The dust is beginning to settle on my memories of the last two weeks. It's still a little hazy and I'm quite sure that I will continue to reflect and learn from this experience many moons from now. As an apprentice on the Mountain quest, Coming of age for young women journey I went in with absolutely no idea what to expect yet I had high expectations. A wild two week camping and hiking adventure to celebrate becoming a women. What a journey. What a responsibility for me to hold.
The day the girls arrived I was struck at how quite and reserved they were..... Looking back I think that was their plan all along, to lull me into a false sense of security and then BOOM!!! body slam me with their joyful craziness.
The first week was in the mountains of the Olympic National Park where we taught the girls how to light fires (they used a lighter, much to their disappointment) how to poop and pee without a loo or toilet paper either. It took these girls a lot of letting go of old securities to fully arrive and enjoy their surroundings. Embracing dirtiness was our aim!
Our first true experience happened on our hike to the Royal Basin. We hiked about nine miles into snow capped mountains.
The animals who's homes we entered gifted us with their presence and allowed the groups curiosity and wonder of the great natural world to grow.
We encountered marmots and deer, even a black bear was seen in the far distance. These creatures didn't fear is at all, i felt they were as curious of us as we were of them.
The next week was the solo. This is where the magic happened for the participants. The solo was a 24 hour fast completed in isolation. The youth is sent out with nothing but a journal and a tarp. They walk alone to their site which has set boundaries they are to stay in until next light.
The solo point this year was Toleak Point, a coastal line within the Olympic National Park. It was another challenging 9 mile hike to the point. We all had packs that were full to the brim with equipment and food for the next five days. All food had to be stored in these big black containers called Bear Cans. They are critter proof and allow campers to keep their food safe. They are big and bulky though. Often while walking behind someone on the trail I couldn't even hear what was being said through the mountainous backpack. Despite the weight our spirits remained high as we climbed from beach to forest again and again while getting to know the depths of each other. These climbs were not for the faint hearted. We had to use ropes to pull ourselves over steep terrain. When we finally stumbled onto the point we were welcomed to a land set back in time.
The final part of the trip was a sweat lodge. A cleansing ritual which has many shapes and forms and is found in many traditional cultures. A large wooden basket dressed with blankets sits over the earth creating the sweat lodge. Stones are heated by a fire outside and placed inside the lodge in a hole at the centre. Water is splashed against the stones during the ceremony by the 'Pourer' who facilitates the ceremony. Hot damn does it get steamy in there!!
Without sight this darker than dark space allows for people to be really seen. The steam opens the pores and allows all fear, sadness, shame and guilt to surface. This space pulls emotions from within and spills them out in tears and screams. Sounds scary but it's actually beautiful. They say the lodge represents the mother earths womb. We share our hidden story and ask for new layers of strength and wisdom in order to live out the dreams we have set for ourselves. We emerge wrinkled and soggy but ready to build new layers.
I feel so honoured to be someone these girls felt safe to share themselves with. Someone who potentially helped them gain more insight into who they are and what they are capable of. Lastly, it was a humbling experience to learn so much from these girls about life and about myself.
This journey has the potential not to change someone's life but to put them on the path they were always meant to travel.
Day one was the severance ceremony where the parents invite their daughter to leave on this journey as a child and return a women. The parents hold up a red ribbon with the youth at the other end. As mentors we represented wildness in the ceremony. We all snuck off into the woods and found natural paraphernalia to decorate ourselves, we used charcoal to paint our faces and drums to deliver ourselves. We howled from the woods and ceremoniously entered the family circles to sever the children from their childhood. It all sounds so dramatic, let me reassure you.... It is!!!! We had scissors in our pockets to cut the ribbon.... I was totally bummed they didn't let me use a machete!
This is a journey of story and ritual from the very beginning. The theatrics aid in pulling the participants from their everyday sense of self into a world of play where anything can be written.
From then on this journey is a blur of awesomeness. I not only witnessed fragile and fearful girls evolve and blossom into strong women but the women I worked with were wild sorceresses who helped me become wild and stronger too. The first hour we had with the girls we led them into the forest and one of the mentors lit a fire. She used a traditional bow drill to make a coal and then ignited a tampon to begin the fire. Pure magic.
The next 14 days were made up of challenges in the back country along with ceremony and ritual.
At our destination point we sang a song to gift the land before we rose over the final hill.
Our song fell and flowed into a valley, rippling the crystal blue lake that glistened at our feet. We sat in awe of our surroundings before deciding to embrace our true wild sides for the first time. Together we stripped to our bare essentials and ran into the snow that kissed the lake. Fears were pealed off as our toes burned courage in the snow and we slid into the freezing water. All was bliss, ohhh what a wonderful world.... As our bodies hit the water all smiles turned to screams!!! CHEESE AND WHISKERS!!!! The water felt like the Himalayas slapped me in the face!! Whoa nelly!! Who's idea was that??? But within five minutes I was frolicking through the snow again to go a second time.
Sharp Jurassic islands jut out of the ocean and stand strong against the horizon.
Bold Headed Eagles sour through the sky while river otters and seals dance the surface of the ocean.
Toleak Point was a site worth the effort.
The morning of the solo we built a threshold for the girls to pass through before walking to their sites further out along the beach. As the mist began to rise off the ocean we woke each girl one by one. They were whispered blessings of love and empowerment as we cleansed them with burning sage and marked their faces with charcoal.
The day was long and silent. Only glimpses of movement could be seen in the distance as this was a day for internal movement.
Eventually light and warmth began to fade making way for the night. The tide rose and rose pushing boundaries and fear. Every girl sitting scared. Every woman growing strong.
As the darkness was overcome light returned offering a welcoming for all to return. Each young women shared a story of challenge and triumph. The isolation had allowed them the space needed to visit sides of themselves yet undiscovered.
The final night we held a hot seat council where we went around in a circle and spoke to each person about what we saw in them. When my turn came around I was a little scared of what people would say. Yet what was reflected back to me was so powerful it was hard to take in. I was so humbled and honoured to have been seen in such a beautiful way.... Especially seeming i had not showered for thirteen days at this point!!
The hardest part as a mentor is the day the parents return. It was hard to see this new family we had created take flight from the nest. When I was expressing this to a mother, she turned to me and said, 'That's parenting. Try it after thirteen years!' Ouch! Touché, mum, touché.
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