The sun reached out warmly for a morning in March. Finches, sparrows and chick-a-dees filled the air with musical conversation. A squirrel hopped cautiously along the frosty ground, hoping for overlooked nuts, while trying to keep his toes from freezing. A raven chortled loquaciously above me.
Off in the distance, I could hear the noisy vehicles on the local highway, and a dog barking for company. But here, at the Lodge, it was quiet... once in a while the chimes would signal a breeze wandering through... and a fountain churgled happily by the door.
This morning, our group was being led on a walk through pinyon and juniper woods. We had come to the Lodge as a retreat from the mundane craziness of the business world. Regroup, recover, return to burn. Well, it was a good weekend off, no doubt. Friday night, we sat in a circle, offering snapshots of our lives, sharing the common ebb and flow of everyday life.
And now it was Saturday, early morn, and we were traipsing after the Lodge-mother, half asleep, on a sandstone trail... all without a Starbucks...
We made it all the way up to a sparse clearing in which lay evidence of ancient Anasazi ruins. We performed a sacred ceremony, blessing the land and the gifts in our lives. We meditated each to ourselves, and then quietly started back down the path. I had lingered to be last, and while I was gazing around, I caught a glimpse of something shiny. The sun was apparently reflecting off something, and I went to investigate what it might be. Soon, I realized that it was just a page of mica. But what lay next to it grabbed my complete attention: a partial silhouette of a handprint upon a flat stone. Most of it was buried beneath sand and an outcropping of rock, but enough of it was recognizable as a human hand print. I couldn't stay here long, as my group was already wandering back to the Lodge, and I didn't want to draw attention to myself and this find... not yet. As if in agreement, a raven flew by, raucously telling me to leave - right now!
I stood slowly and turned, noticing all the landmarks I would need to find this particular spot again. Then I left.
We had activities scheduled for all day, except for lunch and dinner breaks. But even during those times, there was always a shift of us preparing the sweatlodge for that evening's ceremony.
I knew it would be difficult going up there after the sweatlodge ceremony - not to mention the elk, bear, and other nocturnal beasties that might be wandering about - so I set my alarm clock for the wee hours before dawn, instead.
When it went off, I spent a few minutes debating with myself about the insanity of getting up this early on a retreat weekend, but I dragged myself out of bed anyway. Curiosity was stronger than sleep, at that moment. I dressed warmly, as the temperatures dipped below freezing at night. The air was still, and the stars incredibly bright. The moon had a silvery fullness, so I decided I wouldn't need my flashlight.
I began walking up the pathway to the ruins. Suddenly, I heard the soft crunching sounds of an animal walking near me, and started to panic. Then, I realized it was only Big Daddy. He was the huge Lodge-cat, who purred in tribbles, and lounged contentedly in his orangey-white fluff, just close enough to anyone that might, of course, want to pet or feed him (or both...).
Then I heard him speak to me in my mind. "Who'd you think I was? I mean, really..." And his voice was filled with that exasperation that only cats can show. Then he continued, "Ooooh, maybe you thought I was Larry, the raccoon, or Pauline, the skunk, or - well - for sure, you didn't think I was Brutus, the bear, or Elijah the elk, did you???"
"Oh, stop it," I said. "I didn't imagine your Highness's paunchy self would be up and around before noon."
"Someone's got to protect you."
"Whatever..." And Big Daddy sat down and licked his butt.
I left him there, and continued into the clearing where the ruins slept. Checking the landmarks, I was able to determine the approximate place where the handprint had been. And, sure enough, there it was.
There seemed to be a strange glowing coming from it, very faint, and sparkly - not quite solid, but more ethereal. A slight breeze moved branches, and the moonlit shadows seems to edge closer to see it, too. I was about to touch the handprint when a voice said,
"No cat in their right mind would touch that, you know." Big Daddy was sitting nonchalantly off to my right.
"I'm not a cat."
"Too bad for you... we can't all be perfect. How boring..." and he yawned.
"Well, do you have some good reason for me not to touch this?"
"Hmmmm... reason... human... oxymoron, I believe... but, as you asked... I sense ancient magick here. And, one other thing..." He paused.
"Yes..." Cats could be exasperating, too, but I tried hard to be patient.
"This wasn't here before."
"Just before. It wasn't here before. I would have known. And now it is."
"You don't mind if I investigate it further, do you?"
"Mind?...oh my goodness - do be my guest - I do so enjoy a good mystery, especially when I'm not the one in danger."
"Oh, thanks a lot." But I did remember him saying he was here to protect me. And I also remembered a "message" that came to me during the sweatlodge ceremony: "Not all doorways go both ways", which had sounded really weird at the time.
I knew that cats had some innate intuitive, maybe even mystical, abilities, but how that might help me, I had no idea. Still, I was very intent on seeking out the mystery behind this curious handprint.
Carefully, I brushed the sand away, and felt my fingers tingling as if waking from sleep. Then I gently moved the one particular rock that covered the rest of the print.
It glowed a light blue-turquoise around the edges, and along the lines and whorls of palm and fingers. It was mesmerizing just to look at, for sure. It gave the impression of not having earth and stone beneath it, but rather stars and space.
I had waited long enough. In a few minutes, the sun would be rising along with my companions, so it was now or never.
I placed my own right hand upon the handprint --
and I was no longer in Payson, Arizona. I wasn't even sure I was anywhere on the planet. But I knew if I didn't start breathing, that it wouldn't matter.
"Another fine mess you've gotten us into, Ollie," a raspy voice beside me spoke. Big Daddy had apparently somehow followed me through...whatever...it was that I had gone through.
I looked around. The handprint had disappeared.
It was dark, as if it were nighttime here as well. The air was similar to what I was used to, although a much richer blend. I looked up and noticed that the stars also seemed pretty much where they belonged, for all that I knew a handful of constellations. So, my guess was that I was still on the same planet, and pretty close to the location I had just "left"... but the land was different. It held a lushness, moist and full of plant aromas. Off in the distance, I did hear rumbling - but not of vehicles - no; it sounded more like ocean! And, additionally, the sky seemed to be lightening in the west! How strange... In the pre-dawn light, I could see a bit of a cave off to my left, and cautiously, I crawled over to it. I didn't want to skyline myself to what might be a xenophobic population.
From the cave, where Big Daddy had already made himself quite comfortable, I spent time trying to acclimate myself to this environment. Down the hill to what I assumed was south was a village of sandstone dwellings, like what the Pueblo and Hopi peoples have. I could see no evidence of any electrical or mechanical technology. In fact, when I concentrated, I realized I couldn't taste the metallic ozone atmosphere of my Home place - wherever that was now. This site smelled more like a rainforest, except for the salty tinge that reminded me of the ocean surf I could hear in the distance.
As the sun rose, I watched as a young man walked out of a building through a blanket-draped doorway. He was coming this way. I curled up tightly into the cave's shadowy interior, keeping a vigilant eye on him.
His skin was the reddish-brown of the earth around here, but his eyes were almost turquoise-blue. The feathers he wore in his beaded headband seemed of the tropical variety, as if parrots and macaws lived nearby. He had a necklace of shells, and a blade of chipped obsidian. The quiver he carried, however, did not carry arrows, but what looked to be yucca brushes.
I watched as he sat down next to a flat-faced outcropping of rock that curved a bit overhead, giving him protection from the weather. He began to sing and paint. There was nothing I could do but watch, and - as Big Daddy decided - to nap. As much as I wanted to explore, I also knew I needed to figure out how to return...
As the sun rose high overhead, the air began to get quite humid and warm, and the young man appeared to be putting his supplies away. I heard a voice call from the village below, and then his own reply. The dialect sounded similar to Hopi or Navajo, but for sure was not English or any other European language. I watched him get ready to leave.
Just before he stepped away from the rock, he bowed to it, speaking in reverent tones. Then he placed his hand upon it, as if having asked permission to do so. Then he walked away.
I stared at where he had put his hand. The area glowed with that same turquoise-blue energy I had seen in his eyes, and in the handprint in the Payson ruins. Then, I noticed his painting. It looked as if he had drawn an aerial map of this place, with the coastline and all... as if somehow he was able to see from that high up. Curious. Then I looked back again at the handprint.
"Yep; that's it. Let's go home." Big Daddy didn't mess around with words. I walked up close to the rock-wall and placed my hand upon the handprint, as Big Daddy sat on my feet. A split-second later, we were back at the ruins, back near the Lodge, back in Payson, Arizona, USA, 2004AD. That was a relief. Big Daddy sat down, and licked his butt again, as if he did this everyday...
Considering the sun was just rising (in the east, thank goodness), I guessed that the time hadn't elapsed quite the same here as there. I headed back down to breakfast, trying to stroll as nonchalantly as the cat.
"Yeah... right..." Big Daddy muttered. And then, after a pause..."So when are we going back?"
Curiosity and the cat... I just smiled, and kept walking.