Storm Dreaming and
Leaving home in your teenage years, while still more common then than it is now, was no less difficult. My Grandfather, who had never really traveled, found himself standing outside of Rulo, Nebraska, staring at the entire world with no clue what to do or where to go. Otis Sr., before closing the door on his only son, had some short words of advice:
“Work, Army, or starve. Either way, don't be back.”
The year was 1965, my Grandfather was 14 years old, he had just buried his mother, whom he had seen wither from sickness and die in front of him, and had been ejected from what was now a loveless home owned by a father that was less of a parent and more of an unspecified authority figure. Without much thought of the future, (possibly because he didn't think he had much of one – oh how short sighted we can be as teenagers...) Otis Spaulding began to walk South, recalling a song that his mother used to sing under her breath while working:
'And I went South,
Where I found the warmth again,
And I went South,
'Till I got my feet all wet.
And I went South,
And now I can't go no further,
I've got my rhythm and my trees and my water,
And here I am.'
Otis Spaulding walked for almost a week on his own, following the Southeasterly curves of the Missouri River and generally keeping to himself. He had no food, beyond what he had taken from his home, and was soon incredibly hungry on top of being incredibly lost, and incredibly alone. On the evening of the 5th day he was forced to take shelter, as best he could, as a large storm came through his area. In his own words:
“There is seldom a feeling quite so instinctually disturbing as that which occurs in late summer when the breeze dies down, the sky has a vague green hue, and everything is just a hair too quiet. Every animal that's been around for a season or two knows what's about to happen, and any that haven't are about to get a quick and brutal education at the hands of Madame Mother Nature.”
Seeing no sign of habitation he could immediately reach, my Grandfather was forced to shelter underneath a tree near the river. The tree had been doing it's best to hold back the bank, but erosion had taken it's toll, and there was a small natural cave hidden behind the exposed roots on the bank. As thunder shook the world, and the rain threatened death by a thousand drops to any that opposed it, my Grandfather shook and shivered in his refuge. At some unknown point he passed (or was pulled) from the conscious world to sleep, where he had The Dream.
(As orated by Grandfather Spaulding)
I awoke to a flat expanse that I knew to be this place, but fetal, feral. The Midwest long before it was mid-anything and West had yet to be invented. The Ur-Prairie. My vision stretched for miles, so while I was not near anything I might call company or companionship, I was not alone. In the flat expanse of eternity, a neighbor a thousand miles away is still inside you. It was under these strange circumstances that I met the Starving Deer and the Flayed Ape.
As is the way of the mystic and the immaterial, they towered over me, not merely in stature but in power. Their mouths didn't move, but they spoke all the same. They told me their story, or at least the pieces of it that I could understand.
They told me of the beginning and the growing and the life.
They told me of the spiderweb of Being, and how it connected and bound the Out-living plants and animals to the In-living rocks and ether and nothing, how it formed the Here And Now on which we stand.
They told me of the holy connections where the web pulls taught and wraps and brings together that which resonates in harmony.
The Flayed Ape tore a strip of flesh from itself and fed it to the Starving Deer. Not wanting, obviously, but needing. I ventured to question this arrangement the two of them had and was looked upon with a pity and a sadness I had not yet experienced. True pity. Honest sadness.
“Won't you run out eventually? There's only so much that can be taken.”
The Starving Deer rubbed dirt into the wound of the Flayed Ape and the slow trickle of blood was stopped. There was quiet for a moment. Tension for another. And the story continued.
They told me of the contract we sign with our first breath and pay for with our last.
They told me the story of the Weeping Water, and they explained how it was true.
Not a river, it was never a river. The river is just the surface thing. It's the groundwater. It was always the groundwater.
They told me the story of the serpent in the lake beneath the Earth. The snake grown fat on tears. The snake that never needed to swallow it's own tail, because it had been fed to death already, and it too was mixing with the water.
They told me how we've sucked that water like mother's milk from the breast, and by our doing forced it on the rest. Our mother didn't know she was feeding us poison, but she couldn't stop us either.
They pointed past me and I turned and was not in the Ur-Prairie anymore, but a great field of stars. The God perspective. I turned back and saw them as they truly are, nothing. Just like us. Compared to eternity, we're all nothing.
They gave me an answer to a question I hadn't yet asked.
My Grandfather awoke, soaking and muddy and cold, to the sound of voices. His stiff muscles protested greatly as he extricated himself from the cave that had quite possibly saved his life the night before, and peered out at the world, newly washed.
The Voices belonged to a group of young adults, college-aged by the look of it, fishing in the river not 50 yards away from my Grandfather's cave, and they were more than a little surprised to see a 14-year old, mud-covered, nervous-looking, boy, approaching them from out of nowhere.
“I think so. Do you happen to have any food?”
“Not yet, but we're fishing, so, you know, soon.”
An awkward silence came over the group, nobody knowing exactly what the proper procedure was in this circumstance. In my Grandfather's head, the Flayed Ape roared, but what came out of my Grandfather's mouth was:
“Is that book any good? I've been wanting to read it, but it's long as hell and it cost almost double what the other books at the gas station do.”
The book poking out of the pocket, neatly spotted by my Grandfather, was Dune. It was a beautiful morning in September of 1965, and my Grandfather had just met two people who would become an integral part of the Think Tank, and three more that had less than 5 years to live.