Saturday, July 3, 2010

sweat lodge and a curious scratch

Sketch book image of the very humble sweat lodge in Arizona. A simple structure made from arching re-bar, old blankets and canvas. In the foreground is a fire pit with collection of VERY hot rocks. Double click on the image for a hi-rez view.

part ONE of this story HERE
After the intensely scary events in the tent (story posted below) in Delores Colorado, Natascha and I were basically stuck in the four corners area with my Subaru in the shop. We had a rent-a-car and a few days of time. We went to the groovy coffee shop in Cortez and we used skype to contact Miriam Delicado and we asked her what we should do. She told us we needed to do a sweat lodge with a Navajo Shaman named Howard. So we drove to south west to Canyon De Chelly in Arizona.

Canyon De Chelly is on of the most beautiful and magical places on earth, and it’s all on Navajo land, so to enter into the bottom of the canyon requires a guide. We spent the day with wet feet in the cold muddy river with a wonderful guide named Francine. Afterwards we went to the Spider Rock Campground, a ramshackle establishment run by Howard. We were all set up to have the sweat the next morning, along with a few other folk at the campground.

Natascha, Howard and me (with a cat) early in the morning at the Canyon De Chelly Spider Rock campground.

I was curiously unaware of what I was getting myself into, it felt like I was proceeding without intention. It was more like I was being pulled toward the sweat lodge, rather than actively seeking it.

At some point that day I took my shirt off and I found a curious scratch that ran roughly from above my belly button up toward my left shoulder. (see sketch to the left) I had been in the tent in Delores Colorado that morning, and this would have been the first time I took my shirt off since the scary events the previous night.

Scratch isn’t quite the right term, if you looked at it closely it was actually some sort of rash. It wasn’t an abrasion, instead it was a bumpy length of tiny blisters in a long straight line. These were long rows of little bubbles of yellowish fluid right at the surface of my skin, each little blister was smaller than a grain of rice. It was weird, and I've never seen anything like it (on me or anyone else).

I’m color blind, and even I could see the thin red line. It looked like some allergic reaction, like someone took a pen full of poison ivy ink and drew a straight line on my chest.

It didn’t itch or feel bad, but it was certainly curious. It healed up slowly and cleanly over the next few weeks.

Did this red line happen the previous night in the tent in Delores? Was is associated with those terrifying memories? At the time both Natascha and I asked the same thing, and we we quick to dismiss those thoughts. It might have come from some desert cactus, but I did not do anything the previous few days with my shirt off. I have no memory of getting scratched by any plant, like a poison oak (a common tree in that area).

Now, over a month later I’m left questioning how I got that weird scratch and I don’t have an answer. Could it have happened that creepy night in Delores? Why didn’t I think to take a photo?

When I entered the lodge I wore a bathing suit, and my bare chest displayed that long red scratch. There were eight of us in the dark cramped shelter, with a pit in the center for the very hot rocks.

Howard lead a really impressive ceremony. It was mystical and playful all at the same time. I felt rooted in my own world, and simultaneously connected with something beautiful and ancient. The overriding theme was to surrender to the heat.

There were four separate sessions within the dark little lodge, each one getting progressively hotter. The final session was berserkly hot, and everyone inside was forced to lie down so as to breathe the cooler air near the dirt floor.

The whole thing lasted a few hours, and when it was over everyone was fatigued and quiet. I spent the rest of that very pleasant day drinking water and napping. Natascha took a long walk with Howard’s little dog.

The next day Natascha and I said good-bye to Howard in the morning, and slept in Valley of the Gods (in Utah) that night. And that - is another interesting story.

Myself and Natascha smiling above the Gooseneck Canyons in the Colorado River in the Four Corners area of southern Utah.


Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Wow. So you're going to tease us along until you post the next part of this intrigue? You should be a spy, Mike. Terrific and mysterious post, as always.

The Secret Sun said...

Nice shots and an always evocative flavor to the drawing. You have the Vision, to be sure.

Mike Clelland! said...

I did the drawing fast - I wasn't too worried about the accuracy of the form, I was just trying to show the position of that funny scratch.


Anonymous said...

Huh! That's interesting. Again, another one of those things that happens sometimes that you know is "off" but you're not sure what to think of it. You just have these suspicions about it.

Yeah-- hey, you've inspired me to tell another anecdote about a weird skin thing that happened to me once.

By the way, I just wanted to say again how wonderful it is to read your experiences here. I love how you approach it as part of a grand adventure, and I think that's the healthiest, most productive way to do it. It wasn't until I began to turn away from fear and turn in towards the adventure story part of this that I began to live a better life with/despite it.

I had another "reassuring" dream this morning. In it, I had just been taken and gyno procedures were done (a HUGE source of trauma in the past), but friends helped me deal with it and it was all matter of fact and I didn't flinch about any of it. Very weird-- but again, I felt so much calmer and better after the dream.

Natascha said...

Hah - I have to admit that I totally forgot about the scar! And I remember that I had the thought: we should make a picture but then within seconds forgot about it, too.
I'm grateful that we could make this sweat lodge. I did a few before in Germany but it's a whole different story when you make it with a Navajo on his own land. I had an intense dream the following night, which I might post on my blog at some time. And of course the little story in Valley (not Garden) of the Gods needs to be told by me because Mike has no memory of it.

Red Pill Junkie said...

Interesting story. Strange also that a color-blind person became such an accomplished artist!

PS: The scar sketch should be inverted, though.

Mike Clelland! said...


Inverted? You mean "mirrored?

I drew the sketch as If I was looking in a mirror. Nice fact-checking in my text.


Karen Totten said...

I remember Howard! How funny - we stayed at that same campground back in 2003. Howard is a funny guy - though I did not know he conducted sweat lodges! Canyon De Chelly is perhaps one of my favorite places. Very mystical.

Brizdaz (Darren) said...

You may want to try the African Shaman's ceremony,now...or not.

Watch this video and I think you'll be fascinated;
Bruce Parry Trips Again - Part 1
(of 3) - The hallucinogen Iboga - Altered States of Consciousness.

You might want to watch on an empty stomach,though.-)