Saturday, 10 September 2011

100 Days on the Mountain

Day 37.
So I'm back. It's taking some time to recalibrate to the (by turns insistent, by turns indifferent) rhythm of Humania, but I thought I'd climb back up on the blog horse by offering an overview of the project.

The deal: A week ago I completed 100 days of hermit ango in the Willapa Hills, being the rugged, densely forested, sparsely populated southern frontier of my coastal nation. I spent each of those days attending to the needs of survival and practising meditation, both sitting and other. I also brought out 445 pages (and counting) of journal. These will be rockered into a book, but for the time being, I can summarise the experience as "deep and broad and one of the most worthwhile things I've ever done."

In the meantime, here are some photos. I had no camera, since possessions were limited to survival requirements, so "some" photos is pretty much all of them. But I offer them all the same, in deep gratitude for the opportunity to practice, and for the friends and fellow monastics who made it possible. Supplying these photos was the least of their contributions.

Facts in Brief:

I established camp on 83 acres of undeveloped hillsides, surrounded by much the same for miles in every direction. I was dropped on 26 May 2011, and remained in-country for 100 days.

View of my mountain from another one.
The land was extremely diverse, consisting of bands of deep coastal jungle alternating with dense stands of Douglas fir; high, cleared ground going to brush; low, marginally maintained pastureland; and several riparian habitats. It was bounded to the north by one tidal creek, and to the south by another. Decadent luxuries included a 100-year old orchard that furnished my fill of heritage apples in the final weeks, and a barn I was permitted to use. With a freakin' wood stove! (Big deal? Read on.)

The weather was... how do you say? Ah, yes. CRAP. To put things in perspective, let me explain to those not from the North Coast that our famous perma-rain is supposed, by custom and contract, to diminish through June, and end definitively on 1 July. After that date, glorious summer is to ensue and persist until mid-September, at which time the rain may begin again.

Thus, I sat, as I expected, in the bitter wet sopping dark through the full 30 days of June. Then I did likewise through July, day by day, night by night, week by week. Finally, on 1 August, the rain stopped. The grey kept on, but I'm cool with that. You can have the grey, July, just stop goddam raining on me.

So my host's gracious offer of the barn, including the wood stove and even his firewood, as laundromat and spa, proved vital in a summer that included a sit in full winter kit (tuque, gloves, and every stitch of clothing I owned on under my robe) on 4 July. And that wasn't the last.

At long last, mid-August produced a near-facsimile of summer, following clouded mornings with sunny afternoons, and only 1 full day of rain. I was even able to take the fly off my tent for several days, so only somewhat arctic had the nights become.

Despite my sitting
Three things will not be silenced
Mind. Body. Tyvek.
The gear consisted of a small tent, a Tyvek tarp, a sleeping bag, a backpacking stove, and a backpack. I also had the minimum tools and clothing, and a cache of food (an all-purpose cereal I invented for the purpose, called zenola, and rice and beans for afternoon and evening meals) and other supplies, located in the rafters of the barn. My robe, which I designed and my mother, the Stradivarius of the sewing machine, drafted and made, was critical equipment, as was my stick. Both served 24 hours a day throughout the entire ango.

Sangha included, by partial account: Steller's jays; more configurations of garter snake than I've ever seen; kingfishers; salmon smolt; four species of owl; Douglas squirrels; bears; deer; alligator lizards; a young goshawk; otters; numerous colonies of paper wasp; beavers; bobcats; a special-ops unit of raccoons; a herd of elk; and an entire tribal confederation of coyotes. All of us closely monitored by a proprietary flock of ravens. (Full list to be included in the upcoming book.)

Finally, close friends made three scheduled proof-of-life visits during the ango. One dropped me off in May and made an emergency trip on Day 62 to verify my well-being, and another picked me up in September and bought me a cheeseburger and fries on the way back to the realm of people. And of course the couple who allowed me, with incredible generosity, to sit on their land all summer, and supported my practice in smaller but vital ways over the full 100 days.

And now the work begins. I'm hoping to have the book done soon. In the meantime, you'll be seeing excerpts and related material here.

And I'm glad the rest of you didn't blow yourselves up in my absence. Keep up the good work, eh?

The Bodhi Tree, a giant bigleaf
maple, under which I sat.


  1. What a privilege Robin, to witness and support some of your experience, and to read your peaces of mind! I hope to explore your blog now that I've arrived. Bill

  2. Hi Bill! Thanks for all your help and support, to say it was indispensable would border on sarcasm. I hope you like the blog.


  3. Glad you made it back to the other shore. I thought maybe a Cougar had got you. I was down in Port Townsend a couple of times this summer and heard from locals what a Crap weather year it was. Look forward to reading your book.

    PS. Love your camo robes. :)

  4. Thanks, Cloud. The robe was originally designed in camo because I thought I would have to do the ango on public land, where it would have been a great deal more dangerous. What with Deliverance types on the one hand and law enforcement on the other, it was in my interest to remain unseen.

    However, on the mountain I soon discovered that there are positive reasons for taking the path in Realtree. First off, it sets you mostly equal to everything else out there, not above or apart from it, and that's a good stance for hermit practice. Also, I've discovered that many animals don't know what to do with a robed human in camo. They don't run, at least not if you're downwind. Wrong silhouette; they stare and stare, trying to figure out what the hell you are.

    Plus, the stuff works as advertised. If you stand still, you're invisible. So you get to observe wildlife more often and more closely.

    If I were starting an order of forest monks, we'd all be robed by Cabela's.

    Thanks for the good word!


  5. Really enjoyed this post, particularly interested in hearing more about the special pops raccoons as there has been an affinity with them since childhood. You might want to look into multicam for your next sewing project.

    Thanks for writing,

  6. I'll look into that multicam, Jordan. Seems like they've made some tremendous innovations on the science of breaking up in the last decade; prior to that, pretty much everything looked just like the stuff they issued in Vietnam.

    My choice of Realtree was based on 3 criteria: 1. yardage was available in town. 2.I like that it's just a painting of the woods; when you run into a stranger, it doesn't say "militia." Very important to deputy sheriffs and others who'd rather not have armed lunatics in the area. And 3., it's standard issue for rednecks around here. (Such as myself.) Running around in Realtree (Realtree T-shirts, Realtree hoodies, Realtree pyjamas; no kidding) is downright hillbilly chic, so it makes me just a tad more normal to incidental viewers. However, I also sat the full 100 days in my beloved GI cargo trousers (not visible in the photo). As long as I had my robe on it was OK, but on work details I ran around in just the BDUs and black T-shirt, and was painfully aware that I looked like I was gunning for ZOG.

    As for 'coons, I've been meaning to post about them for some time. Perhaps your vote will get me off my butt. I wouldn't say we had an "affinity," but they've aggravated me since childhood, if that counts. For example, the night before I left for the woods the local squad where I live at the beach managed to raid my food supply, which I had stockpiled in a locked garage. So many of the big bags where already patched with duct tape before they even arrived at the cache point.

    Thanks for the good word, Jordan!


  7. looking forward to more.

  8. Of course I had to come over from your Jungle Creek post.
    Wow. The more I read about you, the more I am intrigued!
    I can only imagine the peace you must have experienced sitting on that mountain.
    Thank you for sharing it with us!

    - Lisa

  9. Hi Lisa! Well, technically I'm not sure "peace" is a good word for what happened out there, but it was definitely one of the most formative things I've done, and well worth the challenge. If I owned such a piece of property, I'd live like that for the rest of my life. Thanks for your kind comment!


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