Maybe you’ll find direction around some corner where it’s been waiting to meet you.
By The Deadhead Cyclist
Flying surprisingly under the radar, the Grateful Dead released a wonderful video in ’87, called So Far. In addition to the exceptional sound quality, what’s so unique about this film is the way in which realtime onstage recordings, sans audience, are interwoven with actual concert footage, in seamless transitions that are goosebump inducing. Given that the Dead’s identity was far more connected to the live concert experience than the traditional studio recording model, it’s fitting that the band employed the technique of simulating a live experience, while maintaining the kind of quality control that’s only possible in a studio setting.
T.W.I.G.D.H. features the 11/7/87 show from Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland, CA. The highlight of the first set came at the conclusion of Dupree’s Diamond Blues when the crowd erupted into a “We want Phil” chant, leading to Phil’s signature tune, Box of Rain. What’s most intriguing about this show, though, is that the outstanding second set includes an almost identical sequence as the So Far video: Uncle John’s Band>Playin’ in the Band>Terrapin Station>Drums>Space>Throwing Stones>Not Fade Away, with I Need a Miracle and Black Peter thrown into the mix.
The actual concert segments of So Far are from the 12/31/85 New Year’s show at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, and watching the balloons being joyfully batted about the venue evokes memories of New Year’s ’82 and ’83 when my brother and sister, Todd and Janet, and I traveled to San Francisco from Santa Cruz at 5:00 AM to spend the entire day inflating balloons for the anticipated celebration. The latex-induced blood blisters on our poor fingertips from tying off the ends of thousands of balloons were the price of admission, and seeing “our balloons” floating down from the rafters in a rainbow of colors at the stroke of midnight was a more than ample compensation. In fact, I dare say that the painful cost we would endure for several days caused us to enjoy those balloons immeasurably more than the other 6000 New Year’s revelers in attendance.
As an avid but aging mountain biker, I find myself constantly weighing this Price-Reward equation, and expanding the boundaries with each passing year. Expressing this calculation in algebraic terms (with “R” representing Reward and “P” representing Price) looks like this:
R = P2
Simply put, the Reward we experience in our life endeavors increases as a function of the Price we pay, but in a non-linear fashion. At one end of the spectrum, with no price being paid, the reward is also zero. However, as our willingness to invest ourselves in our passions rises, the benefits we receive spiral upwards, and increasingly out of proportion to the cost. I experienced this phenomenon while riding in the rugged Cave Buttes Recreation Area in Arizona this week, while listening to the 11/7/87 Dead show.
The trails in this rugged desert wilderness range from intermediate to advanced, in terms of aerobic and technical difficulty, with the most challenging sections on the upper Dixie Mountain Loop (see map below). After ascending from the trailhead (the checkerboard circle), turning right and completing the lower loop, there’s a choice to be made while riding the upper loop, where the blue arrow appears. At that point there’s a trail leading to the left that returns to the trailhead, while continuing involves a path of no return that includes the rockiest, steepest parts of the entire trail.
I politely asked permission to take my new friend’s picture, and before I knew it I was down in the dirt with him and taking what may be the first ever Desert Tortoise selfie.
On this particular occasion, I looked within to “find direction,” and decided to go all out and complete the upper loop. Just after navigating my way over and around the most lung-busting terrain, I came “around some corner” and made an unlikely new friend: a Desert Tortoise. Even with the rarity of this discovery, I would normally take a quick photo – often without even unclipping one of my cleats – and get back on the trail, feeling compelled not to lose too much time. However, I was mysteriously drawn to my new friend and felt the urge to dismount (notice the bike in the background of the photo below) and become better acquainted with this desert denizen that enjoys more longevity than many humans, and spends 95-percent of its life hidden in burrows.
Not often does one have the honor of such an encounter with someone “waiting to meet you,” so I politely asked permission to take my new friend’s picture, and before I knew it I was down in the dirt with him (the clearly visible “chin glands” that signify mating season are male-specific), taking what may be the first ever Desert Tortoise selfie.
After bidding my land-roving friend a fond “fare thee well,” I got back on my bike with a deeper sense of appreciation for the “wonders of nature,” but was unable to shake the feeling that this outwardly chance encounter may have had a deeper significance. So, upon returning to another wonder of nature, my internet connection, I decided to investigate the Tortoise as a “spirit animal.” A spirit animal is a teacher or messenger that has a personal relationship to an individual. Native cultures have believed for thousands of years that we do not choose the animal but, rather, it chooses you (“…it’s been waiting to meet you.”), and is there to provide guidance, protection, power and wisdom.
The Tortoise and the Hare may be the best known of Aeosp’s Fables, and the “slow and steady wins the race” theme is widely applicable. Within the context of a mountain bike ride, as well as many other endeavors that have the potential to arouse our natural hurrying response, this serves as a good reminder. But the power of this fable’s obvious lesson merely scratches the surface of the dusty desert trail upon which this rendezvous took place.
The tortoise-like qualities that underlie a slow and steady approach include: knowledgeable, stable, wise, secure, enduring and peaceful. But to me, the trait that supersedes all of these is patience, a characteristic that has never been a strong suit of mine, and one that I’ve worked hard to acquire. What resonates most for me is that the Tortoise truly appears to live in the moment, giving careful consideration to its options before choosing a path forward, rather than reacting on impulse.
Carrying their homes on their backs, tortoises symbolize simplicity, knowing that they have all they need on board. They remind us of the importance of making good use of what we have and embracing simple abundance.
Getting back to 11/7/87 and the So Far video, It should not be lost in the shuffle of this brief lesson in animal spirit guides that tortoises (which live on land only), turtles (which live mostly in water) and terrapins (which live both on land and in water), while different animals, are fundamentally the same, and share the same taxonomic order: Chelonia. Therefore, the qualities attributable to the tortoise should hold some appeal to Deadheads, given the strong Terrapin theme of the band. Might it be that our mysterious affinity for Terrapins is connected to a common spiritual thread that runs through our community?
The next time you encounter an animal “around some corner where it’s been waiting to meet you,” give some thought to the notion that it may be more than a chance encounter. One way or the other, exploring the qualities of the non-human beings we share our bright blue ball with may give you pause to find a new, unexpected direction for yourself.
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