In October 2008, I went on a vision quest. I spent four days in a local provincial park fasting and meditating. I was completely alone and kept silent for three of the four days. On the fourth day, I was hungry, cold and tired. I asked to use a cell phone and seriously considered conning small children out of their bananas but thought better of it. Unseemly behavior after questing, I mused.
What did I learn on these days of deprivation and deep meditation?
Always carry a nail file. It’s damn near impossible to connect with a vision when you’ve got a raggedy old nail catching on your wool sweater or pants every 15 seconds.
You may think I’m being frivolous or flip here, but let me tell you, there’s a lot of nuts and bolts kind of stuff that comes up when you’re out in the woods for four days, no matter how saintly your motives for being there.
Like, where will you pee?
If, like me, you are in a rustic campground of some sort, you will be instructed to use the smelly, spider-ridden outhouse under threat of single-handedly destroying the ecosystem through urine pollution. As I was fasting and drinking copious amounts of water to facilitate the fast I was faced with a moral dilemma quite often— personal comfort or environment, smelly outhouse or lovely open patch of woods. I want you to know I made the right choice—at least a couple of times.
Also think about batteries.
If you build a fire that you’re able to keep going in the pouring rain and you know how to wrap a torch to carry through the woods, you might not need those batteries but my suggestion is you bow to the Gods of technology and tuck a few extra in your backpack.
I came to the woods with a small but mighty flashlight I bought specifically for my stay. “The most powerful beam of any flashlight its size,” the package told me. I felt good about that—I’m small, the flashlight’s small; we’re both powerful. The package failed to mention this flashlight would suck up energy like a sham wow on a car hood. Its demise was quick and dramatic.
I had chosen four relatively moonless nights for my quest because I wanted to see stars. We’re fairly star deprived in Gibsons there being quite a lot of light pollution in the evenings.
The campsite at Smuggler Cove is nestled in the woods although there’s a small clearing a few feet away next to the end of the cove. But I was longing for a vast expanse of open sky, say the edge of the bay about 15 minutes down the path. It was a rainy weekend, so when a clear night arrived I seized the opportunity. I had no watch or clock with me (nor anything else for that matter besides clothes and water) so I slept when tired and woke when I pleased. I had a vague recall of the tide table which gave me a bit of help determining time but mostly I worked with sun up and sun down. This particular night I woke to pitch black.
I felt scared and exhilarated. A walk through the woods in the dark past God only knew what creatures to see the stars—now there was a quest worth following. I put on my boots, coat and hat, grabbed my powerful flashlight and headed toward the water.
For some unknown reason, I was chanting “Onward Christian Soldiers,” maybe because it has such a good marching beat. I had a sense of purpose, I was going somewhere. By the time I got to the chorus, I was singing out loud, “Grant us wisdom, grant us purpose, for the facing of this hour. For the facing of this….” And the flashlight died. Abruptly. Out dead. That’s the thing about amazingly powerful flashlights; they don’t flicker and dim giving you a chance to turn tail and race back to camp. They suck that last bit of juice out of the batteries, burp and die.
I was standing in the middle of the woods at least 7 minutes from anything in inky blackness.
Did I mention I have terrible night vision?
I had to make a choice, forward or back. Which way did I have less chance of injuring myself? I was sure I was at least half way to the water’s edge and I still really wanted to see those stars, so I decided to move forward. I crept along, hands outstretched like a blind person, toes testing every inch of earth before me.
I have no way of knowing how long it took me to navigate to the little beach where I knew a large log was waiting to serve as my chair for the light show, but it seemed interminable. When I finally arrived, relieved, and sat down I was able to enjoy the stars for only a short time before the clouds which had hung around all weekend rolled back in to cover most of the sky. Judging from the water line I reckoned the time to be about 2:00 a.m. with dawn arriving around 5:30 or 6:00. That meant sitting somewhere damp and chilly in the dark for several hours before I could make my way safely back to camp.
At this point, all I knew to do was pray. As I was on a spiritual quest one might have assumed I would resort to prayer a bit earlier but it hadn’t occurred to me. However, as I got colder and damper, it seemed like a very good idea. I prayed that little flashlight would turn back on and get me back to my campsite safely. I took a deep breath, I turned the switch and a powerful beam shot forth with me directly behind moving as fast as I could back to the tent. “Oh, please, just last until I get back,” I repeated over and over.
And that’s just what happened. About twenty feet from the door of my tent, the flashlight died never to be resuscitated.
Any disappointment about not seeing stars was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for being back in the tent, my only remaining annoyance the broken fingernail that had plagued me from the beginning of my journey.
Though I was tired, dirty and very hungry when I left my camp, I came to some important realizations on that trip.
I realized Barry should buy that sailboat he wanted. He did.
I realized I should keep writing exactly what I write. I am.
I learned to trust… God, not my flashlight.
I learned to always, always carry a nail file.