Douglas, Michigan is a charming town right on Lake Michigan. It’s a beautiful place and during the height of the summer season you can’t get a reservation. But, now in the middle of September the crowds have thinned and the locals are relaxing. It feels like being backstage. I love it. Sunsets over the lake are breathtaking. It’s easy to take in the beauty especially since everyone is exhaling and there’s room to move around. Today was overcast, chilly, and threatening rain all day. I welcomed the grey because I had some things to do online and hate feeling like I’m missing the sunshine. I found Respite, the aptly named coffee shop with delicious lattes and really good food. For lunch I had the last serving of their coconut sweet potato bisque–much to the chagrin of a regular. I couldn’t help but overhear a lot of different conversations today. At first, I’ll admit, I couldn’t believe how much people can say about absolutely nothing.
– I hear it’s going to rain. Oh no, it better not. Tell that storm to go away.
Sunset over Lake Michigan
-The thing I like about the Lincoln is that it adjusts to YOU. Yeah, but it’s too much car for me. I saw Stu, he has a new Lincoln.
-You’re as tall as my sister. Is your boyfriend tall? My sisters are all tall but none of them have tall boyfriends.
-I just put a little bit of basil in it. Oh, you do? Fresh? Yes, i just tear it up and drop it in.
-Oh, that yogurt looks yummy. I might come over there and take it from you.
But they weren’t wasting time. And they weren’t really talking about nothing. They were doing something very important and it was wonderful to watch. They were looking at each other and taking the time to exchange a few words and be kind to each other. These neighbors, friends, and familiar strangers were connecting. It’s a simple thing. It’s tempting to say that it’s just easier to take the time in this relaxed environment. But, there really wasn’t a jerk in the bunch. I hope I’ll remember the nice balance of Respite the next time I’m tempted to be one myself.
When I was in Taos I so badly wanted to deep dive into its cultural DNA. It’s a magical place with much insider seduction. I’m told it takes about a year, or more, to become part of the the fabric there. Sadly, I didn’t have that kind of time so I looked for an accelerated immersion program.
The Taos Pueblo, the area’s Native American nation, has been operating for more than 1000 years. Tourists are welcome to visit the adobe village. Parking is free. You register at the front desk, pay a $10 camera fee, roam the designated areas, then leave. Their ceremonies are not for outsiders.
When I saw a listing on the community events calendar for “Sacred Peace Pipe Ceremony and Spirit Balancing” though, I bit hook, line, and sinker. Native Americans believe the peace pipe connects the physical and spiritual worlds and it’s one of, if not the most, sacred of all ceremonies.
Cathy, my dear friend and hostess who’s quite dialed into the community, wasn’t endorsing it but didn’t want to deflate my enthusiasm. I was going to be part of this sacred ceremony come hell or high water.
After driving in circles for a while, I finally found the “spiritual center”— home of this peace pipe. It was a townhouse in the middle of an ordinary neighborhood. No cars were parked out front. Seemed like I was the only one there. This wasn’t matching my mind’s eye.
Rev. Running Cub* met me at the door to the spiritual center/townhouse. Very friendly but curious about me. Curious about me? I was curious about her! First of all, she revealed right off the bat that she moved to Taos from Long Island ten years ago. Second, it was clear that Running Cub wasn’t her given name. Third, she was living in a townhouse with a floral couch in the living room, a tv in the corner, and a dining room set off to the side.
Where were we going to have the sacred ceremony? And, where were all of the Native Americans?
Road not far from the Spiritual Center.
Turns out they weren’t coming. Because, they have an actual sacred ceremony. Within the Pueblo. This one was…adapted. It was a sacred ceremony in a way. It was sacred to Rev. Running Cub and to Lisa* who showed up just as I started to feign a stomach flu. The ceremony was real and important to them. To me, it didn’t seem very authentic. I wanted this to be what I wanted so badly that I refused see any of the signs that my peace pipe fantasy doesn’t exist. Outsiders aren’t invited to sacred ceremonies. The people of Taos don’t congregate once a week to smoke a sacred peace pipe. If they did, Cathy would’ve known and told me about it.
The ceremony started. Rev. Running Cub played the drum. Lisa sang. I “participated” silently/reluctantly.
Rev. Running Cub did her best to make me feel comfortable and keep me abreast of the ceremony’s flow. Lisa knew all the words to the songs and even made a request— a tune asking Grandfather to keep watching us…all of the time. I cringe at the thought of my grandfather knowing, much less watching, what I’m doing all the time.
After a while, it was time to offer up prayers for ourselves and others. I wasn’t prepared for this to be an out-loud offering so I shot from the hip. Lisa came with pages of prayer offerings beautifully and specifically written.
Taken at the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow.
After the prayers, out came the peace pipe. FINALLY. Rev. RC explained the whole thing step by step— this is the bowl, the stem, this is the tobacco, this is the tamper, this is the lighter. The pipe is the link between earth and sky. The fire is the source of life. The tobacco’s roots are deep into the earth. The smoke rises to the heavens. Don’t inhale. Pass clockwise. Rev. RC lit up.
Holy crap, all I could think about was opening a window. The smoke. So thick. So fast. Damn, I could barely breathe. My mind turned to Mayor Bloomberg, his smoking laws, and how I’m 100,000% behind him.
Lisa finished her turn on the pipe, peeled the back of her thighs off the linoleum, and brought it over. My turn. Rev. RC asked Lisa to keep the pipe lit for me.
I pulled the smoke into my mouth and blew it out first to the north, then to the northeast, and on around the compass. I had to, or Lisa actually had to, relight the pipe a few times before I could get all the way around.
The only time Rev. RC wasn’t on board with me was this moment. I finished smoking and was handing the pipe back to her when I noticed my cherry red lip gloss ring around the pipe’s stem. I had nothing to wipe it off with and when I noticed it was too late. She was already taking it from me.
Rev. RC zeroed in on my lip print, cocked her head, and shot me a look that could’ve slayed the spirits in our midst. She took a moment then mentioned, pointedly, how sacred the pipe is.
We sang a few more songs and then Rev. RC offered a spiritual balancing for just one of us. Not having a clue what this entailed, I deferred to Lisa. I thought if she busied Rev. RC with a balancing I could jet.
No such luck. I was asked to softly play the drum while Lisa laid down on a table and Rev. RC appeared to adjust her chakras. Do you know how hard it is to play a drum softly?
When it was finally all said and done Lisa seemed happy and balanced. Rev. RC mentioned an upcoming potluck and sweat lodge event. We made small talk about the problem of people who don’t spay and neuter their pets— I don’t know why that came up. I put five dollars in the donation jar. Then I got to leave.
Here’s what I learned from this…
1. Sacred ceremonies are sacred. If you’re not invited by the inside circle don’t force it. If you force it you’ll
The Grand Entry Parade at The Taos Pueblo Pow Wow
find yourself sitting on a linoleum floor with a woman from Long Island who legally changed her name to Running Cub.
2. People make themselves vulnerable when they participate in spiritual ceremonies—especially when they offer up prayers for themselves and the people they love. Don’t fake a stomach flu in the face of this.
3. Be polite. Maybe this was sacred ceremony, maybe it wasn’t. If there are no safety concerns, an hour or two anywhere won’t kill you.
4. The best way to get a taste of Native American culture in Taos is to time your visit to mid July for the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow. It’s AMAZING. The photos sprinkled throughout this post were taken there on the night of The Grand Entry.
I was traveling up California’s beautiful coastline and wanted to have a nice dinner with a beautiful view. I didn’t make a reservation because so far it’s been easy to slide in at the bar for dinner—it’s low maintenance, there are usually interesting people to chat with, and locals know the best things on the menu and have the inside scoop on the town.
I stopped at the first spot recommended— stunning. Oceanside. A gorgeous drive up. Really pretty. They had valet service which seemed a little over the top since the place is so small. I just self parked and took the flights and flights of stairs up to the entrance.
I passed a couple about my parents’ age on the way up who were positively glowing. They commented on the beautiful night, the amazing view, and their delicious meal. They were carrying two paper bags which I assumed were full of pastries for breakfast. He had on pants and a golf shirt and she had on capri pants with walking shoes.
After the long hike up, I made my way to the maitre d’s stand. As I approached I watched her eyes start at my feet, work their way up my body, and back down again.
The outfit I was wearing could be described as bohemian chic— on a good day. I was casual and had just come from a spa. Skinny olive colored pants, black top, hooded sweater, open toe sandals, hair in a bun. I suppose, to the untrained eye, my outfit could be interpreted as thrown together, haphazard, slightly wrinkled. It’s fair to say that I’d not spent a ton of time primping for dinner. But, the judgemental body scan I got from this maitre d woman, whose own ensemble was not far from thrown together, I did not deserve.
“Do you have room for one for dinner?” I asked, noticing my voice sounded less confident than I wished.
Maitre d glanced to someone to my left. She paused. I got the feeling she was summoning security.
“Let me show you the menu, first.” She pulled the bi-fold paper out, splayed it in front of me, and pressed out the crease. “The
There isn’t a bad view along CA Hwy 1.
dishes on the left are appetizers and they’re all $50. On the right are our entrees and they’re $75.”
I tilted my head to the left, looked her in the eye, and waited to see what she would say next. I think she was waiting for me to say something. I was speechless. I’ve never been shown a menu or given the prices of the items before I was seated at my table.
Turns out, I’ve never known what it feels to be unwelcome.
Truth be told, I didn’t want to spend $125, or more, on dinner. But, if I did I could. Was I dressed to the nines? No. Did I look horrendously out of place? No.
“Perhaps I can show you to our bar?”
“No, thank you. I think I’ll try another place.” Again, with the soft sounding voice. Surprising mostly myself that I didn’t have much more to say to this woman.
“But, you’ve come all this way and you don’t even want to see it?”
“No, thank you. I’ve seen enough.”
Here’s the thing…
1. People are treated like this all of the time. It’s not at all fair, it’s an awful business model, and it’s life. There was a time
Steve and Machelle
when I would have stayed to prove some mythical point. But, had I done so I would’ve only been supporting a place that is undoubtedly unfair to people. Plus, bitter tastes terrible.
2. If I’d stayed I wouldn’t have found Big Sur Bakery where I ordered the world’s best crab cake and roasted vegetable salad at a fraction of the cost. Plus a perfect glass of Sauvignon Blanc AND a butterscotch ice cram pie. You read that right— butterscotch ICE CREAM pie.
3. If I’d stayed I wouldn’t have met an academy award-winning actor, whom I admire, and his lady friend. He too was rocking a bohemian chic look. So was she. I wondered if they were also discouraged from the same restaurant.
4. If I’d stayed I never would have met Steve and Machelle who invited me to join them at their table. Steve’s a cowboy and businessman. He asked if I could saddle a horse. I said yes. So, he invited me to his ranch in Kansas where he’ll introduce me to a bevy of cowboys. To that I say, “Giddy up.”