Mossy Pestle

ACCIDENT


   The rock cold, slowly taking shape. Buckeyes and oaks near him, a dry stream bed below--a minute before only darkness. Rolling hills in the distance, the sun just crowning a mountain peak. A nearly submerged pounding stone three feet away.
   His head hurt. Once, when he was in boy scouts, his tent caught on fire in the middle of the night. One of the older boys in his tent had stuck a candle on a flat disk that kept the candle erect. Everyone fell asleep reading girlie magazines, and the candle burned all the way down.
   Justin's pack and his jeans and his hair caught on fire. The next day the older boys looked at his hair when he told them that his head hurt and they said no, nothing's wrong. One of them got out a brush and told Justin that he had rats in his hair. The smell sickening, the boy with the brush pulling out a few clumps and quickly hiding them, saying no, no, nothing's wrong.
   Justin's parents noticed immediately upon his return that the hair on the back of his head was burned away, and his skin was black and red and shriveled up. A long time ago.
   Justin's father would sometimes wake him up before dawn and take him fishing, usually along the Kings. Justin never understood how his father, who had grown up in the Great Depression and had survived several battles in WWII, who labored day in and day out to provide for an unappreciative family--Justin never understood how his father could tune his soul so quickly to water and trees and earth, losing himself completely as he cast his line and silently waited. Justin sometimes assumed that his father carried silence like a disease, and that, like others of his generation, his father had seen too much and just needed to leave it all behind for a few hours each month. At times Justin even felt embarrassed, as if his father's need for silence were a kind of weakness in a world where only the strong survive, a world where strength meant being loud with opinions and certainties. Just watching him, though, Justin too lost himself in his surroundings, even though nature usually at first seemed alien, the deceptive depth of the dry leaves and the unexpected spider webs, the poison oak and slippery rocks, the deep pools and rushing currents sometimes frightening. But something drenched him in those flood plains, a spirit of serenity deeper than anything he ever experienced anywhere else.
   In retrospect, Justin realized that his father and uncles must have been deeply disturbed by what their country had made them do during the War; they all remained strangely quiet, as though afraid to articulate their rage and confusion. His father must have suspected that exposing his family to the timeless peace of nature might lead to uncontrollable rebellions in at least one of his sons. Justin, never completely satisfied by external gratification, during adulthood devoted his time primarily to financially unprofitable artistic and spiritual pursuits, which eventually led to a shift in focus from the transitory, unpredictable external world to the eternal but invisible inner realms. Tiny rents in the fabric of reality began to occur, which eventually resulted in major tears that let angels and demons through. Of course, for many years before then Justin had remained deeply dissatisfied, and most people who entertained his existence at all considered him irresponsible and untrustworthy. More and more, Justin lost faith in the external, in status and power, in prizes and rewards, in pecking orders and herd mentalities, in the very foundations of society, all because of those few hours in the river bottom.

Find out about the angels and demons.

   Justin's head was killing him. All those weekends they went camping in the foothills and high mountains, supposedly to go fishing, his father probably had just wanted to lose himself in that peace beyond understanding, and his father never said anything to Justin or his brother as they fished beside him. Justin thought, on more than one occasion, that maybe his father didnít really like them that much, but Justin finally understood, perhaps too late: his father was wordlessly showing Justin and his brother a different way of being a man, of being human, something that couldn't be articulated because speaking would only limit or trivialize the experience.
   His father dead thirty-four years. His father, Justin realized, had shown them how to let go of everything related to society and the lower personality, whether his father had intended to or not. What Justin experienced in nature was almost a contradiction: surrounded by the most magnificent forms, he experienced the emptiness that underlies all form, all fixed existence, the nothingness beneath all beliefs about the self and society, which, when truly experienced, drenches a person's essence in total peace and freedom, even if only for a few moments.
   One time when they were fishing together, though, Justin had found a sucker fish, mucous-colored, on the bank, its gills still fluttering, its eyes empty. A few moments before Justin had heard something behind the tules being smashed over and over against rocks.
   As Justin bent over the fish, his father yelled, "Don't touch it!" Justin was tempted to push it back into the water, but its mouth, a strange suction cup, seemed deformed, its body a sickly pale yelow. His father explained that suckers vacuum up trout eggs from the bottom of the river, and Justin felt sick to his stomach.
   Justin came back to himself on the ridge. He attempted to get everything he could out of sunrises, so he tried to memorize the whole scene. For some reason that made him feel less like a failure.
   No one starts out a failure, Justin thought. I was a straight A student, good at sports, popular with grown-ups and children.
   The bat is my downfall, he cringed, not just because I was once accidentally hit in the head with one, but because I had a pitiful swing. The ball would occasionally dribble into the outfield, but usually would only bounce sadly into the glove of an infielder. The bat, all shiny and balanced, a smooth club, an icon of individual potency, would transform into a harmless, ineffective stick in my hands. Damn it to hell, he chuckled. That was the first blow to my self-esteem.
   He had had no idea prior to the sixth grade, he realized, that he was so wimpy with a bat since he was above average in all the other sports, especially flag football and ping-pong, and because he could beat his older brother up, sometimes.
   But he got to thinking that if he wasn't picked to be on a team because of his wimpy swing then maybe nobody would like him if he didn't perform successfully in other endeavors. Was it possible, he had wondered, that no one would be his friend if he didn't have a nice car and a respectable job or if he wasn't in a position of power, no matter how low on the totem pole? What if he was gay or artistic or radical, or even better, all three at once?
   This might come as something of a shock to many people, especially those with a well-paying, respectable job, Justin thought as he gazed at the mountain peaks. I was right. He wanted to shout it out. I never found a decent job, which made buying an impressive car out of the question. I had long hair down to my shoulders and forgot to bathe occasionally. I attacked destructive forms of authority. No one wanted to be my friend. The corners of Justin's mouth curled upward even though his head was just about to explode.
   The average person is so insecure that before everything else he wants a job, before love, beauty, truth, justice, equality, before sex even, and he scorns anyone who could care less about having one. A respectable job equals not only food and shelter, but respect! Something no one can live without! I have survived without it ever since I discovered that I couldn't hit a baseball worth a damn and never would, no matter how hard I tried, he thought.
   I became a visionary Job, not a respectable job, he smiled. (He once actually had boils all over his body.) He had become a connoisseur of other orders of existence, relishing retrocognition, precognition, and telepathy, iconoclasm and perverted sex, art and the natural world, anything outside of the established order, which he realized at an early age was dangerous to his health. He wanted to yell out, Your world of good jobs and respect is killing me! It killed my father, dead at the age of fifty-six from a heart attack. Along with your world comes the hydrogen bomb, genocide, ecocide and the extinction of species, toxic chemicals, the starvation holocaust, racism, sexism, homophobia, wage slavery, corporate totalitarianism and fascism, the military-industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the death of truth and joy and the dragging of beauty through the mud. And if anyone is unhappy they are made to feel worse, if they don't have a respectable job.
   The respectable job is holy, not your children or your wife or your neighbor, not the rivers and the blue sky, not wildness or love, not lust or tenderness, not your flowers or your dogs, Justin shouted in his mind. I will go down on my knees before the altar of the respectable job and beg forgiveness. I will piss on everything else that has distracted me. I'll kiss your ass for a respectable job. I will denounce my friends and my family for the respectable job. I'll renounce the teachings of Jesus and Buddha. I will deny that my conscience ever existed. I will kill myself very slowly, in excruciating agony for many years. I will spy on my best friend. I will build a doomsday bomb if you just give me a respectable job. I will overthrow other governments. I will allow those in power to destroy all the ecosystems in the entire world--the entire universe--as long as I have a respectable job for twenty years or so. I am finally growing up. How sad! All because I couldn't swing a baseball bat.
   He had lost friends and lovers because of that damned baseball bat. Several marriages fell apart. I am disreputable and despicable, unpredictable and untrustworthy, considered a liar because I don't have a respectable job, he bellowed in his mind.
   You are sheep! Because you won't get down on your knees in front of a flower or a tree or a spider, because you won't believe that kissing your child's forehead is ten times more important, you won't believe that a coyote is fifty times more significant, you won't believe that a stranger is seventy-five times more deserving of respect, you won't believe that a river is one hundred times more relevant. You have to have someone who only cares about the bottom-line give you a respectable job, someone who just cares about the goddamned dollar bill and to hell with everything else!
   I became a visionary Job even though I secretly wanted a Respectable Job, he muttered in his mind. It all started when he realized that he couldn't command a baseball bat. Around that time, he grew suddenly weak, unable to run even short distances without constricted lungs and a nauseated gut. He couldn't belch at times until after he threw up. He grew spaced out, clumsy, tongue-tied, unable to focus. He felt an excrutiating boredom even while playing or working, a disconnection from other creatures that sliced through him, an inability to make the most mundane connections with other people, a depression so deep he felt like he was going to die.
   Because chemicals from your respectable jobs ruined my health, chemicals in the bread and the corn, in the air and the water, he howled in his mind. I passed out several times, believing that I was dying, and I was, slowly, oh so slowly, without doctors or anyone believing that I was even ill. It was my fault and I couldn't fight back and it just became worse and it never will go away completely even though I identify all the insidious chemicals and tear down all the horrible, respectable jobs in the universe! I can't argue with God nor will God reward me for my suffering. My entire life will be a failure, and pretty soon it's going to be payback time. Justin thought he felt a tear running down his cheek.
   Because I have achieved oblivion, Justin thought, I can sit for hours by the pounding stone. Ten thousand years, one hundred thousand years--I sit near the rock, my breath still circulating in the great ocean of breath, my body a bit of the earth that those in power haven't been able to eliminate quite yet. Someday they too will disappear into the great ground of being, like those who lived in the village of which there is no trace except the pounding stones and the trails webbing the entire range, trails kept distinct by cattle, the landowners unaware they are connected.
   In order to afford a house in the suburbs, a stereo (which he never played), a television (on all the time), pretty living room furniture (which he never used), several radios (blaring Musack), and an American-made car, Justin's father fought to achieve the Dream, changing jobs and moving to a slightly better house every other year, supporting an ecocidal and genocidal society that continues to be sexist, racist, homophobic and highly exploitive of people and resources during even its most enlightened times.
   Because he was unhealthy, disturbed, artistic, and had long hair, Justin thought his father considered him more than slightly deviant, especially after Justin was caught naked with a male friend in a car, which even then Justin knew was sexual experimentation. Justin's father had a heart attack and died two weeks after that incident, no doubt from the shock that Justin might be gay.
   Justin was getting tired of watching the sun rise. He had watched home movies the other night. In one scene, his father held his hand. In another his father carried him quickly away from a goat which had pushed its face into a cone with celery and carrots that Justin was barely able to hold up. The movie camera recorded the moments of tenderness without prejudice, presenting a truth Justin had forgotten. I have become the monster, my memories distorted, ugly, devoid of love or respect, less real than images on a strip of celluloid, Justin grimaced.
   The other day my car broke down and I walked home through neighborhoods I had haunted as a child, he thought, as if talking to his father. The houses where I had delivered papers were unfamiliar, except for one house on the corner, but the front door was facing the wrong direction. One night in that neighborhood my friends and I had toilet-papered a house, diving behind bushes to avoid headlights sliding everywhere. Walking home the day my car broke down, I tried, without success, to identify the bushes we had hidden behind, unable even to identify the house we had plastered with toilet paper. The fig orchard where we had fled in mock, exhilerated panic was a strip mall, and you, father, have less weight than toilet paper.
   The park (really a holding basin) where friends and I had ended up guzzling 151 rum, where later I realized I was a complete failure at baseball, where I had chased toads with the friend with whom I had my first sexual encounters, where I had taken my son when he was just beginning to walk, was that day when my car broke down empty and foul-smelling, covered by an inch or so of stagnant water. That day I walked by my old house, once the center of an empire extending into the galaxy. It was nondescript, insignificant. I had unintentionally returned to our old home, a house like any other, no longer associated with us in any way. (Maybe he wanted to find a mirror there, reflecting his father's face perhaps, or his own face, not monstrous but clear, beautiful, and meaningless.)
   I grow more montrous and frightening, a balloon caricature of myself growing larger and larger, Justin thought. Maybe I should blame him for this (an easy scapegoat), even though he was long ago engulfed by time. I will continue to grow uglier no matter what, until I become so monstrous that I either explode or deflate, losing my self completely.
   I am old, dead to almost everyone I have known. Wherever I travel in the grid, I can't help but notice that most of the circuitry remains but the connections have all been lost. In the past twenty years, clusters of people have supplanted each other, Justin murmured, as though I were living several lives in one identifiable physical form and the process of death and rebirth were no longer confined to physical birth and death. If I ever chanced to meet any of those people again, they would mean less to me than the moon, as though large portions of my life have vanished into oblivion like the memories of past lives.
   Justin looked around at the foothills. The same has happened to places, biological systems developed throughout unrecorded time and societies that co-existed with wildness for thousands of years--erased. Since memory isn't often stimulated to life after things disappear, they slide into oblivion. Because memory is so easily lost without external stimuli, individuals and ecosystems and races are expendable. Memory is inadequate against power. Maybe I could include that in a speech, someday, Justin noted.
   Justin suddenly recalled that he had had two types of experiences with God. The first occurred when he became ravished by his surroundings, usually due to the splendor of wildflowers in spring, and his ego vanished, and he became for a few moments the eternal experiencing itself. The other occurred only once, after two hits of acid, when he "heard" the grass and trees breathing and and knew they were "observing" him. In the moonlight he felt a sense of vast, pristine wildness, rife with splendor and bloodshed, devoid of a human value system, the patterns all around him, even in the rocks on the shore of the reservoir, created from forces so logical and beyond humanity's control that what had appeared random to him at one time was actually the most intricate, logical work of creation imaginable. Because of one chemical in his brain, Justin recognized the sentience of all creatures, and even the litter and barbed wire fence were part of some thoroughly wild, infinite design.
   But it's not that chemical or the breath of other creatures that you want us to experience because then nature wouldn't be neglected by the masses and exploited so easily by the few, Justin howled in his head, and we wouldn't be good little wage slaves.
   The ability to keep a person well or make him sick, to alter a person's perception about himself and the world around him is power on an unprecedented scale. The chemicals that overloaded Justin's body, creating a "sensitivity" to chemicals and destroying his immunity to allergens, were like the chemicals contaminating ecosystems. The body is a biological system which has developed over millions of years adapting to larger biological systems that have developed over hundreds of millions of years. Now, they can make it hard for biological systems, large and small, to thrive whenever they want to. When we disappear, we are forgotten, but they remain in power.
   As a sick man I cannot easily protest my demise. You discovered how to overload the human body with chemicals and then adjusted the doses of chemicals in the water and air and general food supply to control large portions of the population, making some mildly, others seriously depressed or sick, a handy tool in case of rebellion, and a better way to control the masses than bombs and bullets, which of course would make many, many insecure and ultimately destabilize the power structure. A sane man would not blame sickness and depression on those in power, and sickness detracts attention from horrific government actions or policies. The few who are aware can be made very sick or depressed, even suicidal or homicidal, if necessary. A brilliant plan! Especially when you combine this strategy with television and videos and the internet, the new opiates of the masses, far more intoxicating (and mind numbing) than religion.
   My father was a deeply conflicted man, Justin acknowledged to himself. One day his father brought home a bucket of liquid ice, placing it on the kitchen floor near the door. He took an orange and carefully dipped a third of it into the bubbling liquid and then shattered the rind like glass. Justin watched a white, ghostly spring bubble up out of the bucket, a stream of white fog dissolving into the linoleum, unsure about why his father would want to tempt him to turn his fingers into glass and shatter them on the floor. When his father left the kitchen, he barked at Justin's mother to leave the bucket where it was while Dean Martin, old "Deano," crooned "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes," the record player set on repeat, eternally spinning the 45. Justin's mother explained that his father was a foreman at a chemical plant.
   I remember when I was five you took me to visit an old army general at his home, Justin said in his mind. I sat at attention in the general's study. I felt completely ignored and became bored as the conversation droned on. Finally, I played with my Matchbox ambulance on the thick rug, smelling the dark burgundy leather furniture, feeling suddenly like I was being observed, the fusty books arranged on the shelves like soldiers ready for battle. As I gazed out the window, I sensed autumn for the first time in my life yet felt separate from it, the shadows swimming through the glass as the leaves fell, the general's neatly combed hair intimating the winter that would overcome us all. I don't remember what you talked about. The general didn't appear happy to see any of us. We never visited him before and I never saw him again. He never said hello or goodbye to me.
   Not long after that, Justin's father took him to the site of his new job. Justin knew that his father had once been a used car salesman and then had somehow become a foreman at a chemical plant, but Justin at that time had no idea what his father did at his new job. One day they drove into the foothills, Justin noticing contrails zigzagging crazily in the sky. His father told him they were from rockets being tested. His father parked the car outside of an impenetrable building and told Justin he would be back soon. Then his father disappeared through a steel door with a tiny window too high for Justin to see through. The grounds appeared deserted, eerie yet peaceful, and Justin ambled over to a dry creek bed to play, finding a line of red ants. As he watched the ants crawl over the sand, a fire ant, brighter than any insect he had ever seen, marched toward the procession. Justin followed the fire ant along the creek bed a long time, curious about where it was headed, as it crawled over leaves and pebbles and sand. Justin put his head down in the creek bed and became flooded with peace, linked to another world of tiny creatures, and he almost felt sorry when he realized that he had been by himself too long and that it was time for his father to find him. Justin raced back to the building and still no one was there, the door still locked. Justin slipped into the car and fell asleep on the back seat. Many years later, Justin discovered that his father was working for the Defense Department at that time.
   Not long after that trip to the building in the foothills, Justin ingested a chemical that caused him to hallucinate. Oddly enough, his mother gave him some molasses at bed time while his father watched carefully. Justin did not remember any reason for taking it or why his father would show such an interest in the process when he hardly ever seemed to be around any other time. Justin wanted to think his father was a good man, but Justin had little on which to base that opinion, besides a few home movies. His father played catch with him occasionally and taught him how to ride a bicycle, but his father was at work so much that Justin never got to know him. His mother once told him that his father would lecture the family for hours about the horrors of communism, so vociferously that Justin cried, but Justin did not recollect any of those occasions. When Justin was eleven, his father told him that blacks were no good, there was nothing good about them, and Justin sobbed, asking how a person could be bad because of the color of his skin. Oh, yes, once his father broke down and sobbed when Justin refused to go to the barber shop, his father muttering that whatever he had done was only for the family, which caused Justin to cry and feel terrible regret for a few moments. His father provided food and shelter, no mean thing, and took the family on vacations. His father was expendable.
   That night, after his mother fed him molasses and tucked him in bed, Justin's arms and legs twisted into impossible positions, his body monstrous, an arm twisting out of his back, a leg twisting out of his stomach. Justin screamed for help, and his mother pulled the covers back so Justin could see that his body was all right, and gave Justin another kiss and turned out the light. In the darkness, the twisting continued; his left leg twisted toward his shoulder and his right leg twisted behind his head, before he blacked out. When Justin came to, he was in the den, the tv on full blast, and he was screaming that he could not carry the tv on his back anymore. Justin's parents gently guided him back to bed. The most unusual aspect of the experience was that Justin's "psychotic" episode was never brought up by his parents even though they liked to mention other times when he had sleep-walked in the middle of the night.
   Justin became severely depressed soon after the hallucination, feeling disconnected from everything for the first time, a loneliness so deep he thought he would die from it. Later, Justin believed it was the side-effect of the toxic chemical or hallucinogen that he must have ingested that night. Not long after, on a family vacation, standing on the bank of a reservoir, Justin's father was attempting to show Justin how to fish, and Justin tried to ask if the terrible loneliness would ever go away, but his father reeled in a sucker, leaving it stranded on the denuded ground littered with tangled line, salmon egg jars and beer cans, its gills opening and closing, its eye without expression, the shore a wasteland where Justin's father stood silently casting.
   Not long after that vacation, the image of a Buddhist monk on fire on some street in Asia appeared on the news, and Justin started sobbing uncontrollably. Justin did not know at the time that the monk might have been giving his life to protest the great firestorms of the atomic age and/or the West's attempt to assert dominance over Asian cultures. Justin began to sob because he couldn't believe that any man would light himself on fire. Justin's father, who had been stationed in Guam when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Justin's uncle, the only survivor of a plane shot down in Germany, started poking fun at him, berating him about being weak. Justin just needed to get used to it, they said.
   Justin hallucinated again later, the memory of it remaining with him like the memory of some key event. Justin woke up unable to move while a man dressed in a black suit and with disheveled white hair approached Justin's bed. The old man appeared gentle but seemed to be smiling to hide concern that something was wrong. Lying immobile in bed, Justin tried to speak, seized by the fear that he was losing his sanity. Suddenly, Justin was engulfed in bright light and lost consciousness. He woke up again, sunlight filling his room, and looked around, relieved that it had only been a dream. But the old man suddenly approached again. Again Justin was unable to move and tried to scream. The light engulfed him again and again he lost consciousness. He finally came to, shaken, telling himself that he had twice dreamed that he was awake. In the dreams, his surroundings were real in every detail, and the dream of waking within a dream was the only dream he had never forgotten, so he was beginning to believe that it was either real or a chemical-induced hallucination.
   As I grew older at times I would double over in pain for hours, Justin thought, or experience headaches so bad that I would start wandering the neighborhood and lie down on someone's lawn and pass out. In the suburbs, no one noticed. I soon accepted the fact that I was expendable.
   After his father died of a heart attack, Justin no longer talked to his friends, and he went to great lengths to avoid people, sure that he would poison them with his presence. His brother moved away. His mother remained at work most of the day. He desperately needed just one person who could survive his slow poison, or at least one person willing to try, which would be terribly unfair to that person, of course.
   He began to fear the poison could kill him at any second. Justin recalled curling up in terror on his bed in the fetal position. The surviving members of the family lost touch, avoiding each other, though the house with its living room full of lovely furniture remained clean. One day Justin came home to find the house empty. He was alone and poisonous and stepped out into the garage and slung a rope over a beam, and, climbing on the second rung of a ladder, wrapped the rope several times around his neck and dropped off, feeling very little pain as he began losing consciousness, finding the first rung of the ladder with his foot before completely blacking out.
   By accident Justin discovered a book on chemical sensitivities and food allergies and read it on a trip in the mountains where he felt surges of well-being so powerful that he entertained the notion that he had been sickened by chemicals. Unfortunately, Justin had to cure himself, identifying the poisons on his own because the family doctor considered him a hypochondriac. One by one he found the chemicals that had nearly killed him and stopped ingesting them as much as he was able, the rope still on a shelf in the garage.
   An experiment began during the cold war, when people were still painfully aware that whole cities could be annihilated by a single bomb blast at any moment, when the CIA was researching the use of drugs as a means to control society. Beneath the placid, innocuous exteriors of the suburbs lurked dangers that could not be seen or heard, unlike the wild animals of the valley a century earlier. However, if you were injured by these substances, you could not blame wild animals or monsters, only yourself, or worse, your parents. It is true, however, that others you know might be involved in a covert government plot to determine if chemicals could control the masses. Or maybe it is simply that in any society, there are always risks and benefits to consider, and some people are naturally expendable. You just live in a society where those in power make expendable the millions of people who are chemically sensitive. Hey, it's nothing personal, just an unavoidable consequence of profit and loss.
   If the government had not initiated any testing on a large number of individual citizens, it at least allowed defacto testing on a massive scale by permitting innumerable chemicals into the environment and in food without any idea of long-term effects--an experiment in Social Darwinism so diffuse and on such a large scale that the victims of environmental pollution could not be considered targeted victims, except that the poor were exposed the most. The result could not be considered genocide. Those who survived--uncountable people who were chronically ill or committed to mental institutions because of chemical sensitivities and related food allergies--were stigmatized because they did not have the good manners to act normal or die.
   Several doctors had begun noticing the connection between chemicals in foods and physical illnesses and depression around the same time Justin began developing symptoms, but their findings were attacked by the American Medical Association and ignored by the government. Despite obvious progress in diagnosing and treating chemical susceptibilities and food allergies, the environmental clinics were forced to close down because insurance companies refused to cover the treatment, leaving millions without hope of alleviating the suffering and without adequate health care.
   Justin found himself with numerous junked, irrelevant selves, unable to believe in the integrity of any transient personality. Once, at Sycamore Creek, (Justin looked around, thinking he might be near Sycamore Creek) he had plunged into a pool to cool off, and when he stood up on a slippery, submerged ledge, he suddenly experienced the exuberance of a young man enjoying strong lungs and healthy body, and without thinking, he had smiled. Then it flashed on him that he was neither young nor healthy. He peered a long time into the pool, the drops fingering the hillside, pooling and emptying into larger streams, the branches flowing into ponds and lakes and finally to the sea to begin the cycle again as clouds and rain and snow. He had looked at the stones collected on the bank, smooth and rounded, vestiges of much larger rocks broken down by forces over a period of time that he could not begin to comprehend. Even if he had spent hundreds of lifetimes by the creek, he would still be merely as a few moments of water passing over the stones.
   At that moment Justin realized that because of his own failure and loss and sickness, he was able to let go and feel connected with other creatures, both spiritually and through the simple act of breathing, accepting his own death, his own oblivion. He had taken the JOB initiation, losing everything so that he would finally be left with nothing but the terrible knowledge of the eternal. He had earned that gift.
   Justin once had gone deep into meditation and had met a dirty Native American shaman who was building a fire. Suddenly the shaman stood up and Justin could see that the shaman wore a robe of deerskin with the deer's head and antlers. Justin had just read that the deer is sacred to the Triple Goddess, the creator, preserver, and destroyer, because it sacrificed itself so that another community could survive. The shaman wore the skin of the sacrificed animal, his power animal representing the love of all creatures which led to sacrifice for the Goddess, a sacrifice which meant that he had died to the desires of the physical plane in order to have a spiritual body that could travel on the inner planes for the benefit the community.
   The shaman handed Justin a white deerskin to wear and Justin grasped it with humility. Justin felt light flowing outward, enveloping everyone that he knew, and finally the whole world, and then the light flowed back to him, and he felt reborn.
   Justin stared at the orange ball, which had long ago detached from the peaks. He had hardly noticed how quickly it was rising.
   Justin's father and uncles had played the game, knowing deep down that if you fight against corporate interests for the benefit of the environment and the community, you are placing your livelihood and even your relationships at risk because corporations have control over almost all aspects of society through the influence of power and money. Since thereís always a revolving door between business, politics, and academia, they can with relative ease make sure that you donít get hired or that you get fired, especially since most workers have so few job protections. The good olí boys and girls stick together, crushing whoever threatens their interests.
   The vested interests frame the issue in such a way that activists look anti-business and anti-worker and anti-human and just downright un-American. Itís jobs versus trees, jobs versus fish, jobs versus the kangaroo rat. You are a wacko for trying to protect air and water and dwindling ecosystems--at the expense of people. Obviously youíre not fit to have a respectable job or power of any kind, Justin smiled.
   He shivered, remembering that college administrators had stripped teachers of health care, pensions, job security, and the ability to exchange ideas. Adminstrators simply didn't rehire teachers who, like Justin, told inconvenient truths or presented unwelcome opinions. The tenured folks didn't lift a finger when it came to injustice in their own arena, yet they continued to act progressive.

Read about exploitation.

   Justin's sight was growing a little blurry as the pounding stone was growing clearer. No one who saw that pounding stone could claim that America was a great nation. Trails led away from that stone to ancient Native American sites all over the mountain range, trails like roads linking forgotten neighborhoods where other pounding stones, pestles, and even house pits could still be found, the sites separated now by asphalt roads and barbed wire. The first whites, assisted by the army, in the name of freedom, in the zeal for ownership, massacred family after family, tribe after tribe, driving the last onto reservations to starve or die of disease or alcoholism. Only cattle and horses and coyotes and deer wandered those trails now, and the slaughter in the name of freedom, the freedom of markets and ownership, just continued into other countries and onto other continents. In all the years that he had searched the mountains, finding one desolate village site after another, Justin had never encountered another soul, only the silent stones, as if there never had been any suffering then or now.
   Justin felt several drops of sweat slide down his forehead and temple. No one else, as far as he knew, had linked the trails in the crazy quilt pattern of properties. No one else that he knew had been shown how to feel part of the web of life, a process that depended on the silence in the woods and the terrible silence of the desolate village sites, a silence usually drowned out by white noise, the ubiquitous babble of some dream.
   Justin smiled at how odd it was to sweat and shiver at the same time. Despite his splitting headache, he was experiencing the glory of the sunrise, everything glittering and fresh, field upon field of energy all interconnected. Suddenly next to the Kings one spring day, his personality had vanished, as though erased, and he was God experiencing Itself. He was the observer, and the observed, and the act of observation within the unity that underlies everything that exists. But his personality, after a few mildly shocking moments of this sense of unity, reasserted itself, as if the mind could not tolerate it for more than a few seconds....
   He again tried to wipe the sweat away but this time noticed blood on his fingers. "Where the hell did that come from?" he gasped, staring at the rock as though it might somehow be the source of the blood.
   "Maybe a mountain lion killed something on this rock," he thought for a second. As he stood up, his vision dimmed and he felt like puking, so he quickly plopped back down.
   "Wait a minute," he thought. "Where am I?" He touched his head again. More blood on his fingers. He started to panic.
   "Geezus," he winced, "what the hell happened?" He began to feel even sicker, retching in the grass, which only made his head hurt more. By all accounts, he had a splitting headache.
   He panicked, realizing that he didn't know where he was or how he had gotten there and that he might pass out if he tried to walk. He noticed a large pestle next to the pounding stone. "That figures," he thought. "Finding an artifact, without knowing where I am." He remembered a bicycle accident when he was a kid. After he had come home from the doctor's, he suddenly noticed a bubble ring on his finger, the kind he liked to buy for a quarter at the drug store, but this ring was strange. He asked his parents where he had gotten the ring. They told him then that he had been gliding down a hill on his bike and had hit a curb. He had flown over his handle bars and landed on his head. He had amnesia, which meant, they said, that he might not remember everything that had happened to him that day.
   He looked around for a bicycle, suddenly hearing a swish on the ridge behind him. He looked for a car at the bottom of the steep embankment. He made an effort to stand up again, but plopped back down immediately. He looked at the pounding stone and the pestle again. "I must be about a hundred yards from the road." The idea of Native American artifacts so close to the road at first seemed absurd, and then made him afraid. He shivered again. The mortars of the pounding stone were filled with dirt and grass, the pestle untouched, perhaps, for over a century.
   He wondered if he had swerved off the road. But where was the car? It was more likely that someone had forced him off of the road. Justin had made numerous enemies, including developers, polluters (from oil companies to hazardous waste companies), farmers, loggers, all of whom he suddenly imagined waiting in line to take a shot at him.
   Justin remembered John Blackmore, a fellow activist who had helped him and his wife financially when Justin had lost his jobs and his self-respect. Justin had to worry the most about the people closest to him--talk about not trusting externalities. Did Blackmore bludgeon him and leave him to die? Perhaps Blackmore pushed him off a cliff and strolled away, sure that Justin was dead. Justin had had his chance to deal with Blackmore, but now it was too late. Justin was still uncertain about why Blackmore wanted to kill him. Was Blackmore really that much in love with my wife? Justin wondered. Blackmore was just too damned old! Blackmore, in some twisted way, might view Justin as a competitor in the arenas of activism and love. Or had Blackmore sensed Justin's physical vulnerability? Did Blackmore simply want to experience the preditor's triumph of crushing the life out of a victim? So often men and women had wanted to crush Justin just for being himself, it seemed. Underlying so much of polite society was that ferocity of predation, which had surfaced unexpectedly in women and men that Justin had once trusted, that he had once believed in, that he had once....
   Justin started crawling toward the road, his head splitting more with each movement. Occasionally he snaked his way along the ground, hoping that would help. It didn't. After what seemed like an eternity, he stopped at the base of the embankment, hearing the swish of cars on the road nearby. His pulse racing, he felt dizzy and suddenly exhausted. He could try to crawl up the embankment or he could lie still and hope that someone would rescue him. Since he felt like he couldn't move just then, he decided to choose the latter, at least until he got some strength back. Maybe his own need to tear down cutthroats and despoilers and hypocrites and liars stemmed from the predator instinct--sublimated, perhaps, but still predation, and this was his karma....
   Justin's life-long sickness had made him vulnerable to predators like Blackmore, who initially appeared to have a genuine desire to help a fellow activist in need. Justin had experienced the unity of the cosmos, himself a field of energy in a vast tapestry of living, intelligent energy even as Blackmore was attempting to kill him and as people stripped him of jobs and dignity. He grimaced, blood (or was it a tear?) sliding down his cheek. A terrible weight on his head and arms, so tired that he could hardly keep from nodding off, Justin felt himself sliding into insignificance, into the emptiness beneath existence, into a terrifying sense of unity....
   The swish of a car on the road above jolted him back to consciousness and tempted him to move. He wouldn't be found there for days, if not years, if ever. Nobody else trespassed like he did. Nobody else, it seemed, even looked much beyond the road. Maybe it was an accident after all....

Follow a scary trail.
Sing as you go.
Open a closet door.
Meet a rider on a pale horse.