June, 1995, deep in the San Lucia Mountains. It was the third day of the “Wilderness Experience” led by Tom “Little Bear” Nasen, medicine man and leader of the Esalen Tribe of central California, specifically the coastal San Lucia Mountains and Los Padres National Forest as defined by Carmel Valley to the Big Sur area. Our small group of twelve was camped in Pine Valley, five or so miles in from Chew’s Ridge. We were staying in the ancestral village area of the ancient Esalen people, according to Little Bear, who claimed they lived there five thousand years ago. There was ample evidence of inhabitation from the holes worn into the rocks by grinding flour, the numerous obsidian arrowheads on the ground, the petroglyphs painted on the rocks high above the valley, and the fire-blackened rock walls around the circle of the original elders of the tribe. On this day, Little Bear had built a small sweat lodge and heated the stones to red-hot before pushing them into the covered, dark yurt-like hut, into which we were all huddled and the flap closed. Little Bear was a very large, tall man weighing perhaps 350 pounds or more. He said he was so big because seven of his grandfathers lived in his body and he had to feed them all – all the time. The sweat lodge got so hot and so airless that one of the older men actually passed out. Little Bear said to leave him alone; that he was OK and we could retrieve him when the purification ritual was over. I had pressed my face down into the mud so as not to faint and for relief from the scalding hot steam on my skin.
When Little Bear showed us the ancient fire circle of the tribal elders, he said that they still lived there and that his people were very afraid of that place because of its great medicine, so great it could kill a man or make him crazy. It was a that moment that I decided I would spend that night there to see if what he was saying had any truth to it. At dinner I told him what I wanted to do and he said I was crazy already for wanting to go there because it was “haunted” by the ghosts of the ancestors. He wouldn’t even go there he said. But I was determined. Once he realized I was serious, he told me to “have belief” in some real way lest I anger the ancestors. He said that this amounted to a very high-powered “vision quest” and that I should also have an intention or a wish in mind before I go to sleep. He wondered out loud what animal might talk to me, and if he would ever see me again.
As dusk colored the sky a dark orange, I slowly made my way up the rocky cliff path and between the high rocks at the top of the mountain until I reached the area of the fire circle. Nearby was a large flat rock that looked like an altar stone. Right next to it was a small, gnarled tree that provided some shelter in case the fog misted during the night. I used some rocks to hold the tarp to the top of the flat rock and tied an end to the tree, placed my sleeping bag under the tarp and climbed in. From that spot, I could look out on some small bushes and two dead pine trees about twenty feet apart maybe two hundred feet away. I closed my eyes and before I went to sleep, I thought of what wish I would like to see fulfilled. The wish that came to me was very strange but very strong too. I should preface it a bit. In my work in the business world, I was continually having to deal with people. The sales and endless service to perpetually and relentlessly unhappy, complaining people simply had “gotten to me” and I was absolutely tired of it. On the home front, my wife was unhappy and continually complaining no matter what I did to placate her and I also had to deal with the parents and teachers of the school we ran on our property. I was sick of people. My wish was that I be the only person left on earth.
Finally I thought I would have some peace and quiet and time to myself. Of course I had no real belief that such a wish could ever happen anyway. I slept.
I awoke the first time to see the two pine trees moving closer to me. I blinked my eyes but I could see them coming closer so that they were only twenty feet away. I told myself I was dreaming and went back to sleep. Then I heard voices before I opened my eyes. They were shrill and squeaky – almost like cartoon voices. There were two of them in conversation: “There’s nothing here to eat. Just a flashlight and some clothes and crap”. Then the other voice: “Shhh. You’re gonna wake him up. Keep your voice down”.
I opened my eyes to see two raccoons going through my knapsack. I looked at them as they looked at me in the very bright moonlight. One said, “Uh-Oh, he’s awake and he’s heard us talking. Shit!” I stared at them in disbelief and asked them if this wasn’t just a dream, telling them that everybody knows raccoons don’t speak like humans. They laughed shrill little cartoon laughs and said, “Actually, everybody knows that humans don’t speak like raccoons.” I was confused. They walked away mumbling in fading conversation.