so sometime or another, when i was living in east texas trying to figure out how to make a living doing nothing, i decided i would be a promoter. except of course i wouldn’t be a promoter of rotten stuff, nothing porno or bad for the environment, only healthy good-for-you kinds of promotion, the educational let’s-learn-together kinds of things, everybody learning and expanding their consciousnesses while i did the same thing but took a little money off the top for my extra trouble of bringing in the guru/rolfing instructor/ecstatic-religious counselor who would get the rest of the money after the percentage was taken off.
i was mostly interested in native americans. i wanted to hear for myself what they had to say about balanced relationships. and the first people i wanted to promote were sun and wabun bear from washington state, because they had written a book that i had enjoyed called the medicine wheel, and it pleased me very much when i thought about the possibility of meeting them. and it pleased me even more when i figured i could meet them and not have to pay for it, because at the time i didn’t have any money, just as with many times in my particular life.
so then the possibility of me even making a little money began to thrill around in my head. i began writing letters and designing copy and making a poster and checking out places where the bears could appear. and i was scheming and thinking and putting pen to paper and guestimating. i figured there could be a huge texas tour. el paso to dallas to houston to austin. and of course somehow edgewood, the town where i was living, would be along the route. after some heavy negotiating, i lined up a new age center in el paso that would host the bears. then a ranch woman outside of austin who was a devotee of muktananda who wanted to learn how to build a sweat lodge. then i started looking around for a place in dallas.
i looked around and called but nothing seemed to fall into place. so then i remembered some people i met at the rainbow family gathering in west virginia — that gathering which the love-family commune puts on for thousands of people for free once a year. and i decided to go up there and find the commune and ask if they would like to set aside a weekend for the bears.
so i drove my truck up one day and found the commune. there were a half dozen or so concrete buildings in various stages of development, and i walked up and down the mounds and looked at the plans and saw how all the families were putting time into their own houses and how each house was so unique, even the theories of how to build a house underground diverse — no spirit present of super uni-development.
and there were some rainbow family people camping there — hippie-gypsies in a wooden-camper-truck. and just about the time for sunset, when the sun was dumping itself behind one of the house-hills and its hobbit-style turrets, i found myself talking with a commune man named george and one of the rainbow family men whose name was majo. george was telling me that this year might be a little premature for the commune to have something like the sun and wabun bear workshop but that he himself was interested in them and knew some other people would be, and that maybe this next year when more of the houses were complete, something could happen like that.
well, rolling thunder wasn’t named that for nothing. he let me know for a good several minutes that he was displeased with my presence and my approach. he said i had no respect, and that was the trouble with white people.
majo had joined us in the middle of this conversation and he was quiet while george was talking. but i knew that was his name because he had been the first person who greeted me when i first drove up — a thin man with tinkling little bells on ribbons and chains draped around various parts of his body. and even while george was still talking majo distracted me. and i kept looking at him because he and the sunset were more or less mingling together — majo with long and wispy gold hair and wafting beard, no shirt, purple pantaloons, red fingernails at least three inches long clicking on his crossed arms while george and i were talking.
then he said sun bear yes sun bear, i’ve heard of him, don’t you have to pay for his workshops?
and i said well yes but it’s not very much.
but as soon as i heard majo’s question with the rainbow-family point-of-view stamped on it, i knew i had been caught — caught by one of the love-family sleuths in the middle of wheeling-and-dealing in matters of the heart.
and george and i kept talking, but george had been caught, too, he had as much susceptibility to majo as i did — once you’ve danced in the woods with the love-family you’ve danced in the woods, there’s no erasing that. and majo didn’t say much more, he knew he didn’t need to. in fact he said oh but there are some things i would pay money for, and i have heard a lot of good things about sun bear and wabun. . . .
but those words didn’t matter, i was back in my pick-up truck headed for edgewood in five more minutes.
when i opened up the dallas morning news the next day there was majo on the front page kissing rosalynn carter’s hand — the president’s wife visiting her husband’s pentecostal sister amy stapleton carter who happened to live next to the underground commune. the news story under the photograph of the kiss said that somehow an unidentified man had slipped through the security guards, kissed her hand and made a wish for world peace.
i didn’t write the bears and tell them that i had been stopped in my tracks, but i stopped working on the promotion, and everything collapsed and sun bear and wabun were disappointed, and finally i moved into the city and started working temporary jobs and selling used books and stopped trying to be a promoter. at least in that sense of the word.
but this short-lived history of me as a promoter is why rolling thunder decided to come to texas last winter — wanting me to promote his tour. because after the bear thing people saw me a little bit as a promoter anyway, even if i had failed, they didn’t care, because there weren’t too many hippie promoters around for these kinds of new age/native american workshops and weekend seminars and such which people were beginning to want to spend their money on.
well i had wanted to meet rolling thunder ever since i read doug boyd’s biography of him a couple of years ago — he seemed very brave to me single-handedly taking on the bulldozers chain-cutting the forests, and then himself as a powerful healer intrigued me. but i didn’t want to bring another majo down on me from oregon again. or one of his friends. so i wrote to rolling thunder’s people, and i told them that workshop fees kept spiritual information away from poor people, who needed guidance at least as much as the upper-middle-class-anglos who made up most of the audience for the national-circuit-spiritual-advisor-rounds, and that maybe the people with money could pay rolling thunder’s way here if the workshops could be held free with requests for donations.
someone wrote a good letter back. it was thoughtful, explaining the needs of rolling thunder’s people to support themselves. it let it be known that we weren’t quite in agreement but still could be friends. so that was that. i was sorry i wasn’t going to get to see rolling thunder, but i figured someone else would help him come.
sure enough, some little time later, a promoter named cathy lee called me, wanting to see if i could share in the promotion of rolling thunder’s visit to texas. he had found a sponsor in san antonio and was scheduled for workshops there but wanted to lecture for a night in austin while he was already in the neighborhood. so we talked on the telephone, and i gave her this little philosophy which i had begun to put together, pretty much like i had given it to rolling thunder’s people. and we talked back and forth and she could see my point of view but she could also see rolling thunder’s point of view, and there were many sides to the money thing. so then she said well, if i couldn’t help in the actual promotion, would i like to do an interview with rolling thunder, which she could arrange that i be paid for and which would appear in the local new age magazine, which would help in rolling thunder’s promotion on later dates but which would actually appear after he had left.
so i rolled that one around and looked at it and wondered whether it fit into my ever-cooking-and-clarifying theories of economics and spirituality. now it was true that i stood to make some money on an interview which rolling thunder wouldn’t be paid for, but then it was supposed to be advertising for his point of view. so we both had a little money consideration, a concern about support — no motives are pure. and i wanted to be somewhat of a journalist/historian/writer after all, and he wanted me to put his words on paper for him, to be broadcast to a larger audience. but there was also something else bigger than any of that, called inevitability — the call to meet rolling thunder, the knock on my door not once but twice — and no one asking for any money for time spent with the well-known doctor — offering me payment instead. provided i worked/wrote. so i wrestled with these considerations for at least two or three seconds before i told cathy that yes yes yes i would be very happy to do an interview.
now i do like to think of myself as a journalist at times, although every time i get around journalists i am reminded again that i am not one — they write in three hours what it takes me three years to think through. and i had never gone to a press conference before, not ever having reached that particular stage of promotion. but i figured there would be coffee and donuts there, since it was in the morning, which seemed pleasant to me, and i could find a corner somewhere and simply hang out and listen to rolling thunder answer questions. and i carried a boxful of pecans which had been sent down from my grandfather’s home in east texas, picked by neighbors to give to the visiting medicine man. on top of the box i wrote — welcome home — welcome home being the greeting used at rainbow-family gatherings to welcome newcomers to the woods. and at eight o’clock in the morning walking along nueces street with a large box of pecans, with the grackles whistling and the sky clear and my hawk-feathered hat on going to meet rolling thunder, i really felt pretty splendid.
but when i got to the ni-wo-di-hi art gallery, no press was there for the conference except a young woman cub from the daily texan and a contingent of photographers and technicians laying out mike cords and trying out angles. i handed the box to somebody, but there weren’t enough people for me to hide myself in , so i ducked into the bathroom, and then when i came out and there still wasn’t anybody else showing up, i decided to duck out the back door. because i really wasn’t prepared to ask rolling thunder anything. but cathy lee caught me in the hallway. she put a tape recorder firmly in my hand, and she said that since no one else was coming that i should ask rolling thunder some questions.
so the daily texan woman and i were nervous and silent, but he sat down, lit up his pipe and began to talk, giving us over forty minutes straight on the tape recorder with very little prompting. and he was a wonderful dignified-looking man with feathers sticking out of his cap and outdoor skin and with the young men of his tribe bustling around him.
but in that gallery everything was HIGH-WAXED and FRAMED, very INSIDE and WALLED, a strange place, it seemed to me, to try talking with an indian spiritual man. so i thought well, my interview with him sure wouldn’t be like that. i would ask cathy lee if we could have a walk by town lake instead while we were talking. and i really began to imagine us having a very good talk together. i figured i could show him barton springs, the heart of austin, and maybe even walk him to the low-water bridge showing him balcones fault, superspiritual crack in the earth. then he could talk about the power of the earth and give austin people some good words about his impressions coming to the heart of their city, healing power for the spring water. and in my mind’s eye i could see the young men of his tribe whom he was traveling with walking and talking with some members of my own family, a little band of us meeting together underneath the treaty oak on fifth street where warring tribes have met to work out peace terms together for hundreds of years and all of us starting out from there.
and so that is what cathy lee arranged for me. she said rolling thunder liked the idea of the walk and she said that maybe she herself would walk along because it was such a fine idea.
on the day of the interview i drove over to the oak tree with my husband and brad, a young man who was living with us, and minki the dog. under the tree when we drove up were four of our friends with ryan the baby. there was also a car full of men with hats and feathers pulled up to the curb, but they were making no signs of getting out, and there was a young long-haired man i recognized as one of rolling thunder’s group who was talking to my friends. when he saw my car, he walked over and stuck his head in the window.
it’s too noisy for rolling thunder here, he said, we’re going back out to the manor house where we’re staying. and anyway, what is the purpose of all of these people being here with you?
i said, they’re my friends, they wanted to meet rolling thunder.
he said, well, rolling thunder wasn’t expecting any of this, it is entirely against protocol, you asked for the interview, you didn’t say anything about bringing anyone.
well, i hadn’t asked for the interview, i thought they had wanted the interview, and i hadn’t heard the word protocol since a military-based childhood home built on the Science-of-War and Patriarchy cast me out to look for freer places, but that seemed beside the point.
so i said well, i saw that rolling thunder had his tribe along with him, probably because it made him feel good to have them around, so i wanted to have some of my tribe with me.
that didn’t make the young man very happy. he walked back to the rolling thunder car to consult. my husband jumped out of our car with the dog and said he would meet me back home later. my friends and baby ryan were looking awkward under the treaty oak. i got out of the car and the young man met me in the middle of the street. rolling thunder says you can bring your husband and the other one in your car, but that’s all, he said. but he’s not feeling good about this whole thing.
well i’m sorry, i said, i didn’t mean to do anything wrong.
but the young man didn’t let go of it so lightly. the thing is, he said, that is the problem we have with white people, always making assumptions. you should have arranged having all these people with you beforehand. you should have asked if it was all right for them to come.
so i apologized again. look, i said, i’m just a fool, i’m just ignorant, i didn’t think of the right way to do things.
well, he said, you need to learn to call before bringing people with you, that’s the correct way.
that pressed me one time too many. i didn’t say anything about the six other people in rolling thunder’s car besides rolling thunder. instead i said look, let’s not say it’s the correct way, let’s just say it’s one way of doing things, because if you were to be invited to my place (and i waved at the noisy block where i had invited rolling thunder to meet) and brought five friends, i would say you were all welcome.
so there we were, squared off at each other no more than ten paces away from the old treaty oak.
well, he finally said, let’s not have any more trouble than we already have. like i said, you and the people in your car can come out to the manor house for the interview.
okay, i told him, i don’t know where that is so we’ll follow you. i got back in the car, waved to my husband and friends who were still standing at a distance trying not to be so noticeable, rolling thunder’s car took off, and brad took off after it. pretty soon we were on the freeway heading north, rolling thunder’s car being driven like coyote himself, was at the wheel, weaving in and out of the traffic so fast ahead of us that brad had to keep his foot all the way down on the accelerator and jump across lanes just to keep them in sight. and there were expired plates, an expired inspection sticker and no insurance on our car, typical protocol for my particular tribe. but i figured if the police stopped us or if we crashed through the railing, that would be part of the rolling thunder story, too, just like the clouds rolling in from the east and the wind coming up on what seemed in the morning a warm and sunny day.
but a sign finally appeared on the road — manor: 3 miles — and we were out in the country, driving past horse stables to a small farm house where rolling thunder and his people were already getting out of their car and going inside. it was certainly quieter and more peaceful than downtown austin by the treaty oak; even on the hike and bike trail, there would have been lots of traffic noise. and i was suddenly ashamed that i had even imagined that barton springs would have been a good place to have talked with rolling thunder. so while i was heading for the front door with brad, i was thinking that after all, we were getting a little time in the country away from the city, at least we were getting that. even if rolling thunder wouldn’t talk to us. but before i could get to the house, the same young man who talked to me before stopped me again.
one more thing i need to ask you, he said, are you on your moon?
now cathy lee had already talked to me about this, making sure not to schedule the interview during my menstrual cycle on instructions from rolling thunder who told her that menstruating women had strange and static vibes which weren’t any good for men to be around.
so i told the young man that it was all right, i had already been asked that question.
so you did get that part of the protocol, the young man said.
yes, i said, feeling my face stung-red in spite of myself, i did get that.
so he let me go on into the house. rolling thunder was standing in the living room. he looked a little tired, but he smiled at us when we came in.
i figured the interview couldn’t get any worse and that to die from rolling thunder’s Thunder would be as good a way to go as any, and besides I had heard this tone of voice before from my own military father, except that he used to tell me my problem was being a stubborn female rather than being born white.
i’m sorry, i said, that i arranged everything wrong for you. i guess i really didn’t know what i was doing. and the country is better, it’s a lot quieter out here, for sure.
oh that’s all right, he said, i think it’ll be a good day anyway.
the rest of the people had disappeared. so the four of us sat down — two strange pairs — rolling thunder wearing his feathered hat and arranging his medicine pouch beside him, me taking off my own hawk-feathered hat as a gesture of respect for the house and laying my own pouch on the floor full of pens, pads and a tape recorder; his young man with long black hair seated near the door, my young friend brad with his long blond pony-tail and wire-rimmed glasses sitting on the couch beside me.
i said well i hear you’ve been traveling around a lot.
he nodded. two months of travel, then one month at home, it’s been like that.
where have you been traveling? i asked.
but he said now wait a minute, you interrupted me, i wasn’t finished with what i was about to say. you see, i talk slow, the people in new york — my gosh, i can’t keep up with them. so you need to slow down a little bit, get into a natural rhythm. people these days are wound up tight and don’t know how to slow down.
then he started talking about chemicals in the air and the food we eat, making us half-crazy, and how white people ate all the wrong things. and you can’t survive on bean sprouts and peanut butter, he said, particularly if you live north like we do. you have to eat meat if you’re going to do any work. and brown bread has more chemicals in it than white bread.
well, the dietary talk was pretty interesting, but he was telling me exactly the same things he had said at the press conference when i saw him the first time, using the same sentences and the same words almost verbatim. but since he had corrected me at the beginning of the talk about interruption, i just sat there, nodding my head, not saying anything, while he continued to talk. i was even afraid to get my tape recorder out of my pack! i was afraid to get my notebook and pencil out! i simply sat on the edge of the couch nodding, trying to look like i was hearing all of this for the first time, while he continued to talk in a monologue for about ten minutes. finally, aware apparently that as an interviewer i didn’t seem to be doing anything, he said well, you better get your tape recorder out. then get your notebook out and write down what i’ve just told you.
so i felt relieved that i had been given permission to set up and so i did and he continued talking. white people are going to have to change their ways, he said, and the first thing they’re going to have to change is how they treat each other. like old people, he said. when i was in new york, i saw old ladies carrying bags with all their belongings out on the streets. and so many in unemployment lines, and so many in nursing homes and prisons. something’s out of balance, and the balance is going to have to be restored. white people could have learned a lot from indians when they first came here about learning to live in balance, because we didn’t have any of those kinds of problems ourselves.
it was a good message, a strong message, so i tried to look like they were all new words to me, even though we had sat across from each other no more than two days before while he had told it to me and the daily texan reporter in the same words. but i didn’t try to interrupt him in any way. i didn’t even look at the list of questions on my lap i wanted to ask him. and two flies started buzzing around my head out of nowhere, the first flies i had seen since last year, landing on my nose and my mouth, and i tried to wave them away, but they continued to buzz and rolling thunder continued talking.
he said he was a cherokee and his people originally came from atlantis — that part of them went to egypt and part came to this western world, and they were a very wise race and had mysterious ways of building the pyramids.
plus some slave labor, i said without thinking, as if some disagreeable female demon left over from my last moon had just taken over my tongue to dip a piece of loudmouth-anglo psuedo-history like a cross-ways oar into this river-like monologue we had already paddled down.
no they did not use slaves, he said. he glared at me suddenly furious, pulled up his chair. don’t YOU try to tell ME indian history, he said. that’s the problem with you white people, trying to say what our history is. his eyes were flashing like he would have liked to have taken me apart on the spot.
it’s just that i worry a little bit, i said (determined to own this voice as a part of myself, for better or worse, since it had already spoken out), about empire building regardless of where it’s coming from. what kind of human sacrifice it took.
well, rolling thunder wasn’t named that for nothing. he let me know for a good several minutes that he was displeased with my presence and my approach. he said i had no respect, and that was the trouble with white people. he said white people had the inquisition, why didn’t we talk about that? he asked me if i wanted to just be a writer or if i wanted to be a great writer, and if i wanted to be a great writer, then i had better stop looking at the bad and start looking at the good. and he said that usually people who were going to interview him were given a list of questions that they could ask him and that when it came to me, someone had really goofed. and he said that he didn’t like people making jokes about being ignorant either and that when people didn’t have the right kind of attitude he usually just threw them out. and he continued glaring at me like he was going to do just that.
well, i figured the interview couldn’t get any worse and that to die from rolling thunder’s Thunder would be as good a way to go as any, and besides i had heard this tone of voice before from my own military father, except that he used to tell me my problem was being a stubborn female rather than being born white. so i said well, the only reason i brought this all up is because in this part of the country, when you talk about going back to the old indian ways of doing things, you might be talking about cherokee or you might be talking about aztec, and it’s probably good to sort out one kind of indian ways from another.
there was a little silence. he looked at me. then he looked out the window.
they went down, he finally said, apparently referring to the aztecs, because they abused their own power, they brought themselves down. look, when i want to feel better, i can just look out of this window, look at the trees, the grass, that settles my mind.
he looked out the window some more. i did, too, following his example. the thunder stopped and the atmosphere began to settle.
well, i said, would you talk a little about how you came to be a medicine man?
no, he said, i don’t like to talk about that.
too personal? i asked.
he nodded. he was quiet for a little bit. he was tired of the interview and tired of me.
well, maybe i will say something about it, he said finally, mustering up the powerful forces of his own good humor. i knew that i was going to be a medicine man from the beginning, he said, except that’s not what we call it. we don’t say medicine man. and i had to go through seven trials in order to become one —
just about that time the door burst open, and a tall man stumbled in, eyes glazed over like he didn’t know where he was, or like a drug-sick man looking for strong medicine. rolling thunder’s young man, who had been sitting quietly through the interview, got up and started pushing him back outside. you don’t belong here, he said. the tall man fell into him, then into the couch, leaning this way and that, while the young man got him out the front door again.
well, the vibes don’t seem to be right today, rolling thunder said.
yes, i said, i think you’re right.
the flies were still buzzing around my head. i can’t even get these flies to stop bothering me, i told him, quite aware that the only flies were on my side of the room. i looked down at the tape recorder and the tape was tangled up in the sprocket and wads of tape were coming out the top.
well, rolling thunder, i said, is there anything white people have to contribute?
well yes, he said. but then he thought a long time before he said anything else. well, he said finally, money is all right, it depends. people say that money is the root of all evil, but it depends where it comes from and where it’s going.
and that is all he said — white people and money, back to that again.
so brad gave him the tobacco he had brought for a present, and i packed up my bag, the tape recorder’s tape frazzled and no good, the only part which had gotten recorded being that first part which i had already recorded at the press conference, the message he wanted everyone to hear, the words he considered important enough to repeat and repeat: that white people are out of balance, they need to change, and that the first thing to change is how to get along with each other.
well, i told him, once i had gotten my bag back together as well as i could, this has been a special afternoon for me because i’ve always wanted to meet rolling thunder.
he smiled broadly, then began asking me some questions, friendly and kind, about what feather it was in my hat and whether or not i was part of the rainbow-family. i told him i knew them — i wasn’t exactly a part but related. i told him that i was also supposed to be a little cherokee.
oh yes, he grinned, when i was young i remember the young braves coming off the reservations making raids down here. we said that if the cherokees couldn’t take the land with war, they would take it by love.
i kept smiling and nodding, but whatever gulf there was between us had just widened, my head suddenly alive with all the stories i had ever heard from my own east texas blood-relatives about settling wild country and witnessing massacre and death administered by indian raiders. rape and kidnapping! but after he recalled that little piece of history, i looked at him briefly square in the face, and even with the indian raid horror stories superimposed around himself like an antique robe, he was a beautiful, old, wise and strong looking man to me. he was as smiling and as good humored as my own east-texas grandfather had been, who had also found his peace in looking out at the land. he puffed on his pipe and had a mild smoker’s cough from smoking his pipe with so many strange people on this tour he’d been doing for months of white man’s land. even though he charged money i liked him.
he asked me some other questions, he said some polite leaving things, but i could only answer in monosyllables as i started moving toward the front door, off-balance and dizzy, not much better than the crazed man who had been shown out just a few minutes before me. there was no new age, and i was no promoter nor any interviewer either. i was the oldest granddaughter and rolling thunder was the youngest grandfather but there were still some generations to reach across, and we were male versus female, we were anglo versus Indian — we weren’t friends — we were almost enemies — we were the heads of two parallel histories coming up on different banks of the same river — the river versus — strange waters we didn’t know yet how to cross.