I know I just said that I was going to start writing every day in this blog, and here I am a week and a half later with a new post. Any rebuke you wish to offer is warranted, but I hope you can still listen to my story. Dear readers, you haven't seen a new post from me because I have been on a Vision Quest.
Now I know that I'm a little old for such an activity. I went through puberty over a decade ago. But I never found out what my Guardian animal is. How can I attain good medicine if I never learn how to deflect bad medicine? So last week, I left the city and rode my bicycle to Wisconsin. I brought nothing with me but the clothes I was wearing, a pencil and a notepad.
I rode through the night before I pulled over to rest. The road I was on was lightly traveled, so I was able to get a few hours of sleep in before the sun called me back to my quest. I was not yet in thick forest, and hadn't yet seen a real animal, let alone a spirit animal.
The first thing I learned on this trip was to obliterate my anxiousness. As I pedaled, I imagined what my Guardian animal might be. My first hope was for a dinosaur. I used to pretend that I was a Tyrannosaurus all the time when I was a little boy. I snarled and lunged around like a terrifying carnivore. Surely it would make sense if my Guardian animal was that very same spirit that inhabited me as a child. But it would not be the case.
I imagined many vicious beasts as I pedaled. Wildcats, bears, wolves, monstrous reptiles and birds of prey. I wanted my Guardian animal to be a killer.
If not a killer, I hoped for something unique. A giraffe, or shark. A mythical beast like a griffin or dragon. I hoped that my own uniqueness might imply a unique Guardian animal. How cool would it be to tell the medicine man that you saw a creature with seven heads and feathers of colors unseen to the human eye? I wanted my animal to be special.
As I entered into what would be the thickest forest in the universe, these self-centered desires began to reveal themselves to me. By the end of the second day, I had left my bike and set to foot. I saw many birds and squirrels, animals I regularly see in the city. But after a few hours, a beautiful deer crossed my path. I stopped and stared at the doe. It was not scared of me. It gently grazed and went about its business. I began to imagine that it wasn't scared of me because I was becoming more in touch with the spirit world. I couldn't get out of myself. I was so deep in my own existence that I missed the spirit of the deer. All I saw was a physical creature, something that didn't understand my selfishness nor my desires. I was pretending to be holy.
And as soon as it passed, I began to feel disappointed. Nothing special had actually happened just then. I simply saw a deer in the forest, it was nothing special at all. I wondered why I was in the forest, without food, so far from home. This adventure had suddenly struck me as dangerous. But I had no cell phone, and I couldn't find help from another human anywhere in this forest.
It was getting dark, and I was getting scared. What was I doing here? I'm not a Native American. I don't even believe in this stuff. I just appreciate the cultural significance of the Vision Quest, I shouldn't actually embark on one myself. Who was I kidding?
And yet, there I was. I had brought myself all the way out into the wilderness, a modern man with dyed hair and New Balances . What a sham. If there was a spirit world, I was its laughing stock.
That night, I slept against a tree. I had never been more uncomfortable in my life. There were bugs flying in my face and crawling on my skin. For the first few hours I swatted at them. My mind was still in the city. And I wanted to go back there.
But at some point I fell asleep. For all I know, insects probably crawled in and out of me all night. But they didn't wake me.
When I awoke, I felt a painful hunger. Realizing that I had nothing to eat, I decided to go back to my bicycle and find the nearest human residence. Sure, it would be embarrassing, but I would die if I didn't eat. There was a problem though. I couldn't remember where I came from. It was a cloudy day, and I had no idea where the sun was. All I could see was trees. I was dirty, hungry and pathetic. I saw that my childish game had turned into suicide, and I began to punch myself repeatedly in the face. I hated myself.
As I pummeled myself, I saw drops of blood splatter against the green leaves below. The pain felt so pointless, so I continued to hit myself harder and harder, hoping that one of these blows might make sense. But eventually I just got tired. I fell to my hands and knees, groaning and gasping. I thought of the people who love me, and how upset they will be when they find out that I've killed myself. I cried alone in the forest. I bled onto the ground that would be my bed for the rest of my short life.
And this is when I started to abandon my anxiousness. I don't mean purposely, but in hindsight I see this as my turning point. My mind no longer cared about adventure, nor about the unique animal I would see in a hallucination. I didn't even care about telling anyone this story. I was simply a part of the earth. My mind was not blank, but it had rid itself of useless knowledge.
I sat in the forest, in that one spot, for the entire day. The sun never came out. Occasionally animals would walk past me, and I never thought that they might want to communicate with me on some mystical level. I simply saw them. They were beautiful. Ants crawled on me, tickling every part of my body. I didn't swat them.
By the time night fell, I wasn't sad or angry. I looked around at the forest and felt thankful for it. I took my shoes and clothes and put them next to the tree that I had slept on. I don't know why I did this. But it's just what happened.
Now naked, I wandered around in the dark forest. At first I feared for my genitals. They were exposed, and vulnerable. But the longer I walked, the less I thought about my body parts. Eventually, I lost all sense of my limbs. I moved forward, but my physical body wasn't what moved me.
Each tree passed by my eyes like pedestrians on the sidewalk. Each one unique, offering height and strength and support. The sun was completely gone, but the clouds remained. There were no stars, nor moon. It was inexplicably dark. At this point, I don't know if I continued to move forward or drifted into a dream, but I never lost consciousness.
Moving through darkness eventually became less scary. I would move forward, despite whatever lurked in front of me. It must have remained nighttime for days, because this forest would not end. It was almost like death, an eternal darkness that could only be experienced outside of physical forms. But I never had this thought as I experienced the darkness. My thoughts were on moving forward. My mind was set on experiencing the forest's magnitude. If I was hungry, I didn't know it.
When I saw the buffalo, it was just as dark as the blackness around me. It looked at me from a distance, and began to speak as I approached.
"There will be snowflakes all around your neck, and you will hear."
I did not respond.
"You are not supposed to be here. You will die if you stay."
I knew what the buffalo meant. It wasn't a threat.
"There is nothing to do now. Climb trees and eat repeatedly. If you were my father I could bring you into my fold, but we are not shepherds in the forest."
I was overcome with sadness. Weeping uncontrollably, I apologized to my guardian animal.
He stared back at me. I knew he would leave soon, so I forced myself to stop crying. I looked directly at the buffalo, stood up straight, and felt the wet twigs and leaves beneath my feet. It started to rain, and I looked up at the sky to see stars. They were shining so brightly that I could tell exactly at which point in the universe I was standing.
When I brought my head back down, the buffalo was gone. I smiled as the moon emerged to show me the way back to the tree I had slept on.
When I woke up, the sun was warming my bruised face. The pain was throbbing. My clothes were damp from dew, but I put them on.
Before I walked back to my bicycle, I took my pencil and notepad and spent the next two hours drawing my guardian animal. It was a creature so typical to the Vision Quest tale, so very far from what my definition of "unique" was. Nor was it a carnivore. And I was not upset.
I found my bicycle on the edge of the forest. I walked it back onto the road. I began to ride back home, where I had no medicine man to talk to, where I had no tribe to welcome me back. But I knew that I was a modern man. I knew that I wasn't a Native American.
There was a patriotism that seeped into my heart as I pedaled, but not for the country I live in.
The strength I have will remain for now. But not all of my stories will end so agreeably.