Ocala Can You Hear Me?

10 07 2017

OcalaFarm

In search of healing we were introduced to Ayahuasca by a Brazilian shaman. Geraldo arranged it. We drove north into horse country to find it.

I was surprised to get the last minute invitation. It came via a text late Friday night after I had deactivated my Facebook and realized I had no clue where my next paycheck would come from. Before I could wallow in self pity Geraldo rode to the rescue.

His best friend from South America was here.

Cristina was her name. She was powerful and wise. A mother of two children. Girlfriend to Carlos. Healer of many.

Before Geraldo and I found Cristina’s campground we drove through the rolling hillside farm country. Some of the farms were quite immaculate with freshly cut lawns and thoroughbred horses grazing the fields. The oak trees in this part of the country were large with thick clumps of moss hanging from their branches. They were an oasis for cattle herds from the sun’s mighty rays.

Geraldo had been in Ecuador. He was a heavy man now. He said our trek into the North Florida farmlands would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He described it as an circle of healing — spiritual not sexual. That was good enough for me.

David gave his blessing and we left Pompano Beach in a brand new volkeswagen jetta. Early July and the heat in full effect. We made good time on the turnpike pushing into Ocala around the four-hour mark.

“You’re going to drink with us, John?” she asked as we approached the campfire.

“Yes,” I said.

Geraldo warned it could get ugly. Vomiting, diarreha of the worst. He advised I fast the night before and refrain from drugs and eating meat. This was a cleasening, he said…to decide who I wanted to be and to release the demons of the past.

Cristina helped with that. She wore a yellow feather in her hair. At the ceremony she dressed in a beautifully beaded long red dress. Carlos was ever at her side. He was standoffish at first but when we spoke was assured the cleansing from this Amazon vine was what we all needed.

Carlos, Geraldo and I gathered wood for the fire. For the ceremony, I laid on my wolf blanket from Yellowstone. The one Anne gave me. Four candles were placed around the fire pit. After lighting the fire, Cristinia offered the Ayahuasca. It was bitter and hard to swallow. I took one sip and gave the cup back. She encouraged me to finish the cup and I did.

Once the drink had been passed around the circle, Cristina began to sing her native songs with accompaniment on the drums and guitar by Carlos. Her chants were passionate and in dialects I had never heard before. She moved around the fire, always stablizing herself in a yoga-like pose before another cry into the night. The Ayahuasca began to take its effect and soon my ears felt unclogged from years of swimming in cholrine dosed pools.

My senses began to peak. I could hear other sounds from the wild near and far. I could hear my heart beating again. It was a full moon rising….

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

 

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Seeing Red

28 07 2014

No matter how hard I try, I cannot escape politics.

This summer I stepped right into it, unaware of just how delicate a situation I was entering. For the first time in decades, a new concessonaire contract was awarded at Glacier National Park. This contract includes the park’s historic fleet of red buses, which have been masterfully rebuilt from the frames of the original 1930s White Motor Company models. The red buses have come to represent Glacier, providing an iconic symbol associated with the park’s renowned Going-To-The-Sun Road.

The buses were previously operated out of East Glacier, their hub being the Glacier Park Lodge, located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. That all changed last year when the National Park Service, much to the locals’ surprise, awarded Glacier’s concessionaire contract to Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Xanterra, in turn, pitched its tent on the west side of the park near the rapidly developing tourist towns of Whitefish and Kalispell.

Red Ride

Red Ride

Losing the contract and its red buses has left East Glacier isolated and angry, its community suffering from a dramatic drop in revenue. There are hard feelings in the park. I experience them every day.

I lost count of how many times locals, posing as tourists, came in to question me about Xanterra’s operations. I found the questions odd at first, but then began to notice a trend and with it an unpleasant demeanor. I was a target no doubt, the new guy with the 10 gallon hat, riding in to represent the big corporate outfit from Denver — unaware of just how many roots had been ripped out in this move.

Early on, I tried to keep a positive attitude, but the constant attacks have worn me down. There are incredible logistical challenges here — it is a remote area drawing affluent visitors who expect every modern luxury while experiencing a true backwoods wilderness adventure. Delivering this total package is the challenge that gets me out of bed at 6 a.m. every morning.

Through all the complaints, raised voices and temper tantrums, I have managed to keep my cool. I am determined to leave here with my dignity intact. Again, I think of my father often now and what it must have been like to go through those hurricanes back in Florida — as he did many times — and manage to keep emotions in checks while restoring power to the masses.

Here in Glacier, appeasing tourists is just part of the equation. A big chunk of my time is devoted to our red bus drivers. Keeping them happy is as vital — if not more — than our guests. Affectionally known as “Jammers” for their gear shifting driving style, red bus drivers do require a certain skill set to succeed. The Going-To-The-Sun Road is no piece of cake with its twists and turns, falling water, ice and rock and God knows what else lurking in the other lane just behind the bend.

Jammers provide commentary along the way, each with their own unique personality. Some have been doing this upwards of 40 years, others like me, thrown into the fire for the first time. In the old days, it was college aged men driving the red buses across the Continental Divide. This year, in another first for the park, we have an equal number of women Jammers, including several college aged girls.

Evelyn, one of our veteran Jammers, is quick to cite statistics showing women to be much safer drivers than men. I’m not sure where she gets her data, but Evelyn is not one to pick a fight with. She’s a motherly hen type, her beautiful white hair braided in a long ponytail and her knowledge of wildflowers is unmatched. Evelyn recognized early on that I was in for a rocky ride this summer.

“Hang in there, John McDonald,” she said during a recent stop by my concierge desk at the Lake McDonald Lodge. “You are halfway there.”

 

 





Chantel’s Story

16 02 2014

New Year. New Life. Much to be grateful for and humble.

I am working a lot. New York calls quite frequently now. I am living on a golf course where they host professional tournaments. Physically, I am in the best shape of my life. It almost feels like a dream.

But it’s not.

Chantel has yet to respond to my emails. We toured Art Basel together and dined on Lincoln Road where she granted me an interview. Balans, she insisted, would do. As we walked the outdoors mall in Miami Beach, I playfully teased her that the N.F.L. was looking to expand in the European market and I was not referring to soccer. She was having none of it.

Chantel turned into much more than I had bargined for. She was young — 29 as a matter of fact, but at first glance it would be easy for someone to mistake her for much younger. I had observed throughout the day that she was clearly a person who could get things done. She had such confidence when speaking with the gallery representatives at Art Basel. This, no doubt, instilled by her mother. Chantel spoke of her mother fondly, saying she was responsible for raising social justice awareness in the family, particularly those key issues on the continent of Africa.

“She told us which brands not to buy from,” Chantel said of her mother’s consumer advice.

We were in the convention center for hours. We talked about a lot of issues of importance in Britain and America. People stared at us. I was flattered to be in her company.

“I believe the human spirit is inherently good,” I said. Chantel was not as convinced. She seemed more interested in my taste of art and design than my philosophical views.

At Balans, Chantel proposed we dine inside so I could conduct the interview free of the hustle and bustle of Lincoln Road. She asked the manager if she could use her Balans card at this location. He said yes, but I took the the bill. Chantel told me she attended a prestigous university in London — a red brick school as I recall — and was on her way to Los Angeles in hopes of publishing a novella about sexuality. She also admited to having a girlfriend — confirming her bisexuality which she revealed during our walk through the convention center. She refused to give her name.

She then turned the tables as I hurried to jot down her words.

“John, have you ever written about human trafficing?” Chantel asked.

I was stunned. The burger I had woofed down just minutes before suddenly felt like coming up.

“Pardon me,” I said.

“In your writings, John, have you ever covered sex workers?” she asked again.

I had not. It was just not the kind of topic I was assigned while working the sports desk back in Dothan, Alabama. But I was not naive about the subject matter. Chantel, it turns out, had done the research, extensive research, in Britain, America, Thailand and Africa. She then asked me if I had ever been a “rent boy” ?!

I said no, of course. This conversation began to make me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say next. The interview was over.

We hugged as we parted ways outside of Balans.

“Be well,” she said.

I have yet to receive any e-mail from Chantel acknowledging our meeting.

Her story is now a mystery.

Ghosts

Ghosts