Friday, December 16, 2005

A different kind of spiritual experience...

As Christmas and Hanukkah approach, I’m pleased to share with you a guest blog that reminds us that there are other forms of spirituality. Shawn Rost-Howen, author of the novel MEDICINE MAN (currently on submission), has always impressed me with her writing. This blog is no exception....


There is a road I like to drive. It’s a smooth road, well maintained, with properly banked curves and not traveled much. I’m a car enthusiast and this road, located in the buffer zone between the army base and the rural town I live near, is the perfect place to test car and driver.

Once, I would have sought such a place on horseback, but these days my purple Ford Mustang is a good replacement—not quite the same exhilaration, or challenge, but in its own way just as therapeutic. The thrill of driving around the curves at past the posted limit to zoom up the hills and glide down the other side is hard to match. Recently, as I sped through my favorite low water crossing, a huge black looking bird flew out of the scrub on the edge of the road right in front of the car.

I hit the clutch and brake at the same time and locked my hands on the wheel—the Mustang skidded sideways—I was sure I’d hit the bird. Muttering under my breath and cursing out loud about dumb vultures, (there are a lot of those critters out there, what other huge bird could it have been?)—I got out of the car and walked to the front to see how much damage was done to the car—and hoped I wouldn’t have to finish the bird.

A loud screech followed by a flash of wings greeted me from the scrub next to the road. A huge golden eagle flew over the road so close that I ducked, thinking it intended to attack me. From my place squatting on the road I watched as it zoomed upward and then floated on the air streams.

"Well, Brother Eagle, perhaps it is a day to drive slow," I said to the bird now circling above me.

Back in the car I drove in a low gear watching Brother Eagle, male just seemed right about this majestic bird. At a T intersection that I normally turned right on, the bird flew left. I went left. Pigeons followed roadways—did eagles? I wished I’d brought my camera—memories would have to do.

The terrain in the area is rough, semi-desert, covered in low growing cedar, mesquite, and live oak—rocks and boulders cover the ground with clumps of buffalo grass filling in the gaps. The land itself is a study in scrub-covered buttes and low hills. The land looks inviting to hike, it’s not, rattlesnakes and scorpions like it here and I’m not a big fan of tarantulas either. But, when Brother Eagle winged his way up one of the low hills, I pulled over.

With the scrub and grass winter-dead I spotted a deer trail leading to the hill and up it. Grabbing my water bottle and my notebook and pens (what writer doesn’t have these everywhere—the note books and pens anyway—the water is a must in this area, even in winter) I made my way across the ground—it was too chilly for snakes and such. I hoped.

About two thirds the way up the hill several rocks sat in the trail itself, the deer path went around it on both sides. The rocks made a good seat. I sat there and watched the eagle until it flew off—too far away to see any longer. I rested on the rocks, taking in the cool breeze and pondering Brother Eagle’s visit.

The Ancestors would have thought him a sign, a messenger—they would have considered it an honor to have such a bird come to them. I scribbled thoughts in my notebook. What did he want to tell me? I was working on book three in a series about a Native American man who travels to the past. Maybe Brother Eagle simply wanted to be included in the tale. What would he say to my main character—two-thousand years in the past, to save the future?

A slight movement caught my attention and I turned to look at the path I’d just struggled up. If I could have become one with the rock I sat on, I would have.

Standing on the trail, a cougar stared back at me. Most people’s first instinct is to run—not a good idea. Cougar, as do all cats, likes to chase and play—I didn’t want to be Cougar’s toy. I sat and stared at Cougar. Cougar stared back.

Eye contact doesn’t matter as long as you don’t move. My nose itched. Something crawled up my pants leg. The fingers holding my pen began to cramp. The rock that moments before made a comfortable seat now grew sharp edges making me want to shift positions.

The wind blew. Grit got in my eyes. I blinked, then forced my eyes to stay open. Even domestic kittens will bat at your eyes if you blink at them.

How ironic that I lived with a Bobcat and an Ocelot and here I was about to become a cougar’s breakfast. I could see the headlines, Indian Woman Who Works with Non-Domestic Cat Rescue Eaten by Cougar.

Cougar sat down.

Great. We were going to play the waiting game. How long would the big cat sit there and wait for me to move? My house cats will sit for hours waiting on Mr. Mouse to come out of the pantry—and now I needed to take a leak.

Brother Eagle chose that moment to return—he dove out of the sky and almost hit me. I tumbled off my rock perch and curled into a ball, clasping my hands to the back of my neck— waiting for the burn of cougar teeth and claws.

Cougar mewed.

I peered at the big cat from under my elbow.

Cougar purred.

What in the world?

I slowly unwound from my fetal ball.

Cougar stood within touching distance. Her mouth opened and she yawned as if bored with me and the entire game. She turned her long thick tail to me and wandered back down the trail.

Such an encounter is not taken lightly. I’m still evaluating the meaning of it—one thing is for certain, it came at a time of great change for me and I needed direction—reassurances, things I came away from the meeting with. Unlike the main character in my currently available novel, MEDICINE MAN, I don’t doubt the reality of the experience or the spiritual guidance of the ancestors.


Faith Bicknell-Brown said...

Hi Shawn! Surprised to see me here? LOL.

Brother Cougar was testing your courage. So how can you apply that to your daily life? What do you need courage for right now? {wink} And you're strong like Brother Cougar, so you'll succeed.

About two weeks ago, a hawk flew over the hood of my van, catching its talons on the antenna. Scared me silly. I saw the hawk in the rear view mirror, soaring away. In my case, I think he was testing my reflexes, LOL!

Had a black cougar visit during deer season. It stole half a deer hanging in the tree about 15 feet from my kitchen window! Paw prints and rip marks.

Christi said...

You know, I have always found Native American spirituality to be a much more dynamic belief system than most "religions." Shawn is obviously well versed in it and practices it. That adds a great deal of credibility to her stories.

I do not comprehend how publishers can let good writing like she does languish on her agent's desk--UNLESS...they simply are not aware of what she is REALLY bringing to the tale?

Authenticism and good writing create stories that will last. They appeal to a select market to begin with, perhaps, but good story-telling overcomes limitations like that. You want a story that someone says to another, "You have GOT to read this." Shawn certainly brings that to her guest blog entry and her writing.

Truly deep, thought-provoking stories are few and far between, but this woman can put them out. Excellent work, Shawn.

Rick Jones, really said...

I really feel for those people who only now are experiencing the depth and passion of Shawn's writing. I have been privileged to read some of Shawn's work and count myself one of the lucky ones. Her blog entry here only brings back to me the thrill I first felt when I read a few chapters of MEDICINE MAN and found myself transported into a culture as alien to me as anything found in the stars, yet made as familiar to me as my own culture by virtue of Shawn's incredible style and insight.

I have never had the kind of close encounter that Shawn describes, but, having read about her afternoon with the spirits, I know what it would be like.

I want more.

Caitlin said...

Hey Shawn,
I really enjoyed your tale. My encounters with wildlife have mostly been of the docile variety (fox, snake, squirrel ect.) but my parents do have brown bears that visit their yard in the summer.
Beautiful story. :)

Jackie said...


I have no doubt there was a meaning there--the cougar, the eagle--but I have no idea what it could mean. Good luck to you as you meditate over the possibilities. And may the upcoming change be as unexpected--and surprisingly thrilling--as a cougar staring you down, mewing and purring, then wandering off to play elsewhere.

Marci Baun said...

Wonderful story, Shawn. Well, event, really. The ancestors were talking to you. You are very fortunate to have such love from the other side.


Anonymous said...

I agree with what Marci said. You are very blessed to have the ancestors with you!
Have you discerned the message?
I also, as others have noted, hope that soon more of your writing, like this piece, and your amazing book, will be read by others. Your work has touched me and continues to do so.
(I'd sign up, but someone's already taken my usual names. Another time, maybe)

Shawn said...

Thanks so much everyone for your comments.

Anonymous said...

This blog was a fascinating read. Normally, when I'm surfing the internet, if I see something interesting, I'll stop to take a peek, but if it's long, I'll scan it to get the gist before moving on. This particular piece pulled me out of my office, away from the clock and settled me on a tarmac road in the dust and chill of fall in Texas. To my surprise, I found myself sitting on a rock, my heart in my throat, my breath trapped in my chest as a cougar sized me up. Before I knew it, I was done reading and had chills. Shawn is a remarkable writer, able to put me, the reader, into her place, to let me see, feel, hear, taste and smell the moment as if I lived it. Her writing has become my memory.

In a word; Phenominal!


Nancy said...

I moved to the Southern Arizona high desert just over a year ago from Ohio.

I have to say, Arizona wouldn't have been my first choice but I'm glad the choice was made for us.

One of our first nights here, there was a meteor shower. I had never seen so many stars falling in such a clear sky.

We are a retired military family. Always living near Air Force bases, with lights everywhere, living where we are now is our first experience with "big sky country" where the depth of the stars in the night and the blueness of the sky in the day are remarkable to say the least.

We too have cougars, eagles, hawks and the occasional Roadrunner in our path as we wind our way along the miles of dirt roads that are part of our existence in the desert. I couldn't count how many times I've stopped to watch the wildlife as it spends its time in our desert, marveling at the ability these animals have at surviving under harsh conditions.

I have discovered, after many years of being a night owl, that I now enjoy the early morning. We have mountains on three sides of us and the kaleidiscope that unfolds with each sunrise and sunset never fails to take my breath away. The shades of red, orange, purple and yellow, not just in the sky but on the mountains, never fails to take my breath away.

Shawn, I don't know you but we seem to have in common being blessed to live where we live, sharing our world with the nature that surrounds us. It's marvelous...

Anonymous said...

This is interesting stuff. It's worth reminding people that America is not simply a Christian nation--despite what Bush seems to think.


AllisonM said...

My heart leapt to my throat as I read this; you recount so adroitly the tool for survival that the Native American had developed: common sense over fear.

Native Americans survived for nearly 10,000 years on foot, the lesser of the beasts in North America, with only the technology of the stone age.

Courage and imitation of nature became their religion and thus ensured their survival.

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