Part 7 of a sporadic saga
Part 8 is here
The Sun, that eternal alarm clock, has no snooze button. I awoke feeling stifled and sticky, the sunlight heating up the interior of the car like a Franklin stove. I fought my way out of the sleeping bag and opened the doors.
I knew I hadn’t slept well. I could feel it. I was physically and emotionally drained.
But my mind felt electrified.
I dug out my camp stove and started a pot of coffee brewing. Then I dug out my journal and tried to get yesterday’s experience down on paper, while it was still wet in my head.
I realized I was up to my neck in epistemology. I believe, like Emmanuel Kant, that we are born with a framework of innate senses. Our reality, our truth, relies on what those senses tell us. What if those senses deceive us? Where is the line between what I know and what I believe?
Rene Descartes would rise howling from his grave if he had a glimpse of what was going through my head that morning.
I decided to be safe and simply write down what I experienced. The relative merits of the Correspondence Theory as opposed to the Coherence Theory is a debate I wasn’t going to attempt at that moment. I was still trying to wrap my head around the whole experience.
I filled almost half of the notebook with every detail I could remember. Then I sat cross legged for a long time, as the coffee cooled down and the sun rose higher and fat birds hunted the sweetgrass for insects. When my legs went numb I lay on my back and stared into that amazingly blue sky. I watched a hawk catch an updraft and begin spiraling, higher and higher, never once moving his wings, and I wondered if he was aware of my envy. Would my perception change, if I was that hawk? Would my mind function differently, up there where the air is thin? How high can a hawk actually fly? Higher than Icarus? High enough to feel like a god?
I rolled onto my elbows and started writing a letter to Mary, my thoughts tumbling faster than my fingers could write. When I had said all I could say, I copied the letter, carefully and neatly, onto another page. I tore the clean copy out, rolled it up and put it inside the empty thermos. I rummaged in the car until I found a clean bandana. I fished the remaining earring, the final half of the pair I had bought from A. Beye, out of my shirt pocket and folded it into the bandana. I stuffed the whole thing into the thermos and screwed the lid down tight.
Then, for no sensible reason that I can recall, I collected a large handful of dead sweetgrass, twisted it together and tied it off, like a smudge stick. I touched it with my lighter and set it carefully in the dirt. When it was flaming well, I placed another handful of green grass on top and cleansed myself in the resultant smoke, as I had been taught.
I don’t know what I expected, but I swear I felt refreshed.
I ground the ruins of the smudge into the dirt until the smoldering stopped and the last remnants of smoke had drifted off. I climbed into the car and, because I had come in from the north and east last night and knew there was not much there, I headed west. The morning sun was at my back, clouds like spitballs were pasted to the brilliant blue sky, and the hawk was nowhere in sight.
What do hawks feel when they go that high? Is it an adrenaline rush, like leaning your motorcycle into a curve at 70 miles an hour? Or is it peaceful and calm, like floating in a bathtub, letting the thermals carry you along, eyes closed….
Either way, it must make them happy, or they wouldn’t do it.
Can a hawk appreciate bliss?
I drove west until I hit a town called Spearfish. A few questions and a couple of wrong turns got me to the post office. I packaged up the thermos, addressed it to Mary and shipped it off. On the way out of town I filled the tank and filled the ice chest with water bottles. With luck, I could be in Shiprock by tomorrow night.
As I headed south on the highway, I cranked up the tape deck.
“Pools of sorrow, waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me.
Nothing’s going to change my world.
Nothing’s going to change my world.”*
I settled back in the driver’s seat and thought about that. Pools of sorrow. Waves of joy. The ultimate symbiotic relationship, keeping the universe in synch. The appreciation of one is impossible without the experience of the other. I had felt sorrow and joy, and much more besides, up there on the Butte, felt things deeper than I had ever felt anything before. Who was I feeling? Was it real?
David Hume believed that any experience we have is reality. Truth cannot be relative. It’s either reality or it’s not experienced. The pleasant side effect of this particular philosophy is that it conveniently eradicates insanity.
I remember smiling a little, rather proud that I was able to use the ideas of great and enlightened thinking men to arrive at two simple truths.
First. Everything I saw and felt and heard up there was real. The entire episode happened exactly as I experienced it. The second truth was that I was not crazy.
Mary had given me the means. All I needed was the method. Maybe I’d find it in Shiprock, whatever it was. It suddenly occurred to me that, for the first time in almost nine months, I had picked a destination.
*”Across the Universe” ----Lennon/McCartney