And Into the Woods We Go Coming Full Circle as a Wilderness Guide

I could not have asked for a better final shift with Rites of Passage NW. It was a complete circle for me. At the end of my first week, I graduated the students I started my first shift with. That was a powerful experience, to begin and end with them. 

I also ended on the very trail where I first picked up G2, the younger teen group I worked with throughout the season. Known as Staircase, we followed the North Fork Skokomish River trail up to 4,700 feet overlooking a fog-shrouded Home Sweet Home campsite.

As the season began to near its end, our groups became smaller and more intimate with clients and staff who had gotten to know each other fairly well over the weeks. The work gets real when you see the end coming. There’s no more time to mince words or beat around the bush, and the familiarity opened doors previously closed. 

On my second week, we merged the two groups into one, bringing the younger boys into contact with the older boys and young adults. It was a dynamic combination that brought new challenges for some and really kick started the program for others. It also brought me into contact with other field guides I had not yet worked with, which was a great learning opportunity for me. 

It wasn’t an easy shift, by any means. It rained copiously both weeks, my tent poles broke during a down pour on my first week leaving me to sleep under the Noah Tarp through the weather, and the trails we hiked were long, steep, log covered challenges. I loved it.

All in all, I was so grateful for this experience; graduating clients I started with, working with a full range of clients and staff, and exploring all around the Olympic Park, finishing where I started. It truly gave me a chance to see myself and reflect on why I had come here in the first place. What was I seeking? And why was I seeking it in the middle of the woods?

Some of that answer came to me towards the beginning of my shift through a journaling prompt offered by my fellow guide, Justin. He asked us to write down the first thing that came to mind when we pictured ourselves in the 3rd person. At first, I couldn’t see myself at all, just a dark blankness, but then I came into focus standing in the middle of the woods with my pack on, contentedly lost. 

Two weeks later I was sitting against a log on a riverbank in the warm sun, still contemplating this image. It wasn’t the sense of being lost that had put a smile on my face, but rather knowing that I was finding my way through beautiful, unknown territory, and I was leading others along the way.

I realized that at the core, I want to work with people seeking change or new direction, a new beginning. That whole season can feel like being lost in the woods, especially since it’s a season typically brought on by devastation or loss or failure. How welcome is the assurance of a guide! Not one who knows exactly where your trail leads, but one who knows how to be lost in the woods without losing hope.

That’s the kind of wilderness guide I want to be.

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” – Henry David Thoreau

I look forward to continuing my work as a wilderness therapy field guide, because it’s the perfect compliment to how I also imagine engaging in this work through Vision Quests, Discovery Treks, and Pilgrimages, as the changes on this website have indicated. Why like this? Because these are the  Rights of Passage that lead us through the wilderness and to the edge of the map where we truly find ourselves.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” – John Muir

Somewhere in the middle of an 8 mile day, clamoring over fallen logs and across fire-scorched terrain, one of our clients turned to me and said, “This is the first time I’ve ever been proud of myself.”

“That’s why we do this,” I told him. “Because when you go home and face the old lies and habits that have torn you down, you are going to have something new to point back to, something real you can believe about yourself. You will be able to point to this experience and know that you are more than what those old lies tell you about yourself.”

I like how Alan Alda put it when he said, 

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

This is what I hope to share with others through Vision Quests, Discovery Treks, and Pilgrimages. Through such experiences, I hope to help people discover the sacred spaces in their lives and find new beginnings there.

But who am I to lead?

After all, it is the constant failure of youthful dreams that have brought me into the woods in the first place. How can I lead others when I am in the woods myself?

Then again, what good would I be as a guide if I was no longer in the woods?

I once encouraged an inmate with similar words. “Your victory is not your greatest testimony,” I told him. “Today, it is your faith and endurance in the trenches that will inspire the men around you.”

I want to be an Inner Wilderness Guide, not as one who knows all the answers, but as a fellow traveler, another pilgrim along the way.

“…for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir

I hope that my ongoing work inspires those around me to continue the journey, to seek the top of the mountain, to continue to grow. And I invite you to come along. We’ll be on journey together.

 

“Into the woods–you have to grope, 

But that’s the way you learn to cope. 

Into the woods to find there’s hope 

Of getting through the journey. 

Into the woods, each time you go, 

There’s more to learn of what you know.” 

-Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods               

 

*Seek the Clearwater*

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