A long time ago–about twenty years past–I went on the last of three separate wilderness trips, patterned loosely on the Vision Quest model of the Native American people. It involves going into a national wilderness area as a small group, and then splitting off solo to seek out an area to do your own four-day fast and meditation. No food at all, but carrying a supply of water. It’s an awesome and memorable experience.
This trip was into the Inyo Mountains, in the eastern Sierra Mountains of California. The first photo is of our small group, led by a well-experienced guide. The second shot is of me on the day that we all split up to go to our earlier selected fasting site well away from any of the others, but with a pre-agreed boundary post that we would leave a marker each day to let our ‘buddy’ know we were alright.
The next photo was a sketch I did of a lone Bishop Pine tree that grew on the crest of the hilltop I was camped on. I’d noticed it each day that I wandered the hillside and surroundings. On this third day of fasting, I spotted a flutter of white cloth in the tree. I went to investigate, and found a tied white bundle buried in the crotch of the tree. I undid the bundle and found a two-part smoking pipe, four small sealed cloth medicine pouches, sprigs of sage, and large eagle? feathers. Of course I wondered how they’d come to be there, and what was the right thing to do about this find? That night was a weird one of troubled dreams, one of which was very unsettling. I decided to take the pouch down to our final group assembly where we typically discuss our reflections of our solo days of fasting. The next photos show a couple of details of the medicine bundle that I unfurled to show the group. Some thought I could keep the bundle, a couple thought I shouldn’t. In the end, I elected to return to my site and replace the bundle. The guide learned later that a local chief had died in the recent past and it was conjectured that perhaps it had to do with that event. Later on, I conferred with a friend who was a Native American spiritual leader, from the Pitt River band, who visited prisons around California to conduct spiritual ceremonies for incarcerated Indians. He said I could have kept the medicine bundle, as I had come into it in a valid manner. In fact, it would have probably been the only way I could have properly claimed it.
I’ve thought about this event many times, and wonder again what I should have done.