And so the entire family had decided to gather in that mecca of higher education, Portales, New Mexico, to celebrate the fact that my cousin Tyler had Doogie Howsered his way to a bachelor’s degree at the tender young age of 35. We all thought it would be fun to surprise him at his graduation, and even more fun to surprise each other, which is a common occurrence given our family’s very poor standards for communication.

For my part, I was flying to Texas and meeting up with Tyler’s girlfriend Linda on her way over from Florida. We’d be driving to New Mexico as the first wave of this surprise attack of love. The very first surprise came at the airport in Dallas where I realized I had no idea what Linda looks like with glasses on. After much confusion and me almost taking a different bespeckled Asian woman to Portales, we were saved solely by the fact that Linda and I had bought seats next to each other on the flight to Amarillo.

“We need your last name to radio ahead to the lot,” the shuttle driver said, leaving the airport and referring to the miniscule car rental place that had one employee and two cars.

“Truong,” Linda said.


“Truong. T-R-U-O-N-G.”


“No, T-R-U-O-N-G.”

“Ohhh! T-R-O-U-N-G!”

This Amarillo & Costello routine went back and forth for several minutes to my great amusement as I watched and mentally ate popcorn. Eventually we got to the Budget office, only it wasn’t that Budget Rent a Car, it was just a car rental place in Texas that also happened to have the name Budget. After they finished trying to overcharge Linda, they gave us the keys to our bright yellow Kia Fershizzle, a ripe little nugget of suck in the shape of a car. Exactly what you want to be driving when you’re trying to sneak up on someone unnoticed.

On the drive from Amarillo to Portales, the car would helpfully beep a loud alarm whenever the temperature dropped below 40 degrees. Thanks car, that’s very –BEEP BEEP BEEP– very helpful in case I wanted to –BEEP BEEP BEEP– I guess I’d better put pants on –BEEP BEEP BEEP– goddammit car. It suddenly dawned on me that any murders I’d heard about happening back in Minnesota were probably just people who had bought Kias.

Driving through the night, we’d beat Tyler home to his house, so we had to park in the shadows across the street and hope that he was yellow-yellow colorblind. Eventually, Tyler pulled up and we slid down in the car so he wouldn’t see us lying in wait. Thoughtfully, Kia had put the “ALARM” button on the curved bottom of the key fob so that everyone in the neighborhood would know if you were being murdered by dogs or if you sat down with jeans on, and of course the alarm went off cacophonously the second I slouched down. Tyler noticed neither this nor our canary-on-acid yellow car, so we had to go bang on his door and interrupt him in the middle of a grumpy he must have been rushing home to enjoy. He was very surprised and happy to see us.

In the morning we met up with the rest of the (surprise!) family at the graduation ceremony and applauded as Tyler was formally congratulated by a bunch of overeducated and ridiculously robed old white guys dressed like the council of elders in a low-budget sci-fi dystopia. My aunt Darla applauded enthusiastically for every announced graduate who didn’t have any family there, which confused every one of those people into pondering for a brief moment that maybe somebody somewhere loved them, before reality came crushing down on them once again and they crumpled like an origami duck. It was beautiful.

After the ceremony we took in the sight and sound of Portales (they only have one of each), pausing occasionally to answer the door for meth addicts who had stopped by to borrow our meth. That night my three cousins and I stayed up late in Tyler’s shack, reliving our childhood by bickering endlessly over obscure board game rules, as the smell of either backed up sewage or retired hookers wafted up from under the house in waves of retch that even the dog couldn’t abide.

Around 2am I left to take Sarah and Lacey back to their hotel in Clovis. We passed the time on the half-hour drive by talking about the crazy shit that seems to go down every time any of us is in Albuquerque, and how New Mexico has a major problem with drunk drivers. Before long we were driving through the deserted streets of Clovis, the main drag one long string of traffic lights forever flashing yellow. After about the 20th light I happened to look to the left as we approached an intersection, just in time to see a goddamned drunk driver blow right through the red light and slosh into the intersection. Sarah saw it too and barked something like “Bagawk!” in my ear as I attempted to push the brake pedal through the floorboards of the car.

Normally in a situation like this I’d be thinking of how the accident could be avoided, but it was obvious we were so supremely boned that I was just trying to reduce how fast we’d be going when we hit the other car, so the police could find all of our parts after it was over. Sarah had just had brain surgery a few weeks before and was sporting a shaved head and a truly impressive Frankenstein scar that was really going to confuse the EMTs when they found what was left of our car.

Due to weighing only 47 pounds and being made out of tin, however, the Kia scronched quasi-diagonally to a halt surprisingly quickly at the edge of the intersection, just in time for the drunk car to blur by in front of us. The stop was so violent and jarring it was unclear if we’d hit him in his rear door or if we’d somehow stopped an inch short.

I had a brief second to ponder this mystery before the large pick-up truck driving in my blind spot the next lane over whipped by us, sailing into the intersection at 50mph with nary a hesitation and absolutely creaming the drunk in his sporty little car, mere inches in front of us. All of his car’s airbags went off at once, including extensive side curtain airbags I didn’t even know existed. The car spun out all the way around the intersection in a C shape, ending up facing us in the oncoming lane on the opposite side of the intersection. The front of the car was crushed in all the way to the windshield and the front wheel had snapped off and was pointing straight up at the night sky. On impact, the truck’s passenger had gone into the windshield and the truck spun out in the opposite direction, skidding diagonally across the intersection until it sideswiped another truck that was minding its own goddamned business just sitting at the red light on the cross street to our right.

Sarah immediately got out of the car and wandered into the intersection to see if she could get in the way. The woman in the car behind us ran up to see if we were all okay, something we were hesitant to answer or believe since I still couldn’t comprehend that we’d somehow stopped. Thankfully there was a cop taking a nap in a parking lot a block away, so police and EMTs were on the scene almost immediately. They woke the drunk guy up from his airbag pillow and made sure he could see a flashlight shining right in his eyes, then proceeded to tend to the occupants of the two trucks.

I gave the police a statement as the only driver involved who wasn’t accordioned into a vehicle at the time. Sarah was convinced we’d hit the other car but a thorough check of the front of the screaming yellow rental car proved we were just lucky as shit and free to go. Suddenly no one was in the mood to stop for food anymore on the way back to the hotel, everyone was nauseous and Lacey needed a shot of whiskey. We were all worried about the truck passenger, but as far as I could tell following the local police blotter a few days later, everyone involved survived. All three of us marveled on the way back that if Sarah and I hadn’t happened to look over at that exact moment to see that car run the red light, he would have hit us right in our driver’s-side door and I’d have almost certainly been killed.

After dropping the two of them off at the hotel, I drove back to Tyler’s hut really, really slowly, pausing at each intersection and sniffing the air for booze and pull-tabs.

Our itinerary leaving little time to be traumatized, early the next morning I was off on a road trip with my grandpa and aunt, giving the various spiritual locales in the Land of Enchantment the old what-for. And that’s a season wrap for Tyler and Linda, everyone applaud, you’ll see them next season on our summer trip to Japan.

Our first stop on the road trip was White Sands, a huge area of snow-white gypsum sand dunes in the middle of the New Mexico desert. It’s a surreal scene to survey the expanse of white dunes stretching out to the mountains, like Ted Turner had de-colorized Lawrence of Arabia just for shits. At first it takes a constant mental adjustment to remind yourself that it’s not snow you’re looking at, which is not aided in the least by all the kids sledding down the sand dunes.

Photo by Roger Haynes

I climbed one of the dunes to the top to take in the surreal landscape all around me. I was wandering aimlessly across the dunes, lost in contemplation, when suddenly I found myself inside a memory of walking across these same dunes, covered in body paint and sparse Native American clothing, on a days-long vision quest. The winter sun beat down and suddenly I was back in 2016 in my hemp pants and running shoes. Oh I see, White Sands, that’s how you want to play this. That’s just fine.

Leaving White Sands we traveled north, spending the night in a motel outside of Albuquerque. As I was loading the truck at dawn the next morning, a chicken wandered up to me from across the parking lot. I stared at it for a second. What the hell, a chicken? Was it expecting a gratuity? My aunt rushed to get some crackers out of the back seat and quickly tossed one to the chicken, hitting it in the head. This pissed the chicken right off and it ran over to the back door of the motel to sulk. It was still there when my grandpa came out the back door, stopped, and spent a full minute standing in the doorway, staring down at the chicken, no doubt thinking "What the hell, a chicken?"

From there it was north to Chaco Canyon, the massive complex of pueblos that were the tallest buildings in North America until the first skyscrapers were built in New York and Chicago in the late 1800s. They probably would have been even taller if the doors had been more than four feet high. Though I had a fun time crawling around from room to room and imagining big city pueblo life, as plump ravens croaked their critiques from overhead.

My favorite feature of Chaco was this raven in the parking lot who was too fat to walk in a straight line:

My favorite place in New Mexico was Shiprock, a small mountain jutting dramatically out of the high desert plains of the Navajo Nation. This is one of the holiest places for the Navajo, which was surprisingly hard to reach in spite of being in the middle of a whole lot of nothing. All the obvious roads headed that way were private driveways, and we had actually given up when we stumbled across another route approaching the peak from the opposite side. This involved a series of dirt roads, each narrower and more questionable than the one before it, until we were driving on what could most charitably be described as a hiking trail. Eventually we stopped the truck and I got out and hiked closer to Shiprock so I could meditate a bit and see what the energy was like there. My grandpa hung back with the truck and took some great dramatic photos of my approach:

Photo by Roger Haynes

Photo by Roger Haynes

Closer to the mountain the energy was almost uncomfortably intense, and the air was so silent I could hear my ears ringing. I sat and meditated for a while as the sun began to set, realizing that I’d need to come back on my own for a long weekend some time to really soak up the experience of being there without my travel companions leaving me for dead.

On the hike back to the truck I walked under a set of power lines that were chirping like a congregation of small birds. I couldn’t figure out if it was the sound of electricity passing through the wires or the sound of the lines themselves vibrating in the breeze, like guitar strings. Either way it was an eerie sound you’re unlikely to hear any place that isn’t as silent as a tomb.

From Shiprock we continued across the Navajo reservation to the Monument Valley, which I’ve been visiting since the 90s but my travel companions were less obsessively familiar with. It was my second visit of the year:

Fun was had by all until Darla realized you can’t get beer on the reservation, and then we got out of there like Godzilla was coming.

In Arizona we stopped in Flagstaff, a wooded high-altitude city whose official seal reads “Jesus Christ That Train Almost Hit That Dude.” I was hoping to re-visit Red Curry, where I’d had my favorite meal of my life that summer, so I could talk to the chef and figure out what the hell they’re doing in there. Of course we were there on a Tuesday and the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays. Well played, Red Curry Vegan Kitchen!

My other mission for Flagstaff was to get a sound therapy session next door at Sacred Rites. I’d been tantalized by this possibility after a spin in their harp chairs during my summer visit, but hadn’t had time to schedule one on that trip. This time I was prepared, and the retired monk who runs the store closed up shop and had me lie down on an elaborate wooden lounge that had harp strings built into it. For half an hour he played the harp and sang what sounded like Native American songs, the tones vibrating through the wood and my entire body, sending me into a deep trance. After gradually returning to this reality I arranged to have his luthier make me a harp so I can piss off my neighbors with my transcendental states of relaxation.

Down in Prescott we visited my aunt and uncle, and I learned that the bone spurs I have sawing into my Achilles tendon that cut short my running career are actually a family condition my uncle had undergone extensive surgery for. We celebrated this news by going out to dinner. At first the Cracker Barrel was suggested, until I realized this was a trap and they serve vegans at the Cracker Barrel in the same way the aliens on The Twilight Zone serve man.

Before I knew it, I was back in my familiar southern California stomping grounds, stomping on purse dogs and other local annoyances.

One highlight of Los Angeles for me was getting to know my 3-month-old niece Ava, AKA 'lil Sneezy, whose outstanding characteristics include both her love of loud noises and her habit of leaning back and dispassionately surveying the scene around her, peering down over her ample cheeks like Marlon Brando in The Godfather, as if to say “Yes. Yes, this will do nicely.”

Photo by Sabryna Coté

I’m curious to see how growing up in Hollywood will shape Ava. There are reasons for concern, of course, but then again when I was her age it was 1976, and you can’t get much weirder or more concerning than that.

While in town, I took advantage of all the oddities Los Angeles had to offer. I made my way to Crossroads Kitchen for the Impossible Burger, the world-famous vegan burger that’s so realistic it screams when you bite into it and bleeds beet juice while softly weeping. It was like eating the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan. Thumbs up.

In North Hollywood I took in a Stargate Astrum session, which is when you meditate in a chair placed in the center of a giant wooden hexagram surrounded by 24 crystal balls- come on, you know what I’m talking about. This was deeply soothing and sure to show up at malls in small town Iowa very soon.

Every time I’m in LA I find my way to the Self Realization Fellowship shrine in Pacific Palisades, and every single time I’m there at the wrong time to actually go into the temple. I set out to finally get my shit together on this trip and made it to an evening meditation service, driving through the mountains in the pouring rain, befriending a monk while wandering the grounds lost in the rain and mediating with an amiable group in the large central chapel while the wind and rain melodiously battered the temple from the outside.

Photo courtesy of Google

Heading back home in the middle of the night, I wound my way up Malibu Canyon Road in the ongoing downpour and started to notice a curious quantity of small rocks in the road. Hmm, strange. Then, whoa, hey that was a boulder I just swerved around. What the- why are those cars wiped out off the side of the road with their emergency flashers on? Oh hey, rocks fell on those cars, crazy. That guy hit a boulder. More cars, more flashers, more rocks strewn across the road. Oh hey you know what, there’s a rock slide happening right now. At that point I was at least half-way up the canyon and it didn’t seem logical to turn around, since I knew everything behind me was bad and none of the other roads through the Santa Monica mountains were likely to be any better.

I turned the wipers up to high and proceeded forward, alternating between watching the mountain for falling rocks and having to judge each pile of rocks already on the dark road and decide which ones my little rental Hyundai Accent could survive driving over, and which ones I’d have to go off the road to drive around. At one point I got tired of doing this and decided my car could make it over a bread-loaf-sized rock in the road, which promptly lodged itself between the bottom of my car and the road, producing a loud SKREEEEEEEE scraping sound that vibrated the entire car as I continued forward. I stopped and put the car in reverse, which just resulted in dragging the rock in the opposite direction, carving a little rut in the road. Finally, I stopped and then suddenly stomped on the accelerator in reverse to hop my car off the rock. Woohoo! Wait, they don’t check the underbody when you return a rental car, do they? Probably not.

A ways further ahead I was starting to feel good about my odds of making it home alive when I came upon a huge slide of large boulders that had entirely covered the road and both shoulders. An SUV in front of me was in the process of trying to mountain goat its way over all of that, pitched at precarious angles driving up, down and over various boulders. I had a brief fantasy that the Hyundai was somehow capable of this feat before it sank in that I’d have to turn around, drive back through everything I’d just driven through, and find another way across the mountains.

Long story left long, I made my way back down, mostly driving in the oncoming lane while pointing at the mountain and saying things like “Don’t you start any shit with me, mountain.” Pacific Coast Highway was starting to accumulate rocks of its own, because why not. I drove up PCH through the rainy night all the way north to Oxnard and back down on the 101, circumnavigating the mountain range and finding the longest possible route home, all while thoroughly boring all my blog readers who aren’t from Los Angeles.

Photo courtesy of Google

The next day they’d cleared the road enough for me to get to an impressive-looking Hindu temple I’d noticed on my drive out the night before. After taking off my shoes and walking inside I was greeted by an amateur tour guide who proceeded to teach me all about Hinduism. This was pretty cool until I realized he was trying to save my immortal soul by converting me to the Hindu faith, then progressively less cool after that, but I still learned some valuable things. Like, why is the sky blue? Because Krishna is blue, silly!

Christmas came and Christmased all over us, and the next morning I got up improbably early and flew up to Eureka to see my mom and the new house my brother and I had helped her buy in the chic hobo-strewn waterfront district.

My mom’s new (well, built in 1905, new to her) house was lovely, the only caveat being the fairly insane number of homeless people who wander the streets of Eureka at all hours and enjoy nothing more than screaming profane nonsense at invisible people on the sidewalk. Mom was leveraging her past experience as a cop to nag the local police into making sure there weren’t hobos shooting up on her front stoop, encouraging them to instead avail themselves of Eureka’s extensive network of homeless shelters. While I was there we made regular patrols of the nearby waterfront area that in particular seemed to be a hobo magnet.

We also got to know assorted other colorful characters who frequented the waterfront area. One rather road-worn hippie woman was there with her dogs, both of whom immediately took a liking to my mom’s dogs as we were out for a walk one day. This woman’s lab had cornered a field mouse in the grass and was rhythmically stepping on it. PAW squeeeeeak! PAW squeeeeeak! I realized for the first time in my life that the sound squeaky dog toys make is exactly the same sound a mouse makes when you step on it. I’m sure this isn’t a coincidence.

The lab seemed content to play the mouse like a bicycle horn indefinitely, but the woman’s other dog, a tiny Chihuahua that seemed to suffer from congenital assholishness, promptly trotted over and tried to kill the mouse. Pausing in mid-sentence, the woman walked over and picked up the wild field mouse without flinching, like it was a tennis ball, which startled me. The mouse instantly ran up the sleeve of her shirt and didn’t come out for the entire rest of our conversation, a development that fazed this woman not one bit.

And now this seems like as good a time as any for the story of how a dog sort of saved our lives. My mom and I were up late one night watching a movie on her couch, and mom was struggling to stay awake, stuck in a perpetual loop of nodding off. Her ten-year-old Brussels Griffon, Jaiya, traipsed over to the couch and began to watch my mom extremely intently. This caught my attention, because Jaiya does not give a hot goddamn about anyone who is not currently feeding her at that very moment. But regardless, Jaiya was watching mom like she was made of beef treats.

Photo by Sheila O'Donnell

My attention was split between Jaiya’s out of character behavior and the fact that my mom’s other dog, a Lhasa Apso named Uma, was sitting at my feet, busily farting. An incredibly acrid stench that seemed outsized for such a small dog audaciously besmirched the air.

Photo by Amber Rose

Jaiya began to pace back and forth in front of the couch, clearly very concerned about what was going on with my mom. Mom continued to nod off, not noticing Jaiya. Jaiya paced more intently, never taking her eyes off mom’s face. Did she think my mom was dying? Had she never seen someone nod off before? I found the whole thing fascinating. Then Jaiya stood up on her hind legs and slapped the couch with her paw, clearly trying to get mom’s attention. This repeated. Pace, pace, pace, stand, slap. My mom noticed none of this and when the movie ended we all went to bed.

A short time later a loud alarm went off downstairs. The carbon monoxide detector was completely freaking out. Apparently the high winds that night had blown the exhaust from the hot water heater back down the vent and into the house. We rushed to open all the windows and doors and air out the house before we all died. Once the alarm finally stopped I sat down and it suddenly dawned on me this was what Jaiya had been trying to warn us about. With carbon monoxide poisoning, you just fall asleep and don’t wake up. But how would a dog know that? Eerie.

The next day my mom gave Jaiya special life-saving dog treats. Uma, who apparently would have been happy to let us all die, got none.

On one of my first days in Eureka, mom and I drove up to the Rockefeller Grove in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, our favorite place to hike. We’d discovered it a few years before and returned often, with my sister getting married there while visiting last summer. One of the key charms of the hike is that you have to cross the river on a huge fallen redwood, which is never less than exciting.

On Christmas day my cousin’s husband Terry had suffered a vertigo attack, which had left me wondering what vertigo is like. I very quickly learned to watch what you wish for.

This year the redwood river-crossing log was very wet and slick, and the river underneath was surprisingly deep and fast for that time of year. And of course I was wearing a dilapidated pair of old worn-out running shoes that’d had lousy traction when they were brand new, so I was pretty concerned about not falling headfirst into the cold river. Half-way across, my concerns had reached a peak and as I was staring intently at the log, trying to pick a grippy place to step, the entire world tilted on its axis and began to spin around me.

Oh hey! This is what vertigo is! Good to know, I thought to myself as I desperately attempted to neither throw up nor fall headfirst into the river. Eventually the world stopped spinning diagonally and I figured out where I was, but my entire body was shaking violently and it seemed highly inadvisable to move either forward or backward. I wasn’t even sure I could sit down without falling off the log. After many deep breaths I realized my only hope was to clamp down on the fear with everything I had and punch my brain in the face repeatedly until it started imagining a positive outcome. Thankfully this worked, as my legs began functioning again and I made it across. The rest of the hike through the towering redwoods was beautiful after I stopped feeling like I wanted to throw up things I’d eaten three weeks before.

One of the main things I wanted to do while I was in Eureka was to take part in a Native American sweat ceremony on the reservation where my mom works as a therapist. After my experiences at Standing Rock in November I had been delving into Native American spirituality and this seemed like it would be a great experience. Lucky for me, there was a co-ed sweat scheduled while I was in town.

I had been a little concerned about feeling like I was imposing on someone else’s tradition joining the sweat, but the second the people there found out I had been to Standing Rock I couldn’t have been more popular. “Hey everybody! This guy here’s a Standing Rock man! That’s awesome!” That definitely carried a lot of weight in this community and everyone was eager to hear stories of our trip to North Dakota. Everyone was wonderfully laid back and welcoming.

The sweat ceremony involves crawling into the sweat lodge, a temporary tent-like structure made of branches and a tarp covering set up out on the grass and mud. Outside there’s a large fire with 40 stones in the center. Before entering, we’d made prayer ties, small offerings of tobacco and other herbs wrapped in pieces of symbolically colored cloth and tied to a string. These are hung inside the lodge for the duration of the sweat, then thrown in the fire when you leave.

You enter the lodge very nearly naked, in spite of the fact that it’s only about 40 degrees out, because it’s about to get very hot inside. One random and very stoned guy had showed up to join the sweat and was about to enter the lodge fully dressed, with a winter coat on. The native folks were kind enough to point out that he’d surely die if he did this. He ran back to his truck and returned wearing shorts.

All the men and women pick out spots inside the lodge and make themselves comfortable. The experienced sweaters stake out spots in the outer perimeter away from the stones, where it won’t be quite as hot, in spite of their manly boasts about how this had better be a really hot sweat. I sat right next to the pit of stones, wanting the full experience.

The first thirteen stones are pulled out of the fire and carried in with a pair of antlers one by one and placed in the pit. Each stone is greeted upon entrance as representing an ancestor of the tribe. Once all thirteen are in, the flap is closed, and in the darkness the sweat leader sprinkles various medicinal herbs on the glowing hot stones. All the plants vaporize instantly. A bucket of water is then poured on the stones, which immediately fills the lodge with hot steam that pushes straight through you in a wave. It quickly becomes clear you can resist the heat and suffer, or let go and surrender into it.

One woman and then one man sing a song as a form of prayer, and people talk about what they’re praying for. Their daughter, their granddaughter, their nephew who has this problem, etc. Everyone offers their support. Prayers are given for the coming new year. Your dead relatives swing by to say hi. The flap opens. People can only enter or leave between the rounds when the flap is open, and after the first round several people bolted, including the really stoned guy.

Thirteen more stones come in and are stacked in the pit. More herbs, more water, more steam. With each round the lodge gets hotter and hotter. Another round of songs, which are heartfelt and very moving in spite of the fact that you don’t speak the language at all. You sing along the best you can and hope you’re not singing “Custer was my homey, I’m a battery-powered Nazi Jesus” on accident.

My dead grandma came to me in the dark and I realized in that moment I had never fully grieved her passing. The sadness rolled through me like a storm and was gone. Tears and sweat. All is well.

In the third round, the final thirteen stones are added to the pile, the 40th stone remaining in the fire. Herbs, water, steam. By the third round, you’ve been in there for an hour and a half and you’ve sweat out every bad thing you’ve ever eaten or thought or done.

I deeply enjoyed the cleansing and the heat, taking advantage of a personal heat tolerance that’s totally wasted where I live. I thanked everyone for allowing me to be there with them. At least I think everyone heard me, I was talking to a bear in a headdress. They invited either me or the bear to come back.

After the final round everyone steps out into the cold, which briefly feels fantastic. Prayer ties tossed into the fire, use the garden hose to spray the mud off your everything with freezing cold water, and inside to change your clothes, marvel at your glowing eyes in the bathroom mirror, and tuck into some chili.

I was still partially in another dimension the whole next day, which we spent hiking and having assorted visions in the woods.

During my time in Southern California I kept trying to schedule a sensory deprivation tank float but never quite got my schedule lined up with the float center’s, so I was pleased to find there was a facility for this near Eureka. I signed my mom and myself up for an hour-long session.

I was hoping for an extension of the experience I’d had the previous Christmas at a state of the art float facility in SoCal. I’d gone with Tyler and Linda, each in our own room with an egg-shaped pod the size of a small car. You climb naked into the warm, salty water inside and the egg closes. Inside, you float on your back in the pitch black. The humid air inside is the same temperature as the water and in a few moments you can’t tell what part of you is in the water and what is out. With no sight, no sound and no varied information coming back from your skin you disappear into your own mind.

I spent most of the session waiting for something to happen and then making peace with the fact that nothing was going to happen. Then, near the end I slipped into a misty in-between space and there was someone there with me. A guide of some kind?

“You’re having your energy depleted on a non-physical level. You need to learn how to replenish that.”

Okay, I- I took his hand and then we weren’t in the pod any more. We were walking around on the surface of a strange planet. Our path crossed under immense structures that were hundreds, maybe a thousand feet high. I looked up the white pillars towering above and far up in the sky they formed a hexagram above us, the center filled with a gigantic obsidian sphere.

This wasn’t a dream, I hadn’t fallen asleep. It was more like the out of body experiences I’d had sporadically while meditating, traveling to places I later verified in the physical world. So there are other planets with things on them? And somebody made those things... I hadn’t exactly been hostile to the concept of extra-terrestrial life before but it was immediately clear I was going to need to be a lot more open-minded going forward. We really have no idea what we don’t know. This experience would spark a dozen more in the best year of spiritual development of my life so far.

A distant melody began and I was sucked back down into that pod.

Wow. That was a really good Groupon.

A year later, the facility near Eureka was more sensory minimization than deprivation, so I spent most of the time listening to cars drive by and trying to remember who starred in Altered States. But thankfully for my mom it was her first float and she didn’t know this facility kind of sucked, so she was experiencing that beginner’s luck I didn’t realize would never return for me on any subsequent floats.

One minute she was flying around with angels, the next she was inside a plant. She was in a past life with my brother, rowing a canoe through a lake. She was with my sister in another Native American life, as they planned my sister’s wedding, an event none of them would live to see. Another jump and she was in South America, recalling a tribal past life with me that Tyler has also told me about from his memories.

“You’re the shaman, and you’re my older brother. You’re showing me how you make the tea you use to go into altered states during the ceremonies. You don’t look anything like you do now.”

The rest of the time in Eureka was very full. Communing with the adorable red pandas at Eureka’s little zoo, nestled amongst the redwoods...

Photo by Sheila O'Donnell

Hiking the Damnation Creek trail through the giant woods down to a secluded beach...

Photo by Sheila O'Donnell

...visiting the hilariously shitty Trees of Mystery theme park and riding a gondola up above the tree tops. Taking mom’s dogs to the beach on a foggy morning, where the gray sea rolled out of the fog like a sea of consciousness churning with a deep roar I’d never heard the ocean make before.

My last night in Eureka, we did a space clearing of my mom’s 111 year old house. This is basically a ceremony where you nicely encourage any ghosts or negative energies to get the fuck out of your house. We buried crystals in the yard, then did several loops through the house, banging Tibetan bells, a singing bowl, clapping out all the corners, smudging with burning sage and leaving little plates of flowers, lit candles and water that had been left out in the full moon in each room as offerings to the elementals.

We had all the windows open to let the sage smoke out, and in the middle of the ceremony it started to violently hail outside. Then, against all reason, it snowed. Not a common occurrence for Eureka. Surveying the house and yard blanketed in clean white snow it was hard not to feel like the elementals either approved of the ceremony or we had totally freaked them out. Inside, the house felt amazing.

The next morning I flew back to Minneapolis with a bromeliad in my carry-on bag and aside from losing my wallet in the very first airport of the day, the trip back went without incident. Soon I was back at home sweetholy shit it’s Minnesota in January.

. . .

Sheila Kircher
January 23, 2017
So great Sean!! loved reading it, its so so funny! i'm supposed to be doing payroll. you are a gifted writer. love you

January 24, 2017
"a bunch of overeducated and ridiculously robed old white guys dressed like the council of elders in a low-budget sci-fi dystopia."

I hope that they healed his wounds with a flashlight beam, and then introduced him to a handsome Hindi-American potential girlfriend. (Does he chase paper a lot? :)

January 28, 2017
Good travels.
What are Firefoxes doing in Eureka?
Life is strange. Strangeness brings change.
"Chaco is a harsh canyon. And she breeds harsh people... but, the ravens are Fabulous!"

January 30, 2017
Too bad you weren't with us when we traveled to the abandoned and reportedly haunted part of Clovis. It was unreal. I took home a really old brick from one of the crumbled buildings hoping it didn't have some evil spirit attatched to it.


Montenegro When I told friends and family I was going to Montenegro, the most common response was “Have fun in Bosnia!” No, it’s not a city in Bosnia, it’s a cou- “Watch out for the war!” Consistently and without flaw, my phone always autocorrected “Montenegro” to “Nintendo.”

Poland Typing away on the plane as we drifted over Europe, I encountered that moment when your work tunnel vision lifts and you realize you’ve been singing “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!” out loud along with your headphones and the grandmother from Saskatchewan sitting next to you on the plane is so mortified she might not be able to finish watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Scotland A dark blur would arc just over our heads in the twilight and then suddenly change direction, making sure we knew that waggagawaagaaaggaagaaagaaa. We stood out there for a long time theorizing about if it was some kind of robotic bird, or a bat, a huge insect, or a very small flying saucer. In the end I decided it must be a bat because I didn’t want to think there were only tinfoil caravan walls between us and bugs that freaking big.