The Gifts of Grace: Twelve Boys and their Rites of Passage

Base Camp

Hola Relatives – The weather spirits spoke and they spoke loudly.  I got the news on the eve of our departure – Three days of big lightning storms blasting the Northern Sierra just where we were going to go on quest!  Not safe given that we would be hiking over big stretches of granite to reach out intended site sooooo, instead of packing up after a full day at work I spent the evening frantically calling wilderness friends trying to find an alternative site that would work for what we were seeking.  I went to bed late that night exhausted still not knowing where we were going to go and if we would have to cancel the whole trip.  Postponing it was out of the question because parents had already made their summer plans around the date we had set up and the boys were all geared up and excited (but nervous and anxious as well).

Not much sleep as I was tossing and turning trying to figure out what to do until finally I got to the point where I had to just turn it over to spirit.  It was beyond my control so I let it all go surrendering the whole situation into spirit’s hands.  Then I could finally fall asleep for a few hours.  Next morning Greg and I drove the rented van down to the school parking lot where we were meeting the boys and their families for our taking off ceremony.  Standing in the center of two circles, the boys around me and their parents and sisters forming a larger circle surrounding us I gave them the news that our planned destination was out scratched due to bad weather.  I shared that we would head up to the South Fork of the Yuba River in the Sierra foothills where I had led a quest last summer with a mentorship group of middle-aged men and hope that the base camp I had used previously would be available but there would be no way to know until we drove up and hiked several miles into the site.  We were taking off into mystery not knowing if the site would work for this larger group even if base camp was available because there are limited flat spots along the river to camp within a safe distance where the boys could signal one another in case they got into trouble on their solo time.  One of the boys had an extreme allergy to any kind of nuts and required hospitalization  20 minutes after giving himself a shot with his EPI Pen if he had a reaction.  No way that could happen from where we would be so once again it required surrendering into the bigger hands with faith and trust that the boys, all forewarned, did not bring any items that could cause an allergic response.

Loading Up
Loading Up

On the drive up, 12 boys, Greg Snowden and myself, the weather report said there was a 30 to 40% chance of a thunderstorm just about the time we would arrive at the start of the trail which you can see in the picture below as the boys are loading up their packs. I did my prayers that we would get a break and at least be able to hike in and set up our shelters before the rain hit and that the great base camp would be available.  If not, we might have to drive back home that night since I could not come up with any other site that worked for our purpose.  Again I surrendered letting go of attachment to outcome while trusting that whatever was for our greatest good would transpire and that would be what we had to deal with, all part of a “Coyote (trickster) Quest!”

South Fork of the Yuba
South Fork of the Yuba

The Gifts of Grace were plentiful beginning with perfect weather when we arrived and hiked in.  The base camp site was available, the river was clear and beautiful with a fabulous swimming area right in front of our place with large boulders for the boys to scamper on and jump into the water.  What a relief and great fun to watch them frolic in the beauty of the river, the magnificently shaped boulders and rocks and the sandy beachfront that was ours to enjoy.  Some of the boys caught some crayfish that they cooked up for dinner that night.

After dinner we circled up with each boy sharing their intention for the quest.  Their was a commonality of intention re: seeking more confidence and inner strength to face challenges in their lives, to try new things and to gain insight into themselves and the workings of nature.  Each boy would be tested by fasting for a full day and night, something that growing 13 year old boys who eat ravenously and continuously would truly find challenging, along with facing nighttime fears sleeping out without a tent,  worrying about bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and even news we heard hiking in about a crack head who was camped further up the river from us who was known to steal gear from others when it was left unguarded.  Plenty of good stuff for the boys and their imagination to work with during the night.

Watching the boys set up their weather protection, prepare their meals, interact with each other, set up their gear and interacted with the environment allowed me to see not only their external behavior but also afforded a doorway into their hearts and souls.   Greg and I were very fortunate as the boys all knew each other and were friends through my 13 year old grandson who provided the motivation for me to offer this experience in the first place, an opportunity for him and his buddies to experience some of the richness of questing work in the wilderness that has been such a treasure of growth and guidance and inspiration and wisdom in my own life.  The boys were used to cooperating through their experiences in team sports and besides that they were really good guys; responsible, caring, intelligent, full of yearning for adventure and being tested. Just what I needed when I was 13 but didn’t get in a way that was meaningful for me.

Swimming at Basecamp
Swimming at basecamp

It was an exciting adventure crossing the river with packs on coming and going with a few of us taking falls, including me, and some needing the help of others to right our selves in the current and slippery river-bottom rocks we were walking on.  Thursday morning before the boys took off to their sites I shared with them how the tests they would face would be ones that they had chosen for themselves and would give them good practice in finding the resources they would need to meet the tests in their future lives would bring them challenges they had not chosen and the work they did now would serve them in the future. “Just by showing up to face yourself in these tests you have already proven your courage which is not the absence of fear but going forward with what your heart and soul calls you to do even though you are frightened.”

During my own solo time I had opportunity to reflect on how at the age of 13,  I was already heading down a dark path of drug abuse (alcohol was the drug of my growing-up experience), anti-social and acting-out delinquent behavior.  I felt so gifted that I could be with these healthy boys and give them what i so much wanted and needed at their age; respect for their thoughts and ideas, for their hopes and dreams, for their creativity and listening to and honoring the calling of their hearts and souls, versus being told by authority figures what to believe, what to do, what to feel and how to be.  I loved giving them the space to make their own decisions, within reason and with some safety guidelines, from which they could learn from their own experiences rather than being lectured to and pressured to fit into a mold someone else had created that didn’t care about their own sense of integrity and authenticity.  I loved showing my grandson a fisherman’s knot by which to tie two ends of a rope together in a really magical kind of way when helping him secure his shelter.  He was as excited to see how it worked as i had been forty three years earlier when I had first learned it.  I thought about the transmissions between generations and that one day he will pass this knot on to his own children.

The boys came back Friday morning from their fasting time all having been thoroughly tested and ready to eat a whole market’s worth of food.  Afterwards we again sat in circle with each boy sharing what they had gotten from the quest, what “medicine” they were given to take home and use in their lives.  The boys spoke of new found sense of strength, respect for food and empathy for those who do not have enough to eat around the world, the importance of self-restraint, how the fast helped them slow down to see more of what is all around them but they don’t ordinarily see or pay attention to in their busyness and activity, respect for people and animals, how everything is interconnected, respect for nature and how things work and finally an appreciation for silence.

I was very happy and relieved to have them all back safely together learning that morning how one boy had changed his site location in the night and had fallen while crossing the river, gotten soaked and spent the night wet and uncomfortable.  Hearing about this I have thanks for the umpteenth time prior for no rain on our hike in and while setting up camp, for the warm weather that allowed for swimming and good-time play in the river, for no rattlesnake bites or allergic reactions that required emergency service, no problems with theft or threatening presence of others camping on the river, for the good spirit and cooperative and helpful attitude and caring behavior of the boys.  Not once did I have to raise my voice when I needed their attention. Nor did I ever have to reprimand a boy about his behavior.  So many gifts of grace and now another one hearing about the adventure of the boy who slipped in the river that he was ok.  He could have hit his head, been knocked unconscious and drowned and I wouldn’t have even known about it until the morning!  Thank you Great Spirit for the gifts of protection!

Purifying Water
Purifying Water

After breaking camp and cleaning up (I told the boys “We need to leave this campsite even better than when we found it so the spirits that live whose living room we have been in for these three days will fell good about our having been here”), we loaded up our packs, crossed the river with only one rescue needed, hiked back to the van and drove home to the waiting parents, sisters and brothers.  Greg and I had a good time listening to their conversations, hearing their jokes and learning about their music tastes.  Not sure that I want to take up hip-hop myself but it was great hearing them sing along.  I also taught them a thank-you prayer song that we would sing to the parents at our closing circle which they enthusiastically spent time practicing several times on the car ride so they could sing it with confidence.

I had tasked each boy to write a support letter to themselves and one thanking their parents for whatever they were truly thankful which they would give to their parents upon return home.  I had also asked the parents to do some homework writing about their own teenage years experiences and what they learned from them so that if they had the chance to do it again what would they do differently. The parents would give their boys their letter as well so it would be in interchange that would begin the integration process for both parties.

We did our closing circle at our house with a potluck the parents had prepared.  The boys sang their song, shared a bit of what they got from the quest facing their parents in an outer circle as they stood with Greg and I  in an inner circle. I gifted each with a bear claw necklace signifying the “strength of the great Mother Bear” honoring the strength they had shown in facing their fears which the necklace could serve as a reminder of when they faced challenges in the years to come.  We finished our ceremony by all of us coming into one circle, holding hands during which i offered a thanks-giving prayer honoring the parents for doing such a good job raising the boys to this point and a last prayer blessing the boys as they went on into their future creating a good and meaningful life sharing their gifts to make a better world.  Then we ate and wowee, glad I wasn’t footing the bill for the poundage of food they put away!

Thank you brother Greg Snowden for your helpful presence, support, wisdom and sharing taking time from work to be a vital part of this quest.  And thank you for taking pictures that are included below.  Thanks to my daughter Kimberly, Corbin’s mother for handling all the logistics so capably and graciously, thanks to Andrea for hosting the potluck at our home and thank you parents for trusting Greg and I with your precious sons, thank you  One and All for your supportive prayers during our time on quest and thank you Great Mystery for taking such good care of us!   We needed all the help we could get and through your caring and support the doorway opened for the numerous gifts of grace that came through to us all.

Un mil gracias por todo!

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