In the summer of 1999 I packed up my tent and my tambourine and headed west to spend three weeks in the desert. At least that ‘s what was in my mind as I prepared to go. I was taking my son to Philmont Scout Ranch and planned to wait for him while he experienced the three-week Rayado in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. My husband gave me travel guides outlining tourist spots and historical sites, but I knew that was not what I was going to do. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew that wasn’t it. I brought along lots of writing paper, reading materials, my guitar, tapes and CDs, and for the first few days I played with them all, but the only thing that was repeatedly pulled out of the jeep was the guitar.
The first three nights I spent camping in the Valle Vidal area. It was beautiful. It was wet. And there were a lot of cows. Then I drove to Taos and checked into a B&B so I could have a shower. The next day I drove down into the Rio Grande valley and triumphantly landed a campsite with a shelter. I thought it was perfect. It was very desert-like. I could put my tent inside the shelter and not worry about getting wet. There was an outhouse nearby and a “campground host” right across the street who was very friendly and generous with her broom. As the sun set I got out the guitar and sang some songs I hadn’t even thought about for years. (I guess the other campers enjoyed it. The next day a couple of people asked me what band I sing with!) But as dusk became night and I started to run out of firewood, fear started to dance back and forth on the opposite bank of the river. I tried real hard not to think about the goblins featured in Carlos Casteneda’s writings, and went to bed early. This was even worse. From inside my tent I couldn’t see what was “out there.” Suddenly, I remembered that the rodents that carry Hanta virus love to take refuge in campground shelters. I felt surrounded by enemy germs. In this uneasy condition I finally fell asleep. Sometime in the wee hours of morning I was awakened by the sound of splashing water. There was a creature in my shelter! I bravely grabbed my largest flashlight and stuck it out through the smallest possible opening in the tent door to let the thing know that there was another creature already occupying this shelter. No sound, so I stuck my head out the door and looked around. There was nothing visible, which wasn’t very consoling as the sound of slashing water began again very nearby. In a bizarre, fear frenzied muddle I think I decided that Hanta viruses couldn’t splash water and fell back to sleep. In the morning I discovered a mouse drowned in my bucket of water. I threw out the water, the bucket, the towel, which had been laying nearby, packed up my tent, and headed back to the mountains. So much for deserts.
The next three days I camped in a secluded site along a river outside of Taos. Events began to become mythological in nature. I went to the Taos pueblo and bought a postcard of an Indian wrapped entirely in a white blanket. I had been wrapped in a similar fashion a few days before to keep the windblown dust off my face. I mentioned this to the lady selling the card and said I thought it looked like an Indian saddhu. She said he was a Cherokee chief, and that in the old days all the warriors wrapped themselves that way against the cold. Walking around outside, I was impressed by the way the structures had been maintained and thought that many of them even looked new. Another shopkeeper told me that all the people in the pueblo had a space in the buildings, and that a person would never give away or sell his space no matter what the circumstances. She told me there were people living in all the apartments. I wondered what they did for plumbing. I asked her how long the buildings had been there. She looked me in the eye and said, “They’ve ALWAYS been here.” Feeling like I’d just been given a brief lesson on the meanings of “infinite” and “eternal,” I went to the grocery store to stock up. On the way out a notice on the bulletin board caught my eye. Kirtan with Krishna Das! I quickly checked the date. It was happening in three days. I hadn’t missed it! I copied down the address and phone number and excitedly returned to camp. K.D. was an old friend. Twenty years ago we had a retreat in Missouri with K.D. as the featured holy man. We were all very young. The setting was an old farm on the Missouri River, and we had sweated and sung bhajans through a very dank Memorial Day weekend. The events of that weekend are another story, but K.D. is very dear to us. It took me all of those three days to figure out that the address given on the poster was not a Taos address, but a Santa Fe address. I quickly drove to Santa Fe, checked into a Holiday Inn, and made contact with the kirtan hosts. The event was wonderful. I bought three copies of Pilgrim Heart and danced out to the parking lot. A young woman asked me how I came to be there. I told her I was camping and just sort of hanging out to see what I would do. As she drove away she shouted out her window that I should go to Crestone, Colorado. I’d like it there. There were people there I should know!
I drove back to Taos. This time I headed for the road up Taos Mountain that ends at the ski resort. I was running out of money and didn’t want to pay for a campsite, so I pitched my tent between the river and the road. Just up from the tent was a wonderful, tree-covered glade that provided seclusion and space. The first night was horrible. All the twentieth century boogiemen came to haunt me. What was I doing? There I was, a woman alone camped on the side of a highway. What if illegal aliens accosted me during the night. I could be murdered. I could be raped. There were probably hungry bears all over the place. The list went on and on. I have seldom been so frightened. It was a horrible night. In the morning I found solace looking up at the mountains across the road. I made a little prayer to Babaji, (a habit developed years ago that pops up whenever things get tense.) I searched the side of the mountain looking for some sign of Him. (Also a habit acquired years ago.) I suddenly realized that none of those things I was afraid of had ever happened to me. Those things had never happened to anybody I know. They were just words that came out of Tom Brokaw’s bobbing head on television. And then the fear was gone. I spent the next two days blissfully figuring out Krishna Das’ renditions of Om Namah Shivaya on the guitar and building miniature stone stupas (I don’t know why) in the river. The third day I decided that while all this singing and freedom was fun, it would be more fun with other people. The young woman’s words about Crestone kept rattling around in my brain, so I located it on the map and packed up to go there. My head had been very cold at night, so on my way out of town I stopped at an outfitters and bought a hat to wear to bed. It was a really ugly hat, but the design suited my needs, and besides, I felt compelled to buy it.
Don’t ever believe a map. Don’t believe it when a short, straight line looks like the shortest distance. The short, straight line out of Taos took me down and back up one of the most primitive, precipitous, twisty, winding canyon roads on the planet. Half way up the back side of the canyon I realized that I am not invincible, my jeep probably can’t go just anywhere and that I might not live to see the top of the canyon wall. Plus I was running out of gas. As the top of the road came closer I began to feel some relief that I really was going to make it. Then I crested the hill - - - There was nothing there. It was flat as far as the eye could see. No features at all on any horizon. No way was I going back across the canyon, so I just drove straight into what felt every bit like a very bad episode of the twilight zone. After about an hour there was a fork in the road. Except for telephone lines, there were still no features across the flat ground. I decided to follow the telephone lines and about twenty minutes later came to the highway. When I finally pulled into a gas station, the needle was way past E.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains loom up out of the San Luis Valley like ancient sages meditating on eternity. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them as I approached Crestone. When I got there I found my way to the public campground and set up. It was beautiful. I was amazed by the number and diversity of religions represented in the area. I was amazed to find a full array of organic foods at the gas station. I was amazed by the enormous, open space of the Lindisfarne chapel. I was amazed to see small stone stupas (just like the ones I built in the river) lining the road on the way to the big stupa, which was also amazing. I found my way to the Haidakhandi Universal Ashram and was invited to visit the temple where there is a murti of the Feminine Divine. The person who unlocked the door for me said I could meditate or sing for as long as I wanted, so as soon as the door was closed I started singing the few Durga chants that I knew from Krishna Das. As I left the temple I felt like something important had happened, but I didn’t know what. I felt sort of like a fish who has been hooked. Down at the MahaLakshmi Shop, I was told that the next day would be a celebration of Mother’s tenth birthday and I was most welcome to attend. Also, I could come to Aarati that night, which I did. I bought two postcards and went back to camp. The next day I bought a biography that was recommended. The woman in the shop was telling me that the fat guy in all the photos all over the place was the same Babaji that Yogananda talked about. (The same Babaji I had called upon for years. The same Babaji I continually searched for in mountainsides and river valleys.) I thought I’d better read this book. On the way to my car I was puzzling about how this could be so. He didn’t look like the drawings of Babaji. I thought, “Is this for real?” The response was immediate. It was like a huge wave rolling down the mountainside and exploding in my chest. I nearly fell to the ground. I grabbed the side of my car and hoped that nobody was watching. No question about it. This was for real! I hurried back to camp to read the book. According to the narrative, the identity of this individual somehow pivoted upon the type of hat he wore. I searched the pages and the text for some description of what this hat was. And then I found it. It was the very same style as the hat I had purchased in Taos.
Months later as I reflected on this experience I realized that if an angel had floated down from the heavens with an engraved invitation for me the message would not have been more clear. I was definitely hooked, and I would definitely return to Crestone many, many times.
As for Babaji, after years of searching I had finally found Him, but my journey into discovering Who He really is was just beginning.