We’re so happy to feature a new book giveaway!
Please enjoy this excerpt from “Solo Passage” by Glenda Goodrich.
There are 2 ways to enter to win a FREE copy:
- Leave a comment below with your email address (so we can contact you)
- Email us at KOMWriting@gmail.com with the Subject: Solo Passage giveaway entry
The winner will be randomly selected on 9/25/23 and announced on our website and social media.*
Excerpt: Belonging to the Land
Body of earth . . . Tell the story of pure mirrors. The Creator has given you this splendor. Why talk of anything else? – Rumi
Unbuckling my hip strap, I twisted to balance the pack on my hip and lowered the bulky bundle to the ground. The size of a small child, the pack held everything I’d need for my stay in Death Valley: sleeping bag, sleeping pad that folded into a camp chair, flashlight, hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, down jacket, sun hat, long underwear, one extra pair of pants, one extra shirt, underwear, socks, flip-flops, small first aid kit, pocketknife, water bottle, journal and pen, and a collection of small personal items for an altar. I had packed four gallons of water out to my canyon questing site, two at a time, the day before.
The rising sun cast a narrow flamingo-pink strip under a stratum of surging gray clouds. To the north, the fan-shaped alluvium wash disappeared into a V with a fifty-foot sheer rock wall on each side. To the south, great aprons of rocky debris spread out toward the valley floor. Beyond, the cascading ranges of the Panamint Mountains towered in the distance. This was Hanaupah Canyon, the remote, desolate place where I would live for the next four days.
I fished a bottle out of my pack, twisted the lid off, and took a long drink. I’d been instructed to drink one gallon of water every day to flush toxins from my system and stay hydrated – my wilderness quest guide’s voice played in my head: You want C2P—clear and copious pee. Even in November, daytime temperatures in Death Valley ranged as high as ninety degrees. The water was my lifeline in this desert.
I stood there, surrounded by millions of rocks in all shapes, colors, and sizes—boulders, stones, gravel, and siltstone. I was dwarfed by the immensity of the place. I had brought myself there for a reason. And I was terrified.
At midlife, divorced, my children grown and on their own, I was searching for meaning and a remedy for the unnamable longing that had led me into a series of disappointing relationships. The trauma I had experienced in life—teenage motherhood, marrying abusive men, and serial infidelity—left me with lingering shame and self-doubt. I’d gone to therapy and read a dozen self-improvement books. I’d sat in women’s circles, shared my deepest secrets, and listened to others share theirs. Still, something was missing.
More important, I wanted to do something meaningful for my fiftieth birthday. A wilderness quest sounded like exactly the right thing—mysterious and challenging with the promise of spiritual growth and insight.
What healing gifts would nature bring me if I opened myself up to the possibilities?
In the months before the quest, I lost my nerve. I was an experienced camper and backpacker, but the idea of spending four days in isolation without food was unnerving. I had already paid the deposit and told all my friends; I couldn’t back out. So I gathered up my courage and showed up. I flew to Las Vegas, rented a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and drove the scenic road west through Red Rock Canyon to Death Valley.
There were two other questers with me on this journey. Karen, a university executive from the East Coast, was questing up the canyon a quarter mile to my right. Debbie, a psychotherapist from Southern California, made her camp three-quarters of a mile down the
canyon to my left. Linda and Sara, our guides, held vigil back at base camp, a half mile away on a flat sandy rise.
I wiped drips of water off my chin and caught the faint smell of sage smoke on my hand from the send-off ritual that morning. I remembered Linda and Sara draped in shawls as they fanned sage smoke, prayed over me, and sent me on my way.
“May you get all that you need from your solo time on Mother Earth,” Linda whispered into my ear.
“Blessings on your journey,” Sara said.
After the send-off and with my heart fluttering in anticipation, I loaded up my backpack and headed west toward my site, or power place as the guides had called it. The memory of the morning sent a surge of loneliness through me. I already missed Linda and Sara and the other questers. I brought my arm to my face, inhaled the musty scent, an looked around at my surroundings. Ton upon ton of rocks spread around me like eons of ancient volcanic memories. I had no tent and no food because exposure and fasting are integral parts of a wilderness quest. It would be the first time I’d attempt to go without eating for longer than five or six hours, let alone four days, and I wondered if I was up to it. I wore an emergency whistle on a lanyard around my neck.
A line from a Mary Oliver poem popped into my head, offering momentary inspiration: When it’s over I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms. I had come this far; I would let the Death Valley marriage dance begin, for better or for worse.
I scanned the canyon where I stood, and noticed, for the first time, that my fasting solo site was, regrettably, on a downhill slant. Every traverse across the wash would involve walking cockeyed over the rocky scree. Why hadn’t I noticed the slant when I chose this site?
Our two guides had explained to us three questers that choosing our power site, the place we would spend our solo time, was an essential part of the ceremony. We were to spread out and let intuition guide us to a place no farther than a mile from base camp. When we found a place that felt right, we were to approach, ask for permission from the plants and animals to be there, and wait for an answer. The answer might come in the way of a sign from nature or from inside us. The idea of nature as a conscious being with a voice and an opinion was new to me, and I questioned whether it could be true. But the more I thought about it, the more it felt right. It was as if something I had known as a child, but had forgotten as an adult, was coming back around.
On the afternoon the guides sent us in search of our spots, hot and tired, I found this canyon about a half mile from base camp. I chose it because the fan-shaped wash offered early morning and late-afternoon shade. I didn’t remember to ask permission to stay there and didn’t notice at that time that the canyon wash was at a gradual downhill angle. I had already messed things up and had only just begun.
Damn it. This wasn’t a good site. I should move, I thought to myself. No, I couldn’t move. My guides had made sure they knew where I was, had even drawn small maps with location X’s. I was too embarrassed to consider what would be involved in moving. I perched myself on a rock. Pleading ghrelin growls from my stomach announced the first twelve hours without food. Could I do this? Four days alone in a slanted gravel wash with nothing to eat? No one to talk to?
The guides had instructed us to walk, rest, contemplate, watch what was happening in the natural world around us, create ceremonies, and write in our journals. With only rocks around me, I couldn’t imagine anything much to watch in the canyon. On the positive side, even if the time didn’t result in any spectacular insights, I might at least lose weight, and walking through the loose pebbles would be good exercise.
A strong wind whipped through the canyon, blew off my sun hat, and carried it to a nearby rock where it pressed flat against the stone. The wind dropped as suddenly as it had begun, leaving an eerie stillness. There didn’t appear to be another living thing, only me, the rocks, and the hot wind. I bent to pick up my hat and felt my glasses slip down my sweaty nose. How long, I wondered, before the sun goes down?
I considered putting my pack on and slipping back into base camp, like an errant pet with its tail between its legs. What the hell was I thinking? There had to be easier and less risky ways to come to terms with who I was at midlife and what I wanted for my future. I could be home sitting in my favorite chair sipping tea. I had never even spent a whole night outdoors by myself, let alone in a place called “Death Valley.”
* By entering this contest, you give consent to Kind Over Matter to use your name for promotional purposes on our website and on all social media.
NOTE: You can pre-order Glenda’s book on Amazon.