on journeys of faith

I just returned home from an epic 4-day journey into the mountains following my intrepid and hardcore partner (the love of my life, who also just happens to be one of my greatest heroes) as he rode a bicycle through some incredibly beautiful backcountry terrain into the mountains to a small town where pilgrims pay homage to one of the Virgin Mary’s many apparitions, often walking from far-away destinations to arrive ragged and worn from the journey, full of love and gratitude for their virgin goddess.

I wasn’t raised Catholic, even though — or perhaps because — my mom was, and my maternal grandparents attended mass all of their lives. My upbringing was more in the agnostic turned hippie Anglican & eventually Presbyterian (once my Dad experienced the Call to become a minister), and then as a searching teenager/young adult inspired by the words of Gandhi about how all religions are just different paths leading to the same destination, I came to the realization that I could really do without the baggage/trappings of modern day organized Christianity (which seemed like a lot of baseless judgement and small-mindedness), and abandoned church-going in favour of finding my spiritual centre in the wilderness, the place where I felt the most whole and closest to the creator. Later I found the path of yoga, which I’m still studying and practicing now.

So although I’m no Catholic myself, I have a great respect for those who are dedicated to their faith, and I love and appreciate the deep symbolism and spiritual resonance of the Catholic church. The bloody and vicious role of Catholicism and other Christian churches in colonization the world over, and the unforgivable abuses of power both within the church and in its name are other matters entirely, and a couple of the main reasons I have rejected that path for myself. But the faith practiced by my partner and many others in colonized places where the Catholic church sought to replace Indigenous spirituality and only partially succeeded — that worship of and devotion to a Virgin Mary who is at least in part just another manifestation of Pachamama …. it is a beautiful thing.

Every year for the past 4 years, I have followed my faithful & dedicated man on this journey of the soul. I love the journey for my own reasons, some of them pictured in the photo update below, and some of them impossible to capture either in photos or words. But before I get into my photo update, there is something else I want to write about. Because once we got out of the mountains and into cell reception area, I got an exciting (and slightly terrifying) email. It started like this:

Omg omg omg!! I have one of six spots available in this amazing horse
gentling retreat
taking place in Colorado in August, thanks to some audacious
encouragement from an audacious friend (I’m looking at you, Katie <3) to
launch an audacious fund raising campaign to reach for this crazy dream. It
feels like a hugely audacious thing to do in both senses of that word — it’s both
bold and impudent. After all, really who am I to ask friends and strangers
for money to attend a retreat that would otherwise be way outside of my
financial reach? What makes me think that anyone should give me any of their
hard-earned dollars to do such a thing? How embarrassing (even shameful) to
have the gall to ask!

I feel all those things, and despite that, I decided to do it. Because when
my friends (and even some strangers) rallied to support me through the awful
months following the death of my eldest son last year, it changed the way I
related to that aspect of the Protestant work ethic culture I was raised within, where to need help is shameful and something to be hidden. I didn’t feel shameful or bad about having so many people contribute to help my family through that difficult time — rather, I felt so loved and supported, so much a part of a wider network of community, even if many of its members are people I rarely, if ever, see or talk to. There is nothing shameful in needing help, or in receiving it, and so much to be gained in the giving and receiving of any kind of support, be it a word of encouragement or a $5 donation. So, if you’re uncomfortable about my asking for help, please know that I get it. It’s okay. I’m still writing for you, and I’ll be rooting for you when the time comes too <3.

But listen, this dream I have is starting to take shape and I could not be more excited and terrifying to realize that there is such a thing as destiny, and that I’m already on its path — and, in my particular case, that path is full of horses. What the what? I honestly
still have no idea how that happened… I mean, I know exactly how it happened (and I will tell the story in another post, promise), but in the grand scheme of things, up until very recently I had never even imagined that my greatest passion and calling would focus on the healing power of horses. Yet, here we are. And this amazing young woman who calls herself Mustang Maddy, and who’s gained an impressive following through her passion and love for working with horses — especially the traumatized or misunderstood or mis-treated — and her willingness and skill in sharing her learning with others… Her approach speaks to me in a way that no other has in my searching to learn how to be with my horse in the best way possible, because let’s be honest, I am perhaps the most novice of novices to ever own a horse — I am just now, after 3+ years
with my first horse, starting to understand the depth of what I don’t know… And when I watch Maddy work, and when I use her methods, it is like magic. She relates to horses in a way that speaks to my soul, that just feels right. Here’s a snippet of what we’ll be doing in the retreat:

Amazing, right? I am so excited. I’m already halfway to my fundraising goal to cover the cost of the tuition ($5,500 USD, which is about $7,400 Canadian dollars). On top of that I will still have the cost of travelling to Colorado from approximately 2,700 kilometers north, but if I’m being audacious, why not go all the way? I love a good road trip any time. I’m hoping that if I write lots, I’ll be able to inspire my readers & friends to keep donating and sharing, and, one way or another, I WIIL make it on this journey of faith, to a destination I still can’t fully comprehend. All I know is that there will be horses, hope, and healing, and it’s a journey I must take. So if you feel compelled to donate, please do! I have to pay the remaining tuition by June 2, which is only 10 days away (omg!!!!).

And with that, I want to share some pictures of my most recent journey, on this sacred and serene pilgrimage to visit the Virgin goddess of my lover and best friend. And since this is my 3rd attempt at writing this post (multiple interruptions, spotty internet, and a glitching program have tested my resilience and determination over the 4 days I’ve been working on this post), the commentary will be short (ish).

My view for much of the trip, following behind (or leapfrogging ahead, from shady spot to shady spot) the pilgrims on bikes.

The support rig I was driving, with an awesome sun shade for the guard dogs. Can you see them both?

One of very few markers along the way. It’s a journey of faith in more ways than just the obvious — in some places the road is little more than a trail snaking through the mountains, and there are several unmarked junctions where I had to make a best guess, even after having travelled this road three times before. In one tiny town, I remembered having made a wrong turn last year, which required me to make an approximately 13-point turn with the truck & trailer all while being watched by a group of people sitting in the shade of an adobe veranda at the junction. This year I had to stop and think a bit before I took the right turn, and all the same folks were there, smiling and waving and laughing back at me. I think they probably remembered me too.

The kids playing in one of the many creeks the road crosses. We stopped for lunch and a rest on the first day, and although the water is way too warm for someone accustomed to the glacial creeks of the north, it was refreshing to wash off the dust all the same, and the kids had a lot of fun splashing around.

If there is a quintessential photo of this particular journey, this is it for me. It’s just before sunset on the first day, and we stopped to rest under a giant mango tree at the centre of this tiny ranchito with about 7 houses spread around a wide open space where horses, mules, cows, and pigs roam free, along with the usual dogs, cats, and chickens. Although I didn’t see any goats, I imagine there were some somewhere. This precocious little girl wanted to go talk to the kids hanging out in the shade beside the 1-room school pictured in the background, and so without hesitation or an ounce of shyness she sashayed over in this amazing hand-me-down dress that she refuses to take off, complete with hand-me-down leather boots several sizes too big, and the costume jewellery necklace her tia gifted her when we stayed over with them the night before starting the journey. I’m so in love with the weight and the swing of this dress when she moves, and the magical late afternoon light, and our friend Mono on his bike in the background, with our second support vehicle just behind him. In a moment I will pass this incredible little girl a mango that her father picked from the tree, and she will expertly peel it and suck out the sweet goodness of the perfectly ripe fruit before we wash up and continue on our way. But this moment captures for me the essence of who this child is — her unbounded confidence and complete lack of fear, her irresistible desire to talk to anyone and everyone as if they were the oldest of friends, her resolute belief that in this favourite beautiful dress — already old and patched, now filthy in its second day of wearing — she is a beautiful princess. Her willingness to fight to the end to do (and wear) what she wants, and my realization that I can only do so much (read: not that much) to shape or quash that determination, but knowing that in the end she loves me as fiercely as I love her. This girl. The daughter I never thought I would have. The most challenging and intense of my four children, by a very long mile. She’s pushing me to grow as a person and a parent in ways I never imagined I could, and I’m so grateful for that.

And then there is this little one, rocking his off-centre mohawk, baby huaraches, and filthy onsie. My last baby and youngest son. The one whose deep, dark newborn eyes kept me tethered to life after Moon’s death, when all I wanted was to just float away down that river to the other side. He was ten days old when it happened, and I don’t know how I would have survived without him.

And then there is this one, the love of my life, my polar opposite soulmate, the yang to my yin… and all he got after hauling ass up the last summit after two full hot days of pedalling was this crappy g-rated kiss.

Note to self: work on make-out selfie skills (more make-out, less selfie).

Arriving ragged, dirty and worn with prayers and sunbeams for the Virgin.

This sacred place, place of my heart’s yearning, of seeds & cuttings & new life born out of the old — how good it was to spend some time here again. Until next year <3.

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