Mostly I manage to be upbeat in this time of pandemic closures but cancelling our annual June Cascadia Quest took me to a surprising place of grief. What is my work in the world now if I can’t lead people into the wilderness? Questing offers such an important path for seekers, what if the time for remote retreats in nature with community cannot happen for a long time? And, oh how I treasure our annual pilgrimage to the stunning lands of Skalitude retreat center in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains! When will I be able to return to those carefully held lands with my beloved Christina and our dear friend and co-guide, Deb?
The pandemic is a time when all of us are grieving something—not seeing friends, changed work status, lost vacation plans, people we know who’ve been sick, maybe even died—the list is harder and longer for some than others. Grief kind of piles up. I’ve had to cancel a visit from our grandchildren and a visit to my mother. Those were “expectedly” sad decisions. But the decision to cancel the quest is what opened the door to my accumulated grief about so much of what is happening in the world today.
After weeks of decision making around the quest, I felt overwhelmed by my sadness and disappointment at not being able to host it this year—did not have my usual energy for doing things. Only going outside for walks with our new puppy or puttering in the garden brought joy back. My lethargy worried me until I recognized it as grief.
The 2020 questers were already deep in their preparations—declaring intentions, journal writing, taking Medicine Walks—when the COVID-19 virus began to systematically shut things down around the world. As co-guides, Christina Baldwin, Deborah Greene-Jacobi and I spoke with each of the questers, monitored news, and consulted with other members of the Wilderness Guides Council. Five participants were coming across the Canadian border, which is closed at least through May 20. Our Washington state governor, Jay Inslee, has barred all non-essential travel until after June 1. Our colleague guides who were offering wilderness retreats in May and early June have all cancelled their quests.
Cancelling this year’s Cascadia quest was clearly necessary for everyone’s safety. That is the “professional” level of the decision. But the “heart” level of the decision raised a desire to help them from a distance to continue their inner journeys. In response, we have sent our participants three documents: Sit Spot, Medicine Walk, and Quest/ions writing exercise. Each describes an important spiritual life tool that we want to offer more widely during this time of worldwide retreat from ordinary life.
A long history of wilderness questing
Designing nature rites of passage has always been important to me. Long before I trained in multi-cultural quest guiding, my “bones” knew that something important happens when a person spends extended time alone in nature while being held by community.
When I was 14, my family started renting a cabin at a remote ranch in Colorado. Each day I would disappear for many hours exploring the uncharted wilderness of the surrounding White River National Forest. These were my first Medicine walks. Adventures at the Ranch were both solo and communal. Some members of our Brown family spent 2 weeks every summer for 49 years there. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for giving four generations this extraordinary opportunity!
When my son, Brian, turned twelve, I wanted to mark his shift into manhood. The culture around me did not seem to offer anything. So, a friend and I organized a day long hike for our two sons along the shore of Lake Superior followed by a big welcoming campfire. All eight of the boy’s grandparents came from out of town to participate in their grandsons’ growth. The boys hiked 12 miles alone that day. They got lost and wandered late into the campground with their waiting dinner and ceremony and loving families. Both Brian and Ben referred to that day often as they grew into fine men.
When I turned 43, I personally felt called to mark midlife, to give gratitude, and to ask the big question, “How else might my life be of service at this time?” In Deep Water Passage—a Spiritual Journey at Midlife I detail the 1800-mile, 65-day kayaking trip around the shore of Lake Superior with my dear friend, Paul in 1992. That trip marked the earliest beginnings of PeerSpirit and launched me into serving as a wilderness guide able to lead rites of passage work for others.
It is an incredible privilege and responsibility to serve as a guide for people on a wilderness quest. For a number of years, I served in that role in other organizations. In 2009 PeerSpirit offered its first Cascadia Quest. Every year since then, until 2020, men and women have gathered with us on the beautiful lands of Skalitude. We have booked ten days for 2021 in hopes this work can continue.
Holding hope for a return to traditional questing
I do not diminish what CAN happen online. I am participating in that venue. However, I am firmly holding the point on the wheel that many things really need to be done “face to face” with each other, and with nature. As many things move online, may our next steps out of quarantine lead us eventually safely back to one another and to Nature.
Wise words my dearest Ann! One’s daily practice, walkabouts and reflections are very helpful. Even for those living in the city, we find that getting deep into cooking and all the senses and appreciation of everyone who showed up to produce it brings gratitude.
Nancy and I have been exercising and building strength which has increased mobility and balance in spite of knee issues. Zoom has helped us keep in contact with kids and grand kids and everyone seems to be able to talk and have conversations without multi tasking. Both of us are grateful for the Quests and circle gatherings we have done with all of you.
Its a wonderful thing that you are sharing some of the exercises. We all must work with what is. I love the both of you and thankful for all that you have given to the world.
Wonderful to hear from you and to know that you and Nancy are well on the opposite side of the country. Love the reflection on cooking as part of keeping our physical selves lively! All the best to you two, Ann
This post is so timely, as it presences the power of the quest and its enduring learning. I live along a river and walking along the river each day during this quarantine has been enlivening and ‘essential’. And I am grieving….♥️ With and for the world. Thank you …June 2018.
Grateful for the river, for you, and for sharing June 2018! Ann
Dear Ann and Christina. I recognize this grief and feel it every day. I am curious to see what the post pandemic world will look like but for sure it will always include a need to connect with nature and ourselves in deep journey. Sending love. Kathy
Lovely to hear your voice from afar. Glad to know that, as always, you carry the deep journey. Ann
Thank you for sharing the resources of Twenty Questions, Sit Spot, and Medicine Walk
You are most welcome. May they serve. Ann
This is beautiful, Ann. And I read this morning, back to back, two blog posts about grief in this time. For me, grief mostly for the world, what will one day be the same, what will be lost forever, what will be transformed in positive ways? Will we collectively commit to do the work of transformation? I loved the line: “What is my work in the world now, if…” I have felt exactly that about my Airbnb, loss of opportunity for hospitality, making a living, providing a service. Thank you for this round-up of your questing history–especially the story of Briand and Ben and the huge trust required of the olders and elders in releasing your parental/grandparental grasp–and your words of hope. Much love to you. Gretchen
May the good and true work of your hospitality continue in old and new ways. Personally, looking forward to the time it is OK to return to your Air BnB! Ann
True ,knowing Jesus Christ is in charge helps ,our great creator has got this!
Thank you, dear sister, for your steadfast faith!
Blessings, dear Ann. Your grief comes through across the country. So many losses and still not yet able to understand what the gains might be. Learning to live in uncertainty is not an easy path for most of us. You speak it so well. I, for one, will hold the image of your walks into the wilderness continuing in an even more deepened way…when the time is right.
“Learning to live in uncertainty is not an easy path for most of us.” Thank you for that dear longtime friend.
Thank you for naming it. I am trying to remind myself that grief, too, is a place I will visit often. I know the deep disappointment you’re speaking of. I should be waking up at Aldermarsh this morning navigating my known story. Instead I am living through a rather extraordinary new one that has included a side trip to the place I now understand as grief. I’ve downloaded your lessons as I note there is a lot of reaching out and reaching back that can happen even here in the ether.
Thank you for these kind words, Bonnie, and for your ongoing practice of presence. Ann
Dear Ann—all week I have been giving thought to, and writing about my Medicine Walk and the Cascadia quest I joined in 2012 with you. So how surprised I was to read your words just now. I carry those memories side by side with your grief this morning. May reverberations of gratitude from all your “questors” bring you some peace today. The trees are holding your grief.
With deep appreciation for your kind wishes. Ann
It’s surprising what brings us to recognize our grief these days for what is no longer available to us. Especially for those of us at a certain age who may be saying farewell to something or someone we may never be able to engage again in this lifetime. What we hold dear we may be asked to slowly open our hands and let go. If we keep our hand held open – what new opportunity will appear? – that is the question I am trying to sit with now.
This is very wise, Suzanne. I shall consciously try to keep my hand open, looking for the next opportunity. If these times are teaching me anything (and I have to keep re-learning and re-learning), it is that we truly are not in control. With appreciation, Ann
Very dear Ann and Christina,
Thank you for naming the name of what most humans are feeling in this time of loss and uncertainty. Thank you for your long-ago sharing of the new thought (to me) to :move at the pace of Nature.” That was a profound shift in my awareness, Ann and Christina. Then your Deep Water Passage called my urban-oriented life to give attention to the natural world. I am eternally grateful to you both for so many things. Restoring reverence for Mother Nature is but one of the many things you have given to so many.
Sending you both a warm hug and all my purple love,
Thank you, Marti. We always appreciate your purple love blessings. Ann
I have had the Quest dates marked in my calendar, not that I had intended to be there in person, but to keep you all in my thoughts during the time. I am so grateful I followed my heart calling to participate last year, particularly as during these unravelling times, I often call upon that experience to glean wisdom and shoring up now.
I call this a time of “holy grief, holy gratitude, holy love” where side by side, each rests in my being. And I am weary…with the holding of this tension – grieving what is over, has been lost and ended, with the wondering of what is to emerge. Too soon to know. That, itself, another tension.
This morning I listened to a dharma talk by Karen Maezen Miller (right after participating in the online Soul of a Pilgrim hosted by The Abbey of the Arts, and too, The Heart of Rumi – I continue to draw from several wells, the source being similar and resonant), who described our living in the middle of forever. We always are, but seldom know it. My experience at the Quest is akin, where in Nature, silent, alone (yet together) time beyond time replaced clock time. And, too, those moments when I am so overtaken with the fullness of appreciation and gratitude, there are no words.
I am sorrowful that you had to make this “no choice” choice, a fairly simple one for the head to understand, so much more difficult for the heart. And I feel the deep wondering, who are you if not to guide us in Nature?
Oh, the love and respect I have for you, Ann, having experienced you in this, your calling. That was a most remarkable gift from the Quest to me. I am reminded of John O’Donohue’s words in the foreward to Angeles Arrien’s The Second Half of Life:
“Each life must find its true threshold, that edge where the individual gift fits the outer hunger and where the outer gift fits the inner hunger.”
Much kindness, more love…
Your response touches me deeply, Katharine. So much wisdom and kindness here—so very like you. I did not remember John O’Donohue’s words: “Each life must find its true threshold, that edge where the individual gift fits the outer hunger and where the outer gift fits the inner hunger.” And now I shall take them into my heart for safekeeping and pondering. Love back to you, Ann
Thanks Ann, for this inner glimpse and the sharing of the grief alongside the acceptance. I especially resonated with the lethargy living next to the grief of our hearts. I am so aware of this strange response I share, even when what I could be doing is right in front of me sometimes!
Love and trust and abiding.
It helps me so much to hear other’s reflections on grief. Thank you, Judy.
The repercussions of these strange times certainly are manifesting in a feeling of grief,thank you Ann for naming it…For some reason Mother’s Day yesterday felt like a “peak grief “ to me. A heart lifting aspect however, is that there are many non human animals enjoying a slice of Peace? right now…. or whatever the opposite word for grief is. much love to you and Christina and all of you, Bee in Whitefish Montana
Wow, Barbi! Wonderful to hear your voice on the page. We remember well the Tai Li kayaking journey you took with us so very many years ago. Yes, there are certainly non-humans thriving in this time. Wouldn’t it be ideal if we could thrive better together!Be well, Ann
Dear Ann and Christina, Thanks for writing these posts! Of course the journal keeps me going. We are also grieving here about not being able to go on wilderness canoe camping trips, and the leader keeps trying to find something that works, but we just have to let go. So interesting, this group grieving for ourselves and the world together. Reading your post I am reminded of our shawls from Women and the Planet in the 90s. I think I will get mine out and remember to cloak myself with support. And always I think of the complementarity of ambitious quests like your Lake Superior or our ocean canoeing, along with the “incremental quest” Christina talks about. Life now is so much on the scale of incremental quests. Almost every day I go on a walking adventure and post some highlights on Facebook. It seems so silly, but helps with feeling connected. I am praying also for my sister who is living in Point Roberts and they are isolated in new ways — can’t just keep going through Canada or visiting Vancouver, for instance. Thinking of your teachings often, and how much those experiences have informed my life. Blessings on you and your families.
Dear Jennifer, We still have our shawls from some of those early Women and the Planet adventures. Definitely a good idea to pull one out. I, too, am treating daily walks as genuine, privileged adventures—especially thinking of our niece in Milan, Italy who could not even do that for 2 months. And I never thought about Pt. Roberts. Oh, my, of course that little thumb of U.S. land surrounded by Canada has been uniquely hit by this. I will join you in trusting that adventures like ocean canoeing will return. I am counting on it. Blessings, Ann
I love reading your blog and want you to know that you and Christina have touched so many lives through Peer Spirit and leading the Quest. Growing up as your sister I had the remarkable experience of learning about the outdoors through our time of exploration and playing together outside. The four of us sisters were so fortunate that every summer we would drive to Colorado and stay at the Rock’n Pines Guest Ranch. As I reflect upon these vacations, I remember the freedom it gave us to become mountain girls. Then we brought our kids there and they learned to love the mountains, too. This experience gave me courage to try new things and never give up on having adventures.
As I face each day in this Pandemic, the top of my list is walking or hiking each morning with John which gives me gratitude for each new day. My faith has deepened as I know God is with me. On the other hand, I feel sadness at not being able to visit our kids due to the travel restrictions and the constant worry about the virus. It grieves me that our sweet mother is in Longterm Care and I can’t go to her room and visit with her. Thank goodness for our outside sundeck visits as we talk on cellphones, although it is from 20 feet away.
I miss my sisters, friends and the freedoms we had before this pandemic. But faith helps me believe that we will have time with loved ones again.
An Irish Blessing
“May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warmly upon your face. May the rains fall softly upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.”
My dear sister, Thank you for this beautiful reflection and honoring of all the ways we were raised. I really appreciate your comments about how your faith is bringing you through these challenging times. Love, Ann
Thank you, Ann.
As I reread this I wanted to say that we miss our kids and grandkids deeply. I also forgot to mention our dear parents who brought us to the Ranch every summer and taught us to love nature.
Ann, upon reading your story of grief my heart felt such sadness for you – that you had felt grief so deeply and purely. Funny, we are all going through this time at the same time but not always knowing how those we know and love are experiencing it. Thanks for sharing your story. It has provided me the permission to stop being so strong every minute. I have been stuffing in grief, your story made me admit that to myself. My “Sit Spot” has served to help me stay strong but perhaps I need to spend more time in my Cascadia Quest camp site, as I travel there in my mind’s eye, to allow grief to speak and be comforted by nature.
May there be a tree that you have not noticed lately find your attention, and in so, nourish your soul so that in time joy and laughter can gently replace these layers of grief. Your story was profound for me – thank you so much. Hugs and comfort.
Thank you for your kind remarks. I chose to be open about my grief because at some level how can we not all be feeling it? As I wrote, grief is sneaky. Some “big” things happen and we shoulder on. Then another “big” thing . . . and finally our inner soft place cries out loud enough for us to hear. . . and we listen. Love to you, Ann
Thank you so much for your sharing here. I grieve with you, for losses including just knowing you, Christina and Deb would be at Skalitude, guiding others in their quests with your steadiness and depth. Your presence in my world helps me feel my feet more surely as well as the steps they take. May we all get back into face to face with each other and nature with more delight and knowing of these kinds of preciousness, and soon. Much love.
Thank you, David. Your words mean a lot to me. At some genuine level we are all walking this together. And therein lies much solace for my journey. Stay healthy, Ann