Thursday, December 1, 2016

INITIATION


Today’s entry is a particularly special one for me. It’s written by Gary Lloyd, a Los Angeles-based artist who has been a close friend since the early 1970s. He’s partly responsible for my having spent four decades writing about contemporary art. A poet and a newcomer to cutting-edge art at the time, I went to see a show of Gary’s and was so appalled by what I saw that I simply had to write about it. I ended up with a 30-page poem that Gary and I together turned into a massive three-dimensional book, “Bob Went Home,” which had a hatchet handle for a spine and a galvanized aluminum cover with heavy dents made with the back edge of an axe. It is now included in several museum collections.

Gary says of the events he describes here: “It’s the day I became a man.” Which makes sense because as I read it, it’s an initiation story. In tribal societies the initiation ritual for boys is often conducted by elders; it is sometimes brutal, and nearly always involves the boy being sent out into the wilderness (or jungle) to confront nature in all its majesty and ferocity. Survival is the test and the guarantee of manhood. The rite is the one described by Joseph Campbell as “the hero’s journey”—a pattern of descent, ordeal, and return.

In our Judeo-Christian world we have for the most part abandoned the initiation rituals; “confirmation” (for Christians) and “bar mitzvahs” (for Jews) are pale substitutes for the rigors of survival in an alien world. This loss may explain the large numbers of even powerful men who wield their authority and live their lives as little more than un-grown boys. They have never made that ritual passage from boy to man, and consequently they wreak havoc with their wives, their families, their country and their world. I myself was fortunate—sadly only at the age of fifty-something!—to have learned the value of initiation and to have experienced a re-imagined version of it in the New Warrior Training Adventure sponsored by the ManKind Project. 

The story my friend Gary tells involves that ritual descent into the wilderness, the ordeal of a dangerous, frightening night out in the cold and dark, the return home in the morning. In his encounter with the majestic puma ...



... he learns to acknowledge and make friends with the little boy’s fear, and to walk away from the experience with a new power—and a new sense of himself as a man. He has acquired not only the experience of responsibility, in having to offer protection to someone other than himself, he has also brought away with him a mission that will guide him through his life: he will be the artist whose drawing of his fierce opponent foreshadows his later commitment to make fierce, confrontational work as an artist—the kind of work that so appalled me long ago.


Enough of my palaver, though. Here’s Gary’s story. I hope you find as much in it as I did:


INITIATION
by Gary Lloyd

It was Christmas and our family was spending it away from our home in L.A. in Mammoth, CA. The snow was deeper than my brothers and I had ever experienced, ten feet deep on the flat! Snowboarding didn't exist yet and we weren't skiers. We did have snow shoes bought for the purpose out of the CABELA catalogue. I was 14 and responsible for my younger brothers who were 11 and 6.  I packed lunches for us and off we went for a small adventure. I was a Boy Scout working up to being an Eagle Scout. My brothers were in Cub Scouts.  

It was a sunny but cold day around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. My dad and mom had purchased minimal toys. The money had been spent on our warm clothes, boots, hats and gloves. 

Our plan was to hike up near the ski area all morning then explore the terrain on one side. We found a beautiful small pasture with a trickle of water that was untouched, and game trails were all over the edges. I had my reference book that showed all the animals' foot prints common to the area. I was working on my tracking merit badge. Drawing and making plaster casts of footprints was how one was to prove the identification of each species. By noon we had found proof of rabbits, coyotes, deer, mountain lion, bear and the location of an eagle's kill in bloody snow, with evidence of a rabbit that had been partially eaten then air-lifted into the adjacent trees. 

I broke out our lunches in a sunny windless area near the fresh water and made a small fire to heat water for our hot cocoa. After lunch we were packing up my drawings. It was too cold to cast plaster at 8 degrees. 

Deciding to head back to our rented cabin, we followed our snowshoe tracks easily until the wind picked up and obscured our tracks, but we could glimpse our cabin off on the other side of the skiing area. Then the wind slowed down and it began snowing hard. After a short while we couldn't see more than 50' in front of us. The temperature was dropping and the light was falling. I thought we were about half a mile from our cabin but it was impossible to see. It soon became clear that we were not going to make it home by nightfall, wherever it was, for we had no bearings except for my compass.  

My brothers and I had snow camped several times before with my dad and grandfather so we knew what to do. By dark we had a good strong three-sided enclosure and thick roof built from dead wood and fresh pine boughs. We had packed the sides with snow and collected plenty of firewood. I started a fire to warm us. My youngest brother was worried about our parents but I consoled him by telling him that they knew we could survive overnight. As darkness fell we ate more of our sandwiches and slowly drank hot cocoa.  

By dark we were snug and quite warm, considering our predicament. We fell asleep together. I woke shivering at about one a.m. and noticed that the fire had nearly gone out, with snow falling heavily onto it. I quickly scurried about and got it going after awhile. It was near zero by now but inside our snug shelter it was above freezing. As I was knocking snow off my back with a pine bough I saw a flash of something really big about ten feet from me. I had spooked a big mountain lion that appeared to have been sitting downwind of our fire and about five feet from it! His tracks were all around our shelter.  

After scanning about with my flashlight to see if I could catch some glowing eyes reflecting back to me in its beam, I figured he was long gone. I made more hot cocoa and waited. I had packed my dad's .45 fortunately and this gave me some confidence. My brothers woke and we drank hot cocoa and they returned to sleep. I had decided not to tell them anything until the danger was over. Then I sat up with the gun in my right hand propped up on a forked stick.  

I must have fallen asleep shortly thereafter, because I awoke some time later. The big cat had returned to the edge of our fire. He was curled up asleep. I had set up a trip line between the fire and ourselves to warn me of his possible return. It was still in place. Clearly this was not an ordinary creature! I had also set up a remote spill pile with a jerk string attached to a lever in the strategic stack of firewood to easily feed our warming fire without having to get up out of our shelter to do so.  

I was shivering by now, both because of the near zero temperature and our guest's very close presence. I leveled the gun at the puma, hoping I didn't have to use it, and pulled the spill string so I could feed the fire. The moment I pulled it the puma jumped up and disappeared so fast that by the time airborne snow from his leap hit my hands he was gone!  

At this moment I had to piss so bad I couldn't bear it so I stood up and pissed behind our shelter. Then I heard his low growl for the first time. I had the gun in my hand but couldn't see him. I moved slowly back to my sitting spot and reset myself. I checked my wrist watch, two-thirty, then found a candy bar and ate it. Then I got my small sketch pad and pencil pad out and began to draw the puma in the flickering light.

I don't know when I passed out but when I woke with a start there he was in his spot, curled up and sleeping. I decided to draw him instead of shooting an alarm round to scare him away. After a hour I had a very good drawing of my by then fellow snow camp friend. At five a.m. my brothers began to stir. As they did, he slowly got up and stretched magnificently in the first light. He looked directly at me for up to a minute. By then my .45 was no longer in my hand. I sent him my version of a kind gaze, and after a few more moments he moved away towards the east where the sun was rising.  

My brothers began to wake as I was staring at him, but I had not moved or spoken. When he was out of sight they began asking all the questions one would expect. I showed them my drawing and described the night's activities to their amazement. By six we could see our cabin, not more than 200 meters away. We walked home to very worried parents. After a hardy breakfast we all walked back to our snow shelter and I recounted several times more the night we'd spent on Mammoth Mountain and shared the tracks of the lion and my drawing with my family.







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