Part I, Chapter One


Part I


Recently, my mother and I visited my great-grandfather’s town just below the High Sierras in California. His town is located in an area of transition between the rolling grass hills with giant oaks below and the snowy Sierra crags above. I’ve always felt uncomfortable when we vis- ited that middlin’ place. Though, I have to admit that my mother and grandmother tell charming stories about their childhood experiences in such a gulch-sunk town. The place has significance to this story because I began a cycle of pilgrimages there twenty years ago. Pilgrimages that I’ve completed recently, that have either been the purpose of my life or the ruin of it.

Who can tell why these pilgrimages started in the first place; young man coming-of-age, independence, adventure carte blanche, destiny. There certainly were all the usual justifications. But I have had to make other justifications since; to secular, even ecclesial authorities. Many boundaries have been trespassed since that first naive journey. Then, twenty years ago, it was only a quest of human curiosity. It has since become a pilgrimage trespassing the boundaries between this world and the “other” one.

Now at this conclusion, I am heartened to visit once again the old family plots in the cemetery and to find it handsome with poppies, roses, wild things. The rocky hills are green again with an infinity of green blades.

I came here to start that first journey by visiting the graves of my ancestors who first settled in California. My great-grandfather came here in 1850 during the gold rush. It was during this same periodbetween 1850 and 1853 that half the population of the California Coastal Indians disappeared. They were exterminated. I’m not blaming my ancestor for that, but that conflict typifies the subject of this story.

This story is about a battle. And since this is a story without begin- ning or end, it is good to start where a beginning was an end.

Now, I can only remember a few clear images from that first pilgrim- age. I left in the Spring and came home in the Fall. I didn’t even call it a pilgrimage. It was a quest, like I said. I didn’t know what a pilgrimage was technically or in this case what I was questing. Not really. But I was young enough that it didn’t matter. I had hitchhiked around the perimeter of the U.S. I ran out of money on the East Coast, 3000 miles from home.

I was on a freeway one night standing under an overpass. There was a girl sitting up on top of the cement embankment a few feet under the overpass, barely visible to what passing traffic there was. She called to me to join her. She sat there above me with her legs apart, closed— opening and closing, opening and closing. She was a simple-minded siren. Even silly. But she was on her own, on the road. Seemed able to take care of herself. It probably wouldn’t have been called rape if any- thing like that had happened to her. She was too eager. I doubt she sus- pected the possible violence. Poor girl. I still remember her up there calling to me. I felt no inclination to go up.

The second situation was with a man who picked me up and offered me a place to stay in a very large house in Bar Harbor, Maine. Later, he wanted sex. He wanted to pay for it. I wasn’t interested, but he was insis- tent, violent. I got out of there, away from his dirty-water smile. I thought that was pretty confusing. But not nearly as confusing as it would get later. Not that I was so pure. Is anybody? What is purity any- way? But I think sex and human personality really are different than popular, even educated, bias would have it. (What is the significance of the bi-polarity of nature? Is there an underlying common ground to which we can appeal; a Ground of Power to heal, to destroy, to love?)

A happily married couple picked me up in their RV. I stayed with them for a couple of days. They were a nice break from those other odd experiences. They left me in a place where I soon got a ride from an old mail lady on a rural delivery. She was spectacled and high pitched, “Afraid to pick up a hitchhiker? No… I’ve still got a pretty good left.”

…I stopped later at a country house to ask for a drink of water. The same woman built like a bird ready to fight a snake, kicks open the door. ‘Come on in, I’ve got soda pop and ice, if you want that. Afraid? I’ve seen my husband dropped dead on this kitchen floor. Three days later I took over his mail route. My son was killed by a bulldozer that I gave him. My father tried to kill me when he was half-crazy from a head wound given him by thieves in his blacksmith shop. You can’t be afraid. Not in this life. I’m not. The last few years have been hard for me but next week, I’m gettin’ married and moving away from this place. You want some cookies, ice cream?’

Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest I took up traveling with another hitch-hiker named Chris, also broke. We were compatible.

We lived off the land all the way to California, a Northern California town called Geyserville. It was a good place of orchards, vineyards, heat and one of the world’s largest supply of subterranean steam. Though, I did not discover this last fact until the end, many years later or the sig- nificance of it. (That significance also will make itself clear by the time we reach the eastern reaches of Asia Minor and when we return here for the fiery conclusions of the “Yemen Experiment”.)

A nice man at a country fruit stand gave us a lot of fruit. Since we had no money for food, the gift seemed miraculous. He seemed Italian. Then we started to walk the mountain road from Highway #101 across the coastal range to Highway #1 along the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco.

I remember walking by a country graveyard. There were Italians there by the names on the stones. We walked a long way. Maybe had a couple of short rides. By nightfall we passed an orchard of fruit trees.We decided to spend the night there. Then Chris discovered his wallet missing. That seemed to be a disaster. Now he had no ID papers, so important in this free society. I sympathized, but what could I do. Chris’s way of dealing with it was to go to sleep. No big deal. I was impressed.

The next day as we moved deeper into those canyons, where the pun- gent fragrance of wild plants filled the air. This place was holy with herbs. I remember in particular the laurel trees and the delight of breathing in their spirits. There was, flowing along the road, a late sum- mer stream. It was shallow. But in a few places it gathered itself into dark pools of cool reclusion. Under dusty, prickly, yellow-green oak trees and between massive boulders we found such a pool. We fell in hot from the road. Cool, pure, perfect, drenching. We washed our dirty clothes, our bodies. We dried naked on round smooth rocks; played in the water; splashed out the aches and pains of the road; washed in the sun while warm sheets of air dried the youth of our skin. Our hearts were full of expectations. Little did we suspect about our destinations, little less did we care about our destiny.

As we walked along the road, we talked about concerts and movies, parents, school, how long to stay on the road, what choices we had: San Francisco coming up, the Haight; how hallucinogens were sacred, clarify rather than mask or deform reality, as do cocaine and heroin; how hallu- cinogens made one more interested in meaning, less interested in com- merce or aggression; how an aggressive commercial technology such as dominated our culture couldn’t allow for such distinctions, how the bad PR about drugs and the abuse of them by unstable people served that end, how I was still biased against their use and avoided them; how the war in Viet Nam was killing everything, all the hope of the early sixties, how the anti-war movement took up all the energies of the counter-cul- ture revolution; how even the sacrifice of an American president was nothing compared to the power and intentions of that internationalcommercial empire. Not bad for a couple of 20 year olds. (Perhaps, I’ve embellished it a bit, now that I’m more than twice that age.)

Somewhere in there, was it in the evening?, I don’t remember, Chris started calling me “the bishop” because I talked about spiritual things. He said that I should be a priest since I was so fascinated by God. That struck me so that I still remember it. I had no formal religious back- ground then. Certainly I was not a Catholic, which was the only kind of priest I had ever heard of.

Not long after that, we got picked up by a young couple with a baby. They had been college students and had “gone back to the earth.” They lived up here in a cabin. The baby was blond and blue-eyed. We stayed with them one night. They were still adjusting to country life. There was some hostility from neighbors. But mostly there was a magic to their life that we liked. Their house was all wood with lots of windows all differ- ent sizes. Their little boy ran around naked, especially in the cold morn- ings. They encouraged that to toughen him. They wanted to learn to use the outhouse without toilet paper to cut down their dependence on store-bought goods. It’s all in how you manipulate the sphincter, they said.

They had to make a run to the dump the next day which was in the right direction for us. They took us that far plus a little more past the dump. Then we were on our own again. We got down to the coast after traveling through those orchards, ranches, laurel and redwood groves, high treeless reaches of rocky peaks. We camped along the sea, surprised that we were able to catch fish to eat, though we did not know how to cook it right. It was peaceful along that shore, those cliffs replete with cormorant, gull and hawk. Chris wanted me to go with him to San Francisco. But I didn’t like cities and now I was ready for home.

That concluded my first pilgrimage. Though it seemed hard enough at the time, it was open, clear sky travel and peaceful, compared to what will follow. That’s most of what I remember now. It took the 10,000 miles plus to get me to that place where I realized the first glimmerings about what I ultimately came to understand as a priesthood of media- tion between this world and the next. An ancient priesthood inherent in human history and personality, hidden in the folds of being itself. It was there in that land where commenced what led to the “Yemen Experiment”, that I discovered that the land itself has personality, the plants have power, the stones themselves experience being. Somewhere in this lay our hope.




Part I

Chapter One

Stephanie and Chris

We are roiling clouds pierced by the mountain.

Dominus Vobiscum

At times,

I might rebuke this bright passage between two dark holes and can only envision the final fall.

But, then

I remember the cover tossing joy of holding you or talking to you—I laugh in the morning light, hardly able to wait for the next bright dance to come, hardly able to wait for my next chance to fold myself in your arms…”

Et cum spiritu tuo.

We were nearly children when we met. But we became lovers, Stephanie and Chris, with all that energy and enthusiasm. But this love took us along a path of increasing realization… At the time, it was just experience and we realized very little.

We first explored our love in that dusty barn on Chris’s family’s ranch in Southern California. The days were still smog free. Clear, clean heat waves rose from the broken pavement of the road. Small herds of cattle rested, chewing beneath scattered trees on dry hills. A dry stack of alfalfa bales stored in that hot barn and covered with an old horse blan- ket was our prickly, uncomfortable bed for those early explorations. Sometimes the alfalfa stems and leaves would get caught in our clothes, between our sweaty legs. The cows would eat it anyway. We were so young when we first started but we didn’t get serious until much later. Not serious. No, that’s not the word. “It” became a terrifying compul- sion. Compulsion? Not exactly that either…

Night after night, I would go to my room and find Chris waiting for me there. The room was in the attic of our huge old ranch house. Or we would agree to meet in that isolated hay barn at the back of their prop- erty. Chris always seemed fresh, fragrant with some new cologne. His body would be so warm that at times it seemed he must be on fire. He kissed me, offered me his naked body… Nor did I resist him.

It was sometimes so rough. It was almost rape. Sometimes we’d fake a struggle. Chris would rip away my blouse, my jeans. Then, he would drag his hands over me, my skin that had the resilience and perfection of a baby, back then. I would slap him. He would only get more excited and rape me against the wall. I would suck him, ravenous for him. He emitting his little moans as if in joyous agony.

There were wild times, mostly in the otherwise quiet afternoon hours before our parents came home after work, when he’d come over, take me somewhere secret or sometimes in the open where our struggle would be spiced by risk. One time we made love, my back up against the gate post, next to the public road! There was not enough time, ever, for us to get our fill. Sometimes he slapped me really hard as I invited his hot cruelty. But then, maybe I would deserve it because when he was tender and needy, I could be cold, even cruel. It didn’t matter. We both liked it because it only heightened the game. Back then, when we were in our teens, we hardly ever spoke at school. Even when we went to high school, we didn’t talk much. We had different friends. Chris went out with different girls, I with other boys. I even had a couple of short-term boy friends. Going steady.

One time, “just to show me”, Chris seduced my boyfriend. Came at him from behind, he said. Chris said the boy really liked it. Chris said he didn’t mind either. But I know an ugly shame overwhelmed him. Not that he had sex with another boy. That might have been a bit confusing. But, that he had dominated somebody like that. Even if it was just to show me. Maybe then, he started to question himself.

We didn’t see each other for a while after that. It was the fall semester. He was the quarterback for our football team. I was a princess in the court of the homecoming queen. The queen. He and she had a relation- ship. I hated her then. Him too. But he wasn’t really interested in her. He was just bored and confused about his life, so went along with what everybody else wanted. When he was a senior, he liked to go out drink- ing with his jock buddies. They would usually end up getting into fights with other guys. Drinking and fighting was all they did back then in that country town.

He had gotten into a lot of trouble earlier in his life. Wild genes, I guess. Even went to reform school when he was twelve or something. I don’t know the details. Like I said, we didn’t talk much.

I was in the choir at church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I love music. I can imagine it in my head. It justifies everything. All my stupid mistakes, and misunderstandings. I like it when it is wild and savage, like rock and roll. I like it soft and gentle like a love song. Especially a tenor or a mezzo soprano. Janet Baker singing Elgar’s “Sea Pictures.” I like just to let the music drift or soar around inside my head. I like best to sing myself. By myself. I’ve got a damn good voice.

One night that Fall, Chris was waiting for me outside the Church after choir. The wind was blowing, dry leaves scratched across the sun bleached, asphalt shadows on the road. We hadn’t gotten together for a long time.

“Do you want to come with me tonight?”

“Where to?”

“I don’t know. We’ll drive somewhere.”

“It’s late and I’m tired, Chris.”

“You can sleep in tomorrow, there’s no school.”

“You have the precautions? I don’t want to take any more chances.”

“Yes” “Well, maybe. Alright. Let me go home first, then I’ll sneak out my window. You wait by the road, park your car behind those trees across from the gate and wait. I’ll be there before midnight. It was ten.

We drove to a place about an hour away. It’s called the Devil’s Punchbowl. It’s now a park, but it wasn’t then. It’s where the San Andres Fault comes to the surface. We walked to a place that over-looked the edge of this deep chasm, strewn with huge boulders. It was nearly a full moon in this late autumn warmth of California’s Indian summer. We could see anyone coming from a long way away, where we were, but it would be hard for anyone to see us, night or day. It was a perfect place beneath huge boulders and pinyon pines. We spread our blanket on a bed of soft, fragrant pine needles.

Do you want to love me?

Love? Stephanie knew that she wanted love. But, Chris? Stephanie knew that she was so lonely. Afraid of her life, but in love with it and anxious as an eighteen year old could be to get into it. She would be in college next year, most likely on the east coast. But now she was only lonely and tired of waiting. Yet, their relationship which had such a dark, deep, wordless understanding, did not seem to require love.

“What do you mean, love?”

“I don’t know.” She knew that Chris was watching her. Her back turned to him as they sat on the blanket and bed of fragrant pine. She breathed deeply, deeply, quivering just a little as she released her breath. It felt good to breathe so deeply. She knew that Chris was watching her. And such a sharp stab of desire caught her that she was appalled by it. Desire radiated from him, radiated out over the chasm into the darkness and seemed to stretch into eternity. But he did not touch her yet.

“Love you?” Chris’s voice spoke so low that Stephanie could hardly hear. A tiny sound outside her cave in the dark.

“Love you? I am in hell—in my desire… for you. Have you never guessed? Have you never seen beneath everything that I’ve done since we were children? Always you. But there are so many kinds of love. I lust for you. I want your body that I know so absolutely. Sometimes I think that I want your soul. I really mean that. I want to be so close to your soul that yours and mine would be the same. No damned angel could tell us apart. Nobody could see two but only one bright, glorious, full light—us. So, close that even God would be jealous. Even God.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I mean, my lust is so strong that I could take you to the hot center of the earth and even that boiling, molten rock would not be hot enough to match that part of me that wants to be inside of you. (He laughed, then.) Yet, there is something else I want even more. I want you. You. I want to touch your soul. There is love, you see and there is love.

“Oh—well, then. Come here…”

In the soft autumn air, there was the rush of a breeze. And did the earth tremble just a bit? As a soft fall of garments sounded the beginning of something different. For as Chris gazed into her eyes, so close, so naked… He peered so deeply into her, and she was afraid and she turned away. But when Stephanie looked back there was nothing but the gentlest desire in him, on his lips, between his legs, that hardened and began to massage her body. Chris sucked at her lips, her tongue, his hands digging into her as they held her. Her mouth opened to his, as his opened to devour. But then he pulled back, slowed—all the rapacious cruelty of the past, and more than just theirs, catalyzed into a swift and almost desperate union. The first nudge strangely terrified her. She gave a long gasp and then her whole body opened up. His, hard, thick and pounding, she moved with it. For an instant they were bound together. He stopped. He stopped and held it. Just inside. His face agonized. She did not understand.

“What’s wrong?”


“Why did you stop?”

“Just wait,” he gasped after a few moments. Then, he started again, his lips pressed to her neck. Working between her breasts with tongue, teeth nipping slightly her nipples, pink and hard. Entered her again. Pumping, pumping. Then he rolled over, away from her as if wild with pain. And she reached out for him. He flinched. She tried again. His body perfect in its youth, modeled by the soft light of the moon. She felt his sex. He recoiled painfully. But she, very gently took him into her mouth, surrounded him with a wet, gentle warmth; a delicious, gentle sucking. Stronger, more and more until, about to cry out with release, he withdrew—then held her with his strong arms at a determined, confused, questioning distance. And once again he rolled away.

After many moments, maybe years, she reached over, touched so tenta- tively his broad shoulders as he lay rolled up in a ball. His body was cold like death, but for the top of his head where there was a little warmth. She took him in her arms and held him. Whether in ecstasy or agony, she could not tell. She just held him in the moon light. Many moments passed, maybe hours.

“Why?” She asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You must know.”

“I wanted to see what we looked like inside.”

“Like that!?” Many moments passed.

“What did you ‘see?’”

She felt him withdraw, within himself, away from her soul. She glanced almost frantically about her cave as if lost. Yet, something was evoked, bod- ing power beyond imagining. And the moon slipped behind the mountain, leaving them in the dark rocks above the chasm, beneath the pinyon trees. A night wind blew up the canyon wall and whipped their fragrance into the world.

We loved. Yes, that’s for sure. But there was something other that we engaged. We didn’t know then. …didn’t know that such things were possible. We were drawn towards one another; stars drawn in collision, sparking galaxies of emotion—from nothing, everything. We were just ordinary kids. But… Even nature seemed to respond to us. When we moved together. Its very hard to explain. There was some special chem- istry between us. It amazed us. We did not believe. Could not deny. Nor would we stop, until…