By mid-December, Black Bear is asleep in her den, nestled in the night of winter. Her autumnal diet: up to 20,000 calories daily of berries, nuts, honey, and even garbage digests while she dreams. A mama Bear will give birth in the darkness, and for the next several months, the cubs nurse on her while she naps.
In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a tribe of humans known as the Kogi do something similar. The Kogi have lived in harmony with the planet for thousands of years and believe it is their sacred work to care for the heart of the world. By seven months old, some Kogi children are chosen to be mamas, spiritual wisdom holders. Mamas spend their formative years in a cave, raised in darkness, where they learn to listen to Aluna, the self-aware cosmic consciousness that is the source of intelligence, life, and the mind within nature.
Cut to this past October: It is the Full Moon, and I too am learning to listen. A Reiki master sister from the far north, who is also listening, invites me to step into an archetype, The Healer. Standing in the center of the Labyrinth, over the marine layer of the Pacific, cool air on bare skin, I accept the invitation. The experience feels gentle, as soft as the night. It is like a dream.
Ten days later, precisely at midnight, I awaken. The house is quiet. Within the silence is a knowing. When John Muir said, “The Mountains are calling and I must go,” I imagine this is what he meant. It is a summons, this time to greet the Sunrise. The vision is clear: a narrow ridge in the wieldernes, a divine brush stroke of Land dividing west and east, sunset and sunrise. I am to spend the night between them, my sleep a ceremony, allowing some old ways to die and a new day to birth in the darkness of dreaming.
So I drive three and a half hours, arrive at the base of the mountain trail at 3:30am, doze in my car till morning, then attempt to climb to the Pacific Crest Trail at 8,000 feet elevation, with as much food, water, warmth, and protection as I can carry in my pack and pockets.
This is the second wilderness backpacking trip I’ve made, and my body continually reminds me that the mind-over-matter strategy stopped working a good ten years ago. Something in my hip joints whispers that this little adventure is not only unwise, but likely impossible. Still, I begin the climb and smile politely as even small children with puppies pass, offering words of encouragement to the lady resting on the side of the trail. And yet, I reach Tahquitz Peak in time to watch the sunset. Ha!
On my first visit, two weeks prior, a volunteer invited folks into the tiny station to sign the PCT register and receive a card welcoming us into the Loyal Order of Squirrels, proof that we’d climbed to 8,846 feet. This time the station is deserted, the wind fierce and cold, the sun sinking, and the light fading fast.
Perhaps the only other humans in the San Jacinto Wilderness, two young men, clearly more experienced than I, appear and watch the sunset with me. One offers chocolate. Then, as the wind increases, we retrace our steps down the cliffside trail, one Young Man leading, one following, carefully making our way from the ranger station to the ridge about half a mile below. It’s a fairy tale and they are my angels, sent against my will to protect the silly woman who risks her life listening to Spirit.
In the near-freezing dusk, I am grateful for their presence, but I feel torn. I’d planned to spend the night alone.
“I want you close enough to hear me yell,” I say, with the authority reserved for real danger, then stomp off to find the “perfect place,” one that includes privacy yet is not too far from their protection.
The Young Men choose their spot with ease, immediately string up Christmas lights, make a tiny camp-stove fire, and cook dinner—for two. After an hour of stumbling around in the dark and misplacing my pack, I find the blasted thing, drag it back to the place where I’d started, and, under the partial protection of a low rock ledge, unpack the scant belongings, unroll my bag, and eat cold leftovers. It’s about 40℉. The three of us, them in tents, and I under a ledge, sleep.
It is so quiet.
At around 2 a.m. I awake to a thick slice of Moon rising behind a Tree, followed a few hours later by the dawn and the sound of quiet footsteps approaching my head with a gentle whisper, “Oh… sorry… ”
A few minutes later, eyes open to see one Young Man, the chocolate-offerer, sitting atop a Boulder to the left. Quiet. Still. Facing the East. I struggle out of my own down cocoon, bundle my fur-less human body into more layers and polar fleece, and climb a second large Boulder, to the right. Together we sit: the Young Man, the two Boulders, the Land, the Mountain, the Forest of Trees, and I, in silence, awaiting the Sun.
I feel awkward and fidgety. In such deep stillness, the Inner Critic sounds so loud! Self-conscious, it says. Imposter, it says. But the Sun pays no heed. We have an appointment.
When He rises, I pray, “I am willing to hold and be held by this energy. I am willing to be transformed.”
It would require poetry to describe how this Sunrise feels, what happens in my being, the peace, the assurance, the sense of receiving—from the Sun, who provides for all.
By nightfall I am down that mountain and back in my cozy Topanga Canyon, unpacking, making dinner, feeding Slinky, turning lights out, and running a candlelight bath. Something has happened.
Almost two Moons later, the Solstice arrives with a whisper. Slinky and I spend the evening in stillness and sweet meditation, the peace again profound. Then, family holidays bring gift making-and-shipping, hours of family-zooming, and live visits to my own mama bear and each of my two cubs, fully grown (though still nursing).
As I write, it is January, a pristine new year. Like Black Bear, I may need a few more months in the dreaming, in the cave, to digest the spiritual calories foraged for and found in the Forest.
Know that I am dreaming and praying with you. And, whether you too need to spend more time in the cave, or to rise and greet the Sun, my prayer is that you listen to Aluna, the consciousness of Nature, and that you listen to your soul call. Look toward your vision. Feel your way in the darkness and know that it is your friend. This is your Winter, after all. Your den. What will you dream… ?
And if you'd like me to light a candle for you, dear friend, let me know.
All my love,