Here is another new “travel story.” Like usual, it is presented as fiction even though it might be more of less true…
The Coyotes Howl
The coyote has now appeared to me three times in recent days. Once, in reality, on a pre-dawn walk in the forest and twice in the cards with my morning coffee. Does that, perhaps, mean that the coyote character or the coyote experience is about to manifest and throw my day to day existence for a loop? I don’t know. I can only ride this roller coaster I can’t direct which way it goes. The first encounter occurred on December 13 at dawn. I was tripping out from food fasting and I went for a wander around the pre-dawn wintry forest without a flashlight. Does that sound crazy? Well, yes, maybe a little, but not really. I should probably explain.
It all started with my annual cleansing ritual. My cleanse… that’s what I call it. I have followed the same routine every year for over twenty years. At the end of my work season in early November, I quit all four of my favorite indulgences; no more weed, no more caffeine, no more alcohol and no more more sugar. I give them all up for about six weeks up until the moment of the winter solstice. There is no specific religious or spiritual motive behind my cleanse as I first began the cleanse to help me with severe winter depression. But I have continued the ritual for over twenty years now so it sort of does feel like a spiritual or meditative process. I rather enjoy the re-boot to my system and I think it is very good for my overall well-being.
Some years back, in 2007, I added a three day food fast to the middle of the cleanse. Again, the fast does not have a religious or spiritual motive. I just met this impressive older world traveler human at a cafe in Chiapas, Mexico and in the midst of regaling me with his tales of travels far and wide he detoured into a rather detailed and interesting dissertation on the benefits of fasting. I was fascinated by his story so I decided to try a three day fast a few days later when I was camped out in the jungle near the Guatemalan border. My experience was amazing and I believe very beneficial for my physical and mental health. As such, I have added it to my annual routine.
This year, I started my fast on the 10th of December. I ate my last meal for dinner on the 9th and would not eat again until sunrise on the 13th. Nothing but water with a little cheater squeezed lemon juice flavor for four nights and three days. It’s probably a weird thing to say but I rather enjoy fasting and I can understand how a person could become addicted to it. But I only do it once a year. It’s been ten years now… every year some time in early December. I go for 80 something hours… Sunset to sunrise with three full days in between. The fasting guru at the cafe in Chiapas told me you have to go a minimum of 70 hours to transform your body and kick on the cell rejuvenator. I’ve never researched it further and I’m not exactly sure what a cell rejuvenator is but I can say from my experience that something remarkable does indeed happen to the body on or about the 70 hour point. The sensation of hunger disappears, the body feels weak and the brain starts to wander in ethereal realms. The hours that follow are like some kind of spirit ride…
Of course the atmosphere and environment are important factors to consider for the fasting experience. The guru dude recommended natural settings and tranquility. He also suggested light to moderate exercise but no over-exertion. I find it helpful to go for long walks and avoid driving motor vehicles during the experience. The first time I did it was in a jungle camp. This year I am in a wintry mountain paradise…
Buddha Hill. That’s the name we have attached to our present incredible place of residence. It is not a place we could ever afford under normal circumstances. But it’s a stonework deal. The owners are living in their California home this year and the pond here on Buddha Hill is in need of a waterfall. I happen to build waterfalls and we were looking for a new and interesting place to live. Wow did we get lucky… The house is on a hill in the midst of the Catskill mountains. There are twenty acres of forest and lots of old stone walls. There is a quarter mile trail that winds through the woods. The trail is decorated with Buddha statues and Tibetan prayer flags and there are a few strategically placed benches. I’m not exactly a Buddhist but I am hip to the Buddha’s way. And the setting here is ideal no matter what the heck you believe. It is certainly a nice place for my annual cleanse.
The first day of a food fast is usually fairly easy. All you have to do is exercise your will. It is a bit like an athletic event. When you start to think about food or feel hungry, you just actively suppress the thought… think about something else. Exercise is key and so is drinking water. Hungry? A tall glass of water and then stretch out or do yoga. Still hungry? Another tall glass of water and a long walk. Here on the hill, I walk the trail that loops through the forest. Sometimes I go clockwise and sometimes I go counter. The benches are nice for sitting on along the way. But the whole distance only takes about 15 minutes to traverse if I go slow and stop to pause. Every few hours, instead of eating, I do a loop.
The second day is the hard one… the tough one… the challenge. That is when my brain starts to play tricks upon me. I am angry for no apparent reason even though the real reason is fairly obvious. Mind over matter… I am not angry… I am not angry. What is the connection between hunger and anger… I can’t help but think about it. Stay calm, go for a walk. The whole process starts to seem stupid and arrogant and self righteous. There are people in the world who really are hungry… really are starving. What the hell is going on in Yemen? They are really starving there… We are killing them with our tax dollars and our Wall Street investments. That makes me angry. Or maybe I’m just hungry…. The news blackout is almost complete. All we hear about is the Trumpster and his antics. But what about the Yemenis? Why are your tax dollars and investments mass murdering them? Why does no one even ask the question? Why am I trying to empathize with them? I have food in the fridge. I can eat if I want to. It’s not the same. My whole little ritual is bullshit. Why not just cut this pretentious bullshit and go ahead and eat…
But I don’t eat. I make it to the third day. And the third day is the special day… the interesting day… the day when the body seems to transform. I’ve done this for ten years now and the sensation has been similar each year. When I awake on the third day I don’t really feel hungry. Maybe a little bit in the distant far reaches of my consciousness but I don’t feel the immediate presence of hunger. Instead, I feel grogginess, weakness, weirdness… Then, as morning progresses into afternoon and the sun starts to go down, the grogginess and weakness fade and a new strange strength emerges. In the past I have described it as the awakening of the animal within but perhaps that is an exaggeration. But as I go through it again… that description does seem apt. I can feel my body changing. Are my cells rejuvenating? I feel intensely alive. It is a little bit like tripping on lsd or mushrooms but not exactly. All the senses are turned up a notch. As I move through the forest loop at sunset, I feel like a creature on the hunt for food.
Of course there is food in the refrigerator if I want it. Lots of food. Lots of really good food. Which makes the whole animal hunting in the forest thing seem kind of silly. Just my imagination…. but sometimes the illusion is real. That is what I am thinking about. That is the sensation at the core of my being. All it takes is three days without food and the civilized softie slips away and the wild free animal comes forth… I literally feel like a completely different kind of being. Does something fundamental change physiologically after a certain amount of time? I can’t help but wonder if the same sort of thing happens to humans in general…
The phrase that the UN and the NGOs use is “food insecure.” That’s a fancy euphemism to describe victims of the broken economic system. People who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. If you have never been there, it is hard to comprehend such a scary reality. But that is the reality a large percentage of the humans on the planet earth face. I sit in the wood stove room with my book in my lap and my inner hunger is aware. I listen to Ms. B. and the little one making and eating dinner in the kitchen. The contrast is sharp. The experience poignant. I visualize the starving people in the alleys of restaurant row. We have so much and so many have so little…. why? What is it like to be always hungry? How does that phenomenon change you as a person? How long did the Buddha go without food? And what about Jesus? Is it good for you or bad for you? I go to bed early. Weakness from hunger helps my body sleep but my mind is troubled by thoughts of hungry humans. Yes, yes, I can make it till sunrise. That is the very least I can do.
My eyes pop open at 4:00 am. I am wide awake and ready to go. Boom baby… I almost feel like I’m tripping. I get out of bed and go to the kitchen. Tall glass of water. Gulp gulp gulp gulp. I can feel the liquid replenishing my cells. Deep down delicious. Three hours till sunrise… What to do? Start in the wood stove room. Stoke the fire. Look at the glow. The power of earth… The molten core. Heat the source. Feed the fire, feed the human… But from where comes the original spark? I stretch myself out on the rug in front of the wood stove. I begin my non-traditional but sort of yoga routine. I stretch out the parts of my body that hurt using a hodgepodge of techniques that I have picked up here and there. Mostly I try to bend in ways and breathe in ways that oxygen flows into the soreness. Fasting must somehow help with flexibility because I feel remarkably limber this morning. I even manage to press my headstand into a handstand and walk around the room a bit. Not too shabby for an old guy who hasn’t eaten in three days. Am I, perhaps, entering a manic phase?
It’s about 5:30 am when I decide to go outside. I pull on my boots and jacket and step through the doorway. It’s cold and dark. The sun is not up and there is no moon. My eyes adjust. Six inches of softly glowing white snow on the ground provides some slight illumination. I don’t need a flashlight. I’m not planning to go far. Just outside for some oxygen. Breathe in the remains of nighttime. I could probably walk the whole trail with my eyes closed by now if I wanted to. I could certainly walk it in this dim light. But I will just go a little ways now. It’s not like I’m out to prove something.
Why do I want to walk the whole loop? Because… I am compelled by circumstances. One foot in front of the other. Onward into the darkness. I reach the first bench and stop to listen. Blowing wind and crackling crunching branches. There are creatures scurrying in the forest around me. I don’t sit down. I continue moving through the pines until I reach the hardwoods. Darkness still obscures the picture but now the smell is different. A little more light filters through. There are no footprints on the path but I can make out the stone markers along the sides. It seems rather easy to find my way so I keep going.
The next bench is at the bottom of the steep hill. I wipe the snow off with my hand but don’t sit down. I will rest when I get to the top. The way up the steep hill is hard to follow. The snow is deeper here and the stone markers are completely covered up. I zig and zag. It’s too steep here. This can’t be right. I must have meandered off course. But wait, there is the next bench. It’s not supposed to be there but there it is. I’m a little confused… disoriented… but now that I have found the bench I feel fine. I know where I am. I sit down to rest and gather my senses….
And that’s when I hear them…
Owooooo! Owoooooo! Owooooooooo! What’s that? All is silent for a while as I sit in the dark forest listening. My breathing is heavy. I’m only about a quarter mile from the house but it feels like the middle of nowhere. I’m high up in a gully on the side of a mountain. The bench is plopped there amid some scenic boulders. The howling I hear is coming from the ridge way up behind me. It is coming from several different places along the ridge. It sounds like call and response. The coyotes are communicating across the wilderness and I am here to pick up their signal.
Should I be afraid of the howling coyotes? There are long pauses and moments of silence in between the howls. But then it starts up again. Whatever could it possibly mean? I think of the trickster coyote in my medicine cards. Is this some kind of message from the forest warning me of dangers. I don’t know. Coyotes will usually stay clear of humans. They are afraid of us so we don’t have to be afraid of them. All I have to do is turn on my flashlight and they will realize I’m human and stay far away. But I don’t have a flashlight. Will they mistake me for a deer because I have no light. I have no weapon to protect myself. What if they attack?
Owooooo! Owooooo! Owoooooo! It sounds like the coyotes are discussing me. They have to know I’m here. I lumbered through the forest like a wounded elk. They seem to have me surrounded on the high ground and they seem to be slowly closing in. If I’m going to run to escape I will have to go down the hill towards the house. That is the only opening. But I shouldn’t have to run. They should realize I’m human and leave me alone. Then why does it sound like they are getting closer. Their howls are intermittent. Owoooooo! Owoooooo! Can’t they tell by my smell alone. No, I’m not a wild animal. I’m a civilized person. I could have a gun. They should be afraid. Why won’t they run away? Owoooo! Owoooo!
It is then that I think about my transformation into animal. I haven’t eaten in three days. Civilization has dropped away so only a beast remains? What do I smell like now? Do I, perhaps, smell like prey? What sort of animal have I become? I can hear the coyotes moving through the forest. There must be five or six of them. They have spread out to encircle me and block all possible escape routes up the mountain. They are descending downwards towards me. The only place for me to run is straight down the mountain. They are closing in… tightening the ring… howling with excitement back and forth. Owoooo! Owooooo! Owoooooo!
Should I make a run for it? I will never get away? There are six of them. If I run they will definitely think I’m prey. Right now, I think they are confused. That is what they are howling back and forth about. Am I prey or predator? The coyotes don’t know. Owoooooo! Owooooo!
In reality, I’m not much of a predator. I have no weapon and I’m weak from hunger. I might be able to wrestle one coyote to a standstill but I certainly could not fight off a whole pack. I can’t run and I can’t fight. I lose either way. What can I do? The coyotes are closing in. Encircling. I’m surrounded. They will devour me in a moment unless I do something. Whatever can I do? The only thing I can do…
I start howling like a coyote! Owoooooo! Owooooooo! I become a coyote. Owoooooo! Owoooooo! The coyotes don’t attack. Instead they approach and gather around me like long lost brothers.. There is tumbling, leaping, licking and pawing, but no viciousness. They respond to my howls with howls of their own. My inner beast fully manifests and I howl some more. Soon me, and the whole pack of coyotes are howling in unison. Owoooooo! Owooooo…. Owooooo. Oh how good it feels. Howling with the coyotes in the forest before dawn. Owooooo! Owooooooo! It all comes roaring out of me… the howl, the scream, the cackle, the laugh,…….. Owoooo! Owooooo! What does a coyote sound like? It sounds like freedom and it sounds like hunger…. twisted together in a laugh and a scream…… Owoooooo! Owoooooo! I can feel it. I know it. I understand. Owoooo. Owooooooo!
After a while, the other coyotes fade out… disappear into the surrounding wilderness. I am left to howl alone. But I keep right on howling. Owoooooo! Owooooo! I rather enjoy it. Gets something out of me that needs to get out. Hunger, anguish, laughter, freedom….. Owooooo owooooo. But then I think of the neighbors. There aren’t any too close. But what if someone is out walking. I probably sound ridiculous. I certainly feel like a great big fool. I guess it is time to head back to the house.
It’s almost light out by the time I get back to the house. I take off my coat and boots and go inside. I add a log to the fire and head to the kitchen. I pull the blender from the cupboard and plug it in. I add banana, avocado, yogurt, chia seeds, frozen strawberries and blueberries. I blend it up. The sound seems very loud. It erupts the silence… But doesn’t last long. I take my full glass of nourishment and sit in the chair by the southeast facing window.
As the first glimmer of sunshine peaks over the horizon I swallow a mouthful. So delicious! I can feel the nutrients flowing to my cells. I slowly sip my beverage and watch the rising sun as my mind and body slowly return to reality. Wow! Coyotes… Did that really happen?
to be continued….