Winter Ross is an illustrator, writer and environmental activist whose work is influenced by shamanic practice. In 2015 Winter was awarded First place for Short Story by both the New Mexico Press Women’s Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Publishing credits include the literary journal “Pilgrimage: Story, Place, Spirit, Witness.” Ursa Major is one of several from her prose chapbook, “4 Warnings: Shamanic Journeys.” The illustration, from a limited edition of hand-pulled, hand-colored copperplate etchings, features a rendering of the sacred mountain, Sisnajini (Mt. Blanca) in Southern Colorado were Winter lives and dreams.
Prints and books can be ordered via her website: www.ceremonialvisions.com
The Shaman’s drumming reverberated around my heart. I closed my eyes beneath the soft blindfold and entered the Other World, as always, at a spot in my memory where Ancestor Creek finds it’s way through round blue stones and disappears underground. I wriggled in among the stones, slid down the long fall of water, past tree roots and into the womb of the Earth, into the dark cave, beyond which is the entrance to Wisdom.
A bulky black shape greets me in the lower world. It is Bear. She snarls, growls, yawns to show her big teeth and
shakes her furred head in mock ferocity. I find her theatrical.
“OK, that’s enough!” I laugh. “Cut it out, now. Are you my guide?” I ask the question as the Shaman has taught us. Bear shakes herself again and nods yes, grins back at me with white teeth bared one more time.
“Let’s get out of this cave, then.”
I grab a handful of fur in my right hand. As she guides me out of the darkness, patches of her coat come away in my fingers. There is gold beneath. I am reminded of the fairytale where a bear tears his fur on a door’s nail, revealing his identity as a golden prince to the two sisters, Rose White and Rose Red. Perhaps this bear is also not what she appears to be. Is there a golden queen under that rough coat? Or is this tear the sign of the Wounded Healer? Her fur is long and tan, the shoulders a silver tipped deep brown. She’s a Grizzly – a powerful totem, even among bears. I am honored.
As we walk into the luminescence, I am surprised to find myself in last night’s dream: a landscape with a glowing golden mountain beckoning in the distance. In the dream, my old volkswagon bus had broken down before I’d gotten halfway. The mountain is where we’re headed, I understand. Tonight I’ll actually go over the ridge.
We have to walk across a dark grassy valley to get there. Bear and I talk, walk together through the high grass. I can feel it brushing my legs. She is teaching me how to walk like the Indian women in the buckskin dresses at the Gourd Dance. We walk slowly, our weight shifting from foot to foot one step at a time, heavily, gracefully. I am reminded of the black-robed Zen monks in walking meditation. When I look down, I see that I am wearing white buckskin. The fringes of my dress and shawl sway like the grass. We are walking slowly enough that I have time to look around the valley; its rolling terrain is splotched by cloud shadows and sunlight.
We are completely alone.
“Isn’t anyone one else here?” I ask. The land is vast and silent and we are tiny in it.
” No.” Bear says, “It’s just you and me. We’re all alone, but I’ll protect you.”
Eventually, we come to a stream at the valley’s center. I recognize it from a past Journey: the home of the martyr rainbow trout who, over and over again, turns belly up and dies to save people’s souls.
“I wonder if that stupid trout is still here.”
“Shall we look?” asks the bear.
“No, he’s such a fool. It’s better to ignore him.”
“I could eat him for you, if you like,” she offers and we both laugh.
We wade across the creek; she walks on the upstream side of me, so that she breaks the current. My moccasined feet find a way among gold and brown stones beneath the clear water. I am still clinging to her coat, my fingers twined into the umber hair at her shoulder. We’re about to start upward. The shadowed foothills rise before the mountain. I am suddenly afraid to get to the goal: the golden valley beneath the peak. I want time to slow down. When we get there, will I find Shambhala or my own death?
“Isn’t there something I should be doing while we’re here?” She hears my fear, knows I am procrastinating.
“No. Just keep walking. Concentrate on your steps.”
As we start up, a path appears with aspen on either side. We are following the creek and I recognize the switchback trail from my childhood. The bear rears up to scratch deep claw marks into soft white bark. I used to wonder about those marks. I place the fingers of my left hand into the gouges she’s made, trace the calligraphy of the wounds.
“We Were Here”, they read.
When we finally get to the ridge, I am reminded of Windy Saddle west of The City. You can see down into the town of Golden from there. Here, though, there is no town or sign of life. But the familiarity of the place helps me gather courage to look down. I am pleased to see a lovely lapis colored river wending through the bright canyon. We start down the slope toward it. Our intention is to follow the river on out to the sea. The dark blue color of the river seems unnatural now, and as we get closer, I realize the river is not water, nor lapis lazuli, but cyanide! It’s a river of poison left over from the processing of gold. We can’t drink it. Nothing can live in it. I am thirsty. I begin to cry. All the gold in the world isn’t worth not having water to drink. How could they do this? How could we let this happen? I agonize over this poisoning of the earth, understanding now, why we’ve seen no other creatures.
“Isn’t there any hope?” I sob.
“No.” Bear says to me a third time. Always No.
“All you can do is keep walking in the Right Way. Keep Walking.”
There is a haze of ocean in the distance. On a far dune, we see the Stag-With-the- Blue-Fire-in-His-Antlers. He trots down to join us and I walk between him and Bear in silence for a long time. We are too thirsty to speak. Slowly, animals from the other Journeys join us: The eagle, the snakes and mice, Bat, Whale (out there in the salt ocean she is spy-hopping to greet us). Even Coyote wanders with us, tail hanging low, panting. Finally, so weak we can no longer walk, we lie down together in a heap on the beach as day draws to a close, like some old painting of The Peaceable Kingdom. Exhausted by sorrow and thirst, we dream ourselves slowly into heaps of white ash. This is all we can think of to do – to become fertilizer for a future world. This is what Hope has become.
Before the journey wind could blow all the grains of my astral body into space, the Shaman’s drumbeat changed and
I swam up, gasping, from the rock-rimmed pool where Ancestor Creek rose from its underground course. Dream within a dream. I slid the blindfold from my eyes. I lay on the ground, a wooly Navajo rug between me and a dusting of new snow. The dawn sky was silver. The wind was down. In the far desert distance I could hear the low groan of a dragline mining the earth. My cheeks were wet, still, with tears.
Want more from Winter Ross? Check out this title on Amazon:
[amazon asin=1466405570&template=iframe image]
Do you have a transformational shamatic story you would like to share? Tell us about it in the COMMENTS section below!
Also, if you are an artist, writer, musician or filmmaker and would like to contribute something to The Gentle Traveler, we published one Creativity Spotlight blog a month. We would LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!