I felt the wormhole moving towards me from the moment I saw the invite on Facebook – Alex and Allyson Grey as headliners with a gathering of veteran visionary live painters manifesting their art right before our eyes, and one of my personal favorite musicians who I had not seen live yet, Bluetech. These are artists who experiment with going beyond to tap into what’s coming. They create from and as a catalyst to accessing liminal space – the place between, where what was is dissolving, and that which is becoming has not fully formed yet, and offer us a taste of their visionquest through their art. They represent my perception of a possibility for festival culture as a whole, building on the platform of the music festival scene as a springboard for collective awakening of consciousness through a shared spiritual experience of creativity and community, where we support and inspire each other to awaken our unique potentials and collaborate to evolve together as a whole.
“Visionary art, to me, is art where the artist enters into a union with the divine and becomes a conduit for divine energy to pass through and express itself outwardly into the world in which we live in,” elucidates Sam Farrand, prolific leader in the Northeast visionary art movement and Senior Graphic Designer for Great North Music & Arts Festival. “The art then can then act as a doorway/portal where both the artist and viewer can enter into the same sacred space that the artist experienced when he/she first created the art. Visionary art makes it possible for us to connect with the sacred and have the same experience as another person bearing witness of a collective consciousness rooted in love.”
I stepped forward into the pull.
I mean, it was a rager, no doubt. That’s kind of how we do it in the Northeast. Our very ecosystem is a balance of accentuated extremes, and there we were, running into the edge of summer. Yet it was more than just another epic party for the books. Between idealism and current reality, there is a gulf we can play in. Great North held seeds of transformation. And we watered them.
I arrived at the gate at twilight, one week after the Autumnal Equinox. Pivoting between the light and the dark, opening into the space between. The sun was beginning to set and one of my favorite Bluetech tracks, “667″ off Rainforest Reverberation, happened to be on my iPod. I had been here before, at Last Breath Farm in Norridgewock, Maine last year for Heads in Harmony. It rained pretty much solid the entire time and ended up a mudpit of which local farmers charged big money to tow people out. This was the same place, but wasn’t the same place. We were all a year wiser, and the sun was shining, the weather was sweet… Crimson and tangerine were popping out in the trees and across the sky, while shadows were spreading along the ground. The energy was electric, as the creatures that come out at night felt the shifting and began to awaken.
Immediately I saw friends everywhere, and it felt like a great homecoming. I love traveling alone and going places where I know lots of people. I can have my own experience AND interconnect, on my own time. Some of the first I encountered were Tom Jenks and Ben Keating and their renegade art bus camp on the hill, looking badass with their facemasks while busily stenciling and spray painting passionately. Across the horizon of the festival common, I spied the great green Teapee of the Teaman Phillip Boisvert and his Moon Dream Tea Company, where I found my wily side-kick Gnome Fire.
The Cyborg Trio was just beginning their set, which held an interesting significance for me. During their set on the Main Stage last year at Heads, I took a nap in my car parked nearby and had visionary psychedelic dreams to their soundscapes that left me forever in love with their music. Their unique style of progressive jamtronica takes you on a journey inside yourself to lands only your mind combined with their improvisation can evoke. The Electric Avenue Stage was a tiny tent, and if you stood stage right near Sammy B. on his drums, you could hear the electric bass of Eric Dudevoir and synth induced beats of Tim Nickerson coming from the speakers at the back of the tent as if you had on headphones. Truly a surround sound surrealist experience. And the wormhole opened deeper.
We wandered back to check out The Makepeace Camp, which consisted of a collection of open tents tucked into the woods complete with art supplies, a trapeze and a fire pit. The Makepeace Camp is a collection of artists and healers dedicated to providing a safe gathering place and offering workshops at festivals in the memory of Alisha Makepeace, who was from way up north in Maine, which made Great North a special place for their debut. We were offering yoga and partner acrobatics together over the weekend, and I wanted to drop in and say hello.
We made our first of many stops at the Teapee at the head of the camp, where Teaman was playing music and projecting images on the walls of his teepee tent filled with blankets and pillows converted from old concert t-shirts. He had a large pyrex measuring cup filled with his five yerba mate blend, mixed with an assortment of “euphoric stimulants” of the non-psychoactive variety: catuaba bark, roses, and oolong tea, all accessed through a shared white plastic bombilla, or perforated straw, that let us all get up close and personal with each other, as well as enjoy the aromatic scent of the roses wafting from the blend. Teaman informed us that roses were a commonly used aphrodisiac before the time of routinely used pesticides, and lovers would just eat them whole to enhance their lovemaking, which is how they became associated with love. Rawr! We drank more tea. Teaman kept adding to the mash, so that by the end of the weekend there was almost no room for water and you had to poke around with the straw to find pockets of liquid hiding in the mix. This kept many of us virile for the length of the festival – all on the generosity of the Teaman.
A gathering of the faithful headed down to the Electric Avenue Stage to see veteran festival favorites Blue Boy Productions. We assembled on stage right, waiting in rapt anticipation as Alex Russo negotiated with the sound guys to access the perfect balance. Chris Narainen casually played his drums like the master jazz drummer he is, seemingly in no hurry whatsoever. One of us called out, “This is horny music!” as we eagerly bounced around, ready to do the dance. And then suddenly BOOM! The music jumped into the space. Easily one of the most talented drummers out there, watching Narainen drum is a work of art in itself. Smile at him sometime, and he will make eye contact and smile back – he is totally conscious, even in the zone. All four limbs moving independently with a seemingly effortless grace, his floating left hand syncopating perfectly with the brilliance of Russo’s production.
We slipped out near the end to check out Mr. Lif setting up on the Main Stage. Even his soundcheck was music. It reminded me of an impromptu guitar lesson I had with kirtan musician Girish, who suggested that even when practicing, make it sound beautiful. And my friend Cammie who taught me that even the way I place the cans in my pantry is aesthetic, is art. Mr. Lif lived this. He was quite a stylish fellow in his unique way, suit and tie way up here in the woods of Maine. He was getting a lot of feedback on his bullet mic; Gnome Fire says it is hard for many sound technicians who aren’t familiar with hip-hop artists to mix the sound right because the mic is shifting back and forth a lot and changing volume. Eventually Mr. Lif started to lose his patience, pocketed the bullet mic, and called out, “Party people, want to get this started? Take your b-boy and b-girl stance!”
There was a lot of the requisite demands for putting our hands in the air and waving them from side to side, and “Everybody scream!” Which, some of us did. And as the set went on, his magnetic personality gradually engaged the crowd more and more, almost like a sneak attack. He disarmed us and drew us in with his kind-of-goofy-yet-serious-about-it delivery – “Those are the best ones,” wisely quips Gnome Fire – then stung us with potent, honest lyrics that made you think. He ended with an experimental first time live band performance with bass and keys, leaving us feeling wiser, inspired, and more awake for the experience.
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At this point the imbalance of too much mate and not enough food started to take its toll. We ate along the blacklit art path underneath a giant red amoebic sculpture hanging from the trees behind our campsite. The chicken wire and red plastic streamer sculpture is called Bloom Bloom and is the MFA traveling thesis project of Dana Harper of the Parachute Troupe. Bloom Bloom is whatever you want it to be; it alternately looked to me like a giant forest mushroom cap or a sea anemone. You could look right through it up into the trees illuminated with a shifting palette of colors that felt like you were under water.
As we ate D.V.S* played the first of his numerous collaborative sets, accompanied by The Cyborg Trio and then with drummer Jules Jensen of the former Higher Organix turned Search:Party. When Derek came on stage, he introduced himself as RJD2 to the uninitiated and claimed, “I’m not supposed to play tonight but I’m going to anyway,” and later informed us, “I know you’re all fucked up, but I’m going to play some pretty shit.” Which we, at least, appreciated.
The two main stages were pretty close together, yet without sound disturbance, and the sets were mostly offset. We hopped back and forth at will and managed to catch a sampling of Freddy Todd‘s super groovy set, highlighted by the funkadelic of the projection against his wild attire. By this point the dance was thoroughly dancing us.
The Neighborhood Stage was down a little lane, at the back of the common in a sandpit area. Those Mainahs go fuhkin hahd, especially slippin’ and spinnin’ and breakin’ in the sandbox. Midas and Bookem were a highlight, having at least as good of a time as everyone watching them, playing back and forth off each other. Midas was also playing a rave down in Massachusetts this weekend too, so they were especially excited since he made the journey way back up here to play with us as well.
ill-esha gave the vibe of someone who loves the music so much that she can’t help but get out there and share it with us. Her effulgent enjoyment was contagious. We loved watching her loop herself singing and then rap over it; she the producer of herself as a instrument. She embodies the perfect balance of pretty voice and badass nasty drops, and displays a positive example of an empowered female musician in the mostly male pantheon of the scene. It was interesting to watch the dynamic of boys fancy dancing at the front of the stage, vying for her attention. One even offered her a beer which she politely refused. She was there for the beats. Thank you ill-esha, we were too.
It was 3:30 AM., and we were lucid as Evan Bartholomew, a.k.a. Bluetech, took the stage. He had a calm demeanor that reflects the steady pace of his music that sways like the kelp forests and carries a continuous heartbeat. There was a palpable stillness in the crowd up front, a reverence. We knew this was something special. The liquid projection the perfect visual representation of the flowing spaciousness of his sound, as was the unspiraling vision of Adam Psybe opening up across the canvas prominently placed on the stage.
“Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars,” I recalled Mr. Lif saying, as I stepped out from under the tent and looked up, the depth of the stars suspended in the dark, dark Maine sky. A spaciousness opened up inside of me as I began to move, slow and fluid – music, movement, and nature the catalysts for my visionquest. I felt a deep peace, that everything that had ever happened had led up to this very moment. The clear sound felt like it was arising right from the air around me and permeating my entire being.
In moments like this I feel completely alive, and not in the way that grasps for more of these moments. In a way that sustains me through everything else I go through. I touch something that is eternal, and is forever with me. The fat crescent moon flirting with Venus, LED hoopers spinning all around me, a fire trick bmx bike bouncing on the hill. Nowhere else to go, and nothing else to do. This is why we are here.
My friends lay down a blanket behind me, and I melted right down into it just as Bluetech started to play “667,” the very song that had been on my iPod as I arrived. The sound of push-pull, the ecstatic longing that is complete in itself. That has no resolution. And just keeps pulsing. 6,6… 7. Swaying in an eddy. Released, taken by the current into the space between. Then swirled into the loop of the next eddy. And on and on. Until I was spontaneously drawn back up to the front of the stage just as the set was coming to a close. Thanks, Evan.
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We found ourselves at the firepit at The Makepeace Camp as the sun was rising, basking in the resonance. And then we fell into sleep, to dream to the sounds of people playing all around us. We awoke to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, The Beastie Boys, and improvisational jazz from the Teapee next door. I floated for a long time in the space between sleep and wake, the sounds shaping the landscape of my dreams. Then, it was time for yoga.
Ken the sound guy graciously played Bluetech’s The Divine Invasion for us over the main stage speakers, and said someone came up and thanked him for playing it. As we practiced, Jason Bild Smith brought his crystal sculptures to life right beside us, and Bill Griffith captured the sacred geometry of our circle dance from above as his drone copter affixed camera flew amongst us. Creatures appeared all around us as the graffiti of Portland’s infamous Mike Rich and his tag-team counterparts came to life across the festival green. My senses, visual and olfactory, were continuously drawn to the vibrant world of Yedi Fresh unfolding on the cubes just behind us near the mainstage.
At one point I looked up, and even though it didn’t seem that windy in the mid-field, a giant blue tarp and several plastic bags swirled above us due to wind currents, like migrating birds of prey, reminding me of the island of trash deep in the pacific ocean. It was surreal, and we were so deep in yoga that the implications of this didn’t fully hit me until later.
We ended in a circle savasana center field that reconnected us to the deep peace of the original yoga practice after the wildness of the partner acrobatics. The partner stuff can get a little chaotic at times, and yet also allows us to share a tactile experience of metta ~ of love and kindness without grasping, of interconnectedness without attachment. In a safe and respectful way. Which I think is what a lot of us are seeking. As Kyle Burtman put it, “We playfully bond with total strangers, and then you’re not strangers anymore!”
Down at the Electric Avenue stage Search:Party, still billed as Higher Organix out of familiarity, was joined by D.V.S* as the revolving extra member this time, and went hard with a decidedly Primus-y sound. Brian Ross is a force, with long and lanky fingers exploding all over the bass, incredibly energizing to watch. The cast of characters here was fascinating too. The hot mamas gathered together, dressed pretty and tough, overlooking the scene. The dude with the Shiva backpack and green knickers over purple animal print pants rolled up to expose the cookie monster lining, double staffs pounding the earth in a ritualistic witchdoctor moshpit manner. Probably me and Oscar doing the back-and-forth backbend dance. My favorite was the guy in the Grateful Dead tie-dye and khakis who was completely taken and danced by the music. So freaking authentically present and loving it. Afterwards he was lying on the grass, savasana style with the most beatific smile on his face. He almost has his PhD in computer science and likes coming to these fests “from time to time.”
“You can’t be too square” he smiled. That’s right, brother. We are all our own shape.
Sleep reached up and pulled me into her arms for awhile, and I awoke to the sounds of RJD2 next to me on the main stage. “He is a turntablist ninja, the perfect symbiosis between man and machine,” Erik O’Connell excitedly explained, “All this scratching is live! Nobody does that anymore.”
Ramble John (RJ) Krohn danced between four turntables, mixing his own beats with primarily old hip-hop records. The way the lights were set up, it appeared he was reaching into a glowing cave of kryptonite as he grabbed new records from his stash. The climax came when he played his biggest hit “Ghostwriter” and the original record he has been playing for all these years broke! Erik claimed it was because we gave him so much energy it just exploded. Kinda felt like maybe. He will remember us, and have to buy a new record.
ill.Gates fascinated me with his polished rawness. From brilliantly utilized pop-rap samples of Macklemore and Eminem, to visuals reminiscent of video games and anime, to the tilt of his headphones underneath his dreaded ponytail with checkerboard-shaved-scalp-mohawk – he is a perfected incorporation of pop culture with a mischievous twist. And people lose it over his drops. My buddy Billy was throwing down so hard when I joined him front and center stage to check out all of the hype. He burst out ecstatically, “I am gonna need yoga tomorrow after this! I saved all my energy for this set.” Physical yoga, among other things, is maintenance to help us keep dancing.
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The artist tent was buzzing while Beats Antique was playing, with Alex and Allyson Grey painting and chatting with the crowd that continuously circulated around them. At some points there were around 30 people dancing under the tent around the 3d video mapped cubes of Sting Ray Bob, bathed in projection and deep in the full audio video sensory experience that was Great North. It was a happening.
Live painting and visionary art have been infiltrating the scene for awhile, and at some Transformational Festivals this summer like Gratifly and Rootwire, there were 30 or more painters at one time lining the stages during some sets. This growing sub-genre of the “Transformational Festival” is emerging across the country – festivals that are expanding on the platform of primarily electronic music festival culture to include an equal balance of music, art and workshops to facilitate an experience that allows us to grow individually and evolve as a whole. Yet the intentional inclusion of live visionary visual art as a headlining focus at Great North was something unique and progressive for us in the Northeast music festival scene.
“I think the role of visionary arts in the Transformational scene is to serve as a type of doorway where one can instantaneously enter into a sacred realm and bring back information that can serve as a catalyst to help evolve the human race into a more symbiotic existence,” describes Sam Farrand. “Great North has a strong dedicated team of individuals who are professional and passionate about what they do. Their overall vision is very much in line with other Transformational Festivals across the country and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Great North as the leading Transformational Festival in the Northeast”.
Farrand debuted his delicately intricate work, “Love Prevails” revealing his subtle vision of the invisible underlying energetic geometric matrix swirling in emotion and nature. His display also included a 5 foot print of “Phantasmagoria,” shifting to the pulse of RGB light to create alternate realities right in front of our eyes.
Andy Reed brought his prismatic visions of infinite geometry from Asheville, NC via Symbiosis Gathering, contributing his artwork and experience as a veteran of Transformational Festivals across the country.
Fellow live visionary nomad Adam Psybe, who painted onstage with Bluetech the night before and whose art is featured by musicians such as Shpongle and Ott, among others, in their merchandise and posters, came from Brooklyn, sharing his mesmerizing paintings manifesting universes into form from light emanating at the center. Tattoo artist and contemporary digitally influenced impressionist painter Chase Hanna came up from Connecticut, as did Mary Murph, who describes her experience of live painting as, “a purely symbiotic experience, feeding while being fed by the surrounding atmosphere. As much as the pristine sounds crawling from the stage magically move my creative juices out my fingertips and down into the bristles on a brush, so do the fluid movements surrounding the stage in beautiful human form, as does the light bulb coming from inside of each painter’s heart! Everyone is part of the continuous creative flow. In all honesty, is it both humbling and empowering.”
Seasoned live painter Kai Griffiths, who came from Worcester with his partner and companion live painter Alyssa Woodcock, articulated it well, “It is really special having us all together under this tent. Usually we are spread out all over the field. It is really a sign of love and respect – this is really unusual for the East coast. When I see the guy who put all this together, I’m going to give him a big hug.” In the meantime, I hugged him on the spot.
And their visions unfolded long into the night…
Without Zoe, Beats Antique‘s focus was more on the beats, and people were dancing so enthusiastically that many were sweaty even in their minimalist belly dance attire way up in the autumn woods of Maine. Up front during this set was outrageous. Thank you beautiful dancers for giving the sound form.
After Beats the evening shifted down to the bowl of the Electric Avenue Stage, where Phutureprimitive stepped up and laid down his visceral primal drops, a highlight being the remix of “Mad World” from Donnie Darko which is probably one of my favorite remixes, period.
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Govinda showed up with Wobblesauce and our LiS brother Hernan, who wasn’t even planning on coming but was swept up in the momentum after the Boston Seafood Festival, where both acts had played earlier that day. Govinda didn’t know he was playing that night until 15 minutes before, and stepped right up on that stage in the whirlwind of just arriving, pulled out his violin and said something to the effect of, “Are you ready for this?,” and let loose a wildfire of vibrant gypsy energy that uplifted and swirled the crowd. I have been playing his music during yoga since I started teaching, so it is always exciting for me to bask in his soundscapes live.
D.V.S* came out and played with Wobblesauce, and Govinda stayed around and danced with us through Orchard Lounge into the early morning, “when the sunrise passed him by.” By this time I was losing my vitality, so I retreated to the comforts of my sleeping chamber in my car to rejuvenate.
I awoke slowly and lay in the liminal space between wake and sleep for awhile, conscious in subconscious, bathed in the gorgeous soundwaves of Matt Carey’s psychedelic world house seeping in from the main stage. I was still tired, but was done sleeping. I could feel a shifting inside me, a deepening of perspective into something I wasn’t able to see yet, pushing up against a resistance I hadn’t known was there. It wasn’t entirely comfortable. Instead of fighting it, I started to do what I often suggest other people do – inhale the sensation, especially when it contains a sense of overwhelm, and exhale the tension, the resistance. Allow the lesson being shown to integrate.
Just as I began breathing this way, Matt Carey called out over the festival green ~inhale love, exhale gratitude. So I did. And my eyes popped open and I smiled. And jumped out of the car.
The sun is shining, the weather is sweet. Makes you wanna move your dancing feet…
I danced and prayed through the dance as the shift moved through me. And it still is.
To the rescue!Here I am!
It was Sunday morning redemption.
“A lot of my sets feel like a giant prayer,” Matt contemplated when I told him of my experience. “I remember each time I looked up into the crowd seeing people doing yoga, dancing, relaxing, hooping, painting, interacting with friends, etc. and feeling collectively connected in solidarity with the spirits of divine creation. We were all vibing out on a beautiful sunny afternoon, raising our consciousness together and having a damn good time doing it!”
One kid, who was obviously having an experience, started picking up cigarette butts and trash as his dance. It got wilder, and eventually he was doing his own style of freeform gymnastics from the beams underneath the stage. As the set ended, the kid bellowed, “Thank You!” to the crowd. “I don’t even know what I’m feeling,” he announced, “But I’m feeling! For the first time in my life!” Definitely feeling the love, it was pretty big and bright that morning.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Carey played for 2 1/2 hours! Time feels like it stands still sometimes in the wormhole, even while you are accelerated on your journey… No where to go but be here. The late night seems to have also had an effect on Alex and Allyson Grey, who apparently overslept their 10 A.M. presentation. So Matt just kept playing. Adaptation. And we inhaled as love the gratitude he was exhaling, and offered it right back. Symbiosis. Synthesis. Evolution.
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I wandered around between sets and encountered Richard Martel wearing a purple dragonfly mobile made by Billy Parent and Jess Wilkinson that they were raffling to raise donations to stock The Makepeace Camp with food and art supplies. Alisha Makepeace resonated with dragonflies, who are symbolic of the connection between life and the afterlife, and have become significant to those who were close to Alisha as a connection with her.
“We want to keep her dream alive with The Makepeace Camp” offered Jess, “To create a safe, secure environment for everyone.”
Which is the essence of what I took from what Alex and Allyson said during their presentation too. They spoke of art as spiritual practice, and heralded the inspirational role of live visionary visual art as an important contribution of festival culture, affectionately referred to as the “lovetribe.”
“Painting is a demonstrative art. People can see it’s not all that difficult. There is hair on the end of a stick, and you dip it in some goo and start moving it around,” Alex humorously described, articulating that visionary art is “revealing in physical form what we see within. We can’t get a camera in there yet. It is a reflected form of the vision of the eyewitness,” who has gone on visionquest and brought back what was shown through their art.
He paraphrased Otto Rank, a colleague of Freud, suggesting that neurosis is caused by unexpressed creativity. “Art allows us to become aware of our shadows and transcend them by putting them into form so we don’t get obsessed. It gets the monster out of the box, and then we can turn the page,” Alex explained. ”In this way art evolves consciousness,” he stated. “The artist is a reflector/reflection of the creator, in the way you interpret/express what you experience. It inspires those around you. Painting is our ministry.”
Although they primarily spoke of art as the catalyst, they also discussed taking “sacrament,” referring to their well known use of entheogens, psychoactive substances taken in supportive settings with intention to access vision, or the divine. They expressed their perspective that we live in an anti-sacramental society, where those who choose to take sacrament are an oppressed minority. They proposed that “anti-hippy” sentiment is akin to racism, and it only happens because we let it. That we are “on the frothy edge of aliveness” and “pushing the edge” by gathering together and creating a spiritual family of choice that supports us to find our creative expression and live it, which really resonated with the crowd.
The balance of the darker side of substance use marked an interesting definition to their talk in this setting, as it was clear by late Sunday afternoon that not everyone who went the route of psychoactives was taking sacrament. And not everyone who was experiencing visionquest had utilized psychoactive substance. Between black and white, there is a lot of grey area…
“Continuously evolve yourself, hold yourself to your highest possibility, your creative kernel the seeds we give to the world,” they encouraged us. “You get your present from the future you’re pointing into.”
As Alex and Allyson signed autographs in a small tent next to the main stage, we retreated to the festival green to make art with our bodies through partner acrobatics. We ended just in time, the colors shifting in the sky as we collapsed to the ground for our final yogic cuddle puddle.
I gathered my mats and retreated to my car cave as the last fingers of light retracted behind the horizon, and the earth turned into darkness once more, to sleep and dream to the sound journeys of Papadosio…
I awoke to silence and mist. People were gradually beginning to load their friends and belongings for the drive back out of the wormhole and into the rest of our lives. To allow our visionquest to integrate and share it in all the communities we are a part of, whatever and wherever that may be. Kyle Burtman remarked how grateful he was that the festival organizers allowed people to stay until Monday. “Some festies make you leave on Sunday, yet some people want to stay and enjoy that day without having to worry about driving home.”
We at The Makepeace Camp remember how important it is to be able to sleep before you drive.
Thanks Great North, for giving the “lovetribe” a safe home for the weekend, an incredible array of music to chew on, and the space to work through another layer of our awakening. Between idealism and current reality, there is a gulf we can play in. Seeds of transformation were planted here, to grow deep inside us through the dark of the winter, to makepeace with our shadows and help them grow into light.
‘Till next time y’all.
*** I tumble out of the wormhole on the other side ***
~ and offer this vision to you ~
featured image at top ~ “The Everlasting Knowitall” by Maine native Douglas Lakota