Monkey Valley locationMonkey Valley is a scenic 3½-hour drive from Vancouver, BC.

You can take the Coquihalla highway #5 (which no longer has a toll!), which climbs through majestic mountain passes and emerges on the rolling grasslands near Merritt. Another option is to take the Crowsnest highway #3 to Princeton, winding through Manning Park and along the Similkameen River.

A map and detailed directions will be provided when you register for a program.

The nearest Greyhound bus depot is in Merritt, a 45-minute drive from the retreat centre.Wildflower garden As there is no bus service from Merritt to the retreat centre, carpooling is encouraged. If you have room in your vehicle to bring someone, or need a ride, please contact the retreat centre and we will connect you with each other.

The nearest airport is in Kelowna, BC. From there it’s about a 1½-hour drive to Monkey Valley.

Swimming hole at beaver dam

An August day at Monkey Valley

Gone swimming—Part 3

I started across the dam, sometimes walking on twigs and branches above the water, and Creek above swimming holesometimes slightly below the surface. The walkway felt sturdy, though, and I wondered why I’ve never tried this before. Halfway across I noticed that the water right below the dam was quite deep. Hmm. I retraced my steps to the bank, and undressed, leaving my hiking shoes on. I gingerly lowered myself into the creek, using the branches supplied by beavers for footing, and found myself in waist-high water. Yow, it was cold! I scrambled back out again, but soon took another plunge. It was silty but with solid ground beneath. The water grew murky from the stirred-up silt. I lowered myself into the coldness, a bit at a time, until I was up to my neck. I did it! The coolness traced on my skin felt wonderful, after I was out of the water again. The residue of coolness fades quickly, but it always feels so cleansing—a sacred ritual, a blessing from the water spirits.

I dried, dressed, and crossed the dam, hiking up the hill to the house. It turns out that after an hour and a half of searching, I found a spot only about 50 yards south of where I started! I’m sure some writer through the centuries has something clever to say about that. Me, I just felt pleased with myself about the whole adventure, and didn’t even take a shower before bed.

Into the meadow

An August day at Monkey Valley

Gone swimmingPart 2

As I walked up towards the dirt/grass/moss Ruffed grouse at Monkey Valleyroad that parallels the creek on the opposite side of the valley from the house, I startled a ruffed grouse, who whirred away ahead of me, disappearing into the pine forest. This cheered me up—I always love catching sight of these wild yet domestic-seeming creatures. I heard some others softly clucking nearby, and settled onto a giant boulder in the dappled shade to listen for a while. A squirrel started scolding me with its chuck-chuck-chuck rattle, and I laid back, closed my eyes, and listened to the land. I realized that it’s a lot more pleasant to simply be while outdoors on the land with other creatures and lffife to keep me company than it is within the stark, lonely, artificially white four walls of my apartment in Vancouver. My soul needs the input of the natural world that we evolved in. Something is missing without it. Something I can rest in.

After a while, feeling refreshed, I noticed that this spot was almost exactly across the valley from the house. The spirit of the explorer infused me once more, and I wondered if I could find the mythical passage across the valley. I headed back down to the creek, and after climbing over a few fallen trees and tangles of branches I saw a perfect crossing place: narrow enough, with a solid log making a bridge from bank to bank, about three feet above the water. I stepped onto the sun-bleached wood, and my feet slowly felt their way across. I felt grateful to my father for holding my hand while I walked on logs as a young girl. His gift lives in me now.

Wild mintI kept walking on the log, which stretched out on the earth long after it had spanned the creek. When it ended I stepped into the tall grass, rounded some willow bushes, and smelled mint. I discovered a whole garden of mint plants growing on the wet earth amidst the tall grass. I ate a leaf to be sure, tasting the peppery bite of the fresh herb. Yes! A reward for the explorer! I will come back to this place to harvest some mint for tea… I walked a little further south, to the end of the willow bushes, and found myself in the vast meadow in the middle of the valley. Virgin territory! The place where wild moose run!

Stepping cautiously, because the ground was somewhat marshy, I was glad that my feet were wet already so I could walk out into this beautiful meadow. Straight across was the house, and I made my way towards it. I came to a narrow channel, cut by beaver, that was easy to jump across. Large leaves low to the ground identified particularly wet areas, which I walked around, slowly making my way to the other side of the valley. I heard the creek again as I neared the valley’s edge, and found myself at the beaver dam just south of the house. I realized that since my feet were wet, walking across the dam was as easy a way to cross the creek as any. Almost home… (to be continued)

Monkey Valley beach

An August day at Monkey Valley

Gone swimmingPart 1

I thought the other day was hot. But yesterday was even hotter—it was 43° C in the afternoon (108° F)! Too hot even for Lizard Woman, and I decided to brave the icy waters of the creek.

The challenge was to find a place to swim in. In addition to being unreasonably cold, the creek is very silty in most places, making the bottom mucky and—as my sister Kim found out one summer (to my great amusement)—sometimes as treacherous as quicksand. But that’s another story… And the places where the bottom is rocky, sandy, or pebbly, the water is usually swift-running and shallow—too shallow to swim in.

First I headed for the “beach” Kim and I created the first summer at Monkey Valley, rolling sandbags down the hill to a spot on the creek right below the house. But that was seven summers ago, and the sandy spot is now overgrown with tall grass. And also, while the creek used to be nice and deep right there, it has filled in with silt. So the hunt was on.

I decided I would try to find a nice deep spot North end of creek near fordat the north end of the valley, near the ford. The water is fast-flowing there, and maybe there would be some solid creek bottom. I left a note on the table, in case I should die before I returned, so my family would know where to find my body: “Gone swimming in creek (near ford).” Since this was turning into more than the quick dip I had planned, I put on some sturdy hiking shoes and blue jeans, grabbed a towel, and headed north, up the dirt road to the place where it fords the creek.

I found that I could cross the creek on the fallen down fence, and did this for fun, coming back on the rock path I had made. The creek was only a few inches deep at this low end of summer, so I headed south, following the creek along the edges, noticing I was walking in a recent path made by the cows grazing at this end of the valley. I saw a few spots that were about two feet deep, created by the waters rushing around bends in the creek, but these spots weren’t really the swimming hole I was looking for. Soon I came to the log my friend Dorrie had used to cross the creek a few weeks ago. Beside it was the spot where I had fallen in while trying to jump across! I remembered that it hadn’t really been that cold, and decided to just walk along the creek itself for a ways.

And so I went, walking in the water up to knee deep, crawling over logs and climbing up the hillside when the creek became too silty to walk in. I marvelled at how there always seemed to be deer trails to follow up the hill when the land forced me that way. This evidence is as good as any that there is a logic in the unfolding of reality! The mosquitoes I had been anticipating decided to join me, and I wrapped the towel around myself for protection. I kept pushing south, still hoping for the magical swimming place I was looking for, but hurrying ever onward to avoid the mosquitoes. After a while the creek widened out a lot, into a big marshy section. I climbed onto higher ground and just about decided to give up and head back to the house. But then something special happened… (to be continued)

A creek runs through it

An August day at Monkey Valley

Shrimpton Creek

Shrimpton Creek British ColumbiaThe creek, with the unglamorous name of Shrimpton, is a defining characteristic of Monkey Valley. It is fed by snow melt from the northern end of the Cascade Mountain range, as well as icy cold underground springs. In the eight years since I have owned this land, and the beavers have been allowed to do their work without interruption, the shape of the creek and the valley bottom have changed a lot.

(Shrimpton Creek shows up on Google! And there is Merritt, BC—the closest city to Monkey Valley Retreat Center.)

The beavers have dammed the creek in strategic places, and dug hundreds of meters of new channels. As the channels bring water to new patches of land, willows spring up where the tall grasses used to grow. The valley bottom, formerly a large grassy meadow, is slowly filling up with willows and other bushes. The willows draw the moose, and I once was lucky enough to see a pair of them galloping down the middle of the meadow, an amazing demonstration of vital aliveness and freedom. I’ve also seen a mother moose and her calf grazing at the northern end, moving in and out of view as they nibbled the branches.

The willows and the sheltered valley bottom—inaccessible because arms of the creek form a natural barrier protecting the giant grassy meadow—are also home to an abundance of birds who like to nest in the tall grasses. And many animals visit this land, pausing on their travels to drink at the creek. Any muddy place at creek edge shows signs of their passing. I have seen tracks of bear, deer, moose, cow (!), beaver, bobcat, and otter. The rare visits from river otters are especially delightful, but I’ll save that for another day. The creek is also home to mink (who become ermine in their winter coats), and many other small mammals who like to live near running water.

When I first moved here there were two places to cross the creek: a shallow ford at the north end of the valley, with a wood-log fence railing beside it; and a set of planks near the south end, which a previous owner had placed there to form a bridge. One summer I placed rocks in the shallow ford, creating another way to get across, but the creek level often rises above the rocks. One spring the high water, combined with the beaver’s creek-widening activities, carried the planks away. There is still a series of wood fences at the southern-most end of the property that can be climbed on to cross the creek, which has two branches there. When the fence at the northern end fell down, I used to cross near the ford on a fallen log. But the creek level has risen above that log now. It is amazing how the land keeps changing! And like explorers who have sought short-cuts throughout the ages, I have always wanted to find a way to cross the valley straight to the house, which is about one-third of the way from the north end, rather than having to walk all the way to the ford and then double back.

A morning visit

An August day at Monkey Valley

Yellow-rumped warbler, British ColumbiaAnother morning visitor

Another beautiful August morning, sleeping out on the balcony again. I heard something scrabbling under the balcony. I wondered if it was the flicker, or maybe some other bird building a nest. Suddenly a bird popped its head up above the weathered wood boards of the balcony. She noticed me, and, startled, flew onto the slender pine log railing. She looked at me and fidgeted this way and that for a moment, with something in her beak. I noticed this bird had beautiful spots of pale yellow, one under the throat and two on the side. Lovely! She was otherwise light brown and pale-breasted, with speckles.

“What have you got, little birdie?”

The yellow-rumped warbler (I later guessed that this might be her kind) flew down to my feet and deposited a small, tan-coloured moth on the boards. Then she flew away. Hmm, breakfast, delivered to me right in bed! I wondered what the moth might feel like in my mouth—soft and crunchy. I briefly considered giving up being a vegetarian. Very briefly!

Good sleep is easy to come by

An August day at Monkey Valley

Sleeping on the Balcony

The thick walls of the log cabin usually keep the house at Monkey Valley pretty cool, even in the August heat. But I had all the windows open, and after a day of +40°, it was 26° inside the house in the evening, and even hotter upstairs in my bedroom. This motivated me to drag the futon mattress outside onto the balcony next to the master bedroom, and sleep out in the moonlight. I brought out my down pillow and two down comforters, and snuggled in for a night of blissfully relaxing sleep. Usually when sleeping out I’ve used a mummy bag. The down comforters were warmer and so much more comfy, without the confines of the mummy bag. This is definitely the way to go!

Red-shafted flickerI slept deeply until about 7:30 am, well past dawn. I was awakened by a chipmunk bounding up the stairs to investigate the strange green and yellow mound of duvets on the balcony. I looked at him and he scurried back down, pausing for some tail-flicking halfway down the stairs. I luxuriated on the mattress, enjoying the calls of the birds in the pine grove near the house. I noticed that the morning air smelled like root beer—sweet, earthy, faintly pine. Soon a female flicker flew over to the railing near my feet. We spent a minute or two looking at each other. I admired her spotted breast—white with black spots—noticing a black patch at the top of her breast, and the black stripes on her back. “How beautiful you are!” I said to her. I actually thought she was a woodpecker, and was trying to remember all the details so I could look her up in the guidebook. I felt deeply satisfied with this visit, and watched her for a while after she flew away to a nearby lodgepole pine. I heard her call out a few short, definite “kee-ew” calls, and thought “Aha! So that’s who makes that sound.”

I marveled at the aliveness of this land in the morning hours. The air was filled with bird calls, and as I watched the pine grove it was constantly moving with the flights, landings, and take-offs of darting birds. Consulting the guidebooks later (National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Western Region and David Sibley’s The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America), I discovered that my visitor was not a woodpecker, but a red-shafted flicker, female. The flicker is special to me, and I’ll tell you why another day. Other birds I saw in the grove included the stunning yellow warbler, with brilliant yellow head and belly, and olive-toned back. This is one of my favourites, and I’ve seen these beautifully joyful birds frequently at Monkey Valley, especially down in the willow bushes near the creek.

Black-capped chickadeeI also saw a group of black-capped chickadees flitting about, their white-edged tail feathers flashing in a V. These ones were very hard to identify in the bird books. Their white V shaped tail pattern is so distinctive, but this wasn’t shown in either book. I am perhaps a dud when it comes to identifying birds. They seem so clear and vivid when I am looking at them, but then the guidebooks have details I didn’t notice, and perhaps show examples of birds with slightly different colouring. The Sibley Field Guide is more useful for showing variations in coloration that occur due to differences in region, gender, and age, and I trust it more than the Audubon one, which has beautiful colour plates that never seem to resemble the birds I see!

Anyway, this was such a wonderful start to the day, followed by morning coffee (Nelson, BC’s Oso Negro Decafthink global, buy local) with the guidebooks on the porch overlooking the creek. It made me wish I never had to leave Monkey Valley. I felt so happy to be alive, and lucky to live on this beautiful land.

Morning walk at Monkey Valley

An August day at Monkey Valley

The morning walkRed-tailed hawk

I started the day with a walk up to the top gate at the north corner of Monkey Valley. It takes about 15 minutes to walk up there from the house. The driveway goes past the spot where a faster pitched her tarp a few weeks ago, and just as I meandered by this stretch of dirt road, cup of tea and cell phone in hand, I startled a deer who quickened her pace up the hillside. I wondered if it was the same deer the faster saw, and felt her spirit on the land. As I followed the road up the hillside I heard red-tailed hawk calling out his raspy high-pitched song, and saw him high on a dead tree’s branch. I called back, and we spoke back and forth a few times until he grew tired of the game and flew away to a further tree.

The digital valley

I was walking up to the top gate to get a really strong cell-phone reception for the 7:45 am meeting I call into every morning. Since Telus switched from analog to digital cell signals, the signal doesn’t bounce as far and I don’t get consistent reception down in the valley where the house is. It makes for a more peaceful time here, not having a phone ringing throughout the day. But it also makes me feel like nobody wants me! Anyway, these work meetings give me a great reason to get out early in the morning to see what creatures are wandering around.

Lizard woman

After the phone call I had breakfast on the porch overlooking the creek, with wild raspberries from the bushes growing around the house. Lunch on the porch too, watching birds in the willow bushes, and wondering who was scurrying around under the porch. Chipmunk, it turns out. Afternoon coffee on the top balcony outside the master bedroom, for a view of the reddening woods. The temperature was 41° C this afternoon (106° F)! Beautiful hot summer heat. I took a break to lay in the sun for about half an hour, and felt held, uplifted, and nourished by the land and sun. There’s a good reason my brother-in-law, Geoff, gave me the nickname Lizard Woman!

Wild women teach yoga

Exploration of wildness

A lot has changed in my life since I started to explore what it means Yoga behind barsto be a wild woman. My work life usually involves cerebral pursuits, such as accounting and writing computer software manuals. The exploration of wildness brought my body, heart, and spirit into my work life in a more obvious way. One of the ways, which I want to talk about today, is that I volunteer teaching yoga—a body-based and spiritual practice—to young adults in prison.

The classes I’ve been teaching are at an “open” facility, a less restrictive facility that is for youth who are incarcerated for a short time, or who have already been in a more secure facility and have been promoted to the open facility on their way to full release. The class sizes are very small—a maximum of 6 students. Some weeks I have only had the young men’s class because there were few young women left in the open facility and none wanted to come. So the students in the class change every week. For example, last week I taught five young men, of whom three had been there before, and three young women, one of whom was a repeat student. The first time she’d been to class she was the only student!

Teaching yoga poses to youth

I have been teaching a “daily dozen” of basic poses, beginning with seated meditative time learning and practicing the Ujjayi (victorious) breath, and finishing with Savasana (corpse or resting pose). There usually isn’t time to do all 12 poses, and now that I’ve been doing it for a few months I vary around those ones in response to what’s happening in the class.

I’ve never taught youth before, but from what I’ve since learned talking to other teachers, it is not unusual for these students to need to chat almost constantly! This was a shock at first, as it is very different from adult classes. But I’ve gotten used to it. It helps to know it is not a sign of disrespect, and not to take it personally. Another thing is that many of the students have injuries, conditions such as ADD or ADHD that make it difficult for them to sustain focus, or chronic physical problems. So usually not everyone can do every pose.

What works is to be really flexible, keep it fun, not be too serious. For me having the frame of the daily dozen, which is my own daily practice, helps as a reference point. And from there I respond to what the students are interested in. For example, last week one student was resting and doing a twist lying down on her back, so I added that pose at the end. She said “I was just doing that!” and it tickled her to have the class do it.

So that’s some of what I’ve been discovering. The kids are great. They are very appreciative of the class, and notice the difference it makes in their state of being: how it calms them, makes them feel better. And I find that working with them makes a change in my state of being as well—opening my heart and also deepening me into a ground that is big enough to hold the space for the class.

A couple nights ago something happened in class that is still moving me when I think about it. One of the young men had been in a class where the teacher uses aromatherapy fragrances on the students’ faces during Savasana. He asked if I was going to do that. I didn’t have fragrance with me, but offered to massage their temples instead—something I have learned in teacher training and that one of my favourite teachers always does at the end of class. I asked each young man first if he wanted the massage, to make sure I wasn’t impinging on any body boundaries, and they each did. My heart usually opens towards the students during Savasana anyway, as the students I’ve been teaching for an hour each lay on their backs, covered by a blanket, quieter than they have been throughout the class. But this time, seeing how much each young man longed for a woman’s soothing touch, I felt a new sad tenderness arise.

Hungry ghost realm

When I ran by the river after class I thought about Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, which I read recently, in which he describes how pre-natal and early childhood experiences affect the brain chemistry and lead to addiction. I felt a hopelessness for the young men in the class, in prison for choices they have made while still in their teens. What chance do they have, given the kinds of childhoods they have experienced? I felt hopelessness and also a love and acceptance that this is simply how it is.

I don’t know if attending one yoga class will make a difference in their lives. But maybe, for that one hour, it did. I know that that one hour made a bigger difference in my heart and life than an hour of writing computer software manuals. It is riskier. Wilder. Each time I’m a little afraid to go, not knowing what will happen. And each time, I am opened in an unexpected way. And somehow rise to the occasion, making mistakes and hopefully also facilitating what is needed as being moves through me.

The West

Hatred glitters like polished obsidian funeral beads. A sharp and brittle shining jet-black shell. Its sharp edges cut. The hating heart wants to be cut, slashed with razor blades until every scrap of vulnerable human heart flesh is gone. Cut away to leave rib bones clean white, shining, curving open to empty cavern. A bowl of emptiness. Nothing left to steal.

The portal to peace is empty space. Heel turned sharply to walk away. Mid sentence. Words fall into the emptiness. Approximation. The real beloved awaits in the vast stillness on the other side of emptiness. Yes! Cut away and annihilate these false lovers. Sucking leeches stealing power. Dissolve into the black crystal waters of the night.

The west is the looks-within place. There is much that can be explored here. Issues of hatred and power. Questions of identity. Who am I? This is the question of the adolescent, and adolescence also lives in the west part of the wheel. The element is earth—think of a bear hibernating, earthing in her den. Darkness. The fall. The guardian of the west is the anima or animus. For a woman, initially it is her father’s view of her that she needs to wrestle with, to see through how she has been patterned by this view. Is it true? Who is she really? For a man, it is his mother’s view of him that guards the doorway to the west.

One exercise for exploring issues of the west is to take a night walk. Maybe even sing to your inner man or woman. Woo him or her. Once the parent’s wishes have been worked with, the inner figure of the opposite gender can become our lover—our true love. I don’t know how this inner lover plays out for gays, lesbians, and people of other genders than the usual two. The west would be an area to explore these questions, though. Who am I?

Another exercise for looking into the blackness of the west is to find a hole in nature and spend a few hours looking into it. If you dare, put your face right in it. I sought out a badger hole for this purpose on my last vision fast. It was clearly abandoned, fringed with cobwebs. I still didn’t dare put my face in it. I sat there a while. A big black beetle, almost two inches long, with legs an inch long, crawled out of the hole. Another beetle was crawling around on the sandy bottom. This exercise is bullshit, I thought. I want to see a badger. I spit in the hole. The beetle drank some of the spit.