A Reflection by Timothy Hass, WILD’s Trustee

I know that for many people, venturing into wilderness areas is a very important element for health and balance in their lives. I feel this as well, but also, for me, the nature directly around me is equally important. I also consider our home an aspect of nature. My father worked for the Department of Agriculture as a soil conservationist. His particular joy was teaching nature to children. His favorite activity with them was going on what he called a “mini safari”. During their walks, they would stop, and he would have everyone focus on a square foot of land. There, he would go into great detail, talking about all the “wildlife” in that small space – the grasses, the plants, the bugs, the insects, the soil, and much more. We often hope to see a bear, elk, or fox and can fail to notice the amazing in the mundane.

This was particularly brought to my attention when I did my first vision quest with my Shaman mentor. I spent weeks in preparation, carefully making four hundred and ninety prayer ties for my four nights. There were 70 ties, each a different color representing the seven directions (North/East/South/West/Above/Below and within). For each tie, a pinch of tobacco was grasped, and a prayer was done. The tobacco was then placed into a carefully cut piece of cloth (one of the colors). These ties were fastened together on a red string that would be laid on the ground, creating the circle of protection within which one had to stay during the four-day quest. The quest is not really for you but for sharing with your larger community. The preparation also included, on the day before the quest, a long sweat lodge and a journey to submerge in a nearby river to work with the water spirits.

The next four days were times of prayer without food and with some water. Now this quest was in an area where there were bears, wild boars, coyotes, cougars – all the usual suspects. With a tiny red thread and 490 prayer ties as my protection for an area I was not to leave at any time, needless to say, I was on high alert. The movement of a caterpillar along the ground made a cacophony of sound as if a giant dinosaur was moving across the land. As a result, at first, I was not as focused on my prayers as I should have been.

My first night, I was grabbed by the ankles. As something tried to pull me out, I fought to stay inside the circle. I called out and had the felt sense of a coyote spirit coming to my aid. It somehow helped me to break free, and I was able to stay in the space. I was totally freaked out. Who was this? I could see nothing around me. Did I imagine it? The grasp of my ankles had a totally physical feeling. When the Shaman came by the next morning to check on me, and I told him about it, he replied, “Yes, it was a test. The Native American spirit that tested you is standing behind you. If you hadn’t gotten back inside, it would have been all over.” Although I later found out that what he meant was that the quest would have been over, at the time, I thought he meant I would have died had I been pulled out of the circle. The possibility of death can suddenly make things serious! I became very serious about my praying.

The next day, during my intense praying, a small monarch butterfly came and landed on my thigh near my knee. It waited until it had my attention. Then it turned toward the east and opened and closed its wings four times. Next, it turned toward the north and opened and closed its wings four times. It continued with the same sequence of motions, four times to the west, and then four times to the south. Having completed turning to each direction, the butterfly raised its wings up to the heavens and circled four times as it opened and closed its wings. It finished by bowing to the earth. The small monarch then flew to a small tree within the sacred space and stayed there for the remainder of the quest, during which time other butterflies would come and check on it. The vision of this butterfly taught me that in each direction there is more than one element. The four wing movements showed that, for instance, the east was not just air, but Air/Air, Air/Earth, Air/Fire, and Air/Water. Each of the directions contained all four elements. Using the insight from the butterfly, I was able to create an exercise to balance the four elements within us and share it with my larger community.

Our homes are filled with the power of the four elements, Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. The artifacts we humans create and fill our spaces with are all made from the elements. As the medicine people around the world share, all things are alive in their way, whether they are animate or inanimate, and we need to honor them. We are surrounded by life whether we are in the wild or in our home, encircled by human creations.

We have a bull snake family that lives under our front porch. The matriarch has regularly left a skin in the front garden for years now. The latest one being close to 7 feet long. I have the collection of skins hanging in my meditation room. I consider her the guardian of our home. I honor her every day and also the other multitude of life in our home and yard – exciting and mundane- seen and unseen. The tiny butterfly taught me long ago not to overlook the wisdom in all things. Love of Nature and Conservation begins in the heart and for me in the home.

– Timothy Hass, WILD’s Trustee

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