Helping Women Find Their Way (and me, too)
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet's wings.
– William Butler Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I’ve been writing about my own pilgrimage this year – my pilgrimage of staying in place (mostly) and learning about the sacred feminine. I guess you could call it a “study pilgrimage.” (Here’s the blog where it began.)
But, I have been pilgrimaging, right here in Maine, for a long time – physically - and I wasn’t seeing it as a pilgrimage! Geez. Here’s what I’m talking about…
Baxter State Park, Maine.
Here’s how we go.
We get off the highway (Maine only has one by the way – Interstate 95) at Medway, “The Gateway to the North Maine Woods” and almost immediately I begin to feel the presence of the woods. We’ve traveled for three hours, coming from Woolwich. (We have an hour and a half more to go to get to Daicey Pond, our destination.)
Medway is a small town. The next one, Millinocket, is only a bit bigger, 4,114 at the 2020 census. The paper mill used to be the big employer in Millinocket and it went bankrupt in 2003. Not much happening in either town but both benefit from year-round tourism. They cater to people like us who come to the park to camp, to hike, to see the wildlife, and for those adventurers who end their trek on the Appalachian Trail at the top of Mt. Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. We drive through both towns and as we do my anticipation grows. This is our yearly visit to the park and it never disappoints – even if it rains, which appears likely on this trip.
We get to the park gate (it’s a reservations-only park) and show the ranger our reservation paper. We ask what we always ask –
“Anybody seeing any moose?”
“There was one on the esker the other day. (Eskers are remnants of the paths of glaciers – and translate to a lot of “washboard” driving) There was a sighting in Stump Pond. But that was a couple of days ago.”
No matter, we are ever hopeful. We come to see the wildlife and at the entry gate (the south gate…the north one is up the Tote Road 44 miles…the only park road) our quest begins. Our ultimate goal is to see a moose, but we’d be happy to see a coyote, a fox, a quail, a deer…
“You scan the right, Susanna, and I’ll scan the left.” My husband reiterates the “rules” for how we divide up our wildlife scouting.
We search by driving and by walking: the nature walk around Daicey Pond, hiking into many little ponds that we’ve been to countless times, sometimes balancing on boards over muddy spots placed carefully by the volunteers who maintain the miles of paths in the park, and sometimes over bridges. We tiptoe on moss-lined trails up to the edge of a pond and whisper to each other…
“No, no - nothing.”
We return to our cabin (We stay at Daicey Pond so we can be in a cabin. No running water or bathroom but a kerosene lamp, a woodstove, and a bed. What more do we need?) to eat a sandwich and then we’re off again.
There was rain this time but only at night. It’s the very best thing to hear it on the cabin roof. We were only there for two nights. The first night the ranger came to check us in. He startled us with a knock on the door. Of course, we asked him the same wildlife-viewing question and we were surprised at his response:
“Yes, there have been moose sightings but we’ve also have a bear, what we call a nuisance bear. Somebody made the mistake of feeding it and it’s been hanging around. It tore the door off the outhouse because someone had poured bacon grease into the toilet!
A bear! This is new. We’ve been coming here for 32 years – as long as we’ve been married and never has there been a bear report. Warnings were posted on the Daicey bulletin board. I asked him what to do if we see one (reviewing in my head the things I had heard):
“Make yourself big and make a lot of noise!”
Yikes. OK. (Mental note: coordinate outhouse trips with when Robin goes.)
We never saw one and during all our ramblings those two days we never saw a moose – or a deer – or anything! A chipmunk and a red squirrel did show up, but that was it. But of course, we saw the great beauty of orange-red-yellow and green foliage which always looks more striking against a cloudy sky. And we saw swirling foam on rushing brooks. No, I’m not going to break into poetry (as if I could) but suffice it to say. The park is breathtakingly beautiful.
We packed up Tuesday morning early (of course the sun was coming out and the rain had stopped.) It’s a beautiful morning. We head out. I announce I’m done trying to see anything. No more will I “man” my station at the passenger window. I tell my husband my philosophy,
“Maybe the “trying” doesn’t aid our goal. Let’s just be in the moment and if something happens, fine. If not, then that’s fine, too.” I rub my neck which is sore from craning it to the right all the time. I’m beginning to think of a “real” breakfast outside the park. (I know, I’m not the best camper.)
We have another ritual that we always honor as we leave the park. There are a lot of little trails to the ponds that line the Tote Road and Robin always asks me if I want to go out and “just see one more time” because “you never know”.
“Just give it a quick look, Susanna. See if you see any big black shapes in the water or along the shore.
I had been doing this all along our route thus far and it had yielded nothing. I was reluctant, cozy in my seat in the car, looking forward to a real brewed cup of coffee once we left the park gate and wended our way through town and back to the highway.
But…OK, I get out and start down the narrow path to Stump Pond.
Wait. A photographer. A major photographer is sitting at the end of the path. “Major” meaning he has a lens on his camera the size of a bullhorn. What is he seeing? I look to my right.
A beautiful female moose, a cow, is there on the other side of the pond! She is calmly strolling through the water.
Joy and rapture! I hurry to tell Robin –
“Come, come – there IS a moose!"
We are ecstatic and hopefully, we didn’t disturb the photographer. I’m sure he was happy when we left and got back in our car.
On the long drive home, after the coffee, there’s always a chance to process the trip, the beauty of it all, our sighting, life, in general. This is a huge benefit of getting away, even if we don’t think we can afford to…mostly because of the time. “But I have so much to do!”
It will assuredly be there for us when we return. Getting away has great rewards.
Helping Women Find Their Way
My “processing” gifted me with an epiphany.
I was coaching Amy just before we left for Baxter (name changed to protect her privacy.) I learned that several years ago she had left her “ordinary life” and taken a big leap to go walk the Camino in Spain. She left her job. She went alone. She didn’t take advantage of any perks like booking rooms ahead. She carried everything on her back that she would need and slept in hostels. She was called to go for a long, long…long walk.
She returned, went back to work, did well – progressed… and then, found me, the coach who uses the Heroine’s Journey, an ancient archetype pattern to orient people to where they are in their lives. I put the map before her and asked where she thought she was on the map. (I’ve included it at the end of this post so you can see.)
“I think I’m hearing a call but I don’t know what it is!” she told me.
We were together for what I call a mini-retreat intuitive coaching session. These are the sessions when I invite my coaching clients to “do the stickies.” It’s an intuitive form of personal strategic planning where each response to a question is written on a 3M sticky. But first, there is a preparation time to help them “get out of their heads.” I urge them to “get out of their left, logical brains”, and then ask them the question: “Given ideal circumstances, what will my life look like, be like, what will I be doing in three years?”
So many responses came up for Amy, each one a brightly colored sticky. I looked at the jumble of them all on the paper, then asked her to put them into categories. “Arrange them by their common thread.” She had many categories and one, especially, with lots of stickies.
They all pointed to an internal journey – the journey within. She was having a call to have a more spiritual life. But wait…hadn’t she already begun? Wasn’t that what her huge 30+day walk on the Camino was about? Maybe this calling was asking her to do more - to add in more “things to do of a spiritual nature.”
She left to go off and contemplate this until we reconnect next month.
I am continually amazed at the power of the journey archetype to help people find their way and to help me help them find their way. No directing is needed. The journey is the framework and it does the “heavy lifting.” It lays out what’s needed. The questions almost ask themselves:
Where did you start out?
What did you hear to get you to leave that place?
How was the leaving – hard? Joyful? Scary?
You entered a place/situation/landscape that was new and different – how’s it going?
What has stopped you? Did you get to a place where you felt you were turned upside down?
Did you ever encounter a roadblock?
Did you get lost?
Where are you now?
Back to Baxter
The commonly agreed-upon route for El Camino de Santiago (a.k.a. the Way of St. James) begins at Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, and travels 500 miles through four of Spain's 15 regions, ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
I had a revelation on the way home. I sat watching the tall dark green pines stream by me as we drove south on I-95 and my mind returned to Amy and her journey. Why had I not seen it before? Baxter is my Camino, my pilgrimage! It’s different of course as I’m traveling with one person, not several. No hostels or hotel rooms – but a simple cabin for the two of us. There’s no cathedral to travel to but I could make a case for those woods being the perfect cathedral. I’m certainly not walking 500 miles when I’m at Baxter. But what I experience is most definitely this: (from Wikipedia)
“A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.”
Dear reader, tell me, what’s your pilgrimage?
And let me ask you – where are you on the ancient map of the Heroine’s Journey?