8[6.] ‘Dragon Womb’ (Dragon Painting I)
Oil on Canvas 6′ x 2.5′ 1974
This painting represents a series of many works that stretches over several years. The main formal elements here are the amorphic color and space in counterpoint relationship with hard-edge, linear and geometric embellishments. It is about the relationship between the general context of being and specific experience as open and luminous. This subject might also be likened to the (Hopi) Sipahpuni , the point of emergence from mythic underworlds as well as the physical and psychic wombs, to levels of increasing realization. Thus, this painting indicates secondly, a poignant moment of transition in physical and personal evolution guided by the Dragon Lord, i.e., a salvific, catalytic function of Spirit in Nature; God, if you like, or Grace. (I skirt here the word, “destiny”, purposely because of its static, fatalistic qualities.)
- Various aspects of the main character are described and the influences formative to his unusual personality are presented.
- The first pilgrimage, a quest, is described with the central problem of the story clearly suggested.
I am a priest according to the Order of Melchizedek. That is at the heart of what happens in this story. But for now, it is not important. Only that what must happen actually takes place. For that, apparently, I had to be a priest.
Recently, my mother and I visited my great-grandfather’s town in the foothills of the High Sierras in California. It’s a snake place. By that, I mean a dragon place, a power place but mean somehow. It is in an area of transition between the rolling grass hills and giant oaks below, snaking up to the magnificent Sierra crags above. I’ve always felt uncomfortable when we visited that middlin’ place; though, I have to admit that my mother and grandmother tell charming stories about their childhood experiences in that gulch-sunk town. The place has significance to me because I began a cycle of pilgrimages there twenty years ago, 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. 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 pilgrimage 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 period between 1850 and 1860 that half the population of the California Coastal Indians disappeared.1 Let’s not be euphemistic. They were exterminated. I’m not blaming my ancestor for that, but that conflict typifies the subject of this story. It is about a battle.
Since this is a story without beginning 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 pilgrimage. I left in the Spring and came home in the Fall. I didn’t even call it a pilgrimage. It was a quest. I didn’t know what a pilgrimage was technically or in this case what I was questing. 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 anything like that had happened to her- but that’s what it would be. I doubt she suspected the possible violence. She was too eager. Poor girl. I still remember her up there calling to me.
The second situation was 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 insistent, violent. I got out of there. 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 anyway? 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 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, an impoverished New English Eleanor Roosevelt. “Afraid to pick up a hitchhiker? No– I’ve still got a pretty good left.”
-This wanderer stopped 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 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 significance of it. (This was a place of a different sort of snake, a real dragon. 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. They 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’ way of dealing with it was to go to sleep. No big deal. I was impressed.
The next day as we moved deeper into these canyons, where the pungent 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 summer 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 destinies.2
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 hallucinogens made one more interested in meaning, less interested in commerce or aggression; how an aggressive commercial technology such as dominated our culture couldn’t allow for such distractions, 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-culture revolution; how even the sacrifice of an American president was nothing compared to the power and intentions of that international commercial empire. Not bad for a couple of 20-year-olds. (Perhaps, I’ve embellished it a bit, now that I’m 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 background 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 different sizes. Their little boy ran around naked, especially in the cold mornings. 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, he 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. 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 would 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 of the ancient notion of 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,” I discovered that the land itself has personality, the plants have power, the stones themselves experience being. Somewhere in this lay our hope.
10  Ariel Vision
Oil on Paper 32″ x 24″ 1974