Take a Journey with me

My experience on a four day Vision Fast in the fall of 2006 was life changing.
Maybe, if you have the time to go along with me, you'll find some food for thought on your own journey.

At the right of the screen are the stories, Day by Day, of my trip into pysche and soul.
Hope you find something you're looking for there.


There was no time.

sept 28th, 2007Lake Nunikani

There was no time. I was way too busy for this. But I had promised myself that in a year I would return and complete the ritual. Go back to the same spot where I had spent three nights last September on a Quest without food, free of distractions, to receive what God had for me. Now, to honour the gifts of those days; the vision I’d been given, the humour I’d been armed with, the company of the angels, I had to make time.

It was late September and the rush of a church season revving up to full speed had me hanging on with both hands. Hitting the gas from the dead stop of a summer sabbatical was a nauseating push in the first week back. In the next weeks, I managed to shift through the gears of pulling people together again – working against the pull of summers’ entropy– fueled by necessity. And now, jumping off the moving vehicle was frightening – all those details I needed to take care of, all those calls and visits and threads to pull together…

Last year I had spent weeks, months really, preparing for the kayak trip to Lake Nunikani. This time, on the morning of the trip, I grabbed the pack from where I’d left it in the basement a year ago. It still had the tarp and kettle and rope in it. I rooted around ‘til I found my drum and sleeping bag and put a change of clothes and rainsuit in another bag. Outside, I threw the kayak on the truck roof. Kissed Carol goodbye. Dropped David at school. And I was gone – my head more full of the busyness behind me than the journey ahead.

It was a gray, cold, and windy fall day. The wind carried an occassional spray of rain my way. It seemed crazy to be heading off camping into this weather. I’d said as much to Steve on the phone that morning – calling about last minute details for Sunday’s powerpoint liturgy. He laughed and said “a bad day in a canoe is still better than a good day in the office.”

A good listener; someone who will take time to slow me down, and ask important questions, is so important at a time like this. If Steve was the Doorkeeper who pushed me out into the world. Brenda served as the Wise Woman met on the road’s beginning, just beyond the edge of town. She stops me before my journey’s yet begun and asks me “where am I going?” In response to my answers full of quest and purpose, she offers up a gift for the journey. She pulls from me the question “What really matters?”, and she tells me that I must not answer this question – only carry it with me. It is a token to wear that reminds me of the purpose lying below the ritual’s surface performance.

The ritual is to return one year later to the same place and remember the messages of the quest. To remember the resolutions and to re-discover the skin shed in that place, look at the husk of the cocoon, and re-view where my new set of wings has carried me in the months since.

Paddling against the wind slowed me down. I hadn’t used my arms and body like this for a while and they complained bitterly. But after a while, my neck and shoulder muscles started to loosen and the stress I’d been carrying there drained into the water in my wake. The paddling became easier.

At the north end of Big Hawk Lake, in a bay where the river that connects Nunikani to Big Hawk flows, I greeted the solemn, cedar-bearded cliff faces that watch over the bay. Their ancient watch humbled me; a passer-by of moments while they counted in centuries.

The first little pull-through rapids was familiar. It felt like I was just here weeks ago. The water in the river was lower than last year and so the kayak scraped a little more over the granite shelf as I hauled it up and over. At the next rapids however, the 100 metre portage up to the dam seemed just as long and just as steep. I was glad to be back in Nunikani and excited by what the Spirit might have to tell me.

The lake seemed smaller than I remembered. The large-ness of discovery was gone as I found each landmark pretty much as I remembered it. I paddled directly to the campsite in the little bay running west off the north-south stretch of the lake. It seemed like a rainstorm was a distinct possibility so I wanted to get my tarp up and my stuff under it before any downpour.

I met the features of the campsite, like the features on a familiar face. The campsite sat atop a granite outcrop the size of a house. At the shore was the hollowed eye of a stump. Stepping up, there was the flat shelf of granite where I had performed the Death Lodge ritual. Up on top was the fire pit and mossy spot where I slung my tarp on a rope between trees and laid my sleeping bag. I pulled out the drum and re-enacted my introduction to this place; introducing myself with a rhythm that stated my presence. Instead of the stimulating wind on water welcome of last year, the wind only brought in a cold drizzle of rain. My mind was heavy and tired and I crawled into the nest and slept.

It was dusk when I woke. The sky had cleared. Staggering around the site a bit, I decided to go out on the water to pray. Gliding over flat water, balancing, letting each paddle stroke take the kayak as far as it will, put me in a mood for magic. And, as the sun set red and purple over the western shore, a full moon rose in the eastern sky.

While the Moon is Full
Clouds are such momentary creations
God’s improvised jazz
never to be repeated

I want my words to be great stone cliffs
scripture, solid stuff,
undiminished by passing days

but my time is only a season of the moon
coming full
only to turn and go

so let these words be spoken
while the moon rises
and let the clouds carry them to the cliffs
where they’ll rain down
tears on the ancient face

some other moonstruck fool
will let morning mists inspire
a similar riff

The next morning I had tea over a small fire. I looked again at the small maple tree leaning against the great white pine. It had been God’s revelation to me – an image of my artist self. Thin, shadowed by taller trees, I hadn’t felt exactly empowered by the vision – as real and true as the picture was – I felt mostly compassion for that part of me yearning for sun and growth. As I looked it over again, I saw something new. Just beyond it, was another maple with exactly the same lean. The difference was that this tree was out at the forest’s edge. It leaned against no other. It lifted its branches and red leaves to open sky.

I had to agree with what God was saying. In the last twelve moons I had taken a step out to the shore. I had made a shift in self-regard. And I had spent more of my creative energy putting pen to paper (and fingers to keypad). While still far from a mature tree, I was out at the shore where I would get sun and exposure; where I had started to share my stuff.

Back in the kayak, I made a return trip to the upturned stump at the north end of the lake and jotted down a poem. Retracing the journey’s steps, I dutifully revisited the moss-covered, weeping wall. The creative juices were flowing fast and steady and I hurried back down to pad and pen and wrote it all up.

But I had no endurance this time. Although I’d carved out space for two nights away, the things back home that needed attention lured me away. The lack of mental and spiritual preparation for this trip meant my stamina for emptiness was low. I’d emptied a little and God had quickly filled it up to overflowing. I packed it up and split for home.

I sang some songs of spontaneous praise (that only God would enjoy). Some strange ducks encouraged me on. They too were seasonal, annual, visitors here. Stopping by on a long journey, generations long. A year is not long they said. Just another ring inside the bark. Be patient, From root to branch give thanks. Let your leaves grow green, turn bright and brilliant, then fall and decay for another circle’s turn. And so these words fall onto the page for your winter’s read. Reader, may your hope be stored deep and safe in your roots and rise again when the sun calls us out to play.
November 1, 2007

The Temple of Need

the roots that grip this spinning earth
that suck life from soil
to feed trunk and branch and stem
stretch out in silent cry

The green clothes I wear
customary coverings

instead, reaching out from nightmare’s dark places
my deepest needs, hungers, wants,

so many
so tangled
some fine, some gross and hollow-hallowed
startling to see them all at once
- no head, just tales untold
so human

allan reeve
sept 28th, 2007
Lake Nunikani

From where would songs begin?

From where do these winter winds blow?
They challenge my slipping grip on summer days
And send me scurrying for wood and wool.

From places white and grey, of rock and ice;
where trees keep their branches close to themselves;
down glacial sweeps more ancient than human song.

What message do they whisper?
For whom are they howling?

Is God’s voice in these cold uncaring spirits
the way I feel Her there in the soft summer spray?

If winter didn’t miss the sun?
If sunset never changed blue sky?
If a candle never met the dark?
If the living never tasted death?
If the good didn’t judge the other?
Then, from where would songs begin?

This cold, dark season pulls
from deep within us
both humbling sorrow and
to ease our way – to keep us sane
a crazy humour that laughs
when howling winds and setting sun
most threaten to tear the doors off our fragile shells.

We huddle in small groups
like mourners at a wake,
like chilled campers at a fire.
And those who turn to meet the night most full and hard
produce the stories, songs and jokes we love the best

They warm us front and back
and we find ourselves breathing deep
those winter winds
to join in a song and a laugh.

Allan Reeve
September ’06 Vision Fast

Day Four

I am looking forward to going home. If I had more energy I might even hurry home. But slow is the order of the day. Everything I do; make tea, pack up, clean up, is performed with ritual-like deliberation.

The slow passing of the days has given me a taste of what days must be like lying in a hospital bed or sitting in a prison cell. My energy, that quickly evaporates with short exertions, gives me a glimpse into the life of my elders. These experiences of empathy, and the continual flow of prayers for the people of my flock, tell me that I am indeed – a Pastor. (A fact that I’m often in doubt of.)

The visions, the songs, the impressions that God has put into my heart and imagination assure me that, in addition to a Pastor, I am also an Artist. In fact, calling myself an Artist clears up for me the experience I’ve known repeatedly over the years. The experience of feeling like I don’t fit in; of wondering why I don’t seem to see things the way many people do; of hiding and protecting the fact that I’m so easily hurt – and angered. All of these experiences are quite easily handled by the statement “I am an Artist.” Easily said, perhaps, but not a hat that I comfortably wear out in public.

Paddling home I sing a few songs just to see if the words are still there – and they are of course. Knowing that God will provide the words is the grace I depend on. “Be who you are, do what you do.” says the Christ “and let me do the rest.”

And what about my adolescent grace? Cleaning up the lines of stones, before chucking each one into the lake, I take a last look at the power they hold in me. I remove them in reverse order, starting with the ones who’d blessed me. How fortunate to have known so many encouragers and companions who were/are so generous. And how fortunate to find that what I’ve offered, has been received as a blessing by others. Blessed to be a blessing.

I acknowledge how much I have also learned at the expense of others. May the hurt I’ve caused be a place where God’s healing can be felt in their lives. And finally, I come to those who’d hurt me. As I toss them into the lake, one by one, I let them go. As I come to one of the biggest rocks I say “You were just being who you are.”
“Yeah – a prick!” says someone else. “Fuck ‘em.”
I laugh and toss it in the lake with the rest.
Maybe there’s a bit more healing still to do eh?

When I return to this spot a year from now, will I be more of that new person - born again on this rock? Will there be a season of fruit to show it? I’ll keep reaching back here for what I need. One hand on that steady head to lean on – the other gently supported by that smart young native fellow. I’m not ashamed to tell you, that I called upon that young native friend to help me carry my packs and kayak back over the portage. Just when it seemed I’d have to drop and flop, there he was. We made it the rest of the way with a song.

If you’re still with me, reader/friend, then let me say thanks to you. Sharing these words, and the story they tell, is the way I promised to honour your faithful prayers and God’s good gifts to me.

I should also let you know that upon crossing the hearth of home I expected to find Carol worn thin by solo parenting. Instead, she was fresh and happy. Her comment was “You should ask people to pray for us every time you go away.”

I hope this journey has been worth your time. Perhaps, like the memories of other trips we’ve been on, you’ll remember the bad patches as challenges faced, and the best parts will not fade with time.

Psalm 40
Thanksgiving for Deliverance and Prayer for Help

5 You have multiplied, O LORD my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.£
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.

7 Then I said, “Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.£
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O LORD.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
16 May all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the LORD!”

Translation from The Revised Standard Version

Day Three: A New Song

Harley Swift Deer, a Native American teacher says that each of us has a survival dance and a sacred dance, but the survival dance must come first. Our survival dance; a foundational component of self-reliance, is what we do for a living – our way of supporting ourselves physically and economically. For most people, this means a paid job. For members of a religious community like a monastery, it means social or spiritual labors that contribute to the community’s well-being. For others, it means creating a home and raising children, finding a patron for one’s art, or living as a hunter or gatherer. Everybody has to have a survival dance. Finding or creating one is our first task upon leaving our parent’s or guardian’s home.

Once you have your survival dance established, you can wander, inwardly and outwardly, searching for clues to your sacred dance, the work you were born to do. This work may have no relation to your job. Your sacred dance sparks your greatest fulfillment and extends your truest service to others. You know you’ve found it when there’s little else you’d rather be doing. Getting paid for it is superfluous. You would gladly pay others, if necessary, for the opportunity.
“SoulCrafting; Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche” by Bill Plotkin.

Day Three

More dreams about food wake me up somewhere in the middle of night. I get up to pee. All is dark and silent and surprisingly not as cold as the night before. I thought that this clear, clear night would drop the thermometer down. It is still far from warm so I crawl quickly back into my sleeping bag and pass the rest of the night in cycles of sleeping, dreaming, waking, watching, thanking, sleeping...

“Okay, bring it on God! I pray with the dawn “I’m ready for the big breakthrough now. Day three is here at last.” The discipline I set for myself this day is to do nothing, go nowhere, stay put - just wait and pray.

I am amazed that I don’t feel hungry at all. Despite feeling quite weak after any kind of exertion (climbing up from the lake to the fire requires a pit stop halfway up), when I stay still I feet very good. I become aware of the many prayers that are with me. One friend from church had told me that she’d be fasting today along with me. Quite a few people who I’d told about this adventure had generously offered to keep me and Carol and David in mind and heart. Knowing that this effort is not mine alone, but that it is shared by those whose lives intersect with ours - is food enough!

I’d had misgivings about telling folks about this trip. I didn’t want to be like the proverbial Pharisee announcing his self-righteous prayers for all to hear and be impressed by. I’d known a friend who’d fasted for Peace during the American war in Kuwait. That seemed a fast worth sharing. This fast is for me.

That voice sounded like me. Or, it sounded like it thought it was God.

From my heart, I had preached so many times that the Spirit moves in community. Our willingness to be moved by it will open up new channels for the Spirit to flow more powerfully. How many times had I said things like “It’s not what you do – it’s the way that you do it.” and “everything we do, every little thing, good or bad, affects everyone and everything else.”

My own small effort to find, or create, some peace in my soul was perhaps worth sharing. If it caused a friend or three to connect with the Maker one extra time on my behalf could that be bad? If it encouraged just one of those friends to do something unusual to feed their own souls with enough time and space to let the Earth nourish and replenish them, was that worth exposing myself to the critics?

My conclusion to this dilemma is my usual fallback position – one I’d learned at the age of fifteen. So far, it’s been working pretty well for me…“I am who I am. If they don’t like it – fuck‘em.” Adolescent Bravado? Definitely! But like I said, it’s where I fall back to after all my agonizing and worrying about the good, the bad, and the ugly of being “good enough?”.

It’s the antidote to the poison pill of my childhood critics. When I finally came to this conclusion as a teenager – it was my first experience of what I now call “grace”. I could feel a weight lift off and an inner joy of self-satisfaction put a spring back in my steps. Later, Jesus was to put it another way for me…”just keep being who you are, doing what you do, and I’ll do the rest.”. So far, these two versions of Grace had kept me getting up off the ground after a trip and fall.

A cup of tea and some Tai Chi exercises are my only morning distractions. It’s a grey day again with clouds to watch and winds to listen for. I sit down among my rows of rocks and my imagination is peopled with prayers.

The Sunday I’d left, I was preaching about the story of Job. Job’s suffering stirred up the questions of “Why?” and all the human explanations to that age old question. The final chapters tell of God’s response to Job. Without really replying to the questions, God instead directs Job’s attention to nature’s wonders. The Creator responds to human enquiry with the Creation.

Thinking of that sermon, I remember that I’d not only asked folks to pray for me but also said that in return, I would pray for them. I am struck with a problem. How can I keep that promise? How can I possibly remember every person who had been in church that day? Even though I do know all their names, there had been well over a hundred of them. Surely I’d miss many if I tried to go one by one. That statement had been an impromptu promise spilled from wherever those words come from. How could I honour such a promise?

Just then, the sun comes out and the wind picks up. As I lift my eyes to the lake, I see dozens and dozens of bright and sparkling lights dancing atop the wind’s little waves. There they are! They are all there before me at once! The people of Trinity-Providence, the people of my past, the people of my future – all dancing together as pure reflections of sun and hope and living light! I give thanks; ask God to bless each and every one of them and laugh at how the things that are a problem for me are so simple for God.

All through this day, God keep bringing people to mind. I take note, give a word of thanks and care for that person, and give them back to God. This process started yesterday, and as the day wears on, more and more and more people keep coming to mind.

If yesterday had been long ride, today is like waiting for a bus that might never come. I see the yellow canoes cross the bay’s mouth heading home. The hawk crosses once and is gone. And those are the big events of the morning. My bum gets sore from sitting so I raise my stiffened limbs up to a stand and a stagger and I think “maybe I’ll just go for a little paddle eh?” I really want to, but I also really want to do this thing well. I am a little surprised at my resolve.

I’m not usually good at following a strict discipline. I never much liked or respected the people who’d been strict with me, so why would I be one of them?

Somewhere in that musing about how well I am doing – something clicks. I am down by the water, near the gaping tree stump of my neediness. I connect my childhood need to please - please all those who had hurt me, and all those who might hurt me, - with my own internal damage-control-manager that keeps me working overtime to please and produce.

A talented Spiritual Director, had diagnosed it as my “over-functioning”. John had helped me begin the process of a mid-life shift. I wanted to balance the “human doing” with more of the “human being” that I talked, and talked, and talked, about but so far had remained illusive and only a hobby. I wanted to live more simply and creatively. I wanted to use my creative energies to create more beauty with fewer costs; costs to my family, my community, the earth, and my self.

In my twenties, after a similar kind of Quest that I’ll write about one day, I’d been drawn back to Toronto as the centre of a circle; a place to make things happen. I’d found a great joy in being used by God to make so many things happen with so many wonderful people. Carol and I made babies happen. We made businesses happen. We drew together circles of people and work and meaning and spirit that were a privilege to be a part of creating.

But the dream of community I sought can’t be made to happen. I tasted it several times in those years. But I also felt that I had wasted many, many hours of creative energy trying to make something so simple with such extraordinary efforts. A simple life required a simple strategy. Our urban lifestyle was pulling us in so many different directions. It was so hard to live slowly in a place where busyness sets the pace. I’ve known lots of people who have perfected the art of living simply in the city and it works well for them. But for us - we needed a shift.

Our son David had been born disabled by an extra chromosome. Downs Syndrome was a challenge we met by changing quite a few things. The emotional struggle to deal with our heartbreak opened us up to more pain than we knew was there. Our marriage was stretched beyond our limits - and the limits of marriage counseling. We both sought help from professionals but individually. We also did some family counseling to try to help our daughter Alana get through these messy times.

We were coping. We were gifted with a spiritual community that was wide and deep. At its centre was a small group of families who met every couple of weeks for a few hours of Saturday afternoon study and prayer and support. Would our marriage have lasted without these supports? I doubt it.

And then Carol was diagnosed with Colon cancer. That was the kicker. I dropped everything at work to be at home during Carol’s recovery from surgery. That summer of recovery gave us a chance to do some strategizing. I had known for some time that what the small community-based organization we had created really needed – wasn’t me. To move to the next level of growth, it needed someone with greater administration skills. I also had known for some time that what I really needed –to move to my next level of growth – was not to be an administrator.

We’d talked for years about living in a small town. I had the credentials to be a small town pastor (just no experience). It was now or never. I announced my resignation at the Riverdale Economic Ministry and we started looking. Within six months I was a country pastor in Bobcaygeon. I was determined to stop over-functioning and start living simply and lightly.

Five years later we had made many, many, lifestyle changes. But the over-functioning was at best – on a leash. In the last year it had been pulling me around the block and pulling my work and personal life out of shape again.

Standing on the rock by that gaping needy stump, I see that somewhere, early along my life’s road, I’d become convinced that the best defense was a good offence. The best way to keep from being hurt, was to run around trying to keeping everyone happy. When I got really manic about it, I’d be running around solving problems before they occurred, meeting needs that hadn’t yet been named and trying to please…really….the ghosts of days gone by.

My over-functioning was simply the daily expression of the nighttime neediness I run from in dreams and run towards in the day. Running in circles was what I was doing. And so I slowly walk back up the rock and sit still in the middle of that “circle” and listen some more.

After what seems like a couple more hours of sitting and thinking and trying to talk my way out of that circle - it finally dawns on me. I am over-functioning again! I am doing what I always do with a problem. Worry it over. Think it through. Talk it over with the people who like to talk such things over. And come up with my next solution. The problem is that those solutions have so far only proved to be minor detours that always lead me right back into that circle.

It’s my head that is keeping my heart from leading. I remember a dream that I’d had weeks before - during my Vision Fast preparation time. In the dream, Carol and I are flying (with Carol as the pilot) to a remote lakeside destination. We are greeted on the shore by a young native man who I am quite impressed with. He is courteous and intelligent. He leads us up to a cabin where Carol climbs the steps and goes inside. We wait outside while she disappears down a dark hallway. Soon, there is the sound of running water.
“She got the water running even in this freezing weather.” I say with surprise to my native companion.
“The well runs very deep and has a heat source from below.” He explains.
Carol emerges triumphantly. There are little children in the hallway with her and I lift another little boy up the stairs and into the hall. Carol comes out to the doorway. She leans down and puts her right hand on my head, putting most of her weight onto me.

I am greatly annoyed! I feel like I am being suppressed; put down, leaned on too heavily. I shove her hand off of my head. Looking up, I see that our native friend is supporting her other arm with a hand beneath both her wrist and her elbow.

I’d talked that dream through with another talented Spiritual Director. Gloria helped me to see that Carol was the part of me who was leading me on this journey. The “I” in the dream was the part of me that observes and reasons and judges. The dream offered an exciting and affirming message – Carol had brought back flowing water from a dark, deep place heated with passion. What had troubled me about the dream was that - among the positive image of an abundance of children - she had pushed my head down.

Suddenly, I knew with certainty - that dream had been for this moment. If I was to receive what God was desiring to show me, I would need to suppress the observer, the reason-maker, the judge.

And that’s why –also during my preparation time - my friend Kim had received a message on my behalf, as she prayed for me before I left. The message was simply “drum”.

So, I went and got the drum. The drum I’d crafted at the Haliburton School for the Arts fourteen months before. I’d made it small enough to fit into the bottom pouch of my canoe pack. It felt like I’d made it for this day.

I choose a three beat rhythm; tum, tum, TOM! Right, left, centre! Left, right, centre! Tum, tum, TOM over and over and over. The heavy TOM slap was Carol’s hand leaning heavy on my head – “you, get, DOWN, you, get, DOWN, you, get, DOWN, tum, tum, TOM!

I keep drumming til I stop noticing that I am drumming; til I stop thinking about anything and am just “doing what I do”, and truly “being who I am”.

When I stop, I’m not tired. I’m not changed. I just am. I’m drumming up on the hill by the fire and my shelter. I walk down onto the ritual rock just for a stretch. The wind gives a gust and those two trees give a groan.

“Which one of you is complaining?” I ask.

They groan again.

I take a closer look. And then I see. Those two trees are singing my song. They are groaning my groan. The one tree is a White Pine; tall and straight and mature. It stands beside and just below an even taller great White Pine in the midst of a family cluster of tall pines and Hemlock.

The tree that is causing the groaning is a maple. I have to walk over closer, off the rock to get a better look. It’s rooted about ten paces away from the pine. It has grown up in the shady midst of these older, taller evergreens. I can almost wrap my two hands around it - all the way up to where the branches of the bigger trees start high over my head. And there it takes a turn. You can see where it has made a move; a major move. It had stopped growing straight up and had started growing out towards the lake.

Maybe it was just top heavy. There are no branches on it until after the point where it turns and bows and crosses over to lean against the pine. To me it looks like these two trees have worked something out between them. Where they meet, the maple branches out and is adding its bright red colour to the steady green of the pine. The pine offers the stability and strength that the maple lacks. Together, they offed something unique to this part of the woods. Those other pines are stately and handsome, but only this pine has colour!

I know that I can’t say with a thousand words what these trees tell me with just one close look. They are dancing both my Survival dance and my Sacred dance at the same time. The tall White Pine looks strong and straight and “together”. At middle age I’ve got a home and family and a career in the church (the “family business” as I like to call it). I’ve figured out how to Survive with the skills I’ve got and how to maintain a footing in the place I’m planted. I can hold my head up among tall pines.

The Red Maple is my Sacred dance. As I stand where it’s planted in the midst of the tall, dominant, successful, evergreens I give it a pat and say “I give you credit for growing so tall in the shadows of this family.”

Creativity had not been discouraged in my extended family system, but it was always subservient to a rational, reasonable, pursuit. There are no artists in my family. (The aunt who wears her creative flair for all to see - also happens to be the black sheep.) I’d been a maple among Ever-greens, ever-happy, ever-sure providing ever-shade for this young sap.

That Maple sapling wasn’t destined to be the strongest tree in the woods. I am a little disappointed that this is how God sees this creative side of me. But it feels accurate. And it answers the question about whether I should take courage and take the leap to let that inner artist stand alone.

No, the white pine is part of the picture – and the path forward. Just as Carol had leaned heavily on my head in the dream; my creative self will lean upon the tall and strong professional and add some colour; something unique, to this stand of trees.

It isn’t a new plan or a new story for me. But it is an affirmation of the path I’d chosen. I am satisfied with the vision God has provided. My hunger is sated.

Like a sweet dessert to the dinner, a storm blows in. God is gonna let me know that that’s it and the deal is sealed - no going back.

Rain and wind send me into the tarped cave. The storm walks through its paces, growing slowly and steadily in intensity. It rises up to a pitch blowing rain in under the tarp and shakes the skies with a few choice cracks of thunder. Lightning flashes - bright instants of illumination. And then it’s on its way. Slowly receding again back down to a steady rain and then a drizzle.

Now what?

Before leaving home, as an afterthought, I’d tossed a few extra things into my bag. Four tiny beeswax candles made by Betsy and presented to me after she’d died as a gift from her estate. I hadn’t had an occasion to light them until now. I used them to light a few branches of dried sage – a going away gift from another friend. Never completely comfortable with Native rituals performed by “wanna-be Indians”, I feel that this is a good time to offer these gifts as a humble and sincere show of thanks to the Creator.

Down at the lake, the wind is dancing across the water again inviting me to join in.
I go and stand out on the rock. I lift my eyes up to the evening sky, a mist hangs in the trees on the opposite shore. It stays there, gently moving and ever-changing but not going anywhere. Even as breezes pick up and blow through the trees, the mist remains in that place before me.

“You are so good. You are so good, You are so good to me.” I sing.
“You are so good. You are so good, You are so good to me.” These words are the chorus to a song of praise – but, as usual, I can’t remember the verses – only the melody.

And so God provids the words for my song of praise. They come from my heart. They come from my past. They come from my future. They are provided without thought – for each note of the song. They just flow and flow as long as I keept singing. I change to another song of praise. Then a Christmas tune of wonder. Then I sing a Children’s song about Jesus. Then another song. Phrases are provided. Provided in a language I don’t recognize but that I know how to sing.

The mist remains and I keep singing. Each song seems to have its own language. I’m no Linguist, but they seem like the words of the first peoples; of earth people all over the earth, who first used voice to name and celebrate and share with the One, and ones, they knew and loved. I had spoken brief prayers “in tongues” before, but in song they just flow and flow. What fun! What freedom! How simple! Ha!

When the mists are finally lost to the descending dark, I leave the rock and go to bed.
No evening tea tonight. I’ve enjoyed all the comforts I need.

Psalm 40
A David psalm
I waited and waited and waited for God.
At last he looked; finally he listened.
He lifted me out of the ditch,
pulled me from deep mud.

He stood me up on a solid rock
to make sure I wouldn’t slip.

He taught me how to sing new song,
a praise-song to our God.

More and more people are seeing this:
they enter the mystery,
abandoning themselves to God.

Translation from “The Message” by Eugene Peterson.

Day Two

They say that the second day of a fast is the hardest. That is true for me. I wake several times in the night and realize that I’ve been dreaming about food. In one dream about community gardening in Bobcaygeon, I end up in a room with a table laden with nut and pumpkin loaves. Awake, I don’t feel physically hungry – much – but it seems my subconscious mind is looking for food.

My eyes are open as the first light begins to lift the dark. The opposite shore is a strip of shadow between the upper and lower worlds of sky and lake. It’s pretty chilly so I stay cocooned in my sleeping bag dozing and checking, in between snoozes, on the progress of the day. The light slowly brings definition to the trees across the water. At first they are an impressionist’s blanket of blacks and greys and mottled suggestions of colour. And slowly the reds and yellows and greens emerge from their sleep.

I get up and get busy making a quick fire. Water from my 5 gallon jug goes into the kettle (my only cooking tool) and a cup of mint tea is soon in hand. I stagger down to the water with the tea, to watch the sun arrive. There isn’t a cloud in the sky and so no drama to be enjoyed. I’m kind of disappointed. It’s going to be a clear, sunny day. The sun comes up; taking its’ sweet time, and eventually gets around to joining me on the rock where I sit wondering how I’ll fill the day.

Keeping the fire going is a good pre-occupation but after it’s warmed my bones and my tea, I have had a hard time justifying burning up good firewood just for something to do. So I turn to the main task of the day.

The Death Lodge ritual was first described for me by Doug Aldworth in a workshop he led last spring. He told a small group of us about a ritual he’d conducted on his own Vision Fast. The ritual involved gathering stones and laying them out in four rows. The four rows represented people who had hurt him; people whom he had hurt; those who had been a blessing to him, and those to whom he had been a blessing. The explanation that stuck in my head was “it’s kind of like being at your own funeral – you get to have a chat with all those souls, living and dead, who are there to celebrate your life and say goodbye.” After the Vision Fast, Doug explained, you have transitioned. You are no longer the same person.

My first step is to gather stones. At the water’s edge of my huge granite outcrop is a small, flat shelf just big enough for one person. On this shelf there es an amazing variety of rocks, stones, and pebbles displayed just beneath the tree-root carcass. It is almost as if the roots have pulled the stones from the granite and placed them there waiting for me. But I know, in fact, that I am interrupting the progress of an important work.

That morning while splashing water on my crusty face; washing the night’s drool from my beard, I’d noticed a small pile of sand just below the water’s surface. It was as if dinky little toy trucks had been dumping loads of sand off the rock ledge and into the water all summer long. What I was looking at of course, was the work, or if you like – play - of Time.

The trees and wind and rain and snow and ice and spin of the planet had been working on this outcrop for centuries. Ever since it had dared, in a volcanic birthing, to expose itself bare to the elements, those elements had been working to reclaim it; break it down, and cover it up with green and growing things again. Who knows how long it had taken this cooperative conspiracy to split off rocks from the slab, break them apart, crush them, tumble them down against one another until the lake’s tongue would lick up on that shelf and splash the sand into its mouth? How much longer would it be until that sand would end up on the beach at the windblown north end of Nunikani?

“Have Patience.” says the One with me.

“Yeah, okay. Sure thing.” I reply.

I start picking up the rocks, stones, and pebbles. “The work I’m doing is far more important than this sand-making.” I conclude. “You won’t mind will you, Mother Earth, if I interrupt your little project here with my ponderous and important play will you?”
“After all”, I reason, “I’ve dedicated four precious days of my life to this adventure.”

“Sure, little brother, go ahead” blink the trees helplessly; sighs the wind, splashes the lake. The planet just continues to spin, noticing -but judging not- my interruption of its’ universal dance.

“After all,” whispers the wind in the trees ears “he’s one of God’s favourites isn’t he?” The lake just laughs.

To pay for this hubris (is to be hu-man, to evoke hu-bris?) I incorporate a little cognitive therapy into my work of gathering up the rocks, stones and pebbles. One of Michael Neill’s recent Monday morning self-help newsletters had suggested a little ritual to help lighten the weight of the shadow baggage we all carry along.

Taking four or five of the earth’s gems in my hands at a time, I climb up to the next level of rock. It stretches back from the lake about four good steps ending with a little bench cut into the face of the next rise. As I place each load on the bench and return for the next, I begin to compose a song to a simple little tune.

“You’re a self-centered, lazy, insecure, little prick,
who needs affirmation just to get up in the morning”

On each trip down to the lake and back up with a load, I refine the song. Singing helps with the task. I notice that the climb up pulls down a good boxful of energy out of my stores. So I take my time and even add a little jig dance step to the tune as I work.

Now you know why it’s so important to be alone on this quest. Only the tree carcass is there to watch me; the gaping wound at its’ center, where a trunk once rose, is a dark eye that keeps watch – and isn’t arguing with anything I sing.

The idea of the song is to have some fun with my foibles. Put them out there in the daylight and wind and let them dry out. Pull them up out of the dark, wet soil where they root and grow. The song ties them up in a bunch and hangs them out to dry like domestic garden spices. Hung up to dry in your kitchen, maybe you get a little more control of how much goes into each day’s soup?

There are a lot of rocks and I know I’ll need them all – especially for that first row of all those buggers who’d hurt me. I come up with a second verse.

“you’re a grouchy, petty, greedy-grabbing, big slob
who only gives it up when there’s something to get”

“That’s even better!” I laugh. “How could I make up that first verse and leave out all those other choice bits?” Okay now, let’s put it all together.

But, try as I might, I can’t remember both verses in a row. I can get one at a time but when I try to sing them in a row – I get lost. I suppose this is what’s known as the “blind spot”. Arch my neck around this way and that – use the mirror all I like – I can only see so much of myself at a time – coming or going – conscious or unconscious – I can’t get it all into one photo frame. Isn’t that what spouses are for? They’re so good at seeing what we don’t, won’t, can’t get into view. If only they’d put it into a song, maybe we’d dance along?

When the rocks, stones, and pebbles are all cleared from the shelf, I take a break. That was really pretty tiring. Some bacon and eggs would be good about now eh? A little toast and jam, coffee and cream, a muffin even? A few leaves drop down into the lake. “Here, try a few of these.” offer the trees. “We grow our own food. There’s plenty to share around.”

My stomach gives a turn. It isn’t like one of those gut-twisting hunger pangs you get when you know lunch was two hours ago and dinner’s still hours away. I’d been on a cleansing diet for 10 days prior to this trip and experienced several of those gut-wrenchers during that week.

Apparently, as my body’s fridge empties, my system is beginning to draw nutrients out of my fat, organs, and every other cupboard and shelf in the house. Along with these nutrients are all the toxins our bodies store up for….. for…. for what reason I don’t know. I guess, like the mind, the body takes in the bad along with the good, and there it sits until…until…until either it decides to feed a dis-ease, or we decide to do some house-cleaning.

Anyhow, I spend another little while brushing the pine needles and leaves from the large flat rock surface before me. There is a dark apron of flat rock in front of the bench that will serve as my altar. The sun is well up by now and I shed a layer of clothing before settling down to my task.

I don’t really think you want to hear all the naked truth about my childhood hurts do you? I mean, I’m pretty comfortable being naked alone but it’s not like we’re all on a nude beach together. I don’t really care. If you’re interested I’ll send you along the nitty gritty (they ain’t that gritty) details. I just thought I’d spare you the embarrassment…

We all have “loss of innocence” stories to tell eh? Having spent long hours around coffee cups with streetpeople, I’m under no illusion that what I’ve suffered is particularly tough. How are such things measured?

If I fall 3 feet and you fall 10 feet, you get a break and I get a bruise. We both experience the shock of an unexpected fall. If I’m allowed to cry it out, and you’re told to suck it up, does that affect how deep the emotional wound goes? If I suffer a thousand little cuts and you suffer one deep one, who suffers more?

The process of remembering times of hurt is exhausting. Starting with my earliest memories of Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, I recount my introductions to life’s harsh surprises and disappointments. It’s those closest to us who have that inescapable honour of being the first ones to introduce us to the pain of rejection, abandonment, injustice, and good old violence.

Beyond those first four rocks, I continue my mental walk innocently along into life. I experience all the same pain again, only this time with Uncles, Aunts, and Cousins. I find a rock for each of those among the extended family whose hurt had mattered most. They get to represent the collective pain carried along by this generation of my loving family.

Was my family any worse, or dysfunctional, than yours? All through the exercise I have to keep fighting off the voices that raise in their defence. “They didn’t really mean it.” “You’re just too sensitive.” “What are ya whimpering and whining about?” “You’re lucky to have been raised by relatively healthy people; with more joy than curse to pass along.”

The point of the exercise, as I conjured it up, was to meet the hurt again face to face out from under the shadows of excuses and rationalizations. By pulling it into the light, I hope to find a way to exorcise the pain from deep within my kidneys, or liver, or colon, or wherever it has been hiding all these years. Let it out and let it go – let go of the person who had been shaped by those un-conscious pushes and pulls.

I didn’t get to be a minister without getting into my fair share of Counselling, Therapy, and Spiritual Direction. I’d told these stories before. That wasn’t new. What was new was the ritual of laying them all out there in front of me in a row; a rogue’s gallery together at last.

As my story of pain progresses into school years, the abuse of schoolyard bullies, fickle friends and unhappy teachers are echoes of the same hurts I’d met before. By the time I reach adolescence, the sting of betrayal from a first love –as fresh as it feels - is really only a new ripple on the pond. The years produced new circles of pain, each with a new set of faces, all echoing that first shocking rock that had dropped into the calm of my innocent young pond.

By the time I get down to employers, co-workers, and false friends the parade of rocks is losing its’ sting. Without much passion I add the latest representatives of the folks in every circle who manage to find ways to hurt me, hinder me, and generally piss me off.

I stretch and take a turn around the campsite. Nothing else to do – back to work. If that first exercise was hard, I find the next row of rocks even more emotionally taxing. One by one, I find a rock for each of the people that I had hurt, abused, abandoned and betrayed. The big rocks are for those I’d hurt the most. And I notice how they were the ones I’d let closest in. And there were quite a few who show up in both lines.

I know you’ll be surprised to hear that this innocent young soul had found some ways of my own to get in on creating painful life lessons for others. I spread my own particular variety of grief around. Family, friends, girlfriends, teachers, employers and employees, each got to experience a particularly ugly facet of Big Al’s smiling pain.

As my mind wanders around through the dim hallways of my past, I encounter lots of folks I could have treated better. The rocks I place however were for those whose hurt, and my guilt, are still brightly lit in my memory. Those who had been closest to my heart had received the fiercest blows and betrayals. Just as I had been hurt with- “You’re not good enough” -the message had twisted around inside of me and come out in mean little ways. I was convinced that these loved ones were… (is it a surprise?) “not good enough”.

The sun is bright and nearing its’ daily zenith. With only a slight head-tilt back I can catch it’s warmth full on my face. These dark reminiscences have not stirred up the deep emotions I expected they might. Instead, I feel calm and unmoved.
“I know this stuff” I tell the lake. “there’s nothing new here.”
The two rows of rocks sit silently with me. Waiting.

I search around inside for some tears of regret and loss. But, as usual, I can’t feel how I feel. Emotions with me come physically. And, as usual, when faced with a highly emotional situation, I react the same way I do to a huge turkey dinner - I feel very, very tired.

In search of tears, I pull my stiffened limbs up off the granite shelf and wander slowly, weakly, up into the woods. The shade is cool and moist and I know where I can find some tears. I follow the path to the moss-covered cliff; my weeping wall. Tears flow in a steady drip off of its wide flat face. I press my palms against its tear-soaked beard, then press my face into the moss. No visions, no voice, just the steady trickle and drip.

“Mother, you cry tears of hurt, and - like all mothers - mostly tears of compassion. You know that we’ll only hurt ourselves in the end. So sad, that in our collective pain, we can find no tears to quench the consumer’s fire. And so you cry for us.”

“Where do all these tears come from?” I ask looking up into the woods above. Beside me were ledges where the cliff had cracked and broken. Carefully, slowly – very slowly - I climb up to the next level. The woods above are light and open. The light has no trouble entering the woods up on top of this hill. I can see where there must be a clearing up there. Climbing through the tumble of rocks and trees up to the top of the ridge I follow the light to a spot at the top.

There is a rock raised up like a giant’s tomb that had laid there for centuries. Covered in moss, a small cedar had grown up as a headstone. I climb up and lie down on the moss. The sun has warmed the spot. This is holy ground. Off come my boots. I lie down in the soft moss and sleep a deep sleep; a forgetting, forgiving sleep; the forest watching over me.

Summer was like your house;
you know where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart’ as onto a vast plain.
Now the immense lonliness begins.
The days go numb,
the wind sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
Ripened until it is real,
So that She who began it all
Can feel you when She reaches for you.
--- Rainer Maria Rilke
The Summer House

I wake and the sun has drifted a bit lower. I put on my boots and find one word in my heart. “Compassion.”
“Yes, compassion, agree the trees. Deep and ever-flowing.”
Refreshed, I climb slowly down the hill again. This time through a ravine without cliffs; over logs scattered and decaying; covered with the greens of life; every shade of green that God could imagine - and a few the forest had thought up itself.

At the lake, I walk back along the shore to camp thinking “Patience? Compassion?
Have I come all the way out here to starve myself for these messages? “God, these are not exactly new ideas for me. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but…can’t we get to something more specific?”

No, God did not flatten me with a falling tree just then. Instead, God practiced compassion and patience with me - modeling by example, like any good parent.

Now it is time to revisit the upside down tree stump at the lake’s north end. I grab my drum and the water jug and head off in the kayak (and yes, I also put on my lifejacket). Again today there is a steady wind from the south that pushes me, once I leave the bay’s protection, to the lake’s north end. I let the kayak come to a rest in the shallows directly in front of the inverted treetrunk whose roots reach out to me like Medusa’s snake-filled head.

I pull the drum from the seat ahead of me and begin to tap out a beat. It is a song to let the guardians of the hungry underworld know, that I know what they know. That these many, many reaching desires, needs, and wants are not something I can just cast off with a prayer. They are me, and I am them. And although I might turn them up to the light for today – as long as I live; as long as I lift my branches to the sky; letting sun and wind and rain make daylight memories – those roots will keep reaching deeper into earth sucking life from death and sending dreams up from the dark.

So I drum up a bold and playful song making friends with those demons. Those demons who dance behind me every day in my shadows. Who jump from sight if I but merely turn my attention their way. Who whisper in my ears all the time. Who pretend to be either “me” or “God”. Like the quote I read this week in Michael Neill’s newsletter.

“that voice you hear is not God. It just sounds like it thinks it is.”

The Temple of Need

the roots that grip this spinning earth
that suck life from soil
to feed trunk and branch and stem
stretch out in silent cry

The green clothes I wear
customary coverings

instead, reaching out from nightmare’s dark places
my deepest needs, hungers, wants,

so many
so tangled
some fine, some gross and hollow-hallowed
startling to see them all at once
- no head, just tales untold
so human

I take a wander up the river and into the woods on a portage path. I wander into my future and into my past and every so often stop and give thanks for some small thing of beauty I notice in this moment. Memories of mistakes are the fallen logs that feed the latest crop of new ideas and sustain the choices planted long ago that are growing still.

The wind picks up a notch and a chill visits the woods. I don’t like the idea of getting drenched out here, so I head – slowly – back. All day long, people have been joining me for a while. As they come to mind, sometimes for a moment only, sometimes for a while, I listen to what they have to say and send them off with a prayer of thanks and hope.

Getting back to camp requires quite an extended effort. A good wind, full in the face, means that nothing less than steady strong paddlestrokes will get me closer to home. There are four yellow canoes pulled up on the shore at the Northern site and four more down where the rock stars had stayed last night. I wonder who I might find sitting on my rock in the bay.

Only my two rows of rocks are there to greet me. After getting the kayak settled, I set to work gathering another batch of rocks for the rest of the ritual. Now my task is to encounter those people who had been a blessing to me, and those people to whom I had been a blessing.

The sun is just above the treeline on the far shore now and I figure it is time to finish the job I’ve started. If nothing else, it will help pass the rest of the day; get me through dinnertime.

I find that it is much easier to remember those who had delivered blessings to me. However, seeing myself as a bearer of blessings to others in the final row requires a step out of my humble skin – my social training in Christian humility and Canadian downplaying of personal attributes makes it difficult. What I notice is that most of the people who I remember blessing me, also show up in the row of rocks of people I feel that I had also been a blessing to. While the first two rows had been a litany of broken, or damaged, relationships, these two rows celebrate the relationships that live on in a mutuality of respect and appreciation.

Instead of preparing and cooking an evening meal, I carefully set out these two rows of rocks. I test and taste the nature of each person who has given me something light and easy to carry. I place rocks for each one that I have had the honour of serving. Unlike any meal I’ve chewed over, I savour the lifegiving nutrition of being with these folks. Then I sit back and digest this lonely day full of people.

The sun goes down slower this day than any day I can remember recently. There are still no clouds in the sky for the sun to play with and help it pass the time. And so it seems to just slow down to a Tai Chi crawl. I get my drum and tap away at the moments – finding a rhythm that works - then change it up – meeting my limits of speed as a drummer, losing the pace, and then slowing back down into a groove.

Was that what I was doing out here on the rock? Improvising some new rhythms? Testing and trying them on? Stepping out of the daily groove and learning some new moves? Were my expectations too great?

The stories in the books had all told about how the breakthrough would come on the third day.

A pair of hawks pass high overhead heading south. As I follow their flight they swoop and circle at a place beyond the southern treeline. One drops down into some distant woods. The other continues to circle; letting the winds lift her high into a crescendo until it breaks and she swings down towards earth and nest only to be lifted again, and again, and again, and again until day’s end. I lose sight of her and then notice that Venus has appeared in her place.

I wait politely, lingering with a cup of mint tea, until the stars get to show me their stuff. My stomach takes a nauseating turn and so I decide to pack it in. A brief headache visits me as I crawl into the sleeping bag. Sleep comes quickly. It has been a long, long day. I give thanks for it and hunker down.

Day One

Day One
Mist on the pre-dawn lake makes it feel other-worldly; mysterious. I pack my sleeping bag, clothes bag, stuff bag and backpack (doesn’t feel too minimalist to me) into the front of the kayak and slide into the rear seat. From behind the hills, the sun puts a red warning onto clouds across the lake.

A woman dressed in cycling gear is pulling her bike out of a boat and onto the dock.
“Where are you headed?” She asks.
“Nunukani” I reply
“Very nice” she nods. “The first rapid is almost a pull-over and then you can paddle up to the dam portage.”
So much for discovery. The mist is vanishing fast.

As I put paddle to water and cross the swimming line between bobbers, I acknowledge the threshold. The line between sane and insane, between civil and natural, between upper and under worlds has been traversed. I plunge in.

The sun comes up over my shoulder as I’m leaving Little Hawk lake. A totem pole marks the sandy narrows between Little and Big Hawk. I nod to the Thunderbird, fish, bear, and lizard – honouring these friends and inviting them along – no, wait – it’s more like they’re inviting me into their world.

Big Hawk is in a deeper mist. I welcome it as an invitation into deeper mystery. Then the thunder of a whirly-bird stirs up the silence. The helicopter runs low over the shoreline and I think. Wow, they’re looking for me already! What crisis do they need me to solve back in Bobcaygeon I wonder? The chopper really is obnoxious. What mission could they be on at 7am Monday morning? Hunting Real Estate I’m guessing.

The rock cliffs at the north end of the lake are a landmark; they tell me I’m in the right bay. I paddle across to listen for what else they have to tell. I feel their age. How long they’ve stood sentinel over these waters; giving up only the odd boulder; bearded by cedar that has found soil enough to surround the rock and keep it company for a generation or so. They give me a silent nod.

The first rapids are a power place. I can feel not only the beauty of this quiet place but also the happy memories of generations of people and creatures that have visited this spot. A fishing place. A swimming place. A camping place – except for the big metal sign posted by the Ratepayers association marking it’s turf. I want to return and make some happy memories with my family here.

The short carry over is a good practice portage. I test out the new make-shift carrying yoke attached to kayak gunnels. It slips around a bit but works. I can balance all 16 ft. on my shoulders. One trip for the baggage – my bodily goods. And one trip for the kayak – the spirit that carries me. My, my, I am sooo poetic today – pumped for the visions to flow; senses at alert; got the metaphor-motor purring.

The 195 metres up past the dam is a gentle slope. The rushing waters down in a shady, rocky gorge are like a B.C. mountain trail. I take some time to cross the dam and climb down into the gorge – sans baggage- and meet my first temptation. “Look, you could just jump right over the river here. Save yourself the walk back up and around. Go for it!”

“You shall not put the LORD your GOD to the test.” I get to see that I am (perhaps?) more mature than I gave myself credit for. Past the place of toying with risk; knowing more who I am and who I ain’t. And a jumper and a leaper I am not. Bears lumber through or around. Frogs leap. My spirit might fly occasionally, but GOD gave me a bear body and on my feet I’ll stay for today thanks.
“Nice try though.”

I am excited to be on Nunukani. I wish I knew what that name meant – but I like saying it. Sounds like it should be up in the Territories, Iqaluit or somewhere like that there, eh?

The first feature of the lake that strikes me are the dead stumps. At first I see them as wonderful sculptures. There’s one that’s settled right on top of another! The roots reaching out like arms to grip to stony shores or reaching out into the air to pull me in closer, or just reaching, reaching, reaching for…

Then I realize they are casualties. This lake has been flooded by that dam. Probably, the logs were taken from the trees decades ago, leaving the stumps on the shores. Everywhere. Like cancer sores lining the lips of the lake.

I take my time exploring. Halfway up the lake I cross the mouth of the lake’s oblong western bay. I can’t quite make out it’s end through a spray of rain; a heavy mist really. This western bay is the only part of the lake still in mist. My heart drops at the sight of three yellow canoes at the point where I’d thought I might camp. As I approach, I’m waved in to shore by a guy repairing a canoe bottom with duct tape.
“What happened to our sunshine? I ask him. (I’m really thinking “what happened to my solo time on the lake?”)
“Hey, come on in for a coffee. Did you get a sight booked?” he asks.
“Ahhh, no, what do you mean?”
“Both these sights on the two points are booked for tonight, but we’re hoping they’re not gonna show.”
“Oh, you need to book. I didn’t know.”
“Yeah, come talk to my son, he’s the one that talked to the Ranger.” He’s got the end of my kayak in hand pulling it up on the shore.
“No, no, I uh, uh, want to get my camp set up before the rain comes. So, are all the sights booked?”
“I don’t really know. We’ve got the two sights at the north end booked, but we’re hoping the people who booked this sight don’t show. You can stay with us. Come talk to my son. He’s got his friends from his band with him. They’re touring Canada.”

Even though I feel like I’m breaking the rules of the quest, I get out of the boat for some info. A necessary evil. I need to know where I’m not gonna run into more of these two legged creatures. Tom, introduces himself and his wife and son come down the rock slope to meet me. The three young braves from the band remain aloof, up by their fire.
As the son explains to me about their booking, I catch Tom’s wife watching me. She’s very curious; searching my face for clues. I look at her and her worried wondering melts into a smile; her mask. I give her my best reassuring-mask-smile back.
“So, you don’t know about the other sights on the lake then?” I ask after the son’s finished.
“Nope, there’s the island at the south end, the east shore site on the rock, and maybe there’s a site in the bay there, but I don’t know whether they’re booked.”
“Okay, well, I guess I’ll check them out then. Thanks (for nothing).”
“You can always stay with us.” Tom offers again. Either this is my second temptation – to hang out with musicians and not be alone with my shadows – or Tom’s in the need of some middle-aged male company. Or, he’s just a really friendly guy; eager to entertain a stranger; a potential angel. But this angel’s already backing up, saying goodbyes and good lucks and I’m thinking “Damn! Am I going to be foiled up by humans? Not what I expected to be the problem here.”

Thinking these thoughts, working on a strategy, trying to let the worry go and trust that I’ll know the place to camp and it’ll be good, I paddle to the north end of Nunukani. The whole north end of the lake is a long wide sand bar with a tree carcass every ten metres or so. It’s like a herd of giant elk were slaughtered there leaving behind just the heads and antlers. It has a graveyard feel in the grey, overcast, morning light.

I get out and walk along the sand up to the largest stump around. It has been totally inverted so that it’s roots are all up and out to the sky. The stump is planted head-down in the sand. A circle has formed in the sand around it giving it the look and feel of a monument. A place to come and visit and ponder and – it feels like a ritual place. A place where druids and witches dance. It’s an upside down place. Where the mystery of what’s deep in the earth is lifted up to the sky.

The roots reach out long in all directions. And many of them are decayed and gone leaving dark open mouths that empty silent wails into the air around. They are hunger and want and desire. They are my many, many, hungers and wants and desires. Those arms are my arms reaching out in all directions for this and this and this. Always reaching.

I circle it. Wishing I had friends to share it with. To dance with me. To do some ritual. This idea scares me. I am afraid of the dark spirits here that might confuse my interest with an allegiance and pull me in too deep. Those roots have struck a chord with what is already deep inside. I’m here to let it emerge into the light.

I take a pee at the edge of the circle. “Now, don’t get pissed.” I say. “No disrespect, just marking my place here at hunger’s edge.”

On my way back to the kayak I see someone out of the corner of my eye and look…Damn! I forgot that a direct look’ll remove them from my vision. Oh well,
“See ya later.”

Back to the hunt for a site. I must intuit the right place. Let my “knowing” tell me. On the eastern shore there’s a site marked on top of a huge rock. This rock has lines sweeping up out of the water and turning back down again. It looks like the Leviathon I’ve been reading about in Job; the one God goes on about stanza after stanza as an image of the deep dark mysteries beyond human ken.

The site is high and dry with a spot back in the woods to sleep. I’d catch sunset and stars from the rock but would wait long hours to see the sun in the morning. I wouldn’t see the lake from the sleep spot and there’s not much deadwood around. There’s a path that hugs a rock wall. It follows the shoreline but back in the shade of the woods. It descends down, down, into a hidden hollow. It has a feel of a place of sorrow and hurt. It’s not happy to have me here but invites me into it’s misery.

Am I to go into suffering? If so, this would be the place. It has a strange pull on me. At it’s lowest place I push through branches to the shore. Waves are splashing a chatter against flat boulders. Is this a language I’d learn? Something or someone has splashed water onto stones at a sitting spot. There are others here. Back in the woods a rope dangles from way, way up. Someone went to great trouble to suspend it there – only to cut it off as high as I can reach up. It feels like there should be noose at it’s end.

This place gives me the creeps I decide. Maybe it’d be good for me but, I’m not looking for trouble today. Back up over the whale’s back to the kayak. Jays squawk at me “Intruder! Intruder!”
“Okay, okay I’m leaving already!”

I’m sure now that the island is the place for me. I didn’t notice a site sign when I passed it the first time. Lots of driftwood to burn. A beach for the kayak. Rocks to watch stars from. An island unto myself.

Turns out there is a site marker. It’s a well used site complete with sitting stumps around a large firepit; a choice of kybos; a forest to wander and two points north and south for watching – watching for people – I’d be obsessed with waiting for canoeists to come and go and should I interact with them, or try to avoid them? This place would work but….
I get back into the kayak.

A wind from the south has picked up and I decide to let it push me - wherever. The wind is blowing in dark clouds at a steady pace but they’re high and as far as I can see not dragging rain along with them. I sit with eyes closed or, study the shore tree by tree, stump by stump, rock outcropping by rock outcropping. It doesn’t take long for the wind to blow me to the site at the southwestern edge of the west bay but I know it’s booked and it doesn’t have an open view onto the lake. I paddle out around it’s point and discover that once again the bay is filled with mists. Again a spray of rain, not enough to soak, washes down.

Into the spray I paddle. I know there’s a portage out to a small fishing lake. Maybe that’s what I’ll need to do to find the solitude I seek. At the bay’s end, there’s a portage sign where a creek’s trickling across a stony shore. The trees rustle up a welcoming sound and the sky seems a bit brighter here. It feels like a good place.

The portage is overgrown and rugged. Trees have fallen across the path and a scramble is necessary at several places. Even without a load it’s trouble. Wallace pond is small and circular. A good day place but it’s not calling me. No, I think, I’ll camp back at the shore.
But when I get there I notice a spot that I’d missed just along the northern edge of the bay. It doesn’t look promised but I’ll check this one last place out.

And, of course, it’s perfect. A huge treestump carcass hugs the rock at lake level. On either side of this rock are beaches strewn with fallen trees and driftwood; enough for many, many fires. The rock rises in stages. Four feet above lake level there is a large flat area. It’s big enough to hold me and any ceremony I might cook up. Another four feet up takes me to the campsite. A large white pine stands guard to a grove of Hemlock. Diffuse light comes into the open grove beyond the rock’s high place. It feels welcoming.

On the brow of the rock there is a stone firepit and beside it a small flat area covered in hemlock needles turned to earth – just right for my sleeping area. I’ll be able to sleep facing the water, southern shore and some open sky.

Beyond the campsite there is a path that follows along the bottom of a cliff face covered in green moss. But instead of the gloom of that other path there is something else here. I notice that the vertical face is almost entirely covered in a green moss and it is dripping, dripping, dripping; wet all over. It comes to me that this is “a weeping wall”. This wall sheds the earth’s tears. I press both hands against it and close my eyes and immediately an image of worms pouring out from the cracks of the wall comes. I step back a bit surprised by the immediate and vivid image. I lean forward again and this time it is fish; schools of them pouring forth. Abundance coming from the earth’s weeping.

The Hemlock here are older than any human living. There are maple and oak and birch cedar and white pine and all kinds of small willowy saplings. It is a mature woods; mostly open beneath a canopy 20 feet up, confident and secure.

Something shifts in the feel of the place though as I begin to unpack my bags back at the shore. Two trees groan in a raised wind. I’m thinking “will they groan all night long?”. The sky darkens and the place that welcomed a visit seems not so sure about my plans to stay.

So, the first thing I unpack is my drum. I made this drum last summer. I made it to fit into the bottom pouch of my old canvas pack – for just such an occasion. Sitting on a log section by the unlit fire, looking out to the lake, I introduce myself. It’s a rythym that spells out the meaning of my name.

As I play, the wind responds. It brushes across the canvas of lake before me. Two breezes converge wavelets from opposite ends, meeting right before me and dancing away only to sweep around and display a new pattern across the waters. I almost pause in wonder but keep the dance going; laughing and raising my song in the joyful play. We’re friends – this place and I.

I get my 10 by 12 foot tarp rigged between trees (enough on the ground for me and my stuff, corners held by rocks, my roof held by ropes 3 feet over my head, open on three sides) just in time for its first test. The skies open and down it comes; growing in intensity as my shelter passes each stage; graduating with a crack of thunder and a good deluge that only brings in a small amount of spray and trickle. I am so happy. I am a kid cozy in my fort. I’m living my favourite bedtime comfort fantasy – nestled in to warm covers; exposed to the elements; a bear in its den.

The sky clears as if performing the next act of a perfectly staged day for me. With birchbark and twigs, I manage a fire while the sun retreats in promises of red. I paddle out a bit to watch the winds sweep orange and green wisps over me. From shore I catch a light show to the south – the storm working it’s way across that horizon while stars – first venus then the polar star then more and more and more until the sky is milky with ‘em. I finish my mint tea – my only refreshment, and crawl into my cave heavy with contentment.


Hello Friend,
I’ve set down a few thoughts here on the following pages so that you and a few others might come along with me on a little kayak excursion I’ve been planning for some time.

I set out Sunday September 24th, stayed at a lakeside cabin for the night, and had my last meal. I began kayaking the next morning without break-fast. I found a spot to camp on a secluded lake (Lake Nunikani below Dorset) and remained there until Thursday morning. Thursday evening was spent back at the cabin with a meal to sleep on. Friday morning I was home to family.

The purpose of this prayer/fast/journey (Vision Fast if you like) was simply to spend time with God and Christ and Self and Shadow and to discern God’s will in my life.

This plan was inspired by friend and co-Gaia Centre Board Member, Doug Aldworth. Doug led a seminar last spring, where he shared his own Vision Quest experience. He referred me to a book entitled “SoulCrafting; Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche” by Bill Plotkin.

A further resource he offered was “The Trail to the Sacred Mountain; A Vision Fast Handbook for Adults” by Steven Foster and Meredith Little. This is a short summary of the process used by the School of Lost Borders in California. This school has led groups of people through the experience for several decades.

These books provide ideas and examples of rituals and spiritual practices. They encourage the Vision Fast participants to draw from these examples but not to copy them. Their hope is that an authentic ritual will emerge from the culture, tradition, and imagination of each participant. Since all earth-rooted cultures have similar, but unique, fasting-seeking-communing with the “Other” rituals, we are encouraged to draw deeply from our own roots and create something authentic to our generation.

A preparatory meeting with Doug was very helpful to get practical advice shaping my particular plans; to be encouraged by his experiences; to share some of my story; and to receive his offer of back-up safety support (if I don’t show, he comes looking).
Doug is an experienced Out-tripper and a qualified Outward Bound Instructor. His confidence, involvement, and enthusiasm in my plans was a very supportive element.

I also invited my community to pray with me, and for me and my family, during the days I was away. In return, I promised to share my experience with them. What follows are my promised words.

Yours Truly, in the Spirit that reminds us that we are One,

Excerpts from article “Confusion before the Cross” by Bill Wylie-Kellerman
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, ‘We shall not live by bread alone.'" Luke 4

Clarence Jordan suggests that perhaps we are blinded by the mundane simplicity of the first invitation: yield to hunger, make stones bread, break the fast. In the plainest terms, the invitation to Jesus is to seek first his own needs and appetites, to be ruled by them, and to join "the enemies of the cross" whose "god is their belly," against whom the Philippians were once duly warned (Philippians 3:18-19).

We need look no further than our own lives and times to comprehend the runaway enormity of the temptation. In consumer culture it is writ large and with a vengeance. Appetites are researched, targeted, hooked, inflated, managed, and manufactured. People are held in bondage by them. Their servitude and silence and single-minded distraction are guaranteed.To undertake a Lenten discipline, to fast or deny an appetite, is not to inflict some perverse self-punishment or to be justified by a religious act. It is a prayer of freedom: to loosen the bonds and restore a right relation to the created order. It is so politically loaded because it breaks with the culture precisely at the point of the culture's main method of control.

Day One to follow...