A Few Chapters from My Novel

(c) 2003 David Lee Lang

All Rights Reserved

Travel Unexpected Places


Chapter 4

Lightning-tree Grove

Lightning is amazing. I saw an article all about lightning in National Geographic. It had amazing pictures, including one of a giant oak tree getting hit. How did that photographer know when to say "cheese" to the oak tree? Had I taken the picture I would have had a great picture of my thumb illuminated by the lightning flash. The photographer also had a picture of a high school football player and his burned up uniform. He got hit by lightning in the field, right through the top of his safety helmet (an important lesson here, kids) and it actually blew his shoes off his feet. He doesn't like to talk about it. I don't blame him. 10 squimillion billion volts of celestial boom coursing through my body would certainly leave me speechless.

I love watching raw power from a safe distance. Volcanoes, supernovas, lightning, are all awesome in the exuberance of the power that they are.

Speaking of raw power, I actually know what my perfect ideal job would be if only I had the government clearance to do it and if only governments had a sense of humor. Which I don't and they don't. You see, in New Mexico, there is a big government Super Secret Stuff Testing Place called Sandia Labs. One of the things that they are designing there is a totally (?) safe container to transport nuclear waste from where it was created to where it is not wanted, for storage. A better idea, in my leather bound journal, is not to make that stuff to begin with, but that's a different rant. Any rate, how does a government take the world's most toxic substance and pop it across a country into a storage bunker in your backyard? And it would be a big Public Relations Plus if it was done in a totally safe way, or at least had the appearance of being totally safe.

This is a problem. I mean, think of the disasters that await such a shipment. Terrorists, earthquakes, tornadoes, lightning, train wrecks, and on and on the list goes. Actually, I try not to think about this too much; it depresses me that people think about this stuff for a living.

Now don't get me wrong, I have absolutely no interest in helping the government design and plan for disasters that they are also helping to create. No, my interest is in the transport container. Specifically, in the testing of that transport container.

They have designed this container to be made out of Redwood ("insult to injury" where I live in the Pacific Northwest). This container has to be tough. It has to last. It has to withstand an "on and on and on" list of potential disasters.

So one of the tests that they actually do, (really, really, actually do) is to: (now get this)

1. Take the container.

2. Mount it securely to a semi truck-trailer flatbed to simulate transport conditions. This should make you nervous if you live near any streets.

3. Park this trailer flatbed straddling a set of railroad tracks to simulate a trailer flatbed getting stuck straddling a set of railroad tracks.

4. Take one (1) surplus train locomotive engine. This simulates cost consciousness on the part of the government. This is an important Public Relations Move for the government after that ugly expose about the $10,000 toilet seats.

5. Take that one (1) surplus train locomotive engine and....

6. Mount some rocket engines onto it to power it. This simulates a really fast train.

7. Fire up that "Little Old Engine that Could" and send it screaming down that simulated track at that simulated stuck semi with a big load of death simulated inside that test container.

I love this image. I would love to be the "Official Atomic Waste Barrel Waster". I'd sell tickets. I'd sell popcorn. I'd secure the movie rights. I'd have a big brass band, probably the Army/Navy band since those boys need something real to do and I'd have to watch my costs. I'd have Grandma hire Howard Cosell (after all, Howard is dead) to announce the event. "Yes ladies and gentlemen, it is a moment to rememba. The engine is fired up and pulling at its restraint cables. I have never seen such power, such punch, since the days of the Thrilla in Manila".

A rocket powered, derelict train engine screaming down a track of death. The report I read said that the locomotive and flatbed "went down gloriously" and that the container sailed through the air, bounced twice, leaving 10 foot craters in the ground, before landing, unharmed. The crowd roars. The only thing missing was its winning interview with Howard.

Actually, as I write this, I am finding myself wishing that this whole perfect job was being done for someone else for some better purpose....sort of the difference between designing safety latches for nuclear bombs and safety latches for bungee jumpers, or something. I wonder if the Bungee company would want to test the elastic strength of their Bungee cords. A rocket powered train rockets down the tracks into a web of Bungee cords; stretching..... stretching...... (more Wile E. Coyote sounds here. The Acme Bungee Company). "Sproing!!" The Little Engine that Could sling-shots backward, through the air, hundreds of miles to New Mexico, where it lands, "kersmash", and totally wastes their best Atomic Waste Barrel.

"Back to the drawing boards", those Sandia Labs lab boys say in surprise. They never expected that Wile E. Coyote would be the disaster that wasted their waste barrel. This surprises me. After all, being from New Mexico, they should have been aware of the Trickster God Coyote. He plays such an important role in the mythologies of the area. Those lab boys should get out more.

So much for my perfect job. Better finish this book or get to work on all those songs.

Lightning-tree Grove is, as you would expect, a grove of trees that has a master tree, a shaman tree, with an awe inspiring lightning scar down it. I don't know how long it has been known as Lightning-tree Grove. I just know that it is one of those places inside a city that, with whatever earth magic it controls, defies the city around it. A rural patch of land, several blocks square that isn't really a park, isn't private and probably doesn't show on any county maps. Maybe the Secret Order of Map Makers conspires among themselves to hide special places from government bureaucracies. It gives me great pleasure to know that all the maps used by park maintenance and other city government types have Twilight Zone roads that take these people Some Place Else.

This In-The-City-Rural place is really special. City sounds seem to fall short and never quite make it into the grove itself. Unicorns dance and prance. Elves sing silly songs using impossible harps that have only 4 strings. What? You have never seen these things in any In-The-City-Rural place you have been to? What city government do you work for anyway?

No, it's true, there are no singing elves that I have seen, yet. Unicorns? Well, that is another travelogue. At any rate, you get the idea. A beautiful, serene, rural grove of trees, impossibly inside the city's boundaries. And all sorts of strange, unique and magical things and people happen there.

"Just bring your drum and meet us at Lightning-tree Grove. We will leave from there." I was skeptical. After all, I was on a pragmatic quest to find a healer in some country free of pencil-breaking-bugs. And short of a helicopter or Harrier jet, the kind that can take off and land vertically, I didn't know of any flights or baggage check-in counters in Lightning-tree Grove.

"Check your maps at the gate", was all she would say about Harrier jets.

The lightning tree is clearly the power tree of the grove. A path, through the brush, follows a mostly year-round creek. This creek takes you up to and then veers off the entrance to the grove. When you enter the grove you are facing the lightning tree.


[In this spot goes Drawing #13 <not yet finished> forest path to grove opening]


A long spiral scar runs from as high in the tree as I can see, down past major branches that were spared getting their "shoes" blown off, forks around a huge bowl opening and then disappears. Probably, when it happened, which must have been years ago since the bark that has grown healing around the scar and the wood isn't black, the lightning must have shot from the bowl and plowed the ground clear back to the creek. Maybe that creek once flowed into the grove and then along came a squimillion billion volts of celestial boom and scared the be-Jesus out of that poor creek and zip-zop it leaped back to form a new channel that takes you up to and then veers off the entrance to the grove. I don't blame it.

Whatever happened to the creek is history. What happened to this tree is awe-inspiring and has left it and the grove charged with energy. With these kinds of magical and sacred places all over the world, it is no wonder that the grand and wise and power-hungry church father types gave up on the idea of replacing those "other" religions. Instead they chose to absorb them and their rituals and give them a different name and mythological coating. Most Christians don't know or care that December 25 is most likely not the Birthday of Christ. It is a pagan holiday though. Jesus was probably born later in the year. I think He missed being the Celebrated 1st Baby of the New Year so Joseph and Mary missed out on all those cool gifts that the city fathers and Welcome Wagons give as publicity stunts, like a 10-year supply of Huggie brand diapers and a Government Savings Bond for His college education (assuming He wasn't going to be a carpenter). Then again, maybe He was the Celebrated 1st Baby of the New Year. After all, who were those wise guys with the Frankincense, Myrrh and Gold? Certainly not Mary Kay salesmen. Not a pink camel in sight.

Speaking of carpentry, I wonder what kind of carpenter He was? As far as I know, this is never mentioned in the Bible. Was He a framing carpenter? A finish carpenter? Did He build Furniture? Now, there would be some valuable antiques. Chairs made by Jesus. I'll bet they would be really comfortable, too.

I, obviously, am counting on God to have a sense of humor. This is not mentioned in the Bible either.

Sacred groves, sacred wells, all these earth places inspire our deepest spiritual responses. These places really are mapped in invisible ink. The circle of trees around Lightning-tree Grove are probably all thankful that they weren't chosen to be the Shaman tree. The role of the Shaman, in any community, is one filled with lessons, challenges and much unexpected travel.

When I arrived at the grove, with my drum and pens and leather bound journal, I found several of my friends already waiting. "Check your maps at the entrance", my guide reminded me. I was, as I have suggested, surprised to find that these people knew each other and that they did things like this, whatever this was going to be, together.

"When you are traveling without maps, outside the boundaries of your culture, you will need to go many places and have many guides", she told me when I expressed my above mentioned surprise.

"Rats", I thought. This wasn't going to be a quick trip to the Mud Hut Pharmacy for that magic pill. "But", I thought, "this promises to be very interesting. I could probably write a book about this".


Hope you enjoyed these first four chapters.

I ramble on for 13 more chapters and I am about 1/3 done.

Know a publisher who wants to advance me money to finish this?



CLICK HERE for Chapter 1

CLICK HERE for Chapter 2

CLICK HERE for Chapter 3

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