- Mountains And Waters
Today I’ll write about the first few days, when I drove through South Dakota, Nebraska, and stayed in the Black Hills.
After that, I went to Colorado for a two-week retreat (Ecodharma Summer Camp) with Impermanent Sangha. I returned to the Black Hills, stopping first at Devils Tower (Bear Lodge), then spending 3 days in the Hills, going to a second ceremony, spending two days at a Sundance, and driving home.
I had forgotten Dignity, a magnificent statue in Chamberlain, SD, but when I saw the sign I remembered and instantly turned off. I’d heard, but was still amazed by the power of her presence. I lingered, offered tobacco, watched children climbing on her skirts and parents taking pictures, and took photos myself. This became the opening of the retreat.
I slept that night in a remote Nebraska state park, and took time to slow down before driving to an ceremony to which I’d been invited. It poured all day, so instead of inipi (sweat lodge) we had a house ceremony indoors. It doesn’t feel right to speak about it, only to acknowledge the invitation, the welcome, and the generosity of my hosts. But Doyle said I might hear from the Thunder Beings, especially the next four days.
I drove on to the Black Hills and found the small Forest Service campground I’d selected online: Grizzly Creek Primitive Campground. I pitched my tent in the back near the hills, ate, and thought I’d take a little walk along the creek, allowing for an early start in the morning. I gathered everything and then, just for a moment, followed impulse to take five minutes and check out what was behind me in the hills. Two hours later I returned. No water, no photos, nothing. Magical, sacred ground.
I was walking carefully, avoiding the poison ivy, occasionally eating raspberries, and going where my feet took me. I’d stop and soak in the energy of a place. Then I’d think I should go back, but would feel called to go to another place. Just over there. And over there. Up on that rock. Down that hill. Sit zazen for a while in this place. Talk/listen with that stone.
At one point, I caught a glimpse of the carving of the four Presidents – glistening white rock – through the trees. Well, the highway was just below me, and I’d been hearing cars. I turned left, thinking I really should head back to the campground. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and it was at least 6 pm when I started.
I came across a field of crystals, seeming to grow up from the earth. I picked up a few, asking permission and offering tobacco every time. Then there was a giant white crystal – well, 4-5” across – that called. Again I asked permission. (As far as I can tell, regulations actually allow this. I looked.) I gave back the little crystals and picked up the big one. Carried it in my hands, because I had come with nothing. Climbed up, across, down, and around, some scary rock faces just above the road I needed. Somehow, when I actually came down, I was inside the campground, a hundred feet from my tent. And it was time for bed.
The next day, I went to climb Black Elk Peak. I will offer pictures in the next posting. All I’ll say right now is that I was halfway down when the hail started. I hid, thinking it would pass. It let up, I moved along, and hid in trees with a family when the next hail came. We all moved down, and hid again. Under trees, under rock faces, – repeating. A whole crowd of us was doing this walk and hide, walk and hide, and the hail was getting bigger. If I’d known there would be 3/4” hail, I would have walked on through the little stuff. Finally I could see the parking lot, and decided to just run for it – and was so tired that I slipped and fell. I walked on. A second hailstone hit the big bump from the first big hailstone. I just kept going, heading for the bathroom that had running water and heat.
After warming up a bit, I got my clothes, stripped completely and put on dry stuff, wrung out the wet clothes, and headed for a restaurant. Excuse me, lodge. Everything there is fancy. And as I was finishing eating, the waiter told me that a man had paid for my meal – and didn’t want to be identified. I assume it was somebody who’d been on the hail walk with me.
I texted Nikki and said “Tell Doyle to tell the Thunder Beings that wasn’t funny” – and explained what had happened. They both agreed it had to do with the Thunder Beings. (associated with thunder, lightning, storms,…)
My tent was dry; lots of places got hail, but that wasn’t one of them. I crawled into bed and slept hard.
February 8, 2019
BLACK HILLS CONTINUED
Continuing with Day 5 in the Black Hills. I wanted, urgently, to go back to the Rock People and walk down among them. I didn’t quite know where they were. I only knew that I’d pulled off in a blinding snowstorm, taken a walk when it let up, got hailed on, hid in the car, took another walk when it let up – and met these magnificent beings. I sheltered in a sort of cave, and watched and watched. I asked them for help; the hail started up very intensely, and I thought they said yes. Eventually the thought occurred that the sheltering rock could fall down and smash me. Silly, but I left, returned to the car, and drove down to Rapid City for a planned dinner with Karen Little Thunder. She’d come on the Walk for a day plus. This day was when I came to recognize a deep connection with her, and a very deep respect. She talked with me about hail in Lakota understanding, about the rock beings, and about her own spiritual practice. That conversation placed my experience into a deep and wide context. I honor that by not speaking more.
This time, two years later, I wanted to take all the time needed with these beings.
Journal notes from the morning:
I wasn’t able to write after Black Elk Peak and the hailstorm, the people all together, and finally safe. Someone bought my dinner, probably one of those men.
Today, slow, little walks, drying things out, building a fire to warm last of the chili for breakfast, now looking for the place with the rock people. Took photos at Heddy Draw. Looked up and saw an old fort. Sleeping long into daylight, from exhaustion of the hike and the hailstorm. Looking for the rock people. Slow, fatigue. Left a song offering to the valley behind, coming down. Saw the right way to walk up, back to my car.
From memory: I drove and drove looking for the place and not finding it. Finally, mid-afternoon, having passed the park boundary, I returned and showed the photo to a gatekeeper, who was also a rock climber. He knew the place and told me how to find it: the Sunday trail, which begins at the far side of Sylvan Lake. I’d been near there for the hike to Black Elk Peak. I drove there, followed the signs, and found the Sunday trail. The signs said “difficult” and “3.5 hours.”
Actually, this trail is more like a waterfall climb – mostly downhill, often in the rushing water, often clinging to bars positioned there. I was wearing my barefoot toe shoes and very grateful; it was fine to be in the water. And I looked, again and again, for the Rock People. There were so many rock people, I took so many pictures, and it went on and on. And on and on, and getting dark. Suddenly I found myself at the place I’d been two years before – looking out at them. This time, I could follow the trail that led straight toward them. So I did.
I don’t know what to say. The energy was there. I was getting cold. I made some offerings but couldn’t stay, headed back to the lake and around it toward the building. I’d thought of taking a swim at the end, but like the night before I was too cold.
I wound up driving for hours to get the last room in a restored hotel in some small town. Heat. Bath. I wanted a hot meal but had to eat my travel food. I slept on a comfortable bed in a stuffy room at a reasonable price. The next morning I drove to Denver, a very long way and my GPS misdirected me in Montana, but anyway I arrived. Was hosted by a stranger with Buddhist connections, a fascinating woman. Thursday morning I had a phone meeting with the Advisory Council, and that afternoon I connected with my daughter and granddaughter who were checking out a college. A strange but wonderful thing to do. The next night was with another fascinating Buddhist woman, completely different from the first. And then I left to pick up my rider and drive to Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center.
PART 2: COLORADO: ECODHARMA SUMMER CAMP
From memory: The focus was meditation in nature, rising to sit with the sunrise, morning hikes with long sitting periods on the land, afternoons on our own, and evening talks.
Last night, sitting in robes, felt right. This morning, okesa out on the hillside, now I’m at home. [I continued to wear robes and okesa in the morning sits.]
Johann’s “feeling out” – noting sensations without labels and such – difficult, seems fruitful. Twice now, knot in solar plexus dissolved by end of sit. But a sense of massive sadness lodged there. Stop thinking about this.
Solo: We each found a spot on the land for a two-day solo. It was raining, and I thought most of my solo would be in the tent. It wasn’t. I was strongly drawn to a certain hilltop; I pitched my tent between two trees so the wind couldn’t blow it away; made a circle within which I would stay – with an opening to the hilltop. When weather allowed I climbed there and spent hours. Food was stashed far away from the tent, in a bear canister. It was a hard time. I made an effort to meet the various beings there. I remember a moose visiting, eating tree leaves on the other side of the circle, and being afraid unreasonably. It was there for a long time. Of course nothing happened.
Sunday, July 29 – There was a break between the weeks, and time to write. I have only copied my personal journal notes, uncensored. Don’t think about the names of people. (I’m tempted to remove what seems like self-pity or foolishness. I’m going to leave them. But skip what doesn’t make sense.)
The grief that came up in the solo – I don’t know about the fear – is from a wasted life, wasted gifts, inability to offer. It’s lifelong, but at this late date the pressure is intense. The anger at my gifts not being accepted.
7:20 am What I came for, asked for: to remove the blocks to being effective – to doing the work.
8:20 am Thinking of what seems like Alice’s aversion – disagreeing with all my proposals – does she see me as deficient because I have special food needs? Vivienne’s self-confidence, meeting with the leaders, taking air space – a different quality than David’s, a harsh edge – Johann’s being at home with his place in the world, self-confident. Anyway I was remembering E [a mentor 20 years before] telling me that the way I was persecuted and misunderstood (childhood) is the mark of “one of those” – the contrary.
And I’ll never have a 20-year friendship on which to build a working relationship. Until 90, maybe 85.
Life is so rich and beautiful – and it’s because of the work, because it pushes me outward to embrace – but the work is not getting done. What would E say? That this is the work.
Picking berries – the rich, dark, juicy ones always grow in the shade. [from a poem 30 years ago]. But how long, I ask, how long to ripening? Apparently I’m still in painful spring – and in a hurry, afraid, angry, creating myself/finding who I am.
1 pm, after a walk. The gifts of hear-out and feel-out – calming. Could have stayed forever at Creekside: kindness of creek sounds and flowers and green things. Beauty of the aspen leaves.
Noticing: I think I should have the strengths and wisdom of both David and Johann [retreat leaders]. Meaning, all their gifts plus my own. Particularly ability to negotiate the corposystem, one way or another. Attract people and money, speak with confidence. But it’s not so. My gifts are my own, not yet complete, but do not require degrees in philosophy or 20 years living in Hawaii. They require more zazen time and learning from the earth. And losing the idea – or healing it – that something is wrong with me.
That something is wrong, or that my message is too dangerous so nobody will listen?
In that second week, on Wednesday they took us on an all-day venture to the Indian Peaks wilderness area. I was astounded by beauty and holiness, and I wanted to stay for days. Of course we were in a no-camping area. I made an excuse (to myself) to bring a camera and take photos.
Was it Thursday or Friday that we had the one-day solo? I found a beautiful place and settled in, and was nourished. And it was here that I made the vow to protect the pine trees, the impossible vow. I find some writing in the journal, will let it speak for me.
Date probably August 2 or 3
1:45 pm [I was exploring how the vow might manifest] The pines: Everywhere around the world they are. Can send moisture from dust to dry places. Too far. Through the clouds? The vast intelligence of pines? One vast fungal network? One tree, one grove, resistant to the beetles, another resists blister rust. They change their chemistry to repel them, and they send those genetic changes through the usual channels – lightning fast. Whole forests no longer weakened. Immense system. Change their DNA to be less flammable, especially needles and bark.
6:30 pm Happy with group process. Spoke first, of clear vision but hindrances, effectiveness, need tribe. The final list feels complete, with individual, community, and strategic action.
August 6, Monday morning, at Kritee’s house
Back in ordinary world, with things to do. Talking with Kritee, she more wanted to help me than something else – but I will have to ask her. In talking, she heard me say “Going deeper into mystery is the strategy.” I’m thinking “when the teacher is ready the student appears.” [various plan thoughts] What is it I want from Kritee about strategy? Ahh – the big question of where are the weak points, the strong points, in people, the energetic nodes –
Looking at the deeper picture. Now to actually unlock the foundations that lock the Three Poisons into the workings of society.
Thoughts about organizations and activism:
August 6, notes from meeting with Kritee – somewhat random.
Read the Powell memo and the Meadows memo – both online. “More is better”!
Changing the narrative:
We talked about people from the retreat who might be in a strategy group. I contacted all. One person responded. And she observes that face-to-face contact is essential before using email to organize. And we talked so long that I didn’t reach Bear Lodge that night, but slept in the car at a roadside rest – together with a lot of truckers and a few families. I reached it in the morning, before open, and was able to enter.
PART 3: BEAR LODGE, BLACK HILLS, AND HOME
Bear Lodge – known as Devil’s Tower, but its traditional name is Bear Lodge, a sacred site.
Bikers everywhere – enjoying all the colorful style. Sturgis rally 20 miles away. [I walked around it as sun was rising; magnificence! Later sat and napped in early morning sun. People started coming, many walkers on the path around the peak. Walked around, scrambled across boulders…
Near the end of the circle, walked toward the colors of tobacco/cloth offerings, found myself in a holy place. Must be ages of prayers and offerings here. Left my given tobacco tie, wished I’d made full colors. Then thought. Named myself, asked permission to pray. Offered same prayers as on the mini-solo: “Find me people to do the work with. Friends, loving each other.”
Notice a turning in myself: less speaking/allying with rocks, move toward people. Now: warm good feeling in solar plexus.
Coughing last night while setting up to sleep in car. Think it’s loneliness. Fine today. Not turning away from people [seems to make things] ok. Don’t know what else.
August 8, Wednesday evening, Oreville campground in Black Hills. Journal notes
Yesterday Bear Lodge, a drive, settling into camping. Today, Sylvan Lake. Two hours walk into the Sunday Trail, sitting with big rocks, meeting a deer, going off-trail, talking to the big rocks at a peak where I could see the original rest area.
Then trying to swim but didn’t. Got immersed in the cold water, finally, for a bath. Then put on toe shoes and went down the Sunday creek Trail again. Drawn to cross the creek to a multicolored rock face. Spoke, made offerings, voice offering, asked for help. Felt the lichen. Something gentle and alive. Felt the rock too. Asked for the one who will join me, and then for more. Don’t remember much.
Returning, climbing up the waterfalls was a joy. Giving youth, (losing frailty and uncertainty), physical vigor and balance.
Noticing changes: there was a “thing” about talking to beings. It seems released. Don’t know mind. Maybe because Johann and Kritee know it too. Anyway it’s let go. And they still communicate. My song offerings are getting stronger.
And the big next step is making friends.
The plan tomorrow is to pack up and go spend the day in those hills behind Grizzly Creek.
I found Wrinkled Rock not far from Grizzly Creek, but for climbers. [It had a feeling of community, unlike most campgrounds – people talked with each other, sat around a fire together, climbed a small rock together.]
Sitting was good, I want more. It’s getting dark, at only 8:30. Eat the peach and then bed.
August 10, Friday morning, Wrinkled Rock – last day.
Reluctant to write. To write about this. And there’s the thing. It feels like desecration, like making it less. [The day I spent on that sacred hill – climbing around, but never finding again the place I had been two weeks before. I didn’t write, and I can’t say.]
And with my last 2 hours, what to do? Last night stayed up late talking with two women, it was so easy, they just talked on and on and it felt good. I could nap. Sit more. Work on the logo. Or go back to places, or to a new place.
August 14, Tuesday night
I was at Sundance for nearly two days. I will not write about that. Though I felt compelled to be present witnessing the ceremony, all the time – and became overheated and dried out as a result. And did some healings on some people, and felt grateful to be able to offer that and have it received.
As soon as I was away, the diarrhea started. Surely related to the heat, possibly bad water – but nothing happened while I was on Sundance grounds. I stopped at the nearest open motel and slept well into the morning.
Journal: But last night a dream. I’ve come to a group of people living together, who wear bright colors, flowing clothes, and seem gentle, happy, and playful. There’s a reason I’m there, but now I can’t remember. I ask the leader, a young man, some question about activism. He laughs and says their activism is this. Trying to put it into words, I say “creating the future” or “joy” or “the center” – I don’t recall my words, but clearly none of them quite get it.
And this is the end of the retreat journal. It’s incredibly long, yet a mere outline. I hope there might be a few things in here that speak to you; please let go of the rest. Reading and remembering has nourished me.