Once, when I first began exploring the Experimental Range, a downpour commenced that was so vigorous rain water fountained out of rodent holes on the slopes. I splashed down a muddy road over a ridge and found clear rivulets veining the grass and swelling a pond thick with buttercups. I followed a rushing stream that led me to a pounding stone with mortars brimming with water, and as rain glittered in sunshine, I turned and realized that I had just hiked across house pits, which, since the Yokuts buried the dead under their huts, have remained unmarked graves for over a century. As I explored the stream, I finally admitted to myself that I had no idea which direction I was heading. As I turned around and around, I squinted at gray pines, oaks, lupine bushes, mushrooms, moss--all fields of vibration within infinite fields of energy, and as I listened to rain drops drumming the leaves, I woke to the sentience of the ecosystem. At the time I did not consider myself a spiritual man or even a particularly loving man, but sheltered under a massive tree, I fancied myself a shaman, tuning my soul to the different powers of the species by the stream, and after unintentionally shifting into a trance-state, I felt the presence of an Over Soul, an intelligence keenly aware of every tree and bush and and stone and blade of grass. My mind resonated with its overarching consciousness, and I felt a surge of love and compassion for all things in its domain.
Established in the mid 1930s, the San Joaquin Experimental Range contains almost 2,000 ha of land (1 ha equals 2.47 acres), consisting primarily of oak woodland savanna. Except for a small sign near the highway revealing that the Forest Service and CSU, Fresno, maintain the land, the Range from the highway appears no different from the private ranch land dominating the lower foothills. Another sign at the main gate states that hunting and camping are prohibited but neglects to mention that the public otherwise is tolerated. In the past decade or so I have explored the entire Range and have encountered a total of three people beyond the main road, only one of whom seemed to have any authority--a scientist who waved around strange sound equipment and didn’t acknowledge my presence.
Near the roads stand mysterious experiments: white pipes, sometimes capped, protruding above ground like periscopes; tractor tires cemented into the earth; scrawny bushes, usually dead, carefully enclosed with chicken wire; flimsy poles on which is strung white ribbon that delivers a powerful electric shock; wooden enclosures reinforced by chicken wire that retain thick tufts of grass unmolested by cattle. In the middle of nowhere, one experiment, which resembles an alien space-craft, bears a sign explaining that the equipment measures shifts in the earth's plates. Besides grazing on grass, the livestock, always present on one part of the Range or another, gobble up dwindling species of flowers that blanket the few ungrazed areas of the foothills, and on the surface it appears that educational opportunities are limited primarily to livestock production and management, but hundreds of studies have been conducted on the Experimental Range, reflecting its initial purpose to explore ways to “better manage these lands” (fs.fed.us/psw/ef/san_joaquin).
Cow patties dissolve at a glacial pace all over the woodland savanna and on the roads, but the Range supports a variety of wildlife. Individual coyotes have occasionally loped by me, thirty or forty feet away, seemingly without fear or curiosity, perhaps hoping that I’ll follow them to their lairs. In late afternoon and early evening, I have heard bands of coyotes cut loose a terrifying chorus of howls, usually in the distance but sometimes unnervingly close. I have seen, several times in ten years, a mother pig tailed by a long single-file line of baby wild pigs. Once I almost stepped on a bobcat hidden in tall grass in a house pit; it rose slowly, unperturbed, and skulked away down the hill. And once in a remote part of the Range where I had discovered seven pestles resting on a rock next to a pounding stone, I noticed a tawny cat about a hundred feet away, camouflaged by golden grass. At first I thought it was another bobcat, but then I observed a long tail flopping around in the grass. I have heard that mountain lions like to pounce on the neck, so I spent the rest of the hike looking over my shoulder.
Native Americans for an estimated sixteen thousand years (perhaps longer) managed the ecosystems in North America to suit their needs, but compared to the vast changes caused by development and cultivation in the Valley in the past century, the Native Americans had minimal impact on the environment. Nevertheless, the trails, pounding stones, house pits and pestles, so easily overlooked, reveal that a completely different human order once dominated the area. Just below in the San Joaquin Valley, evidence of a Native American presence has all but been obliterated in just a few generations. Rural developments are leapfrogging into the lower foothills, but generally, lack of water has stalled large-scale cultivation and urban development at the edges of the Valley, preserving the evidence of thousands of years of human history for cattle ranchers, trespassers, and an archaeologist or two. Current laws cannot stop large-scale development on private land (except on Native American burial grounds) once the "water problem" has been solved.
Legend has it that Native Americans could not make sense of the ships of the first European explorers because nothing like their ships had ever moored off the coast before, and now perhaps something like the reverse is true. People from urban settings tend not to perceive evidence of Native American cultures. For instance, even though I am generally observant, I hiked on trails through the hills many Sundays before I finally realized that most, if not all, of the trails hook up with Native American village sites. Something in me, moreover, just could not admit that house pits still remain near the pounding stones until after I had encountered shallow oval indentations in the ground at almost every single village site. For me at first it was hard even to imagine that Native Americans ever lived there--let alone survived there for over fifteen thousand years. I feel the same about other species that once existed in the area: grizzly bears, wolves, prong-horned antelope, tule elk, and many others exterminated or cleared out by hunting and modern land use practices.
Even more alien to the experience of people in urban areas are encounters with entities from subtle dimensions beyond the perception of the physical senses, such as nature spirits, Over Souls, and the shining ones known as Archangels or Gods. The Experimental Range endures as a natural and spiritual zone: The tranquillity of the woodland savanna enables a person to shift the mind easily to a timeless spiritual awareness completely different from the surface consciousness that dominates modern society. Until I had repeatedly experienced a sense of connection with different, subtle orders of being, I could not imagine that it was even possible. I only recognized the existence of spiritual beings after repeated encounters, and since few people ever meditate or experience nature, what follows will no doubt seem more like fiction than what might be labelled "incredible nonfiction."
Ten years ago, around the time I first started exploring the Experimental Range, when I was in my early forties, I began meditating purely to relieve stress, and one afternoon, after meditating deeply for over an hour, I had a vision of a gray figure-eight floating on its side above my head. I could also see the walls of my room clearly, so I thought for a moment that I had opened my eyes. I blinked and the figure-eight disappeared. I had no idea what the vision signified, so I mused for awhile and forgot about it.
A few days later at a bookstore, I felt a totally uncharacteristic desire to buy a pack of Tarot cards. Normally I would hang out in the Literature section of the bookstore, but that day I browsed the New Age section and found a book on the Tarot and an attractive pack, the Universal Waite Tarot deck. As the cashier was ringing up the items, he confided that he had been thinking about "getting back into" the Tarot himself. Not knowing quite how to respond, I paused, and then suddenly the word "synchronicity" popped out of my mouth. I confess that at the time I wasn't quite sure what the word meant. The cashier smiled and handed me my purchase, and I then drove to another store on a different errand. Before I got out of the car, I flipped through the book and stopped at a page that contained a striking photo of a man named Carl Jung. I read the text below and discovered that Carl Jung had coined the term synchronicity to suggest how events in the external world can significantly mirror the symbolic world of the subconscious mind. I then opened the pack of Tarot cards. The second card I encountered, called “The Magician,” contains an image of a man with a gray figure-eight floating on its side above his head. I flipped through the book to a description of "The Magician" and discovered that the gray figure-eight, called a lemniscate, is a symbol of eternity and in the card suggests the knowledge of the infinitude within.
In my vision I had tapped into the archetypal dimension and had encountered a symbol that a few days later surfaced in "real" life, and I soon found out that the symbol system of the Tarot dovetails in every way with the great mystic symbol system known as the Tree of Life. Individuals can channel subtle forces through the archetypes of the Tree and the Tarot into the psyche so that the energy imbues the conscious mind and can eventually manifest in daily life. Through the symbols of the Tarot and the Tree of Life, for instance, I am often keenly aware of the infinitude within, which has an extremely positive effect on me and everyone connected to me. Before that I was pessismistic, cynical, and generally a real chore to be around.
Follow a trail on a different experimental range.
Most of the experiments that dot the Range reveal efforts to improve the cattle industry by increasing water supplies and managing herds more efficiently. In the woodland setting, the experiments shout how every human creation, no matter how clumsy or strange, takes shape first in the mind as thought-forms before being tested in the harsh conditions of the material plane. Due to the West's emphasis on education and experimentation, a growing percentage of the population is developing the ability to concentrate and visualize well enough to create effective thought-forms in the imagination, with groups and individuals exerting control over the environment in ways that people a century ago would be astonished to witness. The experiments on the Range accentuate how, in the last century, humans have become great experimenters with thought-forms, altering natural environments in some places, like the San Joaquin Valley below, beyond recognition.
A conventionalized symbolic image of a God, Archangel, Over Soul, or nature spirit is a specific type of thought-form that represents or "personifies" a subtle force. Once established in the imagination and filled with the appropriate corresponding energy, the symbolic image attracts the subtle energy into the personal sphere of sensation, or aura. For instance, the Romans symbolically depicted Over Souls, known as "genius loci," or the “spirit of place,” as deities holding such items as a cornucopia, a patera (a shallow dish used for libations), a snake, or a combination of the three. Through the thought-form, an individual can connect with the essential force of the Over Soul and achieve a parley or beneficial subtle relationship. The Over Soul that I first encountered on the Range was distinctly maternal and even seemed glad that I was there, possibly because for millenia generations had lived in harmony with the woodland stream and very few “modern” humans since the disappearance of the Native Americans have stumbled into the area. On other occasions I have become acutely aware of other Over Souls who seemed resentful and threatening, possibly due to the repeated degradation of the area by modern humans and cattle. Since then, I have encountered Over Souls in remote areas of the Range that strike me as frightfully primeval; while in their domain I have felt a hostile, alien presence that has raised the hair on the back of my neck. Since then I have concluded that to live in harmony within nature one must achieve some sort of parley with the Over Souls and other powerful spiritual beings in an area, which requires, purely for survival, consciously moving past the surface mind into the brain wave frequencies conducive to spiritual awareness.
During my hikes in the woodland forests I have also experienced waking visions of archetypal symbols such as a golden, equal-armed cross on top of a truncated pyramid. As I hike, I sometimes envision symbols associated with natural forces for sustained periods of time, sometimes up to an hour. Moreover, at Native American sites, visions of Gods and Goddesses have surfaced into my consciousness. At these sites, human figures instead of geometric symbols personify natural forces in my mind’s eye. Keep in mind that I consciously remained an agnostic for most of my adult life, and I, like many educated people, have had great difficulty believing in a spiritual dimension, but because of repeated experiences I cannot deny the reality of these visions, and therefore I have tried to develop a rational explanation. Over many thousands of years in these village sites, the human mind has anthropomorphized the forces of the spiritual world, giving human qualities to the subtle powers and intelligences, and these forces appear to “remember” how they contacted human individuals, the forces having become accustomed to taking on human form in the individual imagination, which is part of the collective consciousness known also as the astral plane.
Of all the strange experiences I’ve had in the past ten years, perhaps the most startling and profound occurred when I was just hiking along one day and stopped to gaze at an Ithuriel's Spear next to the trail. Suddenly, my personality was completely erased. I was literally no longer myself. Instead, I was a point of awareness within a vast consciousness experiencing It Self--the observer, the observed, and the act of observation, as though God or the Source (or whatever you want to call It) had asserted It Self and taken over my consciousness, and all that I had ever considered my self to be was not just irrelevant but annihilated. At the same time, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and blessing, but soon I sensed my personality coming back, and the more I resisted its return, the more I lost the feeling of peace. I had done nothing to alter my consciousness beyond immersing myself in the natural world.
Protect yourself on your "Experimental Range" with the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.
A new electronic main gate, which can be opened only with an access code, has recently been installed at the Experimental Range. Now even fewer people will be exposed to the human history, the natural frequencies, and the possibility of spiritual connection with other physical and nonphysical beings. Since the urban mind-set is so strong, it takes repeated experiences to develop even the realization that something “other” exists, which I suppose is one reason why in my work I describe the same key spiritual experiences in different formats. Music and fiction and art and games help shift consciousness, sometimes into greater spiritual awareness, and I find that simply extending consciousness in unexpected ways makes the journey worthwhile, but the influence of Mercury, God of magic and supreme trickster, is strong on the Experimental Range. But I always know, as I gaze down the crumbling road that disappears around the bend, that some kind of adventure awaits in the woodland savanna and the "forest of symbols."
Take the next path.
Sing along on the path.
Take a similar path.