As you drive north
on the boulevard, the road winds and climbs and carries you to
a special place. Not unlike an oasis in the desert or a diamond
in a coal mine, this place is both a lifeline and a treasure.
Shaded by the oaks and maples, the address is 855 Baltimore-Annapolis
Boulevard. Sure, it sounds ordinary enough---heck, it even looks
ordinary. But testimonials swear that this particular place is
nothing less than extraordinary; some even call it magical. And
just what, or shall we say who, is the secret behind the magic?
The answer is simple---he's Bobby Ray. To try to label him is
to attempt to harness the wind---he's a "retired" fisherman, recovering
alcoholic, cancer survivor, gardener and an absolute paradox.
Ray was born in Kentucky of American Indian ancestry but kept
it quiet while he was growing up, which was often the case in
those days. "It just wasn't cool to be Indian back then, but now
it's okay," says Bobby Ray. "I have Cherokee on both sides of
my family, and I practice Indian spirituality. But I'm actually
coyote [which he pronounces cay-o-tay]---a mixed breed." Then
he jokes, "I got a beefalo skull instead of a buffalo skull."
His monotonic voice and tranquil nature is spiked with a racy
and sometimes dry sense of humor that disguises the profound message
in his words.
Bobby Ray spent a large part of his adult life as a boat captain
and fisherman. "I fished the waters from Newfoundland to Venezuela,"
he says. With some gentle persuasion it is revealed that he was,
in fact, a gifted fisherman who caught "the big ones that got
away" from other anglers. He was, therefore, sought after as a
fishing guide by clients from all over the world.
Unfortunately, along with the fishing lifestyle came a drinking
lifestyle that would eventually become catastrophic. "I was just
getting too drunk to run the boat, and the guy who owned it didn't
want to fire me, so he sold the boat," says Ray. "After that I
freelanced a while before I finally bottomed out. You see, alcoholism
takes it course and you end up either dying or going into recovery.
Fortunately, I went into recovery---most people never make it
Today, 12 years later, a rehabilitated Bobby Ray is strong in
his recovery process, and one of his many missions is reaching
out to others who suffer from this disease. "On Monday nights
at 8 o'clock, we have a 12-step meeting designed to help those
who are on a path of recovery from alcoholism," says Ray. "Aspects
of the recovery process include rebuilding your self-esteem after
bottoming out, not beating yourself up over the mistakes you made,
and finding a support system."
But there's more. "This meeting has evolved into a very spiritual
10th and 11th step gathering where we focus on meditation," Ray
explains. "Meditation is about silencing the committee that's
going off in your head and not worrying about what you did yesterday
or what needs to be done tomorrow. It's about being in the moment
and aligning yourself with your higher power. If you can do that,
you can beat any addiction." And, according to Bobby Ray, "An
addiction is simply anything that makes your life unmanageable."
Another dimension of Bobby Ray's outreach is to cancer patients
and survivors, of which he is the latter. "I was diagnosed with
lung cancer back in '98 and had a lung removed," Ray says. "But
thanks to meditation and the singing bowls it didn't spread, so
I didn't have to go through chemo." The singing bowls ceremony
Bobby Ray speaks about is a form of sound therapy and is used
in many countries throughout the world to treat everything from
stress to Alzheimer's as well as cancer.
"We ring these bowls every Thursday night at 8 o'clock, and people
seem to get well," says Ray. "For some, 'well' is the cancer completely
disappearing from medical x-rays; for others it's about coming
here desperate and leaving with hope. And then there are those
who are terminal, but they seem to attain peace and acceptance
in facing death." Interestingly, Nostradamus made a prediction
that by 1998, we would heal cancer with pure sound.
These individuals with cancer are also working closely with their
doctors, and Ray doesn't claim magic. What he does say is that
these bowls are a form of meditation, and meditation reduces stress.
And just what does stress have to do with cancer? According to
Bobby Ray, "The same immune system that fights stress fights everything
else, too. If you have your body worried about the trivial, it
can't take care of what ails you. If you can get stress free,
you can heal---I can't prove it, but I'd swear by it," says Ray.
He also facilitates a bowl ceremony on Sundays at 4 o'clock that's
open to everyone.
Bobby Ray, the gardener, grows the fruits, vegetables, herbs and
flowers for Café Bretton. He has transformed what was once a parking
lot layered with gravel, clay and exhaust residue into a breathtaking
garden of abundance, and he's done it the organic way. "You don't
need to use chemicals to grow plants. There's a softer, easier
way called companion planting. I knew my grandfather planted this
way, and I knew that there was a lot of research on the subject
so I read every book I could find about it."
He shares one of his many tips: "In order to grow a garden for
the two-leggeds [that's us], you have to hide it from the critters.
The way you do that is to disguise a plant you don't want the
critters to have by planting a stronger smelling plant next to
it. If they can't smell it, they can't find it." He continues,
"Then you plant something you want them to have somewhere else.
It's called a trap crop and is devoted to giving the critters
what they want and getting along with nature rather than fighting
it. That's why this garden may produce a little better than some---'cause
I'm not in charge. I allow nature to police itself. As my Indian
ancestors would say, it's in harmony."
So, in what way is Bobby Ray a paradox? Well, let's just say that
his reach goes far beyond the labels he has been assigned, and
within his seemingly simple words on addiction, regeneration,
and gardening is a depth and universal truth that is applicable
to any aspect of life. Furthermore, his essence emits an intangible
energy, much like a summer breeze. You can't hold it, nor can
you see it, but you can feel it and witness the effects it has
on everything it touches. Perhaps that's the magic.
As for the humble Bobby Ray, he doesn't accept credit for any
of it. He simply smiles and says, "All I know is that I don't
understand all it is that I know about it." Then he disappears
into his salubrious garden somewhere between the herbs, the corn
and the sunflowers.
Photo credit: Nancy Fohrell
Cindy Edwards enjoys the adventures of life and writing
about it. She is an avid reader, traveler and yoga practitioner
who resides in Annapolis with her husband and her dog.