Wolf Tracking! Forest Stories, Qigong Temples and the Twinkles in my Great Aunt Clary's Eyes!
How do we listen to the forest? How do we open ourselves to the mysteries nature is constantly revealing, to the treasures the trees are patiently sharing and the majesty the Mountains are forever emanating? Why are we drawn back again and again to the wild? I find remembrance. I find life. I find my aliveness, and living wisdom and answers. Yet the answers are more like a knowing, a knowing that breathes and pulses through the soil, and lives in the hum of trees, the spirals of water and the tracks of wolves.
This last week I went on my first ever wolf tracking trip! YAY! Oh my goodness! How long have I heard of these animals, seen them in movies, story-books, folklore and legends…yet here in our own Cascadia Mountains we once again have wild wolves. (They were re-introduced several years ago and we now have 10 healthy packs!) One of the Lakota songs my boyfriend Nate and I sang at the end of our trip up on a mountain top ridge is one to honor these wolves… “I travel on the edge, on the edge, on the edge. In a sacred way I travel on the edge.” Wolves travel on the edge, in the shadows, along the rivers, the edge of paths, in big circles, like qi following, traveling through the landscape and restoring balance and harmony in the ecosystem. On our first day out, within ½ mile of basecamp, we came upon our first wolf tracks. They were fresh. They were large. There were two. An alpha male and an alpha female.
Wolf Qi and the epic tales of the forest
I’m learning so much about tracking! I love how the forest is constantly telling stories, and animal tracks, scat, kill sites, travel paths through the terrain and bird calls are all constantly revealing a story unfolding. It is an epic tale of wildness, of life, of death, of mystery, of Nature. Male wolf tracks are on average about 4-5 inches long and ~4 inches wide. Female tracks are ~4 inches long and 3-3.5 inches wide. The “paw toes” all point forward. There is symmetry, a strength that emanates from their footsteps. You can actually put your palm over the tracks and feel the wolf’s qi through your hand, through the laogong point! (This is really cool!!) Coyote tracks are a bit smaller; bobcat and cougar are different in width and also one paw toe is often slightly in front of the other, with no claws showing.
By looking at animal tracks, you can start to see their gait. Where are they going? What are they up to? Are they traveling fast or leisurely? Are they alone or traveling in a pairs or a pack? If they’re wolf tracks, are they on a hunt or covering ground? Nate taught me how to see, ask questions and look for the signs all around (he has been doing such scouting and tracking since he was a young boy!!). We came upon multiple scats as well– wolf, coyote, bobcat, elk, rabbit – and Nate pointed out a pattern…”See how the terrain is changing here? This marks the edge of the trail” or “this is just before the curve/bend in the road”, or “just before reaching the ridge.” Animals are in constant communication with one another and part of tracking is opening our awareness to receive and learn from this communication.
The scat itself tells so much. Is it old or fresh? Are there lots of animal fur and bones? If so, it may be a younger wolf in the pack? Is it dark and full of blood, organs? (we saw one…hope this isn’t too much detail for some of you :)!!... that had blood, organ meat, and a deer hoof!!) The dark color and freshness signifies a recent kill and probably is a scat from one of the leaders of the pack, eating some of the prime meat of the prey. And what are the birds saying? Are ravens calling? If so, the kill site may be close by. Bird language is a big part of deciphering, of becoming aware of the magic and happenings of the forest. Birds all have songs, contact calls, alarm calls and signals, and by listening to the birds around me, I can begin to hear whether where I am or other animals nearby are safe and if the area is predator-free, or if a predator is approaching, whether in the land or sky.
Qigong & Spirit Tracking
In addition to tracking wolves, coyotes, bobcats, snakes and elk, this trip was also about tracking spirit. Qigong is one of the many tools we can use to track spirit. In some countries, such as China and Japan, temples and little mountain shrines are built on mountain tops, or high energy portals as an indication of a particularly potent place to pray, practice, sit, dance or perform ritual. In the states, we are very fortunate to have so many wilderness areas, and over 400 national parks. I view these places as our sacred training grounds. Sometimes, instead of a shrine or temple, in our country you’ll find a look-out tower or an “overlook” site…yet, energetically these are the same places as temples. They are sacred and often are good places to train.
On this trip, we made our way up Red Mountain, finding and investigating wolf and other tracks and scats along the way, in addition to learning about the variety of medicinal plants all around and happily naming (our own made-up names that is!!) the numerous colorful butterflies bobbing around in the slight summer breezes. At the top of Red Mountain, you can see the whole Teanaway Valley, Mt. Stuart and the Stuart Range, Mt. Rainier and many other peaks. Nate, who is also a long-time qigong practitioner, teacher and also a doctor of Chinese medicine, shared a practice of mountain gazing where you fix your gaze upon the peak of a mountain and with your intent, draw the mountain in through the Yintang point inbetween the eyebrows into your head, down the central channel to rest in your the lower dantian in your lower abdomen below the navel. Then, sitting in stillness with your gaze softly on the majestic mountain peak, your awareness in your navel area (lower dantian), you let your mind open and relax as the sky. Wow! How beautiful to practice with Nature and to offer our practice as an offering to the Land.
Later that afternoon after a yummy picnic (having LOTS of yummy trail snacks is another part of “nourishing qigong practice” :)!!), we headed down the trail and came to another rocky point. Nate pointed out there are often these lines, ripples of ridges in the wilderness, all with highly potent spots of cultivation. This rocky point had a gnarly Master OG (old growth) tree and was in the same energetic line between Mt. Stuart and Red Mountain peak. I felt a soft nudge to pray and took a special nature object I had found on the trail and brought it with me up to the rocky ledge. My dear Great Aunt Clary had just passed away a few days before I left for the mountains. She was a few days away from her 96th birthday. I decided I wanted to honor her, celebrate her life, our family and her birthday while in nature as nature is where I feel most connected to all the visible and invisible webs of Life.
For the Love of Clary Westberg ~ Eye twinkles, chuckles, scrabble & C’est la vie!
As I climbed onto the rock, I began to cry and cry…so much love and gratitude for my beautiful Aunt Clary! She was first generation Swedish, her parents having emigrated from Sweden, settling in Los Angeles and her father, my great grandfather had built a beautiful little house at 4344 Franklin Ave in Los Angeles where she, my beautiful grandmother Bernice and their older sister and brother, Alice and Dwight lived as kids. Clary and Bernice continued to live there as adults to raise Bernice’s 2 sons (my Dad, Craig, and my Uncle Bill). They continued to live there for years as their grand-children, grand-nieces, and great grand children and great grand nieces and nephews were born and came to visit. I have so many wonderful memories of laughter, story-telling and jokes with both my grandmother, Gramby, and Aunt Clary! Clary always had a twinkle in her eyes and a quick and witty sense of humor!! My twin sister Lynn and I would often sit on the couch, engrossed in Clary’s latest account of their cat OJ’s mischief, or a fun family story of their childhood or funny tricks our Dad or Uncle used to play when growing up. Sometimes, when Clary would say something cool, Lynn or I would say, “Wow, Clary, that’s a great idea!!” And she’d respond with a chuckle, “Well, that’s the only kind I’ve got!” Haha! A couple of years ago when Lynn and I visited her (then living in a retirement community – see pic), Lynn asked her, “how are you feeling, Clary?”…realizing maybe that’s not the best question to ask a 94 year old!...and Clary quickly replied with her bright grin, “with my fingers!!” Ha!!
Our favorite saying of Clary, though…and I still hear it in my head when in a challenging situation or something doesn’t go as I had planned…is “C’est la vie!” which Clary often said, again with a twinkle in her eye, a good chuckle and all with a strong American accent (no hint of French at all!!) Again, Haha!!!
Oh I could say so much about Clary. She chose her time to pass as she was in good health…she just slowed down physically and lost her appetite, but she always was bright, sharp, humorous and had the most wonderful long hair which she kept pinned in a tidy bun during the day, and let hang free at night and the early morning. I love Clary, and as I sat on the rocky ledge and my tears flowed, I began to pray and to talk with her and share so much from my heart. As a shared, I felt more of my deceased relatives present, as well as felt the spirit of the Mountain and the trees in their stillness. After the pray and sharing, Nate and I both found a grove of trees next to the stones and felt another pull…from the land, from these trees. Again the practice of spirit tracking now tracking us. We looked at each other and knew this was a place to train. One of the big trees actually had a root that outstretched at its base, creating a perfect standing or sitting meditation platform. How awesome! I dedicated my practice to Clary and we began Big Tree meditation.
So much magic happens when out in the wilderness…and I see that Life is Magical. The wilderness helps me open to this state…it’s the state of enchantment, of awe and reverence that I’ve mentioned in other blog posts and in my qigong classes. We hike, explore, do animal tracking, learn bird language, practice qigong, pray, dance and sing as a way to commune, connect, participate in Mother Earth’s glory. Through various learned skills we can track wildlife, weather patterns, and the mystery teachings of the forest. And we also open ourselves up to be tracked and awed and taken by a power of Life and Love so much greater.
On the day of my great aunt’s birthday, we hiked up Bean Creek up to Earl peak. Some of my relatives were gathering in person at 5 p.m. that day in Glendale to honor Clary, so I also committed to “being” with them and Clary at that time. We arrived at our unplanned most amazing campsite, marked and confirmed with overwhelmingly beautiful views of Mt. Stuart and the Enchantments, Mt. Rainier, and Red Mountain and the Teanaway valley and with a large, old beautiful wolf track in the clay sand of this rocky terrain up at 6,200 ft. Wow! I looked at the clock and it was 4:50p.m. Perfect timing too for me to find a special spot to connect with the land, with Clary and my family.
Thank you so much for joining me on this journey – journey of wolf and spirit tracking and the magic of nature!! I love sharing! May the strength and power of these mountain wolves and the images of these forests and granite peaks fill you with love, awe and good health.