Honestly, I thought I was reading some stray chapter from the New Agey Celestine Prophecy the other day. All the telltale blemishes were there: mystical experiences, wise native Americans, energy from within, persecution by white folks, a strange lack of factual material.
But no, it was a long-form feature in the otherwise respectable Los Angeles Times. The topic was rain dancing, an attempt to relieve the years-long California drought.
The story was part of the Times’ “Column One” series: prime journalism, best of show. But it was more like a study in politically correct, wide-eyed worshipfulness, right from the start:
The woman in line at the bank said she had already sold all her cattle and was now selling her land.
It was one too many tales of drought hardship for Laynee Reyna, also known as She Who Makes Things Happen — a name given to her by a shaman decades ago.
She felt a great spirit seize her. In the crowded bank lobby, the 79-year-old raised her arms.
Everyone in this town has got to come together and pray and dance for rain, and we’ve got to do it now,” she said.
Teresa Lavagnino, depositing checks at a teller’s window, rushed over.
“Can you do it? Can you make that happen?” she asked. “I can spread the word.”
If you’re a working journalist or if you’re used to reading news in newspapers, you’ll no doubt be asking questions already. Did the reporter witness that incident? How did she know Laynee Reyna felt a “great spirit”? And which shaman gave Reyna a name that sounds like a mashup of Suze Orman and Dances With Wolves?
You won’t be terribly surprised to know that “She Who Makes Things Happen” is a former hippie, as is her ex-husband, “Chief Sonne.” Reyna then brings in a native American consultant, Kanyon Sayers-Roods, for the lore to organize proper rain dances. Why her? Another hanging question.
With Sayers-Roods and her mother on hand, we can get to some serious rain dancing. They sew “traditional regalia,” design a dance and add “a collection of words in the tribe’s Mutson language.” They rehearse three times, and hey, it drizzles.
Again: Was the reporter there?
If not, who told her that? And did she check the weather that day? I’m guessing “no,” because she offers no attributions or hard dates.
She does mark Feb. 2 as a rainy day, but her reporting shows incredible credulity. “People felt their heartbeats match the pounding drums,” she says, without saying how she divined this. She admires Sayers-Roods’ “remarkably clear voice.”
And she seriously quotes Laynee Reyna intoning: “We are they who are calling the rain. We are true to where we stand — on our Mother Earth.”
If your eyes aren’t already rolling, the dancers also — oh, just let the Times tell us:
The circle danced clockwise. And then counter-clockwise to make sure there wasn’t too much rain and landslides.
Some women of an age who would favor Donna Summer added a disco touch. The children formed their own circle in the middle of the larger one.
Reyna passed out bottles of water. She told people to take a sip and spit it out as they danced. Spit it in the air. Spit it on the ground. “Water attracts water.”
People were laughing. It turned into a spitting water fight. Penney the terrier did her part by licking children’s faces.
At least the reporter had some proof of the last item: Next to the article is a photo of Reyna spitting a stream of water high in the air.