Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Hour at the Focus 21 Bar - My (out of body) experience at The Monroe Institute

It was happy hour at the nearly empty Focus 21 bar.  As I entered the elegant and darkened bar, a man opened the huge floor-to-ceiling drapes and the place flooded with light.  The light came from a spectacular nebula outside the non-window and infused the room with a glow unlike anything I’d ever seen before.  I took a seat at the corner of the bar but the bartender stayed away, he knew I wasn’t there to drink, I was seeking answers and I’d only brought questions.  Moments later I began a conversation with myself.  It wasn’t a schizophrenic in-my-head conversation but a conversation with a little boy who’d materialized on the barstool next to me; he was my five-year-old self.  As we talked I studied him, noting his little red leather shoes and his outfit of matching shorts and vest and remembered not liking how Mom had dressed me as a dandy little boy.  I don’t like the silly outfits either, my younger self said to me.  We talked for quite a while and little Dale unraveled many insights to things I’d forgotten about my childhood.  Personal things.  He mentioned that, since I’d come with questions, he’d come with knowledge.  He was offering the knowledge because after fifty years, I had finally gained the experience to understand the answers.  Little Dale looked at my wrist and said, I like your watch.  I’ve always collected watches and asked him if he’d like to have it.  No, he said.  Holding up his arms, watches on both wrists, he continued, see, I’ve already got two.  They stopped a long time ago and besides, there’s no time in this place anyway.  Finishing our conversation he jumped off the barstool and onto a tricycle and rode off right into that nebula and was gone. 

Now it seemed the bar was empty except for me and the silent bartender but as I looked towards the end of the bar I noticed another man --a ‘dandy’ like little Dale.  He was dressed in an expensive well-cut suit, with a colorful vest and necktie with a perfect knot.  He held a silver and black cane in his left hand and with his right hand stroked and outrageous moustache.  It was Salvador Dali.  I was wondering when you’d notice me he said in his thick Spanish accent.  About those questions you have; I’ve some advice for you and Dali began a monologue.  He spoke, I listened, and then he simply dematerialized, just like the subjects of some of his paintings. 

Alone now, I heard the quiet sobs of someone crying.  Glancing across the room to the dance floor I saw a woman standing alone, ankle deep in stage fog.  It was my wife.  I went to her and asked, what are you crying about?  She answered: nothing important.  I held her and as we embraced music began to play.  As the music swelled Eric Idle appeared and began to sing ‘The Galaxy Song.’  As he sang we danced, our feet invisible under the fog.  As the song ended I heard Bob’s voice in my head, the scene faded, and a few minutes later I was back in my body, sitting up in my bed at The Monroe Institute.

Everything I’ve described happened in an altered state of consciousness.  I’ll tell you how I got there and about Bob, and what The Monroe Institute is but I know many of you won’t believe me; that’s okay, this is pretty far outside most people’s comfort zone.  (For skeptics, website links are included.)  Less than one tenth of one percent of the Earth’s population seems interested in this kind of consciousness-expansion, which is too bad because I think if we could get to where maybe fifteen percent of us experienced these things we could change the world for the better. 

Robert “Bob” Monroe was a radio engineer who’d had spontaneous out-of-body experiences that caused him to intensely study the phenomena.  His audio experience and scientific aptitude led him to create Hemi-Sync™.  Hemi-Sync is short for Hemispheric Synchronization, a system where, using headphones, a tone of one frequency is played into one ear and another slightly different frequency is introduced into the other ear.  The brain tries to ‘synchronize’ the signals and creates a third tone that synchronizes the brain’s hemispheres.  By varying frequencies, different states of altered consciousness are experienced by the listener.  This is the short version; there’s more detail available on The Monroe Institute’s website.  Because the Hemi-Sync system is quantifiable, consistent, repeatable and safe, Bob founded The Monroe Institute in Faber, Virginia thereby allowing others to experience these altered states of consciousness and more.

I’d read Bobs’ first book, Journeys Out Of The Body, back in the 1980s and later read his other two follow-up books.  I’d bought some of the early cassette tapes and had experienced for myself the Hemi-Sync process.  I’d always said that ‘someday’ I’d go to the institute for training.  That ‘someday’ came last May when my wife learned The Monroe Institute was offering their introductory program, called Gateway, off-campus in California in November 2013.  Since Santa Barbara is within a day’s drive from Prescott I signed us up.

Our Gateway Voyage was a 6-day intensive program held at the Casa de Maria retreat in Santa Barbara.  It was a total-immersion experience.  After arriving we never left the place until the program was over.  Our lodgings were an austere room with two twin beds, desk, chair and bathroom.  There were no phones, TV or radio and only one small wi-fi hotspot.  No distractions.  Our meals were provided by most excellent on-site chefs.  All our physical needs were met so everyone could concentrate on the altered consciousness experience.

‘Everyone’ was 18 students with two facilitators.  The ‘students’ comprised fourteen women and four men (women seem to be more open to this sort of thing).  My wife and I were the only couple and among the younger.  I’d guess the average age of the group was about 65.  We were all ‘seekers’ and, thankfully, the group was devoid of any ‘new-age’ wackos.   I found it strange that the group was so ‘old.’  It occurs to me that this sort of thing would be most beneficial to those in their late 20s to early 30s, so the information can be used life-long.

Each day we’d gather for breakfast at 8am.  Then we’d all meet in ‘the lounge’ where we were briefed on the morning’s ‘exercises.’  After that we’d all go our rooms where we’d listen, using headphones, to the Hemi-Sync audio.  A nifty temporary FM transmitter was used so we’d all be doing the ‘exercises’ simultaneously.  Upon completing each ‘exercise’ we’d meet afterwards for debriefing.  Over the week we experienced over 20 hours of ‘altered consciousness.’  We’d do two ‘exercises’ between breakfast and lunch, take a break, and then do two more in the afternoon and one more before bedtime.

Bob Monroe was fond of acronyms and described the varying degrees of altered states as ‘Focus Levels.’  It’s an arbitrary reference system that makes discussion easier; to put it simply, the higher the number the further one is removed from normal, everyday waking consciousness.  We began at a ‘body asleep-mind awake state’ (not unlike Transcendental Meditation) and ended the week at Focus 21.  At Focus 12 awareness seems to expand.  At Focus 15 the sense of time ceases.  Focus 21 is the ‘bridge’ to ‘other energy systems’ and is quite profound.  For some, visualization is helpful.  For me, I had difficulty with the ‘bridge’ concept and perceived the Focus 21 state as some kind of a cosmic bar (hence the title).  More advanced courses continue on to level 27.  Gateway is a prerequisite.

During the week all of us reported feelings like:  weightlessness, floating out or above the physical body, meetings with ‘guides’ (often called ‘guardian angels’ by the more religious), various colors and sensations, precognition, lucid dreams, meetings with dead people and remote viewing. 

Each of us had our own personal breakthroughs.  I had mine the second night and I was so absolutely freaked-out and emotionally fried that I couldn’t attend the debriefing and had to skip dinner.  I had a private talk with the lead facilitator who assured me that what I’d experienced was actually rather mild compared to some, which greatly allayed my fears.  Luckily for me one of my fellow students, a gentle man just shy of his 80th birthday, was a hypnotherapist.  He worked with me and really helped me to understand what I’d experienced.

Oddly, the process had a detoxifying effect on the body for some of us.  By the second to last day I had the sniffles and a scratchy throat (and I don’t get sick often).  Even odder, the next day I felt great, really great!

One evening we did a group exercise in Remote Viewing, which in new-age terms is often called ‘astral projection.’  It’s a process where one can ‘see’ an object or place without actually going there.  This is not new and was developed in the late 1970s by two physicists at Stanford Research Institute.  At SRI they developed a method that made the process teachable to almost anyone.  A US government intelligence agency actually commissioned a team of Remote Viewers, aka, ‘psychic spies’ in the 70s, 80s and 90s.  (I’m not kidding, it was called ‘Stargate,’ look it up).  The Monroe Institute became involved to assist the Remote Viewers get themselves into a calm mental state quickly.  We did two brief Remote Viewing exercises using a coordinate system developed by the late Ingo Swann.  We were given latitude and longitude coordinates and asked to describe or draw what we saw at the locations.  It turns out I’ve got a latent talent for this and returned about a seventy percent success rate.  But it got even weirder for me…

During our debriefings we’d share our experiences and analyze them.  During three separate debriefings I kept describing ‘seeing’ some kind of form, or spreadsheet.  Since I have absolutely zero interest in accounting (I pay people do that stuff) I was confused.  When we got home I went through a weeks’ worth of mail and found a card from the Post Office.  A registered letter had come while we were out of town and I had to go to the Post Office and sign for it.  When I picked up the envelope at the Post Office I opened it immediately and darn near excreted a brick when I saw what the envelope contained ---it was the EXACT form I’d apparently Remote Viewed while in California!  Back at The Monroe Institute’s main campus in Virginia it just so happens that the ‘psychic spy’ who was number 001 teaches Remote Viewing.  I may have to go to Virginia this spring…

What I’ve written barely scratches the surface of what we experienced; there was much, much more with a lot of it being of a profoundly personal nature that I won’t write about.  It was an amazing experience that I’m glad I did now instead of waiting until I’m an old man, or not at all.  We all have this potential.  To put it in quasi-technical terms: perception is like a radio dial and most of us only know of a few stations.  What happened to me, and the other seventeen in our ‘class’ was our radio ‘bandwidth’ got expanded.  The audio Hemi-Sync process gave us the tools to tune in those stations that had been beyond our radios’ dial.  There’s much more than what our Five Senses (pun intended) show us. 

There’s a saying: we’re all spiritual beings enjoying a temporary physical existence.  It’s true.  Our ‘true’ selves ‘put on’ these physical bodies and then we forgot.  And then we forgot we forgot.  We can all experience these wonderful expanded states of consciousness.  You can get there quickly, like Carlos Castaneda, through the use of powerful and dangerous drugs; or you can spend a lifetime, like a Tibetan Monk.  But through the use of safe and controlled audio technology you can get there in about two days.  When you get ‘there’ the only thing you’ll find is the real you …and the rest of the universe.

Dale O’Dell
November 13, 2013
Links to references:

Questions are invited, email Dale at

Salvador Dali

Eric Idle sings ‘The Galaxy Song’

The Monroe Institute, Robert Monroe, Focus Levels, Hemi-Sync, Remote Viewing

Robert Monroe’s books on, “Journey’s Out of the Body,” “Far Journeys,” “Ultimate Journey”

La Casa de Maria retreat, Santa Barbara, CA

Remote Viewing

Stargate Project

Ingo Swann

Remote Viewer #001 (Joe McMoneagle) official website (see also Monroe Institute website)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Report from Las Vegas Photoshop World 2013

As we enter the third decade of the ‘digital revolution’ of photography we don’t have time to lament the loss of Kodachrome to the CMOS sensor, or cameras that have morphed into little more than computers with lenses, or the smelly mystery of the chemical darkroom; we’re too busy shooting cel-phone ‘selfies’ and downloading the latest ‘junk-shot’ from Carlos Danger.  Photography has been forever changed.  One of the most profound changes in the digitalization of photography is the replacement of the darkroom by the computer.  When it comes to ‘development’ of pictures all roads lead to the ubiquitous program known as Adobe Photoshop™.  So dominant has Photoshop become that there are numerous annual conventions, workshops, schools and trade shows devoted to it.  One of the big ones is Photoshop World, held every September at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Each year I attend Photoshop World because it’s an opportunity to see the latest gadgets and keep abreast of current trends and technologies.  It’s also a good excuse to go to Vegas where I can observe humans of every shape, color and configuration gather for forced fun and hopeful debauchery.  The ones carrying cameras were headed off to Photoshop World so I tagged along with Nicky Nikon, Maggie Megabyte and Otto Focus, got my badge, and entered the exalted hall of The Trade Show.

Photoshop World also offers workshops and lectures, where alleged great photographers, wannabes and has-beens will show you their digital ‘secrets’ for a fee, but I don’t attend that stuff.  My interest lies with the pure consumerism of new gadgetry so I attend the (free) trade show only.

This year it was packed.  Oh look, there’s Johnny Jpeg, who always ‘wears’ his Nikon over his photographer/fly-fishing vest.  And he’s heading towards the Nikon booth, his 500mm lens pointing the way perched like a lighthouse on the tip of his beer gut.  Why do these guys (and it’s always guys) feel the need to carry extreme telephoto lenses in a crowded room where no one needs a long lens?  In this context the ten-grand lens isn’t useful for anything more than a penis-extender.  Big glass?

It’s always ironic to chat up the rep in the booth and then decide to buy the thing he’s showing.  As soon as I say, “I’ll buy it,” he tells me, “I’m just the lens-cap rep, that guy over there will take care of the transaction.”  Of course “that guy over there” is busy with a line of fifteen people waiting for him.  I’ll come back later and get the thing.  I don’t.

The Canon printer rep went off on a rant about how bad Epson printers are and then later when I talked to the Epson printer rep he said the exact same thing about Canon printers!  I laugh and tell them it’s simply their jobs to trash the competition; when I asked about HP printers they really got going –and so did I, right outta their booths.

I was hoping to get my hands on some of the new LED studio lights but all the vendors were still pushing 90’s style florescent lights.  They did have two sets lit with umbrellas, soft boxes and other light-modifiers with huge crowds.  Why the crowds?  Because on one set they had an actual girl, a pretty model, and fifty guys (including Johnny Jpeg with that silly 500mm lens) were vying for that ‘fashion model’ shot for their portfolios.  Can’t fail with pre-set-up lighting, right guys?

Inkjet printing on aluminum sheets is pretty neat.  I checked out the sample prints and I think I should do this for some of my work.  If I sell prints on aluminum and someone later decides they don’t like the picture, they can always re-purpose the print as building material.

I noticed a woman holding an iPad way over her head.  I felt sorry for her, being so farsighted she had to hold the tablet that far away, but she was actually taking a picture.  Urgh, photography without using an actual camera.  I hope she visits the booth showing strap-on auxiliary lenses for tablets and cel-phones.

After dropping a couple hundred bucks on a few gadgets and a new RAW conversion program I was about to leave when I found the most interesting booth at the Trade Show.  It was the only non-profit group there and they weren’t selling anything photographic.  This was Shelter Me Photography and it’s an outfit that photographs and publishes photos of shelter dogs.  I saw a collection of good photos of good dogs and when they shared those photos online, the dogs got adopted.  Some dogs were less than 24 hours away from being euthanized and the shared photo saved the dogs’ lives!  How wonderful!

It was a good show this year and I’ll be at the 2014 Photoshop World.  If you don’t find me at the Trade Show, I’ll be at the bar in the Luxor laughing at Nicky Nikon while he tries to figure out just exactly what that sexy woman meant when she asked, “Do you want to party?”

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A GATHERING OF ALIENS - The 2013 Roswell UFO Festival

In 1947 something fell out of the sky and crashed near Roswell, New Mexico.  It may have been an alien spacecraft, a weather balloon, or nothing at all but the effect it had on the community was profound.  That alleged ‘UFO crash’ spawned an urban legend ---and an economic boom for Roswell.  And so, sixty-six years after the weather balloon/UFO was hauled off and the alien bodies put into deep-freeze I found myself at the 2013 Roswell UFO Festival.

Every Fourth of July weekend the town of Roswell holds the UFO Festival.  Main Street is shut down, the portable concert stage is set up, the vendors fill the street and we’re treated to costume contests, parades, and all sorts of alien-themed silliness.  People come from all over the world to mix with morbidly obese Americans dressed as Grey Aliens and sweat in the one-hundred degree heat of the New Mexico Desert.  A real heatstroke-hoot!  Better drink some more alien-juice and stay hydrated!

The first event I attended was the Alien Pet Costume Contest held on the Civic Center lawn.  Everybody loves to see little dogs parading around in costumes that, while embarrassing to other dogs, make humans laugh.  And what better opportunity to spray paint Fido green and display the poor critter on stage in front of four hundred similarly dressed humans?  The most appropriate dog to dress up in a silly costume is, of course, The Chihuahua.  And there were plenty of ‘purse dogs’ on display.  While waiting for judging to begin I met Starlina, a tiny Chihuahua from of all places, Wilhoit, Arizona.  Starlina took an Honorable Mention in the contest but I think she got robbed, she should have won.  Ultimately the winner of Best Pet Costume was a cat!  A freakin’ cat!  Give me a break; cats don’t wear costumes nearly as well as dogs.  The judges must have been cat-people.  What are the qualifications for an Alien Pet Contest Judge anyway?  Someone needs to be probed…

A little later in the day the Pet Costume Contest was followed by the Alien Costume Contest for people.  Thank goodness this one was held indoors in the air-conditioned Civic Center Exhibit Hall thereby eliminating the need for ambulances to carry away overheated people wearing too much plastic and aluminum foil.  Little kids and large adults paraded around wearing strap-on antennas and alien-themed costumes all hoping to win a prize for their creative-fashions.  If an actual Grey Alien had entered he’d of probably lost but a tall dude in a Grey Alien outfit did win this one.  Thankfully the Tron Guy didn’t show up.

Later it was time to hit Main Street and check out the vendors and the band playing on the concert stage.  I felt sorry for the band.  They were actually good players, but they were wailing away for an audience of four or five ten-year olds, all the adults were hiding indoors, out of the heat.  Later in the evening I heard the same band, playing the same songs, at the restaurant/club across the street from my hotel.  Although they probably lost money playing the UFO Festival they might have made it back at the restaurant gig as bar patrons generally tip better than ten-year olds who ditched their parents to listen to the Rock Band.

The street vendors displayed a remarkable deficit of alien-themed trinkets.  Instead, there were vendors selling the usual food-fare, face-painting, and applying temporary tattoos to little girls who wanted a tramp-stamp just like Mom’s.  There were vendors selling Zuni Fetishes carved in the shape of Space Aliens.  The most oddball vendor I saw was selling Mexican wrestling masks!  I thought about buying one of those Mexican wrestling masks but my sex life isn’t exciting enough to justify the expense.  Around the corner from the street vendors I found the Gallery of the Roswell Fine Arts League where the UFO Art Show was on display.  The air-conditioning was the best thing the gallery had going as the art was truly terrible.  The show consisted of only eleven pieces of ‘UFO art’ that looked like they’d been done in the special-ed art class at the school for the blind.  A painting of ET the Extraterrestrial on Black Velvet has better art-collection potential.

The Space Lady was playing her 1985 Casio keyboard to an audience of one kid on the sidewalk.  With the Casio’s drum machine running at high-speed I half expected her to start singing Wall of Voodoo’s 1982 hit, Mexican Radio, but she stayed away from anything that entertaining.

The Electric Light Parade Saturday night was fun but short.  Thankfully it had cooled off to only 98 degrees by 9pm.

I was starting to think that any intelligent life in the area had died in that crash in 1947 so on Sunday I went looking for Real Science; luckily I found some hidden amongst the costumed silliness.  The International UFO Museum and Research Center hosted a series of lectures by UFO researchers.  The most prominent Expert there was nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman.  He co-authored “Crash at Corona: The Definitive Study of the Roswell Incident” which is the book that brought the Roswell UFO Crash out of obscure Ufology and into mainstream consciousness.  Travis Walton was also there.  Travis is the Arizona logger who was abducted by aliens in 1975 and returned five days later.  The movie, “Fire in the Sky,” was based on Travis’ UFO encounter.  Other speakers included hypnotherapists who work with abductees; crop circle researchers and military experts.  The folks from Open Minds Productions (the organizers of the International UFO Congress) were there as well.  I had a very interesting conversation with Aaron Sagers, host of “Paranormal Paparazzi” on The Travel Channel.  His presentation centered on celebrity UFO sightings and we had a lively discussion about mass consciousness and the paranormal in Pop Culture.

The Roswell UFO Festival is a fun vacation destination for anyone interested in the Alien/UFO phenomena.  It’s an entertaining couple of days with something for every kind of Carbon Based Lifeform.  There’s even some real science there, if you’re willing to look for it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

OFF THE TRAIL (Part IV of the On the Road Chronicles)

I was tired; maybe fatigue is a better description.  I’d been on the road for almost three weeks and I’d been up early every morning chasing the sunrise.  I was barely one-hundred miles from home but there were a few more photos yet to be made.  After gassing up in Cameron I headed south on highway 89 and a few miles later turned into the Wupatki/Sunset Crater National Monument.  There was one particular place I wanted to photograph with my infrared camera.

Wupatki/Sunset Crater is two national monuments.  The northern section contains the Wupatki Anasazi Indian ruins and the southern section contains the extinct cinder-cone volcano, Sunset Crater.  Entering the Monument from the north I headed directly to the Wukoki Ruins, a ‘great house.’  I had in mind to reshoot a photo I’d shot years before, but this time in infrared.  The shot was from the western or backside of the ruin and I knew exactly where I’d have to stand to get the shot.  Since I was tired and lazy, I parked close and made a brisk walk to the ruins and around the backside to the vantage point I’d previsualized.  I stepped a few feet off the trail and squatted in the shade of a large boulder, aimed my camera, and waited.  And waited, and waited.  There were a couple of loud-mouth, morbidly obese tourons in my shot.  I thought, instead of retouching the people out of the photo, I’d just wait for them to leave, but they were moving slow and talking really loud.  I could hear their southern accents two-hundred yards away and now the fat cow was talking about me.

“Look!  That guy’s off the trail!” she exclaimed in her dumb-sounding southern drawl.  “He’s off the trail!  He’s off the trail!  The sign says ‘stay on the trail’ and he’s off!  He’s breaking the rules; he’s not supposed to be there!”  Her tone indicated she was clearly distressed by my horrible, off-the-trail transgression.  In her view, I was a huge asshole.

Shut up and move along, you cow, I muttered to myself as I waited for a clear 1/250 of a second to take my photo and get going.  Now she’s pointing me out to her fat friends.  Gee lady, get over it and move along, as soon as you move, so will I.  I was tired and in no mood for idiot tourists all cheesed-off about me being a few feet off the trail.

Finally she waddled out of frame.  I took the shot, bracketed a few exposures and was done.  Two minutes of photography after waiting fifteen minutes for the people to get out of my shot.  I made a brisk walk back to the ruins and on to my car.

When I got back to the ruins, loudmouth hillbilly-lady decided she needed to accost me about my off-the-trail rule violation.  Why do people think they can bitch me out with impunity?  Do I have a face that says I’m harmless and won’t mind getting yelled at by non-authority figures?  Do I look like that much of a wuss?  The next thing I know she’s hollering at me:

“Can’t you read the signs, you’re off the trail, you’re breaking the rules, you can’t do that!” she went on and on and on.

I listened while losing patience.  I don’t have time for this and you’re not a park ranger, lady.  When she finally shut her giant pie-hole I decided I really didn’t need to explain, no, I’d just give it right back to her.  I was tired and hot and ready to be home and had no time for idiots like her.  Since she’d already decided I was an asshole, I might as well be one.

“Madame,” I began, “I can tell by your accent you’re educationally disadvantaged, so I’d like to teach you a new phrase…” I paused for dramatic effect, “…Bite Me!”

I do believe she immediately fell ill with ‘the vapors.’  “Why I never…” she muttered.

Then her even more morbidly obese husband got into the act.  “Nobody talks to my wife like that, I ought to kick your ass!” he yelled at me.

Really?  I thought.  You assholes are going to do this?  “Ah!  Kick my ass?  Is that how you people solve your problems?”  I asked the husband.  “If you can even run down here and catch me you’d better bring her boyfriend too, Bubba.”  I taunted the fat dude I knew I could outrun.

They stood there and just sputtered and fumed, like the fat pissed-off assholes they were.

I continued on to the parking lot, got in my car, and drove off towards Sunset Crater.  I’m sure it would be at least another half-hour before their toothpick legs could transport their bulk to their car with the sacked-out suspension.

Really, is that shit necessary?  How unpleasant.  And, despite the so-called rules, it’s none of their business.

If you’re one of those color-inside-the-lines and always-follow-the-rules types then the fact that I was only a few feet off the trail won’t matter to you.  But most folks are more reasonable and most smart folks don’t care.  It’s not up to the tourists to enforce the rules.  Park Rangers enforce the rules and being a Park Ranger has been more about law enforcement for the past thirty years than naturalism anyway, so let them do their jobs.  There is no need whatsoever to accost a stranger who’s caused you no harm or inconvenience.  Let it go.  Or go get a Park Ranger.  Besides, what if I had been a psycho-asshole and really kicked the guy’s ass?  Would it be worth it to him then?

I guess I just look like one of those guys who is easily intimidated.  They had no idea of what an effective defensive weapon a tripod is….

I’m pretty sure I made an impression on those hillbilly assholes.  As for other impressions, well, I didn’t even leave a footprint on the ground.

So bite me!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

THE NAVAJO DOG (Part III of the On The Road Chronicles)

The little black Chihuahua puppy curled up into a ball in my arms.  She was shivering from fear and the cold.  There was no one around, absolutely no one but me.  There were no cars, no houses, buildings or structures of any kind in sight.  It was quiet except for the wind and the whimpering of the little dog.  I had no choice nor did I need to make a choice, I was keeping that pup.  I don’t know how she came to be here but if she stayed, she’d certainly die from exposure or predators or traffic.  I would rescue that dog, she’d ride with me for the rest of the trip and I’d take her home…

…The alarm on my wristwatch quietly beeped at four-thirty A.M.  This would be my last day of chasing the light on this photo-shoot and it was a good thing because I was tired.  I’d slept well enough in my room at The Recapture Lodge in Bluff, Utah but three weeks of early mornings and late evenings had taken their toll and the fatigue had set in.  I went to bed tired and woke up tired.  And I had weird dreams…

I packed up my equipment one last time, loaded the car, dropped off the room-key and refilled my coffee mug.  I’d done this drive a zillion times.  Leave Bluff; pass the Goosenecks of the San Juan River and Mexican Hat.  Onward through Monument Valley and then the Rez; turn left at Tuba City, pass Sunset Crater and hang another left onto I-17 in Flagstaff.  Run with the 90mph traffic to highways 169 and 69 and then I’d be home.  It had been a long shoot and the homing instinct had kicked in, but as always, I’d stop for some photography along the way, especially Monument Valley.

Passing Monument Valley there was one rock formation near Kayenta I wanted to photograph.  The locals call it ‘El Capitan’ which isn’t an official name; I’ve noticed a lot of large geological protuberances get called ‘El Capitan,’ and it seems to be a common moniker for officially-unnamed, um, mountains.  As I passed ‘El Capitan’ I drove through its shadow.  Thinking a backlit, shot from the shadow side photo would be interesting I found a wide spot on the road and prepared to make a U-turn.  But the wide spot was a good vantage point too, so I pulled further off the road, crossed a cattle-guard, parked and opened the back hatch to get a camera.

I heard the whimpering of the dog before I saw her.

Looking behind me I saw a little black dog.  She was friendly, but scared and crying and laying low on her belly.  She was just a puppy.  A furry mutt; all black with white legs.  As soon as I saw she was not a Chihuahua I was relieved I didn’t have to ‘rescue’ her like the dog in that dream the night before.  I’ve already got a Chihuahua puppy at home and he’s enough work all by himself.  So I petted the little dog and she whimpered and cried and rubbed her little body on my legs.  As I retrieved my camera from the car and mounted it on a tripod she scooted under the car and laid there in the shade, just like I’ve seen so many reservation dogs do.

I photographed ‘El Capitan’ and prepared to go back and get the shot I’d originally seen.  The little puppy was still under my car so I got a peanut butter cracker I had and tried to coax her out.  She wouldn’t take the cracker and she wouldn’t move.  Finally I had to just drag her out from beneath the car but as soon as I opened the door to get in the car, she was back under it.  Finally, I pulled her out from underneath the car again and set her on the ground about fifteen feet away.  I started the car and drove back to the highway, leaving the little dog alone in the desert.

I felt bad, but what could I do?  There was a Hogan about one-hundred yards from where I’d parked and I hoped she lived with the people who lived there.  Or maybe she lived in one of those trailers further down the road?  There’s a lot of feral dogs running around the Navajo Nation and she was just another.  I didn’t want to steal someone’s dog, assuming she was someone’s.  Certainly she belonged to somebody?  I checked my mirror as I got back on the pavement; I hoped she’d at least stay away from the highway.

I drove back to ‘El Capitan’ but the sun had risen higher and the shadow was no longer in the same place or as long, so I’d missed the shot.  Oh well, the other vantage point would have to do.  I did another U-turn and headed back toward Kayenta and home.  I drove slowly as I passed the place I’d left the little black puppy and searched the ground for her.  She wasn’t far from where I’d left her, wandering along next to the highway.  My window was down and I could hear her crying.  I had a really shitty feeling but I can’t rescue every dog I see.  There was hardly any traffic at such an early hour so I drove slowly for a while with the window down.  Less than a mile down the road I saw another little black dog with white legs, another puppy with the same markings as the Navajo dog.  This dog was dead.  Obviously hit by a car, with blood smeared on the highway.  It was the other dog’s sister, a less-fortunate litter-mate.  This is why the other dog was crying and whimpering so.

Damn, what an ugly sight on a beautiful morning.  I hoped that other dog would find her home.  Heck, I’d be happy if that dog simply made it through the day.

I felt really sad for that dog as cued up behind all the slow Indian drivers on the way to Tuba City.

Based on a lifetime of knowing a lot of different dogs I’ve come to the conclusion that most dogs are better than most people.  Dogs have pure souls.  Dogs don’t have egos.  Dogs don’t have ulterior motives.  Dogs exist to give and receive love.  All dogs, especially feral dogs that live on the Rez, need to be treated better.  They ought to be treated like family members.

If you wouldn’t let a four-month old human infant crawl along next to a highway, you shouldn’t let a dog either.  This is simple common sense.  But, now that I think about it, we don’t treat each other all that well and that’s why so many people just don’t give a damn about their pets.

Perhaps we should try it backwards?  Maybe if everyone treated their dogs and other pets better that would make them more inclined to treat people better?  I wish I had the answer…

I’ll bet I thought more about that dog that day than its owner did.  My dog Bruno got an extra hug when I got home.

Monday, June 10, 2013


“And I’d like a ground floor room please.”

“Sorry, only second floor is available,” said the woman at registration.

“Then put me near the elevator,” was the best I could ask for.

I always ask for a downstairs room at hotels because I’m lazy and, moreover, I’ve got a lot of camera cases and equipment I prefer to schlep as short a distance as possible.  Fortunately it was a short walk from the car, to the front door, to the elevator and then to my second floor room.  For my fourth and final trip all I was carrying were maps, a Kindle and a flask of rum for a cocktail in the room before bed.

As luck would have it, this time I waited and waited and waited for the elevator to come down one floor of the only two-floor hotel.  Finally the ‘ding’ of the elevator announced its arrival.  The door opened and people came out, giggling little tourists emerged, one after another after another.  What’s so funny?  The elevator was like a clown car as I hummed the backwards lyrics of the old Genesis song I always think of when waiting for elevators to empty; you’ve got to get out to get in…

As the last one of the giggling little tourons exited the elevator I jumped in just as the door was closing.  Finally!  I stabbed the “2” button, the door closed and then it hit me:

The Fart.

Is this what they were laughing about?  A giant, hideous, smelly freakin’ fart had contaminated every molecule of air in the elevator!  This was no little stinker but a fully fermented, from the bowels of the bowel, weapons-grade motherfucking fart.  It was a close your eyes and hold your breath if you want to live kind of fart. 

It was hideous.  I’m sure it was infusing my clothing.

If anyone on the second floor was waiting for the elevator when I got off I was just going to say to them:  “Hey, it was in there before I got in, I didn’t do it!”  Luckily the ride was short (I was able to hold my breath) and there was no one waiting for the elevator when the door opened on the second floor.

Whew!  Next poor elevator-rider won’t have anyone to blame.

Sonofabitch, I muttered as I inserted my card-key into the door.  Safely in my room I finally took an uncontaminated breath.  I sniffed my clothing but it only smelled like my own sweat, I was lucky.

I washed a glass and retrieved a Coke from the mini-fridge and prepared to mix a drink with the contents of the flask in my back pocket.  Rocks?  I need ice.  Grabbing the ice bucket I remembered seeing an ice machine next to the elevator and stepped into the hallway outside my room.

No ice machine.

Damn!  That ice machine next to the elevator was on the first floor.

I decided right then that drink didn’t need any ice.

No way I’m getting in that elevator now, that fart is still in there, waiting for its next victim….

Saturday, June 1, 2013


After spending the night in the unlikely-named Glasgow, Montana, it was about a 110 mile drive to the North Dakota state line.  It would be an easy drive on the nearly arrow-straight state highway 2.  Commercial-free jazz played on the XM satellite radio and the cruise control was set at the speed limit of 70mph.  The weather had been weird for the past few days.  Storms chased me across northern Oregon and late May snows in central Oregon called for a mid-trip course-correction, so I was in Montana sooner than I’d planned.  As I drove I scanned the skies.  Although the skies were partly sunny on the high flat plains of eastern Montana I could see a thunderstorm off to the north, and two more in the southeastern distance.  So far it was dry but I wondered if I’d be driving into heavy weather.  As a guy who watches The Weather Channel and as a child lived in Kansas for a while, I know what tornado skies look like and the distant skies were angry.

As fate would have it, it wasn’t long before I drove right into a Major Storm.  I don’t know if the road took me to the storm or the storm came to the road but conditions got bad quickly.  The windshield wipers went from intermittent to full blast.  My speed dropped from 70mph to barely 30.  The rains came hard, then the hail.  With the hail I started to worry about the car and the windshield especially.  Luckily the hailstones were small and sporadic.  Mine was the only car on a long, lonely road in a storm and I really wanted to get out of that storm.  I can deal with heavy rain, but I’d prefer not to drive in a hailstorm.  I searched the horizon for a tree; someplace I could park and hide until the storm passed.  Yeah right; have you ever tried to find a tree on a prairie?  There aren’t any, there was nothing at all; just a vast plain that I assumed was still there, behind the rain and evermore darkening skies.

Somewhere near Poplar, or maybe it was Culbertson, I saw a tree on the side of the road.  It was a pathetic little tree, but it would do.  I headed for that tree and parked under it, across the highway from an abandoned building.  The hail had stopped and the rain had lightened, somewhat.  I scanned the fancy high-tech XM satellite radio for a weather report but the nearest station was in Minnesota.  No useful information.  If I just knew which way the storm was moving…

As I sat in the car wondering, should I stay or go, another car came driving up slowly from the east.  It was a cop car, or more specifically, a cop SUV, one of those tricked-out heavy-duty go-anywhere kind of rural cop vehicles.  I rolled down my window and flagged down the cop.  He stopped next to me in the middle of the highway ---there was nobody else around for miles.

“Hey,” I yelled to the cop over the booming thunder, “Do you have a weather-report on that cop-computer in your car?”

“Sure do” He answered.  “And there’s a super cell sitting right over this area!”

“Does it indicate wind direction?” I asked, “Which way is the storm moving?”

“East.” He answered.

“East!  Maybe I can get out from underneath it by out running it?”

“Good idea.”  Answered the cop as he pointed west, straight down the highway from where I’d just come.  “But first we’ve got to outrun that!

I looked down the highway in the direction he was pointing and saw a funnel cloud forming.  “Holy shit!”

“Follow me,” Yelled the cop, “You’ve got a fast car, so keep up!”

With that, he whipped a u-turn, turned on his flashing red lights, and put the hammer down.  The next thing I know we’re hauling at 90-100mph, I’m on his bumper like a NASCAR driver and checking the rear view mirror for that tornado.

Four or five miles down the road the tornado had dissipated and the rains slacked.  The cop braked and motioned me to the side of the road.  We pulled off; I stopped next to the cop and rolled down my passenger window.

The cop leaned out his window and said, “Tornado fell apart and didn’t form, we’re clear.  If you continue east you’ll be in front of the storm.  If you can go southward, the weather’s even clearer.”

“Thanks so much!” I was truly grateful.  Just before I drove off the cop added one more thing:

“And no more speeding without an escort!”  He smiled.

“No problem.”  And I continued toward the state line.

By the time I got to Williston, North Dakota, it was mostly sunny.  Feeling optimistic after outrunning the tornado I ignored the cop’s advice and turned northward.  That turned out to be a Big Mistake but for a whole ‘nuther reason……