Adam stood on the rocky precipice that faced northeast. The view took in a large area of peneplain; the silhouette of hordes of mountains worn down by thousands and thousands of years of weather, water, and wind. The brightly colored hills were in the distance, separated by a major river that drained from northwest to southeast in a green valley. The floor of the valley below contained mixed hardwood and conifer forest, agricultural fields where even from this distance neat rows of crops could be discerned, homesteads, and, of course, the river that wandered through the valley in a snake like pattern that seemed to have no rhyme or reason.
Adam came here at least once a season to clean his mind and clear his spirit. It was a routine that began when he was young and when his grandmother was still alive. She first brought him here when he was a very young boy and they came together each season until her passing about five years ago. They would come to sit and seek guidance; an Abenaki tradition that Adam’s grandmother claimed was necessary for clarity with the universe. Adam continued the tradition, not only to respect his grandmother’s traditions, but to seek a vision.
Adam’s vision quest had begun at an early age. His grandmother told him that at some point in his life he would have a life altering experience that would send him in his intended direction.
“What will the vision be like?” asked Adam the first time she had mentioned it.
“You will recognize it when you see it, Adam, it is different for everyone.” replied his grandmother.
“But how will I know what a vision is? What will I experience?” inquired Adam.
“Don’t try to find the vision, the vision will find you. Your only task will be to pay close attention and watch for signals in the natural world. Don’t always focus on the obvious. Visions can, and often do, come from unexpected places. You must keep your heart open and the vision will find you!” said Adam’s grandmother.
Standing on this rock face with a strong wind blowing in his face Adam felt his long dark hair blowing over his shoulders. The crisp autumn wind brought in the notion of change. The brightly colored foliage, both near and far, marked the end of summer and the start of a new, much cooler, season.
As Adam stood there he thought about his vision. “It will come to you” were his grandmother’s words and with that thought he took a deep breath. Adam knew that he had to be patient, aware, and keep his heart open. The vision would come. He thought about this for a minute. He hoped that when the vision did occur he would recognize it. He wasn’t always good at this kind of thing.
Increasing dark clouds blew through the blue sky, casting long shadows on the valley floor below. Adam watched as the shadows moved in a southeast direction, directly over the valley. The clean, clear views were obscured temporarily by the dark shadow. The scene was dramatic and powerful. Watching the moving shadows covering one area and then subsequent areas was somehow like watching time march across the landscape.
On this day Adam would stay at this location for more than a few hours. If nothing else his mind would clear and his spirit would be rejuvenated; both necessary improvements that should be accomplished on a routine basis. Just getting away from the busy world around him was reason enough to seek out this place.
Adam found a familiar part of the ledge that had a natural seat with a stone support for his back. Adam placed his backpack against the vertical stone fashioning a comfortable place to rest his back against. He sat there, the sun shining on the right hand side of his face. The bright sunlight warmed both his flesh and spirit. Adam felt like he could sit here for hours. Long periods of time could go by with hardly a thought at all. Another thing he had learned from his grandmother.
“Clear the mind and free the spirit!” he could hear her distant voice say.
And time would pass without having gone anywhere at all.
Almost asleep, Adam became aware of something over his left shoulder. He slowly turned his head around and took in the view. At the edge of the open rock there was a stand of trees that had both red oaks and hemlocks, somewhat stunted by the surficial bedrock and shallow soils.
The oak leaves were turning a reddish brown and flittering in the breeze. The hemlock branches, stout from generations of winds, held deep green needles that were in stark contrast to new colors of the dying foliage.
Adam felt as if something was there. He could not see anyone or anything. He continued to stare in that direction. After a moment Adam saw movement. It was the blink of an eye; the eye of a barred owl that gazed at Adam with great intensity. The owl did not move for quite some time. Adam slowly turned his body around so that he could watch the owl without having to crane his neck. After a while the owl outstretched it’s mottled colored wings. They were perhaps three feet wide from tip to tip. The owl continued to watch Adam until it’s wings were folded back down to each side. The owl then turned it’s head, hopped straight up in the air, and faced in the opposite direction on the same branch. The owl turned it’s head as if it could swivel 180 degrees, looked at Adam once again, and then turned the head back looking away from Adam. After several moments the owl launched forward, spread it’s wings, and glided to a branch about 30 feet to the southwest. Once again the owl spun it’s head around, looked directly at Adam, and then looked away again.
Adam was perplexed by this behavior. Was the owl communicating with him? Or was it simply looking for food? Adam felt the second scenario was more likely. And then he remembered. He opened his heart by thinking of his grandmother. Her memory always opened his heart.
Then without thinking, Adam stood up, and gently approached the barred owl. The owl stayed put on hit’s perch. He waited until Adam was close and then glided to another branch, again a short distance in the same direction. Adam gently worked his way through the woods, quietly placing the soul of his foot down before his heal and feeling the ground as his grandmother had taught him to do.
The owl slowly worked it’s way down the wooded hillside. Moving from one branch to another, more often than not on the branch of a conifer, the owl led Adam to a wooded valley on the southern side of the mountain. Adam followed the bird slowly and quietly. He felt something inside himself; an overpowering urge to see this journey through. One step at a time he journeyed into the unknown; not unknown forest, but unknown time and space.
Adam noticed that his surroundings seemed brighter than usual. The light that filtered between the leaves and branches of the overhead tree canopy created dark and light patterns that looked like trails on the forest floor. The owl seemed to be following this course as it moved from branch to branch into the forest.
After a mile or so Adam could hear moving water in the distance. He knew there was a brook in this area but had never really paid much attention to it. As they came closer to the brook the rushing water filled the air with intensity. The sound was strong but loud; mesmerizing but not soporific. Adam felt he was approaching a special place.
Just beyond a thick grove of hemlocks Adam saw the brook. Recent rains had pushed the waters to the top of the bank. Water rushed over a four foot drop; not really a waterfall but very dramatic nonetheless. Water splashed as it plummeted to the pool below. The white spray from the raging waters filled the air above the pool. The stream flowed easterly from the pool over much flatter terrain. The water disappeared into the forest, almost magically, as the stream found into the wilds to the west.
Adam came to the edge of the water directly in front of the plummeting water and pool. Adam looked into the abyss. Deep white cyclones of tormented water swirled within the pool. A breeze chattered dried beech leaves on nearby branches. The owl rested on a branch about 50 feet from the stream still watching over Adam.
Tall royal ferns turning yellow with the changing seasons swayed with the small breeze. Adam sat beside these ferns on a gray block of gneiss bedrock that was striped with pink and white strands of color. The setting seemed intentionally surreal. Adam was not sure if this place was real or if it was a figment of his imagination.
It did not matter. Adam knew not what to expect. He opened his heart and took it all in.
Adam looked at the owl. The owl looked back at Adam. A feeling of clarity came over Adam as he sat there during this visual and spiritual transaction.
Making matters more dramatic, thunder could be heard in the distance. The dark clouds seen earlier from the high ledges were early indicators of a fast approaching storm. The sky darkened as the booming in the distance approached.
Adam stared into the foamy swirling water in the pool, half expecting to see some sort of symbol. He looked back at the owl hoping to see some sort of sign; perhaps some sort of message from his grandmother. He looked into the thickening clouds above wondering if a symbol might be seen in their rapidly changing forms. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary except a general recognition of something very spiritual in his immediate surroundings.
The rain came, first with a few drops, and then with almost no warning the clouds opened up and poured water down to the earth. Adam continued to sit there determined to find his vision. A very loud snap and boom, indicators of a nearby lightening strike, sent shock through Adam’s body.
The barred owl took notice, looked at Adam, and flew off through the forest canopy. His long, broad wings effortlessly guided him through a thick maize of branches. This time he did not fly a short distance and land again. The owl flew a good distance, well out of the sight line of Adam.
Another lightning strike sent shock waves through the forest. Vision or no vision, Adam knew he must move to a safer area away from the water in the stream, bedrock, and tall trees. Scrambling through the forest Adam soon realized the storm was leaving as fast as it had come. First the rain subsided and then the thunder could be heard racing off to the east as the fast moving storm travelled to new territory.
Adam realized his heart was racing and that he was breathing hard. He stopped for a moment to collect his wits and calm down. His very first thought was that the vision he had waited so long for had been shattered by a random storm. A wave of disappointment came over Adam. He thought about trying to find the owl, but somehow sensed that the moment had passed and his efforts would be fruitless. He wondered if there was a message in what he had just experienced and remembered his grandmother telling him to not necessarily look at the obvious. Adam knew he would likely puzzle over this as he had in the past. His long time quest for a vision seemed to be always just beyond his grasp.
Adam remembered his backpack that he had left on top of the mountain. He slowly began to navigate his way back to the open rock face to retrieve the pack. As he walked along Adam felt even cooler air enveloping the forest. He looked up through the overhanging branches and could see the sky was turning bright blue again. Adam thought how odd it was that violent thunder storms often brought in beautiful weather. In this case weather that could not help but to lift his spirits.
Adam saw the rocky crag through the dense trees as he approached from the southwest. As he stepped out into the open he glanced over the exposed bedrock in search of his pack. He looked over to where he had been sitting. The rock was black and the pack was completely destroyed. Adam walked over to the spot where he once had sat. The pack remnants, burned and shredded, were spread over the rocky precipice. Lightning had struck the spot where Adam sat only a short time ago. Both goose bumps and glee overcame Adam’s body.
An owl could be heard hooting in the distance as the few remaining clouds on the horizon were pushed away by a steady breeze to places not known.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in September of 2009. For other stories that include the character “Adam” read “Sweet Autumn Day” and “Surprise” posted on this website.