THE BLACK CURRENT
Dreamed 1985/6/16 by Chris Wayan
This tale's an experiment: just an average night and day in the life of a shaman. Quiet events, no big crises, no real plot, moral, or resolution. Aside from above-average dream recall, it's a day indistinguishable from hundreds of others. Singling out extremes is an American habit. Or is it capitalism, not a cultural habit? Extremes are more salable... But what a false picture of life you get! So here I am.
I'm proud of my rearranged bookshelf. More compact, and it looks nicer. Since my day job's being a librarian, I felt silly that I never could find my own papers. And with all these dreams I have more papers. Took hours, and I sneezed from the dust, but I culled a lot I've outgrown and rediscovered a lot I haven't yet grown up to. It's great having it all accessible at last.
But that's the only good thing today. I've been running from something inside. I always squirm out of my emotional hammerlocks by cleaning up trivia. The texture of my life feels wrong these days, and having no goals can't help. I'm tired of cleaning but I still feel unready to face what's bothering me, so in the evening I lose myself in a different way--in an old book I stumbled on, Gertrude Friedberg's "The Revolving Boy." I like it but feel sad. Want a girlfriend like his, who just accepts his strangeness. Feel so sad I bundle up in my down jacket and curl up on the dusty hardwood floor. If I met someone like Prin would I even be open to her?
Read and read to forget my sadness. Unfortunately, forget to eat, too. Cold on the floor, but I don't move. Surround myself with little walls of paperbacks, ones to keep, ones to give away.
Bonk! The front door. "Shit," I mutter. "Humans." But I'm wrong, it's just my sister.
Miriel shows me a present she got: a small round basket-box woven of pine needles. Incredible--I didn't know they'd bend enough. She says "it smells so good... but then EVERYTHING used to have a good smell, or at least a natural bad smell your body could make sense of. Now all my synthetic stuff smells wrong." I cook some soup from backyard carrots mint and garlic, plus Red Star yeast, not the most fortified or recommended at the health food store, but the one that tastes best to me. I used to nag myself to buy Yeast 500, supposedly better but not as tasty. I've been heading for Miriel's position instinctively. We talk about feeling bullied by the incessant reasonableness of this culture. Eat this, wear that, use this, love them, work there, because it's GOOD for you. Even if you hate it.
I go round my room sniffing things. Artificial things. Cold distant things.
After Miriel goes, I watch a study of Woody Allen's work and an early episode of "The Prisoner" on public TV. God, what a grotesque old show. It seems as funny as Allen in my alienated mood: the ever so wholesome Global Village! Almost a training film: how not to be squeamish about hurting the smily people who keep you locked up...
It's late now. I go quickly through to the other side.
The complex I find myself in is gray quiet stone. Sierra granite? It calms me like an old friend. I walk the maze of halls. Electric lights at the corners. Am I a prisoner? Guess I should bust out, though really I find it restful. A shushing ahead, round a brighter corner... a doorway opens on a sea I've never imagined. Black, thick, with an oily silver reflection, it's jammed solid with life. Fish and lobsters, oozing roe and milt, blood, kelp, entrails, ink. This is the Black Current, coming down from Japan, cold and rich with upwelled nutrients. Reeking, but so thick with life I can walk on it! And I do, south into the sea, skating along the pliant sea-face, like a low-budget Jesus. When I tire, I just stand, and the current bears me on. To either side, indigo stripes of plain deep sea on the horizon mark the current's banks.
Miles ahead, low isles appear. By the sun, the Complex was near the equator--and the current's swept me swiftly south. I calculate the islands are near the Antarctic Circle! Yet the air is mild. Power of the Current, I guess. I must be careful to stay in the black band, narrowing now, and branching occasionally, so far from its source. I sink in normal water, and barely stay up in the black. "Emaciation has benefits" I think: no one fatter could ride the Black Current at all, here. I bet Jesus had big feet and countable ribs, too.
I land on an isle, one so big I mistake it for the mainland at first. But when I hike up the great ridge before me I find it's the subtly curving rim of a huge crater--and in the crater is a lake. The fluted far shore peeks through cloud. I remember now--these subarctic Galapagoses were all built big and hollow so they'd have fresh water for the Inuits and Patagonians who wander the South Pacific. I walk down to the lake, round its rim, climb the far rim. A narrow strait of black, walkable water leads to a second, greener isle, and I cross and climb again.
Topping that rim, I bump into a mob of Patagonians. A hunter saw me cross the sound, walking on the water. Unsure who or what I was, he called this gathering, well armed with caved clubs and harpoons. They've met voyagers before, though very few, and they seem to expect rich gifts from the Temperate Zone. I'm worried. I'm no trader, have no ship. Just what's in my pockets. The Polar People love silver--so loaded with jewelry already that I don't know how they can catch anything not blind or deaf, they gleam and jangle so...
I hate to give what I have, but I must. Fish around in my pockets, pull out the packet of diamonds. The only currency light and universal enough to be worth carrying into unknown seas. But I hate to waste them on people who'd see any trinket the same way. Disgusted, I drop the hard brilliant crystals on the ground. The diamonds are well cut, refracting hues like opals, which is good: color seems rare in this black and silver land. I point the colors out, though I worry they may actually prefer pale things, scorn my rainbow gifts. Crazy Patagonians. They pick them up, at least. After long haggling among themselves over the gems, they let me go. Their only gift to me.
I leave them with no regrets. And go on, following the Current curling round the Horn to the east and back north along the shore of a wild continent. Walking the Black Current all the way! To my surprise, I pass a few other travelers now, skating down the Current the other way. They wear big flat clown shoes distribute their weight--even so, they're heavy enough to leave ruts in the stream. But not deep ones; probably harmless. Life rebounds.
I land at last, far to the northeast, in a land where the great architect, Woody Alloyed Wright, lives in his humble beach house, planning his magnum opus: to build a cliff-palace Mesa Verde style--but a multifloored thousand-window warren. He considered Yosemite's walls, and the caldera walls of the Isles of Patagonia, but he settled at last on another spectacular site: Mt Demavend, Jewel of the Caucasus (or so he says). Now, I know this volcano (ancient home of the wise bird-god the Simurgh) really crowns the Elburz range in Persia a thousand kilometers away, but I don't argue. He whisks us there, wherever he wants to claim it is. I'll go along for the ride.
The crater is deep, rusty, like Haleakala, and (the deciding point for him) it's right in the path of a coming total eclipse. He marks its projected path across the vast caldera, and the Ecliptic too. White stakes dot the mahogany cinders. Each stake marks a planned tunnel mouth for his castle, which must be finished before the eclipse. I try to calculate how much rock must be left between floors, for seismic safety, but my heart isn't really in this project. Grand but cold. Such a sterile memorial to that kind, warm, bird-god I never got to meet. The Simurgh was nest-robbed by that cowbird, monotheism.
The Crater's no place to live. In fact, except for the Current itself, my whole journey has taken from desert to desert. The dead peace of the Complex, the Patagonian Isles of suspicion and appeasement, and now this cold height. I want people and animals and plants and water and warmth--both physical and loving. Living. I shiver, upset, and suddenly wake.
Oh! No wonder. I kicked off my blanket. Brr. Early morning. Bright out. I creak out the arch of my hut and lie on the sundeck mats. Biting air, but the high altitude sun warms me fast.
A bear walks by and says hello. I don't answer--just watch the town wake up.
Our village is on the north edge of the Yosemite cliffs. You can look down on the white people's settlement, the roads and machines. I like my home better; it's a nice mix of California Indians and talking animals. I think it's very funny how the whites dumped on us Indians till other animals evolved big brains. All of a sudden Indians and Blacks and all were first class--the whites had new kids to pick on! Anyway, it's a nice place and the racists don't dare come hassle the Animals because the Indians back them up, and the tourists don't come to see the Indian culture reconstruct because Animals are so low class. I like it. Reminds me of the Green communes on the redwood coast when I was little. Only more so. With bears.
The camp's a little halfmoon, with the cliff slicing the circle. In the center is our new City Park, which we're quite proud of. A ramada and parapet made of wood and basketry, mixing Human and Animal style, lines the cliff edge, about six feet high. Benches beneath. If you're clawed, or if you're human but willing to look undignified, you can climb up on the ramada parts and enjoy the air, the smells. That was an Animal innovation everyone's liked. If a viewpoint, why not a feelpoint, a smellpoint? Sight's a human bias. Specist language still leads us in circles. Sorry, didn't mean to preach. But these are real issues for us. Take the ramada. We humans built the main structure; it's six feet high because they scaled it human size--purely out of habit. One reason the Animals discourage more humans from moving here: they're still a minority, trying to build a culture. They could be swamped, even by friends.
He's grown up now--recently married a human girl, one of the first interracial marriages. The joke that goes with THAT photo goes "and she was just like Mom." When I finally met her, I had to laugh. Mannerisms, looks--she really IS like a twin of his adoptive mom! She's even a biochemist too. But we all sense she's different inside: she cares more for people in general and him in particular. It may look neurotic, but I think he chose well: what his Mom should have been.
All this spring, bad smells have wafted up from the human city in the Valley. Makes it grim when we go down the hanging valley of Horsetail Creek and up the south wall near Bridalveil Falls to visit our Sister Village, the one with the Matriarchal Lodge. All the new Animal villages are built in pairs this way.
But this year, the smells are so bad I can't stomach it and turn back. I missed the Spring Mating Dance, and I was really looking forward to that.: I need to meet some datable girls, now that Nicole married the gorilla. She's the only one in Horsetail Village I was really attracted to.
The smells worry me. Well, perhaps we smell bad too, to the Humans. We're just used to us. But our smells aren't dangerous. Who knows what theirs are?
The Humans below are rearranging. Their old meeting hall, hotel, warehouses, cafes and stores are all empty. Our smellout reports a tipi burning. I see it; and more follow. Over a few days, all the old Human structures burn. Word comes up at last, with a refugee. It's a Revolution. New structures go up; the songs are loud even at night, and have that working rhythm. They're raising roofs by moonlight. Must be a big change this time if they're so excited. We wonder what it'll mean for us.
Day comes, and the new town is done--JUST LIKE THE OLD! So much for Human revolutions.
Graytip, the Badger Elder, mutters a line from her favorite epic, "Pogo": "We build the new utopia, consid'rably upwind of the dump--" except, as she points out, "they only move the damn things a hundred meters--why they waste all that energy? Every spring, the same."
I crawl over to the cliff edge with Graytip and look down at the design with new eyes. So big, their village. "Euro-human buildings always impress me when I visit. Intimidating." I lie there, chin on the granite, as a cynical wave of feeling rises, reaches for words. Blurt "I just realized, that's all they're FOR! The ones we see are all ceremonial. Government, offices, banks... they're MEANT to make you feel small... and respect the god. But... I've been invited to their homes. The space whites really live in is cramped compared to ours. Most of their house-space is for machines or for show, not for THEM. They live between the cracks!"
Graytip says "I never smelled it that way. Their homes feel grim to me, but I'm a Badger. I thought you Indians hated 'em for philosophical reasons, not because they don't fit your bioneeds."
"No, they're horrible--all sharp and hard and dark and stuffy and stinks and loud and you can't spill anything and fire hazard and don't climb up there look out you'll get a shock and poison and ultrasonics and radiation... They cage their kids, or their houses kill them. They don't even align them to get sun! Yet half the tourists I meet admire my "dedication" to live up here "in such primitive conditions." And I sort of BELIEVE them. Talk about doublethink! I thought I just didn't know how to be comfortable amid their things. They don't know either, but then they don't know comfort's even possible. Maybe lost it so slow they never noticed."
A hawk curves slowly across the valley floor, pasted flat onto the emerald and bronze of the Merced's slow bends. Graytip and I both have eyes set too close for depth perception from half a mile above, we'd need stalk-eyes like a lobster for that, but we can guess its height from the shadow pacing it, rippling over the irregular grass, cutting through a flock of bicyclists on their paved road.
"You saying we're more effective? We Animals figure White Humans will always out-tech us, even if they can't plan long-term. So we gotta win their respect with culture, and they think culture's just a frill. But if technology means making it work... woven sunhuts aren't that bad?"
"Gray, I'm saying even our worst hut, no greenhouse, no waterpipe, no thermburrow, nothing, is better than their average house. You don't have to worry in an Animal house--you can act on your impulses and you won't get hurt. Amazing how easily they fool us into thinking we can't build."
Graytip whuffs, her way to sigh. Body flattens to a pancake. "Oh, well, not really. They've had practice." The gorilla's wife runs over the town green, climbs up by us and flops down, black hair straying into her eyes, says "Party tonight! I'm calling a town party! Champagne!" The last time Nicole was this excited was during the Quake. Did the Sun have pups or something?
"A breakthrough, huh?" says Graytip.
"Gray, you won't believe it."
"I'll show you tonight..." she pleads. Wants to keep her surprise, but Graytip knows how to gnaw at her--Nicole's been trying to isolate the curative principles behind Animal herb lore and Graytip gave her a lot of data. And reminds her shamelessly. I snap at flies, politely, showing I'm not here.
"Okay, okay--just don't spoil my demo." Hunching over, protective as a raccoon with a taco, she signs, so sharp Animal ears won't overhear: "I found the Elixir of Life!"
And runs off to spread invitations. And spread a spread too: weavebowls of munchies on reedmats dapple the whole park. Hazels, gooseberries, sweet acorns, wild grapes and strawberries, pinole, fermented alpine sorrel, wild violet salad, licorice root, baked swamp onions and lotus seeds. A whole case of champagne--imported too, not bearbrewed wildgrape but Human tame, all the way from Napa. She must have hit the Ahwahnee Hotel for that!
At sunset, Nicole pops the corks, and displays the lobsters, cooked in a huge old Camp Curry Kitchen pot over a bonfire at the heart of the party. They're giant crayfish really, of course--getting lobsters up here is impractical. She imitates Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall", waving the lobsters, squeamish, squealing--she's awful, really, but nobody minds; she loves to ham and we're already bombed--at our altitude, one bowl of champagne's enough.
She holds up the lobsters, optical orange, and theatrically lays them two by two in the city bathtub. She drops 100 ml of liquid in one end of the tub... and the lobster there comes ALIVE! Even the ones at the far end of the tub come half-alive and creep glacially toward the elixir end of the tub, seeking full restoration. We're all stunned sober, silent. She's resurrected not just the dead but the cooked!
Even the bears don't joke about eating the revived crayfish.
"And now for my next magical trick"--she's doing an old Bill Cosby routine now, quite a bit better--"I will do it with fish!" Cheers and catcalls, birdcalls, moosecalls from the sloshed and loving crowd.
The near-full moon's climbing Half Dome, inspiring some of the coyotes to song:
Never thought ya knew--They leer and how on the cliff-brink, flat tongues lapping the lunar light like too much champagne. No one minds their raunchy song tonight--not that minding would shut them up, at fullmoonrise.
Slippery things ta screw!
Oh show us how ya do
Nicole lugs a bucket of goodsized trout to the main picnic table, and SPLAT! dumps them over the sprouts and acorn mush. She sprays elixir in the air, but the bug orderves (correct Animal spelling, so don't write in) and the fish, too, rise and head for the elixir, swimming in the dizzy air! Flurries of yellow blue silver orange fish whirl around us. The party hushes again, in awe. "That's some juice!" says Northdome Bear, and she doesn't mean wine.
Curlup says "something's odd here..." and we fold into laughter, breaking the tension but not the wonder. It's so like him.
The fish churn round me, like a Camp Curry spin-dryer I saw once, hailing hot luminous socks. I feel dizzy, close my eyes, retreat to steady myself... and the party fades to silence. Curlup was right; I at least have splashed through to some other space, the fish space I guess. I open eyes to see...
my undream room. A notebook of my poetry lies by the bed. I write the dream first, then on impulse flip open the poetry book. The random page says:
FORGET THE FLEURS DU MAL
In the sea's black colon run
Rivers of cold foul.
Green-lit by eyes of errant squid,
Oozes bouillabaisse across abyss.
Dream's compost, grave and brew
of all the floors of light--
Richest water reeks of death.
Yet I warn you, don't hug that paradox:
So many brilliant trawlers
Across the sea of history
sail one by one
Spin ropes of eerie floss
devised in pain
And in the green deep groan--
To show the world, defiantly as sin,
The delicate dragons of liquid glass:
Dreams deformed, who mouth and glow a time
While innards slow distend--to burst.
Don't let the ancient darkness net your dreams:
Abyss is not profound.
Only when that ooze of blind experience
Hits a deeper flank--
World thighs, smothered in black brine--
Does the primal stream, reluctant, heave to light.
Shoals snap silver-blue, gulls and white terns wheel.
Lace diatoms fuse to speak the songs of whale.
Life is here, at the battlepoint:
Ocean on his head
Judoed brutely into warmth and life.
Sewers of forgot abruptly taught:
Remember the ruby flutter!
Shone, shone into shape, into womb.
Be shallow; must I beg?
Forget the rich depths--they are dead
As Banker's chillest vault.
Skin loves a kiss. Marrow don't care.
Choose the shallows... but
Choose your shallows
Where the Deeps
How could I write that and still not take its message seriously? Like an SOS in a bottle on the poem's current. I ignored it, just made art of it, so of course I have to dream it--again and again till I make it real.
I wandered the world on the Black Current of raw creation, but I felt exiled, and only sought community. And only found silver-worshiping Patagonians and cold craterworkers. My miracles happen at home--if I can find home! A few drops of Animal Life is all it takes--just live, trust my nose. I need to; but can I? I fuss with things, organize, spending life letting THINGS rule me. If I don't, I feel, backward, small. The Humans fool me so easily!
All those big monuments.
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