Bud opened his eyes slowly and tried to focus on the framed photograph hanging on the wall next to the bed. The photo was old and faded. The picture is a photograph of an Indian dance ritual. In the middle of the dancing group of men is a taller man who looks strikingly like a much younger version of Jack Willis - Bud’s host. The man is holding some sort of reed or tool in one hand, and in the other, dangles a rather long western diamondback rattlesnake. From the photograph, Bud can’t tell if the snake is dead or alive, but the man in the picture doesn’t seem at all worried that he may be bitten by one of North America’s more venomous reptiles.
Bud had an itchy sensation in the back of his throat, and his stomach was burning a little. It reminded him what it felt like when you’ve had too much Mexican food for dinner the night before or a little too much libation. This morning, neither of those was the case. No, the old man had taken Bud out into the desert last night. They had talked for hours. Yawaka would occasionally do some chanting and rub various items they found on Bud’s face, neck and arms. Bud remembered how beautiful it was in the cool desert evening. It was as if he could have reached up with his arms and touched the milky white cloud we call our universe.
When they later returned to the trailer, Yawaka prepared a rather colorful concoction that he wanted Bud to drink. He told his guest it would help clear his mind and might allow him to get a good night’s sleep - something Bud hadn’t had in months. Bud was a little worried it might contain some psychedelic ingredients but relented when Yawaka told him no such items were in the potion. Indeed, it worked. Bud Granato hadn’t slept this soundly in years!
Bud got to his feet and looked at the front window of the trailer. The sun was just rising up over the mountains to the east. There was a thin mist in the air you could see hanging just above the desert floor. He noticed the old man sitting in a rickety wooden rocking chair on the front porch. He was sipping on a cup of coffee and having what Bud thought was a somewhat animated conversation with an enormous red-tail hawk who nervously paced back and forth across a dirt path just in front of the porch. The old man sent the raptor into flight with a flick of his wrist when he saw Bud eyeing him from the window. He motioned for Bud to join him outside.
“You slept well?” the old man asked. “Yeah, boy, did I ever,” Bud replied. “I kind of remember having this crazy dream last night.” “Go on, Mr. G.,” said the old man, calling him by a nickname he had given to Bud the day before. “Yeah, it was strange. I was standing in the middle of all these rolling hills. There were tall stalks of wheat as far as you could see in every direction. The old man continued nursing the last few drops from his coffee cup. “Then, all of a sudden, I heard a roaring sound from the hill behind me. I turned around and saw smoke and flames shooting up into the air. The fire was coming right for me!” The old man’s eyes widened with anticipation as Bud continued.
“As the fire broke over the hill, I saw all these animals, panic-stricken, trying to get away from the fire. Damn! They were on me before I knew it. Coyotes, buffalo, bobcats, deer, all kinds of creatures. They were just flying by me trying to get away from the approaching inferno.” “What did you do?” the old man asked Bud. “Nothing! I was frozen. I couldn’t move. It was like my legs weighed a thousand pounds each. I thought, shit! I’m a goner… No sooner did I have this thought than a giant - I mean GIANT eagle swooped down and landed right next to me.” The old man grinned. “It was probably ten times bigger than an eagle in real life. This is where it gets bizarre. It talked to me. Yes, I said talked to me!” “What did it say?” the old man asked Bud. “It told me to ‘climb on - that it would take me to safety.’”
By now, tiny beads of sweat had started to form on Bud’s forehead. The old man gave Bud a red bandana to wipe the moisture off his face. “What happened then, Mr. G.?” “Well, I got on! I could feel the heat of the fire approaching as the eagle spread its massive wings and swoosh!! We were airborne.” The old man turned and stared out at the desert morning sky, but Bud could tell he was still intently listening. “I remember being up in the air. High up in the air. The fire was consuming the wheat in the fields below, but I was safe. High above it all.”
Then I got this thought. ‘This isn’t real. Eagles can carry a full-grown man on their backs and be flying around like this. Damn! No sooner did I have this thought than I looked down, and the eagle was gone. I was still in the air, but now I was sinking ever so slowly back down to earth, towards the fire below.” The old man turned back to Bud. “You stopped trusting the eagle… yes, Mr. G.?” “Huh?” Bud replied. The old man did not answer. “Anyway, I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to die. I wish the eagle would come back. I remembered thinking I really need that eagle and like really bad - right this second!” “And when you had this thought, the eagle appeared once again…yes, Mr. G.?” “Yes! It appeared again underneath me and raised me back up into the sky. How did you know that?” Bud asked the old man.
“Because, you do not trust those things you have not learned in books and schools, Mr. G. You believe in things of the material world, but when it comes to the unseen things of the spirit, you are weak, Mr. G., I am sorry to say.” “I believe in God,” Bud declared. “I mean, I did years ago. I grew up a Catholic. I had no choice, really. That’s what my folks wanted, but we never talked about church and God at home. I think we only went because my mom forced us to go. I remember I asked my dad once why we were going to church every Sunday, and he said, ‘because it makes your mother happy, son.’” The old man made a scrunched-up facial expression, kind of like you would if you have just bitten down on sour lemon. “That is not what I mean when I speak of the spirit, Mr. G. The spirit I am talking about is everywhere. It flows through everything around us - and through us. But we have to let it in. It cannot force itself upon us.”
“When you doubted the eagle in your dream, you doubted the power of the spirit. But when you asked for help, the spirit returned and brought you back to safety. When we doubt the spirit, we are all alone and left to meet the challenges of life on our own.” “Maybe you’re on to something there, Yawaka,” Bud said. “When I was younger, I had this kind of blind trust in the God that I was taught in Sunday School. I remember I used to pray every day, and I was involved in lots of church activities. I had a lot of fun then, and I felt good about myself. Then the priest at my church and the two close friends I had made at church… they all moved away. Yeah, looking back at that now, I think I felt like God just abandoned me as tears began to well up in Bud’s eyes.
Yawaka looked down at the ground and shook his head. “My new friend, you are not alone in these thoughts. When we turn away from the power that comes from our Creator, we cut ourselves off from the help we need to guide our life. You spoke last night in the desert about how your trouble with alcohol started when you were a teenager. Perhaps when you walked away from the Creator, you tried to live your life solely on your own willpower. When things didn’t go right, you doubted yourself or maybe blamed yourself.”
Bud slumped down on the top step of the porch. He stared out at the desert with a faraway gaze as he continued listening to the old man. “Mr. G., what you did not realize… what you could not realize because you were trapped in thoughts only of yourself. We must work to make ourselves one with our surroundings, not selfishly wish that everything around us conform to our own wishes or desires.” “So, what do I do, Yawaka?” Bud asked. “Let us go to the lodge today, my friend. We will cleanse and meditate there. There, we may find answers,” the old man said, trying to reassure Bud. “Perhaps we will learn more about your dream?” “Ok, sir… whatever you say, Yawaka. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. I’m all in!” Bud exclaimed.
“I do have a question,” Bud said to the old man. “Earlier, it looked like you were having a conversation with a hawk out here on the porch. What was that all about?” Bud asked. “My spirit friend, the red-tailed one, has been trying to help me find the evil spirit your friends are seeking. He knows where it may be hiding.” “And?” Bud asked. “The red-tailed one found a cave in the mountains. But the evil spirit there discovered my friend was spying on him. I am concerned now because the evil spirit may now know we are coming for it?”
To be continued…