The rock pile was how we communicated with each other.
I went on a vision quest in New Mexico several years ago. I first heard about it online. I was stumbling around the internet and ran across Circles of Air and Stone. I was fascinated by the concept but the time commitment seemed kind of long so I put the idea away for a while.
I kept going back to the site over time, again and again. I would look at it shake my head and go in with my life.
Finally, I decided to take the plunge and worked out the time off from the job.
I had no idea what it would be like but the guide sent several things to help us prepare. I went to REI and had a field day spending money on a tent, trying to decide the best sleeping bag to get (who knew there were a million different types), a camp stove (didn’t think TSA for this one), a knife, some dehydrated food. I also bought a backpack to carry it all.
The guide also sent us an exercise to complete before the quest. He asked us to go into a wooded area for a walk and just quietly notice what came up. What we noticed, what we felt. It was an interesting exercise, very meditative.
When the day came for the flight, I remember my biggest worry was checking my backpack with the airlines. It had straps and all kinds of things hanging off of it that could get caught on something. The agent took it, put it in a big plastic bag and kept it moving. I laughed at myself for all the worry when there was such a simple solution. Thousands of people had probably taken a backpack on a plane before me.
When I got to the Albuquerque, I rented a car and threw my stuff into the back of it. I started the long drive to a little town called Abiquiu where we would meet the guide at the general store to buy final supplies.
It was a long day but we finally made it to the spot where we would camp. I set up my tent which would be where I lived for several days.
The guide spent several days teaching us about vision quests from different traditions, why people do them, what they mean. We spent a day on flora and fauna since we would be alone in the wilderness for four days. He told us about bears, coyotes, scorpions and various plants to avoid.
Finally, we hiked to a base camp. From here we went out on our own to find the spot that we would spend the four days alone with only water to drink. We all set out to search for the place that called to us. I found mine after hiking for a while. It had an open space but there was a tree nearby where I could hang my tarp. It had a good view of the surrounding terrain. It felt like it fit.
We also had to locate the person closest to us. The way we made sure everyone was safe was to build a rock pile between me and the another person’s spot. Once the quest started, one of us would change the pile in the morning and the other in the evening. That way, it would never be more than 24 hours without knowing if someone was OK. If the rock pile wasn’t changed, we had to go for help.
The night before we were to leave on our quest was a long one. It was raining and base camp want covered that well. We had a few tarps and all of us were under it together. There were eight of us, in addition to the guide. I didn’t really sleep at all, I just listened to the rain and tried to stay dry, huddled in my sleeping bag.
At dawn, we got up and our guide held a ceremony, blessing us for the journey. We all set out to be alone for our quests. The smell of burning sage was in the air.
I thought I would be hungry the whole time but hunger is at least in part a learned reaction so after the first day I wasn’t really hungry at all.
The second night at dusk, I was laying in my sleeping bag watching the sun go down. Suddenly, there was an animal scream in the air, followed by the howls of several coyotes. I grabbed my knife, huddled in the sleeping bag. My heart was pounding in my chest. It was a while before I went to sleep that night.
I continued to change the rock pile every day and we left each other little notes in the sand or on the rocks.
I wonder who my rock pile is today? Who checks to see if I’m ok? Who do I check on?
During the day, I would walk around but I got weaker each day. I also would crow to hear it echo off the valley. Several people told me later that they heard me and knew it was me.
On the last night, we searched for visions. We were supposed to build a fire but I didn’t. I sat and opened up to whatever would come. It’s hard to describe what happened but I ended up talking to my grandmother about not going to her funeral (the back story on this is in my post Eileen Mae). I felt forgiveness on that night.
On the dawn of the fifth day, I starting hiking back to base camp. My pack was so much heavier even though I had gone through almost all of my water. I took it one step at a time. When I finally saw base camp, I was tremendously relieved. Our guide had been busy. He made us fruit salad with oatmeal sprinkled over it.
It was the best damn fruit salad I have ever eaten.