Philosophy, Vision Quest & life changing times at Tracker School

*All photos of fellow students were pre-approved and names cleared or changed*  Thanks guys!
**Also, I don’t any of the Mushrooms identified since I am not very good and DO NOT want to mislead anyone!

If your unfamiliar with Tracker School, check out my About Author page – https://lifeofjourney.wordpress.com/about/the-author/ Around half way down I explain how I got into the Tracker School world.

Many know that I attended Tracker School myself the end of August after Reuben finished his Standard class. I drove Reuben to the Philly (Philadelphia, PA) Airport after spending Saturday with Carmen and Matt on Long Island Beach, NJ (this would be before the storms) on Sunday morning. Philosophy 1 started Sunday evening for me. Tom Brown of courses teaches, while his other (some say better) half Malcolm comes in just for the Philosophy classes. All I can say is that if you ever get the chance to work with Malcolm Ringwalt, DO IT. Carmen’s husband Matt teaches along with Jorge. Every one one of the instructors is amazing, they are what really makes Tracker School applicable and fun.

I began my class tired, withdrawn and generally not thrilled with my personal life (Tracker tends to bring up any deep rooted issues for people – which it most certainly did for Reuben and I). I quietly listened, and said little as I could for the rest of the night and into the next two days. I simply wanted to be present for the class, which took all my focus and energy, leaving me the most anti-social person there for the first half of the class.

Looking up

Looking up

The first couple of days during Philosophy you work on your ‘skill’ which typically involves carving, and go over the base of what ‘Philosophy’ is according to Grandfather (Stalking Wolf) – Tom’s teacher. We prepare for our more in-depth meditations by doing basic ones many times per day to help set a routine and train our minds.

Path to Swim area

Path to Swim area

Tracker School’s main camp has no running water outside of their well pump (which is for drinking/cooking water only). The stream with large springs serves as a swimming hole in the ‘bathing suit’ area, and then a separate screened-off area is the ‘nude’ swim which alternates sexes each day. If you are in need of a soapy rinse, there is a wash area a good ways away from the stream that you can carry water to and use biodegradable soaps to get clean. What this usually means is that, not including some of the early bird people who have their shit together, most of the students jump in the bathing suit area for a quick cool down/rinse and call it good. By the end of the week — or first full day — you know who these people are…

To me, being dirty and disheveled is not the same as being stinky. So while I fit in with the best of them, I try not to be identified by smell alone (unless tea-tree oil counts). You only EVER take clothes that you don’t mind having covered in sweat, grass, dirt, clay, charcoal and other unknown stains. The first two weeks there, I washed my clothes in a bucket and was usually in some state of dampness due to the humidity and rain that made drying anything almost impossible. I wouldn’t have won any fashion contests, but I was clean!

Little Red Leaf

Little Red Leaf

As you can see from the pictures, most of my Philosophy class was spent working on skills or going off on my own and integrating what we were learning. I also had some wonderful late-night conversations with Carmen and once again was struck by the depth of our friendship.

Mossy Cedars

Mossy Cedars

For the Philosophy class, you have to ‘find’ a partner to do exercises and meditations with. Many people in the class came with a loved one or a friend and partnered with them. Others had friends/old classmates that they teamed up with. Other than a young guy  – Corey who I recognized from my Standard Class in 2010, I did not know anyone in the class. Since Corey was actually sitting next to me on the hard-ass benches, we had already said hello and figured out where we had seen each other before. So when Malcolm stated that we (students – all 90+ of us) had to get a partner we would work with the rest of the week, I had a moment of terror; ‘What if no one wants to partner with me? I’ve been super antisocial and withdrawn, now I’m totally screwed…’
I let it pass pretty quickly and decided that whoever was left or approached me would have to be fine. After the lecture was over, Corey immediately came over to ask if I A: Needed a partner, and B: would be willing to partner with him. I of course felt that this was the partner I was meant to have and all my fears were for nothing. I was asked by multiple people the rest of the day if I would be their partner (who knew a social retard like myself could still be suitable?). Corey and I became fast friends, and not just Philosophy partners doing odd meditation exercises together.

The next two photos are blurry and ‘foggy’ due to the humidity. My old-ass Olympus performed much better than the Sony half its age – which took the two pictures below {Editor’s note: Amazing what a difference a few hundred dollars can make}.

My Philosophy Partner

My Philosophy Partner Corey

The week progressed in a whirlwind of self discovery, pushing boundaries, and learning skills of the mind and a calm focus we often think is unattainable. I came out of my antisocial bubble and had meaningful conversations with a few people, and even struck up a friendly acquaintance with a few. I renewed my desire to change the things that did not serve me. Sadly I also contracted Lyme’s yet again (you can get ‘reinfected’ and have to go through the antibiotics treatment all over again- there are many, many different strains of Lyme’s). I had a large Bull’s Eye on my thigh and was having severe (even for me) joint pain and general tiredness. I had to go onto the antibiotics ASAP once I got out of camp and hope that I wouldn’t be stricken with secondary symptoms.

Towards the end of the week, Malcolm spoke more depth about a class/event that was happening after Philosophy 1 finished out. A 100-person Vision Question run by EarthHeart — Malcolm’s group — at the Tracker School. This was supposed to be the last 100-person Quest for some time, possibly ever, and for the first time in (I believe) 24 years, Tom was actually going to work/teach with the students after the Quest. The more Malcolm talked of the Quest, the more I wanted to stay for it. I had ALWAYS wanted to do a quest, I knew, someday, I would. So there I was, a gift upon gifts presented to me and I had to do other things?! How could this be! Money was also a concern along with time. I had already told my family members in Maryland and D.C that I would be seeing them in two days. They had plans for me – since it had been a few years seeing me. Was it really okay for me to cancel on them? Was River okay at the Farm in Tennessee without me even longer?

Tracy

Tracy

The final days I agonized over the decision. The more Malcolm spoke of the Quest the more I wanted to stay but wasn’t sure that I should. I mean this is the sort of thing where you sit down with yourself and really take a good, long, hard look at all the things you don’t want to! I have so much shit, like seriously, who in my position and in their right mind would think “I’ll just have a little sit down and ‘deal’ with myself and all the crap that has accumulated over the years and sort it out”?! In the woods, alone and while suffering from Lyme’s to boot??? Only a totally crazy person! I spoke at length about these fears to Malcolm (Carmen too), I told him straight up about the past events, the PTSD and even the meds I was still on for my back. I shared how some people close to me thought that I was a little delusional and possibly even a walking time bomb for hysterics.  Malcolm directly laid my fears of being ‘too unstable’ for the Quest to rest and went above and beyond placating my concerns by sharing his wisdom with me. I came away from my conversation with Malcolm feeling that I was not an emotional, delusional, walking time bomb as enough people had directly or indirectly said until I had accepted that some of it must be true. If I chose to, I could stay for the Quest and was wanted – exactly the way I was – which is not something I’m used to.

Decisions, decisions. Then Corey said he was staying; he hadn’t been planning on it, hadn’t even known (just like me) of the class. But he was staying, work and classes back home be damned! Family and girlfriend would just have to wait. Maybe I too could stay for this thing. Friday rolled around and it was time to have a final answer. Interestingly enough, another 8-12 people from my Phil class were also wrestling with the decision. A couple of ladies that I had either noticed (loud laughter, odd questions) or had spoken to; seemed to be trying to figure out if they should stay for the Quest. Linda, the serene healer type who reminded me of Mom in some ways, and to whom I had actually spoken to a few times; Afsoon ‘Caroline’ who hailed from L.A, California and had a knack for asking odd or just plain funny (to me) questions; and Tracy with ENTIRELY too much energy and one of the loudest laughs I’ve heard to date. All three ladies decided to stay for the Quest – as did I the same day. I felt a little kinship with Linda and quietly observed Tracy during her emotional outbursts (I seriously don’t know what else to call them besides maybe freakouts). Afsoon I simply hadn’t spoken to and figured with her city-slicker, put-together ways, wouldn’t want anything to do with me anyways.

Taking Notes

Afsoon & Linda Taking Notes

Saturday afternoon came, and all who were not staying on for the Vision Quest departed. Usually the ‘bridge’ people (as we call anyone who is staying through till the next class) catch a ride into town and share a fellow student’s vehicle and often get hotel rooms, hot showers and do laundry. Around 14 people were there for the next class, so when the instructors called for anyone who had a vehicle that could make back into camp and no one stood up to claim/volunteer I knew that my plans of spending time with Carmen and Matt for the weekend would have to change (the sand roads have large pot holes and dips that fill with water, and you ideally want a 4×4 or AWD (All Wheel Drive) to not get stuck or swamp the engines on lower cars). Matt and Carmen wouldn’t be around for the Vision Quest after Sunday so I was rather torn. I reluctantly raised my hand and said the Black Dragon (Subaru) and I would be ‘around’ to provide rides into town for anyone within reason. Funny how looking back it’s these little seemingly mundane decisions that alter history forever.

Tracy & Linda

Tracy & Linda

After assisting the instructors driving students to where their cars were parked (or to the bus station) in Waretown, I was singled out for the use of my car. Around 10 people ‘wanted’ to go into town (keep in mind my Subie can only ‘legally’ have 5 people in it including me..) and everyone had their ideas of what we should do in town – laundry, quick stop and then back to camp immediately, stay out for the evening and go to a nice dinner, hotel room for the night, etc… I quietly listened to the ‘discussion’ on what they should do with my car for a bit before interjecting how it would actually go: I would take my car to town and stop where I planned on stopping and would take my time as I pleased; which included laundry, health food store, regular store and possibly another stop for cheap food, anyone who was okay with that could come and I would take them wherever they needed within reason along the way. My boundaries whittled down the number to 6 adults with lots of dirty laundry…okay we would be very close and a little smelly. Corey my Phil partner, Dan the Kiwi (from New Zealand) – an amazing kind man with much wisdom and energy to share, M the Aussie from Australia who was tons of fun with her cool accent, Linda whom I had spoken too a few times and was friendly with and Tracy the loud energetic laugher who Linda asked a spot for. Okay I could do this, be the semi social chauffeur.

Upon packing the car, I was then asked if we could fit at least one more. Now, I have no qualms about stuffing people in the back hatch of the Dragon, but maybe they did, not to mention the amount of nasty laundry that was in the back… I calmly explained that the conditions wouldn’t be cozy and that should we get pulled over for no seat belts/illegal passengers that they would be liable for the tickets. My speech made a couple of the ‘extra’ passengers reconsider but not Afsoon ‘Ms. L.A’. Other than being taken aback by my direct statement she seemed totally cool that she would be stuffed in the back next to Tracy and the stinky clothes. What unfolded over the next few hours lead to an amazing 10 days!

"Dan"

“Dan”

Dan embraced his situation of being the only ‘older’ man along for the adventure with a slew of  giddy women (the 4 girls in the back were having the time of their lives). Corey road in the front seat since he is a rather tall individual. Dan took the whole day in stride and had no problem hanging out with the laundry along with Corey and Afsoon. Once the adventure of getting everyone’s laundry in, M our favorite Aussie, Linda and Tracy accompanied me to find the materials for the Quest everyone needed and other stores. We got lost trying to locate the Health Food store and took quite a while. Afsoon and the poor guys had already dried the laundry and were ready to eat by the time we arrived back to the laundromat. We all agreed to eat at a local Burger joint – Shore Fire Grille, keeping our fingers crossed that it would be semi tasty. First off, if your ever stuck in mid southern Jersey, check this place out! The Salmon Burger was to die for, they make a mean Bison Burger and everyone else was thrilled with their food. We thought we had found the goldmine of tasty burgers. The Grille even made M. a special plate for her dietary restrictions without batting an eye! Seriously, check it out if you like burgers and need a place to eat after a Tracker class!

We arrived back to camp with our clean laundry, purchases, sated, tired and the best of friends. Linda, Tracy and Afsoon took a liking to me even though I had been the quietest of the bunch and before the night was over had cornered me about taking them into town again the next morning for the forgotten items and maybe an early lunch. I agreed since they were a fun bunch and food outside of Tracker sounded wonderful again. If only I knew what I was agreeing too…

Red topped Mushroom

Red topped Mushroom

Now before I get into the morning events before the Vision Quest class officially started, I want to expand on the Quest itself more. Most Vision Quests involve fasting (from food, only some will limit water and those are short) and being in some state of quiet and isolation. Every culture has a large history of a Quest, a rite of passage, an experience that takes a child to adulthood transition, a ‘normal’ member of society into the path of Shaman, Healer, Elder, Leader, etc. Regardless of your age or experience in life, purposely going out onto the Earth to reflect and integrate yourself without distraction is a powerful, challenging and often scary, but immensely worth it experience. The Quest we had just signed up for was a 4 day or 96 hour Quest. Only water (unless you have medical reasons to take in a little bit of food) and the most minimum of comforts to protect against the elements. If you’re a sane person and plan out your Vision Quests, it is recommended that you ‘prepare’ yourself at least 6 months in advanced. Wean yourself off that nicotine and caffeine habit. Cut out the alcohol and sugars from your diet, maybe even all salty, fatty foods to help with the withdrawals and cravings. Maybe even do a few juice fasts, prepare your mind and body for being out in the elements with no food, coffee, salt, sugar, and anything else you imbibe on a daily basis to function. Corey, the 3 ladies – Tracy, Afsoon, Linda, and myself had no such preparedness. We didn’t even know about the Quest until two days before it started. Linda was a coffee person, never went without and tea didn’t cut it. Tracy was a big eater, miss triathlon ate like a dire wolf. Afsoon who had every minute of everyday planned with her busy big city life as a lawyer and a mother hadn’t had 4 hours to herself let lone 96 in years! And there I was, with my sick and pain riddled body, medications and horrible past (who really wants to sit in the woods and think about that shit?). All the girls had fears (okay some more than others..Tracy) and concerns.

Linda

Linda (isn’t she pretty in her intense focus?)

So the next morning the 4 of us departed for yet more errands and some food (we had already missed out on ‘being prepared’ we were going out there with a bang and lots of bacon!). Within minutes of being in the Black Dragon, the ladies had dragged me into their lively discussions and had me talking (which can be a feat if you know me in group settings when I have my mind on other things). We stopped for gas, and while we thought we looked pretty good considering (clean laundry gave us this illusion), the young man who pumped our gas ( In New Jersey you do not pump your own gas, its illegal) commented that we ‘looked like we had just gotten out of the woods’. A chorus of laughter followed along with ‘what gave it away?’. Turns out it wasn’t us but the Black Dragon – which was coated in mud. No one had noticed (all the cars look this way in the Pine Barrens) and suddenly it made sense. The young (clearly city) man then asked where we had gone ‘mudding’ – which for those who may not know is taking your 4×4’s that are often decked out for this stuff, off roading for the sole purpose of ‘driving through mud’. I explained that actually we were at an outdoor school and our ‘cool women’ status changed to ‘crazy-scary-woods women’. He walked away from the giggles in the back from Tracy while muttering crazy cackling hens!  More laughter ensued to which he promptly ran away from. Cackling Hens indeed!

After collecting more gear (base layers in case it got cold or rained – as it had just a few days before) and last-minute items we stopped for our ‘last meal’ at The Brunch Spot. Now this place, if you like breakfast foods, you must go to. The owner is wonderful and didn’t kick our loud and crazy asses out! Coffee with real cream!!! – if you have ever been to Tracker, you know what that means, Bacon (oh yes, BACON) and plenty of salty, heavy foods to kick off our week. For starting that evening we would be on a vegetarian and gluten-free (gluten-free is usually what I am, but the others no) diet with close to no animal products, no salt and sugar; till the Quest  in 2 1/2 days – which then would be nothing for 4 days. During lunch, pretty much everyone had a ‘moment’ or more apt  – a total meltdown of what she was about to embark on. The cooks in the back were a little concerned…

The errands done, tearful laughter bonding time, had and a renewed determination to ‘do this’ we settled in for the evening’s intros and lectures. The ‘Questers’ had arrived along with the Protectors – seasoned and trained individuals who worked for EarthHeart or were volunteering their time time make this monster of a Quest happen. It was called the 100 Person Quest. Well a 100 and 20 -something people showed up. Another 30+ in Protecters and Volunteers made the Tracker Camp crowded! Tents everywhere and the dinner line was loong. Don’t ever get us on the subject of the Bobs (porta potties). Over the next two days we prepared the physical side of the Quest (remember, everyone else has prepared their bodies and ideally their minds..). Splitting into 3 large groups, getting the ‘site’ picked out for each of us. For this Quest, we  had to select a 10 ft radius circle in a appointed area to be in for the duration of the Quest. There was a whole system in place so that the Protectors knew where each of their group’s members circle was and what to keep an eye out for and such. You have to place a pre picked object in a marked off area out by the path from the main trail to your circle every morning or the Protectors come in to check on you. This way your ‘alone’ but still being checked on should something come up. Tracy, Afsoon, Linda and Corey were all in my group (yes the ladies stuck together) along with many wonderful people. Our Protectors were wonderful and a couple I am still friends with to this day!

Mushrooms in Moss

Mushrooms in Moss

The two days of preparing passed in a blur. I had started my Antibiotics for the Lyme’s which the lovely miss Aussie M. helped me get. I was still feeling the effects of the Lyme’s and was hoping that the meds would kick in at any moment. I soldiered through the hikes and carrying gear and being awake for the lectures that went until 11pm (we started at 8am). For anyone who hasn’t had Lyme’s, its like the flu (or much worse if your particularly unlucky) without the coughing and other obvious signs of sickness. Every joint, muscle and movement hurts. Your tired. Like. Dead. Tired. Your focus usually goes and stays away (maybe forever..) and overall you just want to curl up somewhere halfway comfortable and die. I (as I tend to) put up a gallant front and pushed through my discomfort with no complaining and didn’t shirk my chores. The high of what I was about to do helped me over most of my fatigue.

Finally it was time. We had our last meal of veggie soup and were now a ‘silent’ camp. We left at Sunrise for our Quest spots. Once out there, we were not supposed to come back until the 4th day’s sunrise. I excitedly hiked in to my area and promptly went back to sleep (so much for the excitement..). The baking afternoon sun woke me and I moved into the shade,set up a ‘place’ for me to lay on (while you were not encouraged, you could take out your sleeping bag if you needed/wanted too, due to my back I took some sleep gear with me so that I wasn’t distract too much by pain) and settled in to watch the sun set. During a Quest you keep any extra gear out of your circle. You do not bring anything that would distract you, no paper, no pen, no nothing. You have a latrine you dig a little ways away from your circle and that’s about it.

White & Green Lichen

White & Green Lichen

Most Questers do a type of ‘stomp’ dance when they feel a emotion come through or need to change it up. Your encouraged to do this dance as much as you need to. Other than the dance, ideally your not daydreaming the entire time, playing with the bugs or grass, leaves, twigs, etc but instead keeping your mind open for the questions you have of yourself and life.  There is a saying that we were told quite a bit that if you had to break the Quest down, it would be like so: 1st  day – physical. You adjust to the action of no action. You feel hungry, bored, anxious, tired, etc. The 2nd day – mental. Your mind is on fire! All these great ideas. If only you had a pen!!! You have entire conversations with yourself. The 3rd day – emotional. Your wonderful, feel great, no more hunger, peace ensures. Then the sadness, the anger, the grief, every emotion you could  ever feel comes through. 4th day – Spiritual. You transcend all things, words have no meaning, the physical has withdrawn to leave a feeling a contentment, your calm water, no upheaving emotions. Or at least that is what one could hope for during their 96 hour Quest.

Left to right: Afsoon, Linda, Joannie, & Tracy before the Quest

Left to right:
Afsoon, Linda, Joannie, & Tracy before the Quest

I wasn’t worried about the hunger, I had done plenty of other fasts before and often forget to eat in my everyday life. I didn’t expect too much trouble with not having anyone around, not speaking or conversing somehow with another person for the next 4 days and 4 nights. I had already spent large amounts of time alone and often seeked it out. Not doing anything sounded quite pleasant provided my brain didn’t run away with me. It was my ’emotional’ side I was most concerned with. What if I had a total onslaught of backed up grief and pain? How is a body supposed to handle all that?

My experiences were as follows: The first day passed in a daze, I was just so tired. I had finally stopped moving long enough that I noticed how bad I felt. I didn’t feel very hungry, more just nauseous from the medication I was taking – now on an empty stomach (in the chaos I had totally forgotten that 1. my original meds needed to not be taken on an empty stomach, 2. the antibiotics for Lyme’s is not just horribly harsh on ones’ stomach, they put your metabolism into overdrive). That night I had to bundled up in all my clothes (quite a bit of warm ones) and was in my 15 degree rated sleeping bag along with a blanket. I was still cold.  I woke myself up when I put my hand on my face (face was outside the sleeping bag, everything else in, my hand felt blistering hot to my cold face! I was shocked by how much the temperature had dropped! I hoped the others were okay, I mean I sleep in Alaska’s winters with the windows open, how would Miss L.A be doing? I figured it was the lack of food and general stress, maybe my hypoglycemia was causing my body to be extra cold. Either way I was glad for the heavy wool socks I had with me in addition to the thermal clothes! Other than the coldness I had an easy night.

I was up early due to an upset stomach and feeling rather poorly. I didn’t put my sleeping stuff up, instead just laid in my circle watching the shadows change as the sun rose. Once I had warmed up with the sun, I shed my clothes and tried to stay in the shade for the rest of the day. It was hot in the sun, I remembered belatedly that my body doesn’t handle antibiotics and sunlight at all and the type of antibiotics I was on your were instructed to stay out of the sun… I felt rather dumb that I hadn’t factored that in when picking my circle. I tried to stay cool, in the shade and move as little as possible. My stomach continued to rebel and I decided that the stomp dance was not going to happen for me; I was simply too dizzy and light-headed. The rest of the day passed in a haze of avoiding the sun, thinking wistfully about apples and my life. I also watched the birds, bugs, sunlight passing through the trees, the clouds, the grains of sand…then I would remember that I should be thinking of mountain moving thoughts, not grains of sand and bugs and food! I had a Humming Bird come right up to me a few times, once almost smacking me in the face. I felt like I was special.

Fuzzy Mushroom

Fuzzy Mushroom

The second night was just as cold and I had a rock in my stomach that was being slowly turned into gravel. I also had to jump up out of my sleeping bag so that the deer that someone else startled into fleeing through the woods didn’t land on me. By the false dawn I was tired and feeling rather drained. The morning was still peaceful and inspiring though. By the afternoon, the sun was up and I was sweating. My thoughts turned to food in a way that I have never before experienced. I had fasted 10 days at a time before and it never fazed me! Even the time I was very thin from being sick and was put on a medication that made me throw up everything single thing I ate (starving and not being able to eat the food in front of you sucks) didn’t leave me feeling like this. My thoughts were consumed by food. I drooled over the memory of last week’s apple and almond butter I had had. I conceived of every kind of food and how to prepare it. I was writing an entire cookbook in my head! The theme was protein. Salmon burgers, sirloin, bacon, elk steaks, cheese and spinach, eggs, and more. I was absolutely driving myself insane. The day passed again in a funk of haze that seemed to never end. I wondered about my friends, I hadn’t heard Afsoon’s tarp rustle, was she still out there? How was Tracy? Hope she was okay. I did have some ground breaking thoughts but usually they were overlayed by thoughts of food.

The third night I wasn’t quite as cold, but I did noticed that my skin on my hands still felt incredibly hot against my face. seemed odd. Was I running a bit of a fever? I was more awake for the evening and was feeling pretty good. I would get to go back tomorrow (I cannot count properly on a good day, so my muddled brain didn’t compute that I had another 24 hours to go..) and sit and sip some soup, eat my stash of protein bars that were in my tent. I was doing good! Sunrise came and with it brought clarity that I had another whole night out here. At this point I was wavering badly I made a sign (out of twigs) for the Protectors to let them know I needed electrolytes before the day was up. I was unable to keep water in my body, even though I was being very careful not to over hydrate (my body doesn’t retain water very well – even when eating salty foods) it was going right through me. But I still managed to put my damn Pinecone out, I was finishing this Quest.

The day passed very slowly. I was ready to head back in, soak in the cool spring, wash the dirt and oils (from the bug repellant) and crap off me and eat. I had yet to stop thinking about food. Everything sounded amazing. I wanted a buffet of sushi, grilled salmon, rare steak, bison burgers, kale, spinach, seaweed salad and anything else that had similar properties. Carbs and sugar didn’t make my stomach growl, only Bambi and Thumper’s salad sounded good. I figured I had finally lost it or became an actual zombie with a desire for health food. I had myself a good cry (at this point I’m hallucinating Salmon Burgers..you’d cry too) and figured I was the weakest person out here that I wanted to be done with this Quest so I could freaking eat! My electrolytes showed up outside my circle’s path and I rehydrated and felt a tad bit steadier.

The fourth night passed slowly starting at me ‘eagerly getting ready for bed about 3 hours before the sun actually set. I reflected on my life and wrote up recipes for Moose stew (Bambi was way too small at this point) in my head. I slept little, it was hot. I watched the sun rise and finally felt like it would be ‘acceptable’ for me to wandered into camp. It was the longest walk of my life. I hadn’t moved for the last 96 hours except to a shader spot and to my latrine. Spots swam as I wandered down the path. My Protectors greeted me with hugs and congratulations. I whispered my first words in days. I made it back to the main fire, Malcolm was sitting there directing those who had just drifted in to some soup and tea, every couple of people who came in he would quietly say something along the lines of ‘just calmly rest and enjoy your soup, try not talk too much and just allow yourself time to reintegrate’. Okay, I could do that, I just wanted to sit anyway. I got some soup, Miso. I didn’t find it tasty and couldn’t finish it. Really!? After hallucinating fish I couldn’t finish some soup? I was hungry, but it tasted wrong to me. I gave it to Dan, he could eat. I didn’t see my other friends, where were they? Sometime later I spotted Linda. She confirmed that she had seen Afsoon, but not Tracy. Where was Tracy? She didn’t leave early and get sent home did she?  Another hour passed before I tracked her down. Tracy was positively bursting with the need to speak, but the camp was supposed to remain mostly silent until the last of the Questers had come back. I didn’t care, everyone was there, Corey had come back looking exhausted but happy. The girls whispered to me that I looked rough. Was I okay? Sit down, we’ll get you water and more soup. Fuck that soup and give me steak tar tar please!

Once everyone had come out the woods, the silent ban was lifted, but camp was still to remain fairly quiet as we were supposed to write everything down before we forgot the details. Well I was tired and most importantly, so fucking hungry. I did try to write, not much came out though. I asked for more food after a rice soup was served, but was told to wait until the next round of food in a few hours, they didn’t want anyone to get sick from eating too much too suddenly. All I wanted was steak. I asked for yogurt, my stomach hurt so damn bad I was afraid I had done permanent damage to it. No yogurt was given, just acidophilus tablets. I found my raw protein bar and ate that. Didn’t throw up or feel sick. My stomach still hurt but at least I felt steadier. I was bombarded with questions from everyone, was I okay? How was I feeling, could they get me rice or soup? Afsoon told me I looked like I had lost at least 20 lbs (no idea if this is accurate). Everyone said I looked pale (paler than the 4 days before at least). And very thin. Clearly the Lyme’s had taken a toll and the meds hadn’t helped the symptoms. I asked if anyone else had frozen their butts off, everyone looked at me like I had spouted horns. Corey talked about how he couldn’t sleep from the heat. Linda mentioned that she hung out in her underwear, even at night due to the heat. Afsoon and everyone else agreed, it had been dammed hot the entire 4 nights, only slightly cooler the 4th night. I was confused, I froze those first two nights and even the 3rd was chilly. They took my temperature. I had a mild fever. Clearly I had been burning up out in the woods and had thought I was just cold from the weather. This was all news to me. The Protectors asked why I hadn’t alerted them to my state. Everyone was concerned but I just wanted a freaking burger. I was told to go soak in the stream to bring my body temp down and they tried to get me to drink more miso soup. I just wanted sushi and maybe some hot chocolate.

Left to right: Tracy, Joannie, Afsoon & Linda after the Quest

Left to right:
Tracy, Joannie, Afsoon & Linda after the Quest

I was doing better by dinner and when Dan (who also had a hard Quest) mentioned that he just wanted a damn burger, I whole heartedly agreed and said that I was contemplating on sneaking out to town just for that reason. Well word spread like fire and the 4 of us ladies and Dan (we were commissioned by Corey to bring him back something) snuck out of camp in the Black Dragon to get us some burgers! We were stopped by a firetruck and the police on the way out of the Pines (at which point everyone thought for sure that the Tracker Gods were smiting us for our delinquent ways..) and question if we knew anything of any party fires. Seems that a group of people set fire to the Pines with their drunken stupidity and the whole of Waretown were out to apprehend them. Once clearing that the fire had indeed been contained and that our beloved Tracker Camp wasn’t about to burn we continued with our ninja burger mission. It was simply too important to double check our tents.

All 5 of us descended upon the poor folks at Shore Fire Grille (yay for being open late!) and ordered anything that had animal products in it. Fries smothered with cheese, avocado, sour cream? Add bacon please. Oh and EXTRA sour cream! Burgers for EVERYONE!  (Any EarthHeart and Tracker staff who read this will think horrible thoughts of us right about now) We inhaled the food and talked like teenagers who had just completed Mission Impossible. Easily one of the best memories of the summer, or possibly ever. We bonded over burgers (no beer needed, we were tipsy off of the cheese) and busting out in the night. Dan is the man for putting up with our laughter and insanity. We went to bed that night with a little extra bounce in our steps. I slept so much better that night with meat in my stomach. Sadly, by morning it was gone and I was back to nuts and rice.

Afsoon smiling at Tracy

Afsoon laughing with Tracy

The next couple of days passed in a whirl wind of attempting to take in what Tom was teaching. We were split into groups of 12-14 people. Soon as The instructors announced it, we had quite a few people jump to our corner of loudness and proclaim to be ‘in our group’. Dan being the good guy he is went to a group that needed more people in it. Corey stayed with us to my delight and a few of the new comers. Our group was a mix match crew of veterans of Tracker and people who had never done anything Tracker, just EarthHeart. We formed a ‘council’ and created a space out in the woods for us to gather to bounce things that Tom was having us do, off each other.

Council Fire

Council Fire

Our group contained two people that stood out to me – V a long time Tracker student who was a quiet (until he started talking) but brash Long Islander with oodles of wisdom for the world and a large blind spot for himself and N. I observed N during the days leading up to the Quest and wasn’t impressed. He seemed.. like the kinda person who only wanted to kick back with a beer and watch ESPN or something else redneck. Yet here he was at a 100 person Vision Question. He was crude, clearly didn’t care what he looked like (to an extreme level even for Tracker) or what people thought of him. Fuck seemed to be his favorite word and his manner of speech was cringe worthy. Soon as N jumped up faster than I would have thought possible for someone who seemed to be going through alcohol withdrawal could, and said he was ‘in our group’ I knew that this guy was about to surprise everyone. V was our ‘Elder’. You always knew that he was about to offer some sage insight to your question. N on the other hand was like two people, one being the total shit head that everyone sees and the other a direct voice for the mysteries of the ‘unknown’ and ‘not yet thought of’. It was beyond awesome having the people in our council that we did. As Tom laid out methods of dealing with the human mind and condition, we struggled to put it on paper and in practice. Some people didn’t stay for the days of lectures and exercises after the Quest. A few due to family/work things or were called away. But quite a few simply needed to leave. Their tanks full for new experiences or their heads unable to assimilate any more information. Our group had two people that left early (names not mentioned) so we adjusted accordingly. Corey grew into himself more with each passing day, N continued to surprise everyone (and I think maybe even himself). V was often the calm in the excitement from the others. Two other nice men were in our council along with the 3 girls – Linda, Tracy, Afsoon and I.

'C' Taking notes

Corey Taking notes

The final day rolled around. I had been at the Tracker School for the last 27 days. Basically a month. I had the chigger bites to prove it! I had dirt ingrained on my skin, my nails would simply have to ‘grow’ out to be clean. I couldn’t have been happier. I had overcome obstacles, meet people who seem to ‘see’ me, made friends and reconnected with a part of myself I had shoved down since Leaving Tennessee. I felt alive (okay more tired and sick, but spiritually alive). I felt more myself than I had since the trial took place in 2010. I might have been a train wreck in terms of events, but I was still me; which is really something I am now told.

Tracy, Afsoon & Linda

Tracy, Afsoon & Linda ~ Element Sisters!

Most of all I formed this quad relationship with 3 women. Linda, Tracy and Afsoon. None of us knew each other before the class. Heck in Philosophy we didn’t talk to each other. If not for all 4 of us spontaneously deciding to stay for a Vision Quest that seemed like the most impulsive and ridiculous thing to do, we would have never made a connection. Tracy quit her job by staying, Afsoon missed over 8 days of work and her little girl. Linda also missed unscheduled work and important appointments with her family. I stayed even though I was already sick and shouldn’t be doing ‘taxing’ things. If not for me being the only one with a car and driving their stinky laundry around, we wouldn’t have made that initial bond. If not for The Black Dragon, busting out of camp for burgers and The Brunch Spot, the bond wouldn’t have solidified. It’s these little seemingly pointless things that created a space for relationships to form. I went through a period where I thought the 3 of them were good friends and I was just the chauffeur who they were being nice too for the sake of having wheels or pity for my loner ways.. It took some convincing on their part that it was more than the car that they like… These 3 women and I have the most intense and insane friendship. The husbands are a little confused at times as was Reuben. Even the Tracker Staff were a little bemused (it takes something special to get a reaction out of them)!  A nickname was coined for us – The Element Sisters. It seems to fit.

After class was officially let out goodbyes said and hugs given, I took the girls into town to get Tracy’s car and to have lunch again at the Brunch Spot. It was decided that Tracy give Afsoon a ride to the New Ark airport and I would take Linda to the Quebec border since her ride flaked out on her at the last-minute. We stayed (thanks to the amazing owner – who remembered us) at the Brunch Spot long after they closed. Laughter, tears and more was shared over what we proclaimed to be the ‘best meal ever’.

The Crew Left to right C, Tracy, Dan, Afsoon, & Linda

The Crew Left to right
Corey, Tracy, Dan, Afsoon, & Linda

The weeks we spent ‘finding ourselves’ in New Jersey (you should see the reactions we get to that statement..) have slowly morphed into a new way of living. While I do not assume to speak for the others, from what I have gathered the change has touched every part of their lives and has brought much. For me its been a slow unfurling. A realization and rememberence of who I am and what I need to do. What being on that path means in regards to other people (the part I could never quite get before) and what it means if I am not on it, to myself. I renewed my commitment to the Journey and accepted the challenges and adversity that comes to those who live outside the box. I embraced that I will often be lonely. I made peace with the fact so many people close to me will deem me as lost. But Mr. Tolkien has it right, ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’ ~ J

* I accept full responsibility for not taking better care of myself and it is not a reflection on the fine people of EarthHeart of Tracker that I was sick for most of my quest.

Black Prickly Mushroom

Black Prickly Mushroom

* July 2013 Since I published this close to a year after it took place, I can honestly say that all the things I wrote are true. The relationship for the 4 girls is stronger than ever. I met up with the Element Sisters for another class this year along with V and N. I connect with Corey randomly and have deep conversations. I even stay in touch with my Kiwi, Dan. Everyone has furthered themselves and grown yet stayed connected in some way. The path takes us to places we  thought we would never go (I’m in Maryland now for Christ’s sake!) and we step into ourselves one more step at a time.

It’s the Journey people, don’t ever lose sight of that!

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One thought on “Philosophy, Vision Quest & life changing times at Tracker School

  1. Pingback: Fall Adventures in the Mix & Joannie’s Birthday | Life Journey

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