I have packed too much. I hadn’t wanted to get cold or wet or to be
uncomfortable. I am so well prepared it is way too much to carry, for what feels like miles across Dartmoor on a blistering hot day in June. I lag behind, reminded of being the smallest and physically weakest during my school days, also recalling the humiliation that tended to accompany this, when no-one wants you on their
sports team. I observe that I would rather have a heart attack than ask anyone to stop. Hmm......there’s a facet of ego....the face of pride.
Having arrived at base camp we all strike out even further to find a place to sit for two days. As others stride off into the far distance, I feel strongly called by a shady glade, by the stream, full of foxgloves. I am surrounded suddenly by the most exquisite iridescent blue-green dragonfly’s....an insect I have been in intimate relationship with this past year and so I take it as a sign and deposit the few things I have with me in order to mark my chosen territory. Funny that.
Waiting for everyone to return I grow colder and colder. By the time the ritual begins I leap to my feet, eager to be on the move. I forget to use the threshold or introduce myself to the spirits of the land, asking, simply to be shown how I may serve better. My buddies follow behind and after a failed negotiation, because I am not clear enough about my needs, we all set off up the valley to agree a meeting point for the next few days. With a buddy system in place we are all required to visit once a day and leave a message
for our companions to let them know that we are OK. We need to find a relatively equidistant place. One of my buddies is encamped miles away. Walking up the valley away from my rucksack, I ponder my inability to secure this basic requirement for myself and begin to feel resentful. It’s dusk and I’m feeling anxious about setting up my shelter before nightfall. I can see that on so many levels my anxiety is completely irrational, but I can’t help it. The whole setting up escapade is to be one of my hardest times over the next two days. I even help my second buddy find her lost marking before I head all the way back down the valley to get my things. Hmm.....another pattern spotted.....do not state needs, help others when I need to sort my self out,
feel resentful....Ah well....Note to self!
I am finally setting up my tarpaulin just as it gets dark. Never having made such a rudimentary shelter on my own before, I am ridiculously pleased with myself and set out to finds branches to create my circle around my camp. It has been suggested that we get ourselves up two or three times during the night. Having been working very hard recently and having arrived feeling completely knackered a lot of my personal process in the days of preparation before coming out has been about my relationship with external authority. I go to sleep.
I am awakened the next day at dawn, by the pony family who arrive to drink from the nearby water. It is about 4 in the morning. I stride out up the hill in front of my camp. I walk and walk and walk. The sun comes up and it grows hotter. I walk. As I walk I become aware of feelings I’ve been having about a long time close female friend who has not responded to my communications over the last year. I know she’s busy, but away from distraction and work I begin to really feel what’s in my heart about this situation. I am feeling undervalued and ignored.....abandoned even. This one has been floating around for a while, along with my awareness that I can sometimes find it really difficult to accept it when life (and people)changes. Given that I aspire to acceptance this is one of life’s dilemma’s for me.
Arriving at a stone monument I ask the stone if it will act as my witness. You’ve heard of La Stone therapy? This was a sister treatment. Stones make great listening ears....they’ve got all day, they don’t charge by the hour.....what more can I say? After I’d spoken to that friend, I spoke to two others. I wept and I raged. I’d been in and out of therapy for a number of years, in order to address apparently irrational deep-seated feelings of abandonment, before I discovered that my mother had given me to my aunt for the first six months of my life, whilst she nursed her dying alcoholic mother. I’d grown up feeling more attached to my aunt than my mother and could never really understand why I always felt so bereft when I left her home. My body remembered though and I was still trying to deal with the legacy well
into my thirties, when my aunt finally decided somebody really ought to tell me. It is only in the last few months that I have become truly, fully, aware that some of the drama’s I have run in my intimate relationships with women really belong in that original situation and I finally felt ready to take full responsibility. The depth of feeling I associate with being discarded, whilst it may have some reality and validity to it in the present day really belongs back there and it is time for me to take full responsibility for my feelings and stop releasing emotional toxicity when other people don’t behave according to my agenda.
In truth, I am amazed at what arises, here, with a stone, in the middle of the Moor. At one point, a man appears over the hill with a large rucksack on his back (almost as large as mine, though he does look better equipped than me to carry his). I can see that he is desperately curious about what the hell I’m up to....but I Do Not Want To Be Disturbed and I feel, ridiculously pleased when he reluctantly wanders off over the hill, turning to look back every now and then to ponder this raving lunatic he’s comes across in the middle of his walking holiday. Given that there are 24 of us dotted around this valley I wonder, chuckling, how many more shocks he has in store today?
Feeling remarkably cleansed and not at all hungry, on my first morning of spring water, I simply enjoy, on the way back to my circle.....the blazing sky, the ponies, the flowers, the warmth on my body, walking, being alive. I have spent about 12 hours wandering the moor, walking in all four directions, stopping at lunchtime (well it would be if I was
eating) for a snooze. I notice what an active person I am and that I love to strike out for far distant horizons, just to see what they hold. I am a natural explorer. Sitting contemplation not for me, but rather a noticer-on-the hoof.......which reminds me, that my second walk seems to be my Medicine walk. Coming to a piece of ground scattered with brown and white feathers I begin, feverishly, to collect as many as I can hold. Puzzling over what bird they belonged to and assuming it met it’s end in the talons of
a buzzard or the jaws of a fox, I realize it has been a young sea-gull. Strange somehow to have come all this way inland from the sea where I live and be here collecting gull feathers. A dead gull. I wonder whether this a message that we should go ahead with the move we have pondered this year.....or the opposite.......or just seagull feathers, which I am enjoying, regardless.......I also find a whole lot of burnt heather wood, which is so marvelous in it’s twisted knarliness it fills me with desire for a collecting bag. I plan to come back for more but do not, as a new horizon calls me.....hey maybe that’s what happened to my absent friend. It
just is.....our feelings about it truly are, our responsibility. Most excitingly, because I’ve somehow been working through some sort of process with Deer Medicine this last year, I find a deer leg. I imagine how my dear sweet friend Xenia, who’s not much of an outdoor girl and was horrified by the bits of dead sheep we found lying around when we were first walking out, will take a deer leg in the car on the way home? Maybe best not to tell her I think.
The wind is up tonight and I wonder whether my shelter will hold. It does....under a significant challenge from the weather spirits....if that’s a metaphor, I am pleased by the reflection it offers....my work holds under challenge.....and the pony family are back again......wonderful to observe these natural rhythms.....they, like me, need to drink regularly....we are, all utterly dependent upon Water...the sun rises, travels round the valley and sets, the moon rises and falls and the sun rises again....maybe too the Deep Feminine rose and fell, overshadowed by what has felt like an overbearing masculine (for where is the moon in the heat of
the day?), but all life moves in cycles and she rises again, to bring her cool, dark, balm to the world, as one cycle must always, by the law of nature give way to another....life-death-rebirth....Yay!!!
In the evening I sleep...again. I spent most of the rest of the day in sheer and simple delight in my surroundings. Away from work, conversational demands, washing dishes, e-mail and all the other clutter of contemporary living I fell headlong into bees, grasshoppers, dragonfly’s, rushing water and tree canopy’s. The woods were where I spent most of my time as a child and I have always found immense
solace in her arms, as she provides such a peaceful crucible in which to just BE.
I come back full of gratitude for my magnificent life, apologize to the spirits for my lack of etiquette on arrival.......I sing by the fire which has held us all in it’s warmth these last two days and return...home from whence I came in the first place. It would be a good day to die!
I dream of helping to hold the fire for others way back in 2010 during this Vision Quest. This summer of 2016 I will. :-)
Ali Young is both a published poet and academic, with book chapters in collections on
embodiment published by
Routledge, as well as a
variety of academic papers.