From the Desert to the Ocean

A recent podcast discovery came as the result of Outside Magazine’s successful harvest of my contact information. Automation sent me Desert Oracle Is a Spooky Look at the Southwest.  I took the click bait, read the article, and downloaded the podcast. Immediate entertainment. Sometimes marketing spam gets it right.

Ken Layne is the creator of Desert Oracle.  Inspired by his homeland near Joshua Tree where “Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.” – National Park Service

The print release of Desert Oracle. Some chapters nearing word for word the podcast narrative. Like watching a movie of a favorite book its fun to analyze the mediums transposed. This podcast has won me over. Howl at the moon…

Layne’s implementation of sound that appear to be one-layer of background music. His writing and voice add much to the tantalizing broadcasts; narration is infused with humor and wit. Layne has a unique tone and well-paced cadence. Oracle is intermixed with live interviews, other tidbits scientific relevance and historical obscurity. Guests include conservation scientists, park rangers and the like. It is low budget audio gold. I love it, love it.

Outside notes “Even the ghost stories that fill Desert Oracle’s pages and soundbites serve a greater purpose: saving the desert. ‘The mission of Desert Oracle is desert and wilderness conservation,’ He often sneaks the conservation messages into his show and his publications”. – Outside

Oracle provokes daydreams of the intangible. It’s been along year… This essay began with a photo; I was compelled to share stuff that I shouldn’t be allowing myself considering the many real-world issues that need TLC.  What gives Desert Oracle its redeeming and endearing lifeforce? Layne merges escapism (perhaps… ) with topics such as conservation, the effects of climate change, and the creatures he is observing in the public lands surrounding him.  

Like other blogging projects this one got me thinking. Why am I fascinated with the obscure? When did become entangled with contemplating life’s meaning? I’m kind of stuck on the fence and have been longer than I care to admit; the end game is uncertain in my mind. Anxiety, uncertainty – creeping into my personal narrative.  These stories broadcast from the high desert sooth and distract if you let them. Yet, there is a theme of disruption calling for action from the upside down. Only the campfire is missing.

While writing this essay I was remined of Omni magazine. For many years this showed up at our house and graced the coffee table. “Omni Magazine was an enormously influential publication that ran from 1978 to 1995 ” – The Verge

I have seen strange objects in the sky. My father was stationed at Beale Air Force Base. He was a hydraulic systems mechanic on the SR-71 Blackbird. A well know flying object. Flybys over our neighborhood were impressive.  Officially retired in 1990, Black Mamba still retains its mystique; seeing this craft in the sky and even on the museum floor provides a shot of awe. It’s a distinct and unique shape.  Might it have been mistaken for a UFO at some point? High probability. Desert Oracle’s Season 1/Episode 11 – Those Sinister Black Triangles – Layne says triangles appear as early as the 70s. Unlikely that the SR-71 is responsible for the bulk of these cosmic events. Seems more likely to be the classic triangular shape of stealth technology. says “the trend of open deployment of flying triangles is not consistent with secret operation of an advanced DoD aircraft”. Looks like a dead end for my purposes. Black triangles. There is more to it. More complexity. More nuance. Layne’s gift is keeping you at the campfire long into the night with Desert Oracle.

My own exposure to God and his Son begins with fuzzy recollections of 1979 in Marysville, CA. Life and times of youth and danger especially during the years that my father was getting his bachelor degree in theology. This section of my adolescence included our family visiting various churches as he looked for a place of fellowship: the Pentecostal church near our home blasted instrumental Christian rock performances alongside churchgoers speaking in tongues. Once, in this setting, a vivid movie of the second coming; the show graphically detailed the ramifications for non-believing. Hell had an ominous look and feel.

I had a feeling this was somewhere… My father received his Bachelor of Theology at a later date than my recollection served me. “Our culture, our society, our very sense of self, relies heavily on a faith in our memories as perfectly accurate. But what if our memories aren’t as reliable as we think? What if we can recall vividly, things that never actually happened?” – American Hysteria – Viral: The Mandela Effect

Around seven, after a summer at Dad’s, my mom recalls running to my room to wake me from a nightmare.  This event would cause her to snatch my Kiss album from the collection of few titles; the flamboyant musicians had made a gust appearance in my dreamscape. The summer parent swap resulted in fear and loathing for my mom. Her son discovered he might burn in hell or miss the rapture.  Experiences during this time were not limited to church. My Dad had a fascination with the supernatural. Issues of Omni magazine on the coffee table. Graphic recollections of very scary themes at our local drive-in. I don’t think my parents grasped the idea of age-appropriate content and the impact it might have on their children’s psyche.

During his search for meaning, we listened to cassette tapes of fundamental icons of the era such as Dr. Walter Martin “godfather of the anti-cult movement” founder of the Christian Research Institute. My father carefully explored the Apocrypha with the acknowledgment of risk. One might be exposing themselves to influence of Satan. It was not taken lightly at the time. I recall his sensitivity that we might all be in danger of demonic possession. Some years later he decided that an all-access pass was ultimately the result of “faith” not “works”. He succeeded in getting his degree and we no longer experimented in finding fellowship at our local organized houses of worship.

The desert is a strange and complicated place, and the depth and weirdness with which Layne explores it has earned the radio show and publication a cult following. Stories of missing hikers, ghost stags, and Yucca Man sightings (the regional equivalent of Bigfoot). “The Voice of the Desert.”  – Outside

Advanced discussions of God would come later when I was pursuing my own BA in psychology at UC Davis. It was a period of mostly healthy tension between us. I was learning from a “secular” institution, however, and he had some reservations about the content that was filling my thirst for knowledge.  Not long after arriving in Davis – 1993 – pop culture birthed the X-Files. Art Bell’s Coast to Coast Am was at its apex in 1997. Other titles from the post VHS era included Alex Jones’s infiltration documentary of Bohemian Grove. It was a plentiful time for seekers curious about the counter-occult revival of that era.  I had the opportunity to take Charles Tart’s upper division psychology class Transpersonal Psychology after attending his widely popular lower division entertainer, Altered States of Consciousness. My time in Davis was a gourd of intellectual and spiritual plenty. It included some crash and burn, as well. Recollection of my father’s quest and these collegiate experiences feel appropriately juxtaposed to the discovery of Desert Oracle.

The Podcast’s is both escapist and learning tool with a fresh twist on the genre.  Oracle seems to be without much if any advertising. If my book purchase subsidizes Layne’s livelihood, I am in. Layne has become a new and hip curator of alt vibe desert phenomena. History has shown that many UFO sightings are uniquely paired with the high desert and the landscape’s mystique. Is it the proximity to military activity? Maybe. I am anticipating more complexity and layers from Layne and others. The genre is not one I have explored in many years. Newport has its own local boy contributing to the club: Jim Perry is the creator of Euphomet, “a podcast host, creative producer, and entrepreneur based in the Pacific Northwest. His fascination for the anomalous events that happen in people’s lives inspired the creation of Euphomet, the critically acclaimed audio documentary podcast about the strange and our relationship to it.”

Perry is a cultural excavator who artfully demonstrates the complexity of the supernatural for truth seekers both unknowing and intentional. Perhaps, we all have a few tales from the dark side. Those new to the genre will discover explorations of phenomena such as Perry’s are far more intelligent compared to the average History Channel’s treatment of these subjects.

A Vast Unknown. More is known about the moon’s surface than the depths of the ocean. In fact, 12 people have stepped foot on the moon, but only three have been to the Mariana Trench — the deepest part of the ocean, at roughly 7 miles (11 kilometers) deep. – Google

I think my dad would have enjoyed our new media. The scholarship and academics in theology are thorough. His highlighted scripture and reference books that filled our household were his proofs of concept. There is more to waking consciousness. I hope his work contributed to the “works” necessary for his all-access pass. A few years before his death he resumed study for his masters. Although his concentration was brief – this rejuvenated effort revealed his creative personality still lurked in the shadows of his depression and inactivity. My stepmother noted shorty before death he was air drumming in his living room bed. I went home a few hours before he passed. I didn’t think his time had come or I would have slept in the chair.

I hope we meet again. In the desert under the moonlight. Maybe we will talk in a vast nirvana with luminous spirit bodies that resemble our physical shapes. His curiosity became my curiosity in so many ways – despite the scary moments and the fear of an unforgiving Godhead. Its hard for me to imagine a life without the impressions his search for truth has made upon me. Desiring to share Desert Oracle with you has gifted me with a trip down memory lane. The unknown becoming the known again.  I look forward to the next campfire with my son and the stories we will share about these mysteries under the stars.

Living and Dying – Conversations with Aunt Patty

This holiday season I had the opportunity to spend two days with my Aunt Patty. Over the years, I have enjoyed wide ranging conversations with Patty in regard to religion, spirituality, and the philosophy of the Catholic Church.

We begin our discussion on the way to StAugustine Church. She discussed “The golden thread” that she began observing early in her career. (@ :22min). Great to be with Patty in her element! Exploring the true meaning of Christmas!

Saturday morning we chatted for about an hour together. On Sunday, I attended mass with her – my first time. We also recorded our conversation while driving to and from church and in the driveway of our vacation rental. I wish I could have had more time with her. I find her views both substantive and fascinating. Close to 35 years she has been a board certified chaplain (BCC).

“Go into the patient’s room as a blank slate. Let them write the story. It orients the chaplain to being receptive and lets the patient direct the dialogue. The patient feels supported and empowered. It helps the patient to walk through the hard time.” (@33:00 min)

Patty noted, “In health care it is well recognized: the physical, mental and spiritual… During physical crisis there are a lot of things, a lot of questions, the spiritual journey within them. The chaplain is there to facilitate whatever the person might want to talk about or prayer that the patient might want.”

As we conversed, other thoughts crystallized.  I felt grateful that we have people such as she to bring hope and peace to both the dying (and living) during the final weeks and days of life.  She discussed “The golden thread” that she observed early in her career. This underscores using of “recollection of life” as a modality to build rapport for a chaplain. The power of listening.

I was encouraged by Patty’s experience with the dying. It moved me to say, “these are messages that the living need to hear! ” Her volunteer work at her retirement community emphasizes – exploring life and death in the seasons – fall, winter, spring and summer.

In regard to the thread, Patty said, “Any light in the darkness is usually God. It was like the thread of the Holy Spirit working within this person’s life.  That led them to the place in their life that they are now facing eternity – with whatever they had lived and whatever questions that were left. Where they needed to bring resolution so that they could die in peace. To die in peace means that your heart is right with God.”

“One of the things I appreciate in the teachings of the Catholic Church… God only judges us with what we do with the light of Christ that we are given. God loved us first. He wakes up His life within us… Anyone, who’s heart is oriented to Him, at whatever level of knowledge that is – God is there. He’s always there.  When a person starts engaging with that, there is a process of growth and maturity in Him that takes place throughout our life.” (@ 21:00 min.)

I enjoyed our visit to St. Augustine Church in Lincoln City. Practically, one of us needed to shuttle Aunt Patty to Mass. But, I wanted to explore and recognize that which inspires her. We sat, knelled, read, prayed and sang. She explained each of the proceedings. I would have been lost without her. It all went by rather quickly. Patty said, “Wherever you are – you begin. Frequently, it’s the experience of the heart that helps a person to say – there might be something different here.” Hope. Repent. Joy. Peace. These “four themes of each Sunday leading up to Christmas Day” were hung on the wall with banners.

“The Eucharistic celebration is “one single act of worship” but consists of different elements, which always include “the proclamation of the Word of God; thanksgiving to God the Father for all his benefits, above all the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine, which signifies also our own transformation into the body of Christ; and participation in the liturgical banquet by receiving the Lord’s body and blood” – Wikipedia

Jason Silva: Shots of Awe. “The Three Mexican Deaths”. The first death is the death of innocence, when you first learn that you are mortal and one day you will die. This awareness is a kind of death. The second death is the moment you actually pass away. The third death is the last time someone says your name.

I love how naturally the concepts flow during our conversation. It ignited my curiosity to explore other churches and their traditions. Where might I find a natural fit if I was compelled to attend service each week? More to come…

It might be slightly natural to find ourselves askew when scrutinizing those who find service in professions of a higher calling. How well do we understand the constructs and framework of these disciplines? I knew nothing of the principles by which the chaplain operates. I have only scratched the surface in my brief moments with Patty this weekend.

On and off again, I dabble in “The Perennial Philosophy”, “a comparative study of mysticism by the British writer and novelist Aldous Huxley. Its title derives from the theological tradition of perennial philosophy.” It’s one of my favorite books. It’s very much like an anthology interlinked with commentary by Huxley.

I realized over the weekend I’ve never really put Huxley’s book into context for myself. Two days earlier, a few paragraphs from “Mortification, Non-Attachment, Right Livelihood” had resonated with me in a profound way – I thought it would be useful to run some concepts over with my Aunt. Our conversation affirmed what I had been reading:  I should discern between a clever intellectualism of God vs. a life filled with service and presence of God. Talk the talk vs. walk the walk.  

Did you know? The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world’s oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope.