It was Wednesday night, almost 9pm. The Questers left on the hill only had about nine hours left till they could come down. The rule was that the Vision Quest ended at sunrise.
We were thinking about starting a fire in the pit, since it was almost completely dark, when we saw a figure walking along the trail back into camp.
It was the husband of a married couple who were on the tour. He seemed in good spirits when he got to us. We hugged him. He could only whisper, as his voice was dry from no water for a few days, that he just wanted to spend an evening in his warm tent. So, he came down early. He refused to break the water and food fast till his wife came off the hill in the morning. So off to bed he went, as did most everyone else too.
We’d have to be up early the next morning for the returning questers.
They came exactly nine hours later. Just as the Sun was peeking over the mountains. Before 7am, we had the remaining six back. Stories were shared, tea was drunk.
No one else saw a mother fucking snake in their space.
“I’d have left early if there’d been a snake,” a few people said to me.
Most everyone had drank all their Peyote tea. Some had even eaten the buttons at the bottom of the jar.
One person came back in a good state, but quickly settled into a dehydration spell. He couldn’t keep liquids down. It took a few hours till he could sit up and share some of his stories from the hill.
Everyone else was able to get back into hydration safely, and by the evening, they were ready for the intense sweat lodge session.
“The dust-off sweat you guys did before the Vision Quest was about an hour,” I was told when I asked how long the one on the returning night would be.
I couldn’t believe it had been an hour. It felt like it had been 20 minutes. So, my reaction to being told, “Tonight’s session will be about four hours” was slightly unnecessary.
Still... Four. Hours.
In addition to the deeper sweat we would be doing, we’d be coming out from the lodge and directly lining up to walk across the coals that would be patted down from the fire for the lava rocks.
Gentle Eagle walked us through in the afternoon how to get safely across the coals without burning ourselves.
“You walk with intention,” he said.
You took the first step, and you just kept going… Never looking down. Never running. Nice, steady, intentional steps.
But before you took the first step, you would shout out your intention.
“I am a hallow bone!” Gentle Eagle shouted before demonstrating the walk.
I had no idea what a hallow bone was, but I made a note to Google it when I got back to a data connection.
For this sweat session, we each selected three lava rocks. I made sure to pick medium-sized ones so that they would be easier to pull out of the fire. There would be 12 of us in the lodge, which meant close to 40 stones.
Which meant intense heat.
A few hours later, after the Sun had gone down and the sky was completely dark, the fire and the stones were ready for us.
Similar to the “dust-off” sweat we’d done the day we left for the Vision Quest, we were smudged with sage one-by-one. And once again, I was directly behind Gentle Eagle in the line to go into the lodge.
As I hit the doorway on my hands and knees, I greeted my ancestors, crawled in behind Gentle Eagle. There were a few people who opted out of the sweat at the last minute, which meant we had a little more room this time. But not much. And instead of the heartbeat being kept by someone inside the lodge, it was done by Loretta and Tyler (taking turns) for what I later learned was about three and a half hours.
One by one, the stones were brought in by Scott using the antlers from the other day. Every third or fourth rock would get a smudging of some incense. It was 10-12 stones that were brought in before Gentle Eagle would close the doorway curtain, and start flinging water onto the stones, creating steam. Then we would have songs and chanting.
Each time the curtain dropped, I leaned into where the stones were, and breathed in deeply through my nose. Out of my mouth.
This went on for four rounds. Between the third and fourth round, we had a water break. Water and electrolytes were passed around via a horn to drink out of. And because I was the first in, it meant I was at the end of the passing line. The horn would have to go back around the circle to be filled, then come back around in darkness. And each time it would be empty when it got to me.
We were asked if we had had enough water.
“Absolutely not!” I screamed. “I haven’t gotten any yet. It keeps coming up empty by the time it reaches me.”
I had already laid down in the dirt twice during the chanting. I was very dehydrated.
“We’re gonna send it back around one more time,” said Gentle Eagle. “No one drink. This one is for Heather.”
People still drank from it.
But I did get a little. Enough for me to finish the session. Because if I hadn’t gotten it, I would have demanded to be let out right away.
It felt like only an hour had passed as we were crawling out of the tent, into complete darkness. I realized it was the process of bringing in the stones that took most of the time. But three and a half hours had definitely passed.
As we circled our way back around to the front of the tent, where the fire had been, we were in line to walk across the coals.
It was barely visible. The coals had been patted down so well, I could only see two orange lines where the edges of the walkway were.
Gentle Eagle walked across first, stating that he was a “hallow bone.” Then a bucket of water was tossed over him.
“No water for me, please!” I reminded everyone of my request from earlier. I didn’t want to have water thrown over me after coming out of a hot tent into a chilly night. I was already shivering.
Though it could have been nerves from the thought of having to walk across the coals.
I stood at the start of the walkway and waited for my cue to walk.
“I am the Elk!” I shouted, and walked towards Gentle Eagle across the coals.
I didn’t feel the heat at all.
I reached him, received my hug, and then stood aside do that the next person could have their turn.
Everyone else had the bucket throw on them. A few told me I was wise to have requested it not be thrown on me.
It was getting close to midnight, and we still had to have dinner. We all dried off and changed, and then sat down for food. And lots of water.