The day is bright and clear. It is mid-morning, but the sun has not yet risen over the mountains, so the air is still cool around our Vision Quest camp. A river snakes across the valley, picking its way through the canyon where we are settled. It meets and moves away from the mountain that stands to one side and is mostly banked by dense thickets. We are just to the other side, in a small hollow.
My pick-up is backed into a clearing that is not much bigger than the truck itself. Around the sides and behind the truck, the meadow is surrounded by tall scrub. I have parked as deep as necessary to leave just enough room for me to comfortably travel around the edges of the bed. The front of the truck faces a path through the camp and to the community circle.
When I camp, I like to keep my supplies in the cab and fill the bed with padding and blankets. I allow only a small space for shoes and clothes for the morning clothes and use the entire bed for sleeping. I love the comfort of being off of the ground, but still sleeping under a sparkling night sky. I listen to the river and stare at the stars until I am ready to close my eyes and surrender my mind to sleep. Beyond the perfect view, I love this spot because it also offers river access and privacy when I want it. It’s perfect. Everything is perfect.
Today, I wake to the sound of a squirrel who has come to share my camp with me. He chatters and searches the ground for crumbs I might have offered. Looking up at a flawless blue sky, I smile. It is my third day at camp, and every morning I wake thrilled to find myself still in nature, surrounded by the peace I only feel here.
Over the last few days, I have been busy gathering the sage for my circle and making flags to honor the directions. I have searched for the place where I will seek my vision, and as I’ve carried forth my duties, I have felt myself shifting to the place of Spirit. Today, the thoughts of busyness have are gone. I am calm and disconnected from the world around me, but deeply connected to my place in it.
Sitting up, I look over the edge of the truck. The squirrel carps at me for interrupting his morning routine and scampers to the nearest tree. I smile at him, pulling on my shoes and jacket. Seizing my clothes, I climb from my bed and enter the small path cutting through the thicket behind my truck.
Beyond the thicket, where the path emerges from the brush, there is a rock beach coated in soft green moss. The branches extend and over the river on one side of the beach, and bushes border the other. While they do not obscure the rocky paradise entirely, the beach is secluded enough to offer me the privacy I desire to bathe my body and don my new attire. This practice is a celebration of everything glorious in nature and has become my daily rite.
The shock of cold water against my skin awakens my senses, but it does not bring the excitement of previous days. Today, I am preparing for my Vision Quest. So, my ceremony is slow and deliberate. Sitting on the rock beach, I dip and re-dip my cloth; carefully going over every inch of my skin; nurturing myself with the water. In my mind, I am silent, but in my soul, I pray. As I wash, I open my heart, and I let its words sing out to the Great Spirit. I dip the cloth again, allowing cool clarity to flow over my body. I think of Baptism in its purest sense, as I wash away my fears, allowing my doubts to flow into the river to be consumed by the Great Earth Mother. Inch by inch, I cleanse myself of those things that no longer serve me and allow my skin to soak in the water’s blessings. After washing my body, I move to my knees, and I bow in front of the river. I lean my head forward, and I allow my hair to flow with the current. Chills rush through my body as the cold water touches my scalp, and I feel the river’s rush as it pulls my hair downstream to join the last of the fear from my mind. I am ready to face the Great Spirit in a pure and empty way.
With my ceremony complete, I wrap my hair in a towel and slowly dress. I am deliberate and patient with each garment, taking my time and reveling in the day’s practice. I will never be in this place, or this time again, and I want to absorb all I can.
After dressing, I go back to my truck and pack my camp. I collect all of my clothes and bedding to store in the cab of the truck. Making sure my food is secure in the coolers, I lift them into the bed. Then, I carefully examine my camp area and make sure it is clean. I do not know how long I will be away, but I know I will not sleep in my bed tonight. I have committed to this, at least.
With my campsite clean, I begin to gather the belongings I will need for my Quest. I will not take much. I will not take food or water. I will not take bedding or any of the ‘things’ I would typically consider necessities in my life. I will bring only my flags, altar, blanket, drum, and sage for my circle. Once all of these items are gathered and packed, I reach into the cab and retrieve my medicine bag. As I carefully drape it over my neck, the feeling of now being on the path to my Vision Quest quietly descends upon me.
After a final check to assure everything is ‘set right’ in my camp, I turn and travel the two rut road to the sacred circle. Here I will join with the community until it is time to leave for my quest. The road seems empty today. Everything around me is quiet. My Quest has truly begun. As I wind through tall grass and weeds past the campsites of others who have come to Quest, I remain mostly to one side, to avoid the tallest grass between the ruts.
I watch astounded as a robin lands between the ruts ahead of me, directly between me and the gate to the community circle. We watch one another closely as I continue to move forward. I expect the bird to hop or fly from the path as I come near, but it does not move. It merely watches me as I watch it. The whole world around us seems to have stopped; to give us this moment, just the two of us. Inside, I keep waiting for the bird to flee the trail, but I also pray it will not. I have been approached by animals in the woods before, when in a meditative state of mind, but never have I had a bird remain so still, so silent, so patient as I walked so near. I do not shift the way I move or attempt to influence the bird in any way. I am not careful in my gait, nor do I adjust my path. I simply walk, and while I walk, our eyes do not leave one another. We stay focused, and we watch until eventually I come to and pass the place where it rests, and through all of this, it stays. Only inches from where my feet land upon the earth, it stays. I walk, and it stays.
I am amazed by the encounter, and as I move on to the entrance of the circle, I turn to look back, to be sure it was real and not imagined, to be sure I saw what I saw and when I look, I see it there, still standing in the road looking at me. This final gaze lasts only a moment, and then, the bird takes flight. Inspired by the power of this message, I move forward confidently. I am prepared to face what the Great Spirit will show me. I have been taught Robin is a symbol of new life, and I accept this as the perfect omen for the beginning of this new experience. This is the first of what will eventually be four Vision Quests, and I openly accept the new life I hope to live on the other side of my latest journey.