by Angeliska on November 20, 2012
Right. So, instead of getting married on 11.11.12 – I drove out to the hills, out to the place where the earth reaches up to touch the stars. The place where my bones come from, the place where my people are buried. This journey was big for me in so many ways. It was profoundly sad, as I had never intended to spend that day that way, alone on a hill – and it was also deeply healing, in ways I could never have predicted. I knew I had to go be in a place that welcomed me, that held me to it fiercely, my soul sewn to the dirt with copper threads. And I knew I had to do it by myself. This was my first solo roadtrip, my first solo highway drive, my first solo camping experience – and all on the heels of my first traffic ticket, and my first car accident. I was more than a little intimidated, but – I knew I had to make it happen, somehow, and I did, goddammit. I drove all the out there without incident, and as I neared my destination, I felt a kind of wild elation rising up in my chest. There’s something incredibly powerful about making yourself do the things that scare you the most, and this year has been a long run of me facing and walking through many of my worst terrors. Being alone, being left, abandoned by the person I loved most. Losing his entire family, who I had thought of as my in-laws, who I had embraced as my own and been embraced by. Being lost. Fear of having been a fool, a chump, of wasting so much time investing love and energy in a dream that disintegrated so rapidly. Feeling cast aside, thrown away, in so many ways. Facing my grandfather’s death, losing him. Having painful separations from dear, old friends. Coming home to a dark and silent house. Driving. Driving. Driving. Every day, I have been walking through these fires that every day threaten to excoriate me, filet my heart out of my ribs and burn it into dust. I kneel before these tigers that will not let me be. I open my hands to them, and let my fears fall away.
In the midst of all this change and loss and growth, I have found that I am actually not so very alone. So many sweet friends and family have reached out to me with messages and words of encouragement and love that have helped me press onward. This letter from Henry James to a bereaved friend has been kindly passed my way a few times now, and I’ve been reading it again and again:
“Don’t melt too much into the universe, but be as solid and dense and fixed as you can. We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see. My dear Grace, you are passing through a darkness in which I myself in my ignorance see nothing but that you have been made wretchedly ill by it; but it is only a darkness, it is not an end, or the end. Don’t think, don’t feel, any more than you can help, don’t conclude or decide—don’t do anything but wait.”
There’s a reason they call this place enchanted. It’s a sacred place, a place where the medicine men and women would go on vision quests, a place where you can hear the ancestors voices calling in the wind. Enchanted Rock was called “Spirit Song Rock” by native tribes, and was revered as a holy portal to other worlds. When you get up there, you can understand why. There’s something unearthly about the place, a humming in the stone, a deep vibration that resonates in your bloodstream. I like to come out here on New Year’s Day, to make that bracing climb in the bright air and breathe in the sense of possibility, of new beginnings. Lots of people come out and do the same, and there’s a feeling in the air – a giddiness, a sweetness. It’s very beautiful. They say foul fortune and death will befall anyone who climbs the rock with bad intent, that you must make the climb with an open heart. Seems to me that all the folks I’ve met up there on the spirit rock have very open hearts. It’s not a difficult trek, so all kinds of people make their way up – elders with walking sticks, little bitty children, young lovers, serious climbers, and groups of school-kids singing teenybopper pop songs in surprisingly gorgeous harmonies. Humans have been drawn to the magic of this place for a long time. It has a power, a pull.
“Enchanted Rock is an enormous pink granite pluton rock formation located in the Llano Uplift. The weathered dome, standing above the surrounding plain is known to geologists as a monadnock. The rock is actually the visible above-ground part of a segmented ridge, the surface expression of a large igneous batholith.
Archaeological evidence indicates human visitation at the rock going back at least 11,000 years.
Folklore of local Tonkawa, Apache and Comanche tribes ascribes magical and spiritual powers to the rock (hence the name ‘Enchanted Rock’). While attempting to hide from Anglo settlers in the area, the natives would hide on the top two tiers of the rock, where they were invisible from the ground below. The first European to visit the area was probably Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1536. The Tonkawa, who inhabited the area in the 16th century, believed that ghost fires flickered at the top of the dome. In particular they heard unexplained creaking and groaning, which geologists attribute to the rock’s night-time contraction after being heated by the sun during the day. The name “Enchanted Rock” derives from Spanish and Anglo-Texan interpretations of such legends and related folklore; the name “Crying Rock” has also been given to the formation.”
– from Wikipedia
“According to the Apache, the Giver of Life sent the Gan, or mountain spirits, to teach the people a better way to live, govern, hunt, and cure illness. Accordingly to the myth, these benevolent but powerful mountain spirits live forever in the mountain’s caves and can be appealed to for guidance and protection.
There is no question that Enchanted Rock was the site for both the Gan dance of the Apache and the vision quest of the Comanche and other Plains Indians. Some of the earliest European visitors mention seeing stone sepulchres on the summit. As recently as thirty years ago flint shards were found on a large flat area on the northwest summit.
In 1892, James R. Mooney wrote in The Ghost Dance Religion, about Wovoka, a famous Paiute prophet and medicine man, whose influence was felt throughout the Plains. Although the excerpt is not specifically about Enchanted Rock or its native inhabitants, on a deeper level it speaks directly to the spirit of the place, Plains Indian spiritual leaders, and the mythological foundation of their religion.
‘Wovoka was by nature of a solitary and contemplative disposition, one of those born to see visions and hear still voices…His native valley, from which he has never wandered was roofed over by a cloudless sky in whose blue infinitude the mind instinctively seeks to penetrate to far off worlds beyond. Away to the south the view is closed in by the sacred mountain of the Paiute, where their Father gave them the first fire and taught them their few simple arts before leaving for his home in the upper regions of the Sun-land… It seems set apart from the great world to be the home of a dreamer.’”
– from Enchanted Rock Texas
I’ve heard people say before that long drives give one time to think, to clear their brains out. My car had its shitty broken tape player ripped out years ago, so I have no distraction from the road. I’ve been singing more. Old songs, sad songs. I sing them loud, and sometimes off key, but my dogs don’t mind. They like it when I sing. Spirit songs, mournful ululations and rallying war-cries.
I want to always come back to this place.
I read this today, and am trying to embrace it:
To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.
- Pema Chodron
I feel like that baby bird, tossed out of the nest. I’m being challenged, constantly to endure, to survive. More than that, though – I am finding a way to savor the sharp air in my lungs, the wind on my face, all these new experiences. The further you get from your comfort zone, the closer you get to the real magic of life. It’s turning out to really be true.
I belong to this earth, to this land. It’s strange to feel such a deep sense of belonging, of comfort in a place. I never imagined it would be here. I’ve traveled all over the world, and seen some of the most stunning landscapes, but few speak to me the way this land does. It is so ancient, so weathered, so magical. I always feel like a child here, humbled by the wonder of it.
My trusty travel companion and I right before we lost the trail. I guess that’s what happens when you’re too busy taking pictures for you and your dog’s black metal album liner notes, right? Honestly though, I might likely be dead or worse if it weren’t for my bandmate and all around best friend, Prinzesse Grrizelda. She’s such an amazing creature.
Note to self for future adventures: when one has lost the trail, it is unwise to think that climbing up and over a mountain in the dark is a viable solution, or any kind of a clever shortcut. Because it totally isn’t. There’s this other rock next to Enchanted Rock called “Little Rock”. This is a misnomer. It is not really little at all, and also, I’m not sure there are any real trails that go down it. Maybe there are, and I just never found them, but man – I was up there trying to get down for a long time. I stubbornly kept trying to scale down sheer rock faces, dodging vicious patches of prickly pear, with only a tiny handheld flashlight. Thank god I had that, at least – I very nearly left the house without it. Lord, would I have been screwed. It was exhausting, and terrifying, and I would have stupidly kept at it, and probably fallen to my death or seriously injured myself if my wonderful canine companion hadn’t been so much wiser than me. She followed me down the rock up to a point, but when the cliff drops started getting really gnarly, she dug her heels in and wouldn’t jump down, no matter how hard I pleaded and tugged on her collar. I tried and tried to get her to come with me, but she wouldn’t budge. Because she’s way smarter than me! I finally had to give up my foolhardy descent and figure out a different plan. The sun had dropped over the horizon rapidly, and I remembered a fellow hiker earlier making his way down the big rock asking me incredulously if I planned to be up there after dark. “Maybe!” I replied, feeling way too smug and cocky about my trailblazing skills. In reality, I usually have a pretty great sense of direction, and often enjoy the challenge of getting a bit turned around so that I can orient myself again. But that’s on solid ground, with lights and roads. There was a moment, sitting up on top of this huge rock with my little light and map that I realized I might have to either holler for help, or spend the night up on the hill. They say that anyone who spends the night on the hill becomes invisible. I think that means they get eaten by coyotes. My pride wouldn’t allow me to holler, though I certainly thought about it. Also, my little tent and warm bedroll were waiting for me back at camp, luring me back… When I made it back up and over the other side and found the little sandy wash I’d been following that was totally not a trail at all, I was ecstatic. I’d never been so thrilled to be back down on terra firma. I had to retrace my steps in the dark, with branches and brambles and cactus clawing at my hair and clothes, but I just put my head down and let Grrizzle lead the way. After a bit, we lost the sandy wash path again, and she started to drag me off in a different direction, which I resisted vocally until – lo and behold, the goddamn trail! I nearly lay down and kissed it. How wonderful are wise dogs, and trails, and campfires and unbroken limbs? Oh, so very. Another two mile trek, on which we actually lost the trail twice more, and eventually we made it back to camp, where I ate apple pie for dinner and felt very grateful to be safe and alive. A word to the wise: don’t be a cocky butt-head like me when it comes to your safety out in wild places – the truth I realized when stuck up there on that mighty batholith was that no one was coming to save me. I was well and truly on my own, and my survival was completely up to me. One mis-step, one slipped handhold, and I could have ended up crumpled in a crevice, a jumble of gnawed bones. Worst of all, everyone would have imagined it was intentional, I’m sure. How tragic! The heartbroken bride leaped to her death on her wedding day, doomed to join the ghosts of other wronged women who haunt the rock. Apparently, there are many. I wasn’t willing to join them, even by accident. My life, though it is often difficult and heart-wrenching, is incredibly precious to me. I intend to die only when I am an old, old woman. Alone on the hill, I looked up at the Milky Way and forced myself to breathe deeply, to trust in myself to get myself safely back to camp. The stars that night were brilliant, so bright they made me want to squint. I thought about how incredibly far away they are, how tiny I am in comparison. A speck of dust in the eye of god. Less than that. Thinking of that oughtn’t really be comforting to me, but it is. I lay awake later, huddled in my sleeping bag, and let myself be lulled to sleep by the mating calls of two great horned owls, and a pack of coyotes yipping madly. Feral cats yowled and hissed among the rocks, and at one point, a canine of some kind came up to the tent and growled for a long time, but by that point I was too tired to care.
I have a habit of refusing to give up the ghost. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when a hurricane eats all your shoes and you only wear one pair of boots for a year or so. These trusty vintage Luccheses were gifted to me after Katrina, in mint condition, but I done wore ‘em out. Wear and tear, rips and holes. We got plenty of character now, my boots and I.
I come from a long line of cowgirls. This is my great-aunt Ruth. She and my grandmother used to ride horses to teach in small rural Texas schoolhouses. I have a lock of her hair in a bottle my aunt Ruth (her namesake) gave me on this trip.
The last night of my journey, I slept on a cot in the room where my mother died, in the house where my great-grandmother and my grandparents lived. Family place, ancestral home. The tap-roots burrow deep to find the water under the rocky soil here. Generations of my family have been dwelling on this land for centuries. I hear them, I honor them, I return to them.
I made this mix to listen to out there, but the wondrous still quietness and the animal chorus proved too captivating. I left it until I came back to civilization. COLD & STARRY EYED – Music for cosmic dreamers wandering around lost on high hills in the cold dark night. Shivering and dazzled, eyes raised to the sky.
Also, I was singing this to the buzzards up on the rock:
The Fool On The Hill was my favorite song when I was little – I used to play it over and over and spin around and dance in the living room. I love that it’s so happy and sad all at once. I don’t mind being a fool on a hill, sometimes.
But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning ’round.