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.

Monkey Valley Accommodations

Monkey Valley log cabin overlooking creekThe Monkey Valley Retreat Centre has a log cabin with a wood-burning stove and open cooking-dining-living space. There is a 3-bedroom addition built onto the log cabin, which can accommodate up to 6 sleepers in beds and cots.

There is plenty of space for camping, and there is also sleeping space in the 5,000 square-foot barn. (Bring your own camping gear.) The top floor of the barn is a 1,200 square-foot open room with a wood stove for heat. This room can be used as a meeting space during inclement weather, and the wood floors are ideal for yoga.

Large groups can camp or sleep in barnThe facilities at Monkey Valley include outhouses and heated showers. There is also an old-fashioned claw-foot bathtub overlooking green meadows and the valley below.

The food at the retreat centre is delicious, healthy, nutritionally complete vegetarian fare, including eggs and dairy. Ingredients are organic when available. Please let us know if you have special dietary needs when you register. There are several campfire pits for marshmallow toasting and night-time gatherings.

Heated meeting space is perfect for yogaMountain evenings can get chilly here, even in the summertime. If you are camping, bring an insulated pad to sleep on (such as a thermarest) and a sleeping bag rated to -10° C. It is unlikely to be that cold, but this rating will keep you toasty at night!

For more pictures of the log cabin interior, see this virtual tour.

Wild women run

Wild women runOn a vision fast last year I claimed my big, wild woman self.

But desert ritual is just the beginning of integrating a new identity that goes counter to the training to be my parents’ obedient, pretty girl, smiling for the camera. And counter to our society’s messages about what women are supposed to be: compassionate, loving, quiet, small. There isn’t much room for wild women. But luckily, we have the strength and power to make room. To stand up, speak out. Anyway, I am still learning to let my wild woman run free.

I was at a half marathon on Sunday, and she ran with me. She shouted out “Woohoo, 10K!” at the half-way mark. And I heard a woman behind me tell her female friend “She’s got way too much energy.”

I know suppressive bullshit when I hear it, and this comment made me mad. Mad enough to beat my previous time by 8 minutes. Mad enough to run harder than I’ve ever run. Which is one way to use that energy.

But is this what a wild woman would do?

My wild woman shouted Replacements song lyrics when they popped into her head. At first, when these lyrics arose, she kept it to herself. But after the 10K mark, she’d had enough of suppressing her fun life energy. She shouted out “Take me down, to the hospital!” at the medics in the ambulance at the side of the road. And “Red light, red light, run it. Ain’t nobody watching, run it!”

And each time she broke the rules, stood out from the crowd, let herself express what was moving through her, a new surge of energy propelled her on. Real strength. Real expansion, right through the top of her head. Right into the quiet simplicity of nothingness.

My exploration into what it means to be a wild woman continues. For the record, she did it in 2:00:28!