"A tent the size of a banquet hall?" I grouse from a site overlooking Nature Conservancy buildings used to house interns and biologists who work here.
I size up the over-sized tent (and under-sized tarp), and run through pitching instructions in my head. But now my half-rubber boots are soaked through the cloth tops, pant legs wet to the knee. We were warned it would rain the first couple of days during our week-long stay on the Zumwalt Prairie. But based on the pounding that greets us I suspect our fledgling writing community has not packed enough warm sox.
There's not much shelter on the prairie--few trees to protect from the elements. The open space that draws us to fill blank notebooks with our opening hearts dares us (perhaps demands us) to stand exposed to what Pachamama has to offer. Writers, especially those brazen enough to leave the safety of their homes, love to immerse themselves in adventure to inspire their ball-tipped pens, but I sense an unspoken reticence as we crawl our 12-person van along rutted gravel roads while watching sky high bolts of lightening strike the ground around us. And then there is that endless black sky.
"Should we be worried about sleeping outside in this kind of storm?" asks someone from the back of the van. Like me I figure they are used to avoiding such discomfort, and danger. The answer is vague and unsatisfying and here on the hill I am uneasy. I cast aside the useless mini-tarp and use what is sure-to-be brief moments between deluges to pitch my tent and load it with my gear (much of which was soaked on the trip from Enterprise, Oregon).
"There's room for more people in the dorm," our host reminds us. But part of the draw for me to return to the prairie is to deepen my connection with Pachamama.
"It is arrogant to believe we can save the Earth," the Shaman had insisted. "All we can do is create our own reciprocity agreement with Pachamama and inspire others to do so as well. If we cannot do this ourselves, our words and actions are hollow."
Creating a reciprocity agreement requires us to give as well as take from the Earth, NEVER taking more than we need, and to show our gratitude for everything we take. Keeping connection with Pachamama is not a spectator sport. One must get dirty. One must sleep on the ground (or at least this was a significant symbol for me). One must raise one's vibration and seal the relationship with prayers. Prayers help move what is important from the background to the foreground to inform our actions.
Here I connect by diving deep into the ecology of the land, I pitch my tent, I schlepp my gear up the hill through the rain-drenched bunch grass, cow pies and clay goo now lining the waffles of my boots, and caked in the arches. My gratitude for the large tent grows in the knowing I'll stay drier well away from wet walls. Practicing gratitude makes me feel good and gives me hope.
While writers set up camp, staff hang canopies from buildings to posts, meant to shade our meals at picnic tables in the open space between buildings. After all, last year we chased the shade from the heat. This year it appears we'll be chasing the sun from the cold.
Our kitchen crew readies dinner, the search and rescue guy checks his radio for reception and our biologist unpacks her blue cardboard box of books and pamphlets that add depth (and accuracy) to our work. All of them work to care for us so we can thrive on and write about this one-of-a-kind place.
Dinner is served in our small classroom as it rains off and on. It is here stories emerge about left-behind hats and gloves, about lightning fears; but the collective remains positive and determined. By the time dinner is done and we've talked about the week's agenda and a bit about the prairie, writers begin to slog to their tents and settle in for the night. Up the hill I go, zip myself inside, slip halfway into my mummy bag, find my head lamp, flute and songbook.
Vibration. How sweet methinks to play and sing sitting in the arms of Pachamama. While I play through most of my repertoire (proud especially to share the songs I have composed) the flute is damp and sounds gurgly. I settle for singing instead, Ancient Mother. I sit for a time. Listening. To a nighthawk, and the tent crackle in the wind. And then I snuggle into three layers of padding and pillows and entomb myself inside my bag. I put my earplugs in to drown out the generator that fires up below me. I practice my gratitude for this beautiful place, the privilege of being here, and a dry warm bed. Shortly I sleep.
C-R-A-C-K! Thunder rips me from a distant sleep. The clack rattles my ribcage. It isn't light yet. "Holy shit!" I say out loud. I can feel my breath fast and shallow, heart pumping audibly. This is what the ancients must have felt--exposed and vulnerable.
"Aho Mitakuye Oyasin (Mutawkwey Ahsun)," I whisper, awake for the moment. Thank you to all my relations. Next comes the tap, tap of rain on my rain fly, and then Father Sky delivers a precipitation lullaby to put me asleep in Mother's arms.
Morning brings a battalion of clouds, but they hold back until just before breakfast. Sox and boots and pants hang by the heater in our classroom dining hall. Bed head chatter fills the room with renditions of making it through the night. Nancy slept through the entire storm. Gary remembers eight lightening/thunder cycles waxing and waning. We all hope for clearing--soon.