The portal of seven rivers
August 2009, I enter the wilderness through the portal of seven rivers.
Something ancient awakens in me, as I walk through the many passageways leading into the botanical and wildlife sanctuary, in the Gila Wilderness. In the canyon, I witness for the first time, our very own galaxy - The Milky Way.
The infamous Uranus Pluto Square approaches, and will come into orb later in the year. Retrograding Uranus pulls away from it’s destined rendezvous with Pluto, building tension that will not peak until 2011, this planetary flirtation coaxing my own personal underworld to the surface, in desperate search of something new and essentially meaningful.
I fly from Seattle, Washington into Tucson, Arizona, and spend the night with Darcy Blue French. Darcy, an artful Desert Vitalist Herbalist, enchants my senses with a cozy house full of drying plants, tinctures, essences, aromas, salves, a host of potions I cannot name, and ever so much enjoy the mystery of swirling abundance.
That afternoon, a desert monsoon catches us in it’s gales and drenches us to the bone in seconds, permeating the air with the smell of fresh water arriving to my sunburnt cheeks from the cool clouds high above, engorged with a pungent and resinous perfume. Being in a monsoon is more like being in the ocean than being in a rainstorm, I’m frantically wondering,
am I going to drown now?
One moment, we’re walking down the sidewalk, and the next, we’re swimming through waves of water in the air around us. The water ceases as suddenly as it began and the perfumed air prevails. It is Creosote Bush, Chaparral, and during these tidal rains, this endemic and prolific, bushy tree releases it’s resin into the air, creating what can only be described as the actual smell of rain. And as can be expected from such an aromatic plant, Creosote is highly medicinal.
The next morning, we awake before sunrise to drive the entire day across the endless and brutal desert. I feel afraid. I am trying not to think about her car breaking down and what would we do, having no reception for our phones. But we do not break down, instead we arrive in the Gila Wilderness, to the gate of the first river, where we meet the mysterious forest enchantress, Kiva Rose, and climb into her all terrain, four-wheel-drive Jeep and make our way across the first river.
Now mind you, this is deep and rugged wilderness. The instructions to get to their home from the nearest town, which is 8 miles away, sound something like;
Follow the dirt road that forks to the right, turn at the tallest Ponderosa Pine tree you’ve ever seen, once you go over the hill and pass the gigantic, turtle shaped boulder, you will come to a river. Here you will meet your guide, who will ferry you across that river where the path swerves underway and to your right and passes again into forest and under a grove of trees. There will be two more rivers to drive through, and you will pass through a glade that seems to end at a line of trees, but shimmer through those trees like the spirit creature you are quickly becoming, and you will find three more rivers to cross. After the sixth river, park your vehicle, and you must walk. For this river is far too deep to drive a vehicle and will drown it’s engine. Pray this river calm when you arrive, so you may pass through on your god given feet - as though offered sweet and sacred permission - and you have arrived.
We begin our walk further into the high elevation river canyon, heavy laden with our belongings, and Kiva tells us the rattlesnakes are reproducing at an excellerated rate. She speaks of many other wild animals as well;
“they are not technically dangerous to us, though any wild animal can be dangerous, but this is a thriving ecosystem and they’re not hungry, so they're highly unlikely to mess with humans.”
We arrive at a small, two story cabin, a few dozen feet from the wash, where Darcy and I will stay. It is the middle of monsoon season, but there is a drought, and the wash is dry. The wash usually fills up with water during the monsoons, and becomes a river, but when it's not a river, it is a highway for wild animals. All of the animals use this road to travel, including the giant predators. It’s similar in width to a country road, but it is rugged riverbed terrain, with large boulders and steep slopes and it is difficult to walk. You can walk it, which I found out later, foraging with Kiva for specific plants that we could only find by that way.
Though I’d like to deny it, truth be told, I am a city girl, and I am terrified of these animals Kiva told us about. But Darcy wants to sleep on the porch and though I am slightly relieved that she is with me, what is Darcy going to do if a bear wants to eat us? She isn’t scared though because she has plenty of experience in the wilderness, and in that particular kind of wilderness, so I follow her lead, and we sleep on the porch that first night.
And so, as the winding way of life will have, on the porch of that little cabin, this particular Summer night, in the middle of the wildest lands I have yet encountered, I learn about a concept called, the Spirit of Place. Kiva and Wolf talk about this all the time in their writings, the Spirit of the Canyon, and I get so excited and think, yes, that is what I need. I want to get away from technology and away from the city, so I can tune into the actual real world, as original natural lands. I understand the Spirit of Place, from otherworldy experiences I’ve had during previous travels, a Stellium Pisces, forever tapped into worlds beyond our manifest veil. I have slept in the path of ancient lay lines in the Scottish countryside, I’ve crawled over cairns and primordial wells on their Islands and holy places, I’ve strode solemn into crypts and dank, lightless chambers of Medieval churches in Prague, Germany, Austria, Scotland and England, encountering myriad invisible creatures, bumping unapologetically up against my corporeal form.
But on that porch in the full moon light, something very different bumps up against my biology - the Spirit of the Canyon comes to me. It is not a sense, it is not a fairy, it is not a ghost. It is not like a prayer or whisper on the wind. It saturates the air like rain, it is massive and alive and conscious and everywhere. It is so ancient and powerful and enormous and I feel like a little bug, like a tiny ant in the presence of an elephant and I am screaming now, screaming like I am falling off the side of a mountain.
It is gone.
It’s gone, and I understand what has happened and I am devastated. I am begging it to come back; I didn't mean it, please please come back, give me another chance. It only simply came to me; it didn't say anything, it didn't do anything, it just allowed me to be in its presence and it was like being in the presence of Mount Rainier, which was staggering, the first time I came into the dwelling place of that Mountain.
It wasn't like being afraid of something that will hurt you, I knew the mountain wasn't going to hurt me or do anything to me, but I felt so powerless in it’s presence, the feeling was nearly indistinguishable from fear.
The Spirit of the Canyon was like a Mountain.
After a couple days, Darcy returns to Tucson, and I am alone. But I am never truly alone of course, for my cabin hosts a jubilant tribe of mice, chattering and chirruping and keeping me up at night. One night, laying on my side, a little field mouse perches herself on the crest of my hip. I swing my hip like dancing the blues, and send her flying across the room.
Also accompanying me are a healthy population of Rattlesnakes. One day, I am walking to the river and look down by my feet and see, vertical on the path, a six foot long, enormously thick Rattlesnake, perfectly content with my passing - it did not rattle. It seems they never rattle at me.
Walking among these Royal Reptiles, ushers me quickly into a new kind of humility. Their titan potency emanates out of comparably small, coiled bodies, and inspire fear as tremendous as the Spirit of the Canyon and the Mountain Rainer. Only now, I know damn well, this Rattlesnake could find reason hurt me. Their arrow shaped heads and angular eyes, reservoir a deadly payload, demanding distance, respect and magnificent awe.
I step outside the cabin doors into soft, morning air, saturated with the warm resin of Ponderosa Pine, smelling of butterscotch and masculinity. I maintained constant, conscious awareness of the Rattlesnakes, brilliantly camouflage in these woods, a discipline that is increasing the vivid luminosity of every moment, different from the moment before, and the one about to arrive. The snakes offer me the gift of presence, a practice taking so much effort, I would not otherwise sustain it, as I am spending nearly each and every moment outside my cabin walls.
I walk barefoot down the trail to the river, constantly sniffing for the entrancing Moonwort. Her dank perfume arrives in great gusts to my senses, ordinary green leaves enclosing their silver undersides, for only woodland creatures to witness in sweetest privacy.
I swim naked in the river like the animal that I am; cooling and washing and recovering in that sanctuary, by banks coved in Sweet Clover. Ah, it’s indescribable sweetness permeates the air, largely caused by the presence of coumarin, an aromatic chemical found in many of our favorite sensory plants including sweet grass, tonka bean, cassia cinnamon and strawberries. From the cool bliss of the river, I admire the Alder Trees, wondering of their medicine Kiva so often talks about. I witness their silver bark, torn open by bear scratches, bleeding red resin into the river.
Exploring my territory, I languish in the places that invite me in. A vast array of hummingbird varieties, startle like a lion roaring as they approach on the wind, until I see them with my eyes and realize, it is just the tiniest bug of a bird. Acclimating to the wilderness day by day, new embodied realizations arise. My ears adjust. The silence effuses my body. I have never been exposed to real quiet, this deep and this long and this far away from the ambient buzz of humanity.
Here, the persistent wilderness differs dramatically from countrysides and mountain tops one hikes in the day, returning safely to shelter by night fall. The brightness of the stars and moon on cloudless nights, offer vision to roam the forest by their light. The silence electrifies my hearing and I detect the tiniest sounds of bugs and mice and plants and the smallest of winds. The natural beauty is like nothing I have seen, and I am becoming part of that beauty.
In this place, I am animal.
I sync with their rhythms, I breath their air and smell their teeming aromas. The heat and the cold embrace me, the wet and the dry, sink deep below my skin and into my essence. My bare feet walk the same dirt paths as black bears and mountain lions and wolves. I go the way of the elk, the deer, the antelope, and sheep. Eagles soar overhead, Hawks light on my path, songbirds tiptoe into the cabin while I sleep, and flutter through my dreams…
From the point of view of this story, all of the accompanying images traveled here from the future. Espresso Snake, looking down a tunnel, was painted for me by David Jensen, and mailed as a post card from Osaka, Japan.