Setting Out

A no moon night in the North Woods is as dark as it gets. I’m laying in bed in absolute silence. I can’t see my hand in front of me. I’m swallowed whole into the Void. I’m in Camp on the eve of my Paqo Wachu, the pilgrimage Pachakuti Mesa Tradition initiates make to meet their Apu, the deity of the mountain that is called to them through shamanic journeying.

Sometimes it’s not the things that go bump in the night that keep me awake. It’s the silence itself, knowing that there are many things out there, beyond the walls of my one room cabin, which may be part of my destiny over the next few days.

There’s a fundamental surrender at the core of the Paqo Wachu. The paqo learns to walk the walk by abandoning expectations of an outcome and the surety of knowing where he’ll lay his head on his sojourn into mountainous realms, the Realm of the Apus. I know my Paqo Wachu is to be in the Adirondacks, in the heart of the High Peaks Wilderness. Apu Sawteeth called to me earlier in the year, during weekend four of the Five-part PMT Apprenticeship series.

I admit, my heart sank when I realized that it would be my journey to spend a night or two alone, without a fire, in country I know to be inhabited by bears, coydogs, the coyote-wolf hybrids, fisher cat, bobcat and, perhaps, mountain lions. I’ve known these woods for over fifty years. And now here I am, awake, snug between the sheets of my comfortable bed, pondering how it’s going to go. Will I be huddled in a ball somewhere, waiting out the night? Will I meet magnificent beasts, terrorizing me as I defend my meager food supply? Will I survive? Will I meet angelic presences? Will I meet the Apu Guia, the heavenly guide-star that shines unique upon each mountain in sacred relationship? The ashen wash of first light appears out the window. I get a few more hours’ sleep.

I awake to the sound of activity outside. It’s light out, enough so that there’s color to the day. I move silently to the window. There’s a black bear foraging just feet away. Since I was seven, black bears have taught me how to walk in the woods. How to be in the woods. In silence. In grace. In tune. You step between twigs rather than crunch them. If you leave your track in the mud it’s because you want to be noticed. But I maintain a policy of being unaccommodating to bears in camp because, well, they’re bears. They take a different approach to opening doors that is decidedly less than graceful from my human perspective.

I move to the door and open it swiftly and shout, “What are you doing?!” The startled bear bolts up the hill to find cover in the beeches. I hear it whimper and I feel I’ve been heavy-handed. Siwar Q’enti flies in front of me and hovers. I hear him say, telepathically, “You’re on your Paqo Wachu. Lighten up.”

After breakfast I prepare for Day 1, the ascent of Apu Sawteeth. I’ve been planning this trip for weeks. To begin with, I decided in April that if I’m going to be huddled in the wilderness, I’ll take advantage of the season. It’s the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year here in the northeast of Turtle Island, the Antisuyu in the hearts of North American Pachakuti Mesa Carriers. It’s been years since I’ve climbed Sawteeth, one of the peaks of the Great Range. I remember the trail to be long and steep. My plan is to summit the mountain the first day, return to Camp, and prepare for my overnight the following day. No need to lug gear up and down a steep mountain. My overnight destination for Day 2 is far up Shanty Brook. Her icy waters are ideal for hucha cleansing which precedes the Tawantin Ritual, an appeal to the local Apukuna, the peaks around me, as well as to the twelve sacred Apus surrounding Cusco in Peru, and to Siwar Q’enti, the Royal Hummingbird, embodied emissary to the Hanaqpacha, the Uppermost Heavenly Realm.

Shanty Brook is also the watershed for Apus Sawteeth, Pyramid and Gothics. I will soon sojourn upstream, ever closer to Source. I’ve studied my objective as thoroughly as I can using topo maps and Google Earth. I have an armchair warrior’s understanding of the terrain. Reality though, boots on the ground, will be quite different. I’ve bushwhacked these woods enough to know this.

When planning an outdoor adventure there’s an aspect beyond one’s control, and that is the weather. The forecast predicts rain, with thunderstorms. The mountains have their say in this too, of course. These glacier-ground peaks are home to clouds. I’m asked by family if I’m still going to make my trip. Of course I am, I tell them. This isn’t about going on a picnic. This is about showing up. For life, for the Apu, for myself expanded in Self. The paqo shows up. I’m committed and I’m well prepared. I’ve got the layers and Smartwool to know that, while I may not be comfortable, I will survive the elements.

I secure the bear hatch over the cookshack window, latch the door and head off. The sky is low and gray. Clouds scrape the peaks across the lake, a familiar sign that it’s going to rain. Undaunted, I walk on. The first mile is the Lake Trail, relatively level. A bear scat reminds me of my company on these trails. I arrive at a crossroad and the trailhead to ascend Apu Sawteeth. I begin my journey proper at Shanty Brook and the familiar pools that entice a swim on sunny days. Before crossing the brook I offer tobacco and a prayer in ayni, so that my journey is one guided by celestial love. I cross the brook following the trail through thickets of hobblebush. Maples and beech rise through stands of fir and spruce. Wide girth birch dominate the canopy. Their bent trunks and spreading crowns speak of their tops being snapped off by ferocious winds or an ice storm. The woods is alive and I feel blessed in being a part of it all. I break into spontaneous song, melodies sung to Apu Sawteeth, Siwar Q’enti and the Apu Guia. I sing of love, grace and gratitude, with an invitation for us to dance the dance of coexistence.

About the Author

 Pieter Lefferts

Pieter Lefferts

Featured Contributor

Painter. Writer. Musician. Teacher. Healer. Artist. Pieter is on a path to fulfill his soul’s puppeteering of his Earth walk. His mission is to enhance the beauty of this world through his creative endeavors. He’s been an initiate of the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition since 2014, having completed many advanced trainings. He has received numerous awards for his art and work as an educator.