In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symmetry.”
In sorting through my photo album to find material for last weeks challenge, I came across photos I’d taken while working at a dam in Egypt, sometime in mid-eighties. The ones that intrigued me I had taken at Rameses tomb, south of the Aswan Dam, at its UNESCO-sponsored transport to a new location to escape inundation by the new, deep reservoir being formed behind the dam. I still marvel at the engineering accomplishment of successfully moving this giant structure, block by block, and hardly being able to detect any of the resulting joint-work today.
The quiet majesty of the tomb impressed me very much. The pictures I’ll show today were taken inside the tomb and its interior temple.
A long time ago–about twenty years past–I went on the last of three separate wilderness trips, patterned loosely on the Vision Quest model of the Native American people. It involves going into a national wilderness area as a small group, and then splitting off solo to seek out an area to do your own four-day fast and meditation. No food at all, but carrying a supply of water. It’s an awesome and memorable experience.
This trip was into the Inyo Mountains, in the eastern Sierra Mountains of California. The first photo is of our small group, led by a well-experienced guide. The second shot is of me on the day that we all split up to go to our earlier selected fasting site well away from any of the others, but with a pre-agreed boundary post that we would leave a marker each day to let our ‘buddy’ know we were alright.
The next photo was a sketch I did of a lone Bishop Pine tree that grew on the crest of the hilltop I was camped on. I’d noticed it each day that I wandered the hillside and surroundings. On this third day of fasting, I spotted a flutter of white cloth in the tree. I went to investigate, and found a tied white bundle buried in the crotch of the tree. I undid the bundle and found a two-part smoking pipe, four small sealed cloth medicine pouches, sprigs of sage, and large eagle? feathers. Of course I wondered how they’d come to be there, and what was the right thing to do about this find? That night was a weird one of troubled dreams, one of which was very unsettling. I decided to take the pouch down to our final group assembly where we typically discuss our reflections of our solo days of fasting. The next photos show a couple of details of the medicine bundle that I unfurled to show the group. Some thought I could keep the bundle, a couple thought I shouldn’t. In the end, I elected to return to my site and replace the bundle. The guide learned later that a local chief had died in the recent past and it was conjectured that perhaps it had to do with that event. Later on, I conferred with a friend who was a Native American spiritual leader, from the Pitt River band, who visited prisons around California to conduct spiritual ceremonies for incarcerated Indians. He said I could have kept the medicine bundle, as I had come into it in a valid manner. In fact, it would have probably been the only way I could have properly claimed it.
I’ve thought about this event many times, and wonder again what I should have done.
For this Post I’ll go back some years to a pretty major achievement that continued the ‘thread’ of my own personal message stream.
The cottage shown first is on the west coast of Ireland, and is the home of an Uileann Piper friend I had met when he visited San Francisco. I stopped at his home on one of my trips over to order a set of pipes from him.
The view out onto the Atlantic was spectacular. Inside, the lower floor was taken up entirely by his pipes and flute-making workshop:
The piper and I went to the Doolin bar that evening. The bar is a renown site for Irish traditional music and singing, drawing locals and tourists from worldwide. Sometime very late that night the piper asked a young woman tourist he had met there before, and me, if we’d like to explore some of the cave system that twists and winds through the massive limestone, The Burren, which underlies the region. Why sure! We went back to his house to cobble together some wet-gear, and torches (flashlights). We had told no one where we were going. We drove some distance to a tunnel opening which the piper knew of, and entered. At first, you could stand up sideways, but soon we were down in a crouch, and a small stream of water ran in the bottom of the passage. Down and down, sliding on our belly in the water to get beneath overhangs. The only instructions we had from the piper was that we just had to keep turning to our left wherever we encountered a fork. I was ready to turn back after a while of this, but I hated to say anything. Just my luck, the woman was iron-willed. Eventually we reached the grotto that had been the piper’s goal. Here’s two photos of us taking a much needed rest in the grotto: piper and woman in the first, me in the second:
We didn’t stay long, it seemed already hours, and we started back up, me leading this time, and always staying right to retrace our steps. Something was wrong, our passage eventually pinched out. Not to worry! We retraced our steps back down until we were confident of recognizing features observed on the way down, then we started back up. This time I tried to be extra careful and called back the features to the piper as we wound our way upward. Pretty soon the headroom disappeared. There seemed only a sand and gravel mound on the floor with water flowing across it. First I, then the piper, tried to claw some of the sand from beneath the rock overhang, figuring it might have been one of those passable dips we had encountered on the way down, and which had just filled with more sand. No such luck, pretty soon we gave it up and retraced our way back down again.
By now I was seriously considering a major tragedy was in the making–no one even knew we were down here. The flashlights were getting low and I think we all were getting pretty tired. I was. Back up again–third time. We stopped to rest at a point we felt was still on the original path, with me leaning on the right wall, slurring my words, talking with the others who leaned against the opposite wall. I idly mentioned feeling a subsurface current flowing against the back of my boots. The piper immediately crouched to grope beneath the water surface. There was the right turn we had kept missing on the way up!
When we got back to the surface, we lay stretched out on the muddy ground. It was so good to have some sort of future in store again. Definitely an Achievement. Here I am playing the pipes my host sent me after I returned home. Some years ago.