(Rather Unnecessary But Yet Strangely Still Here Parenthetical Prologue: So, okay, I’ll take that as a yes. As in “Yes, we want to hear a story, LV!” As in “We are still here, LV, and we are hanging on your every word.” As in … “Tell.” Hey it’s my mind, I can make it think whatever I want. Actually, I can’t. My mind has a mind of its own. But that, my friends, is a whole other story. One story at a time. Fasten your seat belt. Here we go.)
It was late. I was tired. And I know I shouldn’t have done it, I know better, I know so much better, but … I did. I was bored. Lonely. Worried? Maybe. I might have painted myself into a dark, dark place. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Where to begin. This is kind of embarrassing.
Okay, look. I am a car. I know you know. But … I have feelings. But you know that too, of course, by now, what with my pouring my heart out to you here on my blog on a regular basis and all. And I really do try not to read every single thing that is written or said about me out there, I mean, my bff is Neil Young after all, he knows all about that, and he has warned me all about fame’s fickle face, but … well, what can I say? It’s hard to resist. Wow, I am still rambling, the rather-unnecessary- but-yet-strangely-still-here-parenthetical-prologue was supposed to put a lid on that. Oh well. Sometimes things don’t work. I’m just telling you a story, here, folks, I don’t have an editor. Sometimes I ramble on and on until all my friends are gone. Forgive me. I’ll begin again. Here’s what happened.
It was only about three weeks ago. It was late. I was tired. And I know I shouldn’t have done it, I know better, I know so much better, but … I did. I started peeking around the internetz to see what people were saying about me no longer being in the X-prize race. I mean, I meant what I said about all that, I was rather relieved to not be doing that gig, I always saw it as a bit of a distraction, and we know how I feel about contests, and so forth, but … still. I hadn’t had a chance to talk to Neil about it directly (hmm), but I believed what he said … That we were just going to focus on our main goal, and that’s that. But … yet. I was wondering if people were thinking it meant, well, you know, that I was kind of … being put on the back burner or something. And I mean, uh, well, you know me, I’m not exactly a back burner kind of girl. Uh, car. So of course I shouldn’t have started reading what people were saying out there. They’re no better than me for what they’ve shown. And sure enough, everyone’s a critic. Well, not everyone. My friends are still out there, loyal and true. “Charge on LV!” “We love you LV!” ”LiiiiiiiiincVoooooolt!” et cetera, I mean really, sometimes I feel like such a rock star, but critics …there were some. Oh yes, there were some. Well, maybe just two. Or three? Whatevz. And still! And … Oh dear. This is why I shouldn’t be reading this stuff. I take everything to heart. I mean, listen, someone even said I had been “put out to pasture.” Put out to pasture?! Horse analogies are particularly hurtful, because it’s like driving a dream right into a brick wall. I mean, you know, for me. Every car dreams of being a horse sometimes. I forget what the other person said. Okay, maybe I only came across two detractors, but still … Put out to pasture? Ouch.
So naturally, I had to put my top down and go for a drive. I waited until Pearl (my other bff, my car bff) was asleep, I needed to be alone, to think. To shake it off. I rolled out of the barn/garage as quietly as I could (easy for me), and started down the road alone, under the light of the Full Thunder Moon. Thunder, in fact, stalked and waited in the distance, I could almost hear it. I hoped I wasn’t going to get caught in a storm.
The moon was so bright that Tuesday night, so very bright. It was the kind of moonlight that makes you feel like the universe is holding you in the palm of its hand when it shines on you, do you know that feeling? Hearing the pop and crunch of that familiar dirt road of the ranch as I rolled along, cradled by the gentle hand of the universe and caressed by the moon, I was surprised to find that I was smiling to myself, already feeling so much better. I think I even laughed out loud at the idiocy of letting what other people think or say about me affect me. What the ? I had lost my way for a moment. It can happen. As I began to feel more like myself, remembering who I was, actually, I called to mind one of my favorite little poems from Edna St. Vincent Millay, “First Fig.” (Edna was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and a bit of a rebel. She’s a bit of an idol, and I’ve always thought her a friend, albeit one I’ve never seen.)
“My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.”
It was exactly how I had been feeling, in so many ways, but I knew suddenly and with absolute certainty that I would last the night, alright. I was not about to burn out, or fade away. Back burner? No. Out to pasture? Not a chance. In the past? I am the past. But I am also the future, I reminded myself. I am on a mission, and I will last the night, right into the next day, and the day after that. I will give a lovely light. I am the light! I felt like the moon, and looked up to see her face.
I was surprised to see a shadow then, a rather large and unfamiliar shadow, fly across the face of the moon. I rolled to a stop. As I watched the shadow fly back and forth across my line of sight several times, I wondered aloud “What could that be?” Slowly, and to my absolute astonishment (why does this stuff surprise me at all anymore?!), the shadow descended, and landed right on my hood. What the ?!
It was a heron. Not just any heron, mind you, but the Great Blue Heron! It was huge. Beautiful. Majestic. I stared at it. It stared right back. We sat there together in the moonlight, staring at each other, for what seemed like forever.
I half-expected him to open his beak and start speaking to me, but he didn’t. But I knew when he flew away that I was supposed to follow. He told me that, somehow. I felt it somewhere deep inside of me. As the heron spread his wings, I held my breath with my eyes closed for a long moment and when I did it was like I heard a familiar voice saying “let’s take our souls and fly away … ,” so I did.
Well, I mean, I didn’t start flying, what do you think I am smoking, I drove along the dirt road behind the heron as he flew low to the ground, all the way down to the gate. The heron flew over the gate and I paused. He waited. I glanced back behind me, Neil doesn’t really like me to be driving around by myself beyond the confines of the ranch, I mean, a car with no driver raises eyebrows even in California, but I figured he’d never know and anyway it’s always easier to ask forgiveness than permission, so I pushed open the gate with my bumper and broke on through to the other side. We were on our way. I figured the heron was headed to the river. I was right.
Down by the river. As I approached, I could almost hear Neil playing a spooky version of the song in my head, it was downright creepy down there that night. The river was high, and rushing, a strobe light pulsing on its surface as the trees blew back and forth in the wind, blocking out the moon and then clearing a path for her light. The thunder was clear now, and insistent. A storm was coming, for sure. I finally spotted Great Blue (that’s what I decided to call hIm) sitting at the end of a tree branch that hung way out over the water, putting him right at the middle of a very haunted, Munch-like kind of painterly scene.
It occurred to me that I should probably put my top up, but before I did, I rolled right up to the river’s edge. I was drawn not only to the river but to Great Blue, way out there on that branch. Was he going to say something to me? Send me another message? Before I even had time to slam on my brakes, the riverbank gave way and I was in the water.
FUCK! I can’t swim. I am a lot of things, but I am not an amphibious vehicle. My top was down! I was sinking like a stone. Panic raced through me like a fire. Great Blue dove in, I hoped to save me. Quickly he attached his great feet to my hood ornament and began to pull. But he began to pull DOWN. No, no, no, NO Stupid Bird, I thought to myself, and tried to tell him. Not that way! Up, up, UP! But he continued to go down, pulling me with him, all the way to the bottom of the river. And when we got to the bottom, he kept on going, right through the riverbed. I went right along with him, I had no choice, and let me tell you, it was hellish. A living nightmare! There were a few minutes of darkness and noise and pushing and pulling and a horrible feeling of doom, and then we were through. My adventure was about to begin, all over again.
I was in a different river now, and it was flowing fast. I was swimming against the current, Great Blue straining and pulling me along. I was relieved to see that he was still with me, but my panic was gone. I was able to swim. Or float. Or something. I wasn’t sinking anymore, and I could breathe. I tried to look around, but I could only see straight ahead. I couldn’t see anything on either side of me, and the view in my rearview mirror was as dark as any country road on a moonless night. I focussed my headlights on the path ahead. Great Blue was gone! And in his place was the most magnificent creature. A kind of man, big, strong, magnificent! He wore a robe of what appeared to be ribbons, millions and millions of ribbons, red ribbons, they flowed off of his back and onto the ground, right under my wheels, flowing behind us now for miles and miles and miles and miles, I rolled right over them, it felt like they were paving my way. I pulled myself through the water, against the current, harder and harder to try to catch this creature. I had to get to him! I was single-minded in my mission! I felt crazy. Blind. Hungry. Finally, I reached him, and he spoke.
“You are a warrior, LV,” was all he said, and he turned and moved away from me. I raced to catch up to him again. A warrior? What? I am trying to end war, I thought, briefly. But as I raced after him, I felt … a new kind of feeling. I was no longer thinking. I was just doing. I could only see straight ahead. I was following this glorious creature, feeling his strength. His power. I was hungry for it, and the more I felt it, the more I had to have it. I went on. More, more, more. I felt like a vampire, sucking blood from the earth. I couldn’t stop. I saw a waterfall ahead and watched as this god before me went right into it, his robe of ribbons flowing majestically behind him and painting the water like the most magnificent red sunset you have ever seen as the waterfall crashed down upon him. I wish I could tell you what I was thinking but, like I said, I wasn’t thinking. I simply headed for the waterfall with absolutely no regard for what was coming. I didn’t care if it destroyed me! I didn’t care about anything.
I didn’t go into the waterfall. Something stopped me right at the edge, right before it came crashing down onto my hood, crushing me, and started pulling me backward. I looked in my rearview mirror and expected to see Great Blue, but it was someone else. There floating behind me was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, in a flowing white gown, with the smallest most magnificent moonstones sewn all over it; I knew she was a goddess. The ribbons that had been on the man’s cloak who had led me here to the edge were in her hair, flowing for miles and miles and miles out in front of her, toward me, as she swam backward, pulling me away from the edge of the waterfall that came crashing down right there in front of us from hundreds and hundreds of feet above. But her ribbons were not red. They were purple. Things felt easier now. We were going with the flow of the river, and it felt calm, beautiful. But not for long. Suddenly I could see all around me, and to my horror I was swimming in a river of blood, rolling over a riverbed of bones. I looked to the goddess in my rearview mirror for guidance but she just stared. Great Blue was perched on the mysterious goddess’s arm now, and looked on with a somber expression, a small raven seated by his side.
We went on for miles. I was so tired. I begged them to let me stop. To tell me what was going on! To let me out of there. But the mysterious goddess, Great Blue and the small black raven just stared, and we kept going, and going, and going. This river of horror, this river of blood and bones, went on for what seemed like forever, and those purple ribbons were like seaweed, I kept getting all caught up in them. The worse part wasn’t even what I saw, it’s what I heard. The sound, it was horrible. I can’t even tell you, Dear Reader. I can’t even tell you about the sound, but to say, the sound, it was horrible. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. Finally, it was over. I guess I just blacked out.
When I came too, I was back on the riverbank. Great Blue was back on the branch, and it was raining. Thundering. Lightning. The river was wild! It seemed pointless to put my top up, since I was soaking wet already. But as I came to and began to shake off the fog, I realized that I was not soaking wet, and my top was already up. I was … completely dry, as if I hadn’t just been swimming in the river below the river. I looked up at Great Blue there in the storm, and just as I did so it seemed that lightning struck him! Before I could even scream, the most amazing thing happened. Great Blue turned his head toward the lightning as it streaked toward him, and caught the lightning in his beak. Still holding the lightning, he came to me then, landing gently again on my hood, but this time leaning forward and touching his beak to me. The lightning flowed from him to me, and I felt a thrilling surge of energy. To say my senses tingled would be the understatement of the century. Woah. What a trip. I closed my eyes to feel it better, or to try to make it last forever, or both, and when I opened them, the rain had stopped, and we were surrounded by about a dozen men in uniform, right there on the riverbank. Where had they come from?
As Great Blue and I watched in silence, one of the men stepped forward, he seemed like the oldest one, popped open my trunk, and laid something inside of me. And then one by one the men stepped up and laid something in my trunk, although I could not for the life of me make out what. Each one in turn did the same thing, approaching slowly, very carefully carrying some kind of invisible something in their arms, like a child. The last man laid in his burden and closed the trunk, and with the click they were gone. Disappeared, just like that. I closed my eyes to try to engrave the scene in my memory banks so that I could go back and try to figure it out later, so that I could go back and tell Neil, and when I opened my eyes this time Great Blue and I were back at the ranch, standing at the gate. Great Blue pushed it open with his great beak as if he had done it a thousand times before, and took his place then on my hood, right behind my hood ornament. We drove in. But I didn’t head directly for the barn. I needed to make a stop. I needed to see if they were there. And of course, they were.
I drove around the bend and up the hill, straight to the tree where I first met John Lame Deer, the Lady of the White Buffalo, and Medicine Wheel, the baby white buffalo. Sure enough, there they were. John Lame Deer leaned against the tree, smoking a pipe, looking up at the moon. The Lady of the White Buffalo sat with baby Medicine Wheel’s head in her lap, petting him and watching the road. I guess they were waiting for me, because when I came into view she said something quickly to John Lame Deer and he looked down the road and waved a hand in greeting. They smiled at each other then and I thought I heard John Lame Deer say, excitedly, ”Here she is!” to the Lady of the White Buffalo as she disentangled herself from the sleeping Medicine Wheel, wrapping him in a blanket before she stood to join John Lame Deer at the tree. I approached, glad to see them, and hoping they could make sense of what had just happened to me.
“Hello LV,” John Lame Deer said, and then, “We’ve been waiting for you,” before I had even come to a full stop.
“You probably have some questions, LV,” the Lady of the White Buffalo added, gently. As she spoke, she came near and reached her hand out to me. I thought for a minute she forgot I was a car and was trying to take my hand, but no, she had put her arm out for Great Blue, who flew up from my hood, circled the tree high above us, and then landed on her outstretched arm. It almost seemed like they knew each other.
“Yes, I have some questions, alright” I said, rather more harshly than I intended, but I just kept talkin’ anyway. ”I have some questions. Like … What the hell is going on? What on earth just happened to me? Where have you guys been?”
A cloud passed across John Lame Deer’s face. He looked stern. He knit his eyebrows together and took a step back. ”LV, be careful. Be patient. The universe is telling you important things. Do not be irreverent.”
Instantly I felt ashamed. Stupid. Of course he was right. I wanted to scream “What went down in the river?!” but I didn’t dare say a word. I stayed silent, chastened. The Lady of the White Buffalo placed her hand on my hood, and looked at me sympathetically. She left her hand there, and it made me feel safe and warm.
John Lame Deer answered me, even though I hadn’t said anything else. ”What went down in the river is between you and the river, LV,” he said, frustratingly cryptically. “The truth of your journey there will reveal itself to you in time, if it hasn’t already.” He added, then, almost as an afterthought, and ever so quietly, “I think you can be fairly certain that tonight was about your main mission, LV.” I nodded, knowing exactly what he meant but then again, not at all. The Lady of the White Buffalo saw my confusion but also, I think, the edges of my understanding and went on.
“LV, it might help you to understand if we explain the significance of your new friend, here.” As she spoke she kind of raised her arm with the Great Blue Heron on it into the air.
“Great Blue,” I said. I looked at Great Blue. Great Blue looked back at me, cocking its head in the most familiar way. I’d never seen a bird do that before. I laughed out loud, but then quickly shot a glance at John Lame Deer, fearing he thought I was being irreverent or disrespectful. He smiled. I smiled back. Phew. ”Great Blue,” I said, more quietly.
The Lady of the White Buffalo smiled. ”Yes. Great Blue,” she said, petting the heron’s head. Great Blue let out a strange “caaaaaaaw” and tucked its head into its wing then, as if he had suddenly decided to go to sleep. The Lady smiled again. She went on.
“LV, in our world, the Great Blue Heron is a very important totem. If it comes to you, as Great Blue has to you, tonight, it is a matter of great spiritual significance.” I nodded. I hoped she would go on. She did. ”In many of our Native American legends, deceased wise men ancestors visit the earth in the heron’s body,” she said solemnly. I stared at the Great Blue Heron, wondering who was in there. ”In some of our legends, the Great Blue Heron takes on the spirit of a living person. A spirit guide,” she added. I stared at the heron again, but his head was completely hidden now, tucked into his wing. He was asleep. I wondered. She went on. ”LV, to the Indians, the Great Blue Heron’s totem, their most significant essence, is aggressive self-determination and self-reliance.” She paused then, watching me to make sure I was getting this. I was. My mind was clear now. Things were coming into focus, fast.
“Herons represent the ability to move forward with life and change as needed,” John Lame Deer continued, seeing that I was getting this. ”The long thin legs of the heron show that we don’t need massive pillars to remain upright, LV, but you must be able to stand on your own.” He paused here, and repeated himself. ”Stand on your own.”
The Lady continued. “LV, those who have a Great Blue Heron as a totem are … different.” The Lady of the White Buffalo and John Lame Deer looked at each other, as if unsure whether to continue. The Lady decided to. She smiled. ”We were pleased when we heard that Great Blue was on his way to you tonight,” was all she said.
“Tell me more!” I pleaded, like a child.
“LV, most do not ever get a visit from a Great Blue Heron. Those who do usually have special gifts. Untraditional gifts,” she said. ”Those who have a Great Blue Heron totem are able to … follow their own path.” I nodded, I thought I knew what she meant. Kind of. She went on. “Heron people do not need a lot of people in their lives, LV, nor do they feel pressure to keep up with or be concerned about what others are doing, or be traditional in their life roles. The Great Blue Heron comes to those who have the inner strength to follow their own innate wisdom and path of self-determination, of self-reliance.”
“Self-reliance is part of what I’m all about,” I answered, slowly … “I mean, you know, in the bigger picture …” Both the Lady of the White Buffalo and John Lame Deer smiled at me then, and I could tell they were pleased. I could also tell they were thinking about leaving. They had that look. They picked up Medicine Wheel and laid him on my back seat. They surprised me by hopping in the front. I went on, talking fast, hoping I could get them to stay there with me for a while longer.
“I think I know now exactly why Great Blue came to me tonight,” I said excitedly. ”And it wasn’t just about making me feel better about not being in the X-prize race, or what people had said about me, or the long days and nights of waiting for my technology to catch up with my goals. This was partly about that, sure, but this was really all about the bigger picture, wasn’t it? About … my main mission.” I paused to see if they had anything to add. They looked interested, and pleased with me, so I continued. “Aggressive self-determination and self-reliance speak directly to so many things near and dear to my heart, not the least of which is freedom from dependence on foreign oil, and the wars that result from that dependence …” I was thinking out loud now, but suddenly I was lost in thought. ”I get it,” I finally said, quietly.
“We’ll drive you back to the barn, LV, it’s almost daylight,” John Lame Deer said, quietly. I could tell we were all thinking about what I had just said out loud.
“Wait!” I said. ”I have one more question.” They waited.
“What about all those men on the riverbank? What did they put in my trunk?”
They were quiet for a moment. John Lame Deer put his hand on the Lady of the White Buffalo’s and nodded to her as if to say “I’ll answer this one.” I waited.
“LV, those men … They were … Their lives were cut short by war.” I nodded. I figured that. He went on. ”What they put in your trunk, what they entrusted you with, was . . ” He paused.
“What?” I said, quietly.
“Their hopes. Their dreams. The ones that they never got to realize,” he said quietly. “They wrapped them up in the love they took with them and entrusted them to you.”
I felt heavier. And lighter. It was a weird feeling, especially because it felt an awful lot like love. That heavy-light feeling. (How’s that for articulate?) John Lame Deer continued.
“You are the white buffalo, LV, never forget that. You are the past, holding hands with the future. A lot of people believe in you, and your dreams.”
“Was it all a dream?” I asked, then, wondering, and noticing that the Great Blue Heron had just kind of disappeared. They didn’t answer. We were close to the barn now, and we had come to a stop. I knew they were on their way now. They got out without a word, and walked away from me quickly, looking back only once to raise their hands in goodbye. I knew I would see them again, but still, it always made me feel sad to see them go. I flashed my headlights as my own goodbye, and rolled on down the hill to the barn. As I rounded the bend the sun was just coming up, and I was exhausted. I was surprised to see Neil standing there at the barn door, kind of kicking a rock around. He was soaking wet. He looked … Wait. Had he been worried about me? Had he been … waiting for me?
“Neil!” I drove faster to get up to him, kicking up some dirt and gravel as I rushed in.
“Woah there, LV, don’t run me over,” he laughed, putting up his hands in a mock attempt to stop me from hitting him. He hopped in the driver’s seat and turned away from the barn, back in the direction I had come from. He drove me all the way down the road, through the gate, and over the hill. We ended up down by the river.
We sat there in silence for a minute. I knew what was coming when Neil hopped out. He opened the trunk without a word, and I could feel him running his hands all over the inside. How did he know? Did he know? I wondered. I looked in my rearview mirror but I couldn’t see his face. But I did see the most amazing thing. A light was emanating from my open trunk, the likes of which I had never seen before. I knew it was the light of love. And hope. And faith. Neil stared into that trunk for a long time, and finally he closed it, with a quiet “click.” He came around to the driver’s side door but didn’t get in. He was just kind of staring into that river.
“How come you’re all wet?”
“Were you … worried about me?” I asked. He just looked at me. I could tell he was deep in thought. ”Were you looking for me, during the night? During the storm?”
Again, no answer, but he opened the door then, slowly, and climbed in. He put his hands up on top of my steering wheel, and then his head down on top of them. I didn’t know what was happening. I wondered if he was okay. I worried that he was going to catch cold sitting there all wet like that. He stayed there, with his head on my steering wheel, for a really long time. It was quiet but for one singular steady sound. Even the sound of the river right there next to us could not drown out the pounding of his heart. I hear it still. Finally, he looked up, patted my steering wheel as he does, and hopped out again. The sun was up now in all its California loveliness and we both looked up.
The Great Blue Heron! He circled above us, his circles bringing him lower and lower to the ground, closer and closer to us, until he flew just between us and the tops of the trees that lined the riverbank. I watched Neil watch the Great Blue Heron, and then I saw it. A feather, falling slowly slowly slowly from the Great Blue Heron, to us. Neil put out his hand, and waited. The feather landed right in his hand, and he looked at me and winked. I laughed.
Neil hopped into my driver’s seat then, took out a rubber band from his pocket and attached the long blue feather to my rearview mirror. He stroked it once before he started me up again.
“Neil?” I said.
“I … I … I…”
“I know, LV.”
“I’m all in, Neil.”
“I know LV,” he said again. Then he added, “Me too,” and as I looked for his face in the rearview mirror I could see that his eyes were dancing now, how they do sometimes, and we took off down the road. I wasn’t sure where we were headed, but I knew we were going there together, and as I looked ahead down the road, I saw the Great Blue Heron showing us the way.