Last spring I started on an 11 month wilderness immersion
program in northern Wisconsin near the Nicolet National Forest.
I embarked on this adventure with my two children, ages 5 and
12, but without their father—my life partner Chuck. My older son
returned home after 2 months and I thought I would also return
then, but have been learning so much, I have stayed on. After 5
months in the woods away from computers, cars, time pressures
and all the other conveniences and demands of modern life, I am
finally ready to try and make a dead-line and write an update
about my time.
First I want to say: Riverwest, I miss you!!
Being away has helped me see even more clearly what a wonderful,
beautiful and vibrant neighborhood we have!
So what am I learning?
I helped build a wigwam I now live in! And I am now part
of a team building a lean-to: all with knives and tomahawks as
our only tools. It is true beyond a shadow of a doubt that we
can live without our modern conveniences and be comfortable,
healthy, and happy.
I have also learned:
• to see each moment as an opportunity,
• to go slow and to act with care,
• to make sure I am listening.
• that natural living (sitting without chairs, walking,
canoeing…) is the best physical fitness program there
is. I have not been so fit or flexible since I was a 24
year old dancer. 🙂
As an urban gardener and practitioner of permaculture, I
am excited to be growing a deeper relationship with the trees,
plants, and natural systems.
My list of lessons could go on, but today I feel an even
deeper lesson. Many nights we have story telling around a fire
or in a lodge around a candle. Last night a story was shared by
one of the more experienced participants in the program. It was
about his first time “hiking” at night. The story was about
fear; fumbling through the woods carrying a canoe that banged
into trees making an enormous racket, getting lost, a heart
racing with fear because he was imagining that a huge man
carrying an ax was chasing him; scaring an animal that screamed
like fighting cats, falling down hills, more fear, owls
screeching from above, a bear running by breaking down trees,
exhaustion, and in the end a task that was not completed. As the
story closed many of us were rolling with laughter. Then one of
the children asked how big the man with the ax was and if he was
real. Chris, the story teller, said yes, he was real: real in his mind.
Once a month we walk into our support center to use the
phones and computer. This morning was one of those mornings so I
woke up before the first light was showing in the sky and walked
with four other participants (including a 6 and a 9 year old)
through the dark woods and miles down a dark road. We started by
holding hands and laughing as we went down a path we could only
feel but not see in the cloudy night with no moon. We talked
about how we felt like we were part of a ten-legged organism. If
the head of our chain went off the path the back of our chain
was still on it and could feel the path underfoot. In this way
the rear could help the leader come back to the path with little
Near our support center we saw our first houses, many
which had lights that appeared to have been on all night and I
thought about the story of the night before. I also thought
about the electrical “energy drip,” a constant slow loss of
electricity that no one is really using but that is flowing
through our energy grid and being wasted—such as all the little
red lights on appliances that are on 24 hours a day all year. I
realized that we as a nation are cutting down whole mountains to
mine coal to power lights that are on simply because many of us
are scared of the dark. I know I have left the lights on when I
was alone and scared.
Just thinking of all the houses in the United States with
lights on because most of us are scared of the dark is mind
boggling. And as I walked I realized the fear goes beyond the
literal fear of the dark to fear of our vulnerability, the
unknown, and fear of death. I thought about how fun the dark
could be when you did not fear it, when you shared it with
Upon my arrival at the support center I learned that a
friend passed away from breast cancer. And as I cried for her,
missing my own family; I realized I could feel my pain and not
be scared of it. I suddenly knew that the pain and fear, the
dark inside me, could be felt and embraced and I would be fine.
Living away from my son and partner for most of a year to
be out in the woods with no running water does sound crazy to me
and yet we are all living in a crazy world. The fact that I have
helped destroy mountains because I have been scared of the dark
is also crazy. The news I read as I arrive here seems crazy.
Today, in honor of Alisa and her family and all in my Riverwest
community whom I have not seen in so long, I recommit myself to
being in the moment, and to releasing fear. I will live as
simply as I can. I will not harm our planet or any of the other
people and creatures I share it with because of fears. I commit
to sharing the dark and to loving unconditionally those around me—knowing that is the way to work with the dark.
Let us all remember the dark is always there. If we let
our fear of the dark overcome us, then we go out of balance, but
if we live in the moment and support one another in the
darkness, then we can handle it.