"As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow." - A. C. Benson
Day 26 - Tuesday, July 18, 1995 - As is the custom, the walkers began the day with a prayer circle. Then they fortified themselves with muffins and juice, taking to the road about 9 AM. Another hot day loomed ahead. This summer is working it’s way into the record books for its unrelenting intensity.
The walkers trooped onward for nearly 20 miles to the Susquehanna State Park, where they have encamped. Both the park and the nearby river take their names from the Susquehannock Indians. As many as 7,000 of these Iroquoian family peoples once made this area their home. The walkers have been told that all members of this native nation have perished. As history records it, the last 20 Susquehannock people were massacred—beaten to death—by a mob of colonists in 1763.
Some few Susquehannock people escaped the mobs, and have lived quietly, all but anonymously, in the region.
A scene along the Susquehanna River
Back on Day 1 of the walk Jacki Gauger had stood by the fire under the sun with everyone at First Encounter Beach to help get our pilgrimage underway. But today was her first full day actually walking on the road with the group. She was astonished at the noise and the searing hot wind produced by passing trucks. "It's shocking to get hit so suddenly and so hard by a steaming blast of loud, smelly air," she told me. "It deepens my sympathy for the walkers, who have put up with this every day."
Jacki’s friend Elizabeth Dinges came over to the coast from Glyndon, Maryland and drove up and down the route through the day, offering fruit and cool drinks to the walkers.
Ralph Jones arrived from Virginia to join the walk. He was bearing treasures: a CB radio, and two walkie-talkies. Ralph got right to work installing the CB in Bess, our faithful little blue Toyota pickup. Our hope is that these new communications devices will bring an end to the missed connections that have caused so much waiting and frustration—those excruciating hours when the walkers enter what we have come to call “the Sunbow Zone.”
Over 60 people came out to the community gathering at the Susquehanna Sate Park to meet with the walkers. The group included many children who had just completed the park's Junior Ranger Program, and their parents. As is customary, the walkers passed a feather at the gathering to give each person a chance to speak. When the children spoke, with their honesty, simplicity, and hope, they gave everyone courage.
Late in the evening a Seminole man named Sam Thomas also came by to visit with the walkers. He told the group that he'd been gifted with a personal Sunbow—Whirling Rainbow vision. Learning about our walk had made him feel happy. He wanted to meet everyone, and to share what had come in vision.
The campsite was untouched by artificial light from signs, buildings or autos. As a consequence, the night sky revealed itself in majesty. As they sat beneath a canopy of summer stars, the walkers listened to frogs sing, to leaves rustle in the breeze, and to Sam Thomas tell his tale.
Sam said that his name in the Seminole language is Caocoochee. He was named for a wildcat that was seen by his grandmother on the day of his birth while she was waiting outside their Florida home. For the last ten years he has lived with his family in Edgewood, Maryland.
Caocoochee said that he has undertaken the Vision Quest ritual many times in his life, the first time at the age of 12 as a part of his manhood rites. Then three years ago (1992) he felt called again to go on a Vision Quest—to spend time alone fasting and praying in the wilderness—a traditional spiritual practice in North America.
Caocoochee felt specifically called to Garrett Island in the Susquehanna River. This is an unlikely place, he explained, different from anyplace else he has ever fasted. The town of Perryville is across the river on one bank, and Havre de Grace is on the other. Interstate highway 95 crosses the river here, and so everywhere there are the sights and sounds of development, commerce, and traffic.
"Still," he said, "the call was quite specific to go to this island, and nowhere else. So I prepared myself, rented a canoe, and paddled out to Garrett Island."
Caocoochee walked the island, prayed, established his questing site, stripped himself naked, and sat before a small fire to allow civilization to begin slipping away.
As he sat by the fire Caocoochee soon felt called to walk down a small hill toward the shore of the river. He stood there in his nakedness, praying, not knowing why he had been called to the shore, in full view of Havre de Grace. Then a fish washed up at his feet. He picked it up and looked at it. There were no marks or signs to indicate what might have killed it. Then another fish washed up just to his left. He began walking slowly along the shore for about a mile, and found 25 dead fish washed up. None of them had any marks or signs.
Pondering this strange occurrence, he walked back to where he had found the first fish. "At that time," Caocoochee said, "I heard a deep male voice say: 'I am dying.' I knew it was the voice of the river. Then somehow I found myself back at my questing place, and I realized that this had been a vision.
"Now I have been on vision quest many times, and when vision comes it usually comes with this odd feeling—as if the Earth has moved. I was not having that feeling this time, but somehow I felt called to go back to the water, and so I slipped and slid down the little hill to the river. More fish started to wash up to the left. I knew that I would find precisely 25. And that's what I found: 25 more dead fish.
"I found a stone at my feet, picked it up, and took it back with me to my questing place. And then I felt the shift: the feeling that always comes with vision. I was surprised. In my experience I have learned not to expect a powerful message or vision until the third or fourth day of a vision quest. But here it was the first day, and I was having one.
"In vision I found myself walking down North Avenue in Baltimore. People were sitting on their stoops, but they got off to approach me as I walked by. They would come and ask questions. Some listened to me, some laughed at my answers, and some hit me or threw things at me when I answered. I saw some of the people go back to their stoops to take drugs after they asked me a question, or take a drink from a bottle. Some were suspicious, some were angry; there were all kinds of reactions, all different. Then I noticed that a few of the people were starting to walk behind me.
"The scene shifted to Philadelphia, then New York, Washington, DC, and other cities that I have been in. Always it was the same, all these questions and answers with different reactions: some friendly, some hostile. As this kept happening, I found that eventually there was a large group walking behind me and out of the cities. We were walking at an accelerated rate, the speed of a car, or something fast. The cities fell far behind.
"We came to a wooded area, and then into a clearing where there was a stage with a podium. All the people who were with me sat down on the grass as I walked up onto the stage toward the podium. On the podium was a big, leather-bound book, and in the book I saw the first Medicine lesson my grandmother ever taught me, about balance and stability, about being able to ground yourself on the Earth so you can move forward. And as I turned the pages I saw the second Medicine lesson I had learned, and then the third, and the fourth, and so on.
"I shared the lessons with the people, and then told them 'that's all I have to say.' In one voice of unison they responded with a question: 'What have you learned?' As I heard that question, I found myself back at my questing site.
"Now I had gone on vision quest because I felt my Medicine was stagnant, that there was no growth. I was not meeting any teachers on the physical level, and I did not want my Medicine to stand still and die. I realized that many of my lessons come from my students, and that it was not yet time for me to forsake the city for some remote area of the country, as I had been planning. I realized it was important to stay in the urban areas and teach, that it would not be an easy road, and that people would respond sometimes with scorn, laughter, and even hostility, but that some would listen and learn.
"As I sat thinking on these things, I looked toward Havre de Grace. A dot of light was coming toward me. It came closer and I saw it was a pigeon, flying straight as an arrow. It landed close to me on a branch, and sat there looking directly at me. After a while, I said to the pigeon: 'Thank you for coming. I am waiting for others.' The pigeon did not leave, and just kept looking at me like I was a dummy. That pigeon looked for a long time. Finally, it hopped in the air and flew back where it had come from in a straight line.
"At the time I had no concept of pigeon medicine. I didn't know what the visit meant. I was waiting for a hawk or an eagle, but a pigeon came, and I didn't understand.
"Then my back began to ache and I leaned back and looked up. I saw a rainbow in the sky. At first it was just one arc, but then it broke in half to make two arcs, like McDonald's. Then it began to spin with four rainbow arms reaching out, and it was spinning in the sky—the whirling rainbow (sunbow).
|Florida Circular Rainbow - Also called a Sunbow or Whirling Rainbow. Photo by Kamron Morris, 2006.
"I had seen this whirling rainbow during my first vision quest when I was 12 years old. It was already formed in the sky when I saw it. I told my elders about it back then, and they said that I had to walk a Medicine Path, and that I would understand this sky sign when I grew older if I stayed on the path.
"Well this time, three years ago, I not only saw it, I saw it being formed, and from that I understood that I was being called upon to do something, to teach about this. I have formed in my home the Whirling Rainbow Lodge to teach about this and other Medicine.
"The main thing I understood from this sky sign of the whirling rainbow (Sunbow) is that it is time for people to set aside their differences. That's what's important, to do it now. Now is the time."
After that vision as night deepened, Caocoochee sat by his fire on the island pondering the events of the day. He dozed off for a few minutes, awoke, and then began packing his pipe with tobacco so he would be ready to greet the dawn. Then he heard a female voice say: "Why are you still here?" He looked around for a while and found no one there. Then the voice spoke again, this time saying: "You have gotten everything you came for."
With this, Caocoochee realized it was time to leave Garrett Island to go home. "My people have no one-day vision quest in their medicine," he told me, "but from this experience I came to understand that a one-day quest can be a powerful tool for many people, especially people from the cities who have little experience in nature. It can help them get ready for a traditional four-day vision quest."
Two weeks later, Caocoochee was walking down a Baltimore street when he found a pigeon feather from the left wing, and then another feather, from another bird's right wing. He went to a restaurant, sat down holding the feathers and opened himself up to appreciate and to understand them.
"I realized then," he explained, "that of all the winged people the pigeons have most successfully adapted to the influx of people, machines, and civilization—all this busyness. They have even learned to flourish amidst it without losing track of who they are, or who their ancestors were.
"I resolved then to teach my students that they need their Medicine, their Spirit, 24 hours a day, even in the heart of the city, not just out in the woods or by the sea. They need their Spirit Medicine in the cities and the alleys and all those places. They need to practice their Medicine all the time in all the places they go. This is an important part of what is needed now."
Caocoochee finished his story. The Sunbow circle sat quietly, contemplatively under the stars, by the fire.
Later when Caocoochee and I spoke by phone, he told me that as he understood it the whirling rainbow vision is about uniting the people of the four sacred colors; all races, all nations, all creeds—all working together for the good of the whole. When all pathways are respected by all cultures, he said, the prophecy of the whirling rainbow will be realized.
For some traditional peoples the new global era said to initiate in the year 2012 is symbolized by the whirling rainbow. Each tribe on earth represents a color in the rainbow, unique yet together, living harmoniously with each other and the earth—different cultures of the rainbow whirling with change and interaction, contributing their medicine gifts to the whole.
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 27 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire