Smoke gets in your eyes and in your lungs and in your house and in your spirit. It clouds your vision, chocks your breath, dirties your home, and engulfs your soul. In western Montana, fire is a natural part of the landscape and plays an integral role in its ecology. Losing a home to a forest fire is a tragedy. Losing a life to fighting a fire is unspeakably grievous. Fire sweeping through the forest is part of nature’s renewal.
For many, many years, we humans thought we could control it, that we could keep the beast at bay, that we could infiltrate the forests without consequence or danger, and that we could make it our own. This is not to be. The vast green forests covering the eastern slopes of the Bitterroot Mountains that form our valley have been our windows’ scenic backdrop for over a century. It is part and parcel of our place, our home, our favorite hiking and riding trails, and secret fishing holes. Our hearts weep for their loss. Our hearts break for those whose homes have been destroyed and for whose lives have been turned upside down.
The smoke, the fire, and our responses to it now dominate every aspect of our valley. Our sense of danger has been on alert for over a month. We’ve endured countless nights without sleep. We’ve felt the ash, rather than much-needed water, rain down upon us and have scurried to get the hoses running lest the ashes turn to flames. We’ve hacked and coughed and covered our mouths with scarves. We’ve texted and tweeted and posted our needs for assistance and our availability to respond. It has been horrific.
So what now? As summer slides into fall, as temperatures begin to drop, and as winter rains and snows promise to relieve us of this fire, how do we accept it all? How do we grieve what is gone, let go of our anxiety, assess what is left, bind our wounds and heal our hearts, wrap our minds around the naturalness of it, and begin to embrace our changed landscape?
Dunrovin Ranch, together with Spirit Dance Equine Coaching, and Harlequin author Danica Winters, invite valley residents to come together in a retreat setting to begin the healing process by telling our stories, sharing our fears and frustrations, passing along the many small gifts of generosity and kindness that have accompanied our communal struggle, opening our hearts and minds to our new landscape, and seeing beyond the burn to the renewal.
The retreat grew out of earlier plans that we had for hosting a women’s Living with Passions Retreat. However, as the time drew near, both Lynn Baskfield and I felt the need to refocus and address the enormous impact of the fire on our lives. Here is Lynn’s beautiful explanation:
“Just a few days ago, I was part of a Sacred Listening gathering in central Minnesota. There I had the privilege of meditating as I held the hide of a small black bear. As I sat quietly and listened to her spirit, she showed me an image of the Montana fires and said, “My brothers and sisters are distressed. The wild animals are dying. We are having to leave our homes. More is being lost in the fires than you human beings can imagine. Instead of the retreat you had planned, you must go and offer medicine… to the animals, the earth and the people.”
In this way, I’ve been guided to change the nature of the Living with Passion retreat I had originally planned for September 8 – 10 to respond to what is actually happening. Instead, I am doing Fire Medicine, and I invite all who live near and far to come and use your passion to heal the animals and the land.
We will start with our stories—of animals saved or lost, of grief and the grace that is present within our losses as well. We’ll end the weekend with a medicine wheel we build together on the land, In ceremony, anchored at the four directions by the Dunrovin horses, we will offer our prayers and intentions for the animals and the earth.”
Friday evening: We will come together at 6 p.m. (please eat dinner before arriving) and make talking sticks in preparation for the stories people come to share. Each person who attends Friday night will be asked to bring a stick from your land, yard or from a part of the forest that has been burned. We’ll quiet our minds and decorate the talking sticks for the community to use the next day. Decorating materials provided.
The talking stick is an indigenous tool to help us speak honestly and listen from our hearts. In a circle, only the one holding the talking stick speaks. All others listen. With the talking stick, we make room for all voices, outgoing and shy alike. You can speak or not when the stick comes to you, and you will know if there is something there for you to say.
Saturday morning: We will gather to walk among the horses, sit in the pasture, and listen to the heartbeat of animal and earth. We’ll spend some time “just being,” like the animals, attending to what we are experiencing in the present moment. We’ll do some journal writing as we reflect on the thoughts and feelings that come up.
Next, our special guest, Missoula author Danica winters, will offer Creative Healing through Writing and Art. Participants can write or make art to tell a story, either true or fictional, about the impact of the fires.
Saturday afternoon: Danica will incite those who want to share their writing or art with the group to do so.
After that, we’ll break into small groups and tell out personal stories of animals saved and lost, land loved and changed. Each group will be given a talking stick to pass as a reminder to speak honestly and listen to self and others from the heart. when each group is done, a spokesperson will share gems with the larger group.
Bring a bag lunch. Snacks and water provided.
Sunday morning: We’ll create a Medicine Wheel on the Dunrovin land. You will learn medicine wheel teachings and experience a Medicine Wheel Ceremony, bringing your own prayers and intentions for healing in community with others. The horses will be present to teach and guide us.
Costs and Logistics:
Dunrovin Ranch, Spirit Dance Coaching, and Danica Winter are all waiving the fee for the three days. We are substituting love offerings to help defray costs. Our suggestion is $25 for each day. If you can’t afford that, offer what you can. Anything you choose to donate over that will be given to local organizations that have been protecting and evacuating pets and livestock during the fires.
You may come one, two or all three days. REGISTER HERE