Oneonta Gorge, 20X59, watercolor, Gary Buhler
John Galen Holliday MD keeps Discus fish.
He goes to the Amazon for them, distills
them out of the brown alluvial waters.
This morning, Doc is at the rail of the Big River Sprite, a steamboat.
He is once again traveling into the primitive to find God.
Fish are just an excuse. He does not know this consciously, yet.
He once saw a 20 foot Python take down a calf and swallow it whole.
They also easily do this to men, breath arrested, bones popping and snapping,
awful embrace, days of digestion.
Captive fish. Somewhere deep in the basin watershed one Discus
awaits, numinous, utter design, beauty, keeper of crops and fecundity,
water king, abiding, lending abundance to the valley
all the way to the ocean.
Where Doc is going the natives mix an hallucinatory powder and snort it.
The men travel to the realm of spirit and engage in epic battles
with the river snake, then, colossus, world serpent,
keeper of blessings and curses.
The women brew a potent black beer.
The men drink it when returning from their otherworldly escapades.
All the people casually chew coca leaves.
Doc drops a cigarette butt into the river.
His vision is clearing. He sees evidence of a Creator in this natural realm.
He considers photosynthesis and the food chain. Pitifully,
all he can see is savagery. For him, it is eat or be eaten.
Yet the day seems so real.
The hand of civilization has grasped the Achories.
The chief has a wristwatch. Several of the people
have contracted gonorrhea from oil company prospectors.
Doc brings antibiotics.
When will our John realize that he can find God in America, in New Orleans,
in his house on Dumaine Street, in his expensive massaging and vibrating recliner,
wherever he goes and everywhere because God is also within him, always?
When the Achories were discovered,
missionaries came. John G feels their influence is salutary.
He communicates with them when he is about to head upriver.
Doc would be washed by primal waters deep in the rain forest,
among aboriginal peoples, people who have never seen a white man,
and so take on a type of rebirth, something readily available
only on the level of the primitive, the abiding age of stone, visions
uncultured, rare, unwritten, existing before the taint of western technology
among friendly and flowing savages.
Two Achory men killed a missionary a few years back.
His name was Ronnie Blest. His murderers have since become Christians.
His wife still lives in the village off and on.
For Doc, the men will place stakes in shallow water
and loop a net around them. This net will be pushed down
to the river’s bottom. They will drop in leafy branches.
They will in some few days come back and raise the net high on the stakes,
take out the branches and with another net seine out the Discus fish.
Doc has taught them to do this, and he has equipped them.
One of the missionary pilots flew Doc upriver many miles to the ferry landing.
He talked about an undergirding world of spirit and an ongoing battle there.
“The enemy was defeated 2,000 years ago on Calvary,” he said.” God died
and rose back out of death. He conquered it, definitively.”
“You must believe in this,” said the missionary, “appropriate it.”
Doc wonders why a man or a woman would leave a comfortable life
and come to this remote and forbidding place. Why
would they push farther and farther back in the rain forest
just to share this news with people who otherwise might never hear it?
Missionaries even die, here, are murdered here.
Just now, Doc considers this a straightforward story of mayhem,
short moments of rest and then the battle– the river, the jungle, the lost peoples.
In about 15 years, John Galen will become a Catholic.
He will endure 9 serious years of addiction first. He will survive.
It would be better for him to be stranded among these primitive peoples
for those years. Even so, God has him confined to a small space, an ever shrinking world.
Life is happening to Doc, again. He will run down the years and die.
A prevenient will ensures his survival. Doc is a captive of grace.