Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Night I Danced With Shamans

The Night I Danced With Shamans

From the five layers of creation,
The six layers of creation,
From the depths of the belly,
From the root of my tongue,
From the depths of my being,
From the crown of the head:
Behold, that which is from the depth of the earth,
Which begins to grow, putting forth its shoots,
Yet is still unrevealed, like an unopened flower.

~from the festival of Lai Haraoba, the Possession Ritual

A time ago, my sister traveled far to the land of Manipur. One evening, she danced with shamans. I, too, have danced with shamans; several times in fact. However, I didn’t have to travel to India.

Tom and his wife, LaDonna, lived in a most rustic irregularly shaped log cabin set on 30 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge in Central Virginia. Over the course of the year or so it took Tom to build the structure by hand, he and LaDonna lived quite comfortably in a large Plains Indian-style teepee.

June had arrived with little fanfare. School was wrapping up, my first year teaching. Just as kids celebrate the last day, I was really looking forward to that day as well. Tom taught fourth grade at the time in the room next to mine, and, although he was seven years older than I was, we became good friends. He came to Virginia from Upstate New York, following the wind and a dream. He had been a rural postal carrier at one time before taking the teaching vows. Tom was a master teacher. He had creative systems and mysterious processes that he used to orchestrate his class every day. Each day, I was in awe as he unveiled his classroom strategies one layer at a time as the school year played out.

Tom invited me to his end of the school year gathering at his cabin the evening after the last day. That night, I would dance with shamans.

We gathered around a crackling fire and settled in for an evening under the stars outside the cabin. The last traces of day turned from orange to purple before giving way to dancing sparks. I sat on a stump and sipped my Miller as friends who would become central fixtures in my life for the next fifteen years rolled in.

Scotty was there with his girlfriend. Teresa and her boyfriend Nolan were there. Teresa taught fourth grade with us and Nolan was the PE teacher. Joan was there along with Janice, Senna, and Mark. Nancy and Rick came. Nancy was a seventh grade teacher at our school. Joe, seventh grade teacher and body builder, came as well. Barb and Don were there. Don, the principal of our school, was having a great time telling jokes as he chain-smoked his light menthol cigarettes. Others came that I didn’t know so well.

I sat on my stump and watched the fire sparkle. Sometimes smoke would drift into my eyes, and I’d turn away. The evening was humid, remnants of a late day thunderstorm. I’d light a cigarette and puff away, helping the fire keep the mosquitoes at bay. More stars than I ever remember seeing danced with the embers from the fire as hesitant guitars stroked quiet melodies.

The high entertainment rolled out slowly. Guitars. Tom’s banjo. Rick’s fiddle, and Mark’s bass fiddle. Before I knew what was happening, the woods exploded with thumping, driving old time music. Together these guys were magic. Mark’s driving rhythm punctuated with Tom’s clawing banjo supported Rick’s unhinged fiddle. The trees swayed and the smoke drifted around us as we launched from stumps and danced with the embers. Cigarettes in one hand. Beers in the other. We danced and shouted. Screamed and hooted. An orgy of sound knifing through the blackness of night.

As the music pressed on, I began to see my future juxtaposed against my past. Fears of growing up melted away. Worries about career and about love life eased away. I existed in that moment and found solitude in the night’s sweat.

We danced with shamans through that night, unrepressed.

Eventually, my friends filed away into the predawn sky and into the depths of the season. I wouldn’t see them again until the next school year.

As the summer progressed, I danced several more times. Each time as fantastical as before. Each time refreshing and joyful. The midnight pool at the foot of the mountains. The shine run in the back of the apple orchard pickup. Farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.

I've grown older now and haven’t danced with shamans in many years. Instead, I mark my time dancing with the genie, which is an altogether darker and more somber ritual.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Each summer, I like to walk over to my secret patch of blackberry bushes and load up. Around here, blackberries ripen somewhere in the first three weeks of July. Raspberries, which are generally harder to find, ripen about two weeks earlier.

This morning, I went to check on the blackberries, and I happened to stumble into a loaded patch of raspberries. They were so ripe, some even fell off the branches as I picked. Raspberries possess a very delicate, sweet flavor. I most enjoy them as a topping to vanilla ice cream. I would have stayed longer to pick, but I had the dog with me off the leash and she had already gone after one skunk. So I figured I'd better book it on back with my solid pint of berries.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Day at the Races

My sister and I went on our yearly pilgrimage to Colonial Downs yesterday and proceeded to receive entertainment for no cost-a good day at the track.

Weather was excellent. Under shade. Breezy. Low humidity. Nice.

Crowds were light. No big races other than "The DaHoss Stakes."

1. The Italian Sausage with grilled onions/peppers....divine.

2. Rosemary Homeister, Jr. : She's an amazing jockey. Yesterday, she won four races and placed a couple of other times. She now leads the Colonial meet in wins. Homeister places a Jr. after name since she's named after her mother and her mother is a trainer. So, frequently in her early career back in the 90's, she would ride her mother's horses. The Jr. identifies them on the program. In the featured race, her mount scratched prior to the race, so she (being the top jock of the meet) was able to pick up an 18/1 horse named Izzy Speaking. Izzy is a fine horse but was jumping in distance from 5f to a mile. Izzy was buried at the start. The field was strong with several graded stakes winners racing. Homeister kept him mid-pack going through the turn home, but he was sealed off. Then she kicked the gas and directed the horse through two sliver openings and blasted him to the front for a driving win. Gutsy ride. Risk/reward.

3. Drunk "Hoooooooooooo-Hooooooooooooooo!" guy: This guy, who had a few too many beers won a sum of money on a race or two. He celebrated by dancing around the facility"Hooooo-Hoooooing" (It was also Hooter's day...lots of girls in skin-tight orange panties who looked four years YOUNGER than my 18 year old daughter. :( ) Anyway, "Hooo-hooo-ing Guy screamed out that this stuff is so easy and he was "...just a rookie!" as he stepped all over the full beer cup he'd set down on the ground. Talk about beginner's luck. He'll never remember the fun he had.

4. Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mtns: From 8:30-9:00 last night, the sun put on a powerful color display as we turned away from it. I thought at the time that fireworks mimic the glorious colors of such sunsets.

5. Dime Supers: A great way to spend that loose change. I used Quick Pick (computer picks numbers). On one race, I had these numbers 8-3-1-2. The winning order was 8-5-1-2...just one odd number away from being set for life.

What a great day. We'll most likely return for the busy Virginia Derby day in middle July.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

75 at Countryside

75 at Countryside

Yesterday, my brother and I completed 75 holes of golf in approximately 12.5 hours. Greg and I were gunning for 100 holes, but really we only expected to get in about 72. I'm a little sore today, but none the worse for wear.

Someone asked me if 100 holes in a day is possible, and I would say that yes it's possible, but you must have caveats. First, you'd have to be able to start at daybreak. Countryside in Roanoke, the course we played, was very accommodating, but they wouldn't allow us to tee off earlier than 7 am. You also have to have free real estate ahead of you. We were trying to play around other groups, which caused valuable time wasted in idleness. You would most likely have to play until absolute nightfall. We chose to break off early (7:39pm) with approximately an hour and a half left.

Greg and I are both middle-aged males and both tote around a genetically superior abdomen. For training, we took different approaches. Greg, three years older than me and on the north side of 50, changed careers last year, getting out of the pressure cooker of wholesale wine sales. Since then, he's worked a more relaxed and uniquely different profession as History instructor at Radford University.

I trained by taking my annual summer unemployment very seriously. I've posted a "Gone until August 5" note on my email and even took off with the family to the beach for a week. During that week, I spent just about all my time casting and recasting fishing lines out into the turbid surf. Good training for golf.

We were happily surprised that Countryside offered us a play all day rate when they realized we were serious about marathoning. For one low price, they let us play and play and play. All we had to do was drop the cart by the clubhouse every now and again to check for gas.

We teed off just after 7am and bolted around the course. Greg is quite a good golfer and my skills are much more modest. However, on the first hole, I played decently while Greg ballooned to a big score. From that moment on, Greg spent the day whipping me, not that were in competition with each other. Rather, we were in competition with the environment.

The day began with heavy dew coating all vegetative surfaces and was cool. On the greens, you could follow the path of your putt by tracking the line it drew as it passed through. These natural telestrator images imprinted in our minds served us well as we played each hole 4 or 5 times through the course of the day.

Our first 18 was done in 2.5 hours. That could have been quicker if we had been walking or if we each had a cart. Since we shared our cart and since we were usually wild differently with the golf ball, we were always zigzagging around the course, wasting valuable time. By walking, golf is more of a private point A to point B game; however, we really weren't in the kind of physical shape to pull that off.

When we went to start our second 18, three senior citizens were waiting patiently at the tee waiting for a group of three lost ball hunters midway down the fairway to move on. Getting past one slow group is one thing, but passing two is hard to do, and time was critical to us. We needed to mash in as many holes as we could in the morning hours. So we opted to play the second nine holes again.

As we ripped around the back nine, we got to the 16th hole. I had been playing quite well to that point. That's when my father stopped by to watch us. Dad is well known in the family as being an excellent golfer. In fact, he used to boast that he could play a whole summer with the same golf ball. I, on the other hand, am lucky to play two holes in a row without losing a ball. At almost 87, my pop's health doesn't allow him to play anymore; but his eyes were there at that moment boring into me. My brother thrives on the father pressure. I crumble under it. After we finished that hole, Pop proceeded to follow us in his car around through the next six holes...on all of which I imploded. After he went home, my game returned, and I played solid golf for the next 18 holes or so.

When we finished that 18, we had hoped to play another 18 from start to finish, but due to traffic congestion at the first tee, we again had to dive into the back nine. With the 90-degree heat of the day now fully beating down upon us, I began to lose focus and understanding. In short, I was staggering. We had plenty of provisions. We both were loaded with water, Gatorade, sandwiches, cut vegetables, and fruit. Yet, despite the provisions, I really began feeling the effects of the heat. My friend, Valerie lives along the right side of the 12th fairway, and I'm quite sure I left a golf ball in her backyard. (Digression: I'm never concerned about losing golf balls. While they are very expensive for most people, I actually go out and hunt them in my spare time. So I have a stash of several hundred prime lightly-used golf balls at my disposal. ) After I wagged my way through the hole to the green, my brother asked me if I needed a break. "Hell, no!" was my reply.

My brother's game got stronger as the day progressed. His drives became more consistent as mine became more erratic. His game was quite amazing to behold. I ended up shortening my bag and going with clubs that I seemed to have the ability to control. (5 wood, 6 iron, 9 iron and putter).

We reached the 54-hole milestone at about 3:45pm and realized that 72 holes was a real possibility with 80 not out of the question. Unfortunately, the first tee was blocked by a slow looking three-some behind a painful five-some. Again we took the dive onto the back nine. After three holes, we popped right back to the first hole and teed-off free and clear at 5:45. We knew that 80 holes were a real possibility. The sun began to relent and I began to feel stronger.

Soon, however, we got mired in traffic and had to slip past a slow moving four-some. Then we sailed free through the sixth hole where our younger sister stopped by to chat for a moment with us after her workday. On the seventh hole, we caught up to that slow three-some that we had dodged prior to the beginning of the final round. Man, were they slow and completely oblivious to us. We waited and waited for them on the seventh and eighth holes.

The ninth hole wait seal our doom. My brother and I made our way to the tee box on the ninth ready to put in at least another 9 and possibly more holes, when we were stopped cold. Up ahead, the three golfers were wandering around in the rough searching for their lost golf balls. Five minutes...ten minutes...finally after about fifteen minutes, they extracted clubs from their bags and took their replacement shots before finally moving along.

My brother, forced to idle, suffered from the pause. On his ripping swing, his back popped, and he had posted his last serious shot of the day. We both wagged it in the rest of that hole. We had been joined by a single golfer and VT fan during the wait, and he played alongside us up that final picturesque fairway. Thus, after 75 holes, we ended our day. Without the injury, we easily could have played another 9 holes and possibly 12 more. But all told we exceeded our own expectations.

When you play that many holes of golf, shots blur together. However, I have three that stand out for me. I actually drove the ball from time to time very well. On the eighth hole, once, I uncorked a huge drive in the fairway and was left with only 125 yards to the green. I also played my 5 wood very well. Quite often, that wood was getting 200-210 yards, which is easily about 30 yards longer than normal for me.

The most unique shot for me happened on the second hole in the late afternoon. My tee shot had landed under a low growing dogwood tree. I had no play except a sideways play. With the cart parked on that side of the tree, my brother asked if he needed to move it. I told him I had plenty of room. Ordinarily the ten feet window between the cart and the tree should have been enough, but I flubbed the shot and the ball popped along the ground over to the cart where it seemed to climb up inside the rear wheel tire well and disappear. I didn't come out. I checked underneath the cart and couldn't find it, and I lifted the hood (seat) to the mid-engine compartment with no luck. About 20 holes later, the ball popped out and rolled along the cart.

The weirdest thing happened after our 27th hole. On the previous hole, I found a sand wedge and turned it in to the office. Moments later, while in the parking lot restocking Gatorade, I saw the group that was ahead of us packing up their cars. So I yelled over. One of the guys turned and that's when I realized, he was one of my best friends from high school, Brian Walters. Brian lives in the Boston area and had come to Roanoke to visit with his mother and father. We hugged and talked about how strange it was that we had bumped into each other so randomly. Brian also knows both my brother and father, so he was able to greet them as well. We parted with the thought that perhaps we'd get together tomorrow to catch up.

It's a small world sometimes.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Beach Art

Messing with Photoshop, I created this image of the whole family lounging on the beach.

Can you find the crabs in this picture?

Thursday, June 18, 2009


“Bitch” Chronicles

Day 6

Sometimes I snore.

I take that back. A lot of the time when I’m sleeping, I snore. Last night was no exception. Usually, however, I’ll roll over and move on to a regular sinus rhythm. Last night, I became aware that I was snoring up a storm and that my wife wasn’t exactly pleased. Rather than imperil my marriage, I chose to exit the bedroom and head for a couch in the east tower of our four story castle away from home.

I haven’t measured the room exactly, but it looks square, maybe roughly 15x20. I guess that makes it a rectangle. One side butts the house while the north and south sides look up and down the cottage village of Salvo. The east side peers out over the dunes and onto the busy Atlantic. There are exactly 14 windows that, if closed, are hopelessly fogged by sea spray. The windows are naturally trimmed, no paint at all, and the ceiling is made of what looks like cedar strips. The room has a comfy plush couch and a nice plush rocker.

So last night, I hauled myself up to the room and took my rest on the comfy couch covered only by a stray beach towel I scarfed-up from the main living area. Sometime around 5:30, the rising sun awakened me, and I was able to take in a delightful sunrise. Once the thrill was passed, I fell back asleep.

When I awakened at about 7 am, I opened all 14 windows and let the morning wind blast the room. I felt like so isolated in my tower. The wind banged against my face. It was almost as if I was sitting on the beach in the surf. Peace doesn’t happen this way very often.

I chose to spend my morning writing other legs of the chronicles all the while buffeted by the constant breeze.

After a bait run to the Fishin’Hole where I procured a cup of cup mullet 9lazy fisherman), a cup of night crawlers, and a box of squid, I headed out to join the rest of the gang on the beach at about noon. Everyone was there. The sun was shining and the wind was fresh out of the south. The surf, however, was still a bit on the intense side.

I eventually threw out two lines and began to catch my quota of negative one species (dogfish/shark). Later, I watched as Jake and Reena attempted to take the ocean kayak out once again. Their efforts failed the first time. The surf was simply much too rough. In fact, they came back defeated and collapsed on the sand. Eventually though, with the help of Andrea and Jacque, the kayak was pushed out beyond the angry breakers, and Jake and Reena paddled off. Andrea and Jacque had some difficulty fighting their way back to shore. Thank goodness they are both the strongest of swimmers.

The last of the beach drama was the mad rush of fishing just before the afternoon thunderstorm struck at 3:30. As I was about to pack, I had Sam and Trish reel in my two lines. I was confident that the slack line indicated more dog. I was right on Trish’s line, but Sam ended up reeling in a real fish…a sea bass of some sort, I think. Other that dogfish and “That-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I’m not especially good at identifying fish.

The afternoon has passed with good measure, a relaxed pace. I’ve been sitting in my tower with the wind blowing through me while I listen to the crashing surf in the near distance. My wife took Callan, Ana, and Reena to Nag’s Head for some outlet shopping. They’ve just arrived back. Dinner’s about to go on the table-spaghetti and cheesy meatballs with nice fruit and vegetable salads along with garlic bread.

Later, perhaps, we’ll build a small fire on the bitch and hunt ghost crabs.

Day 5 at the Beach

So whatever happened to days 2-4? The beach happened. I got caught up in doing beach stuff. I did take pictures and videos and will eventually upload all of them.

“Bitch” Chronicles

Day 5

For me, I couldn’t have asked for a better day. We awoke to a rocking wind that had stirred up the ocean world. The sea was boiling. Swells were chummy, absolutely crashing and banging into each other in their effort to discharge their energy upon the shore.

I started the day at about 7am with a walk south from our Salvo base to the point where the Federal government demands my attention: NONE SHALL PASS, the sign says. Can’t you read the sign? Birds are nesting, terns and plovers. They demand solitude. I guess they are shy. In a lonely act of defiance, I slid my right foot under the red warning rope and left a clear human print in the virgin sand just on the other side. Then, carefully, I placed the print of my left foot beside it.

On my way back, I encountered a lone fisherman on the beach. You could tell from the way he nervously tended his line and by his fresh looking gear, that he was a novice- not a sea dog. I asked him the obligatory question, “Caught anything?”

He just laughed a shook his head saying, “No, I’m just down here to get away from the kids for an hour.”

After a simple breakfast back at the house, I hauled my beach cart loaded with essential fishing gear back to the beach. While the wind was blowing straight into my face from the east at about 15-25 mph, I felt exceedingly refreshed. I plopped my poles in their sand stakes, cut some squid for bait and threw out two lines. I then proceeded to ignore them as I worked on reading the book, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

For the next six hours, that’s all I did. Read and recast my lines. My time was punctuated by several breaks throughout the morning. Sometimes, I’d notice my line had gone slack and wash up the beach. Ordinarily in surf this rough, I’d expect my line to wash in with the rising tide, but since I was using a revolutionary “sputnik” lead weight (aka satellite), I was confident that the only reason for my line to wash was a visit from a negative species. A negative species is a creature that is so vile and annoyingly ordinary that it gets you negative points on the species point collection list. For example, if I were to catch a croaker, that would be one species point. The same is true for a bluefish, a Spanish mackerel, a drum, a flounder or a blow toad. If, however, I were to haul in a dogfish (aka dog shark), that would be worth negative one in species points. “That-Which-Shall-Not –Be-Named” (aka…I can’t say) is worth negative two species points. Sure enough, every time I had a slack line, I had one or two dogfish on the line.

Dogfish, although exceedingly annoying, do create quite a stir on a tourist beach when they are reeled in. People passing by stop and gawk and ask questions like, “Is that thing gonna grow up to be a Great White?” or “You gonna k-e-e-l it?” I always just toss them back; however, the little annoying devils are a pain in the neck to unhook sometimes. Although only about a foot and a half long, these sharks have sharp razor teeth like their bigger cousins. They have the prominent shark jaw just like the big boys as well. Frequently, the snelled hook get them under their tongue (sharks apparently have tongues) and behind their razor jaw. Thus, unhooking them is sometimes quite challenging.

One of the things I’m amazed at is the number of vacationers that come up to me for fishing advice. Every time that happens, I just laugh to myself. If only they could have seen me fifteen years ago when I went on my first expedition with my father and brothers. I didn’t even know how to tie a fisherman’s knot. I couldn’t explain to you how to cast a surf rod. I knew nothing! Now, thanks to the wonderful professional beach cart that I use, along with my experienced family surf casting rigs, backwards hat, stubble beard, and my overreaching tanned belly, people think that I’m the hardest bastard on the bitch. They’re always stopping to ask questions like, “When do you have your best luck?” “What kind of bait are you using?” “What do people catch out here?” “Where do you go crabbing?” For each question, I patiently make up an answer that sounds like I know what I’m talking about.

After the beach, I went home took a dip in the house pool, and read my book all afternoon, except for the moment of high drama.

My nephew has been talking about getting a sea kayak for a couple of days. I’ve been suggesting that the weather was too extreme for it. However, during the afternoon the winds began to back off a bit, although the surf was still roiling. Jake and Reena spend the morning out in the sound on a catamaran and enjoyed themselves immensely. Jake has done quite a bit of sailing from his days in prep school and then at Swarthmore. He definitely knows his way around a boat. So when he brought the kayak back, I helped him drag it over the dunes to the beach ,and he and Reena plotted strategy on how to breech the 7-10 breaking waves along the shore.

Reena started off in the boat while Jake pushed it out. That strategy quickly failed as the swells knocked Reena out of the vessel. So she grabbed the paddles and made her way through the surf just past the breakers. Jake, meanwhile, continued drinking the ocean as he pushed the boat out. Eventually, he made headway and then they managed to slip onboard. We could see them madly paddling and turning in to the massive swells. Each swell would pick up the dwarfed kayak and lift it vertically. Jake and Reena could be seen clinging on for dear life as the rode the beasts. Very soon, seemingly as quick as the Wright Brothers first flight, they turned around and did their best Hawaii Five-O landing.

Then came dinner and the sunset. Then came lounging on the bed pretending to read, but really falling asleep. Then came going to bed.