A pesky, mad dash home

Dusky valleyThe “something else” that awaited me was being chased by blood-thirsty mosquitoes all the way home! I followed the ravine between the giant old fir tree and the rock face, heading northwest towards Monkey Valley. Suddenly I heard an angry buzzing. It was amazingly loud. So loud it was terrifying. It sounded like a gigantic power plant buzzing with electric charge.

I headed uphill quick, out of the ravine. I saw that ahead the ravine was marshy. It must be a mosquito breeding ground, with the wetness. And the warm spring sunshine of the past few days must have sparked the hatching process. Holy toledo! What a racket!

I headed away from this area as quickly as I could, but some of the mosquitoes found me and chased me all the way home. If I stopped to kill them (not a good idea on a Medicine Walk, when all life is to be treated as sacred), more appeared. They were vicious and determined. I was bitten at least 8 times. Each bite set up an angry itching in my body.

I felt so happy when I crossed Galena Creek Road, ran down the 100 metres to my gate, and was back on my land. Of course the mosquitoes didn’t care about property boundaries, and continued to chase after me. I stopped and said “Fuck off” to the mosquitoes. It happened that a deer was on the road just there. My cursing startled it, and it stotted away. I admired its magnificent, big life-force as it jumped into the forest. I apologized, “I didn’t mean you, dear deer!” Darn.

The temperature dropped as I entered the valley. The sun was behind the cliffs on the western edge of my land. Amazing, it was almost dusk! I jogged most of the last 3/4 mile to elude the mosquitoes, anticipating having a nice oatmeal bath to sooth the itching. When I reached the house, I crossed through the threshold rather quickly, anxious to get inside and away from the mosquitoes. Hmm. What a day! Moose, bear, pika, deer, and mosquitoes! Did I learn about the purpose for my upcoming vision fast? Or was it just a meaningless series of events and encounters? I thanked the spirits for being with me on the walk, and crossed back into ordinary life. To be continued…

Past Events at Monkey Valley

Direction stones and talking stickMonkey Valley Retreat Centre has hosted vision fasts, medicine wheel teachings, teachings of ecopsychology practices, medicine walks, inquiry groups, a yoga and ChiRunning retreat, and, of course, many gatherings of family and friends, too.

For a brief account of the amazingly awesome Chirunning and yoga retreat with Angela James (summer 2010), see here.

In the summer of 2009, we held the second vision fast at Monkey Valley for a solo faster. The valley rang out with the mournful notes of saxophone and the lowing of cows.

The previous year, in the summer of 2008, the grandmothers and grandfathers of this land greeted a vision faster, perhaps for the first time in many years. It is known that the Upper Similkameen First Nation travelled through the valley seasonally, gathering plants. Did the elders of the community put youths out on the land to fast while they sojourned here? I have seen a hilltop that might have been a spot for sacred ceremony…

Kim and I were very pleased that our plans to host a vision fast came to fruition August 1-4, 2008, with a two-day fast. The retreat began with a day of preparing the faster for the solo time. While the guides remained in basecamp, the faster went out into wild nature and spent her solo time with the land and her creatures. The final day was a celebration and time for the faster to tell her story and have it received by her people. Many thanks to the spirits of the seven directions for keeping the faster safe and returning her to us.

In the summer of 2005, the retreat centre hosted a four-day medicine wheel gathering, taught Building the medicine wheelby Joyce Lyke and Tracy Leach. We built a medicine wheel together, and learned how to walk the four spokes of the wheel and work with the spirits of the seven directions (South, West, North, East, Earth Mother, Sky Father, and Centre). Since this gathering, the wheel has been open, available to those seeking guidance from the spirits of the land and the spirits of our ancestors.

The retreat centre has hosted numerous meditation and inquiry gatherings for students of the Diamond Approach, a spiritual path for inner realization. Inquiry is a method for sensing into one’s direct experience in the moment, as deeply as possible. Sensing physical sensations, as well as emotions and thoughts, can lead us to deeper, more subtle experiences of our soul.

Diamond Approach inquiry in the snow!Practicing inquiry outdoors in wild nature can open us to different kinds of experiences than occur indoors. We have explored inquiring with each other and with nature beings such as trees and rocks. Several New Years inquiry celebrations at Monkey Valley have involved dancing, sacred ceremony, and inquiry in the snow!

ChiRunning and Yoga at BC Wilderness Visions

July 16-17, 2011 – CANCELLED

$349 includes teaching fees and delicious organic vegetarian lunch, snacks, and teaAngela ChiRunning at Hastings Park

Location: Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, North Vancouver

9:30 – 4:30, Saturday & Sunday

Guides: Angela and Karen are teaming up for the second year in a row. For a glimpse into the awesome time had by all at last year’s ChiRunning and yoga retreat, see here.

  • Learn to run free of injury!
  • Learn to run effortlessly!
  • Learn to be energy efficient!
  • Learn how to create Chi Energy Flow!

Angela no longer has Achilles tendonitis since using the ChiRunning form, which combines the inner focus and flow of T’ai Chi with the power and energy of running to create a revolutionary running form and philosophy that takes the pounding, pain, and potential damage out of the sport of running. The ChiRunning program increases mental clarity and focus, enhances the joy of running, and turns running into a safe and effective life-long program for health, fitness, and well-being. Angela has run 20 marathons and completed Iron Man Canada in 2008.

Karen has developed a yoga practice that supports long distance running. Combining yoga with running helped her overcome knee pain and IT band problems, to cross the threshold from the 10K distance to the half-marathon! Her most adventurous race was the Klondike Road Relay from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon. Yoga is a millenia-old discipline that provides the perfect complement to your running practice. It brings suppleness to the entire body, builds core strength, and safely releases the lactic acid that builds up in the muscles during a run. The relaxation that yoga brings allows your body to run for longer distances with ease.

This 2-day non-residential retreat in the beautiful North Shore mountains will teach you the fundamentals of the ChiRunning form as well as a post-run yoga practice that is more fun than the old stretches you learned in gym class!

Mornings will begin with a group check-in in the crystal-clear mountain air, followed by running and yoga. In the afternoon we’ll teach you methods for connecting with the Chi energy in nature, and then give you a chance to practice what you’ve learned with more ChiRunning. The days will end with a final yoga session to send you home feeling relaxed and connected with nature and yourself.

This weekend retreat will give you time and space to connect with your body and with nature, and you’ll return to the city feeling refreshed and enlivened.

Optional reading: ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running, by Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer

To register, please fill in the online Registration Form. For payment information, see Fees. We’ll send you directions and a suggested gear list when you register.

Fear and longing in the forest

Fir tree branchesAs I mentioned last time, the land felt very different once I crossed the Galena Creek logging road, headed east. It didn’t feel friendly anymore. I kept hiking east, taking down more logging ribbon as I found it. Soon my pockets were full of plastic ribbon. I came to a ravine, and didn’t feel like hiking down it and back up and then doing the same again on my way back. I sat down to wait for a sign of how to proceed. Ouch! I sat on a prickly juniper shoot, and got back up again. Mosquitoes buzzed at me, harassing me. I decided to go back to the house and get some insect repellent.

I headed back a slightly different way, and came to a rock face with a boulder slide. I’d never seen this before. A triangular cleft in the rock face beckoned to me. I climbed up to it and sat there, pressed into the rock face. I was worried that rocks would fall on me from above. I tried to ignore this fear, and spoke to the rock mountain, telling it why I was on this medicine walk. I was looking for my purpose. The purpose to carry with me on the upcoming vision quest. My life purpose. The purpose of this day. Why am I on this planet? What am I supposed to be doing here? Is it ever going to get better? The wish for meaning has set me on the spiritual journey. I can’t accept that there is no meaning at all, as so many people seem to believe. Maybe the seeking itself is the point, as Rilke says: cherish the questions themselves. I set my anguish of meaninglessness before the mountain, but I didn’t hear an answer to these big questions that pressed on my soul. Instead, the mountain told me not to listen to people when I didn’t feel like it! Hmm. That was a surprise. (Maybe the mountain didn’t feel like listening to me?)

Across from the rock face was a giant old fir tree. I thought it might be 400 or 500 years old. I felt cold on the cliff, and the tree beckoned to me with kindness. I offered Reiki to the rock face of the mountain, pressing my hands into the cool rough granite, and then climbed down and scrabbled over the boulder slide. I climbed the slight grade of rocks, soil, and grass, and found a spot to sit under the fir, facing the rock slide and rock cliff. A pika came out from between the boulders and spoke to me. It hid, and then popped up and spoke again. This happened many times. I spoke back, but don’t know what we said! I asked where its tail was, for it seemed to be missing. My heart was gladdened by the comfort of the tree and the contact with the little pika.

I noticed there were more mosquitoes here under the tree than there had been on the rock face. I saw how my mind is like a mosquito—never at rest, always driving me on. I felt restless, and wanted something else. I noticed I got fir tree sap on the orange fleece sweater I was sitting on. Fuck! I tried to sense into what I was wanting. Food, a book to read, rich creamy essence. I must be feeling empty. The sun was just hanging in the sky, not moving at all. Maybe I should have stayed on the cliff until it got dark. I guess I’ll just trust that something else awaits, I decided, yielding to the restlessness. To be continued…


Karen RempelKaren Rempel is the director of Monkey Valley Retreat Centre. She leads retreats at the centre, and also apprentices on vision fasts in Colorado and California. She teaches tools to help people find healing and guidance in nature, including the medicine walk, medicine wheel, four shields of (human) nature, other ecopsychology methods, and yoga and meditation, as well as guiding questers on vision fasts.

After a decade of working as a technical writer, she earned a master’s degree in ecopsychology from Naropa University, and trained as a vision fast guide at the School of Lost Borders. She has studied the medicine wheel since 2003 and has been a student of the Diamond Approach for many years. She is a registered yoga teacher and Reiki master, committed to providing a safe environment for self exploration and growth. She is a member of the Wilderness Guides Council.

Munro SickafooseMunro Sickafoose is a vision quest guide, an initiated man, whitewater river guide, and ceremonial leader. He has been deeply involved with indigenous earth–based ceremonies for many years. He trained as a vision quest guide at the School of Lost Borders, and has been leading groups and individuals in the wild since 1996. He has also trained at the Ojai Foundation as a facilitator in the Way of Council. He is currently Netkeeper of the Wilderness Guides Council, and is working towards a Masters of Divinity degree.

He guides at Monkey Valley and in Oregon and Washington. He also guides through the School of Lost Borders, teaching a program on the four shields of leadership with his wife, Susanna Maida. Visit his web site for details of other guiding trips he has planned.

Angela JamesAngela James has run 18 marathons and completed Iron Man Canada in August 2008. Angela has been a Team in Training marathon coach with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) groundbreaking charity sports training program since 2004. She no longer has Achilles tendonitis since using the ChiRunning form. Now Vancouver’s only certified ChiRunning instructor, she plans to give workshops all over the world teaching others this revolutionary technique. Her shining spirit uplifts and motivates everyone she teaches.

Angela incorporates ChiLiving as a practice along with her tea business. “Chi Tea” is her catch phrase, because she believes so strongly in the benefits of both ChiRunning and health-promoting, organic Rooibos tea. Angela is also an accomplished cello player. Visit her web site to learn about Angela’s upcoming ChiRunning workshops in Vancouver.

Kim & ChaiKim Ashley guides vision fasts at Monkey Valley and is a life coach. She is the founder of Transformational Learning and Coaching. She is a PhD candidate in East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, is a certified life coach through NLP and Coaching Institute of California, and is a member of the International Coach Federation.

She trained as a vision fast guide at the School of Lost Borders. Her background and education blend the ancient wisdom traditions of the East with contemporary success principles of the West, resulting in a step-by-step coaching approach to living with greater courage, balance, abundance, and happiness. She loves walking in the wilderness with her dog, Chai.


Bear leads the way through the woodsI decided to follow after the bear, even though I knew it was unlikely I would catch up and see him again. He had headed south towards Missezula Lake, so I went that way, climbing up grassy knolls and over fallen logs. I found some white fungus on a dead Ponderosa pine. There were large round holes in the tree bark, and the fungus was near the base of the tree. The fungus felt hard and dry on the outside, and was whitish with orangey tones underneath. It smelled wonderful, like almond. I wondered if the bear would eat this member of the mushroom family.

The earth is so amazing and beautiful. I felt awed by the variety of tiny flowers, insects, and lichens. Incredible! There were stumps everywhere, and I felt sad at the destruction of all the trees. They had been living beings. A big bee buzzed in agreement as I rested at the base of the Ponderosa. I remembered a wise old woman who had taken my sister and me for a walk one summer near my family’s cabin on Knouff Lake. She showed us wildflowers and told us their names. Later my dad and sister and I fed peanuts in shells to the chipmunks. I remembered walking around Alice Lake with my father another summer. He held my hand as I walked along logs stretching out into the lake. I was afraid of falling into the water, and clung to his hand tightly. He taught me to test myself and take little risks like that. And to love the land. How lucky that I can appreciate this place, I thought, noticing a tiny red worm with a black head on a leaf nearby. It smelled so good here, with the hot pine smell of the forest, the delicate flowers, the almond scent of the fungi.

I thought about the contrast of heavy machine noise and the stink of pollution in the city. But nowhere is exempt from these things. Early this morning I heard logging trucks northeast of Monkey Valley. Planes flew overhead throughout the day. Signs of human activity are everywhere. I sighed as I gathered up my pack and continued to walk.

I guessed that it was a little past noon. After I crossed Galena Creek logging road, heading southeast, I saw some fresh bear scat, and felt glad that my bear friend was still around here somewhere. I noticed that the land felt different on this side of the road. It didn’t seem to have been logged, and consequently wasn’t as open. There were a lot of dead and fallen trees to climb over. Then I spotted pink ribbon with black dots on it, marking a cut block. Huh. This area was slated for logging too. I removed the ribbon and tucked it in my pocket. Ecosabotage! The ribbon had marked a threshold between two trees, so I decided to go in that direction, passing through the threshold. To be continued…