The Summer of Our Discontent.2020.Dispatch

AD69B07A-A218-4B16-8CB6-7EB2A43DA7B5 Photo by Caroline

AloneDF13360E-EAD9-4BAA-A6ED-1CBB937E54A7_1_201_aThe guides told us to stop thinking and just listen. They said the spot for our solo should choose us, rather than the other way around.

7B5CA495-BD96-4665-A98D-D57DCDFEC5D8_1_201_a Solo spot, 2/3 way up on left

I am in the desert of Southern California, on a vision quest that culminates with four days of fasting and a three-day solo. I gazed up at this mountainside yesterday, enticed by a mysterious energy, a feeling that I didn’t understand but could not dismiss. I listened in the way that I had been taught, with my whole body and all my senses. I employed the rituals passed down to us from those who came before. There is a ritual for finding a solo spot, as there is for most everything on this quest. Ceremony, the elders say, is a way “to remember to remember” and that makes me wonder if there is some primal part of me that was attracted to this spot because, on the surface, it doesn’t appear to be a great place to spend three days alone.

My thinking mind would have chosen a tranquil, streamside location like the one I spotted yesterday as I wandered the land. Some other part of me allowed myself to be led to this remote place high on the side of a mountain south of our base camp.

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To get to here, I bushwhacked through a dry wash, climbing over boulders the size of pickup trucks when I could find no way around them. There are no trails to follow, except the faint lines etched in the sand by the other-than-human creatures who wander these slopes. The saguaro cacti look like a troupe of court jesters loitering about, their arms outstretched as if frantically trying to point me in the right direction. One tall cactus gestures in a way that reminds me of one of those crazy, blowup characters the car dealerships use to draw attention to their latest sale.  I take a side canyon and then veer left to ascend the mountain’s eastern slope, thinking it might provide more protection from the relentless winds. It appears less battered than the valley’s sun-baked western side. These higher reaches are steeper than the slopes below, but I come across an improbably level platform halfway up the mountain.

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The level place

It is the perfect size for my tent, but there is something that doesn’t feel right about it so I move higher and make my camp in a jagged niche cut into the mountain’s face.

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My pack is too heavy. I carry no food, only the bare essentials that I need to make camp, but I am also hauling three gallons of water. The creek where I draw my drinking water is in the valley far below me now, but I need to stay well hydrated at this elevation and in this arid environment.

It’s a good thing that I didn’t settle for one of the other campsites. The spots lower down were easier to get to but more exposed to the weather systems that roll through the canyon. The first night of solo there is an epic storm that puts my tent stakes to the test. My tent and I are like Dorothy and her little house when the tornado comes. If I had camped at one of the places that were closer but more exposed, I might have awakened in Oz myself. As it turned out, we held fast and I stayed dry.

My tent is my hero.

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My tent

The weather system passes and the final night of the solo is calm. It’s cold, but there is no wind at all. I get up several times, including at the stroke of midnight, to go outside, do my ceremonies and have a conversation with the darkness. The night is completely calm, no wind at all, as quiet as a tomb and as still as midnight on Christmas Eve. Not a creature, nor anything else, is stirring. The stars above are magnificent, as if someone had spilled a box of white glitter across the inky dome of the sky. The new moon wears a wry smile above the ridge across from me. I stand up and turn to the east. In a cloak of darkness I speak out, full voice, to my people back home, thanking them for being here with me. It feels as though they are.

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