When Nancy King celebrated her 80th birthday with a vision quest ceremony in rural Quebec, she carried a lifetime of self-doubt into the forest with her. Today, she's free from all that. Find out what happened.
Not everyone celebrates their 80th birthday alone in the wilderness for four days and four nights . But that's exactly what writer Nancy King elected to do when she signed up for a spiritual Vision Quest. Discover how she manages to tamp down fear and ready herself for the woods as she prepares for the big event.
Mary Ann Treger is a talker. When she's not talking, she's texting or emailing or surfing social media sites. Being connected is her cocaine. Even alone at home, political pundits yak on the television in the background. So why would this motor-mouthed writer go cold turkey and sign up for a silent retreat in an isolated abbey where shutting-up is the numero uno requirement? Read on...
I am sweating profusely. My pores are so overrun with liquid that I fear I will float away in a river of my own perspiration. Since I am molting inside a sweat lodge, I figure I can’t go very far. Temporarily reassured.
Pendeen Fogou wasn’t a very prepossessing site. To reach it, the three of us—my husband, Gary, our guide, Cheryl Straffon, and I—had to unfasten three rusty metal gates to venture ever deeper into a farmer’s cattle yard. The broken concrete beneath our feet was covered with several layers of dried (or drying) cow manure. Cattle were lowing and resting in their own muck in the nearby pens.
Our goal was a six-foot-tall stone structure with tall grasses and weeds growing out of the top and a yawning opening in one wall. Before we could enter the site, we had one more obstruction: a detached farm gate, which the three of us hauled over to one side.
Bending low, we followed Cheryl down a steep, stone-lined passage deep into the earth. I was grateful I had my hiking staffs to help keep me from slipping. At the bottom, the rocky passage leveled out. My flashlight illuminated moss-covered granite walls and ceiling, the large stones carefully placed to construct the fogou. Pronounced “foo-goo,” it’s a Cornish word that means “cave,” and it refers to a human-made underground cavern.
Unkempt little bodies jump from stone to stone. Lithe and agile. Darting now towards, then away from the never-ending stream of tourists flowing over the raised wooden causeways of Beng Mealea. They claim the messy jumble of unrestored stones of this temple, 40 kilometres east of Angkor, on the ancient royal way, as their playground. Nearly nine centuries of heat and humidity have played havoc with the precise placement of the blue sandstone blocks. Gone is the former wealth and glory of the mighty Khmer Empire. In its place poverty reigns.
At each consecutive temple I visit they keep buzzing around me in swarms. Irritating little mosquitoes. Sometimes noisy and persistent, other times quiet and watchful. Even if I try, I cannot seem to avoid their persistent onslaught. “Lady! Lady!” Dirty little hands push tacky souvenirs I don’t want in my direction. I am determined not to make eye contact. I don’t want to see them. “Only one dolla!” I hasten my pace, and keep my face stern. I focus on the beauty and splendour of the temple in front of me. They give up, and turn their attention to their next victim.
We trudged up the bleak hill, brown and barren. My husband, Gary, and I were hiking with a small group in desolate, wild Dartmoor National Park to a place we’d never been, following a faint path through the moor, a track barely visible in the water-logged, peaty soil. Our guide informed us that people can easily lose their way on the moors—experienced hikers, skilled in reading maps, disappear, their bodies found years later.
Join me on a journey into the unknown, where what you think you know melts away and is replaced by something something bigger.
For decades I have been drawn to sacred sites and powerful places, drawn to go on pilgrimage across France and Spain, drawn to place my feet in the footsteps of if not my ancestors then of the ancestors of spirit who have traveled these paths before me. Like iron pulled toward a magnet, I have sought out well- and little-known places of power ancient stone circles, half-buried dolmens, ruined Romanesque chapels, spire-topped inspiring cathedrals, thick forests, hidden holy wells, dark sacred caves. Seeking I knew not what, going I knew not why, except that I was driven by a simple but all-consuming question: What are these places? I think I hoped that, by going to enough of them, I would find the answer.
The first time I knew I was in a very powerful place was when I saw the alignments at Carnac in Brittany, France. My husband, Gary, and I had driven through the flat Breton maritime pine forest toward the coast. The nearly straight road reached a crossroad and there, behind green metal fencing, were rows of large, upright stones, some as tall as a person, stretching in rows as far as the eye can see. Brakes screeching, we pulled over. I jumped out and ran across the lane, twining my fingers through the barrier to get as close as I could. What were they? Who put them here? What purpose did they serve?