I wish I could remember what triggered the memory, but it came flooding back with all of the speed of the tide rushing in. Perhaps it was the conversation that I had with an old college buddy. Maybe it was the email exchange with a friend letting them know I understood how they felt and wanted to join them on their journey. It could have been the guest at the Lodge and something they said that passed through my brain, or the way the stars and moon looked from my deck late at night, but I really think it might have been Elizabeth pointing out the way the sky looked at dusk while we were driving home and the reflection of the late afternoon light as it reflected on Lake Santeetlah that launched the arrow that took me back………
It was years ago and yet not so far in the distant past. It is how people and events intertwine, tangle and mingle and that all things happen for reasons…even if we never know why. Or maybe they aren’t our reasons….or we don’t understand them for years and years….perhaps never…….our choice…..our awareness…..
I was in Sante Fe. I’d never been there before. Exploring….seeing parts and places I’d never been. We had actually traveled to a spa there. One recommended by Snowbird’s massage therapist as a place we didn’t want to miss. It was a fantastic place and I relished the down time…and the time away, but I was more drawn to the history, the people, the food, the light, the land…I spent several hours wandering through the old town. Looking at shops, watching people, smelling the air and the scents of food as it drifted through the streets. I was looking at the silver and turquoise for sale by the Navajo at Governors Square when I first saw him. Tanned face. White hair. Scraggly beard. Anywhere from late fifties to late sixties. Walking with a carved stick he was striding toward me with a broad smile and twinkle in his eye. Our eyes meet, we exchanged nods and as we passed I felt it. I can’t rightly name “it”, but it was there. Connection. I continued on past him, but at about 20 feet beyond, I turned my head to glance back. He too had turned. I smiled….and turned back. So did he. I introduced myself to him and told him that I felt as though we’d met before. He answered that perhaps we had….in this or another life. That chance meeting began a friendship that sparked me. Caused me to question myself more, made me more aware of our interactions and continues to affect my journey to this day.
Ross was a magical man. A shaman. A wandering spirit, artist, father, grandfather, sentient being, man of the universe. He introduced me to many things. We shared meals. Laughter. Drinks and thoughts. He taught me about a different…new way to look at the universe and world. That we…as humans…don’t have all of the answers. That everything in the world…and beyond….is connected…..He introduced me to the Shamanic Institute in Santa Fe. A place where Shamans gather from all over the world to learn, discuss, talk and teach. Now Shamans are more than “healers”, they are spiritual guides that have wisdom passed down for generations and generations. They come from every society – every country and in many of them they are revered. In others reviled, but they have a knowledge that we all need…….Now rest assured, I am no Shaman…..
So, where’s this tale going?
Several years later, in the midst of crisis – one that encompassed all of my being – I reached out to Ross. I’d talked with him often, been back to see him several times, but this…well…this was different. I needed help that was beyond my connections. I called, but he wasn’t there so I left a message. I wasn’t in a hurry…and frankly thought I might not hear back. He was a traveler and might be away for months at a time. The next day I answered a call from a number I’d never seen before. It was Ross. “I thought I would be hearing from you” was all he said. I launched into my story for a good while and when I finished all he said was, “I know”. I breathed deeply for the first time in a long time. We chatted for a few minutes and then he said he’d be in touch. We hung up and while I felt better I was still at a loss. I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do and I wandered aimlessly for the next few days. The church wasn’t helping me, friends were there, but couldn’t. Family was trying, but I wasn’t really “there”. My faith was tested, both religious faith, faith in myself, friends and life…..frankly my faith in everything around me. I was losing hope…maybe I even lost it, unsure of who and what I was, I felt as though my identity was forever gone. Two days passed. One morning I checked my email and there it was. Ross sent me a note with a name and phone number. The note said –
This is who you need
He is waiting.
Brief wasn’t it? I smiled and I think I even laughed. What? Call?? I don’t have any idea who the hell this man is. What can he offer me? Anger, frustration, bitterness all flashed through me…..then…slowly….replaced by comfort and ease. Breath I told myself. Ross knew what I was going through. He’d been there himself although it was 40 years ago. Trust I thought. Something that wasn’t/isn’t always easy for me…even now. I did. I picked up the phone and dialed.
“IGA” said the voice that answered the phone. “IGA”? I said. “Yep, what can I do for ya?”
I thought for a minute that I had the wrong number, but I swallowed…..hard….and asked for the name that Ross had sent. The man who answered the phone didn’t miss a beat, “he’s not here right now, but give me your number and I’ll get him the message”. I hung up. Shaking my head I wondered what I was managing to get myself into and what craziness was in Ross’s brain! Several hours passed when my phone rang. The voice on the other end might have been a thousand years old. “I‘ve been waiting on your call” he said. I began to tell him my story. Cutting me short……“I know” he said before I’d gotten two sentences out. I was stunned. He said he was waiting for me and gave me directions to where he was. It was Ely Minnesota. I went into shock – ELY MINNESOTA?? How the hell was I supposed to do that? I had a business, work, kids, responsibility…..and…well all the rest. I heard a deep breath on the other end of the line, “come” he said, “I’ll be waiting”.
It took the better part of a month to get it all figured out. To get 7 days free to go, but I did. I met Charlie and he opened my spirit to a universe I’d never seen. He was Chippewa or more correctly – Ojibwa – a medicine man by words, a shaman, a helper, a spirit guide, a Midewiwin to many. He took me into his home, fed me, listened to my stories and then told me what he was going to do. I was open, but felt unsure, scared and not ready for the next step, but, breathing deeply, I trusted. That night while I slept, he prepared the place. In the morning he walked with me out to a small lake and directed me to a smooth rock that overlooked the water. There, he’d drawn a circle with several markers around it. He sat me in the middle, took most of my clothes, gave me instructions, water, a blanket and told me he’d return. I was alone. In place I was totally unfamiliar with. Frightened. I sat and took in my surroundings. All day. It was stunningly beautiful. Lonely. Warm in the sunshine and cold as the dark came. I sat. My legs began to fall asleep, I began to fall asleep, but I didn’t…I think. The slight moon rose. The stars lit the sky. I dreamed. Wide awake. All night and into the next morning….. all through the next day and following night. I had visions and saw things I’m sure weren’t there..or were they? Animals, people, places, ghosts and things from my past crowded my vision. The following morning I greeted the sunrise and there he was….standing before me, he held out his hand and took mine and said “come”….I could barely stand, nearly frozen by the cold of the night and from sitting for so long. He guided me back to his home. Behind the house, just down a hill was a sweat lodge that he and his friends had built. He opened the door flap and ushered me in. In time he took me back out and repeated the steps…time and time again….I was completely spent. Finally he took me back to his home again and fed me…rice…beans…bread. I collapsed into a bed……sleep…….long……long….sleep.
I awoke to the smell of breakfast. Getting up I wandered into the kitchen to find him over the stove fixing 2 plates of food. One for him, the other mine. We sat in silence and shared coffee and a meal. It was one of the best I’ve ever had. Afterword he nodded at me and said, “tell me”…..and I did…..of the visions, the night, the days, the birds, animals, the sounds, the sights…all of it. He nodded. Then he explained…..he interpreted all that I’d been through….Not just there, but life. Telling me that this life was a journey. On that journey we sometimes got lost, but during the journey of life we always could/should learn and understand ourselves. At times during our lives we need to be alone, to go to sacred places or spaces and pray, meditate, learn and heal. I was on my journey. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a leather cord with what looked like some twisted metal on the end. He handed it to me and said. “Wear this…keep it close to your heart, it will never allow you to forget who and what you are” He gave me the necklace. A simple leather cord with a twisted silver feather on it and words hammered into it.
I left later that day and have never been back. I’ve done other sweats and spent time alone outside. None have ever come close to that experience in the woods in Minnesota. I’ve often thought about and wondered what has become of that man…in that remote spot…..doing what he does…..but I have no worries about him for he guided me in a way that no one else could have. He reminded me of who I am and helped me rediscover myself….the “me” that I’d buried deep all those years before. The necklace remains around my neck to this day…the words are worn now from my fingers rubbing it…….close to my heart…..reminding me….keeping me “aware”. Often when I feel a little “lost” I’ll find that my hands have searched it out and will catch myself absentmindedly rubbing it between my fingers.
I talked to Ross often over the next several years. He died last year and with his death a part of me left as well. It is a connection I celebrate. You see, without David, Snowbird’s massage therapist I never would’ve gone to Santa Fe. I’d never have walked down the street and met Ross. I’d never gotten the email that sent me to Ely MN and met Charlie. Perhaps I’d never have found myself…….You see, everything happens for a reason…even if we never know it…..even if it takes years to find out why….and yes…even if we never do….it is about the journey.
I don’t often share this story….close friends mostly. Why now……Why here?……..Because it’s time. I may not know the reason, but rest assured that there is one. My journey is one that has been magic. Luck many would say. I’ve been blessed by everyone that I’ve ever come into contact with, friends and enemies. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know it will be….that I’ll discover much..much more as I continue to explore…myself and all of those I meet. I’ve loved sharing this story with you and if you’ve read this far you have my thanks…and my gratitude. You also have my very personal invitation to come join me on this mountain……to share a meal, some coffee or tea…perhaps a beer or some wine………to sit…alone…or with me and share your story with me…or not…as I’ll share mine with you….or not. To connect in a new and different way….to form a bond that will carry us forward to whatever the future holds….
It is really all about our connections…our journey, our relationships and how they form us into who and what we are.
“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.”
– The Dalai Lama
It’s late here on the mountain….or early depending on your point of view. I’ve been awake with these memories all night and embracing the magic of those moments. I can see the dawn beginning to break outside. Today is the right day! It looks to be the start of another amazing day. Thank you for letting me share this with you, I look forward to the great adventure ahead!
Innkeeper, Adventurer, Explorer