During my time in Wodonga and upon discovering that work had been postponed another week I had excitedly concluded that I would be going back to the festival near Omeo. Funnily enough, Jess, my previous travelling companion had messaged me saying she would be in town the next morning and wanted to catch up. I told her I would be heading back to the festival and she was keen to join me.
I enjoyed a final lunch with my Dad then set out for the Wodonga Water Tower where I would collect my passenger. We both had heard of snow over Mount Hotham and considering the first tumultuous journey over the Great Alpine Road we decided to take the Omeo Highway, a longer, windier leg but with no snow. 4pm came and it was time to scout a camp for the night, we had just passed Mitta Mitta and I remembered an old log cabin that my Dad used to take me on fishing trips to, I found the driveway and allowed the memories to flood in as the cabin came to view. We found a track leading to the river and I negotiated the van to a perfect spot only a few metres from the water’s edge, we supped on hot vegetable soup, and shared deep, healing conversations – our fears, anxieties and worries came up as the other gave nurturing advice and a patient ear. I feel a strong connection to Jess and we share a powerful platonic relationship, like the sister I never experienced. The next morning we swam nude in the icy cold snowy mountain river that ran next to the van, how invigorating and such a good start to the day, to do this is great practice to ignore what the mind is saying and just do it.
We got to the apple tree near Omeo that we had visited before, getting out of the car we met some friends going into town from the festival who saw us with elation that we had both decided to return to the gathering. Thirty minutes later we had arrived at the top parking area and waited for those in town to get back and give us a ride down the incredibly steep otherwise hour long pack march into the main camp. In the back of the 4WD were a few new faces who had just arrived, I instantly formed a connection with Cale who is a singer and guitarist, I mentioned that I was looking for someone to play some background music for a poem I wanted to share that night and he jumped at the opportunity.
Happy faces everywhere as we dropped and left our bags in a pile to greet all still inhabiting this space, some of those I had met initially had left and some, like the recently met musician had just arrived – this place is ever evolving and changing, never stagnant and always open, an exciting way to live. I had arrived on a Saturday afternoon, each Saturday night at the gathering was Cabaret, an opportunity to share talents, songs, comedy, poetry and so on, as I mentioned I had a poem to share and upon writing it I felt the need to have a guitar playing along with the recital. Cale and I ran through the performance a few times before going live to find the right sound and get in sync – I felt confident in this endeavor, something that not too long ago would have me terribly nervous and fearful.
Cabaret brought out talents in everyone, a reinforcement that all beings have a unique gift to share – from acoustic guitar to freestyle rap to vocals to a fury of puns and dad jokes, the sharing was magnificent and went well into the night.
The shared breakfast in the morning contained a delicious porridge with fruit and wild honey sourced from accidental circumstances. A dead tree was being felled for firewood and found to contain a hive of bees, the loggers, making themselves scarce from the area called on the help of Wade, who, as it turns out was a apiarist, Wade was able to extract the honeycomb forged within the hollow trunk and provide super sweet and nutritious box honey for the camp. After discovering Wade’s talents we persuaded that he facilitate an educational tour of the hive – that afternoon we were expertly guided through all aspects of wild and domestic bee keeping, whilst chewing ravenously on pollen laced, honey bursting chunks of bees wax – ahhhh.
It is hard to believe that I had been there a week, the days seemed to merge and blend like colours on an artist’s palette. I think it was day two or three when a group of people left the camp to move on, whether it be for work or just to continue their journey – I really wanted to go up the top to get supplies from the van or perhaps go into town, there was an underlying anxiety in me that I could not explain nor release. Was is the impending absence of people I had come to love or something more sinister? The 4WD taxi service taking the journeyers upward was too full for me to join and darkness was falling soon, preventing my desire from fruiting action. I slept early that night with the intent to trek up on foot the next morning.
There were two people already awake and in the kitchen when I rose for the walk, I gave notice then paced onward through the early morning mist. The climb I had done before with a pack proved a lot easier than the mind had painted, a continuous reminder to just be and just do instead of unnecessarily milling over and over futile possibilities. I reached the faithful chariot, turned the engine over and put the heater on full, ahh, such luxury, warmth and shelter. I made a tea, had breakfast and reclined on the bed – such a contrast of comfort blasted my senses as I sunk into the soft duck down quilt and squishy pillows. Back down I went with bag full of goodies to make life easier in the valley, the incline proving a challenge – I imagine that if the slightest momentum were gained or surface area were reduced to a single boot in the wrong place my journey downward would have been a terrifying gravel assisted slide.
I noticed on the flatter and easier parts of the walk back that I felt considerably better than I had the day before, the anxiety had left and I remained to the present moment with ease. I concluded that the time away from noise and social encounters was needed to get back in the flow my own being and that to be aware of how I may be feeling in relation to what is going on around me. The walk in presence purged any negativity from my being and I felt clear and happy, the rest of the journey back to camp was filled with song and smiles in the loving company of myself.
I had managed to catch the first day’s food circle and although I had eaten I was ravenous from the morning hike. After the eating the talking stick was passed around – Maria suggested the creation of a sweat lodge, this strong and present woman had facilitated many a sweat and shamanic ceremony, I had formed a connection with her early on. She was of Chilean descent and I affectionately called her Madre. The tribe agreed upon the proposal and before the dishes were taken back to the kitchen there were 15 people gathering resources to construct the lodge.
This lodge was constructed by partially dried eucalyptus branches curved over one another and tied to form a dome shape, several tarpaulins from the camp were then placed over the branches and the lodge took form. In the centre a pit was dug to provide space for the red hot rocks, the catalyst for the intense heat bought on by the steam. Nearby a fire was being built to contain the dozen or so rocks and to provide a pre and post sweat meditation space, the two together formed a figure 8 from above, a symbol of infinite impermanence. After the construction we had a short break and went about collecting two rocks each to use in the sweat.
We gathered, 20 in all around the fire space with our rocks and personal sacred items, we disrobed and sat naked as the facilitator gave guidance and instruction for the event. One by one we set our intention for the ceremony and placed our rocks in the fire.
The entire time I have been here has felt so natural, so open and loving, there is no expectation and everyone is free to do whatever they want without judgment – providing no harm comes to themselves or others. It has been an incredibly healing experience and has taught me to say and do what I feel where previously I would shy at the prospect due to peer observation. Being naked around so many people has been one of those blocks that – as I’m sure some of you would relate – creates a fear within the mind, that ridiculous little thought of not being good enough, of not comparing to the body type of another or just being uncomfortable in your own skin. The latter of which was to be healed with my intention.
We entered the lodge, it was as the facilitator remarked, like a mother’s womb. We sat in two circles around the pit, our heads in the leaves of the eucalypt branches that sighed over from the ceiling, our limbs often resting on one another. I had a spot at the inner circle, my legs crossed but a few centimetres from where the sparkling red hot rocks were to be placed.
I don’t feel to elaborate on the details of the ceremony but I do confess its profound healing power, I came out with intention fulfilled and a deep love for my brothers and sisters sharing the experience. We speak about family when relating to those close to us, blood or otherwise however the literal description often lacks meaning, what I felt as we embraced in a big group after the sweat was not the word, not the thought but the sensation of family, a trusting, loving gathering – a truth within my being.
We had no light and stumbled through the dark forest to the river where we plunged in the icy waters, the night was pierced by shrieks and laughter and in file through the trees we came back to the warmth to close the ceremony. To celebrate the rest of the night we sat by the main fire and warmed our bodies against the chilly air with food, tea and music.
The next morning I was keen to have a bath – I may have not mentioned this but there was a bathtub that had been bought down the hill and placed up on rocks on the inside bend of a creek. I started a fire under the tub and filled it, bucket by bucket with water. Around an hour later the water was steaming and ready for me, I broke some eucalyptus leaves and scattered them around the water which provided a beautiful fragrance to accompany my descent into the soothing hot bath. I must say that in the future, wherever I decide to stop and live there will be the prospect of a fire bath – absolute luxury.
That night some of us sat around the fire after our meal, one of the girls asked me of my experiences in life, the building blocks that created the person typing these words. All eyes were on me as I recounted my story, the words flowed smoothly, from the mental hardships, the pain of fears manifesting and gripping the experience, the wave of circumstance – from the terrifying lows to the blissful highs and back again – the purging of these neurosis, the meeting of the teacher to the stabilising of the being and the start of the journey. All of these may be a story for you one day dear reader but for now they remain generalisations. Up until now my speech had always been objective, never one to voice a long story as I saw no direct purpose, but this tale opened me up immensely, I felt whole and an authority to myself – I could story tell.