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I guess you could say I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth, then later given a silver spoon, which i choked upon, and chose the plastic.

After a few recruiting sessions with defense contractors at the end of my junior year at B.U., I let my family down hard and quit college to be an artist instead of an aerospace engineer.

First, of course, I would have to find the artist inside me... and what better place to do that than on the road? And what better way to be on the road in 1989 than by following the Grateful Dead?!?!?!

I turned the keys to the 300zx back to my mom, sold most of my worldly possessions, and bought a van. (That 300 and I saw some excellent miles, I'll tell you... another time, perhaps... this story is about the van!)



June, 1989, sitting on the roof of my apartment building with a couple good friends... I had a lifetime ahead of me, no worries and no responsibilities. Only to myself. I tie-dyed a hundred t-shirts with a friend and set off to follow Jerry and the boys .

That summer, The Dead scheduled twelve shows along the northeast, two in Indiana, one in Wisconsin, then three in Sacramento, with a two month gap between Alpine Valley and Sacramento.

I started in Boston, selling t-shirts, then to Albany, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Indiana, and Wisconsin over the course of a month. When the t-shirts ran out, I bought beads in a bead shop and made jewelry and sold that. When I was out of beads, I bought a little gas stove and made grilled veggie and cheese sandwiches and sold those and juice and beer. By the time I was in Wisconsin, I had enough money to live on for the following three months, enough time and money (probably the last time the two ever existed together in my life) to do nothing but drive for three months and see the Sacramento show in the meantime. Before this I had been to about twenty Dead shows and found it the only place I ever actually fit, in with the biggest group of misfits in the country.

So from Alpine Valley, I drove, camped, and hiked through The Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and California. I picked up two of my friends in Los Angeles (friends from college) and drove back up the Pacific Coastal Highway to Sacramento. Then we stayed in San Francisco for a couple weeks with other Boston escapees, and decided to do a Vision Quest. Ben (of the notorious "Ben and Kim" that came back with me) had read a book, appropriately titled "Vision Quest" (but having nothing to do with the movie), and shared it with us. I won't tell you about the book, because I will now get to the actual story, which encompasses the book's descriptions.

So we set off for Colorado. Thinking that Vail was the place to go. It was August and the perfect time of year to camp in Colorado. We had topographical maps, charts, and the right gear for the thirteen mile hike to our spot. Luckily, a Vision Quest entails three days of fasting, preceded by one day, and followed by one day, of camping with one light meal per day. We didn't have a lot to carry.

We arrived in Vail at sunset, stocked up the van with supplies, and went to the trail head. We decided to get a good portion of the hike under our belts in the light of the almost full moon. It was so beautiful.

We hiked about half of the way and set up camp for the night. The next morning, we hiked the rest of the way (up I must tell you, all up, and sometimes UP!) By early afternoon, we had hiked thirteen mile up the trail and found the perfect place for a base. This is the campsite where we stored all our supplies and were to leave messages for each other. With that done, we set off in three separate directions to stake out our private places. We agreed to go about a half an hour away from the base camp in our different directions.

I found a hillside near a stream with a small waterfall, overlooking a huge meadow and a valley below. This was my place to be. Just to be. You're not supposed to ingest anything other than water for three days, but I bent the rules a little by taking some hand-rolling tobacco, and (to save for my last day) a couple pinches of the greenery I mentioned earlier and a mushroom.

Anyway, I made my camp with a tent made from a large tarp and some rope, and dug my fire pit. This was to be my home for the following three days.

Then we gathered back at the base camp for our ceremonial last meal (veggie burritos as I remember) and a long talk about the selves we were leaving behind.

When the sun threatened to set, we stowed our stuff securely, hugged for several minutes and went our different directions. That was the last time I saw "Bill."

On my way to my private heaven, I collected a good bit of firewood, which I put in my fire pit and burned for a couple hours. The moon was very bright on the meadow and over the valley, but gave no heat against the chill of late-summer Colorado night. I rolled and smoked a few cigarettes in front of that fire, contemplating the events of my life and how I came to be sitting in the middle of nowhere, alone and without food, to start over.

Finally, I let the fire die down and turned in for the night, thanking my friend Dave Stoltie for working at Eastern Mountain Sports and getting me a tremendous discount on my thirty-below rated sleeping bag.

I slept the sleep of a man who has walked a lifetime, but I dreamt profusely. I awoke suddenly as the moon shone on my face, closer to full and bright as daylight in that thin air, after coming out from behind a cloud. As I opened my eyes I realized that I had been dreaming of dragons and that the cloud in front of the moon looked exactly like a dragon, with the moon as its eye. The moon was the same shape as my rock, which I will get to later. Shortly thereafter, I drifted to sleep and dreamt more of dragons and the earth before there was man.

Luckily, I knew something of what I was doing when I made my camp, because a few hours later I was wakened by thunder and lightning coming over the mountain, followed by an intense rainstorm. Also due to luck and a little forethought, I had stowed a bunch of wood in my "tent" because the rain was hard and cold. I sat in my sleeping bag, looking out over the meadow as flashes of lightning strobed from severe brightness to complete blackness. I was more afraid and more exhilarated in those moments than anything had ever done to me. Part fool, part brave, I got out of my bag and walked into the meadow.

The rain was cold, but cleansing. I stood in the middle of the storm, daring the lightning to strike me, screaming back at the thunder, being drenched with pelting cold water. More foolish, I took off my clothes and danced in the rain, whooping and hollering, dancing to the rhythm of the storm, being the storm, yelling to god that she could take me in that moment and I would die with no regrets. My raving ended with me kneeling in the rain, with nothing to distinguish my tears from rain.

At the edge of the meadow was a willow tree, its branches whipping around in the wind as if it were dancing madly... I looked at it and thought that it had turned from a weeping willow into a raving willow. And... there was my new name. I danced in the meadow with the rain coming down harder and harder and I was screaming with the thunder and releasing demon after demon from my soul... and I fell to my knees in the cold mud, exhausted and laughing. And I thanked the tree for my new name... RavingWillow.

I don't even know how long it was before I realized that I was cold and tired. I went back into my camp, dug a towel out of my pack, and dried off as well as I could. Then I climbed into my sleeping bag and concentrated on creating heat.

A year earlier, I had visited San Francisco and found a rock that became my talisman. I had carried it in my pocket since the day I found it, under other rocks, on the shore of Big Sur California (about two hours south of San Fran). I still don't know what made me pick through other rocks to find this one, but it fit perfectly in the palm of my hand, and when I closed my hand around it, my hand was solid, but not discomforted by its presence. It was perfectly smooth, slightly oval, thin, and sparkly all over. It felt instantly like a part of me and I asked it if it would like to come with me and it told me it had waited a very, very long time for me to find it.

So that rainy night in Colorado, I named it the DragonSeed, and as I meditated with it, I felt my body generating heat, to the point that I had to open my sleeping bag a little. The rain continued and I eventually fell asleep.

In the morning, I built a fire with the remainder of my dry wood, and set out to find other wood to dry by this fire so I could have one later. I ended up feeding wood into that fire for several hours. The rain had stopped, but left drizzles every once in a while, and there was no warm sun. I expanded the pit and made the fire huge, piece by piece. The hunger in my stomach had just become part of life.

By late morning, the clouds gave way and the sun immediately warmed everything up. I took everything that was wet and hung it over tree limbs in the sun, by the fire. That included every piece of clothing that I had. Which meant that I was naked except for my boots. The sun was so warm on my skin, warmer than the clothes had been. I smothered the fire and decided to hike naked. There was almost no chance that I would see another human, and even if I did, who would really care. I followed the stream up hill for about an hour, then back along and around the other side. At one point, I found a fallen tree over the stream. I climbed out over the stream and stretched out for a nap in the sunlight. I guess the cold nights kept the bug population in check because for all that streaking around, I hadn't encountered one mosquito.

So there I lay, basking in the sun and happier to be alive than I ever thought possible, and I drifted to sleep. I was probably only gone for about fifteen minutes, but I am still pretty sure that I left my body and flew around the meadow, over the hillside, and over my friends' campsites, not to intrude but to make sure they were okay.

When I got back, or woke up, I saw a buck on the shore, staring at me. He was so regal and strong, standing there with no fear from this naked human, but obviously wondering what in Rudolph's name I was doing there. I slowly made my way across the tree to his side of the shore, hoping I could somehow make his friendship and pet him. I just wanted to feel the strength in that neck. To show him that my species was not entirely evil, that I could befriend him. I didn't even have horns to threaten him with, although the looks of his antlers were mighty intimidating.

When I touched onto the shore, he ran. I followed the best I could, but couldn't keep up. This was his home, he knew every pit to jump and fallen tree to leap. Finally I lost sight of him and stopped to gasp.

When the sound of my breath lowered I heard a faint cry for help. I stood still and listened, wondering if I was hearing things. Then I heard it again, it sounded like my name. But it was very faint. I listened intently, hoping to hear where it was coming from and it came again and I realized the buck had taken me in Kim's direction and she was calling for help. I ran through the woods to find her and finally saw her kneeling in the middle of the forest. She was stark white and could barely speak anymore. I ran to her and she had not been hurt, but something was wrong with her stomach and she could barely move. I must tell you that she scared the living shit out of me. I have never been more afraid of anything than the thought of her dying in my arms in the middle of these woods. I picked her up, apologizing for my lack of clothes, and carried her back to the base camp.

She had reacted badly to the iodine we all had to purify our water. The iodine, on an empty stomach, had aggravated what we later learned was a "Spastic Colon." A little bread for her to eat brought a lot of color back to her face, a little more and she was strong enough to laugh at the fact that I had been arbitrarily running naked through the woods.

She seemed to be okay, so I went back to my camp, put real clothes on, shoveled my fire pit, packed and ran back to her. Kim had eaten some more bread and some trail mix, and drank some bottled water from our supplies and looked and acted much better. Then I set off to find Ben, but had no idea where to look. After about an hour, I found his camp (by looking for the most perfect spot in that direction) and left a note on his sleeping bag. Then I ran back to Kim. We built a fire, ate a little, and smoked a bowl, which calmed her stomach greatly. We didn't talk much, but sat holding each other for more warmth until a little after sunset when Ben came running back with his gear.

We sat huddled together in front of a fire, not talking, just staring at the fire, with Ben's and my arms around each other and Kim in between us. (This was spiritual, not sexual.) Something about that fire, that time, that place, the events of the day, gave us each a perspective on our quests. We all had an amazing two days on our own, full of thoughts and questions, but the strength we found in that long embrace was the most fulfilling. As if we were physically, psychically, emotionally connected.

In the morning, we packed our things and hiked down. We knew we had to get Kim to a hospital, but it made more sense to wait for morning to hike, since she felt so much better. The hike down was very quick, with Ben and I sometimes carrying Kim, but mostly she walked on her own.

We got to the van, said goodbye to the mountain, and drove into town. Kim was checked by a doctor, given some medicine, and released immediately. The diagnosis was a G-I problem, but nothing serious, actually more stress-related than anything. So we got back in the van and I drove for twenty-nine hours back to Boston. My DragonSeed and nature's finest herbal remedies kept me fueled and something made me need to drive the whole way nonstop. I guess I was still concerned for Kim and utterly speechless by the whole experience. Driving was the only way to continue in my thoughts.

Ben, or "Mist in the Meadow," now lives in Northern California and works in a veggie restaurant and plays guitar in a local band.

Kim, or "Patches of Sunlight," lives even more of a sagittarius lifestyle than I do, and has been traveling ever since (including several trips to Namibia.)... currently directing a camp in vermont for local kids.

I have repeated the vision quest experience several times since then... choosing a new name each time... I have been "Fire at Sunset," "The Moon's Dragon," "Panther In Darkness," "Wandering Bear," and still others. I will never forget the Raving Willow tree, dancing in the storm, holding its ground, yielding to the elements while not losing its form or grace. I am a grown-up little kid who thinks he can do anything if he tries hard enough and thinks he is invulnerable. I create for a living so i call myself an artist, i also manage the budgets that people give me to create things, so that also makes me a producer. and, as with many sunset fires, i burn brightly through the night.

p.s. Wanna know what happens in the Fall of 1989.... please request my screenplay, "Baptism of Fire."


© 1992, 2003 Raving Willow. All words and images on this site are the intellectual property of the author and are not to be reused without proper credit. The author would, however, ecourage you to place links on your Website to this one.