Tag Archives: hiotna

Sedona: the truth

If you are in any way connected to metaphysical beliefs, neo-paganism, auras, or for that matter your sacred healing spatula, you’ve heard of Sedona. “Amazing, you can feel the energies.” “Such a special, spiritual place.” “I want to move there and start a natural healing center.”

Trust me, they got a lot of those. But the point is that second to Stonehenge, Sedona is to New Agers (and anyone like me who comes unglued when mistaken for them, no offense) as Mecca is to Muslims or Hagia Sophia is to Orthodox Christianity. There are those who have been, and those who wish they had been. So let’s have the candid reality.

We drove up from the southern approach. The scenery is reason enough to see Sedona even if you’re an atheist (amazing geology and views), a devout Southern Baptist (check out what God makes when he’s in a good mood), a Mormon (Brigham Young missed the southward turn, oh my heck), or whatever. You can say faaaaaaaaa to all the hematite jewelry and vortex maps and types of healing you don’t even know what they mean, and just love the trip for the sake of pure scenic loveliness. Sedona is essentially palisaded by tall red walls with very clear multicolored rock layers that are impressive even by the lofty standards of ‘Zona. An overlook near the airport lets you survey a major part of the town–highly recommended.

It is a town very stretched out, yet without sprawl. Roundabouts make it very easy to turn back around to check out that art gallery or crystal shop or restaurant. They manage to have enough parking in spite of the hordes of tourists. I admit I came in very skeptical of the whole business. I promised not to, under any circumstances, blurt the phrase ‘crystal weinie.’ Most essentially, today was for Deb. She has done much of the driving for two weeks, without complaint (I spell her on request, and navigate), and coming here was more her thing than mine. She was due a day driven only by what she desired, with me cheerfully tagging along wherever she wished to explore.

You might have expected Sedona to have a vast excess of metaphysical shops, quaint eateries with vegan-friendly menus, art galleries and enough hematite jewelry to cover the dome of the Arizona State Capitol. (I’m surprised they haven’t thought of that.) Your expectation would be 100% correct. You could not check them all out unless you devoted a month to it, as a day job. If that’s your shopping paradise, by all means make the pilgrimage. Sedona will sate you. However, most people who don’t come for the scenery come for the energies.

On one level, I think there’s something to it. For reasons I cannot explain, my knees–which frequently stiffen up and pain me lately, especially when I first stand up from a long period of sitting, such as in a passenger seat–felt twenty years younger. I felt as if I could walk ten miles or play nine innings. Deb came into town with eyes irritated, we believe by smog in Tucson and Phoenix, but they felt so fine she forgot about it until I asked her if they were better. She’d also had a headache. Vanished. One might attribute those to cleaner air. Cleaner air didn’t give me such a great knee day, I’ll tell you that. What I felt most of all was a sense of calm and tranquility, which I hadn’t anticipated in a moderately crowded place and is rarely the case anywhere I don’t exactly feel like I fit.

Except for the photo ops, of which she took fullest advantage, Deb tired of Sedona the town after a couple of hours. I think the Raven place that turned out to be a timeshare marketing front was the first point of impact. At the same time, she felt the same calm I did in the area. We disappointed the Sedona money machine by buying only one greeting card and one lunch. Fun observation, to which I was alerted in advance by my nephew (who, with my niece, graciously showed us around the natural beauty of the Sonora) in Tucson: the bulding code in Sedona demands that, without exception, all commercial structures conform to a strict code, including color restrictions. The McDonalds in Sedona has teal arches, not golden ones. Dead serious.

Deb and I did find our own spiritual connection in the Sedona area, but we didn’t find it by seeking out a ‘vortex’ crowded with eager seekers in search of energies. Here is the lesson I drew from it. Sedona and its surrounds are so beautiful that I’m not sure how anyone could sustain a bad mood. They represent a special sense of nature, spirits, gods or God–whatever you choose–presenting its/their very best. If you want to find spirituality there, you will find it anywhere you feel drawn–it is an attitude within you that you find reflected in what you see. Deb and I felt a profound sense of unity and love, and wherever we looked, we saw symbols that reflected this. Maybe the place amplifies what you bring to it. Maybe there are ancient spirits who don’t resent the masses of medicine wheel setter-uppers, Whole Foods junkies, mountain bicyclers, pagans and flabby tourists. Maybe it’s something I don’t understand and may never grasp.

Doesn’t matter what I think or understand. Take my word that the scenery of the entire side drive between Rimrock and Flagstaff that includes Sedona is reason enough for any non-blind person to go. As for the rest, bring a good heart and an open mind, seek what you wish, and you may find it. Far as I’m concerned, the shopping is overrated but the natural beauty is Grand Canyon-level smack-you-in-the-soul stuff. The rest is your call.

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The gift of the Lakota

This was some years back, when Deb and I drove to Kansas to visit the tribe. (Not the Indians; my family.) We travel together very well, and this trip was no exception. On our way back, we crossed South Dakota and went to Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial (a work in generational progress).

Mt. Rushmore itself didn’t really do much for me. Whatever upwelling of nationalism I was supposed to feel, I didn’t feel it. Paha Sapa (the Black Hills) were sacred ground for the Lakota (Sioux), and unfortunately, they contained gold. That they would be appropriated and exploited, in the 1800s, was foregone. That this place was chosen to carve sculptures of Great White Fathers, well, to me that’s just washing the Indians’ faces in it. It’s not like there aren’t other mountain ranges in the West suitable for sculpting, after all. Why choose this one, if not to hammer the nail deeper?

It bothered me, and I had come prepared.  Now, I am not an enrolled member of the Hiotna (Honky Injuns Of The New Age) tribe. (Credit to my bro John L. for the hilarious phrase, fairly typical of his main-gauche wit.) Their cultures are theirs, and mine is mine; my sliver of Indian heritage is the social norm for American whites today and signifies nothing. I did, however, desire to do a small observance, as a visitor to Paha Sapa. I had brought tobacco and cornmeal, offerings one might give to a holy man in some Indian cultures. And if they weren’t exactly right, I supposed that whatever called Paha Sapa an ancestral home, it would get my drift.

One tradition my bride and I share is the collection of heart-shaped rocks. Wherever we go together, we seek them out, and somehow we always manage to find one. We have dozens. Usually I do the looking and finding; it is a marital joy.  This autumn afternoon, we really weren’t thinking of that. We headed off down a side road, parked, and walked off into the woods together. I love remote forests and feel completely at ease there, the mirror image of the big-city denizen who feels at home walking on concrete, and who would quiver in terror at the mere possibility of wildlife. In their comfort zone, I would be as they are with a timber rattler, so I get that.

While I did my observance, Deb wandered off into the forest a bit. (Alaskan and Western, she is as much at home there as I.) She was at that short distance where I can see her, but not clearly, when she cried out: “Oh my god!  Jonathan, come here!”

When you’re out in the woods and your wife hollers for you, you get the hell over there. I ran toward her. She was standing before a boulder, but not just any boulder.

It was about the size of a washing machine, sloped on top, in our direction. Atop the boulder, a piece was broken off, like the edge of a top layer crumbling. It was fine-grained, probably metamorphic, charcoal-colored, covered with lichens. The broken piece was very recent, to judge by the lack of lichens where it had snapped off.

This piece was a near-perfect heart shape. Except for the upper left corner being a little pointy–imagine a home plate shape with a perfectly located notch in the upper middle–it called to mind nothing so much as a heart. Much larger than our usual heart-shaped pebbles: maybe ten inches across and six inches thick.

I suppose it’s possible that we just happened to pick that particular road, just happened to wander into the woods at that particular (unremarkable) stopping spot, just happened to blunder into the forest at just the right spot, and it just happened to break off very recently, and we just happened to notice it. That level of coincidence is less credible to me than the alternate explanation, which is that we were meant to find it. Of course, I didn’t come expecting to take anything away with me. If you had asked me beforehand whether I was planning on grabbing a souvenir rock from the Black Hills, I’d have said “Hell, no.” But what else does one conclude? What would you conclude?

Seemed to me that, for whatever reason, Paha Sapa had a gift for us of the kind only Deb and I would find, notice and care about. I took it up with care, examining it; probably weighed eight pounds. I think I was too awed to say anything more profound than “thank you.” Much moved, we took it to the car with us and went on our way. (We had a safe and easy trip home, except of course for the bone fragment through a front tire sidewall just outside Butte.)

The stone resides on our mantel, with all the lichens still covering it. (Early on, Deb suggested I clean those off.  No way, I said. We keep it as we got it. She did not demur.) And every time I look at the gift of the Lakota, I feel like they are my friends. Whatever we did or did not do, something noticed, and we felt a token of welcome and camaraderie.  And if there’s an issue, and there’s a Lakota side to it, I admit to a bias their direction.

I want to go back to Paha Sapa in the future, just to say hello. It now feels like a place I am not such an interloper. Not a native, of course, but at the very least, someone with a visa to visit, a safe conduct. I wonder how it will feel.