Great Mystery

Beyond the trials and tribulations of day to day life, mistakes and successes, there lie the Trust and Beauty of the Great Mystery.

Really, words and logic fail to describe it.  Ever hold a sleeping infant?  It’s kinda like that.

In a world ravaged by injustices, abuses, wars, holocausts, diseases, extinctions, it’s not easy to access..

And yet, when we look beyond ourselves – it’s there.

Alyosha Wilding's photo.
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The Art of Gratitude

gratitude quotes

 

Recently, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the importance of gratitude, my interest sparked by the inner shifts I’ve begun to feel since diving into a culture revolving around gratitude here at Twin Eagles Wilderness School in northern Idaho a couple of weeks ago. This is what I have to share..

I grew up in an atheist nuclear family, and aside from saying things like please and thank you, there hasn’t really been an emphasis on expressing thankfulness. I think that’s just the way the cards fell for us – life in the Soviet Union was not easy, and in addition to that public expression of gratitude was discouraged politically (and through that, I think, socially), unless it was directed to the highly dysfunctional (to say the least) Communist political system. At least, this is my theory, something to help me understand the cultural patterns I may have inherited – the Soviet Union/Russian cultures are pretty messed up in some ways. Low life expectancy (especially for men), lots of alcoholism, scarcity, trauma from wars and famines and repressions..

communism
When we moved to the United States, we at first settled in the New York City’s borough of Staten Island. Surprisingly, my father began taking us to synagogues, for us to get in touch with our Jewish roots (for cultural reasons). I began to take get curious what the whole communion with God deal was about. I was 11-13 years of age, and I think I wanted guidance, to feel connected to something beautiful and powerful outside of myself. I remember even praying to little amulets with iconic images of Russian Orthodox saints, gifted to my mother by her mother.
And then something happened.. one early mornings, at one of the local Jewish prayer congregations in someone’s basement, I lost the desire to continue to exploration. As usual, we were repeatedly asked to stand and sit, while the Rabbi sing-songed the prayers in a language I did not understand. The men, the traditional Hassidites, had little prayer boxes wrapped around their hands. As they muttered their prayers, and bowed in little repeating bows, I watched a young man in front of me, wearing the traditional wide-brimmed hat and blond pesos (curled sideburns), yawn and wipe his glasses – WHILE STILL BOWING. It hit me then.. “this is all fake”.

jewish prayer

And I turned my back on religion, and the outlet for thanksgiving that it provides, and retreated into a world of books, television, and computer games. It was not helpful that I went to a New York City middle school where not only there was no emphasis on gratitude, but daily I was faced with a kid culture seemed in the PTSD of poverty and violence – and the resultant disrespect, bullying, and violence. I retreated further and further.

school

One door remained open for me – the wilderness. We spent many summers vacationing in upstate New York, renting little rooms in bungalo colonies. And later while in college, every weekend, no matter what else was going on in my life, I would walk many miles on the trails of the local state forest. In the woods, I was able to relax and find a sense of some kind of connection I could not quite name..

That sense of connection grew as I immersed myself into the Wilderness in a more dedicated way in my 20’s. I spent a year in such an immersion at Teaching Drum Outdoor School, and also many months afterwards in immersions in Wisconsin and elsewhere. I began to feel an appreciation for my new-found Home – the wild Earth. The plants and animals and fish fed me, clothed me, gave me shelter. The waters quenched my thirst and cleaned my body. The fire kept me warm and fed me on all levels. Through close communal living, I learned to appreciate other people’s unique energies and gifts. Through my connection with the wilderness/community culture, I sat in many circles where gratitude was expressed during meals, fests, and in sweat-lodges. Yet I still did not fully Feel it.. if you know what I mean.

manoomin gathering

In the past few years, this has begun to change. A big part of the process has been the time I’ve spent in the woods on my own – camping, reflecting, writing, feeling. This has helped me to get in tough with stuck fears and painful memories of the past. I’ve learned to release them through acknowledgment – and sometimes the process of grieving. I know that I’m in a different place where I even feel grateful for the hardships that I’ve gone through – because they have brought me to where I am today, and I am that much stronger and more aware.

Sun in Hand

Another piece to the change has been my work at a Wilderness Therapy center (New Vision Wilderness) – I am a part-time field staff, and I do a week-long shift about every month or so. It’s a very progressive company, and they include various scientifically-proven healthy coping mechanisms into the treatment program – such as a gratitude meditation which also includes body-awareness, in order to teach the youth how to work through their dysfunctional emotional reactions. I had the privilege of witnessing huge changes in our clients as a result of this work, and got even more convinced of its value.

Benefits_of_Gratitude

And the last piece, which is very present in my life right now, is the culture and teachings of a wilderness skills school (Twin Eagles Wilderness Skills School) here in northern Idaho, where I am currently volunteering. We work long, full days with groups of kids. Yet no matte what, every morning we the staff stand together and express gratitude and set positive intention for the day. And after work, we likewise get together and speak gratitude for things that took place during the day. It’s a meditative experience during which I feel a peace and connection to everything around me settle into my heart, and a positive outlook enter my worldview. Fears and judgments subside.  And we do the same with the kids – when we get together in the morning, and before meals – sometimes through simple words, sometimes through songs..

balloon child

So now, especially when I feel confused and disconnected, or scared, I have begun to intentionally focus on gratitude, and Speak out-loud the things I am grateful for. It sometimes starts small.. like the green of the trees, and then snowballs into everything around me.. and through that lifts me up and places me where I belong – clarity about life-question suddenly comes! It is no wonder that the practice of gratitude and thankfulness are central to pretty much every indigenous culture or religious belief. It’s a ceremony that reminds us to re-focus on what is truly important in life, that sacred connection with All That Is..

Today, I am feeling a mix of feelings.. on one side there is concern about the drought here in the West, and fear about what our planet’s changing climate means for us humans and for all other creatures that live. I feel sadness about my physical distance from my loved ones on my current journey. And, at the same time, I feel immensely grateful for all the beauty of life that I see all around me, the majesty of the mountains, the sacredness of the streams and lakes.. wowsers!

NA prayer

Also, I am learning that gratitude can (and perhaps must) be turned inward – I also feel grateful for myself, maybe even in some new ways – as a result of self-evaluation after a staff meeting where we spoke to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I have a feeling that in some ways this is a new frontier for me – to really value parts of myself that I’ve often brushed aside as insignificant. Yes.

self love rumi

(And can’t help but also share this one: :)):

self love cat

As always, would love to hear any feedback from anyone who might stumble on these ramblings..

In Gratitude,

Aloysha

paysage

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Into the West

In The Heart Of The Forest

The story of my current adventure.  I write this not from my home-range of Northern Wisconsin, but from Spokane, Washington. A medium-sized sprawling city on the Washington side of the Washington/Idaho border. About to get into some exciting work, and meet some cool people. This is how it all came about.

For one week, I was a tourist in the Yellowstone and the Grand Teuton national parks. It was a family trip – me, Moma Olga, Dad Michael, dad’s cousin Varik and his wife Bronya. Every day, my dad spear-headed our early-morning get-ups and subsequent day-long forays into the strange wild beauty of those lands. We, along with hundreds of tourists from world-over, watched geysers shoot into the air boiling water and steam. We watched bubbles form and pop on the surface of acid pools, filling the air with the smell of sulfur, as if it were some kind of…

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Into the West

The story of my current adventure.  I write this not from my home-range of Northern Wisconsin, but from Spokane, Washington. A medium-sized sprawling city on the Washington side of the Washington/Idaho border. About to get into some exciting work, and meet some cool people. This is how it all came about.

For one week, I was a tourist in the Yellowstone and the Grand Teuton national parks. It was a family trip – me, Moma Olga, Dad Michael, dad’s cousin Varik and his wife Bronya. Every day, my dad spear-headed our early-morning get-ups and subsequent day-long forays into the strange wild beauty of those lands. We, along with hundreds of tourists from world-over, watched geysers shoot into the air boiling water and steam. We watched bubbles form and pop on the surface of acid pools, filling the air with the smell of sulfur, as if it were some kind of scene from Dante’s journey into hell. With the back-drop of snow-capped mountains, we watched herds of buffalo and elk graze the tender grasses of the volcano-and-glacier-created landscape. The streams and lakes were clear and cold. And the sun shone and shone.. We bonded as a family, with about fifteen million pictures (courtesy of Mom) to prove that is all really did happen.

On the inner level, I had the opportunity to ask myself what’s keeping me to being present to the beauty all around me, and thus acknowledge and work with my subtle fear-of-the-future-lack-of-self-trust voice that is so often in the background.  When doing that work, I felt quite connected with who I truly am.  And on a related and different note, I had the opportunity to practice speaking my needs and being an adult around my family – an oldie but a goodie :).

Buffalo.  Being close to one is pure magic.

Buffalo. Being close to one is pure magic.

Hot Spring, colored by thermophylic microorganisms

Hot Spring, colored by thermophylic microorganisms

Geyser.  More magic.

Geyser. More magic.

While there, I received an email advertising a volunteer position at a nature awareness school for kids out of northern Idaho (Twin Eagles). I listened to m gut, and it told me to go for it. I sent in my request, and after some conversations, I decided to go for it. I would have only a week to go back for the start of the job, which would last a little over a month. As the days went on, I began to understand with my head as to why I made that choice.

For a long while now, I’ve been getting more and more disillusioned with the ways at the wilderness school where I spent so much time over the past decade – Teaching Drum Outdoor School. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of really wonderful things about the rewilding work that goes on there, and the people who live, play, and toil together to make it all happen. However, the things that don’t work for me have become more than I could handle, and after a long while of feeling powerless and depressed about it, I realized that it is time do something different, even if it meant going through the grief of leaving the people and land that I love.
Basically, the community’s leader habit (as well as the habit of some others) to factually state what supposed dysfunctions go on for those around them (especially when someone disagrees with their opinion about various things) has become quite grating. As did the hierarchial structure of the school and community, which I saw prevented folks from getting some of their needs met and truly feeling like the opportunity to steer the direction of their lives. Over and over, I felt rejected and shut down, and at last it became too much. I can say much more about all this.. Perhaps the subject for another post, in which I can explore the full extent of the issues and my hurt and sadness around it all – an important process for me – just today tears came once again.

And so, I’ve been reaching out, looking to learn other ways of relating, looking for opportunities to test myself, to learn about myself, to grow in skill, to contribute to a group who I believed in and who believed in me. A part-time wilderness therapy job for the past half a year helped to fill that gap, and while I learned a lot about how to help people through stuff (and am so immensely grateful for it), I understood that it’s not a sustainable job or community – the intense mental-health work put my nervous system on such over-drive that I began to dread coming back to each shift.

Wilderness Therapy - a journey of beauty and struggle

Wilderness Therapy – a journey of beauty and struggle

And then, the offer came. To teach kids nature awareness in a very well-thought-out way, and in the process receive training of how to be a good mentor. Wow. Nice. And of course, the eco-region of the place -the north-Western mountains and valleys – which has so captured my heart, played a part as well. And an August visit to the Olympic Peninsula to visit with my friends and fish for Salmon is that proverbial cherry on top. Future is uncertain, exciting and sometimes scary, and opportunities abound. In the process, I am learning about who I am and what I want. When the time is right, I hope to find myself living in a caring circle, living my vision, feeling like I am making a difference, feeling secure in my connection to the land. In other words, having that proverbial home, inside and out.

Some say that I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one.. -John Lennon

Some say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one..
-John Lennon

Getting back to the trip.. I flew back, packed up my things, said my goodbye 😦 to my friends, picked up a craigslist ride-share person who needed to go in the same direction, and left. We drove through the night, and talked a lot (well, mostly he talked and I listened). I love how life sometimes can bring us gifts at the most unexpected times!

This man, at 56, has been both a pauper and a high-powered Chief Financial Officer for a number of high-end corporations. It was fascinating to learn what he was about. As he drank copious amounts of coffee and alcohol, tried not to exceed the speed limit with my car, and jabbered on, I could see that the high-stress life of risk, adventure, and immoderation was what lit his fire. He described to me the complexity, beauty, and weaknesses of the economic system, and regaled me with tales of million-dollar deals, hiking giant mountains, dating emotionally complex people, and writing about mathematical theories that explained spiritual Intendedness. And also of his divorce, the emotional impact of which spun him around and landed him in the place of openness and poverty in which I encountered him.  I also watched him engage in subtle manipulative patters with me and other.. a skill that was no doubt of great value in his former life.

The beautiful Yellowstone River.  I met her again, this time at a rest-stop in Montana, at dawn.  I tried to go down to the water, but the incline was too steep..

The beautiful Yellowstone River. I met her again, this time at a rest-stop in Montana, at dawn. I tried to go down to the water, but the incline was too steep..

With some of his last money, he sponsored a lavish motel room for us for one nights and bought me food, as he had a deal in the works which he was confident would come through. It had not at the time of our partying, and he was getting nervous. I was glad to say good-bye to him, as his lifestyle and my need for reflection did not mesh together very well. I wished him well, especially in living out his vision to convince rich folks that helping the poor is good for the economy, and thus for them – especially through sponsoring poor inner-city kids to attend summer camps and other such growing opportunities (something that turned his life around when he was growing up in the ghetto of Milwaukee).

And now, somehow, I am here, alone, in a western city (just for the night, I hope). My little car packed to the brim, the future spreading out in front of me like the giant and endless Western Sky. What dreams may come. Stay Tuned.

Spokane.  A sprawling automobile-centered metropolis.  Sigh.

Spokane. A sprawling automobile-centered metropolis. Sigh.

The Western Sky..

The Western Sky..

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Wild Leek Harvesting

Leeks. Ramps. The Wild Onions of damp hardwood forests. In Ojibwe, an Algonquin language, they are called Zhigagowans. That’s where the name for Chicago comes from – in case you were wondering. They grow all over.. here in northern Wisconsin, the Appalachians, Sweeden, Germany..  They are delicious and nutritious, great with eggs, in stews, and in stir-frys.

Field of Leeks

Field of Leeks

And they just came, and went, leaving us with great bounty.

After a weekend of gathering wild plants and burning bowls with a Boyscout troop, I got to it. Me and my friends went into the woods, and spent a number of hours, over three days, harvesting these delicious spring ephemerals. We had a small space of time – about a week – to get the job done, as the Leeks come out shortly after the last frost, and wilt away into a yellow slimy mess when the maples towering above them leaf out, thus creating intolerable shade.Alyosha GatheringTwo harvesters

As usual before a harvest, we laid down an offering of gratitude, and began clipping the leaves. It’s easy – just clip of a leaf (or several leaves), put it in the bag, and move on. We were careful to not harvest more than a third from each patch – preferably just one leaf from each individual plant. Leeks take years to reproduce. As far as I know they only do it through bulb division. Speaking of the bulbs – they are delicious as well, but we also avoided them for the same reason: to not destroy the patch. When all was said and done, we had 80 stuffed quart-size ziplocks in the freezer, enough to last us through the year.

Nanda Bagging

Nanda Bagging

Alyosha Bagging

Alyosha Bagging

It was a beautiful time – late spring.. when everything was wet, it was warm, and the mosquitoes were not out yet (although there were a few ticks). Among the Leeks grew Spring Beauties, Trilliums, and Tiger Lilies. The sun shone, the clouds flew by, and the forest smiled at the human foragers engaging in the Circle. And it was Good.

Nanda Drinking

Nanda Drinking

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To Kill a Squirrel.

(warning.. some graphic linguistic imagery)

For months now I’ve been shooting my bow.  Target-practice, mostly.  I set a piece of bark, or a stick set up in the woods, with a slight rise behind it, pace out twenty yards or so, and shoot.  The bow is a simple recurve, and old “Bear”, 46 pounds.  Shoots fast and straight.  It’s well made, in a factory, as are the arrows.  Not my ideal – I’d rather make my own bows and arrows.  And I have, but they are sub-par in quality.. so for now I stick with what works in the moment.  (Yet the dream remains.. I’m still continually fletching the dowels passed on to me by my pimitivist dead friend’s girlfriend with roadkilled turkey feathers and roadkilled deer sinew.  And in storage sits my gigantic Green Ash bow, slow and unwieldy, which I hope to one day chisel down into something a little more practical.).

So every few days I shoot, until my fingers weaken, or rub raw, or Raynauld’s syndrome sets my fingers on fire with cold-induced pain.  It’s the enactment of an old dream.  I remember when I was camping in the Crimea with my parents and relatives, I learned that I am Saggitarius.  Half-horse, half-man, bow in hand.  That resonated with me.  I made bows with shoots and rubber bands, and imagined I was a Roman warrior or an Indian.  I was 10.

Now Horse is a spirit-guide, and the bow is often by my side.  And three days ago I shot a squirrel.

He was my first bow-kill.  It was a powerful experience..

I set out on a hunt, to bring in some meat for my friends who were with me during Suckerfish Camp.  One of them, the 9-year old, hated fish, and I wanted to provide a tasty morsel he might enjoy.  I walked for half an hour in the forest, keeping the wind in my face.  Barely any movement.  Returning back to camp, I slowly circled, and noticed a young red squirrel scrounging on the ground, about fifteen yards away.  Knowing the Cycles, I guessed that he just got kicked out of his nest, has no territory, is hungry and stressed.

Indeed, as I raised my bow and aimed, he did not give any sign that he cared.  Inexperience..  I shot.  missed.  The field-pointed arrow stuck out of the ground a few inches in front of him.  Not having another arrow, I slowly approached and removed the arrow from the ground, reloaded.  He just went a few feet off, and continued eating.  I shot again.  I heard squeals..

My heart racing, I approached.  He was shot through his stomach, pinned to the ground, some of his guts poking out.  The next moments are a little bit of a blur.  I knew I had to kill him quickly.  I stomped with my foot, and he curved around and bit my shoe.  I stomped again, and then picked up a stick and hit him on the head.  I reached for my knife, thinking to sever his spinal cord, but he quieted down.  I held him, feeling life leave him, his body stiffen into rigos mortis.

Why is it that killing mammals so hard?  I just came back from killing fish down at the creek, hundreds of them?  Did not have similar sorrow..  I walked back to camp, holding the Suirrel by the tail, and was joyfully greeted by my camp-mates.  I waited for some time before processing him, to wait out any muscle spasming to subside (that freaks me out even with fish, reminds of the caught wild pigs I hung out with every day in California for a few months, who one day got shot and butchered by their drunk captors, their flesh quivering as it hung from the trees), and for my nerves to come down.  Then I skinned and gutted him, a familiar procedure..

That night we feasted, as usual, mostly on wild foods – squirrel included.  I thought about how, through creating death, I feel so much closer to life.. a very visceral sensation.  And holding respect and honor for both Predator and Prey in my heart – in some ways this felt like a cheap kill.. he was not experienced.. if he had been, he would have been up a tree chattering away, warning the whole forest of my approach.. he was hungry and stressed – yet is this not how it goes, the young and weak and inexperienced get picked off, does it not?

My confidence as a Hunter is a notch higher and his skin is a permanent fixture in my car torn-out, blood-stained belly spot and all – reminder of the many lessons therein.

Thank you Squirrel, Adjidamoo, Belychonok.

Red Squirrel.

Red Squirrel.

Honoring Squirrel, and his lesson of Life and Death, his skin on the Dashboard.

Honoring Squirrel, and his lesson of Life and Death, his skin on the Dashboard.

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Sucker Fishing, Part 2

Ray and Rene joined me for a few days in camp. It sure is a lot more fun to have my loved ones camp with me! And just as they came, the Suckers came in full force as well. We fished for three more evenings, and as we did, we filled cooler after cooler. At some points I had trouble not stepping on fish while wading in the stream! And they became a lot easier to catch, distracted by the mating. There were times when a raised net yielded as much as 5 in one shot! Boy, the reproductive urge… can sure get us into tough places.. I can relate :).

The act of sucker-fishing is a lot of fun. Something like a cross between sport and gambling.. a healthy outlet of that hunting instinct. Rene and his friend Diindiis even did some fish-tickling.. It involves tickling the belly of the fish to get it to relax, and then grabbing it out of the water. They had success with at least one each! And the setting was amazing.. warm (though the water was cold), no mosquitoes, rushing waters, wisps of Spring all around, getting ready to explode unto the land.

In the end we filled a chest freezer – should be enough to get us through the year, even with the eventuality of a poor Cisco-fish year. It felt good to stop.. I began to wonder if we are taking too many.. I certainly had no intention of drastically reducing the population.

Now the gear is drying, and the camp is taken down. A week’s worth of break for me for work, and then on to Leek Camp!

Coyote, quick and deadly as the latest Jet Fighter model, doing his thing.

Coyote, quick and deadly as the latest Jet Fighter model, doing his thing.

Adjul, the mighty fisherman, enjoying the great outdoors

Adjul, the mighty fisherman, enjoying the great outdoors

Rene the Fisherkid, bringing food to his people.

Rene the Fisherkid, bringing food to his people.

Ray and Addjul.  Sometimes team-fishing is efficient.  Scaring fish into nets that are blocking off main water-flow arteries can bring a big catch.

Ray and Addjul. Sometimes team-fishing is efficient. Scaring fish into nets that are blocking off main water-flow arteries can bring a big catch.

Thank you Suckers!

Thank you Suckers!

Me and part of teh evening's catch.  Yay.

Me and part of the evening’s catch. Yay.

Somehow killing helps to plug into life, to appreciate the cycle that Is.

Somehow killing helps to plug into life, to appreciate the cycle that Is.

Ray, back at camp, enjoying the evening meal.  Of course, Suckerfish is on the menu!

Ray, back at camp, enjoying the evening meal. Of course, Suckerfish is on the menu!

Rene, surprisingly, is not a big fish eating fan.  Here he is hiding behind a Muscrat ribcage, his evening fare.

Rene, surprisingly, is not a big fish eating fan. Here he is hiding behind a Muscrat ribcage, his evening fare.

However, a mini-teepee is nothing to be shy about.  Nice one.

However, a mini-teepee is nothing to be shy about. Nice one.

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