In the Everglades of Florida, the more fish you catch, the more you draw gators. They try to steal them off your line, and the more they succeed, the more aggressive they get until they work themselves into a feeding frenzy. This particular spot is way back in the woods and seldom fished. I could pull out oscars on nearly every cast, and I’ve never seen so many big, old, gators in one pond. They came swarming! When I shot this, I didn’t have my good camera or a tripod with me, so I had to do what I could with my iPhone. I’m heading back out however this morning, however, properly equipped in hopes to capture better footage more professionally. Stay tuned!
While on a meditation retreat at the ashram of Amma Sri Karunamayi in India during the winter of 2019-2020, I began spontaneously and frequently shouting out the name “Hanuman” during my meditation practices. I knew that Hanuman was the monkey-faced deity in Hinduism, but that was really all I knew. And so I prayed that I wanted to get to know Hanuman. During that same retreat, Amma mentioned the sacred epic poem the “Ramayana” in which Hanuman is a central character, saying that it is a great blessing to anyone who reads it. Just a couple weeks later while still in India visiting Arunachala, I went to see Anubodh the celebrated flute maker to purchase another bansuri. As Anubodh came to the gate to let me in, I heard him peacefully singing a beautiful song. Upon asking him what he was singing, he answered, “The Hanuman Chalisa”. Then immediately upon arriving back in the US, I started reading the Ramayana as Karunamayi had recommended. I was absolutely moved, inspired, comforted, and uplifted through reading the Ramayana, perhaps moreso than any other book I’ve read in my life time. Near the end of the book, with my heart brimming, I read the words: “And now you know Hanuman.” My prayer had been answered.
Full of gratitude and inspiration, I began memorizing the Hanuman Chalisa, which consists of forty verses and takes about 10-12 minutes to sing. I found many different sung versions with different rhythms and melodies on the internet, but felt particularly drawn to the version I found sung by Lata Mangeshkar. I liked both the chord changes and melody, and learning it seemed within grasp of my limited knowledge of Indian music. Since both the language and sense of melodic phrasing was foreign to me, I admittedly tried to copy every nuance of her articulation and phrasing. When it came to actually recording the song, I took liberties with the instrumental arrangement, both simplifying it and adding some of my own style and sensibilities. I finished memorizing the Chalisa in early July of 2020 on the very day I started living in my van as a nomad, and have sung it everyday since as part of my daily devotions. I recorded the song in January 2021 at my parent’s house in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania while home for the holidays.
But recording the song wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to make a video expressing my joy and love for God as an offering to both Lord Hanuman and to Amma Sri Karunamayi, Sita herself, whose grace is responsible for introducing me to her beloved Hanumanji, the protector of poets. I set back out on the road continuing my nomadic van life in late February 2021, and headed straight for the Everglades of south Florida, a place I have been coming to for many years that feels magical and sacred to me. This place is teeming with Life and is like Eden to me. However there are no monkeys here to film, nor are there Hindu temples and iconography. Yet throughout my whole life I’ve felt that nothing in the material world reflects the truth, beauty, and grace of God as much as Wilderness and Nature. So it felt quite fitting to make this video for Hanuman using footage of the natural world as the central subject.
I spent the whole month of March exploring and getting to know the Everglades more deeply while recording footage all the while. It was a learning process in many ways. I got to know the creatures and their habits more deeply, carefully contemplating them through the camera’s eye. I also had to learn how to use my new Lumix G85 camera that I bought myself for Christmas with this and other projects in mind. I spent of lot of my time bass fishing in these murky, gator and gar infested waters, always with a camera on my hip and a tripod tethered to the back of my dirtbike. I learned a lot about fishing these waters too, and went from catching very little to being very successful on the regular, often enjoying a bass dinner at the end of a day’s expedition.
All in all, it was a deeply fulfilling and enjoyable adventure making this video. It was also a healing journey. I feel much lighter, freer, and more empowered than when I begun, and in truth, this is only the beginning. As I continue vanlife, I intend to keep producing music and filming wildlife throughout different ecosystems all across America. This gives me a meaning and purpose, and saves me from the sorrow of feeling like an aimless and solitary drifter. I consider all these animals my friends and family, and I never feel lonesome among them. As well, being in Nature I always feel close to God, witnessing beauty, balance and grace all around me, and knowing that I am part of it. Jai Hanumanji! Jai Karunamayi! Jaya Shankara!
Words by Tuladasi. All instruments and vocals arranged and performed by Mateo Monk. All footage filmed and edited by Mateo Monk.
I spent the month of March in the Everglades fishing, practicing yoga, playing music, and making videos. Here are some pics I took along the way!
I recorded this inside my van by the edge of a pond in the Everglades. Ganesha is special to my heart, and I believe that he has been helping me develop my music and transition into sacred Hindu music, especially in blessing me and helping me learn how to play the dholak. It’s a long story explaining why I believe this, but I’ll just say that is based off of genuine mystical experiences I had on a meditation retreat in India over the winter of 2019/2020. Ganesha loves the flute and tabla, and he loves to dance. I hope he is pleased with this humble offering. And you as well!
I spent much of my youth bass fishing. I grew up across the street from a lake, and as soon as I got my drivers license, everyday after school I would drive to Bull Run River fishing till dark, always wading in the river. Fishing brought me so much peace, joy, and discovery, and really helped cement my connection to nature at an early age. And then I became a vegetarian and convinced myself that I should quit fishing. It wasn’t until 25 years later that I took up the pole again, first trout fishing last year in the high mountain streams and lakes out west, and now finally bass fishing again in the gator-filled ponds and canals of Florida. It was actually the dawning of this White Wolf energy that got me back into eating fish. I swear, I feel like the White Wolf lives inside me; he is a very real presence in my life and consciousness. And he DEMANDS fish. No joke. That is the sole reason I took up fishing again.
But oh boy, I did not expect the level of peace and fulfillment that fishing would bring me, and I can now understand why I spent so much of my youth waste deep in a river with a pole in my hand. As a man who has been practicing silent meditation for 29 years, I see now just how effectively fishing quiets and focuses my mind, and it’s exactly this that I was addicted to as a youth, and perhaps what set the stage for me taking up such interest and commitment to meditation. For example, some of you know that I had been fulfilling a vow that required me to chant a rather lengthy mantra 11 times a day for 121 consecutive days, called a Maha Rudram. It took about three hours to complete everyday, so naturally I would be chanting during the midst of many activities to get it all done. I would chant as I drove, did yard work, cleaned the house, etc… I was still fulfilling the vow when I arrived here in Florida at the beginning of March, and I assumed that chanting softly while fishing would be a pleasant way to get my chanting done. But everytime I picked up that pole and cast it out, my focus would become so extreme and my mind so quiet that I would instantly forget about the chanting. Hours would go by, and then I’d realize I had neglected my chanting and have to quit fishing to get it done. No other activity derailed my chanting like that. No other activity could make me forget the world, myself, my duties, and my worries to such a degree. Now that I’ve taken back up the sport, it’s actually become one of the cornerstones of my nomadic, van-dwelling lifestyle. I really only focus on a few things as I drift around: fishing, yoga and meditation, reading and writing, photographing and filming wildlife, healthy cooking, and of course, writing and producing music. These things are all my life consists of now. This is what I love and how I choose to spend my time. This is why I sold my house and walked away from my friends and career. I’ve elimated all distractions that come between me and the things I love or that bring me meaning.
When I arrived in the Everglades, since I hadn’t bass fished in 25 years, I did have a bit of a learning curve to get over; there is so much I had forgotten. But there’s plenty of fishermen and bait and tackle shops around here to squeeze for insight and information, and I wasn’t shy at all about instigating conversations, asking questions, and seeking tips. I got up to speed fast and and actually soon found myself more knowledgeable and capable than I was even as a youth. As a youth, I just wanted to jump right in, and throw whatever I had to work with at the fish, learning by trial and error. Now being a bit more mature and having the advantage of the internet, I really did my research, watched a lot of fishing videos, read a lot of blogs, and educated myself as best I good. I learned about different lures, when to use them, and how to work them properly. I learned about best times of day to fish, feeding habits of bass, and the best places to look for them. And I got some decent tips about good local fishing spots. Within a couple weeks I went from having very little luck, to being quite confident in being able to catch and take home a good meal whenever I wanted, only using artificial lures. But everything in nature is cyclical and changing as well. Fishing spots dry up. Techniques that worked yesterday don’t work today. So I also learned how to experiment, shift up my strategies, and continually read the waters for changing conditions. All in all, I’m pretty proud of myself for what I’ve learned and accomplished over the past month, and I’m deeply grateful that fishing is back in my life. I can’t wait to get back out west and apply the same effort to trout fishing. I did pretty well last year as it is, but them trout better watch out this year!
And for the record, I only use lures when I fish. I do still harbor a bit of an ethical hiccup in regards to catching and slaughtering fish, but I remind myself, that even time I catch a fish with a lure, that fish too was in the process of hunting and killing. It’s the classic “the hunter becomes the prey” scenario. There seems a certain fairness in that. But fishing with live bait is a whole other story. It sacrifices the life of an innocent middleman to hook the fish. It’s like saying, “Hey there little worm or minnnow, I’m going to kill you and sacrifice your life, so I can kill and sacrifice this guy too!” It’s just one more ugly step. I like to keep it pure and keep a little art in the sport. Still, I don’t exactly enjoy killing the fish, but I must say, I find fileting the fish to be oddly peaceful. I enjoy it quite a bit, I’ve gotten pretty good at it, able to pull nice, boneless filets off a bass or trout. And I certainly enjoy eating the freshest of fish. I’m convinced that when you eat a wild mountain trout or a strong-fighting bass, you receive a degree of its vigor and wildness, far more so than when eating a farmed, or store-bought fish. This lifestyle is making me strong and virile. As a balding 47 year old, it feels good, man.
I spent the past month bass fishing in the swamp waters of the Florida Everglades in constant company with alligators. In fact even my campsite is on the edge of a pond hosting several gators. I’ve seen thousands of alligators throughout my lifetime, but never have had such an opportunity coexist with them and observe them so thoroughly. Even though I did have one big gator sneak up on me and then charge at me, I can honestly say that in the past month I’ve developed true fondness, love, and appreciation for these daunting creatures.
It was the fishing that really allowed me to interact with and study the gators closely. These Florida gators seem to have developed a somewhat symbiotic relationship with fishermen. I could be fishing a canal or pond where no gators were visible, but as soon as I caught my first fish and managed to get the hook out, by the time I looked back up, there would very often be an alligator hovering in the water in front of me only a few feet away. Many times the gator would literally be at my feet, swimming right up to the pond’s edge, waiting and watching. In many senses they reminded me of begging dogs, very much hoping and expecting that I would toss them the fish.
The park service down here, over-regulating, micromanaging, authoritarian, power trippers that they are, heavily frown upon feeding the gators and will either heavily fine you, jail you, or both, if they catch you feeding a gator. And they have a legitimate reason: just like feeding the grizzlies in the parks out west, it habituates them to people and trains them to approach people in hopes of scoring a snack… which can become very dangerous. Grizzlies and gators aren’t quite as polite as most people, and don’t always take no for an answer. This is actually why the gator charged me. He was very pushy, constantly hovering at my toes whether I had a fish or not. Anytime I moved on down the bank he would follow me, and park himself at my feet again. I admit, it was a bit intimidating. He was a good sized gator, easily big enough to rip off my leg or pull me under water to drown me. I felt like he was stalking me and I kept moving away from him, keeping a close eye on him. That is, until I turned my back on him to tie on a new lure, thinking he was far enough away that he wasn’t a threat. I turned around to catch him out of the water only a few feet away, silently trying to creep up on me. The moment we locked eyes, he bolted into a charge straight at me. I lept backwards into the 60 mph highway I was fishing off of. Thank God there wasn’t any traffic coming, and thank God I turned around in time. After I lept he didn’t chase, but boy did he have a bloodthirsty look on his face. He did hesitatingly continue to creep forward, but by now I was actually a bit angry rather than scared, so I bluff charged at him to try to put him in his place and shift the energy of the encounter. It kind of worked. He froze in place. Gators are at a bit of a disadvantage outside of the water. I know that people warn they can run fast and all, which they can, but all in all they aren’t too nimble. It was a standoff. I did the smart thing and left. I actually was grateful that the incident happened. The experience taught me that I really did need to be more careful and watchful around the gators. They aren’t to be trusted.
That was my only real negative experience with a gator throughout the month. The rest of my experiences were quite pleasant. I kind of liked the games they would play while I was fishing. It kept me company and gave me real interaction with these fascinating wild beasts. They weren’t just waiting to be tossed a fish, they were also waiting to steal fish off my line as I was reeling them in. They tried several times but only succeeded once. I was fighting a good-sized bass I had hooked with a plastic worm and no gator was in sight. Suddenly the bass seemed to be pulling A LOT harder, my line snapped, and then I spotted the yellowish outline of a gator eerily drifting under the water right where I lost the fish. I was thrilled rather than mad, although it was a good bass. The gator got his meal, and I still got mine, eventually taking an even bigger bass back to camp.
Fishing top water lures (lures that float on top of the water and splash around like a wounded frog) also provided a fun game with gators, basically like playing fetch with a dog. Everytime I fished top water, if a gator was around, they’d chase the lure itself thinking it was indeed an injured critter. I’d cast it out and start wiggling it, and the gator would swiftly bee-line to it. Then I’d reel it in quickly to avoid losing the lure, and the gator would put on a full-speed chase all the way to my feet and then stop. I’d cast it out again and the whole scenario would repeat. Then I’d start to toy with the gator and the gator would start to get suspicious. He’d start chasing the lure, but then I’d stop reeling, and the gator would stop too, sensing something was awry. I’d start reeling again and the gator would chase again. I’d repeat this start/stop pattern until the gator was at my feet again. It was actually pretty fun, but hopeless for catching fish. Eventually more gators would become attracted to the scene, and then I’d just have to move on to another spot.
Beyond playing these fishing games, I simply observed the gators doing their thing a lot. They actually live pretty peaceful lives for the most part. They lay in the sun on the bank motionless most of the day, or just hover in the water as if weightless, slowly paddling with their long blade of a tail. They move very gracefully in the water, as if in slow motion, and at night when they do most of their hunting, they remain in the water. One of my favorite things to do at night is to shine a flash light over any pond in the glades to see their eyes light up like little flickers of flame. It’s quite eery. What first appears as a peaceful little pond shows itself to be full of large reptiles on the prowl.
As sedate and lethargic as gators can appear, they sure can spring into fast and ferocious action in a split second. I watched many gators make a kill and it can be quite startling. The go from total stillness to violent wrath and then back to stillness before you even realize what’s happening. You just see and hear this massive uproar of commotion in the water, and by the time the splash and waves clear, the gator is just floating in stillness again with a sinister look of satisfaction on its face. The silence of the Everglades is punctuated with these uproars all throughout the day, and eventually you start to take less notice of them. They just blend into the backdrop of the breeze and birdsongs. I also got to see some gators fight each other. It was never anything prolonged, just a quick, angry, strike when a competing gator got too close. It’s not uncommon to see gators missing a leg from such fights. It’s also not uncommon to see gators with fishing tackle stuck in their face.
As I said earlier, the gators did remind me of dogs, not only for their habit of begging, but also for their general habituation to man. Most wild animals don’t really want to hang around people or look them in the eye. But gators have no problem being in close company with humans. Many, many, times I’d be fishing so close to a gator that I could reach out and touch it with my pole and neither of us were bothered in the least. Dogs also display a sensitive understanding of humans, their emotions, their ways. I got a sense of this from the gators as well. They really would interact and communicate, and remember me when I came back around. I enjoyed their company. I enjoyed observing them. They truly made my fishing experiences more pleasant and enjoyable. I love alligators.
And please forgive the ads on this video. I never monetize my content, but since the audio was borrowed, youtube made me do it.
I wrote this song over Christmas and recorded it during the first two weeks of 2021. People get so caught up in their heads and their self-righteous ideas, but at the end of the day, like Bob Marley said: “Who feels it knows it.” Get me behind me Satan with all your gaslighting falsehood and deception. I know just what I am, where I come from, and where I’m going. The true Children of God are creators, and cannot help but to mirror the creative spirit of the Most High. To do so is woven into their very nature. Let the hypocrites continue to burn and loot the world and try to supress and silence free thinkers. They will get their due. There is no fear in my heart and I am not ashamed to speak my truth.
Please share this tune!
The few of you who followed my “40 Days In The Desert” writing project are aware that while I was in Florida recently, my dog Kody became very ill suffering a near kidney failure and had to receive i.v. treatments at the vet for two days. It turns out the cause of his kidney failure was a large, fast growing tumor pushing up on his kidneys which kept them from filtering properly. Since Florida he had been in good health again and was back to his chipper self, but then two nights ago he was suddenly in great pain, yelping upon moving, and moving very slowly and delirously. Today we took him to the vet and at first they though he had a small tumor on his spleen and decided to operate. Once inside his belly, the doctor discovered he was full of internal bleeding, and that there was a massive tumor all along his backside pressing up on his kidneys. It was inoperable, and the doctor doubted he would even survive the night. Euthenasia was the only reasonable option. They did sew him back up and woke him from anesthesia so that I had an opportunity to be with him before they put him to sleep. He tried to lick me but didn’t have the strength. They administered the euthenasia drug as I laid my head on his, caressing him.
Kody was an incredibly handsome, sensitive, smart, and loving dog. Every morning that we woke up together he would plop into me and we would snuggle and kiss for at least ten minutes before getting out of bed. He was originally a rescue that had been abandoned on the side of the road by a divorcing couple. We’ve been through a lot together. He’s been to many music festivals, onstage with me for some. He has swam in both oceans and the gulf of Mexico as well. He has seen a wolf and nearly caught a coyote. He has also seen buffalo, elk, moose, antelop and deer. He traveled with me on two trips out west, including this last van journey where we saw most of the country. I’m happy that we were able to return to what Kody considered home a few weeks before he passed, where he was able to play with his canine buddy Reno and be spoiled by my parents. His last days were happy and light. I was so proud of Kody for enduring his early life trama yet still remaining the most loving and gentle of creatures. Kody was a saint and his passing leaves a giant hole in my heart. My whole family loved him and feels the great and sudden loss.
God bless you, Kody. You were a good boy. I’m so proud of you. I love you forever. I will always hold you in my heart.
Also, I realize I never finished my “Twelve Days Before Christmas” project. I’ll make up the two missing days shortly. Happy New Year.