“Treat the earth well: It was not given to you by your parents, It was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.”
Featured image credit to Jeremy Bolwell, image courtesy of Geograph.org.uk. Other images from Gareth James and Nigel Davies courtesy of the same site. Other pictures are from Google maps.
In the summer of 2013, I took myself off for a little journey into nature. I was inspired in this by one of my wife’s friends, who had gone on a Vision Quest some time before. I was taken with the idea of going into nature for a while and having some time to think and experience things on a different level than I usually do.
I should be clear that what I did was not a vision quest in the strict sense. I had none of the training or counsel required in order to undertake such a feat. In fact, the reading that I did beforehand made me slightly wary of misappropriating the term without full understanding. A vision quest is a sacred rite of passage for Native Americans and I felt like it would be an insult to think that I could recreate such a thing on my own. Instead, I chose to think of my journey as just that: a journey. As well as all that, doing my own thing allowed me to determine my own ‘rules of engagement’ for the process. I figured that as long as my heart, spirit and intentions were pure, then I could not offend anything in the woods. My love for Twin Peaks has told me that you should never do anything to upset the woods
Having said that, I did do some reading around Native American customs and rituals as a way of becoming closer to the world around us. I read about the medicine wheel and the power of fasting in order to achieve clarity of spirit. The basic outline of what I was going to do involved spending three nights in the wild, fasting in silence with nothing but water and the company of nature. My guide in preparation for this adventure was this book. I found lots of useful ideas inside on what I should think about doing at each stage.
I searched at length for a place to carry out my journey. I wanted somewhere with extensive woodland and a stream or river; somewhere that I could be guaranteed the minimum human interaction. Solitude was the order of the day as I would have to be silent. Wales was my first choice. Snowdonia was a little to far off so I settled on the Black Mountains. the name appealed to me and there, right in the centre of the map, lay Mynydd Du forest: a massive expanse of woodland. That looked just the place.
I loaded up the car with my camping gear and lots of water along with the remains of our Chinese meal from the night before (which would serve as my last meal before entering the wild) and headed west. I was filled with a rare excitement at the prospect of spending three nights looking at myself and my surroundings in a different way. The path I had chosen involved going back into childhood on the first night, adolescence on the second and adulthood on the third, waking on the last morning and calling for a vision.
It was a sunny August day and I drove west, over the Severn and into Wales. I stopped outside Abergavenny and polished off the rest of my special fried rice, then made my way into the Brecon Beacons and navigated through smaller and smaller roads until I reached the general area I had seen on the map. The first day of this journey is all about childhood, and I truly felt like a child at this point. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing out here; that I was just being stupid. In fact, I even considered throwing in the towel before I’d even started. I was worried about where I could park the car and would I be allowed to leave it overnight and what if it got stolen and all sorts of irrational thoughts that threatened to overcome my calm purpose. At this point I needed help and guidance. I needed an elder. At that moment, I had my first sign that things were working for me; that there was something at work here in my favour. Out of nowhere, as I sat in the car park in the middle of nowhere, a van pulled in and an elderly man stepped out. he worked for the National parks service and was checking some fencing. I wasted no time in bombarding him with questions about the area and whether I was allowed to leave the car somewhere. Of course, I was being irrational. This wasn’t London. There wasn’t a parking patrol that was going to clamp my car. I should have known that. But then, I had set myself up to re-enter childhood and, at this point, I had already crossed that threshold.
I parked the car at the Mynydd Du Car Park, a lovely secluded spot as you can see in the picture and map below.
From here it was my intention to hike up into the woods to the east and find somewhere to set up camp. Being a child at this point, however, I was loathe to stray too far from the car. I crossed the stream (the Grwyne Fawr you can see on the map) and sat on the other side looking into the waters of the stream. There was a nice, grassy area on the edge of the woods that looked like a good place to set up my tent and I would be able to hear the water moving through the night. I was disappointed in myself for not being more adventurous but I knew that this was right for me at the time. There was a tree stump in a handy location which I could use for a seat so I sat and thought about what I had to do. The place was utterly deserted and I unloaded my gear from the car; it was getting on to dusk at this point although it was still very light. I gathered some stones from the river and used them to set up the sacred circle in which I would stay. I had already bought myself some crystals to mark the four compass points: quartz for the West, amethyst for the South, citrine for the east and smoky quartz for the North. I placed them on top of the stones for each of these directions and my circle was complete.
I was beset by midges at this point and I lit some incense and burned some sage in order to keep them off whilst I completed my preparations. Having taken stones from the river, I was aware that I would have to replace them at the end. Just as I completed the set up, it started to rain, so I climbed inside the tent. It didn’t last long, though, and when it stopped I came out to my tree stump and began to write in my journal, lighting a candle next to me. I wrote down all the memories from childhood that I could pull from my brain; all the good and all the bad. At some point, a black and white dog, presumably from the farm nearby, came to visit me, contemplating me from outside the circle before running off. I also saw a slug, curled up on a nearby branch like he (he??) was listening to my thoughts.
When I had written everything that came into my mind, I looked at the candle, its flame brighter now in the gathering gloom, and felt alone and isolated. Here was my child again. I suddenly wished that I had someone with me to share this experience. there was no one to share the darkness with.
The tent was small but comfortable. It had no airlock; just an outer door that I was forced to keep shut to keep the midges away. There was another slug on a stone – lots of slugs! At this point, I couldn’t see the magic of the place I had chosen. I had a few regret and still felt annoyed at my own lack of adventurous spirit, being so close to the car.
Just then, as if my thoughts had been heard, two people came along. Out of nowhere, as it was becoming too dark to write, two men showed up and started to put up a tarpaulin about thirty metres from my tent. I felt a little angry at first that my solitude had been interrupted, but then I realised that this was in answer to what I was feeling. I knew I was supposed to stay silent but this was my journey and my rules, so I resolved to go and speak to them. They were a nice pair, from Bristol and London, who were fell walking and training through the area. I introduced myself and told them what I was doing and that I really wasn’t supposed to be speaking but didn’t want to seem rude. They respected what I was doing and, when I returned to my circle, I had a very light feeling inside me. I had explored all the ups and downs of childhood, I had felt alone and isolated on two occasions during the day and on both occasions had been given help. After washing my hands in the stream, I settled into my sleeping bag and read by torchlight for a while. the other book I had brought with me on my journey was F. David Peat’s Blackfoot Physics. You can find it here. It’s a great look at how modern science and native thinking can be reconciled and used together.
Twice during the first night, I woke up. The first time was because I found a slug in my sleeping bag (how???). the second time was from a most amazing dream. It was horrible at the time but brought with it such a cathartic ending that I awoke and shouted, Yes!!! over and over again into the night. In my dream, everything was drawn to me. Not in a good way. Dust, twigs, sweet wrappers; they were all attracted to me. It was irritating but became much worse when the things that were drawn to me became bigger and more menacing. I started to become afraid and ran into a large supermarket. Walking through the aisles, I could tell that there were all sorts of things waiting for me outside: wild animals and even a tyrannosaur. I knew if I went outside that they would rip me to shreds and devour me. I crept through the supermarket to another exit, invisible to all these things until I emerged at the door to find them all waiting for me. This was impossible, I thought. There was no way this could be real; no way these animals could know that I had moved to the other door. Full of conviction, I ran out into the middle of them, seeing them close in on me. All the while I was shouting at the top of my voice, “Not real, not real, not real, not real!” As I shouted, all the animals and monsters flickered and vanished. in their place was a bunch of what looked like satellite receivers and six guys in Batman costumes lying unconscious on the floor. As I stood in disbelief at what had happened, the real Batman appeared next to me (The Christian Bale version) and told me to do something to prove it was OK. He told me that he had been way behind me in figuring out all of what was going on. Then I woke up.
I felt then, and I feel today, that this was a message. All my childhood fears were just projections. They were not real unless I allowed them to be. I don’t know where batman figures in the message but it was pretty cool him turning up like that.
A vision quest requires you to stay within your circle for a period of days without leaving. That was my intention as I set out on my journey. However, when I awoke from the first night with such an overwhelming sense of achievement, I knew I would be unable to sit still. Here I was, surrounded by the beauty of nature. How could I not explore? opening my tent, I saw two sheep staring at me from across the stream. I felt a little hungry but not uncomfortably so. I decided that I would go for a walk. I tied up my boots, filled my water bottle and struck out along the path towards the Grwyne Fawr reservoir. I would wander up there and decide on a path from there. This second day was all about adolescence and I did feel like a teenage rebel leaving my circle in such a way
In the middle of this natural world, it seems odd to me that I was drawn to a very human feature. The water behind the towering wall was absolutely calm and still when I arrived. not a single ripple broke its glassy surface. I drank deep from my bottle and walked across. On the way I saw a hare, dead, with its guts ripped out. Its whole insides had been separated and were covered in flies and I was quite shocked at the site. I wondered if this was another message. Would something similar happen to me today? I became worried that the walk would use my energy and make me more hungry. I simply had to explore this beautiful place, though. I wanted high ground, so I followed the path to the peak of Twyn Talycefn. It felt amazing to be up there and my hunger abated a little. I found a cairn, one stone of which looked like a throne which had been set aside for me, so I sat down and thought. There were horses up there and I thought of my wife. Then I noticed that one of them had a foal and this gave me a great feeling that we would have a child soon. If you’ve read M is for Michael then you’ll know that that came about soon after.
I intended to sit for a while and then return to the valley and my camp. however, I was gripped by a desire to walk on to the next peak, Rhos Dirion. It was worth it as I was rewarded with stunning views of the countryside around me. It was a hard road back to camp. I took what I thought was a short cut but it was a long trek through thick vegetation that I regretted very soon. Just as I was setting off back to camp, I saw the two men who had set up next to me. They were on the next leg of their journey and stopped to ask if I’d had anything to eat. I said that I hadn’t and they were amazed that I was thinking about walking this far on an empty stomach. When I arrived back at camp, finally, I saw the wisdom in what they were saying. I felt completely exhausted and weak, on the verge of collapse. I had walked a total of around 10 miles, most of it uphill, and I was feeling it. At this point, I broke and went to the emergency provisions in my car. I’d brought a bunch of bananas and some cereal bars in case I got stranded and I had a banana. I felt like I’d earned it and it would not be offensive to replenish my energy, given all that I had expended on my walk.
I returned to my circle feeling fantastic but a little like a cheat. I was still looking forward to writing my journal and going through my adolescence. I had lived up to that part of the journey on that second day. I had been a fool to think that I could go on such a walk without anything to eat. I had been impulsive and thought that I could do anything. My own body had told me that this was not the case. I was OK with it, though. I made mistakes in adolescence as everyone does. There are brilliant things to look back on too. On my path back to the camp, although hard, I had been accompanied by butterflies for long portions of the walk. I felt like I was being tested, and that I was passing. As I sat down on the tree stump to write in my journal, I noticed a wasp. I told it to get lost and it dutifully obeyed. the weather was gorgeous at this point. It was getting on to evening time and I was burning frankincense to keep the midges away.
The guys had gone, as I said, and I was alone this night. I walked around the forest a little as it got dark and it got a bit more chilly. That night was probably the worst of the three. I woke up with a colossal headache in the middle of the night and couldn’t relax enough to go to sleep. I had to take some paracetamol and knew that it was probably hunger-related (more fallout from my exertions of the day) so I ate a cereal bar and another banana. What the hell, I thought. This was my journey. I felt back on track after that and I settled down. the dreams returned but none of the three I had that night held much meaning for me at the time. One was about a next door neighbour wandering in and out of my house as he liked. Serena was fine with it and I felt helpless. Another involved a swimming pool and people accusing me of things. the other was a major sporting event. it was like watching a film; there were lots of guns and some kind of honey trap -plotline and lots of people opening doors.
I didn’t come out of that second night as positive as the first. If I took a message from it, it was that I could climb mountains and achieve peace, but I still had stuff to deal with it when I came back down.
So, waking up feeling less positive, I resolved to be an adult about things and make the best of it. I’d had such a positive experience on my walk the day before that I decided I should do it again. It’s not in my nature to sit still.
I struck out again, this time intending to climb to the top of the nearby Waun Fach (810m). I walked up a forest trail which I had intended to camp on when I first planned the trip. It was very steep and, about half way up, I discovered a place that I surely would have used for my camp. It was flat and overlooked the valley and had definitely been used as a camp before. I felt a little annoyed that I hadn’t been more adventurous the first night, but I decided not to let it get to me. My experiences by the stream had been very fulfilling to this point and I saw no reason to have regrets.
When I emerged from the forest, it was to the sight of a vast area of felled trees. It had a truly eerie feel about it. That much destruction in one place, it felt like I had stumbled upon a mass grave after some massacre had occurred. Tree limbs lay scattered all around and I felt compelled to apologise as I picked my way through them. It was such a steep gradient and I had chosen a difficult path that I was exhausted when I reached the end and had another banana. I still felt hungry but there was no return of my headache from the night before. I reached the summit of Pen Y Gadair Fawr and from there I could see the larger summit to the north west of me. It was a simple but quite long walk and there was quite a lot of boggy ground along the way which ate up some time. Eventually I reached the top of Waun Fach.
It’s quite a disappointing summit, like a plateau, really. I didn’t spend too much time up there as I was being battered by the East wind. On my way back to camp I was again followed by butteflies. I couldn’t explain why but I felt more grown up on this walk. I felt like an adult with a plan and that I was doing things in a reasoned way. I looked forward to a hot meal the next day ( I planned to stop at Cardiff on my way home as a treat) and spoke to lots of sheep on my way back down. They all ran away from me though!
When I had smudged my camp again, I started to notice lots of wildlife around me: slugs (as usual), a bumblebee about its business, a crane fly gliding past and birds singing in the trees. I was ready to think about my adult life and write it all down in my journal. Itr was a lovely evening – near perfect conditions for my last night. After a great deal more writing in my journal, it started to turn cold and the clouds gathered. I listened to the stream bubbling next to me and thought about my wishes for the future.
My vision of the horses had convinced me that Serena and I would be parents.
Aside from that, I had enjoyed the act of writing everything down. I knew that I wanted to create something in my lifetime using my ability to write. I also thought about how genuinely happy I was with my life and how much I wanted to stay that way, and work to stay that way, all the way through.
I lit a candle outside the tent and let it burn the night through as I waited for dawn.
That night I felt more nervous than ever. I walked back over the bridge to check on the car several times, worried that it would go missing when I was so close to going home.
I wished for a dreamless sleep. This last night was supposed to be about calling for a vision. At this minute, I felt like I had seen enough and didn’t want too much revealed to me, especially not about my future, if that is what was to happen. To have my gifts and true nature revealed would be all I could wish for along with a safe return home.
I had three dreams that night. The first was me on safari with John Locke from Lost. It was hard to see the animals and we were both trying to see a lion. The second involved trying to get an airplane to go 70mph with Anthony Stewart Head and a chimp. The last involved me being at the premiere of a new Bond film. The Queen was there. There was some problem with batteries and the choice of film!!
It was still dark when I awoke. It had been raining. When it got light, I packed up the camp. I tossed the stones back into the river with a thank you to each one. I thanked the woods and the stream for watching over me as I slept. Just as I was saying my goodbyes, a heron flew over my head. I looked it up in the book and it said the message I should accept is, “Watch for opportunities and become comfortable in uncertain situations.”
That was the end of my quest. I stopped in Cardiff for a few hours and went for a fried breakfast at Ramon’s (I’ll get into Ramon’s a bit more when I do U is for University. After that, I started the long drive home. I read somewhere that when you go on a quest, sometimes you gain no understanding of what you see until years after. things reveal themselves in their own time. Since I completed my journey, I have often looked back at what I experienced. I have thought about the place and the act of remembering my life. All in all, it was a tremendously rewarding experience that I shall never forget. I may even try to do it again in a few years. I feel like I should return to this place even though part of me says that I should not; that I should find somewhere new.
I came face to face with who I have been, who I am, and who I wanted to be. In that, I found the following to be useful:
To change is indeed a state of mind. When one resists the healing of change they perpetuate confusion of the soul. The soul only knows change. If we accept the soul’s needs as our own we see the imperfections of ourselves and others as acceptable and even look forward to the opportunity! When we embrace those imperfections, when we show love for those imperfections, we have stepped up one rung on the ladder of evolution.
Seek not to be perfect, seek not those that are perfect for therein lies no growth. Rather seek out your imperfections and embrace those of others and walk together the road to perfection. When you are truly on that path shall you see the beauty of imperfection as a manifestation of your own perfection.
Therein lies your happiness!!!
Two Feathers – Kainaiwa Elder – Blackfoot Nation
Thanks so much for reading. If you enjoyed this, then please look at my other entries in the Blogging form A to Z Challenge. Ten more letters to go!!