Close

July 2, 2017

Gateway

IT WAS SEPTEMBER THIRTIETH, AND MY BIRTHDAY.

I WAS TWENTY YEARS OLD AND I HAD BEEN MARRIED FOR A YEAR AND A HALF. MY HUSBAND KIRK AND I LIVED IN BOCA RATON, FLORIDA IN AN APARTMENT NEAR FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY, WHERE HE WAS FINISHING HIS MASTERS IN CERAMICS. KIRK WAS A POTTER, A PAINTER, A SCULPTOR, AND A CARTOONIST. HE ALSO PLAYED THE FRENCH HORN AND GUITAR AND STOOD SIX FOOT FIVE INCHES TALL IN HIS BARE FEET. HE WAS AS EXCITING AND UNPREDICTABLE AS HE WAS TALL, AND THAT SEPTEMBER THIRTIETH HE HAD INVITED A FEW PEOPLE OVER TO OUR PLACE TO HELP CELEBRATE MY BIRTHDAY.

THE APARTMENT WAS A VERY LARGE STUDIO THAT LOOKED OUT ONTO A SCREENED PORCH THAT FACED A LARGE EXPANSE OF GRASS AND CYPRESS TREES. IT WAS NIGHT, AND WE ALL SAT AROUND IN A CIRCLE. I WAS TALKING ANIMATEDLY, AND SUDDENLY STOPPED. “I FEEL LIKE I’M ON STAGE,” I SAID. “THAT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE AN ACTRESS!” KIRK’S NEW MANAGER HAD SAID THIS TO ME, AND EVERYONE HAD LAUGHED. THE NEXT DAY WAS TO BE VERY FABULOUS, BECAUSE HE HAD GOT KIRK A SHOW IN A BIG MIAMI GALLERY, WHICH WAS SIXTY MILES SOUTH OF BOCA RATON, BUT THAT NIGHT IT WAS MY TURN TO SHINE, AND WE ALL TOOK ADVANTAGE OF BEING TOGETHER BY PROCEEDING TO GET EXCEEDINGLY STONED. I CLEARLY REMEMBER SEEING THE FACES LIT BY THE LIGHT FROM THE CANDLES WHICH WERE SET ON THE BOOKCASES AGAINST THE WALL, AND I REMEMBER JUST AS CLEARLY THINKING “I WONDER WHAT I’LL BE DOING TWENTY YEARS FROM NOW. ON MY FORTIETH BIRTHDAY. FORTY. THATS WHEN I’LL REALLY COME INTO MY OWN.” THE THOUGHT SURPRISED ME; IT HAD SURFACED OUT OF THE BLUE, AND THEN I FORGOT ABOUT IT AND WENT ON WITH MY LIFE, NO LONGER AS A TEENAGER.

EIGHTEEN AND A HALF YEARS LATER, I FOUND MYSELF WALKING UP THE STAIRS OF A CLAPBOARD HOUSE IN VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA. I WAS GOING TO THE VANCOUVER FILM SCHOOL, AND IN THE MIDST OF SHOOTING A SHORT DOCUMENTARY ABOUT HEALING AND MAGIC. MY DP HAD RECOMMENDED HIS FATHER TO COMPOSE THE MUSIC. HE HAD TOLD ME HIS DAD WAS A MUSICIAN, WHO HAD PLAYED DOBRO AND ELECTRIC STEEL SLIDE GUITAR WITH THE ZYDECO COUNTRY ROCK BAND, BLUE NORTHERN. THAT SOUNDED PRETTY GOOD TO ME, AND THE STAIRS I WALKED UP BELONGED TO THAT DAD. A SHARP MEMORY AGAIN: TWO SMALL YELLOW BIRDS PERCHED ON THE BRANCH OF A SMALL TREE THAT GREW ALONGSIDE THE WOODEN STEPS OF THE HOUSE. I REMEMBER THINKING HOW STRANGE IT WAS TO SEE YELLOW BIRDS SO CLOSE TO ME. AND I SAW THAT THE SMALLISH PORCH HAD MANY THINGS HANGING FROM PLACES THAT I WOULD NEVER HAVE THOUGHT TO HANG THINGS FROM. THERE WERE TINY BONES AND STONES ATTACHED TO WHAT LOOKED LIKE ROPES MADE OUT OF SAGE GRASS, AND THEY MADE A TINKLING SOUND AS I KNOCKED ON THE DOOR.

I felt the energy
before he opened the door

 

JIMMY WAS PART IRISH, BUT MOSTLY CHOCTAW AND CHEROKEE, WHICH HAD GIVEN HIM FIERCE CHISELED FEATURES, LONG BLUE-BLACK HAIR, AND PIERCING GREEN EYES.


I WAS MEETING ONE OF THE BIG LOVES OF MY LIFE.

THE FOLLOWING YEAR, ON SEPTEMBER THIRTIETH, JIMMY AND I WOKE UP IN THE ROOM OF AN INN IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO. IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY AND I WAS FORTY YEARS OLD. WE HAD DRIVEN FROM VANCOUVER IN QUEST OF MATERIAL AND PEOPLE FOR A DOCUMENTARY WE WERE WORKING ON TOGETHER. IT WAS TO BE ABOUT NATIVE AMERICAN HEALERS AND HOW THEIR WORK WAS CONSIDERED TO BE A GIFT THAT CAME FROM THE EARTH, THEIR LAND. JIMMY HAD COME UP WITH THE TITLE A SENSE OF PLACE, AND I LOVED THAT AND WANTED SO MUCH TO UNDERSTAND MORE OF WHAT IT MEANT. SO DID TELEFILM CANADA, WHO HAD FUNDED PART OF THIS ROAD TRIP. WE HAD BREAKFAST AT A LOCAL COFFEE SHOP AND THEN GOT IN OUR CAR AND HEADED DOWN THE ROAD. WE WERE GOING TO THE TAOS PUEBLO.

ONE OF THE MAIN PEOPLE WE SOUGHT TO INTERVIEW WAS A MAN BY THE NAME OF TELL US GOOD MORNING. HE WAS HEAD CHIEF OF THE PUEBLO, AS WELL AS THE LEADER OF THE PEYOTE CHURCH OF AMERICA, OF WHICH JIMMY WAS A MEMBER, BUT HE HAD YET TO MEET THE MAN. WE HAD TO PARK A DISTANCE FROM THE PUEBLO; NO CARS WERE ALLOWED. WE WALKED DOWN A LONG DIRT ROAD, PASSING A COUPLE OF MEDIUM SIZED YELLOW IVORY COLORED DOGS WHO LAY PLACIDLY, EXCEPT FOR THEIR WAGGING TAILS, WHICH STIRRED THE DUST FROM THE ROAD UP INTO SWIRLS IN THE AIR AROUND THEIR BODIES. WE FINALLY CAME TO A HOUSE, IN FRONT OF WHICH SAT A FIERCE LOOKING MAN IN A LAWN CHAIR. JIMMY SAID TELL US GOOD MORNING, AND THE MAN GRUFFLY POINTED TOWARD SOME HOUSES FURTHER DOWN THE ROAD, BUT NOT UNTIL AFTER QUICKLY GIVING ME THE ONCE-OVER. IT WAS THEN THAT I STARTED FEELING AS IF MAYBE IT HAD BEEN A MISTAKE FOR ME TO ENTER THIS PUEBLO. I KEENLY FELT THE HISTORY OF THE AMERICAS, AND I FELT AT THAT MOMENT THAT I REPRESENTED THE ENTIRE WHITE RACE.

WE CONTINUED WALKING UNTIL WE CAME UPON A HOUSE SURROUNDED BY LUSH GREENERY. NOW, THIS WAS THE ONLY GREENERY AROUND, AND IT STOOD OUT IN THAT DESERT ATMOSPHERE. AN OPENING IN THE GREEN REVEALED WHAT LAY BEYOND. A BEAUTIFUL FLOWER GARDEN, WITH PRECISELY LAID OUT ROCKS FORMING A SPIRALING PATH THROUGH IT. IT WAS ENORMOUS AND VERY GREEN INSIDE. A TINY OLD LADY IN OVERALLS, HOLDING GARDENING SHEARS, STOOD IN THE MIDST OF ROSE BUSHES, WEARING A HUGE STRAW HAT. AS SOON AS SHE SAW US SHE GESTURED FOR US TO COME IN. JIMMY WENT, BUT I COULDNT BUDGE. I FELT AGAIN AS I HAD A FEW MINUTES EARLIER: TOO WHITE, AND THEREFORE NOT WORTHY OF GOING ANY FURTHER. I WATCHED WHILE THE OLD LADY AND JIMMY STARTED UP AN ANIMATED CONVERSATION. SHE LOOKED UP AND TOOK A LOOK AT ME STANDING OUTSIDE HER ARBOR. SHE LOOKED CONCERNED, AND THEN SMILED SWEETLY AND AGAIN GESTURED FOR ME TO COME IN. THIS TIME I DID.

THE MOST PECULIAR THING HAPPENED THEN, AND I WILL NEVER FORGET IT AS LONG AS I LIVE.

AS SOON AS I STEPPED THROUGH THE ARBOR, THE SCENT OF JASMINE AND ROSES HUNG ALL ABOUT ME, AND THE SPACE INSIDE LOOKED TO BE THE SIZE OF A HUGE, NATURAL ARENA. I FOUND MYSELF STARTING TO RUN, AND AS I DID, MY BODY FELT SMALLER AND SMALLER SO THAT BY THE TIME I REACHED THE OLD LADY I WAS LOOKING UP INTO HER EYES. THEY WERE HUGE AND BROWN AND THEY DANCED AND SPARKLED AS SHE HELD HER ARMS WIDE OPEN FOR ME TO COME INTO. AS I WAS EMBRACED BY HER, I WAS A FIVE YEAR OLD CHILD COMING HOME TO HER GRANDMOTHER. SHE THREW HER HEAD BACK AND LAUGHED AND IT SOUNDED LIKE BELLS. AND THEN I WAS TOWERING OVER HER, BUT SHE WOULD NOT LET GO OF MY HAND. JIMMY WAS ALSO LAUGHING, AND WE TURNED TO SEE A VERY OLD, TALL AND ELEGANT MAN EMERGE FROM THE HOUSE THAT THE GARDEN PROTECTED. HE STOOD STRONG AND STRAIGHT, AND HAD TWO LONG GRAY BRAIDS THAT FELL DOWN HIS BACK, FEATHERS HUNG FROM THEIR TIPS. IT WAS TELL US GOOD MORNING, AND THE LADY WAS HIS WIFE PAULINE. TELL US (AS HE ASKED US TO CALL HIM), WAS QUITE IMPRESSED WHEN JIMMY TOLD HIM IT WAS MY FORTIETH BIRTHDAY. EVERY SEPTEMBER THIRTIETH, THE SAN GERONIMO FESTIVAL TAKES PLACE AT THE PUEBLO. THIS IS THE PUEBLO PEOPLES’ MOST SACRED DAY OF THE YEAR, WHEN THE HARVEST COMES IN AND THE SPIRITS ARE THANKED. IT IS ALSO THE DAY WHEN THE PEOPLE ARE SHOWN THEIR SHADOW SIDE THROUGH THE BEHAVIOR OF THE SACRED CLOWNS, WHO COME OUT OF THE KIVAS.

THE REST OF THAT DAY AND NIGHT WERE MAGICAL.

THAT NIGHT, I REMEMBERED WHAT I’D THOUGHT TWENTY YEARS EARLIER, HOW I’D WONDERED WHAT I’D BE DOING NOW. I WAS REALLY FINALLY GROWN UP. I WAS WORTHY. IT WAS MY FORTIETH BIRTHDAY, IT WAS THE SAN GERONIMO FESTIVAL, AND I HAD BEEN GIVEN THE DISTINCTION OF BEING THE GUEST OF HONOR OF TELL US GOOD MORNING, THE HEAD CHIEF OF THE TAOS PUEBLO, AND HIS WIFE, PAULINE, THEIR MAIN MEDICINE WOMAN.

 

*NOTE  JIMMY AND I PARTED WAYS BEFORE THE FILM WAS FINISHED, BUT YOU CAN HEAR THE MUSIC HE STARTED WRITING FOR IT THEN – IN COLLABORATION WITH ROBBIE ROBERTSON – ON THE SOUNDTRACK FOR HBO’S ‘THE NATIVE AMERICANS’.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: