Five year’s of serving as a Volunteer and Religious Services Coordinator for the Idaho Department of Corrections was coming to an end. A new career in special education was going to bring with it a whole new way of doing life. Conveniently, this transition landed on the calendar right next to a three-day solo hike I had planned.
Coincidence? No. Opportunity.
I was experiencing the same sense of closure and transition in my spiritual life that I was professionally, so I had planned an all night fire vigil with the intention of letting my fire die as the morning sun rose to symbolize the end of the old and the birth of the new. Now my vigil was going to be much more than symbolic. Now I had a life transition to make.
What was going to be a one-man spiritual retreat turned into a full blown Rite of Passage. (Watch the trailer here! )
Flee…In a Well Coordinated, Orderly Manner
Of course, things rarely go as planned. Namely, I failed to notice the landslide marked on my map right across the road I was planning to take to the trailhead on the north end of Pot Mountain Trail #144. So rather than take Road 250 out of Pierce and approach Pot Mountain from French Mountain to the south, I went through Headquarters and came in from the Aquarius camping area to the west. This meant that to get to my intended trail head at Mush Point, I would have to drive all the way around the Pot Mountain area and come in from Kelly Creek on the east side.
I told myself that I was running out of time and needed to watch my fuel, but truth be told, I was really just feeling like I was loosing control of my carefully planned ritual and looking for a way to get it back. So maybe rucking my 42 pound pack up a southern slope in the hazy heat was exactly what I needed to get back into the flow.
The smoke was so thick I couldn’t see much past the river. Mountain peaks simply faded into the haze. Each step kicked up dust from the narrow trail churned up by dirt bike tires. Even my lab, Sassy, took to heal and labored through the dusty heat.
I knew the going was tough, but I didn’t realize just how slowly I was hiking. So when I came upon this large protrusion of rock, with a steep, precipitous drop off, I was sure I had happened upon Chateau Rock. Hey, it felt like I’d just hiked 3 or 4 miles, easy. The funny thing was that the whole time I was talking about being on Chateau Rock, I was actually taking pictures of Chateau Rock on the distant ridge.
Shortly after leaving what I thought was Chateau Rock, I came to a very distinct three-way intersection. I assumed this was the intersection with trail #617 clearly displayed on my map, and that I was making incredible time, thank you very much. The only problem was this little metal sign that said trail #144 continued to my left, not to the right like the map showed.
I hesitated. Then I decided that if someone physically came up here to put up a little metal sign, then they probably knew what they were doing. Unmarked trails are not uncommon, and even if the sign was wrong, I knew roughly where I would end up.
But if I wasn’t at the intersection with trail 617, then where was I? How far had I gone? How much farther did I have to go to reach the intersection, and eventually Buckingham Lake, which was my plan for replenishing my water?
There wasn’t anything to do except keep going, so keep going I did.
The cigar could wait, I was tired! After dinner, I packed it in and hit the sack. A storm rolled through during the night, maybe 2 or 3 miles out based on the count between lightning and thunder. With all the other fires burning in the region it was easy to imagine a lightening strike sending Pot Mountain up in flames, and me with it.
It was even easier to imagine that my best laid plans would be swept away by strong nightly winds and rain.
Be Silent…and Wet
My day of silence dawned cloudy and wet. I brewed up a cup of coffee, then headed out to find water. I expected to cross a creek or find Buckingham Lake in short order, neither of which happened.
Instead, after walking for a mile or two through sopping wet vegetation, I finally came across a very well marked intersection between trails 617 and 144. That put things into perspective for me. For one, I hadn’t hike nearly as far as I thought I had, and two, I was probably camped at Chateau Rock.
Shortly after the intersection, I came across a rivulet that promised water just down the slope from the trail. The dogs and I spent the next hour or so strattling the stream on a steep slope while gathering and filtering water in a steady rain. They were much more adept at it than I was.
When I finally made it back to camp, I stripped off my wet clothes and hid from the rain in my tent. It was much easier being silent while I was asleep.
The rain had let up by the time I awoke, so I went to explore Chateau Rock with the dogs.
Chateau Rock is an impressive rock formation that looks up the southwestern side of Pot Mountain. As we climbed around it I began to find pieces of old, broken wood planks with nails and paint still on them. I also found metal wire and eyelets anchored to the rock. As I neared the top I could see some kind of post or pillar.
The dogs beat me to it. While I was clinging to the rocks for my very life, they found a spot where you can simply walk up to the top. But once I made it, I realized why this was called Chateau Rock. There used to be an old lookout station here. The only thing left was some debri attached to a single crossbeam still anchored to two of the remaining cement posts that once held the structure up.
I stood there for a moment and contemplated what it must have taken to build this thing, and what it might have been like to stand in it while a storm raged through. Turning to the west I saw the sunlight glowing pink at the distant edge of the clouds. I smiled. With the ground saturated by the now passing rain clouds, I was comfortable lighting a fire tonight. Provided I could find enough dry wood, that is.
While gathering wood, I discovered the sign pointing the way to Chateau Rock from the main trail. Sure. Just a spur trail to “some other” rock formation! Well, at least now I knew for sure where I was.
Collecting water in the rain, exploring Chateau Rock, and gathering firewood did not leave me with much time to center myself in silence, but I did the best I could in the fading evening light. I perceived that active silence is not the same thing as still silence. Fortunately, I had about 10 hours before me in which to center myself in deep silence.
Have you ever experienced the intimacy of a late night fire? Not the riotous gathering when the flame is high and hot, and past the cozy huddle of melting s’mores and warm liqueurs. I mean that moment so deep into the night you feel dawn approaching and everyone else has long gone to bed, except for those few still huddled around the flames sharing nothing now except the moment and the deepest parts of your hearts.
That moment. That’s what my faith had become to me, but now it was changing. I was either going to lose everything, or everything was going to become so much more. The best way I could express it was like watching my campfire die while the morning sun rose to replace it’s light and warmth. At least, that’s what I hoped was happening, and that’s why I set out on a fire vigil quest. I wanted to create that experience and learn what I could from it.
I thought I knew what would occupy my time this night, but I tried to hold it with an open hand and let Spirit take the lead. I journaled through the night and will develop those entries further on my spiritual pilgrimage blog, Jedidiah’s Journey. If you’re interested in the conversation, or find yourself on a similar journey, I’d love to have you stop by and share your thoughts.
Greet the Dawn with Pra-*yawn*-er
In my mind’s eye I saw a smoldering fire at my feet and the bright morning sun in my eyes, but that’s not the way the new day comes. In that time we call the dawn, the world lightens long before the sun rises. And it is so cold.
Embers at my feet could not keep the chill at bay while I anticipated the rising sun.
When it was finally light enough to see the bank of clouds sitting on the eastern horizon, I felt a deep sense of fatigue. I was so tired of tending this fire, and now it looked like I wasn’t even going to see the sun rise.
Snuffing the last of my fire, I climbed up on Chateau Rock, letting the dogs lead this time. I found the sun fighting through the clouds to greet me. He brought no great ephinanies with him. He did not light up any internal revelations within me. He just brought his light, and I stood in it for a while.
After memorializing the moment on my iPhone, I scrambled back down the Rock and crawled into my sleeping bag.
Sassy’s frantic barking startled me awake. I had the door of my tent open for air flow, so when my eyes popped open I was staring straight at an elk who had wandered near our camp. With as much command as I could muster, I told Sassy to be quiet and stay. Thankfully she did.
The cow just shifted her stance and continued to look us over. Finally satisfied, she sauntered off. I was up now, so there was nothing to it but to get breakfast and pack it up. It was time to head out.
We trod back to the truck under blue skies washed clean by the rain. My prayer was contemplative as I considered my experience and what I had learned.
Flee, Be Silent, Pray Always
Fleeing is not about arriving at a specific destination or conclusion. It is an act of haste or urgency with a shadow of fear. In a very real way, fleeing is an act of desperation as we seek solitude from the world that would chain us to our false self.
Silence is the work of releasing our fear. In silence we stop arguing, convincing, and fighting. We learn to be still, to settle in for the long wait that can be prayer. It’s in this silent stillness that we gain the clarity to understand what we are waiting for.
Finally, prayer is an act of trust. It is often not an immediate solution because there would be no trust without the wait, and it’s the waiting that makes us strong. It’s in the waiting that we build resilience, patience, and gratitude. If everything we sought was handed to us with ease, what weak, pitiful creatures we would be indeed. So we wait with intention because we know what we are waiting for and we trust that the answers will reveal themselves.
My Rite of Passage was complete, but the work of transitioning from my job at the prison to my job at the school was still ahead of me. So was the progressive work of my ongoing spiritual journey. Nothing had really changed in my circumstances, only I was in a different place.
My Rite of Passage gave me the space to transition from the uncertainty of change to the steadiness of waiting. Now I was ready to move on.
Such is the experience that I would like to share and foster as the Clearwater Trekker. Perhaps you would like to work together on your own Rite of Passage, or maybe you just have questions about it. Either way, if you are interested in exploring this together, please reach out through the contact form below. I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me. Buen Camino, my friends.