Sunday, November 4, 2012

Flickers: Reflections from the Adult Wilderness Quest

Wildfire reminds me to accept. I can never decide if it should be celebrated or mourned. Whichever I choose, the fires will burn.


The spark had been kindled in us long before we even knew,
And we each held it burning in our chests, in our bellies, in our bowels
until we gathered.

Like a gathering storm we come together,
Twelve questing people
Four of us guiding
Eight of us seeking
All of us setting off together
for 9 days in the wilderness valley
of our souls.
Each with our own story,
questions, wounds, and fears.
Lost, angry, grieving
ourselves and the earth;
Feeling the intensity of this moment in time;
Looking for healing, answers, solitude, community;
Looking for each other
Looking for ourselves
Looking to ignite our visions
and dance in the flames.


The first day all together, preparing to depart for the valley, we exchange beads with each other, weaving our lives and stories together. We string our beads around our necks, and the little stones start to knock against each other and spark; reminders of the little fires we are trying to keep alive within ourselves.

That night, we circle around a fire pit stacked high with wood. As per tradition, myself, the youngest, and Deanna, the eldest, each take our sparks in our hands and cast them onto the pile. We—the bookends, representing the range of adulthood and all the experience between—ignite the flame of our collective quest.

And the fires start.

The fires start that night as we sit in our sweat lodge. We sweat and spark the grandfather stones back to life and call in the elements and the directions. In the pitch darkness we call in eagle and he flies us over to the valley where the heart of our quest will take place. Our flight creates static with the air and lightning strikes the ground like a match; we drop sparks of prayer as we fly past. We return and circle around, and dive—spiraling down into the womb of the earth. We sink into hypnosis as we stare deep into the fire burning within our ancestors—the rocks burning hot to alchemize our pain and longing, our stirring souls, into something new.

The fire burns.

The stars above me streak across the sky, and somewhere in a valley far away lightning strikes 1000 times.

The morning crackles with anticipation as we pack our gear and drive out over the mountains. Upon our arrival to the river valley, we learn of lightning the night before and a wildfire that it had kindled in an adjacent valley.

The forest burns. We cross the river.


We have one full day at base camp before our solos. We spend our time circling around the altar—spiraling closer to our intentions. We each find our solo sites, where we will go for three days to fast, reflect, and quest alone. The night before our departure to our sites we are called to the altar for the death lodge. A voice tells us “you have to die to be reborn.”

We resist, or accept. Either way, Death takes us one by one, and we read our goodbyes out loud and burn them.
We each blow out our own candle, extinguishing everything we know.
The fire dies.
We die.

Darkness engulfs.
The silence returns.
Cold sets in.


For three long days we sit at our separate sites in a circle of our prayers, in the ashes of ourselves, and we fast. We mourn, cry, celebrate, sleep, circle, learn, listen, witness, carve, kill, create, write, paint, build, break, shiver, shake, throw, scream, dance, chant, pray, and sing; we rediscover, re-imagine, and re-envision ourselves; and finally, we reignite our souls.  

On the fourth morning, as the sun emerges to rekindle the day with its light, we each emerge like the phoenix, and we return.


That day is a warm day, a campfire day, with hot soup, hot showers, warm potatoes, and the warm company of each other. It is a slow day of crafting and absorbing, expressing and releasing. We take our blank masks and enliven them with the color of our new truth.

As we continue circling—spiraling now in our new directions—smoke begins filling the valley. We share our stories.

The fire is spreading.


On the last night we release our prayers onto the wind in a purple bonfire at the riverside. They drift up to mingle with the smoke from the wildfire. (Three days later, driving down I-90 in Seattle, my companion notes the smoky air and says that the wind has carried the smoke all the way out here from Wenatchee. “And the prayers,” I add.)

The fires blaze wild in the night.


In the morning, the valley’s all a haze and there is new urgency hanging in the air. As we prepare to close the space, uniformed men come and tell us we have to evacuate by evening. The fire, started the night before we came, has finally reached us, the day we plan to leave.

Holding our own stories and each others, we say goodbye to this place, especially the trees who have been our guardians during those days. We leave them behind with a blessing, and new questions flicker to life in our minds: What will become of this place? What does the forest think of wildfire? Is it a feared enemy? A necessary evil? A welcome friend? Or simply a sign of change? Do trees mourn their own deaths? Do they resist it?

Before crossing the river, I stand facing a tree, my arm extended so my palm caresses the bark. I feel the tree’s energy flowing through me. I sense a hint of fear but mostly knowing, mostly understanding: the fire comes not to destroy, but to renew. “You have to die to be reborn.”

We cross the river.

On the other side, winding up the dirt road, we see the leaves have newly turned, burned with the cold. They are bursting flames of red, standing out suddenly against the evergreen—initiated into their new stage. The new season begins. The fire blazes around us. Our hearts burn with new commitments to ourselves, to our people, and to our Earth. The fire blazes within us.


As we drive out of the valley, the sun is hazed over in a thick smoke, but our vision is clear. 

Written by Alex Eisenberg, October 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Journey Continues: We Spiraled In

We spiraled in:

Into the labyrinth at base camp in Bothell and across the Sound on the ferry,
Into the mountains, looking out across Olympic ranges from Deer Ridge, then down
Into the valley of the Greywolf River at its three forks,
Got into some wild berries, intimate councils, and giggly games of psychiatrist,
Hiking through old-growth forests, the river our constant companion, and up
Into subalpine meadows of lupine and indian paintbrush and waddling marmots,
And finally into the basin of Cedar Lake,
Into solo time.

And there we sat in the still mountain air
The silence broken by the occasional piercing whistle of a marmot.

The three participants sat on their own in quiet reflection
Perhaps soaking up the life of the place around them
Perhaps learning how to rest more deeply in themselves
And the fog rolled in thick. It mad a sort of visual silence, a cool unknown
And then rolled through as clouds swirled above the rocky ridge towering over us,
Letting the sun break out here and there in bursts of glorious warmth.

Hours passed and we brought our brave journeyers back together around a little fire
And they added a little glow as they spoke their first words emanating out of their quiet solitude.

And then we began spiraling back out:

First bites of post-quest food, almond butter noodles,
Hiking down, more games and laughter,
Hiking up (oh how we beasted that hill),
And down again out of the mountains and across the Sound
We sang our song to family and friends, and walked
Out of the labyrinth and back into our lives, refreshed, re-inspired, ready. 

By Cameron Whithey
Photos by Emily Pease

Coming of Age for Boys 2012

In the summer of 2012, our group of eight boys set out on a three-week backpacking trip through Olympic National Park. Our objective was to begin to fill the shoes of young men and step out of our childhood neediness. We began our journey as complete strangers, yet grew to become close friends. Along the way we faced many obstacles; such as strenuous hiking, learning how to work together, and getting adjusted to the new routine. We overcame these obstacles only with the help of our friendship and guides.

One of our biggest challenges was becoming mature enough for our guides to step back and let us take control of the trip. Pulled together by the great leaders in our midst, we did a good job beginning to take on the responsibilities setting and breaking camp. Breaking camp was difficult for us, and this resulted in the opportunity to do community service trash pick-ups and a lot of exasperation. Fortunately, we learned from our mistakes and improved our clean-up skills.

The physical element of the trip was yet another challenge we faced, and took a great deal of courage to surmount. We hiked a full mile (over 5000 feet!) of vertical and crossed raging rivers, babbling brooks, lush meadows of wildflowers, and flitted across vast fields of glowing snow, then we traveled to the beach and traversed b beaches and scaled sandy bluffs. To culminate this adventure we spent 24 hours of solo time on the beach while fasting and partook in a sweat lodge ritual.

This journey taught us about nature, ourselves, and being a young man in today's society.  It helped us let go of our childhood neediness and dependency, find out about our strengths and weaknesses, and use this enlightenment to step into the role of a young man and start giving back to the people who raised us and cared for us through childhood.

--written by Isaac Zinda and Rowan Gallagher

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Coming of Age for Girls 2012

We just returned home from an amazing three week trip in the Olympics with four wonderful young women and three magnificent mentors.

By day, we challenged our bodies, pushing ourselves to keep going even when we felt like we could not make it up one more switchback. By night, we pushed our hearts and minds to open, sharing our deepest selves in council.

We climbed from sea level to almost 5000 feet, all the way up to Anderson glacier, where the vista opened up in every direction, our eyes feasting upon peak after peak, up into the wide blue sky, and down into tree covered valleys.

At the top, near Anderson Glacier, we took a break for sledding in a snow bowl.

We spent a week exploring the beach, climbing beach ladders and giant rocks, watching otters and seals play in the surf, discovering crabs, starfish, and anemone in the tidepools, and relaxing in the warm sand.

After hiking almost 50 miles, singing, laughing and supporting each other the whole way, we got to rejuvenate and celebrate at magical Sacred Groves.

Here is a song the young women wrote on the Journey (First verse by Cameron Withey).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Call To Adventure 2012

As Stan Crow (founder of Journeys) says "The Call To Adventure is a call to release the daredevil in each of us, to reach out for the next stage of our lives.  The call is the mysterious and intoxicating voice that calls us from the sleep of our routine lives - a charismatic call from within to risk and discover what comes next".  

Well, it just so happens 9 intrepid adventure's and 3 brave mentors heard this call, what followed was a trip along the Olympic Coast that will remain in their hearts forever.  This trip tested us on many levels, conjured up deep belly laughter, and allowed us all to connect to ourselves, each other, and the natural world around us in meaningful lasting ways.

Long arduous walks through old growth forest covered with mighty giant Sitka Spruce's, Doug Fir's, Cedars and Hemlocks.  Beaches with hundreds of tide pools to explore, Bald Eagles flying overhead, juveniles swooping down gracing us with their presence, jagged rocky shorelines, the ebb and flow of the tides, and one solid group merging together as a cohesive unit to marvel at all the wonders the coast had to offer us.

Starting at Lake Ozette our tribe headed out with our heavy packs carrying everything needed for our week long adventure.  Bear cans filled, water bottles topped, and 12 people trying to defy the law of gravity and rise towards the sky as our packs pulled us towards the ground.

Our first night was spent at Cape Alava, the quintessential campground along the route, a campground and area that was once inhabited by the coastal Indians who flourished there with the bounty and beauty of the sea.  What filled our nights?  Cooking simple (now stretch your imagination and shrink your taste buds) .......and delicious back country meals!  What's more...... campfires, songs, stories, games, laughter, fun, and camp chores filled our evenings.

Cape Alava
As the week progressed our incredible group of  9 daring adventurers continued to trek along the coast, carrying their lives on their backs and believe it or not having fun without the use of electronics or other modern conveniences!  Most of our days were spent moving along the coast with many breaks along the way for exploring, resting, and playing games. 

 Our week was filled with all kinds of sunshine and all kinds of fact we made up a verse to a song we sang "Rain Rain Rain Rain, when I dream I dream of rain,  drizzling, misting, downpouring sideways let the rain come" and come it did!  Our culminating experience was marked with massive amounts of persistent rain which forced us to befriend the rain, become comfortable with being wet AND plan an early departure out of the park to a front country campground where we would spend our last evening as a tribe.  So, 13 wet soakateers  headed back to Lake Ozette.  The only thing between their current location and the van at Lake Ozette was a 5.5 mile walk, sandy beaches, lush forest, and animals camouflaged along the way.

With tired thighs, sore backs, wet clothes, grumbling tummies and ecstatic smiles for real bathrooms we made it back to the Lake and headed to a nearby campground.  

We did it!!

Our last evening together before going back to Songaia was filled with sharing memorable moments from our trip, appreciating one another, laughs around the fire, and two Barred owls talking to us for a good portion of the evening.  Back at Songaia the participants met their families with open arms, smiles, stories, and a poignant song,"Fly Like an Eagle" that kept our spirits lifted as we lived for a week as a unified tribe in the back country and along the coast of the Olympic Peninsula!

Back at Songaia

Friday, August 10, 2012

Solo Crossing 2012: The Way of the Hummingbird

Over the course of three weeks, in our tribe of twelve, we were kept company by Hummingbird. Incredibly, this magical little bird visited us almost everyday! It had something to tell us about our time together, and we listened...

First Leg: The Challenge of Rugged North Fork

Our first leg, five days on the rugged North Fork trail, was certainly the most physically challenging of our trip. Our second day on the trail, we hiked almost 10 miles, much of it uphill. While it was challenging for everyone, it certainly helped get our mountain legs on in a flash! The highlights of this trip for everyone was our day hike to Low Divide. We had our lunch on a huge boulder in the midst of a verdant valley, surrounded by waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. We watched a bear as it played on the snow, eventually plopping down and taking a nap. We sat in a group sit-spot, meditating on and deeply feeling the beauty around us. Those few hours in the gorgeous surrounding continued to affect the group for the remainder of the trip, with many citing it as their favorite moment of the trip.

Second Leg: The Splendor of Enchanted Valley

We spent our next leg in the lush beauty of Enchanted Valley. The trail felt easy as pie compared to North Fork, and we zoomed through most of the hiking. Enchanted Valley was exquisitely beautiful. We sat enthralled by the many waterfalls, moss-covered trees, and elk grazing across the creek. Some of us were fortunate enough to come close to a doe and her fawn. We got a tour of the historic ranger station by the kind Wes Gaston, and learned about the history of the area. During our last night, we held a men's and a women's council separately. We spoke of the difficulties of growing into men and women and how to act with integrity during that process.

Third Leg: Fun and Solos on the Beach

Before we embarked on our last leg, we were able to shower. What a pleasure after two weeks of grittiness! We all noticed how much more we appreciated the simple things, like fresh food and warm water, after our time in the wilderness. 

The first day of our last leg was pure fun. We hiked a short 1.5 miles to the beach and immediately kicked off our shoes. The sun was out, the sand warm, the water perfect for wading. We spent many hours just playing together. From there we moved into preparation for the 48-hour solos. The majestic Olympic coast was an apt place to be doing such deep soul work. Coming back from the solos we transitioned back into play, enjoying many rounds of "Mafia" together.

The Wisdom of the Hummingbird

Hummingbird is a joyous bird that revels in the beauty of the natural world. It flits from flower to flower, spreading its love of life to others. Hummingbird is also impossible to cage. It must be free in the wild, otherwise it dies. 

As we explored outer and inner wilderness together, we embodied the spirit of Hummingbird. We experienced awe and appreciation for the natural world together and alone. Our days on the beach, at Low Divide, and in Enchanted Valley will stay with us forever. Just as we felt closer to the wilderness outside, we also felt closer to our inner wilderness. We felt our own wild selves, the parts of ourselves that must be free to flourish, that cannot be caged. Each of us found something on this trip that we could stand up for and take a stance on, something that we cared about deeply. Hummingbird provided us with so much wisdom, and we are grateful to it for blessing our trip.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Becoming a Young Woman 2012

On the first evening of our time together, around the crackling fire, an old story was shared. It was the story of a village that barely survived a cold and hard winter long ago. The people of that village believed that if they went through one more cold winter that they would not be able to survive, so they lived in fear. As another winter approached the people asked nature to be kind, but the winter was hard yet again and the people barely survived. So, as in many good stories about the past, some of the villagers walked to the outer edge of the village to ask the wise old woman what they were to do. Her answer was to send a young warrior into the woods to look into the eyes of a wild animal and through that look a message would be communicated.

Many of the people of the village were not compelled to look a wild animal into the eyes and they shrugged away from the idea, they went about their regular business. But there was one young girl who accepted the challenge. She was nervous but she knew that her people needed her to face this challenge courageously.

I won’t share the rest of the story now… but as the dark of the evening set in we all, three mentors and nine girls chose to look into the eyes of the wild courageously for our week together. We each tossed a piece of cedar into the fire as we spoke about an “edge” that we are facing during the week: challenges like making new friends, solo time, and sweat lodge.

As the night faded into the next day we started to find connections within our group. Friendships began to form and we played goofy group building and awareness awakening games together. Laughter began to erupt across the Meadow of Sacred Groves on Bainbridge Island. One girl said, “Is this my life?!” and another said, “This camp should be named the Awesomist-Awesome-Camp!” and we were introduced to what would become our camp motto, “YOLO!” (or “You only live once!”).

In the days that followed we participated in meaningful ceremonies, learned some primitive skills (like starting a fire with a bow-drill, cooking directly on the coals, and making herbal medicine), and stepped into the woods for solo time.

On July 4th, Independence Day, the girls were sent off for their 8-hour solo time in the woods. As they faced a long day alone in the woods, something that many young people and adults never experience, the mentors maintained a Sacred Fire in honor of the girls. The 8 hours may have passed slowly in the woods but all of the girls met the challenge with grace. And as they returned to the Meadow to the sound of a celebratory song each girl smiled with pride. After the song ended and the silence was broken the girls began to chatter, excited to return to their new friends. The group became a community that night.

The next morning we shared solo day stories, this poem called The Forest was written by Sophie Altaras (age 12):

I sing as I tiptoe in my mind through the forest softer than you’ll ever know
I can’t really describe it, the feeling I get when I come here
It’s sort of a calmness, like in the eyes of a mother deer
The sunlight shining through the trees makes me come alive
Because it’s been a long winter when it takes power just to survive

The rest of the week sailed by quickly. And soon it was time to return to the “village” of Seattle. Each girl was given the new title of Young Woman and handed a few small gifts and insights that she could carry into her future. Just as in the story that we shared on the first day of our time together… through facing the challenge of staring into the eyes of the wild, a gift was bestowed and has now been brought back to the village. YOLO!

Friday, July 13, 2012

I'm a Little Hiker (Apprentice Journey 2012)

Nearly two weeks after our Journey to Staircase Campground I can still hear the laughter of our 9 courageous and hilarious young hikers (Did you know that our Apprentice Journey participants are between the ages of 8 and 10?!). We shared a number of wonderful moments... but some of my highlights, as a guide, were the following:

Playing blindfold "trust" games in the field at Staircase --- have you ever played "Hug a Tree" or done a "Sing-Song-Stalk" (the vocal version of a drum-stalk)? The Song-Stalk got our group laughing so hard at the zombie-like behaviors of blindfolded "stalkers." 

Having "Secret Spot" time at dusk in between large ferns, under elder evergreens, and next to "faerie-dust" white flowers. The forest was very magical as we sat in silence and enjoyed bird songs and the coolness of a light breeze.

Hiking the 3.5 Miles into Olympic National Park's Spike Camp. Yes, 3.5 miles with Backpacks on! And with good spirits... especially during our sunny lunch break along the Skokomish River. Then after lunch hiking slowly up-hill until finding a Doe standing at the junction to our campsite...

Spotting the Doe was a highlight for the whole group. She stood at the spot marking our hike completion and stayed with us as we set up our campsites. The participants sat in silence watching the Doe eat leaves for a long while.

Story time at night! One of the best story nights happened at Spike Camp where we huddled away from the rain underneath a tiny gear tarp. Tara read us a book by Byrd Baylor, "The Table Where Rich People Sit." And we talked about all the "wealth" in our lives... like New Friends, Spotting a Doe, Living for a week at Staircase in the beautiful woods... we realized that we were (and are) all VERY wealthy.

And preparing this song for the folks back home...

I'm a little hiker. HIKER! Hiker. HIKER! 

I'm a little hiker strong and small.
Here is my backpack here is my stick.
Tie my laces and send me out!
I'm a little hiker, hear me SHOUT! (Yea!)

I'm a little hiker. HIKER! Hiker. HIKER! 

Twinkle Twinkle little star,
How I wonder where you are?
It's been pouring down on us,
But we don't put up a big fuss!

I'm a little hiker. HIKER! Hiker. HIKER!

We saw a doe, pretty and lean.
She's the prettiest do we've ever seen...

"Hey. What's a doe?"

Doe a deer, a female deer
Re a drop of golden sun
Mi a name, I call myself
Fa a long long way to HIKE
So a needle pulling thread
La a note to follow so
Ti a drink of jam and bread
and that will bring us back to HOME HOME HOME HOME.