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Gallipolis

We are driving out of Charlestown, WV. It is nearing four in the afternoon and my son and I have spent our day walking through the city. I have been walking. My son has been dragging. Sometimes a sinker, sometimes an anchor but never a balloon. Never a kite.

This is, on a Saturday, an amazingly vibrant small city. There is a literacy festival at the library, jammed bookstores all over, a chili festival along the waterfront, kids playing in public fountains as though they were waterparks. Families stroll slowly through the June early afternoon along the streets and riverfront. We have walked downtown, the capitol complex, seen The Mountain Stage, the Museum of Art and Folk Art. Everywhere people. From this small city I had not anticipated such a density of activity. I’d never had expected to see such life.

No more than I would have expected to see the dollies. So many people, for lack of working legs, pushing themselves along by gloved fists against the pavement. Some lack legs so fully I am reminded, uncharitably I admit, of a cartoon I had seen many years ago of a crowd of legless bayou frogs, all pushing themselves on dollies, with one asking another what he wanted for dinner. “Frog legs.”

We see so many fist-driven four-wheelers that, after the first few, we feel the need to take tally. Seventeen – after we started to count. We move twelve miles through this city in six hours, despite a lack of our dollies all our own, and have been having a wondrous day. At least I have been. My son – my son, at 14, is having his own experience.

We are ready to head out. Our target is Ohio, Gallipolis specifically, and our goal is to get there before dark with enough time, this Summer evening, to find a room and stroll the town before the sun sets. Gallipolis, for no good reason other than someone having told me it was close enough to our destination – P.S.G., Pagan Spirit Gathering – that we can stay overnight and drive an easy pace the twenty miles to the Wisteria gate by nine. Time enough to ride behind the Amish buggies and enjoy the experience and the word patience need never come to mind.

We drive west along I64, out of Charleston, crossing the river over humming tangles of black-girdered bridges looking for I35 – the closest way across the Ohio, the easiest way to Gallipolis.

My son is mapmaster. This has not worked as well as I might have liked. I had thought map reading might be genetic. The only genetic tendency expressing itself at the moment is that towards frustration.

I glance over and look quickly at the map, unfolded on my son’s lap, as I drive. Taking another quick look away from the road I see his frown, his furrowed forehead, eyes turned toward at each other. The highway numbers are upside down. So are the names of the cities. Perhaps there are one or two other genetic tendencies expressing themselves we shall have to look into upon our return home.

I have been reading maps nearly as long as I have been reading words. I am fascinated by them. Where do the roads go, where do they start? I liked my late nights to extend far into the early morning tracing routs from origin to end. When our family took trips, I was in charge of the map, navigating from the front passenger seat. Exactly where my son is now.

We have a year old Rand McNally atlas, purchased not many months ago. I prefer actual maps to printed directions. Mapquest and Google can only go so far. What if we wish to change routs, see what we can see, drive where we might? What an interesting name. Look, there is a cave just ahead. See, there is a gorge down that road. Off we go. With an atlas I can find my way back again, back to the beaten track from off, back on the path and on to our destination. No loss. All gain.

We find our way, road upon road, I-64, I-35, headed toward the Ohio River, to cross into the state of that same name. As we approach the Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant there appears to be something missing: the bridge. There is no bridge. Now, there is the pitted rampart to the river edge, battered pillars from the water surface, confused us to the end of the road. What was, is not.

We pull over, parallel to the Ohio and perpendicular to where we had every reason to expect a bridge entrance which would continued onto a bridge.

The map. It shows a bridge. The land begs to differ. The water – a clear expanse bridge-free to the Ohio bank. Do not mistake the map for the territory.

We ask. The bridge fell down. Recently? No. 1967. Have you ever heard of the Mothman? Seen the movie? No. The one time it might have done me some good to have paid attention to popular culture.

A bridge, off the Earth thirty-five years, still on the map. If you can’t trust Rand McNally, who can you trust?

We travel further south, a half hour more distant of our evening’s destination, to where another bridge is shown, fully ready for that to be gone as well but gone it was not. It exists, as the map shows, and over the Ohio we go. Once on the other side, we follow the river again and Gallipolis is near.

It is small, sparse, quiet. We drive past the fringe Wal-Marts and K-marts, pass by the motels on the outskirts and plunge into the town itself. That is our goal: to find a room where we can park the car and spend the evening walking to dinner, walking to the shops, walking, walking, walking and no driving need be done. My goal. My son’s goal fixed firmly on tomorrow morning. That the youth exist in the here and now and age dwells in the past and future is cliché, not axiom.

We find one hotel. Just one that fits our bill. Just one in town. The William Ann. We could not happier. Older, quaint, friendly and directly in the middle of the town. We put our bags and baskets in the paneled room and set out for a walk.

Dinner comes from a small local grocery store we stroll past. We are stunned by the contents. It is appointed very much as one would expect a small grocery in the inner-city: no fresh vegetables, a deli counter of prepared animal or creamed products, a surprising amount of space devoted to chips and breads, sodas and snacks. We purchase some sandwiches and two apples well past their prime and eat as we walk into the town commons.

In the middle of the commons, on the southern side, the side closest to, within a stone’s toss of, the Ohio River, is a statue that commemorates the bringing of yellow fever to the town and the fifty-seven killed when the disease made landfall in 1878, brought by the doctor who was on that south-destined barge specifically to treat the disease already being carried by those on board; people looking for a new, better life downstream. An agent of mercy, he boarded it upstream so the victims would not need to disembark for treatment or supplies and risk infecting others. Until all aboard were well, only he would have the infrequent necessary contact with the off-barge world.

The rudder arm broke and the ship drifted ashore at Gallipolis. So did the flavivirus.

A four sided post about five feet high, each side is inscribed. One side tells us it is in memory of the yellow fever victims, another has the fifty-seven names on it, yet another lists the barge crew and another side tells us who bestowed the memorial upon the town. Atop the post is the rudder arm. That I know of, this is the world’s sole memorial to viral hemorrhagic fever.

The Scioto Company ran an ad in Paris attracting middle-class French to America with cheap Ohio land. They bought the deeds, sold their goods, and made the long voyage to America and into Midwest. They found nothing. No homesteads. Worthless deeds. It was 1790 and they petitioned President Washington for land. They got it in The French Grant. On the Banks of the Ohio River. Gallipolis. City of the Gauls.

The town failed to thrive. Mining did not quite take off, agriculture was a plan that came to little in an area more swamp than soil.

In 1818, a few families from Wales set sail from Liverpool to Baltimore and traveled by horse and cart to Pittsburg. Tired of the trials of over-land travel, they opted to trust themselves to the Ohio River, counting on it to take them the rest of the way to Paddy’s Run – a frontier town near Cincinnati.

The barge would abruptly, constantly, run aground on the shifting sandbars of the river. The men would jump out onto the dissipating sand and often require rescuing.

The journey taking longer than anticipated, and needing to reprovision, the water-borne pioneers set ashore in Gallipolis, a settlement then with fewer than one thousand people and barely hanging on.

Everyone got off the barge for a night on dry land. Fresh and full, they would shove off again the next morning.

The stories run two ways. Townsfolk got the bright idea the Welsh provided an immediate increase in the population, workforce and gene pool and, like it or not, would be staying in Gallipolis.

The other story is the Welsh women, tired of the river, fatigued from life with no home, weary of seeing their husbands and sons risk their lives, conspired to make Gallipolis their final destination.

Either way, the next morning, the barge was gone. All that was left ashore was a bit of rope.

And five new families.

It is dusk and the summer light is fading. Alek is asking for food again. We walk back toward The William Ann and to the malt shop across the street. It seems everyone is here. The outside is packed and, from a distance, the crowd hides the glass walls but, as we approach, we see through the people, through the panes, the inside is packed as well. We enter and get in line.

He has a milkshake and fries. We linger and he eats. The end of his long day. We go back to the hotel but I am not done. I want to walk some more. As he watches TV, I set out again.

There is music in the dark. I walk parallel the river. There is a wedding and the music is heard blocks away as a party is held under canopies beside a church. I walk on, walk by, music fading. The street ends and I come upon the bank of the Ohio.

I had passed slips and docks but they did not draw. The bank, though: the bank, the natural boundary, does.

It is a slope. Grassy and steep in the dark, I am drawn to the bank, to the brink where land ends and water begins. Through the trees.

There, in an opening between the trees. Steps down through the thick. It opens out. I enter a field of stars before the watery black.

Grass, trees. Fireflies. More than I have seen in, perhaps, all my childhood years together. All my adult life since. Flittering light, bright movements of starlight on wing. Filling the grass, trees, bushes, hovering over the ambiguous bank.

And there is a swing. To the right, hanging from a tree, next to the river, a smooth board on two knotted ropes. I sit, rock, glide. I am a body in motion, surrounded by light.

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Posted by on October 10, 2007 in Family, History, Nature, Travel

 

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Prayer to the Earth for Yom Kippur

We open our mouths to proclaim how beautiful the world is, how sweet life is and how dear to us you are, Lady, Mother of All Living.

We stand here today to remind ourselves that we are all part of this web of creation. We are all linked, so that what any of us does affects all of us, that we are all responsible for the Earth. That we are all responsible for each other. We have chosen to be here today as a symbol of our commitment, our awareness of this connection.

Even so, we forget our promises and our duties.

We gossip, we mock, we jeer.

We quarrel, we are unkind, we lie.

We neglect, we abuse, we betray.

We are cruel, we hate, we destroy.

We are careless, we are violent, we steal.

We are jealous, we oppress, we are xenophobic.

We are racist, we are sexist, we are homophobic.

We waste, we pollute, we are selfish.

We disregard the sufferings of others, we allow others to suffer for our ignorance and our pride.

We hurt each other willingly and unwillingly.

We betray each other with violence and with stealth.

And most of all, we resist the impulse to do what we know is good, and we do not resist the impulse to do what we know is bad.

All this we acknowledge to be true, and we do not blame the mirror if the reflection displeases.

Lady, help us to forgive each other for all we have done and help us to do better in the coming year. Bring us into harmony with the Earth and all Her ways. So mote it be!

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2007 in Religion, Social

 

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I am a Shaman, Perhaps

I am a Shaman, Perhaps.

I have been journeying for many years. Perhaps centuries and perhaps longer. If I count this life, all common life as we understand it, as a middle-world journey, longer still.

I am a Shaman, perhaps. I have not the confidence to say for sure. I have not the patience or the compassion to give that patience to myself. Such is the work of my life; to learn this compassion, this patience and this trust in myself. Several lifetimes perhaps. I am diligent. Perhaps too much so. Such has been the work of many journeys and soul-retrievals.

I am a Shaman, perhaps. Far too many coincidences lead me to feel that what has been occurring has been something more than coincidence. Far too much has worked; far too much has fallen together instead of fallen apart.

I met a fellow: a shaman. I introduced people to him, one at a time. Asked him to come here or there, brought people with me. The Universe ordered itself and I am here as the tool of this, as the messenger.

I am a Shaman, perhaps. Part of that is wondering if what I do is real. Even if I start deciding to make up my journey, without fail it comes to fullness in fruit common to those with whom I travel and so it must be we are part of the same tree, our journeys from the same root. And so it appears what we create and what is are also of the same root. All from this world and so what is within is without. And the question is begged: not that is everything we see in a journey real, but is anything we make up not? Is imagination simply a way of seeing non-ordinary reality?

I think, I feel, in some ways I live in non-ordinary reality ordinarily. In so many ways my life is a blessing of uncommon circumstance. Among those blessings are the people with whom I am journeying. Such a group as this has come together around a drum or two and lying still in our bodies while our far flung minds travel where they will, visiting with power animals, guides, finding bits of self, restoring them to those we love, those we have never met, and to ourselves.

Such a group as this has more in common than we immediately imagine. We journey, find the same places, the same symbols. We think it a creation and then find our report duplicated again and again by those who did not hear what we had to say.

We have our pasts in common: similar experiences, dreams, childhoods and the
hallmarks of Core Shamanism. We are of a kin.

We’ve had our heads off, limbs off, skin off. We’ve had our psyches stripped and put back and here we are together.

I trust those with whom I journey. I am comfortable with them and with two in particular with whom I know I am safe and well. They are part of the non-ordinary blessing of my life and with one I feel the most comfort and safety. I listen to these people and they listen to what I have to say. One of them I believe. That I do believe is an amazement to me.

I start my journeys with jokes and attempts at humour. They disappear as I fall into comfort and remember I’ve nothing to protect.

This last evening we start with introductions and I do not participate and
inadvertently create the tenor of the evening as we, instead, introduce each other. We each in turn are told who we are, what others feel about us, know about us, love about us. I can do this with others and do so easily, with facility. There is truth to be told and joy in the telling.

And yet I wonder, from time to time, should a thing be said? Will it be understood? Will I be understood? These are constant worries of my life and on evenings such as this I can give them up, put them aside and say what is right and just and true. On nights like this there is no need for fear.

Some speak of me matter-of-factly, state what I do well, speak from an illusion of objectivity, speak from the brain and the mind and some speak of me emotionally, from the truth of subjectivity, speak from the heart and gut. The entire time I look down, stare elsewhere, cannot look at people, feel discomfort as I feel loved and feel the paradox that is a shamanic life.

Our journey starts and I take out my drum: a frame drum of birch and horse, it was made for me by a woman who invited me to a sweat lodge where she suddenly decided she was bashful and we had to remain fully clothed. The fabric left burns on my skin as I asked for the strength to forgive those who hurt me as I suffered, my skin portraying the marks of their absolution.

I forgave myself for my trespasses against myself and for those against others as the burns deepened. I was ill that evening and the next day. A week later she tried to convert me to be a Christian. I said no thank you and she said she could no longer speak with me. As my drum was a tool of Satan, she could not accept money for it and I could keep it. I had yet to pay for it and she would accept no money.

We start a slow heartbeat rhythm and my drum thrives on this. I drum, another drums on one slightly smaller and another on one much, much larger.

We decided to work on ourselves: a night to allow the healers to heal. But, unlike other nights, we do not ask others to do the work but instead agree to work on ourselves, to plumb our own depths. If work comes up for others, it is fine and well and a blessing but we will work on ourselves, learn to give to ourselves so we can carry on for the community.

In the recent past we have worked on each other, doing soul-retrievals. We have collected and returned bits of flowers, watched bats brought back home, seen colours snuffled up. In a few of us, this reintegration has brought a re-evaluation of our places in life. Of our lives and of life itself. Some have been sad, some depressed. I have been depressed, thought much of death as inevitable and comfortable. So another has thought of death but not comfortably and has sounded scared and sad for the first time since I know her. I try not to say anything but seeing her in such a way leaves me feeling sad as well. But in a conversation, she tells me what she has read.

If in the process of reintegrating one’s life, one thinks, what would appear to others, too much or too long on death and life, what then is the proper occupation of one’s thoughts? What may we think is more important as we put our lives back together from the bits and pieces taken by our everyday existence? A million little deaths are brought back home and slowly rematched with our ongoing life. Is it any wonder the simultaneous turbulence and calm which follow?

She told me this. I feel she is right. I listen to her. She is one of the few I do. And with our conversation I know the sadness will pass; hers and mine.

The larger drum is liquid, languid. At this slow pace it swims in its own vibration and I lay in the fluid, stuck. Soon, the oceanic drum drops and we are left with the two others and I drop as well, into a habitrail of tunnels and think what am I doing here? I should be in temple of the Amidah and then I am in my temple: the temple of my brain, the amygdale. I spend time there connecting and disconnecting bundles of neurons as seems the need. I move to the corpus collosum and do the same and my shaking slows, seizures decrease.

I am my own brain surgeon and soon, the drumming comes to an end though, since I am drumming, I am not sure how this has happened.

We talk. The slow rhythm is conducive to going within ourselves and working on ourselves and such was successful. We share our experiences.

We do this each time we work. Some of us find ourselves alone, find ourselves hanging, dead, discover ourselves fleshless. We find our power and sometimes our weakness and often, they are he same.

Tonight some of us discover our fears and some our powers and again, for many, they are the same.

We go ’round the circle and tell our stories. Each different yet each so very similar.

And we start to drum again. This time faster; nearly twice the speed of the first time. The larger drum feels at home and the smaller drums do as well and I drum, fall into my hole and am told my job now is to get up and drum. Drum for the others; drum to shake off the matter, to loosen that which is stuck.

I drum over my son, stand there, holding the beat for more than five minutes. I move to drum for others, standing behind them, before them. I and see their hair shake in the compression waves. I am moved here and there, directed where to stand, in what direction to drum, told who needs the energy and for how long

I stand behind the big drum and beat into it, amplifying my own drum, smoothing a sound of multiples into that of one. My journey this time is of service and I feel at home and comfortable and I know, in a sense, it is where I belong and, in another, it is an escape.

Again we share. Again, we are a group on a similar path. Some need contact, some need to be touched here or there. Some need a tear or two to be shed.

We end, drink coffee, plentiful through our entire evening, eat apples. We have been here since seven. It is quarter ’till twelve and we have traveled much further than our five hours would suggest. And this time was real and important and full of life. I think of this as I ready to leave and look forward, already to the next time we journey together.

I will journey before then.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2006 in Religion

 

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