Community and the Wilderness Guide Council Gathering by Michelle Katz
At the beginning of March, 55 wilderness guides, families and friends gathering in the desert of southern Arizona, for the Wilderness Guides Council Gathering.
Arriving close to dusk, as a member of the council who planned the gathering this year and a member of the organization’s board, I found myself hugging the individuals I had seen only via online zoom calls for the last 18 months. I was so happy to feel the difference between floating heads and physical presence. I looked out onto the landscape of this wild desert, in it’s turning into darkness, the mountains surrounding met the shadow in a way that brought them to life, full of dimension, depth and grounding. The sky that met the mountains held on to those last minutes of day-light like the last drops of water from a canteen, drinking them in slowly and mindfully. The birds, bats and bugs were out for their last meal or flight, all as one by one we humans also arrived with from our last flight or leg of the drive to share a meal with each other, trying to catch up fully, feasting on the sharing of our stories before the business of the gathering began.
The small group then found ourselves around the fireplace, bellies full and hearts even fuller, checking in on where we are in the moment and what we are carrying with us into the gathering.
A day and a half later, after thoughtful preparations, the larger group arrived. The pleasure of meeting every face was such a gift, many familiar, many brand new. And as we sat in circle for the first time, I remembered again, how important it is, this thing we do. This thing of hearing every voice, this thing of calling in the whole world into our circle, this thing of celebrating all we are, of having the freedom to be childlike and wild and elder, to be defiant, to be vulnerable, disagreeable, to be outspoken, shy, introverted, to be harsh, loving, questioning and utterly trusting. All things welcome, all things speaking to our human nature in a world where that is open silenced.
The theme of this gathering was about Living and Guiding in Uncertain Times. And as we spoke about this, I heard individuals’ journeys weave into one, generations become braided, dreams and old stories shared for everyone to hold in personal and collective interpretation. Fires were lite both to invoke and burn off. The time on the land was a precious treasure valued by all, as we moved with wind, blazing sun and yes, even the rains, which came both gentle and strong. The time in ceremony offered us an honoring of ancestors, a play with space and time, a deeper connection with the world and each other. And our times in council had us listening deeply, speaking truthfully, celebrating and muddling through the difficulty of collective decision making. Yes, this is all a very important thing we do.
In our first council, I spoke of a dream I had the night before. In the dream, I had jumped off a cliff into a rapidly moving river. The foam of the rapids covered my eyes, leaving me nearly blind to my surroundings, having no sense of where I was swimming and how to get to safety. The terrain was surely dangerous and from the cliff tops I heard friends trying to direct me with their watchful eye and hollering guidance. I am not that strong a swimmer, but a former partner of mine was, and he jump in to rescue me, but I would not take his offer! I struggled through, blind and uncertain, eventually finding myself on the shores downstream, where two elders in this community lifted me up and told me of how much there is to live for in this world.
In the most difficult or uncertain of times in my life, this community has seen me. This is why I come back every year and even more so, this is why I do this work. When times are hard, our culture has taught us to hide, in shame or fear or judgement; but this community continues to ask me to show up and live through it. When we feel like we are drowning, we are experiencing the very thing that informs who we are meant to be in the world will soon reveal itself as our gift to others. There are a few very important elements to this work; the ordeal and the community are two of them, and every year, through this gathering, I find myself so grateful for both!
Come know how your ordeal has meaning for the community that can hold it. Join Oaks Counsel for our various upcoming programs, including our 6-week series, Exploring the Four Elements of Your Nature starting Wednesday, April 18th and our next Day Quest, Stepping into the Darkness, a night walk experience at Diablo Canyon on April 21st. Also come join us for our new monthly, open and free to all, Community Council and Potlucks in Santa Fe!