Doors Of Perception
I recall six of us travelling to Bad River Res on a warm Sunday in late July, 1967. Buster Lafontaine drove with one hand on the wheel and the other arm tightly wrapped around his girlfriend Nampao (nam-pay-oh), Snake Woman or Snake as most referred to her. Loraine and Mary Lafontaine sat between Champlain and me in the back seat. Patty O’Leary was off with her parents doing some sort of Catholic retreat thing for the week.
Buster diverted onto Lemieux Road, which brought us to a nameless dirt trail. We abandoned the car and set out to walk even further into nowhere amidst towering pines and poplar eventually arriving at an old faded yellow school bus, which was the residence of an old Chippewa named Joe. I wondered aloud how the fuck he’d gotten the school bus back to this remote quadrant of Earth. The woods were far too thick to allow passage of even a bicycle let alone a monstrosity like that bus.
Buster talked to Joe in Ojibwa requesting his assistance aiding our party in entering the spirit world. The old man stood in front of each of us in turn evaluating our auras. He invited us to sit around his campfire that sat in a pit that had been dug decades before. This old man had lived out there a long, long time. I guessed that the bus was a rather recent addition to his camp. Joe built the fire higher and hotter as a large pot of water steamed in the center to which he added piles of mushrooms.
As we waited for the naboob (soup) to boil and steep, the old man told us the story of how the Great Waken Tanka had sewed the Earth with mushrooms so that his children would have a path to commune with their ancestors. I was amazed that this man spoke English quite eloquently.
Joe asked our names and various questions about each of us. He roared when Buster’s girlfriend told him her name was Nampao. He excused himself for the outburst then explained that his grandfather had warned him to stay away from Nampao because “Snake woman copulates with horses.”
Quick witted Buster said, “That is true. I am quite a stud.” The group roared together hearing that boast.
Joe ladled naboob into Army surplus metal cups for each of us and himself. He toasted us all with an Ojibwa phrase and then translated it to “See you on the other side.” With that ominous thought in mind we sipped and slurped the soup, which was the foulest tasting liquid I had ever put in my mouth. My stomach tried to say no but my brain said swallow. I noticed that my compatriots were all suppressing the urge to hurl, as well. The old man laughed at the faces we made. Undaunted, we all finished our soup in short order.
Joe ordered Buster into the sweat lodge first. At the far end of the fire pit stood a small teepee made of poplar frame covered by deer skin hides. In the fire pit sat dozens of rocks. Buster stripped down to nothing, entered the sweat lodge and dragged a few piping hot rocks in with him. It is amazing how quickly a few rocks heated in a fire pit can raise the temperature inside a sweat lodge to the 140 to 160 degree range. I could hear the hiss of steam as Buster poured water over the rocks.
The woods began changing colours. I suddenly could see tiny creatures crawling on branches, munching leaves, and jumping from branch to branch, leaf to leaf. The naboob was taking effect. I noticed that my friends were all grinning then realized that I was smiling as well. An overwhelming feeling of serenity washed over me.
Buster burst out of the sweat lodge and immediately began dancing in circles and figure eights. Nampao stripped to nothing and entered the sweat lodge. One by one we all stripped to nothing taking our turn in the sweat lodge. I saw an uncle that I had never known. He told me that I must never forget the old ways, that I must never lose track of the center of the universe. I heard Sioux ancestors singing and saw them dancing the Sun Dance around the fire in a ritual, thanking Waken Tanka for all that He had provided. “Break on through to the other side, yeah.”
Upon emerging I laid on my back to watch the clouds. I had a brief conversation with a hawk soaring above me. The world was spinning about me, trees danced tiptoe on their roots, and the wind sang a beautiful song. All this happened in a minute or a month, I wasn’t sure. At some point, Loraine pulled me up and off into the woods where she threw me down and mounted me. It was then that I realized how horny the mushrooms had made me. Sex was exactly what my body was craving, though I hadn’t thought of it on my own.
The next overwhelming sensation was thirst. We crawled, or walked, or floated to a nearby brook that delivered delicious, clear, cold liquid. Water had never tasted that marvelous before. Once sated with water we both realized that we were itching and scratching all over. Giant mosquitoes were snacking on us. The pesky insects have such a short lifespan in the Wisconsin tundra that they have evolved into Marvel Comic super-bugs that are referred to locally as the State Bird.
We returned our naked, bitten bodies back to the fire where the old man sat by himself, naked, brewing more psychedelic broth. We eagerly drank more of the potent beverage that sustained our tripping minds. Everything around us was brighter and more vivid than anything had ever been.
Two by two our companions returned after their own mad copulations among the tripping woods. I got the urge to sing so I pulled my guitar from the car and began strumming folk standards while my friends sang along.
“Goodbye, Joe me got go, Me oh my oh,
Me gotta go float a pirouette down the bayou
My Loraine, sweetest thang, Me oh my oh,
Son of a gun gonna have big fun on the bayou.
Oh, Jambalaya, crawfish pie, filet gumbo
For tonight I’m gonna see my Chera Mio,
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay oh,
Son of a gun gonna have big fun on the bayou.”
After singing that song somebody asked me what the fuck a bayou was. I was the only one there who had actually been in bayou before. So, I told them all tales of life as a Cajun on the bayou. Then, onto the story of how the Acadian’s had been banished from France to Acadia and how the worst of that lot were further banished to the swamps of southern Louisiana and that the word Acadian was shortened by the lazy French tongues of the South to Cajun.
They loved my stories of alligators large enough to swallow a man in one bite, of cottonmouth and coral snakes so poisonous that one injection of their venom could paralyze and kill a horse. I spun the tales wild and grandiose to my eager listeners. The old man called me a natural storyteller, saying that I must come from a long line of shaman. I hadn’t thought of myself in that light before, but I realized that he was correct. My dad was a great storyteller who aided many with his wisdom. Granny Blackwater had been an entertainer and sage advisor to generations. Great-grandfather Blackwater had led his tribe away from the murderous wasicu soldiers to the safety and freedom of Canada. I was the descendant of storytellers, of shaman, of tribal healers.
My stature among my actual peers raised that day.
I played the new Door’s songs that I just learned for them as the sun set on our encampment. The old man passed out venison jerky that fed our spirit as well as our bellies. I awakened that day, feeling one with the earth, the trees, the deer, the beaver, the bear, and even the mosquito.
The old man passed the pipe after dark with what I presumed would be marijuana but tasted much sweeter and hurt the lungs. That wasn’t pot in that pipe. It was dried and ground peyote. Another level of hallucinations flooded in as the old man took over the role of storyteller.
“There are two wolves that live in your mind, one with light silvery gray fur the other dark gray, nearly black.
“The light gray wolf is peaceful and seeks a gentle path with respect for all. This wolf will lead your heart on a fruitful journey through a satisfying life.
“The dark gray wolf seeks to feed on prey, the weaker the better. He wants to destroy all that is in his path. If left unrestrained he will eventually lead to your destruction.
“These wolves fight constantly for domination of your mind and your body. Only one can win.
“Can you tell me which wolf will win?”
We said no as a group.
“The one who will win is one that you feed. Feed the good one and he will surely win because he will grow stronger.”
What an incredible message to trip on. I could feel the two wolves within me. I knew them both. I had fed the bad wolf too much already. I needed to cut off his food source and feed the good wolf.
The answer was so clear.