Journey to Wolf Mountain .

I find equinoxes and solstices are still the best time for ceremony and confronting changing times. It sometimes feels as if change is in the air during these times. If you are aware of the shifting energies, you might just catch the movement, like a wave, and ride it right into something new. This time of year, spring’s sudden growth and turmoil of pale greens and bright colors fades into the maturity of deeper greens and browns. . This solstice, Grandfather and I had planned a journey up to old Wayah bald, in the mountains near the small town of Franklin, North Carolina. There has always been a peculiar energy up there in that meadow on the top of the mountain that attracts us. The Cherokee used to call these treeless bald meadows on the mountain tops “sacred” because of that energy, I suppose. It’s like there is a Presence up there that makes the hairs rise up your neck and arms; almost as if the mountain was watching you. . But I’ve had a lot of changes come my way lately, and we both felt it was time for us to go back up to do some work—“ceremony” I guess some might call it. My dad passed last October, and I’ve been in a strange state ever since. Not grieving exactly, but lost in space might be a better word for it. Who was that who died? Was it the father I never had or someone else? If someone else, why did that have to happen? Now, my mother of 95 years of age is fading. She lives in a nursing home near Raleigh and has very limited mobility these days. She walks only a short time before having to sit. Her memory is poor. Her enthusiasm to keep fighting to stay alive seems low, and she talks about dying constantly. I can tell how much she misses my dad. And she seems to live through me and my brothers and sisters. Somehow in the midst of all this change, I feel cut off from who I am, or was? I need something to happen, but don’t know what that might be. . We drive from Raleigh on Highway 40, taking the by-passes around Winston Salem to miss all that traffic from Greensboro and Winston-Salem. And then drive straight on past Statesville and Hickory. From there, it is a straight stretch to Asheville. Franklin is still a good drive further. Usually, we go down Highway 26 from Asheville to Hendersonville, and then back west on 64. That gets us over cross the Little Tennessee River and from there, Wayah Bald is only a bit west. The roads in those hills are still not the best, and people have to do a lot of driving around mountain curves, and up and downing to get where they are headed. Here, we’re not to far from the Cherokee reservation either. . Grandfather spoke very little on the drive up. I talked about mother a bit, but didn’t feel much like talking about myself. That’s the thing about my grandfather, he never minds me clamming up. Or talking either. He mostly listens when I need to talk, even when I

have no idea where I’m going in my talking. He doesn’t offer answers or advice, even when asked for it. He just lets me talk out my needs to explain things, my way. . He did ask if I knew what “Wayah” mean in Cherokee? I didn’t. “Wolf!, he said. ”Wayah means ‘wolf.” Wayah bald is the wolf mountain to us.” I nodded. And wolf, I thought, is our Teacher of the Path with Heart. I felt hope that I might be able to come to terms with the changes in my life. . The drive was mostly quiet, except for stops for gas, snacks, and bathroom breaks. Our camping gear was in the back. We might need it, I thought, cause all the places I’ve seen were already booked solid. Might have to sleep in the car or try to find a motel back towards Franklin, I thought. This time of year, its tough to find a place to stay or a tent campground without a reservation, but sometimes you get lucky. . There was a road up to the bald, but I didn’t see many cars. We met only two driving up, and they were coming back down. The parking lot near the top was empty except for a ranger’s jeep and a late model Chevy parked there. There were no bathrooms right there, but I recalled that there were pit latrines close by—maybe up towards the 5,300 feetabove-sea-level peak. . Grandfather and I put on our backpacks, with snacks and bottled water inside, and started up the trail to the bald. Already, I could feel the tendrils of the mountain’s power beneath me as I walked; almost as if the mountain recognized us, knew us, felt us above on its surface, just as I could feel it below my feet. By then, it was late afternoon, but in spite of the heat in the lowlands, the air here felt cool—less than 70 degrees probably. The sun was already half way down the sky in the west in the virtually cloudless sky. . We meet one couple coming down the trail. Otherwise it seemed extremely quiet. Grandfather asked how I was feeling. I told him “dull and listless. Spacey, in fact.” Already, I was beginning to dream out, feeling into the spaces around me. The mountain pulled at me, drawing me inside. The feeling of Watchers frittered at the borders of my awareness. I felt a pressure beginning to build up deep inside. Already, I am deep in ceremonial spaces. There will be no worry about picking a specific place for my work. . The whole mountain was waiting for us. .

Sweating and panting, we struggle up the last little way. I’m feeling way out of shape for climbing these paths, and my sedentary life back in Raleigh shows in my shortness of breath and the tightness in the center of my chest. I realize that it is likely the altitude; big difference from the 200 feet above sea level in Raleigh! . The viewing tower is up ahead now. Grandfather waves me off, and I start towards it. I’m thinking I might prefer the view from the top and shelter from the sun to the open area or even finding a spot at the edge of the trees. He heads towards a nearby oak and settles underneath in its shade, as I pull myself up the stairs towards the observation deck. I feel a need for space around me, room to breathe. I need to see mountains and sky and the haze over the distant hills. Reaching the top, I settle down just to drink in the view and let the wind and sounds on the mountain top calm my feelings and mind. The bald itself, I reflect, is really quite small on the mountain top--smaller perhaps than most of the other balds in the region. . My prayer to Great Spirit is brief and to the point. “I am here, Great Grandfather, to learn to know my self. I am here asking to be taught. I ask that I be given a vision that I might align with your will for my life. I open myself to You that We may be of one mind, one heart, and one spirit. Wakan Tonka (using the Souix name for Great Spirit): Be here now!” . I settle down to watch and wait for whatever will come. I know that ceremony has its own pace. My job is to wait and watch to see what Spirit brings to me. And to take the lessons from what comes. Grandfather has taught me many times that Spirit speaks through the animals, the plants and trees, the wind and water and even the earth. There are many powers here who are willing to help us if we ask and honor them as sacred powers of the Earth and As Above. To be spoken to, we must speak openly to them with humility. This time, I wait four hours before something happens. . The something was the appearance of a mother black bear and two cubs at the edge of the meadow. One cub was small. The older was much larger, probably last year’s cub. It is very unusual, I recall, to see such a sight in the daytime. Normally, a nursing mother bear will drive the older sibling away, forcing it into becoming self-reliant, breaking its dependence upon its mother. It seems odd to find a nursing mother with cubs spaced this way also. Normally, females will breed every two years to give their cubs time to grow. For some reason, this female bred early and now was attempting to care for two cubs of different ages. .

As she came closer to the tower, I could see how aged she was. The silver hairs in her muzzle showed that she was at the end of her breeding life. She was also lean and obviously hungry, as she attempted to nurse the younger cub and teach the older how to fend for itself, turning over rocks and rotten limbs, seeking grubs or small things to eat or share with the older cub. Probably, her hunger had driven her here seeking tourist discards of food, abandoning the dark shadows of the woods for the damger of the daylight meadow. . The older cub would attempt to nurse, but she would push him away, urging him to seek food in the meadow. He would squall and complain bitterly, and follow plaintively, obviously hungry. To him, she was the source of food and nurturing; the meadow yet meant nothing to him as an abundant source of food. . She came near the tower I was standing in now, looking down, when suddenly she stood up and looked right straight into my eyes. I felt the shock of the contact. There was nothing in her eyes but calm acceptance of her life. No hostility to me. No fear either. I could see that. I felt her as wildness striving to survive here, without sentimentality, without self-pity. If she faced starvation, she would drive her older cub away without hesitation. For she must preserve her own strength, and she was fast bound to her younger cub. I felt sure that that moment was not far away, as she grew tired of teaching her older cub to fend for himself. The time was fast approaching when she would cut the cord that bound her to him, so that she would have the energy to attend to her own needs again. . The bears were gone, wandering back among the rhododendrons and mountain laurel. Grandfather still was sitting where he rested earlier. The bears ignored him, and he never moved when they appeared and wandered by his seat. I looked over at him in astonishment, and he waved, turning to point above him in the sky. I leaned out to look past the roof line. There perhaps a hundred feet above the meadow was a bald eagle, floating right above me. My mouth dropped open at the sign of power the eagle brought. Its shadow cut across the meadow towards my lookout, and as it passed into the shadow of the tower, I felt something rising beneath me and inside of me. A surge of power rose up through my feet, up my spine, and out through the top of my head. My head shot back and my mouth opened is a shout. And I fell back onto my back. The light in the tower narrowed into a tunnel of light growing narrower, narrower until it went …. out. . I was in a dark thicket, the sound of thunder resounding in my ears. I looked frantically for my mother, but she wasn’t there. I turned to run back down the path, but there was something—someone—blocking my frantic seeking. I looked up in fear. It was a great stag, looking down at me. His eyes seemed huge in the dusk of the wood. Its huge antlers towered up, up, up into the tree tops.

. “Mother,” I cried. . “She is gone,” he said. “You must accept that you must go on alone.” . I tried to run around him, but my four spindly legs wouldn’t balance. And wherever I turned, he was there. I was breathing so hard, I could hardly stand. . “You are to come with me now,” he spoke quietly. And he gently pushed me away, down the path, away from my mother. “I am your Father.” . ********************* . I am no longer in the woods. I am in the nursing home near Raleigh sitting with my father. I’ve come expecting to see both him and my mother, but my sister came by earlier, unexpectedly, and picked up mother to take her out to lunch. Dad was the only person there when I arrived, so we walked down to the corner day room—him bent over pushing his “warhorse” (as he called his “walker”). I walked back and bought the two of us a cold drink, and we sat and talked about our week. . After a little while, he said, “Son, I don’t think I’m ever going to get out of this place alive.” . I took a long breath. I had suspected that he felt his stay was temporary. At 100 years of age, his health and vitality during his long life had been extraordinary. But a heart attack and several small strokes had delivered terrible blows to his strength and self confidence. . Over the six months since we kids had moved mother and dad here, he had continued acting as if his stay was only temporary. We hadn’t discouraged his optimism, but we had had to go ahead and sell their home and dispose of their furniture and belongings for funds to finance their stay at the home. The loss of independence and the mobility of their cars had been awful for them. But the loss of their home had been the last straw. When it was gone, it was like the life blew out of my parents. Now, we saw a fragility to them I had never seen in them whenever we came by for a visit. Their skin seemed to lose its

color and at times I almost felt I could put my hands right through them without being noticed. At the same time, there seemed to be a glow around them—a light that one felt more than saw. I tried to tell my mother that I “saw” her as Beautiful, but she would never listen. I privately told my sister I almost thought mother’s body was disappearing, and she was becoming pure light! . But dad’s revelation still was unexpected. I felt awkward and wasn’t sure what to say. . “I want you to know how proud I am of you, Lee! You’ve grown into a fine man. You’ve made your mother and me very proud of you. I love you and am so proud of what you’ve achieved and become!” . I was speechless. All my life, I had wanted my father to say just that: that he loved me; to say that he was proud of me. And here, in the moment of his despair, he had given me the gift every son waits to hear. My father loved me! My father saw that I was a man, just like him. Tears welled up as I fought to stop them. . I thanked my father for being the example of a man for me, for every son needs to know what a man is, needs to know when he has achieved manhood. And he needs his father to tell him that he has done what every boy must: learn to be a true man. When later I left, I saw that he knew that his life was nearly at an end. And I wondered how in the world I was ever going to match his example. . ********************* . I was suddenly in my mother’s room at the nursing home. I had brought her some refreshments, paper plates, utensils, and candies today on the chance that I might encourage her to “have a party” and invite some of the other guests to come by for a visit. . I had feared that she would not welcome my idea. She spent near all her time in her room, fearing to expose her own frailties to the other residents. She had become blind in one eye and deaf in her right ear. She couldn’t easily hear anyone who spoke to her. She couldn’t recall how to turn on radios or electronic gadgets. So, she sat all day in her room, napping and dreaming, or just waiting for her children to come to see her. .

I walked down the hall for a moment to see if I could arrange for some of the staff to help her with her party tomorrow or the next day perhaps. Shortly, the guest coordinator, Joan, walked down to see me. We spoke for a moment about my idea for the party, and she thought that was a great idea. So we walked down to Mother’s room to make some plans. Mother was so flustered at the idea of actually throwing a party, she couldn’t decide on anything. “Have you met my son?” she said to her visitor. “Oh, yes!” Joan smiled. “He’s the splitting image of his father. He looks just like his father.” . “Ed died last fall,” Mother said, trying to smile. “But the children are so wonderful. I love them all so much! They are so good for me.” . ********************** . I am in the thicket. Mother crowds me away, away from the path through these short trees. I can see that she wants me to go somewhere. Still, I am not ready to leave. Going away is not our way, but just waiting until she returns. She signals for me to climb, and I do what she says. I am high above the tree line here, as she winds her way down the mountain with my brother. Where is she going? I cry to her, but she ignores me this time, pushing through the thickets, making a way for my little brother. She has always returned before. She will return when it is safe! I will wait now and it will be better soon. . ********************** . I feel my body and the floor beneath my back. I open my eyes. It is dusk outside the tower. I draw in a deep breath, coming back to myself and sit up part way. Grandfather is sitting in the corner of the observation deck waiting for me. He smiles and hands me a bottle of water, knowing that I will be very thirsty. . I drink, and he helps me up. My ceremony complete, we walk down the stairs and back towards the car. I’m feeling hungry—ravenous in fact. He puts his arm across my shoulders, and dusts off his hat on a trouser leg. The air has a chill in it. There will be time to talk about visions and power and lessons later.