For as long as I can remember, I have been a lucid dreamer and a nightmare purveyor. From the earliest age, I’ve tiptoed carefully into the night, joining with deities and the dead to walk dark worlds and see the unseen.
One night several years ago, I woke up not knowing where I was, or who I was. As I came to, I could not recall my name, where I was living, or anything else. It took several seconds to gather these pieces. My boyfriend of that time was standing by the window, looking at me in a different way than ever before.
I acted as if I just had the most refreshing night’s sleep, as though everything was normal, but he seemed unnerved. Small talk wasn’t shaking the shock from him, so I simply addressed it.
“I don’t know where I went,” I said.
He gave me a sideways glance. “You were gone. Gone,” he said. “You went somewhere. You left.”
He was right. I had left but I didn’t know why, or where I’d traveled to. I was used to it. From my earliest days, sleeping and awake had always been fluid, like two sides of the same coin.
Western New York, where I was born, is known for its bizarre and severe weather. There was something about the animate weather and my lucid dreaming that seemed to give me deeper sight into the elements, land, and spirit world. These forces were alive with conversation, and with stories, often involving indigenous peoples present even before white settlers came.
As a Caucasian girl raised in a Roman Catholic family, I didn’t know much about indigenous peoples for my first four years. But standing on the edge of an ancient ravine one afternoon with my father, I would learn.
He held my hand as I took in the presence of tree adults, land elders, river siblings, and Mother Sun all around us. I listened to these elemental forces of my nature family conversing energetically about something that was coming toward us. Wary, I inched in closer to my dad and looked up for reassurance. He had a peaceful smile on his face, like he was receiving the beauty of Mother Nature. Feeling better, I looked through the spaces between the tree trunks in front of us, waiting to see what was coming.
In the distance, I heard voices of Indigenous men coming down the river. They were intoning a low, rhythmic chant that caused my tree relatives to bend and wave wildly in the wind. It was as if the men arriving had stirred something, either alarm, or reverence, or both.
The elemental forces whipped and bent things more dramatically. Somewhat frightened, I drew in closer to my father. My tiny, outstretched arm began to tingle from my dad holding it up for so long, but I kept my eyes fixed on the spaces between the trees as the harmonic chanting got closer and the tip of a canoe came into view.
More of the canoe appeared, until I could see all of it and six larger-than-life, Indigenous men in full brightly colored headdresses. The air was scented from their leathery, worn clothes. In awe, I watched as they glided into view, three facing the center on either side.
Bracing myself because the luring chants pulled me into a different state, I found it hard to look away. My tree relatives began groaning under the force of the gravity, to which they seemed to relinquish control.
Pressing closer to my father’s leg, feeling the warmth of his jeans on my cold cheek, I continued to peek out from beneath my eyelids. One of the men looked at me with intention, as if the boat had slowed to traverse with me at a precise moment in time.
I looked back at him, and his intense gaze locked into mine. His movements toward me were like that of a crouching animal waiting to pounce. His eyes grew gaping wide, and in an instant, he leaped … into me.
With no way to understand this, I looked up at my dad, whose face held the same expression as if nothing had passed. The canoe drifted down the river and out of view.
My mother’s voice called out from a distance. “Come on you two,” she motioned toward her.
When we reached the car, I slid in along the long vinyl seat in front to be between the safety of my mom and dad. I could see my nature relatives returning slowly to the present moment and was reassured by the familiar bickering and tussling sounds of my sisters in the back seat.
As we pulled out of the gravel-strewn parking lot, I began talking about “the Indians in the canoe” with the same kind of dramatic mannerisms as my nature family just a few moments before. My dad stopped the car to look over at my mother with a confused glance. He was shaking his head, ‘no.’
“She sounds so sure,” my mother said to him.
My dad continued to shake his head. I continued to describe what I’d seen in detail without mentioning what had happened. A part of me was hoping they’d seen the Indigenous men on the river too.
“There were no Indians on the river,” they shared, looking at one another for backup.
“Sometimes our minds play tricks on us,” my dad said.
“It means you have a vivid imagination,” my mother added.
Even as a five-year-old, I knew this was beyond their scope of understanding. I felt a strong urge to protect them too, and to keep what I’d experienced to myself. On the way home, I remained attentive and sweet, but inside I was grappling with deep philosophical and theological questions that I had no vocabulary yet to unpack.
A key question was whether I was still part of my own family, or now part of this indigenous tribe. Did he jump into me in that momentary encounter, or was I taken into them?
For days afterward, I tried to see if anything about me had changed. What I noticed was an awareness of a deeply intimate space within me—almost like a distant and sacred land—that gave me access to a different kind of knowing, to an ancient, indigenous way of perceiving and being in the world.
Over time, I would become what some may call “a seer” who experiences lucid dreams, premonitions, visitations, and more. And at times, I’d have precious shamanic experiences that would “happen upon me.” These allowed me to time travel and world walk, often creating great healing and catharsis from issues in my past or present life.
These shamanic encounters led me to challenge societal beliefs about dominating Mother Earth, exploitation, scientific rationalism, three-dimensional space and time, linear thinking, patriarchal hierarchies, and other ideas.
The happening on the river facilitated a journey to awareness, deepening my relationship to self, others, and the natural world. It was foundational for developing another perspective, and for my unique relationship to Spirit, which has served me and blessed me.