting with great heaves and gusto.
I listened to Julio chanting. It was so simple, so soothing and centering. I realized that Julio’s voice was the anchor to which I was meant to tether myself.
I wanted to vomit and left the porch. But vomiting wouldn’t come, Instead I began to excrete. I don’t mean to be graphic but the effect was similar to the vomiting: From deep within me I could fee motion, deeper than a body function, cleansing me of things I didn’t even know I’d bottled up inside.
When I returned to the porch I closed my eyes again. I was exhausted. I wanted only simple things: To fly with the bird or travel with the snake. I was tired of the extremes the other visions had produced.
I thought of my friends back home. Chuck, Alberta—the woman I was seeing—my sisters. As each crossed my mind I found myself looking in on them. I didn’t feel like I was traveling, I was just there. Chuck’s apartment was dark but familiar and I guessed he’d gone to sleep early. Alberta was sleeping as well, but her lights and television were still on. The clock next to her bed read 11:45. I lingered with her for a few moments. She looked so lovely, so peaceful, hidden beneath her great quilt, one of her cats balled up behind the crook of her legs. I tried to wake her; she brushed a hand up by her face as if I were a fly that was disturbing her sleep.
Suddenly the image of Clare crossed my mind. I still thought of her sometimes but we hadn’t been in touch since she’d gotten married and moved to Florida nearly four-years earlier. I hadn’t meant to think of her just then and didn’t want to visit her, so I tried to get rid of the thought. It wouldn’t leave. Worse, in a moment she unexpectedly appeared. She looked at me long and hard.
"Hello, P," she finally said.
"Hello, Clare," I answered. It felt like I said the words aloud but I don’t think anyone else could hear them. "I didn’t mean to bring you."
"I know. But I have to tell you something. You have to let me go."
"I already let you go."
"No. I mean you really have to let me go. I’m not coming back to you."
"I know."
"Part of you is holding on, P. But you’re holding on to the me that doesn’t exist anymore."
An empty feeling welled up in me. "I don’t mean to be holding on to you, Clare. I want to let you have whatever life you want."
"Don’t you see? It’s not your choice to let me have anything. Just let me go."
I started to get angry. I hadn’t meant what she thought. I just meant I loved her enough to let her go. "I didn’t mean that," I said.
"Yes, you did. That’s the problem."
"Okay. Maybe I did. But I’m trying to let you go. It’s just hard. Why couldn’t you even write one Christmas card just to say hello?"
"I just couldn’t. You’re not in my life."
"Will I ever see you again, even in the street?"
She thought for a moment. "Not like you think. Not until it doesn’t matter whether you do or not."
And then she was gone and I was crying. I suddenly understood what she meant, realized how much I’d been holding on and how all of the visions I’d had that night were about letting go. About desires and fears and how they held me back. The sadness that came with those realizations was deeper than I’d ever known. I felt cut lose from everything that I thought mattered to me. I felt hollow and weak and torn apart.
And then a voice began to speak. "Hello," it said.
There was no one I could see, just a voice, but not one I recognized.
"Hello," it said again.
"Who are you?" I asked, hoping it was just a voice I was inventing.
"You know who I am," it said plainly.
I did. I sensed it was the spirit of ayahuasca. I know that seems crazy and it seemed crazy to me as well, but I also knew it was true and I began to get terrified. I believed in the spirit of things, and I knew the power of ayahuasca, but I’d never imagined anything like that disembodied voice. It wasn’t just a spirit or a vision or anything like talking with Clare or even my mother. This was like being in the presence of something unfathomable.
I opened my eyes, hoping it would go away if I ignored it. It didn’t It was just waiting me out. "What do you want?" I asked finally.
"You’re the one who called me," it said. "You’re the one who keeps calling me."
"I don’t mean to. I just drank ayahuasca to get ready for the trip, and to travel and see things…"
The voice said that wasn’t true. It said I called because I needed things and I was getting what I needed: My immense sorrow, my confrontation with my desires and fears. The voice said that this was a time for cleansing, for emptying out, not for proving I could visit friends on ayahuasca.
What it said was true, and my initial fear of its presence began to subside. But then it asked me if I would let it enter. It was such a strange request that I was taken aback. The ayahuasca was already inside me, I said. The voice said no, that wasn’t what it meant.
Suddenly I had the vision of a snake wrapping itself around my head. I saw my head open and a side view of my brain, as if it had been cut in two and I was looking into it. It looked like the inside of a bee colony, all tunnels. Dozens of snakes appeared and began sliding into the tubes of my brain. At first it felt wonderful, like immense power and motion was sliding into me but then I wasn’t sure that I should let them. I thought that maybe I was being fooled. Julio had always warned that while some of the spirits we might meet were good, others were evil and I was afraid that this might be an evil one. What if it wasn’t ayahuasca, or if it was, what if it was some awful and dark part of it?
I asked the voice what the snakes meant, why they had to enter me, but I didn’t get an answer. Part of me thought it was a kind of test, but an other part of me thought it was a kind of trick, and that if the snakes were allowed to disappear in my brain I would never get them out. I don’t know what I thought that would mean but it was terrifying. Whatever it was, I knew it wasn’t the right thing, that I shouldn’t let those snakes into my brain. I began to pull them out by their tails. They were strong and hard to dislodge and the longer I fought the more I was sure that if it really had been the voice of ayahuasca speaking with me it wouldn’t have asked me to let it enter in such a terrifying way. I felt like I was fighting for my life, that if I lost I would be enslaved forever.
The moment I got the last of them out I was no longer sure I’d made the right choice. I felt I might have missed something extraordinary. I asked the voice why it hadn’t just talked with me, why everything seemed to be a test designed to make me fight it.
It answered that it had already given me so many gifts that I should have some faith and trust. It said I shouldn’t ask for so much without giving anything in return. The voice didn’t sound angry or disappointed, it just said those things then disappeared, and I knew my visions were done.
I opened my eyes and stood weakly. The ground was glistening and wet. It had rained at some point but now I stared at a sky full of falling stars and tried to absorb the lessons I’d been given. After a few minutes I stepped off the porch and joined Larry. I wanted to tell him everything I’d seen and heard but was afraid that if I did the voice might come back and I didn’t want that to happen. Instead we walked to the river quietly. He told me that he too had experienced the lesson of letting go, though neither of us talked about it in depth.
When we returned to the house Moises was asleep but Julio was waiting up for us. "Un noche fuerte," he said. "Bastante espiritos." A strong night, filled with spirits.
He asked us to sit, then sang a song for each of us. While he did he washed us down with mapacho smoke, then rubbed camphor on our hair and torsos. "To see the spirits don’t cling to you," he explained. He’d never done that before and it felt intimate and generous. I wondered whether he sensed or saw something of the nature of the experience that night which made him think it was necessary. He didn’t say. I remembered the incident with the machete and almost laughed. He’d seen everything. His cleansing was good: The moment he began to blow smoke on us my fears disappeared.
When Julio was finished he said goodnight and went to bed. I stayed on the porch for a long time, trying to figure what I’d seen and heard. It certainly felt real, and the lessons I’d been given were ones I needed to learn. I thought of what Moises had told me years earlier: Ayahuasca gives you what you need, not what you want.
I finally gave up thinking and just stared at the sky. I felt alive and unenslaved. I wanted to embrace the night and the trees and everything in the jungle, Probably an hour or two passed before I grew tired, got into my hammock and went to sleep.
Some months later I told Julio about the snakes and how I’d gotten them out of me. He chuckled. "Pedro, that was a gift. You missed a wonderful chance to know things."
"What do you mean?"
"Snakes know so much. It was probably the spirit of a snake talking with you, but to you it was a man’s voice. If you had let it in it would have lived in you. You would always know who your friends are and who are just pretending to be your friends. You would know many things."
I felt awful. "Will it come back? Will I get another chance?"
"I don’t know. It depends on the spirit."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Great Day at the Gormans!

Well, I finally pulled the trigger. Did it. It's done. Things are going to get sweet from here on out. Not sure I deserve the love, but what the heck, I'll take it! Hooray for us!
Madeleina had a sleepover last night. One of her girlfriends from Girl Scouts who's also on her new soccer team and I guess they had a good time, judgeing from the fact that when I got up to pee at 4:58 this AM they were building a fort out of the living room furniture and several sheets while watching a movie and listening to loud music all at the same time.
Italo went out with his pals and invited his livein gal, Sarah---she's been living with us almost two years (Italo, actually)--to join him at the Stockyards at midnight and they came wandering in just about the time I was taking my 5 AM pee. And Marco, who wasn't home then, was sleeping in his bed by my 6 AM wakeup, so he must have snuck in between 5 and 6.
This morning I got up and wrote a new section of my 25-Years of Shamanism piece that I don't think I'll post till you muthafukkas respond at least a few times to Part 3 of that work--then did a food review of the most family-ish family diner in all of Fort Worth, then made breakfast for Madeleina and her pal Liana, then headed out to the yard to test my stomach.
This surgery I've had has got me down. I've not done anything since June 20 except one 8 day trip to the jungle. Other than that I've been a lump and I feel like one. I can't work, I can't do anything but sit at this computer and still my guts are coming together in a gnarly way, like two big fists coming out of my stomach between my sternum and belly-button despite this goshdarned girdle I'm wearing.
So today I fired up the electric push lawn-mower and mowed one of our yards. Hurt like hell. When I finished I checked the stitches and discovered I'd ripped out two quarter-inches of flesh with two stitches, leaving about three in tact and 9 torn open, each having taken a triangle of flesh from the ripped side with them. I still think I have to test the muscles in my stomach or I will always be afraid to use them. The docs said not to lift and push anything till December. I'm impatient and did a heck of a job on the lawn. Of course it almost killed me, but at least I have an idea of where I stand. Not on very solid ground, I'll tell you that.
Followed that up with taking Chepa--who hasn't been nice for a week or so (maybe it's the pregnancy)--out to eat at Wild Buffalo Wings with Madeleina and Sierra. Sarah was working so that was fun. Blew $50 on chicken wings, salad, a beer for Chepa, couple of Jim Beams for me and a couple of virgin pina coladas for Madeleina and Sierra, who blow-gunned a number of patrons via straw with the frozen concoction, creating quite a stir.
And then I came home, and looked into my mail and discovered that a distant relative in Burkina Faso had died and left me, as the only living relative, several millions that are rotting in an English bank. So I wrote to collect them and expect that within a couple of weeks the money will arrive in my bank. HOORAY! Who cares about spending $50 at Buffalo Wild Wings if you've got millions coming in a couple of weeks?
And then since that made me feel so good I went ahead and signed up for a cream that is guaranteed to make my penis twice as fat and 4-6 inches longer. Eat your heart out John Holmes! I'm hot today. Give me a month and I'll be starring in pornos with Brianna Banks. HA!
Today's my day alright. With my new bigger bank account and guaranteed bigger, more desireable penis, I feel strong enough to maybe even sign up for a Master's Degree via the internet, guaranteed in one year or less.
Hoo boy, don't touch me wihout asbestos, cause I'm hot today!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

25 Years of Shamanism--Part 3

Readers: This is Pert 3 of 25 Years of Shamanism, a talk I was to have given at the 3rd Annual Shamanism Conference in Iquitos in July, 2007. I didn't give it because I had had emergency surgery just a couple of hours before I was to speak. And thank god, because it would have taken several hours to say all this and the audience would have gone to sleep before I was through it.

In 1988, I had another extraordinary shamanic experience. I spent another month with Moises, this time walking across a good section of the jungle from the Tamischaku River to the Rio Midi, which emptied into the Jivari about 100 bird-flight miles north of where the Galvez did. We’d made our way down to Letecia—the point where the Jivari joins the Amazon—by raft and small motor boat (which we’d commandeered at gunpoint and later returned to the owner with many thanks, but that’s another story), then took a riverboat back to Iquitos. On board was a fellow named Roberto whom I’d know for a couple of years in Iquitos, As his game was bilking tourists for phony environmental causes we weren’t close. Still, we talked occasionally.
"Hello, Peter," he said when we both found ourselves at the ferry’s refreshment stand. "Have you done any ayahuasca lately?"
"There’s a fantastic curandero now living in Pevas you should see. I’ve taken lots of tourists. What visions they have! Much better than that old man you see. Maybe I’ll take you."
"Thanks, Roberto. No need."
"Well, then, have you heard about the ayahuasquero fight?"
"You probably don’t know anything about them."
I told him I didn’t, and he explained that many ayahuasqueros used their spirit connections to accumulate personal power or wealth, frequently by making bad things happen to people at the behest of their enemies—what is called brujeria. The brujeria needed to be countered by a curandero working for the good, which supposedly led to great battles between good and evil ayahuasqueros. Those battles were said to be fought with invisible darts called virotes, which could inflict great physical harm or even death. I’d heard something about those battles somewhere but had never believed they were taken seriously.
"Well," Roberto said, drinking a beer I’d bought him in exchange for his story. "One ayahuasquero in Santa Clara has been slowly poisoning another in Iquitos. Very well done. By the time the man in Iquitos realized his illness came from virotes it was almost too late.
Fortunately, one of his sons has been studying with him and now he too is in the fight. Everyone says that all three of them will be dead before long."
While I acted skeptical at the time, when we reached Iquitos I decided to see Julio to ask him about this aspect of the medicine. I had no real intention of asking him to make ayahuasca for me, but while I was still in Iquitos I had a dream which changed my mind. It was about my father, who had been dead for nearly 16-years at that time. In the dream he told me that he could no longer see my mother—also dead several years—and asked me to find her and find out why. It was an eerie dream and I decided to use ayahuasca to try to discover what it meant. I don’t know what I expected, or whether it was just an excuse to use ayahuasca again, but it made sense to me that that was what I should do.
I brought along a friend from Iquitos who had never been to the Auchyako, and at the last minute discovered that Moises had found four tourists who would also be going. But Junior and Mauro—the second man in the canoe the night I associated with the snake—a would be accompanying them—Moises did not come—which made our party enormous. Worse, when Moises learned that my friend, Jarli, and I were planning to use ayahasca he immediately sold the idea to his group.
Despite the size of our party the time we spent on the little river was glorious. Mauro and Junior took care of Moises’ gang, while Jarli and I were left to our own devices. I was saddened to learn that Salis Navarro, Julio’s apprentice, had been killed by Antonio, one of Papa Vieho’s sons. It seems that Salis had been recruited by one of the big tour companies operating out of Iquitos to offer ayahuasca once a week to large groups at a camp just outside the city. It had evidently gone to his head that he was important and when back on the little Auchyako he took advantage of his position and money to seduce some of the women there. Among them was the main wife of Antonio, who, like Salis, had been my friend for a couple of years. The seduction evidently occurred while Antonio was out in the jungle hunting for a few days: When he returned and was told of it Antonio put a shotgun to Salis’ belly and fired, then headed off with his other wives and children to Brazil.
When I raised the subject of virotes with Julio he was at first reluctant to discuss it. And even when he finally agreed he prefaced his remarks with the comment that I wouldn’t really understand what he was talking about.
"This is not something for people to talk about," he said, "so I won’t say too much. You ask if there are spirit arrows. Of course. When I was younger and still in Pulcallpa there was a brujo there who hated me. At first he used them on my house and chickens. I would come home from fishing and find everything in disarray, or some chickens dead. Healthy chickens he killed with his invisible arrows.
"And then he began to use them on me. One day I could no longer walk. I stood at my table and just fell over."
"What happened?" I asked.
"I took them out. And when I could walk again I went into the woods to talk with the plants. I didn’t know what else to do. I really thought he was going to kill me. There I found this." He took out a small stone ax-head. It was very old and perfectly crafted. I’d seen it once before but didn’t know anything about it. "This from the Incas, the ancients," he said. "It has a lot of power. It saved me from that brujo."
He stared at me to see if I understood. I didn’t.
"I said you wouldn’t understand. Look: Ayahuasca is a strong medicine. That is why we call the four colors in our song: Red, green, white and black. Each represents a different kind of magic. Some people practice only one or two of them. But if your know four and concentrate only on one there is no balance and the magic can take you over. Some people fall in love with money, or power or women. All different things. But they do not control the magic that brings those things, the magic controls them. Entiendas? Understand?"
Again I shook my head.
"Everything has a spirit. This house, these trees, the river, the fish in the river. You might say that ayahuasca helps you reach those spirits. But when people learn to work with those spirits there is a temptation to forget that they are only the doctor, not the medicine, and they lose their balance. They are they ones to watch out for. Muy peligroso. Very Dangerous. They are drunk with power."
I’d never heard Julio speak so much and though I knew I’d missed a great deal of detail with my weak translation, I was thrilled. I still didn’t really understand the concept of invisible arrows, but I didn’t press him further.
I did ask if he would make ayahuasca the following night. He asked for how many and then why. I told him about my dream.
"You’ll have to go to the world of the dead," he said. "Muy lejos. Very far. I’ll make it strong." He said it plainly, as though it wasn’t much different than taking the ferry to Iquitos.
By dawn we could hear the sound of Julio chopping wood for the ayahuasca fire and that evening at eight our whole group set off on the short walk from the small house where we were staying to Julio’s. All but Junior and Mauro sat in the circle around blue plastic sheeting on the porch on which Julio had put his mapachos, his perfume, his Florida Water and some other things. We sat quietly for an hour before Julio brought out the ayahuasca, began to chant, then passed the gourd.
I had spoken to the others about what they might expect but as they drank they were on their own. When the gourd reached me I almost choked getting the ayahuasca down. It was thick and still warm, burnt grapefruit and dank smoke, and I knew I would vomit easily and soon.
Julio’s chanting was clear and strong, the tunes something I always forgot, until the moment I heard the first notes again. I suddenly leaned for the edge of the platform to retch: Violent empty bursts swelled and pulled deeply from within me. In the back of my head I could hear the words Julio sand: "Limpia, limpia, cualpamine, cualpamine…" urging my body to cleanse itself. Over and over my stomach contracted tumultuously. The sounds seemed to come from a far place, echoing from across the river, water cascading onto stone. I’d never felt that kind of power course through my body and though I was utterly helpless I felt fantastically strong.
When my stomach settled I closed my eyes. All around me were insects, visions of marching insects crawling over me, alternately tickling and annoying. Like a movie the insect wings became the scales on a boa so broad and long I could only see a small portion of it at one time. It was undulating gently, slowly. In the black pitch of its scales glinted a hundred hues of red and blue. I was mesmerized. It turned its head to me and flicked its tongue. Its eyes, almost s large as the scope of my vision, were a fine black and yellow. Its underbelly was strong and white.
In an instant it changed its size to normal dimensions and we moved underwater. Eels and boas swam gracefully amid rocks. I followed their motion and tried to swim with them. I was awkward and ungainly and they ignored me.
The sound of vomiting brought me back to the porch. One of the others, a British fellow named Mark, was leaning over the platform’s edge and retching violently. He tried to stand and I reached to calm him. He told me he was about to shit; I tried to help him but could hardly find my own footing and called to Junior to lend a hand. One of the others was beginning to get ill as well.
I closed my eyes again and thought about the dream I’d had. Suddenly I felt myself moving. I wasn’t with the snake and I wasn’t flying. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that perhaps I was still and the world was rushing past me. In moments I was surrounded by darkness. More than that I was hurtling through a kind of vacuum with no body, no sensations. I don’t know how long I continued but I suddenly found myself stopping abruptly at a sort of white wall. It wasn’t a solid wall, but it wasn’t passable either, like a wall of gauze or clouds. I sensed that it was the wall to the world of the dead. Even as I admitted that thought it seemed preposterous and I began to scratch at it. It fell away like fog in my hands, but however much I tore at it I didn’t get through and suspected that I would never get through no matter how long I tore at it.
I began to cal out to my mother while I worked: After some time had passed a figure began to appear on the other side of the wall, just out of reach. Not really on the other side of the wall, but coming together from the stuff of the wall itself, recognizable but as flimsy as the ether. It was my mother. I watched her for a long time, then said hello and told her why I’d come. I expected her to smile but she didn’t.
"Hello, Peter," she said, finally. "It’s good to see you but you have to stop calling me like this. It’s so hard to come together in a shape you can recognize as me."
"Where are you?" I asked. "What are you doing?"
"It’s not something you could understand. Things are different here. I’m not your mother anymore, but you won’t understand until you get to this place."
A feeling of abandonment like I’d never known washed through me. "What place? What do you mean you’re not my mother anymore?"
"I’m doing something else now."
"But what about Tom?" I asked, referring to my father, whom we always called by his first name. "Why can’t he see you anymore?"
"Don’t worry about Tom. That was just a dream you had. When it’s time for us to be together we will be but you needn’t worry about him. Or me either. Things are good here. Trust me." Her voice began to grow heavy, as if talking was a strain. "Just know that I love you and the gang and I always will. But don’t call me. It’s just too difficult and I’m doing something else now. If you really need me I’ll come, but you can’t just call me like this or in your dreams anymore. I love you, kiddo."
She began to disappear back into the gauze and I was back on the porch, crying, wondering whether I’d really seen what I’d seen. In all the reaches of my imagination I couldn’t have imagined her saying what she’d said, but I knew it was crazy to think I’d gone to the world of the dead, if such a place even existed.
I sat on the porch, confused, angry, abandoned, unable to distinguish one reality from another, the dreams from the visions. And then Julio’s song caught me again and I was a snake. I was not traveling with a snake. I didn’t see a snake. I simply knew I was a snake, or that the snakeness in me had come out for a time. It was fun, sensual. I invited the mosquitoes and other insects to land on my arms and hands, watched them with flat eyes, then ate them. Mark began to trip up the notched ladder back to the porch, reeling in a spooky windmill motion, his great scarecrow arms and legs nearly disconnected form his body. I had to stop myself from grinning at him like easy prey.
Suddenly everyone was vomiting at once and there was moaning and groaning. It was not good vomiting, it was sick vomiting and I found out later that nearly everyone had ignored my request that they not eat past breakfast. One of the tourists kept saying he couldn’t breathe and was going to die. I pulled free of my snake-fiction to calm him down, to breathe with him. Two of us had to carry him back to the small house and sit up with him all night.
The next day I washed in the river early, and though I was weak and still upset from my encounter the night before, I knew I was well. I noted that I couldn’t find any bites from the insects, though I know I felt them all over me. Either I was just hallucinating them or I ate more than I remembered.
Later, that evening’s encounter became my bell-weather for distinguishing between hallucinations and genuine visions. I realized that if I’d had an endless supply of paper and pens and all the time in the world, and I made a list of 10,000 things my mother might say to me if I met her after she’d been dead 20 years, what she actually said—"…you have to stop calling me like this. It’s so hard to come together in a shape you can recognize as me."—would not have been on it. When I realized that I realized I knew the difference between a vision and an hallucination. I had a workable way to think about it, anyway. If something wasn’t on a list of 10.000 possibilities, it was probably a vision.
So seeing my mother was a vision. So was eating the fish with the bird and eating the frog with the snake. Picking at the insects in reptilian mode might have been but might just as well have been a simple hallucination.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New Fleet of Cars

It's rainin' down in Texas,
All of the telephone lines are down.
It's rainin' down in Texas,
All of the telephone lines are down.
I'm tryin' to call my baby
But she's nowhere to be found.
(Something like that; Stevie Ray Vaughn)
Storm's coming in and Chepa just took the new car I bought her out for a spin. It's a Mazda XR6, 1994 with 199,913 miles on it and I bought it for $1,500 from Italo's pal, D-Ray. I hope it works.
It's car number four in the Gorman Fleet. Car one is a 1994 Ford Ranger 4-cylinder XLT with 273,000 miles. Car two is a 1998 Ford Ranger XLT 4-cylinder with 115,000 miles. Car number 3 is 1994 Ford Probe with 140,000 miles. So the new addition will fit right in with the rest of the fleet.
I think if you have four cars you can call it a fleet. Growing up in NYC, the only vehicles I ever owned were a 1946 Ford Hydrolic Dump Truck I bought with a friend for $25 at an auction to use on our separate pieces of land in Maine in the early 1970s--a great truck and with the words "farm vehicle" painted on the door never needed insurance or inspection as long as we never left a 25-mile radius from either his land or mine. That was great.
Later, while with Clare I bought a 1968 Volks Hatchback with about 250,000 miles on it. We drove that from NYC to LA and Clare used it for two years there then sold it to a friend who totalled it leaving the drivway after paying Clare for it.
I was around cars my whole life, but didn't own them.
So owning four--even if it's mostly for insurance purpses as it's easier and cheaper for me to pay for four cars than have Chepa and Italo pay seperately--makes me feel like a fleet owner.
Heck, I feel like a gansta rapper. I feel like rappin right now. I got a fleet. Neat. Okay, that's enough rapping.
Still, I look out into that driveway and see what orininally cost more than $80 thousand dollars in vehicles and knowing they're mine is a crazy-jane sort of feeling. Knowing I paid a total of less than $9,000 for all of them and don't owe the bank or anyone else a cent is a really good feeling.
I'm thinking I might open up a Taxi Company: The Gorman Fleet. An Aggregate 710,000 Miles. Old Cars That will Get You There. Or Not. Depending on the Day

25 Years of Shamanism--Part 2

READERS: This is the second section in an ongoing piece called 25 Years of Shamanism, which is based on notes for a talk I was to give at the 3rd Annual Shamanism Conference in Iquitos--a talk that wasn't given due to a surgery I needed on the day I was to give it.

My second extraordinary experience with shamanism occurred just two years later. Before I get to that I should mention that after the trip with Chuck and Larry I really did seem to have the jungle in my blood and so the following year arranged to study jungle survival with Moises Torres Vienna. It was just the two of us.
I’d asked him to take me back to Alphonso’s before we went into the jungle to study, but he said Alphonse had moved away and he didn’t know where. On the other hand, he said, he’d learned of a very good curandero named Julio Jerena that we would visit as he was on the same river we’d use for the survival course. I was disappointed but said okay.
We traveled on a large flat-bottomed riverboat that was wildly over-crowded to a small town called Genero Herrera, just a couple of hours short of Requena. We then spent some hours arranging for a smaller boat—a peque-peque, an oversized canoe with a small motor notable for its long propeller shaft that allowed it to maneuver in very shallow water—that took us up a little river called the Auchyacu. That river would become my jungle home for a quarter of a century.
There was a small town on the Auchyacu, and then individual homes every half-mile or so for perhaps 10 miles. In all, maybe 20 or 30 families lived there. Among them was Julio.
Four things of note occurred on that trip: the first was that Moises sent me out with a young fellow in a canoe on our first night in the jungle. The fellow, Alberto, was to let me listen to the jungle. Instead, he shot a cayman, a money, a large rodent called a mahas, and wounded an ocelot. When we returned I was furious with Moises. I told him I hadn’t paid him to kill endangered species and that if that’s what this trip was about then we should just cancel it. Moises stood his ground and explained that this was simple life in the jungle: Killing was part of living, and that if I wanted to learn about the jungle I’d better damned well get used to killing.
The second thing was meeting Julio and his then-apprentice, Salis Navarro. They did an ayahuasca ceremony that was powerful—they sang together, and the chanting of the two curanderos began to echo in my head, a resounding noise that seemed to pull me apart, as though a wedge were splitting me in half. I grew terrified of what might happen if I allowed the parts of me to separate. It seemed, on one hand, to make sense: I needed to be pulled apart if I was ever going to become whole. At the same time I didn’t know whether I would ever come together again. It was a frightening experience, one I wasn’t prepared for. Louder and louder the chants resounded, deeper and deeper went the wedge, until I finally fled the porch for the safety of the river’s edge. Moises followed and warned me against going into the water. His voice was like an anchor that pulled me back from the edge of some horrific abyss. I turned to thank him. He was still on the porch.
Suddenly more afraid of the voice than of the doctors, I returned to the circle. This time the chanting was no longer frightening. It was soothing and beautiful and I soon fell asleep. When I awoke Moises and I returned to our hut.
After a river wash the next morning I asked Moises what had happened and why I hadn’t been able to fly with the bird again. He said that while I was asleep Julio had explained that I needed to be opened up so that some personal things that were holding me back could be removed. That was what Salis and he had done. Moises also said that the magical effects of ayahuasca that I’d experienced the first time were not to be sought or missed. When I needed to bird the bird would guide me. When I needed to become friendly with the jungle ayahuasca would guide me in a different way. "Ayahuasca gives you what you need," he said, "not what you want."
The third thing of note on the trip was that when we left Julio’s we headed up the Auchyacu by canoe for three days before disembarking and walking nearly three days into the jungle to make camp. By the time we reached our destination Moises had gotten rid of all of our food. Each morning he’d go out and hunt, bringing back a monkey or a macaw, and roast it. I refused to eat the animals and so he’d go and collect edible plants for me. On my fourth day without real food—I think it was my fourth—Moises went out hunting early and by the time I awoke there were a couple of birds on a spit over the fire but Moises was nowhere in sight.
I was starving. I could smell the roasting birds. I tried to ignore them but finally walked over to the fire, pulled one off the spit and began to eat it. Just then Moises stepped out from where he’d apparently been hiding and announced: "That’s the first right thing you’ve done in the jungle! If you don’t eat you will die here. That’s the most important lesson."
I was embarrassed but never again complained about hunting for food.
The fourth important thing that happened during that month occurred perhaps a day or two after my stealing-the-bird event. It was mid-morning. Suddenly, unexpectedly, a young man walked into our little camp. He was dark and wiry. His hair was black. He was barefoot, wore a pair of old shorts and had two strips of what looked like bark-strips wrapped around his chest and stomach. Most unusual though was his face: He had a hash-mark tatoo that circled his mouth and ran across his cheeks nearly to his ears. He also had thin, six-inch splints, like whiskers, in his upper lip. And his forehead was painted a ruddy red. He looked very much like a jaguar. I was scared to death.
Moises, however, simply said some words in a language I didn’t know—"Biram-bo! Biram-bo, bu-chi!"—and the young man smiled and returned the greeting. The man then pointed to our shotgun, which was standing against a nearby tree. Moises nodded and made a hand gesture that indicated that it was to be returned. The man nodded and picked up the gun. Moises reached into his pocket and pulled out three shells. The man took them and walked into the forest.
When he was gone Moises explained that the man was a Matses Indian, though they were often called the Mayoruna. While in the military he had led a jungle unit in a ground war against them in the early 1970s in retaliation for a raid they’d made on Genero Herrera.
"They stole machetes, shotguns, ax heads. They also took several women captive. Among those taken were two young Franciscan friars, who wore long brown robes and kept their hair long. The friars were later found with their genitals crudely cut off—probably when the Matses discovered they weren’t women."
The conflict lasted four days. The Peruvian military won. In its aftermath, the Peruvian military built a small base at the confluence of the Javari and Galvez rivers on which most of the Matses camps were built, effectively preventing further raids.
Twenty minutes into Moises’ story, we heard a shotgun blast, and a few minutes later, another. Twenty minutes after the last the young man walked back into our camp. He carried two large monkeys he’d shot in sacks fashioned from leaves that hung from templines around his forehead. On his head, clinging to his hair, was a baby monkey. He replaced our shotgun against the tree, and then put one of the sacks next to it. Then he turned and started walking in the direction from which he’d originally come.
Moises picked up the gun and a machete and said we should follow. He’d heard a rumor that there was a new Matses camp nearby but had never seen it. We walked quickly through the jungle for perhaps an hour, before coming on a clearing.
The clearing was demarked by posts, on each of which was the skull of a wild boar. At the rear of it a large hut was being built; closer to the near side there were three or four very low temporary shelters. There were more than a dozen children milling around as well as several women, two of whom were tending an open fire. The young man handed the sack he had to one of them. The woman quickly unwrapped the monkey and she and the other woman stretched it over the fire and began burning off its hair. To my horror, the monkey began to scream and thrash about, trying to get out of the flames. The women didn’t seem to notice.
While the large monkey screamed, the young man walked over to a young woman who was nursing and handed her the baby monkey. Without hesitation she put it on her free nipple.
In ten seconds I had witnessed both the cruelest and kindest acts I’d ever seen.
Moments later, an elderly man I later knew as Papa Viejo—old papa—came running at us. He held a shotgun and pointed it at Moises and began shouting. Moises raised his shotgun and began shouting back. I felt like I was watching two silverbacks in a dominance challenge. The shouting and threatening continued for perhaps 30-seconds and then, abruptly, both men put down their weapons and began to talk. Some of it was in Spanish, a little was in Matses, much was in hand signals. A few minutes later Moises said it was time to go and we left.
On the way back to camp he explained that the Matses, like most indigenous Amazon groups, always challenged visitors. If you buckled, they’d have everything you owned. If you didn’t you were generally welcomed. He said he was proud I had stood my ground with him, but that in this case there was not much to fear: "He had no shells for the gun," he laughed. "If he did his son wouldn’t have borrowed ours."
The incident marked me. If ayahuasca had put the jungle in my blood, then seeing the Matses gave me a destination: I would return to spend time with them.

The following year I did, taking a seaplane with my brother-in-law Steve Flores and Moises out to the military post of Angamos on the Galvez river where we rented two peque-peques and bought fuel, then headed up the river to the Matses camps. At one of them there was a unique and amazing headman named Pablo—who later became a great friend and teacher—who introduced me to the two primary Matses medicines: sapo and nu-nu, which I’ve written about elsewhere.
We’d been on the Galvez nearly three weeks when we decided to take a hike with two Matses men from their village of Remoyako to a village called Buenas Lomas. It was to be a two-day hike, but by the end of the first day Moises decided to abort. There was something about the behavior of the Matses men that he found threatening and he didn’t think they’d actually get us to where we were going. So we returned to Remoyako village the following afternoon and left not long after that, heading in our peque-peque downstream to Pablo’s village.
The next morning a man from Remoyako arrived just before dawn to say that a jaguar had attacked a young man who had been rummaging through the hut we’d used there, probably looking for things we might have left behind. The jaguar must have smelled our scent and come looking for prey. The man wanted our peque-peque to return to Remoyako and transport the young man to the infirmary at the military post of Angamos. We let him have it and he left.
Late that evening he returned with news that the boy had died. The Matses at Remoyako and its sister village of Buen Peru were out hunting the animal, and when they found it they would burn it and the two villages as well, then make balsa rafts and float down the Galvez looking for a good place to build new villages.
Moises said that we’d have to leave, that it was "going to get very Indian on the river" for a while and we wouldn’t be welcome.
Our plan had been to hike back across the jungle from the Galvez to the Auchyacu but not from Pablo’s village. As it was we had to change plans, and as Moises didn’t know the route from that spot on the river, Pablo had one of his young sons accompany us.
The son didn’t know the route either, it turned out, and after four days the boy simply disappeared one morning after we’d reached a small river called the Rio Lobo. With supplies running very low, Moises said the best plan would be that he’d return to Pablo’s, secure us a boat or peque-peque, and return for us. He left with only his machete and a canteen of river water, leaving Steve and I to make a camp while we waited for him. He returned the following afternoon—he said we’d basically walked in circles for four days—and we took off down the Lobo. That night, as we neared the confluence of the Lobo and the Galvez we passed a small flotilla of Matses balsa rafts lit by jungle copal torches and crowded with people and goods. They were the people of Remoyako and Buen Peru, searching for a place to build their new villages.
We continued down the Galvez to Angamos, where we were lucky enough to get seats in a small military plane headed out the next morning to Iquitos.
From there we caught an afternoon boat back to Genero Herrera and arrived at Julio’s home the following day. We arranged to drink ayahuasca that night, but before we did, Moises asked me to drink ayahuasca with the idea of finding his son Junior, whom he said was in the jungle, waiting for us with new supplies at the Rio Matanza. We were to have met up with him but because we’d left by a different route, hadn’t, and now Moises wanted me to somehow find Junior and tell him that we were already safe and to meet us at Julio’s. The request stunned me. I had no idea how to do what Moises asked, but I couldn’t refuse trying.
That night, during the ceremony, I tried to do what Moises asked but failed. In fact, I felt nothing the whole time, except for the beautiful calm that came from listening to Julio sing his icaros, and finally went to my hammock. No sooner did I lie down than I found myself feeling as though I were in the river, near some brush. But there was something odd about my eyesight: It was flattened out and very near the water, as though I was submerged up to my eyes. I could make out shapes in a logical way but not the particulars of things. It was very disorienting, until I realized that I felt tremendously strong and fantastically limber. I looked around at myself and realized I had somehow connected, as I had with the bird, with a huge snake. Of course I knew it was impossible, but as had happened with the bird, just when I was sure I was inventing the entire episode, I felt my mouth opening and my tongue shot out and grabbed a large frog. I, we, ate, swallowing it whole and quickly squeezing it to death with our powerful throat muscles before passing it on to the stomach.
The event was wholly unexpected. The absolutely tactile sensation of feeling the snake’s (and my) muscles squeezing the life out of the uncooperative and squirming frog gave me enough confidence to simply ask the snake if it knew where Junior might be. I’d no sooner asked the question—and felt foolish for doing it, since I knew it was all in my head—than the snake began moving upstream. We moved quickly and it was a thrill to feel myself able to move my muscles in that serpentine manner that propelled us forward. We moved through the water for some time and then finally turned off the river and into the forest. I began to shout "Junior! Junior!" but no one responded. We moved deeper until we came to another riverbank where there appeared to have been a recent camp. I didn’t actually see any camp, just the shapes of trees around a small clearing and then an opening took to be a river, but sensed that there was acrid smoke in the air. But it felt lifeless, as though it had been abandoned.
With that realization the snake and I returned to the Auchyacu and began heading downstream back toward Julio’s. We were moving very quickly, but slowed when we neared what appeared to be a long object with a mound at either end. The mounds were moving, and I realized it was probably a canoe with a person paddling at both the bow and the stern. Moments later the snake disappeared and I was once again just lying in my hammock.
I woke Steve, in the next hammock, and told him about the extraordinary experience, then asked him if I should tell Moises. I was hesitant because I had no idea if I’d seen what I seemed to have seen, or if I’d made it up. Too, the canoe I’d seen, if that’s what it was, had two people in it, not one, and we were looking for Junior, so it probably wasn’t him.
Steve said that he’d asked me to look for Junior, and so I should simply tell him what I’d seen.
So I got out of the hammock and did. To my surprise, Moises asked me if I could remember what part of the river I’d seen the canoe on. I couldn’t exactly, but I was able to say that I thought it was just downstream of the small river camp we’d made a year earlier before heading off into the forest, and he estimated that the canoe would reach Julio’s by noon.
Let me emphasize that I didn’t believe I’d actually found anyone, but at the same time the eating of the frog and the vision of travelling with the snake—which might have taken as little as a few seconds or as long as a few minutes—seemed so real that I knew I might have been hallucinating but I couldn’t have been inventing.
The canoe showed up at Julio’s the following day at quarter past noon with Junior and another man on board. Moises berated them for being late. Julio just laughed.
Steve and I were the only ones surprised.
Moises explained that he’d known I’d seen Junior in the river when I told him that I’d seen two mounds, not one. "I only told you about one, Junior, because I didn’t want you to make anything up."
I was simply dumbfounded.
Moises said that ayahuasca was used in the jungle because it worked.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Jeez Louise! I'm Not Quite Ready for This

Well, I was sitting at the desk catching up on a few emails that needed real responses when I remembered that I needed to get copies of a couple of papers that Chepa has. So I called over to her house, woke her and asked if she'd pulled the papers yet. They just relate to getting everyone's passports renewed, nothing great, but I'd earmarked today for that so was getting to it.
And while on the phone I asked if she wanted to go for coffee and danish at a place nearby the copy center.
In a sleepy and indescribably delicious voice she said "The girls are in La-la land. You want to take us for coffee, you come over here and wake them up. I'm not even going to try."
I told her I would in a while, and she said she'd try to find the papers I needed.
Well I guess she mentioned the coffee and cake part to my beautiful Madeleina--who just started playing soccer with a club and has a great coach and absolutely loves it--because in a few mintutes I got a call from her.
"Hey dad. You know in my room...?"
"Yeah, baby. What do you need?"
"Well on the bed--I think I forgot to make it but don't worry , I'll do it later--there should be a pair of capri pants, a blouse with green and red hearts on it and a bra. Can you bring those when you come to take us for breakfast?"
I said I would, hung up and collected the clothing for her.
A bra. A lady's undergarment. My daughter Madeleina is 10-and-a-half years old and she has a bra. I'm not ready for that. Heck, she was younger than Sierra--who is 19 months--and talking the same full-sentence baby talk as Sierra just last month, wasn't she? And now she has a bra? What's next? A boyfriend?
Gee whillakers, I'm simply not ready at all for my little baby to be wearing lady's undergarments.
I don't mind time flying, really, but this is beyond the beyond.
Gonna be a great day, I guess, if I can just catch up with it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

25 Years of Shamanism

NOTE: I'm going to try to get this thing written as a whole, but will deliver it in installments until I do. Here's the first installment.

25 Years of Shamanism

I was asked to speak at the 2007 3rd Annual Conference on Shamanism in Iquitos Peru, as I’ve been asked the previous two years. This year, unfortunately, I had emergency surgery in the very hotel where the conference was being held just two hours before I was to make my presentation. As a result, I was weak, in pain, on painkillers and simply unable to speak.
Had I been able to give my talk, these are some of the points I would have liked to make concerning my very long—25-year—apprenticeship to the very kind and wonderful curandero Julio Jerena (spelled Llerena in Spanish).
Apprenticeship might be an exaggeration: I was introduced to Julio in 1985, the year after I drank my first cup of Ayahuasca with a curandero named Alphonso, and over the course of the next two decades drank with him sometimes once a year, sometimes 10 times a year. We had no structure—I’d never heard of an ayahuasca dieta until probably three or four years ago—and Julio never suggested I come and stay with him to drink regularly. I’d simply show up, and if he was available, he’d make me ayahuasca the following day, after which I’d generally return to Iquitos or head further up the Auchyacu, the little river he lived on some 212 kilometers upriver from Iquitos. But whatever I was doing, wherever I was exploring in Peru’s Amazonia, I always made a point of visiting Julio, generally at the start of a trip, but sometimes at the end as well. And during those three years when I lived in Iquitos, 1998 through 2000, I sometimes went to visit him once a month or more.
So it wasn’t a formal apprenticeship at all. I wasn’t trying to become a curandero: I didn’t want to live on the Auchyacu and fish for my dinner out of a dugout canoe like he did, while ministering the 20 or so families who lived on the river. They’d come to him with all manner of ailments: some brought their babies who were unable to stop vomiting; others came with bushmaster snake bites; still others brought their parents or spouses who’d lost their souls and with them the will to live.And Julio treated them all to hours of work with very little reward: a chicken here or there, some fish, a shirt, a baby piglet and other similar things. It was a wonderful life for Julio—made even richer by having several of his children and a sister live nearby on the river—but not something I ever considered.
Still, over the years it became something of an informal apprenticeship. We each looked forward to the other’s company and loved doing ceremony together, him running it, me being taught some of the endless lessons ayahuasca has to teach.
Now I’ve been asked to talk about the highlights of 25 or so years of shamanic work. That’s not easy. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of highlights. How do you pick one over another when so many helped me at crucial points in my life? I’m not sure.
Given that codicil, I’ll try to touch on several moments that standout, knowing that I’m omitting a lot of others that could just as easily be included here.
The first unforgettable highlight occurred during my very first ayahuasca ceremony. I was in Peru in 1984 with two great friends. We’d spent several weeks on the coast and in the highlands before heading to the jungle, the place that seemed to be calling me more than the others. With no roads into the jungle we took a flight into Iquitos, a city just north of the point where the Amazon begins being called the Amazon. It was quite an unusual town. City is more like it, because of its size, perhaps 150,000 at that time, but with very few paved roads and not much sense of organization it had the feel of a wild west town to this city boy.
There was some tourism, but not of the kind we were interested in: We wanted to go into the jungle, deep jungle like we imagined was there, and no one we spoke with seemed interested or able to do that.
Except for one fellow. His name was Moises Torres Vienna. He was short, dark and muscular. He had a tatoo of a woman on one arm and his initials—MTV—tatooed in a heart on the other. He said he could show us the real jungle.
For some reason, despite him offering us exactly what we wanted, I didn’t want to travel with him. Instead, I insisted that we take a riverboat up the river somewhere, where I was sure we’d find real indians and real jungle. Moises said that no one up the river or down the river would take us into the jungle. He said people were afraid of the jungle and only lived near the riverbanks. I thought he was crazy.
He wasn’t. In nearly ten days in a little town called Requena—an absolutely crazy place that requires its own story—we couldn’t find anyone to take us out under the canopy. They took us to their fields, which were sometimes a kilometer or so deep, but when we asked to go further we were always told that there were too many snakes, jaguars and Indians there. Not to mention tunchis—jungle spirits that would make you lose your way home.
Interestingly, on the day of our return to Iquitos, Moises found us and asked if we were ready to see the real jungle and maybe do something called ayahuasca. We’d never heard of it, whatever it was, and I still wasn’t keen on Moises, but he was apparently our only shot at going deeply into the jungle. Chuck and Larry were also only so-so on him, but then he explained that ayahuasca was an hallucinogen—"Like LSD," he said, roping us old hippies in effortlessly. We agreed to let him take us out.
We spent the next half-hour haggling over price until Moises agreed to $20 per day each. And the minute he agreed his demeanor changed. He switched from salesman to guide in an instant.
"Okay. Half now, half when we come back. I need to buy supplies and leave my family food money. We’ll leave at 7 AM. Sharp. I’ll be here with supplies at 6:30. Don’t bring much. You can leave your bags with the lady of the hotel. Bring your passport or a copy in case we run into soldiers."
"Do we need machetes or anything?" I asked naively.
"No. I don’t want you to get hurt."
He collected the money, shook hands, saluted and was gone.
"He’s going to be good," Larry predicted.
The next morning Moises knocked on our doors promptly at 6:30. "Good morning!" he called. "Time to go. Hurry."
He wore a tee-shirt and camoflauge pants with old military boots instead of his city outfit, and had a green rucksack from which the black handle of a machete was protruding. He was all business, telling us to hurry, collecting the things we were not bringing and having them put into a locked room behind the hotel lobby, then checking the rooms to make sure we hadn’t left anything. Satisfied, he stepped into the street and hailed two motorcars and gave them a destination.
We stopped at a market not far from where we’d caught the boat to Requena. Moises—who constantly amazed me with his ability to communicate clearly despite his limited English and my limited Spanish—pulled a large plastic ladies shopping bag from his pocket and began to stride through the market. The building was large and open aired, with dozens of vendors selling everything from fish and meat to fruits and vegetables, dry goods and breakfast. He turned to us and pointed to his eyes, and then our bags, signaling that we should keep our eyes open for thieves, then began picking up our supplies. He bought an empty quart bottle from one vendor and had it filled with aguar diente—"good quality, no kerosene," he said—from another. He bought a dozen .16 gauge shotgun shells, some fishing line and hooks, a bundle of black-tobacco cigarettes from a man who was rolling them, salt, toilet paper, sugar, tins of coffee, canned sardines, rice, ketchup and three huge pineapples.
He was a lesson in Third World purchasing: he knew what he wanted from each vendor and asked its price before he ordered. He didn’t haggle. He just walked away if he didn’t like it. Not angry, just walked to the next vendor. He double-checked each package and said aloud what he bought and what it cost, as if there was a calculator in his head, keeping the tally. He was quick but courteous. In minutes the shopping bag was full and he asked us if we were ready to go. We all said we wanted coffee, and he wove through the market and brought us to probably the only person in the market with it.
Coffee finished, he pointed us toward a wooden stairway built out over a steep bank. At the base of the 50-foot stairway, tethered to a post, was a floating dock with a one-room house on it. Around the dock were a dozen thatched-roof boat. Moises put his things down between Chuck and I, pointed to his eyes and then to the bags, then went to talk with someone at one of the boats. In a few moments he moved to another boat, pointed to us, nodded and then returned.
"Okay, let’s go," he started, then, looking down at his shopping bag, asked Chuck and I where the kilo of salt was. We didn’t know. Now that he mentioned it, I remembered it being on top, but it was no longer there. "Look. Eyes. Thieves," he said, berating us. He looked up the stairway and we followed his gaze: halfway up a young man held a kilo of salt and laughed at us, then turned and continued up the stairway.
Moises made a snatching motion with is hand in imitation of the thief and to show us how fast it was done. "Olvida," he said. "Forget it. But you have no salt now. If I say look," he pointed to his eyes, "look. Military style. The jungle is dangerous. One mistake…" he made a throat-slitting motion with his hand, then picked up his things and walked to the boat.
Chuck and I could hardly have felt worse. It was only salt, but we’d been standing on either side of the bag, not 24-inches from it at any time. The thief risked getting caught for maybe $.30 and he knew he could get away with it. It felt like we had "FIRST TIMERS" written on our foreheads.
The boat was long and narrow with benches on either side. The hull came up just to the middle of our backs, leaving an open space between it and the thatch of the roof. A few minutes later we were back out on the river.
It was a different river from our new vantage point: fishermen were close by and we could watch them throwing out the nets, or hauling them in with their bright, shining fish. We ran much more slowly than the slow riverboat, and crossing the river at the bends was a much more laborious process. But we only traveled about two hours before Moises was telling us to collect our things and the boat was pulling up to a bank.
We stepped out onto the tiny bow of the boat, then jumped the 4-feet or so from it to the soft mud below, sinking up to our ankles. Moises turned when we were off and pushed the boat back out into free water and they were off.
There were no houses near the bank, and we asked Moises where we were. "Survival camp. This way please."
There were several logs embedded in the mud that made a sort of trail up the bank and onto drier land, where a foot path was cut through an otherwise closed wall of young forest. Ten minutes into that and the canopy suddenly soared higher. "Jungle," said Moises. "Not virgin."
I guessed he meant secondary jungle, jungle that had previously been cut and had grown back. It was real jungle none the less, with tall trees soaring skyward, though there wasn’t much sky to be seen, only tiny patches between the foliage of the canopy. The air was humid and hot. In minutes I was as wet as if I’d been caught in a storm. Thick and thin vines hung from trees everywhere, and there was little ground growth, just a thick carpet of leaves and some young bushes and trees fighting for sunlight. Unexpected was the smell, a combination of fresh growth and decay, of living and dying, growing things and rotting vegetation. As we walked on the well-marked path I began to notice that every tree trunk had other vegetation living on it. Some had vines climbing on them, their fresh green leaves clinging to the bark in fantastic patterns; others were covered in thick moss or had air plants up in their branches dropping down 20, 30, 50 foot dangling roots that might have been the tendrils of octopii had we been in the ocean. Ants and insects were everywhere. Just stopping for a moment allowed me to see that the whole jungle floor seemed to be moving in tiny pieces.
"Pedro! Rapido!" It was Moises, interrupting my reverie. Chuck and Larry were already out of sight up a hill, and I hurried to catch up. A little while later we turned off the path and onto a narrower one, and a few hundred yards into that we came on a clearing with two buildings, both of them fairly small and low to the ground. Unlike most of the other buildings we’d seen near the river though, these were well built with thick planks painted Army green. One was a sleeping quarters for maybe up to a dozen men. The other was a small school house, but it wasn’t for children; this was a Peruvian Special Jungle Forces training center. The ground area around the buildings was well kept. Moises showed us the generator building behind the two larger buildings, and a latrine off a clearly marked path nearby.
There was no one else at the camp when we arrived and so we were free to look around. One wall of the schoolhouse was a sort of display of perhaps 30 stuffed animals that included a jaguar, an ocelot—a variety of smaller cats—a caiman, an anaconda, a tree-sloth, a couple of wild boars and a variety of turtles, lizards and fish, including several different colored piranhas. They were easy to identify with their narrow, meaty heads and the row of razor-sharp little teeth in their bulldog-like jaws. One yellow piranha had two-rows of teeth and Moises explained that the indigenous called that a yarawashi, though he added that much that we knew about piranhas was probably exaggerated. "They are no problem in the rivers. Only in small pools with not enough food. No hands in pools, no problem in the river."
I asked him where the kitchen was and he asked if I was hungry. I said no, I just wondered where the kitchen was. He explained there was none. "The kitchen is the jungle. It’s a training school for soldiers. Oh, and no television," he laughed.
He didn’t believe I wasn’t hungry, though, and took out his machete and walked to where Larry had put down the pineapples. He held one up by its stalk and snapped his machete, cutting off the sharp leaves, then snapped again and again and in 10 seconds had a perfectly cleaned pineapple ready. He handed it to Chuck by its stalk then did the same with the others. We asked Moises where his was and he laughed and disappeared down a path. We heard a whack, and he returned a few moments later with a long piece of sugar cane. He trimmed its outer hard skin expertly with his machete, then bit into its sweet core. "Cane," he said. "Like pineapple. The jungle is full of food."
Eating a whole pineapple while holding it’s stalk made it feel like some huge and dripping ice cream cone. Sugar slid down our chins and onto our hands. When we were finished we rinsed with water from a barrel outside the bunkhouse, then Moises took a bottle of alcohol from his bag and poured a little into our cupped hands and had us wash with that.
"Protection from insects that like sugar."
We did as told and wondered what his next trick would be. There wasn’t any. He had us leave our things and head back to the main trail and deeper into the jungle. He told us we were going to see a Shipibo curandera. "Shipibo," he explained, "Indian people that live close to Pulcallpa. Experts with ayahuasca. Not primitive."
We arrived at the woman’s house—a platform hut set apart from several others that made up the village, not far from a small running river, in about 15 minutes. She was a beautiful woman, strong and old, but when Moises told her what we wanted she said no, and no amount of pleading on Moises’ part would change her mind. We asked what she was saying and he explained that she’d told him we were dilettantes who had no business using ayahuasca.
She wasn’t entirely useless to us, though. She did let Moises barter for the use of two dugout canoes pulled up on the nearby bank for a trip to another curandero Moises knew.
With the help of two of her sons, who were also our canoe men, we got into the impossibly unsteady dugouts and began to head upriver. Moises told us to be still and they wouldn’t sink. I wasn’t certain: their sides were within an inch of the waterline, so the smallest motion would flood the boat. We traveled upstream perhaps half-an-hour to another village where we disembarked and walked up the bank to the home of someone named Alphonso. His home, like the Shipibo woman’s was set apart from the other huts in the village. A surprisingly fat woman surrounded by a handful of children told us Alphonso was out in his fields. Moises cajoled the woman until she sent one of her children to go get him and it wasn’t long before a bull of a man came walking out of the woods with two ramas of plantains on his shoulders. He wore raggedy clothing and an old painter's cap. His feet were bare, covered with small scars and thick calluses. But he had a radiant smile that split his face in half and showed a full set of teeth.
Moises greeted him like an old friend and told him what we wanted. As he did he made gifts of several of the items we’d picked up at the market: the black tobacco cigarettes, which Moises called mapachos, the aguar diente, the shotgun shells and some fish hooks and line. Alphonso took the presents with a grin and climbed the three-step ladder to his house, then told us to come back at eight that evening.
"Let’s go back to the training camp to rest," Moises suggested.
I started back toward the river, but Moises said the boys had already left and that we’d be walking this time, then started past Alphono’s house and onto a jungle path. It wasn’t very well used and Moises had to cut plants that grew across it. He pointed out trees covered in long spines, like thick porcupine quills with no bend that we were to avoid. There were muddy patches and places where large trees had fallen across the path that we had to clamber over. It was hot and sticky and there were plenty of mosquitoes and the jungle floor was frequently covered in tangles of exposed roots. There were several places were trees had been cut and served as single-log bridges over creek beds, and I slipped into the creeks more than once.
Along the way, Moises entertained us with a course in Jungle 101. He pointed out trees and bushes that were used for medicine, and cut several sections from a thick vine called pawfil chawki, then held them one at a time and had us drink the mineral water that dripped from the thin-straw-like tubes making up the vine’s meat. "Very good water. It will save your life. But don’t pick the wrong vine, it may be poison. Rule number one in the jungle: taste it. If it’s bitter, don’t eat it or drink it. If it’s sweet, eat or drink a little. Wait half-an-hour. If you’re not sick, go ahead and eat or drink."
He pointed out animal holes and tracks and droppings, a band of monkeys in the canopy overhead and several birds we would have otherwise missed. "Full jungle. You just need new eyes."
At one point just before we reached the Shipibo woman’s village where there was a single log spanning a 25 or 30 foot near dry creek bed that was probably 15 feet deep. There was a flimsy hand rail set up next to it but the moment you put your weight on it it gave way, so wouldn’t be much help at all.
Moises crossed first to establish it’s worthiness—to him it was just walking—then told us to follow, one at a time. Larry went first and though the log was narrow and rounded he was a terrific athlete and had no problem. When he reached the other side he turned and told me to just "put you chi in your feet and don’t look down. Just cross."
It wasn’t my favorite thing, but I managed, slowly, despite several near falls. Chuck was a little better than me but not much.
"We’re never going to do this at night," he said. "Especially stoned."
"I know," I answered.
The path from the Shipibo woman’s house was well used and easy walking. Back at the training camp Moises told us just to rest. He offered to make some tea if we wanted but told us that on days you drank ayahuasca you couldn’t eat after breakfast. "It interferes with the medicine," he said.
When we asked how we were going to manage the log bridges at night he said going would be the problem, but coming back after ayahuasca would be easy. "Ayahuasca makes the jungle your friend," he said. "It puts the jungle in your blood and lets you see in the dark. Don’t worry. No problem."
Despite Moises’ assurances, we insisted we leave early, while there was still at least a little light left to the day, and even then we moved slowly and carefully to avoid getting hurt. Moises thought we were hilarious and laughed at us the whole way.
We arrived at Alphonso’s before seven to find him at a small hut not far from the house where he was straining off a small amount of thick brown liquid from a big aluminum pot through an old shirt into a little pot. "Medicina," he smiled. "Bueno."
When the liquid was ready he covered the pot and carried it to his home. He invited us up the little ladder and offered us seats on small benches he’d put out for us. He told us we’d drink when the medicine cooled down and it was time.
I looked around the platform: there was a small walled off section that I figured for the bedroom, though there were also several white mosquito nets hanging in the open platform area as well. All of his childen were already sleeping.
The night bugs were awful and our repellents were worthless. Alphonso watched us for a few minutes, then laughed and promised that after we drank ayahuasca the insects wouldn’t bother us. Moises reiterated that we were not to be surprised if we got ill, and showed us where we were to go to vomit if that happened. He pulled a handful of hard lemon candies from a pocket and gave us each a couple to clean the taste out of our mouths if that happened. He also said that we might not like the taste of the medicine, but that we should drink all that we were given at one time.
Alphonso suggested an hour of silence before we drank and we sat quietly, listening to the sounds of nearby chickens and the rustle of night animals foraging in the brush.
When the hour was up Alphonso retreated to a corner of the house and returned with the small pot, a serving gourd, the aguar diente and mapacho cigarettes we’d brought, a small bottle he said had camphor and gasoline, another labeled Agua de Florida and a sort of fan made of leaves which made a percussive sound when shaken. He placed all of the articles carefully on the platform floor in front of him. "Yeah?" he asked.
"Si, professor," answered Moises.
Without any more fanfare, Alphonso lit a black tobacco cigarette and began to chant quietly. Moises had us form a semi-circle on the floor in front of him, although he didn’t join. "Watcher," he said, pointing to his eyes and then us. "Someone has to look out for you guys."
It was unsettling to realize that we were on our own with Alphonso but he reassured us that someone always had to watch if for no other reason than to make sure no one left the circle.
Alphonso ignored us and picked up the little pot. He took the lid off and blew smoke into it while he chanted. Then he filled the little gourd—it couldn’t have held more than four ounces, and passed it to Chuck. Chuck drank and made a face as he did, as if he’d just bitten into sour fruit, then passed the gourd back to Alphonso, who handed him the bottle of camphor and gasoline and told him to hold it to his nostrils and breath deeply. When he was finished with that Alphonso told him to cup his hands and then poured a little of the Agua de Florida into them and had him wipe his face with it. It smelled like sweet oranges, a cheap aftershave.
I suddenly found myself anxious. What did I know about these people. Yesterday I thought Moises was a smarmy little huckster. Had anything changed? Who was this fellow Alphonso? What the heck were we drinking anyway? For all I knew it was poison. Or even if it was an hallucinogen, what if I had a bad trip out in the middle of the Amazon?
I pushed those negative thoughts aside. Chuck drank. I’d drink, and when the gourd was passed to me I put it to my lips and did. The liquid was thick and warm, the consistency of spit, and it tasted like burned grapefruit infused with dank smoke. I nearly choked. I didn’t though, and inhaled the camphor and gasoline deeply when it was passed to me, then rubbed my face with the orange water. Its smell kept me from throwing up right then.
Alphonse was the last to drink. Afterwards, he invited us to each take a few of the black tobacco cigarettes, then he blew out the candles, putting us in a pitch dark. Nothing happened. We were just sitting in the dark, listening to Alphonso chant quietly to the rhythm of the leaves he shook. Then, suddenly and without warning, Alphonso leaded over the edge of the platform and began to vomit. I’d never heard a sound like the sound he made. His vomiting sounded like a rushing river washing through the jungle. It came in waves, louder and louder until it had the clarity of a mad spring, but it came from deep within him like molten lava making its way boiling up from the depths and exploding out of him. It drowned out all other jungle sounds, moving, powerful, thrilling; long after he could conceivably have anything left in his stomach to eliminate his rich sounds echoed off the jungle walls. I wondered if Chuck and Larry had heard the same thing I had.
And then suddenly I realized that I too was beginning to vomit. I lunged for the edge of the platform and let heave, though my own was much more ordinary than Alphonso’s.
Through with being sick, Alphonso began chain-smoking the awful cigarettes and had us do the same. We were told to make ourselves comfortable and we took positions near one another on the platform. Only Moises stayed alert, assuring us he would maintain watch over our external world. "Just relax and don’t try to see or do anything. Enjoy the night."
Alphonso changed the rhythm of his fan and along with it his chant. It was an eerie song full of Spanish and Latin and what sounded like Indian dialect, but it was somehow a clear and beautiful, repetitious, thrilling, powerful.
The night grew peaceful. The mosquitoes stopped bothering me. And then, suddenly, an image appeared before me, within me: A bird flying over show-crested mountains, a huge brown bird with dense wings tipped in white. I was looking at the bird from a great distance one moment, and the next I felt as though I was merging with it. I began to see from the bird's perspective: my sharp eyes picked out the most minute details from the landscape. I flew over a range of mountains, searching for something—I had no idea what. I only knew that we were travelling with such speed, such airlessness that in moments we had traveled halfway around the world. Oceans passed beneath us, islands were inspected and passed and great stretches of land appeared and disappeared behind us in what seemed an instant.
I found us slowing, peering into a stream: I could see blue and green fish in the shallow water moving slowly from our perspective. We were thousands of feet above a mountain stream and I could look into the stream and pick out fish scales: the colors were unimaginably rich! And then, suddenly we, the bird and I, tipped off the face of the earth. Down we raced! Nearly visionless we plummeted toward the stream! I don't remember any feelings of fear: I knew we were hungry and wanted a fish; we split the water with the tiniest of splashes and in an instant were headed skyward again, the fish in our beak split in half, unchewed, the pieces sliding into my stomach whole.
I thought it an unusual way to eat: the moment I did, the minute I thought of myself apart from the bird I was back in Alphonso's house, sitting on a platform with my friends. How sad that my flight was over. I tried to bring the image back, tried to fight my loss, but nothing except blackness filled my mind. No images, nothing. I wanted desperately to see with my new perspective!
Only when I let my desire go did the image return: suddenly I would be flying again, with the bird or some moments just below it, admiring the arrangement of feathers and realizing that each feather moved independently of the others; each hair on each feather seemed to be controlled by an act of will, by separate muscle. I'd never thought of a bird as so complex before; and then, of course, the moment I thought that way I was back at Alphonso's home with that incredible longing in my stomach.
Twice during the night I was able to direct the flight of the beautiful bird: the first was to see Clare—my estranged wife—in Los Angeles. Instantly on thinking of her I was in her room, hovering on her ceiling. I watched her making love with someone new and nausea flooded me—there was a saving grace in the jealous rage: my ego brought me back to the jungle hut, away from the unexpected and awful sight.
The second image was of our—my—apartment in New York now that Clare was in LA, and of our friends who were staying there while we were gone. There was a comforting quality in the scene, two friends sitting in the living room, reading. But something was different—I realized our furniture had all been rearranged. (On returning home, I found that it had indeed been rearranged.)
At one point, when I thought the vision of my bird was returning something happened, and instead of soaring, I found myself reduced in size and moving about a birch tree. The start of the image was like looking through a camera lens or a pair of backwards binoculars: I saw the birch at the end of darkened cone, opening up onto it, and then I traveled through the tunnel. The vision zoomed in on one of the birch's burls and I saw thousands of ants moving around. But I didn't just see ants. I saw ants in such detail that I could study the way they worked, how their bodies moved one section at a time, could see them holographically; red and black ants moving on the same burl, working side by side on different tasks. I was so close to them that I could count the hairs on their bodies. I was unimaginably small; so tiny that the rings on the burl seemed like vast plains before me.
There were other images too, but they were less clear. Some of them appeared and disappeared with such speed that I simply hadn't time to focus on them.
And then suddenly I heard talking. The others were saying they weren't having much effect from the drink and all they were feeling was ill. I protested but was overruled and in a few minutes we prepared to leave.
I threw up once more, this time effortlessly, after I'd stepped from the platform. We thanked Alphonso and left his clearing and started back to our camp. We walked in silence for some time, and then Chuck and Larry began to grumble that it had been an effectless night. I laughed to myself. It had been a most incredible night. Moises laughed too, and pointed out that none of us were using our flashlights, even over the log crossings. "You don’t need light," he said, "when the jungle is your friend."
Later that night while I slept I flew with my bird all over the world, seeing cities and mountains; pulling fish from the sea and resting on small ocean rocks; crossing vast dunes and peering into thunder clouds.
For my friends it had not been a visionary; I felt differently. I felt as if I’d been given an extraordinary glimpse into something possible that all the drugs and drinking I’d done had never been able to show me. I felt like me in my own skin and I liked it. I wanted to learn what Moises knew, what Alphonso knew. I knew I was a bumbler, would take a long time to learn, but I felt it would be worth it. This was what people were talking about when they said you know when you find your path.
That was my first extraordinary experience with Shamanism.