An essay from 2018:
The Dragon Momma
In September of 2011, my friend Jason called and asked if I had heard of
“Yes, I was just reading about it last week.”
“Would you go down to Peru and take it with me?”
It was an interesting idea, but the probability of me going was low. I had
two young children and the thought of a ten day trip for personal
exploration didn’t seem prudent.
Once the call ended, I went downstairs and off-handedly told Michelle that
Jason wants to go to South America to try an indigenous spiritual
“You should go!”
“Do you even know what Ayahuasca is?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter, you need to do something.”
She was right. I was in a weird space in my life. I had one foot in one
door, and the other foot was in another galaxy.
The previous year, just out of the blue, I began making art. For 18 months
I went non-stop, compulsively making collages. They were well-received
and soon shown in local galleries.
I still had a regular gig, writing market feasibility studies for real estate
developers, but it was becoming more difficult to do, as each week
The excitement of something new unfolding and the confusion of
something old dying cancelled each other out, and I was stuck in between.
Perhaps a trip to Peru would be just the thing to free me up.
It is said within the Ayahuasca mythos that the Mother, or Madre
Ayahuasca, calls you when it is time meet her. Myth meets reality when
you pay attention to the details.
Two months before Jason’s call, I visited my parents who were living in
Ocean City, MD.
My father and I try to get along, but if not for the trying, there wouldn’t be
any “getting along.” However, he had been uncharacteristically supportive
towards my artistic endeavors.
He was excited to take me to a local artist whose work he said I would
like. My initial reaction was that it would be a waste of time as he doesn’t
know my tastes.
But “trying to get along" won out and I said, “Sure, sounds great, let’s
We drove to a dilapidated farm house, thirty minutes inland. Spread
across the overgrown yard was a collection of 1960s-inspired wooden
sculptures: magic mushrooms, Grateful Dead iconology, etc. Not exactly
my thing, but they were carved solely with a chainsaw, and that is a pretty
I walked the property out of courtesy, uninterested in the inventory.
And then I saw Her.
In the high grass, completely camouflaged, was a two-foot tall carving of a
My dad was right. There was something for me in this outdoor art gallery
and this was it.
I picked up the statue, brushed off the cobwebs and told my old man she
is coming home with me.
There wasn’t a price tag, so I knocked on the front door. A great big fella
answered, wearing ill-fitting overalls and nothing underneath. He was
easily 6’ 4”, 250 pounds and eating from a bag of Cheetos.
“Can I help you?”
His deep southern twang was music to my ears.
“Yes. What can you tell me about this piece?”
“That’s the Dragon Momma.”
“The Dragon Momma?” I questioned.
“Yes. You see, I was making the wing for a giant dragon statue. A chunk
of wood fell off and that is where She came from. Now look close, and
you’ll see she’s pregnant. She’s got a baby dragon in that belly.”
I didn’t know what dimension this guy resided in, but Slingblade was
speaking my language!
“Yeah….She’s been waiting a long time for you.”
I tried to keep my excitement close to the vest, so I nonchalantly asked
“What do mean by that?”
“I made her years back. No one’s ever looked at her, much less asked
about her. You’re the first. She’s been waiting for YOU.”
Perhaps he was trying to sell me, but it didn’t matter, I felt the pang of
destiny the moment I saw Her. I just had no idea of what would be the
nature of our relationship.
After Michelle and I talked it through, I called Jason back and told him I
was in. He and I spent the next two weeks researching ayahuasca retreat
centers and coordinating schedules. Everything was lining up effortlessly.
We would leave for Peru the Monday following Thanksgiving.
I knew that ayahuasca offered a deep, sometimes difficult, experience, and
after going through the medicine, you found yourself emotionally,
psychologically and spiritually clearer on the other side. l was excited
about the prospect of intense inner work.
However two things did give me anxiety about the trip: the travel and the
Most people who have travel concerns worry about dying: hijackings,
crashes and so forth. Statistically speaking, those fears are foolish. Mine,
on the other hand, were much more realistic: missed flights and lost
luggage. Admittedly they are only hassles, but there is a reason someone
came up with the term irrational.
I used to travel a lot for work and learned to overcompensate for my
apprehensions through meticulous planning. This trip was going to hit all
of my hot buttons, three train rides and three flights, each way. A whole lot
can go wrong with all of those moving parts.
My saving grace was that I was traveling with Jason. He was the flip side
of the dysfunctional travel coin. He didn’t plan enough. One time he was
going on a big family cruise for his father’s birthday. When everyone
arrived at the airport to fly down to Florida, he realized that he left his
wallet at home and said go down without me and I will find you
somewhere in Florida. No sweat. That is just how he rolls. And it usually
works out for him. I knew together we would be unstoppable travel mates.
My second concern was tarantulas. In the grand scheme, they only held a
small space in my inner world’s dungeon, but the last thing I needed was
to carry underlying spider resentment into the jungle and ingest a strong
psychotropic substance. Those buggers would undoubtedly hear my
worry and come crawling.
It was now October and Halloween was around the corner. My boys were
five and six and synchronistically hung large cut-outs of spiders on the
I approached the spider situation through an informal mind game.
After the boys would go to bed, I would sit facing the symbolic tarantulas
and stare. As I relaxed, my imagination became clearer and I envisioned
the spiders coming alive. They climbed across the floor, onto my lap and
then all over me.
Each night I did that, my inner visions became more real, and the charge
around spiders became less and less. Eventually I reached the point
where, if I saw I tarantula in my bed in Peru, I wouldn’t have cared.
Everything was set until Jason called in the first week of November.
“Hey Bro, I got bad news, I don’t think I can make it to Peru. But you
should definitely go without me. It will be a great adventure.”
Part of the dance of being overly-rational yet afflicted by an irrational fear
is the need to hide it. You don’t want anyone else in on your crazy, so I
played it cool.
“That sucks. What’s going on?”
“They moved the Lieutenant’s test to the same week of our trip. If I miss it,
I would have to wait a year for the next chance to take it.”
Jason is a professional fire fighter. In order to move up the career ladder,
certain tests must be passed. This was one of them. Obviously he had to
do what he had to do.
“No worries, Jay. I am going to miss doing this with you, but I get it.”
The Dragon Momma has the uncanny ability to sniff out all your
vulnerabilities and provide the opportunity to face them head-on. She was
going to make me travel to the jungle by myself to meet her. Fighting it
would only make it worse.
I spent the next week preparing for the solo trip the same way I
approached the spiders: imagining the worst case scenarios and
becoming comfortable with them.
This was much harder. The charge was stronger. But I kept at it and
eventually surrendered to the circumstances. It really isn’t that big of a
deal, people do it everyday. I can do this, I kept telling myself.
Then Jason called back.
“False alarm, Bro. They didn’t move the test after all. We are going Peru!”
The trip down was a piece of cake, until the final leg: the flight from Lima
Sure enough, Jason didn’t plan in advance and needed to purchase his
ticket at the airport. I on the other hand bought mine online weeks before.
After he got his ticket, we got in the line to check-in.
When we reached the check-in desk, I handed over my proof of purchase.
The attendant give me a disappointed look.
“I am sorry sir, but this isn’t a ticket, it is a reservation to purchase a ticket.
You will need to through that line, buy a ticket, then come back here. But
don’t worry, there is a ticket reserved for you.”
The problem was, our flight was scheduled to leave in less than an hour
and now the ticket line was twice as long as it was when Jason went
Jason and I to parted ways. There was no need for both of us to possibly
miss the flight. He shouted “See you in Puculpa!” as he walked town the
hallway. He didn’t have much confidence I would make the flight.
It took awhile, but I made it through the purchase line and then through
check-in. I had 15 minutes to get through security and find the gate on the
other side of the airport.
I could feel the Dragon Momma smiling as my travel nightmare was
coming to life. This wasn’t torture, but a test: she wanted to know how I
Luckily the check-in attendant made a call and got me through security
quickly. I had 8 minutes to find my gate and board the plane.
I have watched people run through the airport many times, as I sat
comfortably and calmly in the terminal. Now the shoe was on the other
The attendant’s graciousness struck again, and she called to have the
plane held for me. I made it. As I walked down the aisle to my seat,
located in the last row, I passed Jason. He was stretched out in the
emergency aisle, deep in sleep without a care in the world.
And you know what? He was right.