I stand now, with my back to the cabin, looking at a path that heads deep into the forest. It starts just beyond the fence where Patrick grazes. He doesn’t look up as I pass. I assume the man must know him, as he now avoids eye contact with me as well. I blank him from my vision and see only the fence beyond.
Looking down, I see I now wear a poncho in place of the comforter I donned this morning. IEO’s sweater is still warm against my skin, under the poncho. A wolf stands to my right. He is tall enough I can reach down and scratch his neck without shifting my stance. I look down at him, and he turns his head to look up at me. His eyes are not like IEO’s, they are stern like Two Feathers, and I feel like there is a message from him in those eyes.
As I acknowledge his support, a bird takes flight, surrounded by a flock. Their song travels through the air with them. I know this bird is the angel who has been giving me the signal when something ‘unfriendly’ is nearby. A large crow follows the birds and lands on a tree at the entrance to the path. He will be my guide. I am not alone. All of my strongest allies are here with me. So, I begin to walk toward him and into the forest.
Not far into the woods is a steep incline. It climbs at least a thousand feet to another mountain rise visible from the cabin. Our elevation there was already high enough to be nestled in Aspens. This summit breaks free of the tree line to become a bare and rocky peak.
I reach the base of the climb and adjust my pack. It is a quilted bag, with two long loops of material sewn just below a drawstring opening. Instinctively, I know Amber prepared this bag for me. She sewed it and filled it with anything I might need. It will never be too heavy to carry or even very noticeable. My story is not about bearing the weight of resources. It’s a different weight I bear.
I am comforted knowing Amber has prepared the medicine I will take to this unknown place. She understands this beast better than any of us. She knows what I will need and will make sure I have it.
There will be food in the bag. In this world, it is more for comfort and credence than it is for sustenance. I drink from a water bottle hanging from one of the straps. This I will need. It is not typical water. It is essential medicine from the well in the cave. I will need it to remain strong. I drink sparingly, saving enough to last the entire trip. I can only hope there will be an opportunity to refill it along the way.
I check one final time to be sure everything is in order, and I begin to climb. The trail reminds me very much of my second-year vision quest hike. I walk the same path I climbed to the ledge where I would spend four days and four nights discovering myself and my faith. This time I do not feel as inspired as I did then. I am nervous and can think only of the vultures that circled a fellow Quester during his journey on this very same mountain. His death here was a Spiritual death and offered a glorious rebirth. But, if I were to see a vulture today, it would probably represent a very different kind of message.
Touching on the strength in my belly, I continue my climb. I lose and find a deer trail as I make my ascent, but the animals who use it are long gone. The trees are strangely quiet. The wildlife has left this area and are likely resting on another part of the mountain today. My wolf companion seems to have gone as well, but not as far. I know he is on the trail ahead of me, somewhere. I can feel him. Still, where I am right now, I climb alone and in silence.
I pass through brambles, and I realize; though I am on a different mountain today, I make the same hike as I did on the day of my vision quest. The path is familiar, but today the squirrels who heckled me during my days on the mountain are gone with the other animals. The pinnacle is quiet. It all seems startlingly abandoned. It’s as if I was never there. I pass the spot where I quested and continue to move up the mountain.
As I continue up the hill, I pass more memories of the mountain—the spot where I once helped a Lakota quester to untangle his prayer ties. I remember a rare moment of pride swelling in me as I deftly untied the knots. When he returned to the circle, he honored my gifts and taught me to always remember myself as ‘an untier of knots,’ not just of his prayers, but that I had the gift to untie the knots in people’s souls. He prayed for me while he quested on the mountain and returned with a gift. He told me I was unique, and when he said it, I knew it was true. It was such an honor to be recognized by a true Lakota Medicine Man. I am ashamed I have doubted his words so many times since.
I decide to stop for a time and sit in the spot where he quested. I still feel his presence here, unlike the abandoned feeling I had passing the site where I poured so much of my soul. Maybe I am the one who left this place empty. Whatever happened in those days is not something to examine today. So, I offer tobacco and return to my climb.
I know my next spot before I reach it. It will be where the other Quester sat beneath the vultures. It is the top of the mountain. I can now see the circles of spirit who carried me up the hill those days, in support of those Questers. To support a person and walk them to their questing place, one must be part of the entire ceremony, including the lodge and the prayers. It was not a sudden whim to help carry their load. It was a guided journey, and I understand the circle of this guidance. It is vital I remember these places today. I was supposed to recall my native heritage on this hike. I needed to return to the place where I was a warrior. So, I could remember the strength it takes to seek a vision.
As I come to the top of a rise and follow the path to the final vision quest circle I will visit today, I don’t feel as moved as I was in the previous spot, but I recall I was not an integral part of his circle. It was the idea of fulfilling a four-year quest that moved me then. I remember watching the vultures after our return to the camp below, circling him during the four days of his quest. I knew as the Lakota community knew; this was a good sign of a strong vision. More profoundly on that day, I remember standing near his circle and gazing over the next rise. I knew my journey would take me there one day. Never have I stood in a place and known so strongly that I did not need to go there that day. I knew I would be back. Today is the day I saw coming. Today is the day I will journey over the rise.