With very little time left in the day I had been forced to find a new spot for my hike and my Spirit Quest. I’d arrived at the new location’s trailhead with about three hours of daylight left. I estimated I had about two and a half miles of hiking, most of which would be off trail and up and down a few ridges. It would be alright. I was on a quest from God. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself…)
In a very non-meditative or even thoughtful way I sped down the main trail. I passed a few trail runners (or should I say they passed me?) and we greeted each other with a nod or a smile. Otherwise, I was moving fast and trying to get to the spot on the main trail that I had decided would be my “leaping off” point. I figured, if I hurried, I could get to the ridge top I wanted, set up camp and be making a fire for tea right at first dark. The only way that would happen though is if I wasted absolutely no time. This was when the training I had been doing paid off. Even with a very heavy 50 lb. pack I didn’t feel the changes in elevation. That was all to change soon enough but the first part was good and I enjoyed the feeling.
While on the main trail I had my first experience that I feel I can share. There was a flash of movement, wings and yellow right in front of me, and I stopped right in my tracks. It stopped to my left and as I looked there sat a bird I had never seen before in all my years in the woods of my area. I knew two things quickly; that it was a warbler and it was very much out of migration season. Later I was able to I.D. it as a Hooded Warbler, a bird that is endangered and rare in my State. (The experience happened far too fast for me to get a pic! The one below is from wikipedia.)
The warbler hopped from branch to branch and was definitely looking at me. It chirped a few times and gave me a very clear view of it. The behavior was VERY unusual and I immediately took note of the encounter. It was my first visit and my first sign. A clear message that I had chosen wisely and was moving in the right direction. (Once home I was able to do some research and find that warblers stand for patience, endurance and singing your soul song. Quite apt. At the moment, at the very moment it happened, I felt none of that.) All I heard was “The forest spirits greet you and wish you well. You are welcome here.” I also realized that it had done an excellent job of slowing me down! The minute I whispered “Thank you” it flew off.
Inspired by that encounter I moved to my waypoint and pulled out my dowsing rods. Using them, I received a very clear idea of the direction I needed to go. (I then confirmed it with a quick GPS/Compass reading!) With my path set, and my rods at the ready, I stepped off the trail into the bush and thus began the second trial of the day!
Walking off trail, moving up and down steep ridges, dodging briars and fallen logs, looking for sure footing, all of this can make for a tiring hike. When you add in a heavy pack filled with a full water bladder, things get interesting. When you are rushing against the coming of evening, it gets even more daunting. More than once I had to stop and catch my breath and as the straps began to dig into my shoulders and my chest started pounding I heard my wife’s parting words, “Don’t have a heart attack, old man.” She had meant it entirely in good humor but there was a very bracing thought attached underneath it. If something DID happen out here off the trail I would be in a very BAD situation and it could very likely be fatal. End of the quest and most definitely an embarrassing news story! I felt I was in good health but still, why push it that hard? All I needed was one tired, missed step and a roll down the ridge for my next few days to turn very very sour! I used the rods to help me navigate a pathless course and more than once noticed after I had passed they had taken me around areas that were too steep, too loose or too covered in debris.
Eventually, I got to where I was going. I made it to the top of the ridge I wanted to get to. I won’t lie. I was hurting pretty bad. My shoulders and backed ached. My knees and thighs burned. I couldn’t catch my breath and sweat was pouring off of me. I dropped to one knee and allowed myself to rest. Once that was accomplished the rods came out again and I asked where EXACTLY I was to camp for the rest of my stay. The rods swung strong and directed me through a bit more brush. I held back my frustration, clamored to my feet and followed their lead. To my surprise, the land sloped upward a bit more, the woods opened up and I realized I’d not truly made the top of the ridge. There was still a bit more to go and the rods led me to a beautiful clearing! A tingle of solid positive energy washed over me and I started laughing. The rods stayed solid and took me to an old oak tree. From there they swung to an area a few feet away and crossed, locking into place. This would be my camp.
I gave the oak tree a friendly but respectful pat and dropped to one knee again offering a prayer of thanks. Then, I looked around.
The clearing was gorgeous!
I gave my thanks out loud and sat for a few minutes gathering my energy and my thoughts. Looking at the sun just above the western horizon I figured I had a little under an hour before dark. My legs and shoulders didn’t think so but everything else was working out just fine.
Once recovered, I unrolled the bedroll and the tarps and began to set up camp. I asked permission to use the oak for my tarp ridgeline and I got a response that was similar to, “Well, why wouldn’t you?” That oak… it ended up being a pretty warm and entertaining companion for the next few days!
Camp went up quickly and after clearing and digging out a small fire spot also designated by the dowsing rods, I began to gather firewood and finish up my preparations for evening. With final light failing and my fire ready to go, I sat for a few moments to offer up a final prayer. After I was done, I lit the fire and let it slowly grow. With it burning, I was able to finally sit, relax and let the night begin to unfold around me.
Without going to much into detail, the night was beautiful. Whippoorwills began to carry on around me. Crickets and other insects joined in. A hunting great horned owl on a nearby ridge put in his hoots. Through it all I sat quietly, fed the fire and eventually made myself some tea. Time quickly became a wonderful blur.
I slept a little that first night but not much. To be honest it was not that physically comfortable to lie down. In my haste I had not done a good job of making divots for my shoulders and hips in the ground beneath my ground tarp. On top of that the temperature dropped significantly during the middle of the night and a cool breeze came up the ridge side. Due to the orientation of my tarp lean-to the breeze ended up coming right through the shelter and I had to bundle up and cover my head with the wool blanket to stay as warm as possible. In a dream I was given instruction on how to fix the shelter. I also dreamed I was sitting around a similar fire and that shadowy forms were coming and going, talking to me, instructing me, laughing with me. (The details of that are for me only.) The fire went out at some point and coyotes woke me near dawn, singing to one another. I laid there for maybe an hour watching the sun turn the sky a slow, gentle shade of blue.
Through the trees a morning star shone on me and then faded as the birds began to sing. A pileated woodpecker flew through camp in the dim light of dawn.
As morning broke around me it felt as if I had passed through a dimensional door and a great, protective barrier had arisen around me. I was in a sacred bubble of space and for the next few days it would simply be me and Mama Nature having a very powerful and beautiful discussion.
(To Be Continued…)