In Native American cultures, The Great Spirit is a deity intertwined with the fabric of the Universe itself on the large scale and yet personally engaged with the web of living things and the world on an earthly scale. I am creating a spiritual practice by borrowing a little from the Buddhists and the practice of mindfulness, but mostly from the strong connection I feel for the worship of Earth as taught us by our first nations. For those who hunger for the connection of a spiritual practice from someone who is learning to braid her own.

Getting over myself on the Zumwalt Prairie



"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.


A growing angst calls me back to my tent at lunch to find a pool of water adhering my rainfly to the ground. When I open up water droplets cover the entrance and there's a cow-pie sized wet spot from below threatening my bed.

"There's room for more people in the dorm." replays in my head. I am tempted. But none of my relations had a dorm. Sleeping in the dorm interferes with the connection I seek. If I can't put aside my addiction to comfort for a few nights, how can I inspire others to really connect with the Earth?

By the end of day two spirits are lagging but no one complains, even as burnt sox are rescued from atop the heater. Patricia has resorted to river sandals because feet dry faster than sox, or either pair of her boots. There are rumblings . . . take a break just for the night and move to a  couch or the dorm. A couple of people succumb.

"Don't be a hero," Elaine advises. I acknowledge the wisdom but trudge off to bed, determined. My half-hearted return is mirrored by the droopy tent. I clear the rainfly pool, again, then with wet hands open sagging zippers. Even though I sit quickly inside more water has followed me. In the moment I am paralyzed by it, I spot muddy pools in two corners where shoes and boots were left to dry. While I mop the mess, with a flannel shirt, I notice the floor is wet in several places though the wet spot from below is gone. I take a hint and mop under my sleeping pads. While nothing else is soaked the entire contents of my sanctuary is cold, and damp.

"I can do this one more night," I root for myself out loud. I muster up some gratitude for a dry bag and change into bed clothes before stuffing my legs in my bag. I push through all my flute songs despite the awful gurgle, but I can't bring myself to sing. I zip in, but can tell the temperature has dropped by my body's hunger to be engulfed in covers. I cinch the mummy around my face and wait for warmth.

My feet hold out so I add a second and then third layer of sox, including the biggest baddest pair I own, and lay down again. I wait. The cold seeps in at each place my body touches the bag. I change to insulated pants, a move that proves tricky inside the mummy. I get a cramp in my foot and stomp it out, also from inside the bag. I lie back down and wait, but in short order add a second layer on top. I try to feel grateful I have enough clothes to pile on. Surely this is a test to see if I'll ride my privilege back down the hill to the dorm. Sleep comes in waves, restless like prairie storms, churning, turning.

Sometime in the night I sense the quiet that only comes when the rain stops. Waking some time later I can tell it's near dawn. The northeast corner of my orange tent is glowing, a hue that can only be delivered by the sun. Clothes fly on and I cannot unzip the door quickly enough; then with a full body reach for the rainfly zipper I leap to standing with the grace of a yearling bear reaching for currants on a high branch.

Deep breath aside I spin 360 degrees to find only blue sky. "Thank you Pachamama, thank you Father Sky." I grab my camera bag, descend the hill, stop only to pee and I'm off, up the Road to Monument to open my eyes and heart, and collect my reward for getting over myself by staying open to the light and dark. I can't help but sing.

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful. I'm so proud of you "sticking it out" for yourself and no one else. Blessings...

    ReplyDelete