“I hope you have a strong stomach. Keep it down.”

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The following is an excerpt from the journal I kept during my time volunteering at a Peyote Sanctuary located in the middle of (nowhere) Arizona wilderness:

The sun disappears behind the nearby mountain range leaving just enough light and time to unlatch the swinging metal gate. I take a quick check of my street car, reminiscing only for a moment of my recently traded in 4×4 vehicle that would have made the 20 mile dirt road much more accessible. I arrive too late to set up my tent, nor am I on time enough to be greeted by anyone other than a couple of horses whose names I do not yet know.

Annie tells me hours earlier on the phone to let myself into the main house once I arrive. She explains that she and her husband Matthew will be retiring shortly into their private dwellings, residing just east of where I will be spending the night.

I enter “The Front Room” and choose a slightly elevated bed, which I note, most resembles a cocoon.  As I put the last of my produce away in the kitchen’s pantry and refrigerator, feeling suffocated by the culture shock, I get the sense to emerge from the building and turn to the stars for comfort. Memories of sky watching flood my consciousness and I feel even further away from the place I call home.

I hear a cough and remember that Annie’s oldest son is also staying in the main house. I call out his name, “Joseph,” and after a brief hesitation, he opens the door. I read his character instantly, and know that I’ve made a friend even before we speak. Joseph is a cultured and seasoned traveller who makes a fascinating living selling rocks and gems at national and regional trade shows. I can tell almost immediately that he is the black sheep of the troupe. This includes his younger brother Tristan, and eldest sibling, Joy, whom also live and work on the Church grounds making “Mana” pottery by day with Matt and Annie, and administering the sacrament to the “Walkers” by night.

Gidein, the first Spirit Walker of the season arrives today. He doesn’t speak much, though, neither do I. We wait until the family leaves the premises for the evening before engaging in conversation. He is now set up in the “Front Room” and I have moved to the conjoining “Porch Room” which I am also spending my days slowly renovating. The timid Gidein raps on my window to get my attention and we meet out in the kitchen area. He is still quiet considering my eagerness to speak, but then I remind myself that he is fasting and preparing for his spiritual journey. I begin to make dinner as he silently excuses himself. He is scheduled to drink his brew at noon the following day.

The next days work is over. Coyotes howl and a bird that I cannot identify sings the moon awake in an ethereal desperation. Twilight shifts to night and the creatures simultaneously silence. I miss my home and at the same time I regret ever being born in a city. I feel like such an outsider as I observe the family serenely maneuvering through this seemingly stunted pace of life. Routine is more of a religion than this institution’s administered sacrament. As much as I miss Los Angeles, I am terrified to return.

“I hope you have a strong stomach. Keep it down,” were Gidein’s parting words. He didn’t have much to say, in fact, he seems to be purposely avoiding conversation. He isn’t the same when he leaves. He is changed. I have yet to take my first Spirit Walk at this point.

Later, two more arrive. I eye their sports car and take note of their accent and instantly can tell they are from Los Angeles. I steal a look at the guest registry and confirm my assumptions.

While juicing for myself and the family the next morning, I am a little shocked to see Annie enter the premises with the Peyote brew and then proceed to cook it in the main house while sharing with me some ancient secrets of its preparation. I am told that I will be working in the garden today. I panic slightly, and only because I finally have gotten used to tooling away in the back room away from the family where I can more easily avoid my thoughts. For some reason, being on the east side of the land, away from my dwellings, causes me to feel exposed. About an hour into installing a solar panel, Tristan and Joy invite me into their parent’s house for breakfast. They do so after a brief conversation where I tell them that I am still feeling anxious from the lack of human contact in this Arizona wilderness. They obviously pick up on my inadvertent cry for companionship as we sit and eat and make small talk.

At noon, the two Los Angelinos are sent to separate ends of the property for their Spirit Walk. I bid them a good journey, yet meanwhile, my emotions are all over the place as I turn planter beds, load wheel barrows and transplant compost. It isn’t until I take a bike ride later in the afternoon that I run into one of Los Angelino Spirit Walkers as I am leaving the ranch. He acknowledges me, but clearly from another dimension. I try not to make eye contact. I nod and leave him on his journey. He holds a walking stick and is pacing himself methodically amongst the grounds.

Similar to my mood, the weather cannot seem to decide between unrelenting sun or threatening rain. Annie notices this inconsistency and she reveals that it is very common for the weather to act like this while a Spirit Walk is taking place. She believes without a doubt that these elements of consciousness and nature are connected. With this new bit of information, I inhale deeply in an attempt to take in the spirit of the Peyote walk.

The shift in breeze is welcomed and then by some miracle of nature, I become completely enthralled by my task at hand. As I clear weeds from the flower beds I think of how necessary it is to rid the dead and that which no longer serves oneself in order to make room for growth. My job then becomes a metaphor and with every handful of brush I discard, I envision ridding myself of all of the negativity and uncertainty within my being. I think of my friend Sean and some of his last words to me as I parted for my sabbatical, “The gods reward those who suffer.”

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One thought on ““I hope you have a strong stomach. Keep it down.”

  1. David

    Nicole, thank you for sharing this extraordinary experience with us. You are SUCH a talented writer. You are SUCH a courageous, adventurous young woman. I knew you were gifted when we worked together but I had no idea how deeply gifted you are. Yours is a remarkable weblog.

    D.

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