Spirit

The seasons were all cold, with one far colder than all the rest. Just as the ice finally turned to water, there was only a short period of time before it began to freeze over once more. It was a cruel cycle, but the people had acclimated. They relocated here following the last attack. The pain of losing loved ones through battle and separation was unspeakable. Each new settlement became a place to heal, regroup, and rebuild. Seasons brought cycles, and cycles brought children. The circle of life continued. Occasionally, something, or someone extraordinary happened.

It was during a particularly brutal winter, that a very special boy was born. A beautiful baby, whose dark brown eyes glittered from within. He was extremely alert, with a stare so intense, that anyone who met him felt the presence of something greater. He had been here before. They called him Achak, meaning “spirit”. As soon as he was able to walk, he began to run. Swift and stealth, it was said that he could reach destinations before any messages sent on smoke, or sound. He was only 8 years old when the elders called on him to become a messenger.

Achak had the innate ability to effortlessly navigate all sorts of terrain. He began by taking simple short treks to give messages to relatives and loved ones. Nobody this young had ever been entrusted with such a responsibility, but Achak was extraordinarily lithe, and wise beyond his years. Even at such a young age, he was given respect typically reserved for those many years his senior. Achak loved his people, and felt honored to be their protector. He would return to the camp exhausted, but after a good meal and rest, he always awoke invigorated and eager for whatever duty was requested of him next. It wasn’t long before he was sent on more serious journeys to warn of pending attacks.

By the time he was 10, he had done countless treks, traversed many hundreds of miles, and knew details of the lands that not many could claim to understand. Achak could meld with nature, blend into the forest, glide through the underbrush, and slip through streams and rivers undetected.

During the very coldest of months, he was sent out less frequently, as threats were fewer during the frigid chills. However, there arrived from the east, an urgent warning, and Achak was summoned to carry this message to the next encampment. This time, he had to prepare for the journey with extra layers of warmth. The women prepared food in small parcels, which was tied close to his waist so that it wouldn’t interfere with his movement and speed. The snow would provide his drinking water. As he fastened the fur hood snugly over his head, his mother came over to him. Although he was growing quickly, Achak was still a boy, slender and sinewy. She held him by his shoulders in front of her. Staring into his eyes, she said nothing, while saying everything. A tear made it’s way through her thick lashes, and rolled slowly down her soft cheek. She pulled him close, hugging him tight to her. He could feel her tremble as she tried not to cry.

It was early morning, but he needed to move fast in order to arrive before sundown. He knelt down, adjusting the snowshoe straps over his thick suede and fur boots. Standing and closing his eyes for a moment, he inhaled. As he pushed aside the heavy leather tarp, a blast of arctic air assaulted is face. He pulled up the thick buckskin collar, covering his mouth and nose. His mother watched in silence through the opening, as he headed out, a figure silhouetted against the blinding snowscape. She watched through a tiny gap, as he got smaller and smaller, finally becoming a speck in the distance. Sighing aloud, her breath leaked a stream of condensation into the frigid air outside. Stepping back, she disappeared behind the resealed tarp.

Gliding effortlessly across the top layer of the sparkling blanket of snow, Achak used economy of motion to conserve energy. Lean and limber, he raced in the direction of the encampment. There was no time to waste. As he moved across the vast plain, the sun rose higher and higher. The moment when it shone the brightest was the optimal time to take a short rest. Pausing near a riverbed, he heard running water beneath the ice. It had to be fast, because removing a glove would expose his hand to the arctic air. He quickly unfastened a small leather bag from his waist belt, carefully unfolding it. From inside, he took a couple of pieces of jerky, putting them in his mouth. Leaning down to reach a crack in the ice, he gathered a bit of water and snow with the small sac. Carefully taking small sips of the icy water, he chewed slowly, savoring the salty meat. This would give him the strength necessary to reach his destination. Putting the glove back on, Achak fastened the leather pouch around his waist once more. Just then, he paused, hearing a sound. It was distant. Or, was it near? Across the stream, thick brush obscured his vision. He heard another sound from the darkest place in that wooded area. Pinpointing the noise, he focused his vision, and saw the faint outline of a group of men. He breathed. Should he pretend not to see them, confront them, or simply run. Instinctively, he ran. The snowshoes moved his body, a whooshing sound with the impact of each step so loud, but his heartbeat even louder. Just as he had momentum going, a huge sound obliterated everything else, and the pain that came with it knocked Achak off of his feet. He felt the cold snow rise to meet his face, but the rest of his body felt warm, his back drenched with sweat. He couldn’t move, and the light turned to dark.

Hours passed. Achak was woken by something relentlessly pushing on the back of his neck. Groaning, he opened one eye. His face was numb, and he realized he was lying on his side in the snow. It was nighttime now, and the waning moon hid behind a cloud. Hearing a low growl right behind him, his heart began to race again. It was the deep slow growl of a wolf. Terrified at the sound, he realized that it was the wolf nudging his neck. At that moment, he could feel the heat of the animal’s hot breath against his collar. The pungent scent of the beast hung in the air around him.

Laying still, he listened to his own heart beating so fast, feeling as though it would spring out of his chest. He felt the sensation of the animal literally breathing down his neck. As his eyes adjusted to the dark night, Achak rolled his body over, ever so slowly to see the outline of a massive grey wolf standing next to him, staring intently with amber eyes. He gasped with alarm. The majestic creature had snow crystals encrusted along its dark grey and black fur, and its breath came out in white puffs against the darkness. At this moment, just when Achak thought his life was over, something unexpected happened. The giant grey wolf knelt down next to him, with a soft whimper. Instinctively, the boy slowly reached out a shaky gloved hand to touch the majestic creature’s soft grey mane of fur. Brushing away some of the small pieces of crusty snow, the wolf closed its eyes, and moved closer to Achak, leaning it’s body onto his. The weight was heavy, as the wolf was huge. He was bigger than Achek and easily weighed over 150 pounds, nearly double the boy’s weight.

The wolf nudged him some more, but as Achek tried to get up, a searing pain radiated across his back and down his leg. He cried out in agony, piercing the silence of the desolate night. The wolf nudged him again and leaned closer. Achak realized the wolf was offering him to climb onto its back. He reached up with both arms and grasped the dense fur collar, hoisting his weak body upwards. As the wolf rose up, it maneuvered so that the boy’s body was lifted, and it slowly stood up on all fours. Achek wrapped his arms tightly around the thick fur collar, and positioned his legs so that he wouldn’t fall off. His snowshoes still on, he let his legs hang on each side of the enormous wolf. Leaning his head down, he felt himself sinking into the dense, warm coat. He buried his face in the fur, relishing the musky odor and damp warmth rising from beneath. Just at the moment he was securely attached, the wolf began to run. He ran with a grace, unfamiliar to Achak. The motion was steady and powerful, yet safe and secure. Too exhausted and pained to wonder, Achak entrusted the wolf to take him wherever he was going. His eyes had adjusted to the night and as he lifted his head to look around, he saw the glowing plain stretching out in all directions. In the far distance he noticed a tiny glowing light. Too exhausted to keep his head up, Achak buried his head in the fur once again, and prayed that they would be safe. The motion of the wolf’s gait lulled him into a trance, and he forgot the pain, and even the very reason for his very being. Time passed, the heat of the body beneath him, radiated to thaw his aching limbs. The rhythmic breathing of the wolf kept time with the pace, and Achak felt one with all of nature. Time passed and he strained to lift his head once more. This time there were more lights, and he could make out the settlement outline under the starry sky. A blanket of fresh snow surrounded the encampment, and the pristine white was untouched by even a footprint. He smelled the scent of pine and burning wood. As they got closer, he heard faint voices carried on the wind. The pace of the wolf slowed, his panting louder now. Gradually they came to a gentle walk, and finally halted outside of the entryway. The wolf stood at attention and slowly sat, allowing Achak to slide down his back onto the soft snowy ground. He turned his majestic head to look at Achak with the glowing golden eyes. The boy reached his hand to touch the wolf’s nose and thick mane once more. The wolf closed its eyes. The boy slowly stood, although in great pain. As he walked toward the entry of the encampment, he called out to announce himself in a low voice. There was a rustle, and a tarp was pulled back. A tall man dressed in many layers of leathers and fur, stepped outside onto the snow. He stared at Achak and a smile crossed his lips. Achak turned around and the wolf was gone. The footprints in the pristine snow trailed away into the invisible distance. The man came forward and put his arm around the boy, ushering him inside. The warmth of the home enveloped the child. He was seated and given food and water. Women came in and tended to his wounds. They gave him fresh warm layers to wear, and made him lie down by the fire. He soon realized he was at his destination. He shared the warning message with the people. They thanked him for being so fast. There was plenty of time for them to relocate before the footmen arrived. They gave him a gift of a protective feather amulet, signifying flight and swiftness. The cluster of feathers, wrapped in suede strips, was strung with intricately detailed clay beads. He told them that the amulet really belonged to the wolf that had rescued him and carried him to the camp. They listened to his tale in disbelief, thinking he might just be delirious or exhausted. They told him to get rest before heading back at dawn. He insisted that his story was true, and he got up, heading to the doorway, asking them to come outside to see the tracks of the wolf as proof. When he pulled back the heavy leather drape, they looked out and saw nothing but a velvety coating of fresh snow. No wolf in sight. Achak felt deflated. Maybe he really did imagine the entire thing. Exhausted, he lay down on the soft bedding and fell into a dreamless sleep.

The scent of cooking woke him. He heard the elders talking in low voices. As he approached them, they stood up to thank him once more for his bravery. He was offered a meal, and given another layer of warmth to wear on the journey back. He adjusted the snowshoes, and wrapped the coating closely around his body. Stepping outside, a glaring sun met his eyes. Blinded by the snowscape, Achak set out to make his way back home. He searched again for footprints, but the night storm had erased any evidence of the previous evening. He began to move as fast as he could, but his injuries made it difficult to maintain his speed. He managed to get a good head start, but needed to pause and rest more frequently than usual. As he sat for a moment, taking a bite of the food, he heard the sound of footsteps. Turning around swiftly, he saw the beautiful grey wolf approaching across the plain. As it got closer, it slowed its steps, and sat next to Achak. They sat in silence together for a few moments. Then the wolf leaned down and Achak climbed onto the grey wolf’s back once more. Achak was home before dusk. The wolf instinctively left him off at the edge of the camp. Achak wrapped his arms around the heavy fur collar, inhaling the scent. With eyes squeezed tight in concentration, he spoke of his appreciation. Standing up once again, he walked towards the entrance to his home. Pausing, he turned around for a moment, only to see the trace of a powdery snow cloud drifting into the black sky. Tears formed in his eyes, as he called out signaling his arrival. His mother peeked out from behind the leather tarp, beaming as she saw her son. Opening the doorway, she reached out to brush snow and fur off of his coat as she welcomed him home.

Samsara Yoga Retreat

Inhaling the briny air, Sylvia extended her tan sinewy arms toward the balmy tropical skies above. As waves crashed loudly below, a thick mist of sea spray drifted upward, momentarily obscuring from vision the figures huddled together. The air cleared, and a small circle of silhouettes appeared, holding up long white chiffon scarves, which billowed through the air. In the center stood guru Sylvia. She chanted loudly against the wind “Lokah samastha sukhino bhavanthu”……others followed her lead. Their voices carried over the cliffs, onto the sea, fading far away into the distance.

Turning to the group, she bowed gently. Her fluffy blonde hair swirled into a halo around her head, and they bowed in return. The circle of ten individuals all wore white gauze ensembles, and a simple band of blue tied around their foreheads. At the end of the final prayer, she looked up, and slowly turned to meet each one, eye to eye, praising them for their attendance. First there was Gregory, a young man from Minnesota, who had left his life as a ranch hand to become a yogi. Next, Maxwell, a recovering sex addict from Toronto, who just wanted a fresh start. Then Nadine, sufferer of anger issues, looking for management with a spiritual angle. And, so it went. Lastly, she locked eyes with a shrewd looking red-head. She knew those aqua-green eyes immediately. It was Betty. Betty, her old friend. A reformed alcoholic. Betty was here to do a “life cleanse”, and was ready to reach the next level in her yogic training. She was, in fact, looking for her master. Sylvia offered up a weak smile of recognition, and moved on to the next person, Harvey, an ex-marine, looking for peace in his life. She breathed heavily, the group automatically followed her lead with a collective sigh.

The cliff side session was over. As the group dispersed, they wandered off in a daze to go to the hostel for lunch. Betty, however,  waited for Sylvia. After everyone had departed, the two remained on the cliff’s edge. Betty stepped gingerly towards Sylvia, forcing an awkward smile. Sylvia laughed, breaking the ice, and Betty did too. As they hugged in the sea spray, Betty stood back staring into Sylvia’s crystal blue eyes. She apologized for her bad behaviour. She explained that she had gone through major rehab, and was now a completely different person. Sylvia was very calm, took a deep breath and smiled. Betty looked out over the vast sea, and softly said, “You see, now, that the infidelity I had with your husband was nothing. In the infinity of life, it was just a blip on the screen.” Sylvia let out a hearty laugh, and pulled Betty to hug her once more. As they embraced, she took a step forward towards the cliff’s edge, and with a gently push, Betty was falling down into the foamy surf far, far below.

The Kiddie Pool

Mid July in the late 70’s. The family of four stood in the driveway of a run-down looking two family house, as they watched a giant moving truck slowly back out into the street. Tears welled up in the older daughter’s eyes. The younger child grabbed onto to her mother’s long linen skirt. She looked up to see the dark stains spreading beneath the underarms of her mom’s favorite olive shirt. Their father swiftly turned on his heels, walked into the house, letting the loose screen door slam loudly behind him.

The mother and two little girls stood for a few moments, frozen in time at the end of the driveway. They watched as the truck turned the corner, finally passing out of sight.

This was one of a series of moves. For reasons mysterious to the children, just as soon as they got settled in a new town and into a new school, it was time to move again. Usually something to do with their father’s job as a professor. Switching universities, better opportunities, or something of the sort.

This time they were going to move to a another state, but until the next house was ready, they would need to stay in temporary housing, at an apartment complex.

As the kids got into the back seat of the beige Volvo station wagon, they each hugged a teddy bear close, tears dampening the well-worn, faded fur.

Hours passed, and after dark, they arrived at their destination. It was a nondescript place. Dark russet brick, all one level. Basically a Motel 6, minus the sign. The family set up a temporary home here. Simply furnished, it served its purpose well enough.

Over the next few days, the girls ventured outside. It was during an era when kids were allowed to run around wild and free. Nobody really paid much attention, unless it was time to do homework, chores, walk a dog, or eat dinner. As they wandered around the complex, they noticed quite a few other kids around their age. The children seemed friendly enough, and one of the neighbors even had a plastic kiddie pool in front of her unit. It was blue, with bright green turtles and seahorses printed all around the outside. The little girl invited the sisters to play, and of course they were excited to meet a new friend. And, even more excited to be able to cool off in the bright blue plastic pool.

Being that it was summer and there wasn’t much to do, having a new friend with the kiddie pool was a good start. At least they had somewhere to go. They didn’t like to stay inside the dark apartment, since their mother seemed to be unhappy, and the place felt oppressive in the stifling humidity.

One day, not long after moving in, the new friend told them, “hey, it’s time to go to Bobby’s place, his mom is doing her shower.” The girls had no idea what this meant, but of course they were curious. They followed her as she traipsed around the complex. As they followed her, she called out “shower time!” over and over. Gradually, a few other children, hearing the call, joined them in the parade towards Bobby’s place.

Finally, they arrived at the apartment. Number 19. The door was open. An older boy, maybe 9 or 10, poked his head out of the front door. “Hurry up! Mom’s just getting in the shower now!” All of the kids shuffled in through the door, crowding the hallway of the small unit. The sound of a shower could be heard, and a high-pitched voice called out “Hey you guys, wanna see my tits?” The group of kids, mostly boys, swiftly gravitated towards her voice.

The bathroom door was open, an intoxicating scent of strawberry shampoo filled the air, as a cloud of steam poured out. Rock music played on a transistor radio. Behind the sheer plastic French doors into the shower, a messy giant blonde head of hair bobbed up and down. Suddenly, the doors opened and Bobby’s mom leaned out, “see these!” she held up her enormous breasts shaking them at all of the children. The two new girls stood in shock. The older sister grabbed her younger sister by the hand, and dragged her through the cluster of kids, and out the front door in a hurry. They ran all the way back to their apartment, where they fell onto the air mattress in hysterical fits of giggles.

Chameleon

Silently, I sit. Eternally waiting for something, or someone, to happen. My thick-skinned, firm body, rests motionless. Self control is my strength. I move one eye, then the other. Nothing. Nobody. I am alone. Time passes, as it always does. Finally, I sense movement. A tiny leave shivers, ever so slightly. I dart an eye in its direction, glancing at the surrounding greenery.

It’s nearly time. Something is about to happen. I wait. With stealth motion, I peer around myself, noticing that I’m a bit too bright to blend in. Swiftly, I shift my muscles, triggering a deeper shade to sweep over my skin. There. I’m hidden. Listening, I hear nothing more from the leaf. I wait. Waiting is my virtue. Patience you can call it, but for me, it’s a way of life. Waiting. I know it’s worth it. Again, I hear a barely audible sound. Tiny feet delicately treading on a branch. Exquisite. The sound has come closer. 

Now is not the time to make my move. I slow my heart rate to the brink of death. Completely undetectable, I close my eyes, and I wait. I listen as the tiny footsteps move around in the foliage right across from me. It’s time. With one eye open, I spot the miniscule spider as he cautiously makes his way along a very thin twig. I prepare myself. It’s time for something to happen. I breathe. And, it’s done. My tongue has been unleashed. I’ve swallowed the spider. Gone in an instant. He didn’t even see it coming.Chameleons have the ability to see and perceive the intentions of others. With sublime patience, camouflage and cloaking capabilities, these incredible creatures exhibit unparalleled powers of adaptation. The chameleon knows precisely when to make the right move.

Jamaican Flute

A fine mist of drizzle dampens my forehead and brow. My locks are activated by the humidity and I can feel them rising up in protest. I breathe in the sweet wet air, blended with exhaust from cars entering and exiting the parking lot. Stepping up onto the curb, I find my favorite spot under the awning of the massage parlor in the dingy 7-11 strip mall plaza. Dropping my hefty backpack to the floor, I lean down to dislodge my worn and warped wooden flute. I’ve had it since I was 15, and I am continuously awed by its resilience. I am now 48.

It wasn’t always like this. I mean, I wasn’t always like this. Here. In this god-forsaken strip mall in the Valley of Los Angeles. No. Long ago, I was in paradise. I remember the scent of the mountains, the soft air on my skin. The sun and sea were never too far. Nature and her abundance surrounded me. How did it happen. How did I get here?

Life has its leaps and bounds, you know. I always excelled in music, and my mother dreamed of me going to the states to become a star. Yes, I dreamed too, of this distant wondrous place, full of happiness, success, and opportunity. I had a huge imagination, and my mind wandered through the streets of New York. My musical gift fast became known around the island. So much so, that when traveling bands came through, they would ask me to play for their concerts. I gladly obliged, time and time again. I would get paid, and was able to help the family and save some money on the side. My expenses were minimal, food, maybe a beer here and there. So the rest of the money was a real help to my loved ones. Myself, I really never had a taste for material things.

Finally, when I was 19, the day came, when the band I played with in Jamaica asked me to tour with them. Of course I accepted the invitation. My family was more excited than I was. They practically packed my bags for me. I was going to do a year-long tour in the United States, beginning in NYC, hitting every nook and cranny between, and ending in LA, followed with a European tour. Needless to say, we toured, played, and stayed here and there. It was all a blur. I smoked more and more, slept less and less. Random women came in and went out the revolving door. I really never had enough time to establish a connection with anyone. It was go, go, go. I tired of it quickly. Days, turned into months, months, into years. Again, and again. I sent most of the money back to Jamaica. My little sister and nephews needed it more than I did. I mailed monthly gift packages, and transferred cash continually over the years.

Occasionally, I would get to go back to my home. The island air would embrace me as soon as I exited the airport. My soul felt content from the moment my feet touched the ground on my beloved Jamaica. My heart would be overflowing with love and gratitude. But, all too soon, it would be time to board another flight to link up with another tour, and the pattern would continue on and on. Playing, getting paid, sending money back, I felt trapped in an endless cycle as well as a symbiotic relationship with my kin.

Years pass, they do. You blink and 5, then 10. Gone. Blink again, 15, and 20. A few more blinks, and more than 30 years passed by.

The last tour had ended, but I never told my family. I continued to send the money I always had. It was on a schedule, and as long as I sent it, I rarely heard back anymore. My account was getting low, dwindling, one could say.

I stayed here and there, a couch,  lady friend, or guest room. Eventually, even the best of us wears out our welcome. I had not enough to get back to Jamaica, not even enough to rent a room. Just a weary backpack, and my trusty flute remained. Shoes on my feet, thank god. Somehow, my inner strength kept my body strong.

These days, I shelter under a bridge of sorts. I suppose it’s more of an underpass. The rain has been coming down lately, and it does make it a more difficult situation but I persevere.

As I situate myself under the awning of the massage parlor in the 7-11 plaza, a silver Toyota Camry slows thru the lot. A grey haired, white lady leans out her window. “I have half a sandwich if you want it?”, she says with expectant eyes. I feel betrayed and disrespected. I know she wants to be of assistance, but she is offending me. I make my way towards her car, and I can’t help but to reprimand her. I tell her, I am Jamaican, and I don’t take food from those I don’t know. She looks upset as tears well into her eyes. I know she has kind intentions. I know this, but even so, it offends me.

I was a sought after musician! I’m not supposed to be here. She waits in her car, as I storm away, grabbing my wooden flute out of the weathered backpack. I look over, and stare into her eyes as I begin to play a heartfelt ballad about love and lost. I can see a tear well, and drop down her pale cheek. I smile to myself, knowing I still have my power. My gift is not lost forever. She smiles and touches her hand to her heart in a thankful motion. At that moment, I feel that I am found.