The time layer experience with the mountain lion entered
my thoughts less and less until I had forgotten it altogether. It’s as
though, in a day or two’s time, it just drifted away out of my memory
and I wasn’t even aware that it had been there let alone that I had lost
Fall classes at the college hadn’t started yet and I had more free time
than usual. I went to the beach cliffs on the west edge of town. The
tide was low when I climbed down on the boulders to the bay’s edge. The
waves seemed almost asleep, barely rocking back and forth over the
seaweed. It was hot in the Sun and a haze was rising from the surface of
the bay. I could feel the water in the air as it evaporated and
dispersed into the sky.
It made me think of the life providing cycles water has moved in on our
world. A few months ago I went to a science lecture on the origins of
life on our Earth. It was said that some scientists believe a large
portion of our planet’s water came from meteors and comets, and in the
explosions of their collisions with Earth the oxygen and hydrogen they
carried were released. In time the gasses condensed into water and with
the developing atmosphere began the cycles of evaporation, cloud
formation and rain.
Staring into the thin wisps of mist I wondered if the hypothesis was
correct. How does water come to be on one planet and not another? Surely
meteors and comets strike other celestial bodies as well. What is the
component missing on those worlds that we have here? Are there keepers
on other worlds? Is it the keepers who make the difference? The Hetakas
said that without water life would not be here, that water was
responsible for our life. I wondered what it was about water that the
science of my culture had not been observing.
The air was full of the scent of salt and seaweed. I loved that smell. I
had grown up with it. The seaside was always there for me, always
comforting, always showing me the perspective of time. I picked up
shells, rocks and water plants to smell. There was a continuity through
the passage of the millennia in their essence. Their lives with the sea
were primary to their being. I could feel the great waters of the world
in their bodies.
As I held a little empty shell I thought about the creature that must
have lived there once. I wondered what happened to it, what it did in
its life, where it had been, if it were dead. All these cycles reminded
me of the cycles I have undergone. And my thoughts turned once again to
the time I spent in the cave, the burning of my flesh, dying to what I
had been before in order to begin a new kind of experience, a new kind
of strength for a road of no return.
Thinking of the cave brought back its feeling. The quest Chea gave me to
find whose Song it was I felt in that cave weighed heavily on me. Its
identity always felt so close but I could never quite recognize it. My
frustration was worse every time I thought about it. And now it almost
seemed that the Song was coming at me from these cliffs, the sands, the
waters. While the tide was low I decided to look for a cave I could
enter and recreate some of the effect of the original experience. Maybe
that’s all it would take to jar my memory.
I felt the pull of that Song throughout my body. I climbed as fast as I
could, clinging to the rocks and dirt. I ran the sequence of the cave
passage through my mind. In recalling the midwife I felt reassured the
Song I was questing was not hers. She was another thing, another being.
Her Song and individuality were clear to me. She was my guide, my
This other, the presence in the cave, was bigger, even older. She was
deeply seduced with diversity of form and sensuality was an ember that
drove her. We were linked, but why or how I couldn’t say.
I clambered and slipped on the wet broken ground and sea anemones. I
knew I was close to something. A breeze was stirring and the waves were
beginning to splash up onto the rocks. The tide appeared to be rising
fast. If there was a cavern in these cliffs I would have to find it soon
before it went under water.
I came to an impassable place. The wall jutted up and out over the
water. I would have to wade through the waves or turn back. It didn’t
look very deep, maybe waist high. So I decided, what the heck - all or
nothing, and stepped out into the surf.
As I came around the bend there was a little cove maybe forty feet in
width. There were plenty of boulders to climb and sit on. I noticed
coming out of the water was a massive piece of cliff that had the same
kind of rock formations as were in the cave. It looked like a giant
undulating serpent. It reminded me of a story Domano had told me of the
The story takes place in the days when the Sun, Moon and stars were
young. A number of small tribes of peoples lived then. There were tiny
insect people, four legged people, flying people, swimming people, green
people, wind and water people, two legged people, and one huge Dragon
One day the Sun stood still in the sky and large balls of fire began to
fall from the heavens. The peoples were afraid and many died. Everyone
ran to the Dragon for safety because they thought it was going to be the
end of all things.
So the Dragon tucked them under her scales and feathers. She fed them
with her own flesh, quenched their thirst with her blood, and blew on
them so they would be cool and would have air to breathe. Then she
danced and rocked her huge body back and forth until she made the land
rock. Sun lost his grip and rolled across the sky. Then Night came and
pushed Sun back where he belonged.
As I climbed up to the first flat of the formation I could feel a
vibration almost like the low inaudible hum of a motor. I reached out
and touched the rock of the cliff. Perhaps it was coming from cars that
might be driving nearby. I listened carefully for the sounds of
automobiles and realized I had walked far enough down the coast to be at
least a half mile from the nearest road. I had never noticed feeling
anything like this hum before. Maybe it was caused from the movements of
I stared up at the cliff trying to find a clue to the burning cave’s
secret. Both she and the Dragon were strongly feminine. Both gave of
their own flesh and life for the well being of another. If this was
truly a quality of the female I wondered if I could or would ever be
able to perform such an act. And I realized I already had. I had given
of my own flesh and blood in the birthing of my children.
The waves began to splash up higher and higher with each crest now. I
looked at the rock I was sitting on. It was easy to see that the tide
usually came well above this spot and was now returning fast. Luckily
there was a way to climb to the top along the side of the Dragon’s back.
When I reached level ground I discovered that I was at the edge of
somebody’s artichoke field. I had walked a great deal farther than I
realized. Now I was going to have a long hike through private property
and down the highway to get to the bus stop. I was thankful there didn’t
seem to be anybody around. I didn’t want to explain my presence to some
annoyed farmer. I walked down the side of the field and into a grove of
It was getting to be late in the day and the shadows were long and
harsh. As I headed toward the highway I began to feel uncomfortable.
There was a rustling noise behind me like footsteps through the leaves
and bark strips. I wondered if I had made a mistake to come all the way
out here by myself. Women had been disappearing with little trace from
places like this.
I picked up my pace. The sounds stayed close behind me. I whipped my
head around fast to catch a glimpse of what was there. I could see
nothing but the shedding eucalyptus and their shadows. Fear began to
take little pieces of me. I didn’t want to give in to it. I knew that if
I did I would lose all clarity and that is no way to meet one’s trouble
I tried to stay calm as I began to run toward the highway. At least
there the road was crowded, an attacker would be seen by many. And if I
had to I could actually run into the traffic.
I jogged down the bicycle lane of the highway toward the bus stop. It
was several miles away. As the Sun set the feeling of being watched
pressed on my stomach. I was becoming terrified that it might be a long
dangerous time before the bus arrived. Tears welled up in my eyes when I
got to the covered waiting area and the bus was rolling up to the stop.
What an incredible relief to get inside a vehicle. I was an absolute
wreck and shaking all over. My clothes were wet and cold. But I didn’t
care. I was grateful to be in a safe place and on my way to my own
apartment. As I sat there looking out the window into the darkness I
wondered if the sounds of the footsteps had been made by a dog or the
wind, or even by some spirit being. Or perhaps it was another challenge
of my strength by my adversary. I didn’t know how to tell.
The next day I met the Hetakas as planned at the old clock in the
downtown mall. We watched the people pass by as we caught up on details
of the last several days. I was going on and on about all my experiences
with smelling and my adventure on the beach cliffs.
Domano interrupted me, “Uh huh. Great. Good. You are on a real talking
roll, aren’t you? Can I shove some words in here?”
I was so self absorbed I didn’t realize that I wasn’t letting him say
anything. Now I was embarrassed and had to laugh at myself.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Your work has been strong. You find joy and
learning in this way of life, and that is as it should be. So now it’s
time to move on, time for you to face the sense of taste. But you better
prepare yourself, you can’t judge the sense of taste by what you have
learned from the smelling. It is a different thing, you see. You must
approach tasting for itself, making no assumptions.”
I sipped my espresso and nodded. My concentration was on the smell of
the coffee that I was holding in front of my face. The sweet and bitter
tang of the dark roasted flavor was carrying me off.
“Have you heard what I say?” Domano asked me with a big grin.
“Oh.” My awareness drifted back to the mall. “Yes. Of course.”
“Well,” he continued. “What would you do if I didn’t repeat what I say
all the time? You would be up a creek. Huh?” He laughed and poked me
with his elbow. Chea leaned over and smiled.
“I did hear,” I defended myself. “Maybe my mind was busy sniffing a
little too. But not so much I didn’t hear what you said.”
He giggled again.
“Really. You said tasting is different and I shouldn’t assume. See?”
“It’s a good thing I repeat.” He shook his head and patted my knee. “Oh.
Chea turned her head around at him and laughed. He loved to tease her.
He smiled with all his teeth showing and said, “That sure is your
favorite word, isn’t it?” Chea popped him on the head with a stack of
napkins. The people walking by seemed surprised at their behavior.
“Look,” Domano said holding his face in a very serious configuration.
“You are embarrassing me in the public.” Chea and I laughed. It was
quite funny to hear him be the one complaining of embarrassment after
all the absurd pranks he’d played. He stared at us with his expression
of sternness slowly growing more exaggerated.
“That’s remarkable,” I said. “How do you make your face do that so
Chea and I laughed. He stared back until finally a smile crept onto the
corners of his mouth. “You two have no respect,” he scowled.
We answered with him, “No respect. No respect.”
“Now you two behave here,” he shook his finger at us. “This is always
such a good spot for a story that I think I’m going to tell a story of
the west for you today. Before we start with the work on the tasting, I
would like to tell you this little story. So you be nice.”