As I walked through the wilderness of this life, I fretted greatly about the similitude of both heaven and earth. Having had a karmic connection with the natural world from my earliest moments as a youth, I pondered religiously what death may be like and what the world beyond had in store for a simple hunter. What was heaven like? Are there animals in heaven? And, can we hunt the animals?. To elaborate on this, it should suffice to say that at moments where I found myself at the heart of wilderness, alone and consumed by the territory, a connection formed between myself and the spiritual world around us. When alone in the wilderness I would dream. More vividly than ever before and the substance of these dreams has always appeared in my life. My dreams come true. Men have speculated about this phenomenon for thousands of years and have explained it with the term “prophecy.” You can imagine how unsettling it could be if you were to dream of an event such as your death.
The beginning of my dream started with a loud noise, a thump, and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness when a brown cargo van with Georgia plates struck my worldly body and I watched the event in the third person. I watched for hours, just feet away from my own remains as the medical staff documented the scene and removed me from the pavement. Although I wish I could follow, I was weighed by an incredible burden to the spot where I stood. After the rest of the world had moved on, I was able to find the strength to turn from the scene as the sun was setting.
Behind me was a great mountain covered in trees. It was massive, rugged and difficult. The sight of the mountain inspired a sense of awe in me like I have never felt. For some strange reason, I felt a slight sense of relief in my burden as I looked at the mountain of difficulty. I was able to take a single step towards the mountain, my burden was ameliorated with every movement towards the summit.
With resolution, I now moved toward the summit, and to my great surprise and relief I also met two travelers who identified themselves as Obstinate and Pliable. Though I had an ocean of questions flooding my mind, I learned that we were all heading towards the same place. After discussing the various places of this new territory, I learned that the three of us were not the only inhabitants of this new land, the next signpost of our travels was a ranch gate at the border of the foothill territory, Obstinate and Pliable would follow a different route in order to search for others they have met along the way. But we parted with a handshake as they informed me of a well traveled trail leading to the ranch gate.
The foothill territory was steep and hot to travel during the day with very little water to be found easily. I soldiered on alone, feeling my burden begin to weigh heavy on my body. In the mid day heat, I rested. There, I fell asleep only to find an old man greeting me in my dreams who urged me to continue and taking me by the hand lifted me to my feet and taking me over the crest of the hill and pointed at a summit covered in tall rocks. I was awakened only to find myself standing with my feet planted firmly on the ground. I looked at the small hill lying in front of me. The same hill I saw in my dream. With curiosity bounding, I crested the small hill to only to lay my eyes on the summit, covered in tall rock spires. My journey to that summit seemed like the pinnacle achievement of a lifetime of effort, though my concept of time in this foreign land can be only in reference to sunrise and sunset.
Sharp rock had cut through my clothing into my skin, but I continued, never-the-less. I’m not sure what the true reason for my journey was, but the compulsion to shed my burden at the summit was tantamount to self preservation. Through anguish, pain and sorrow, I traveled. With my last shred of humanity, I climbed the last hill and beheld the ranch gate. I rested here, not knowing surely if I was correct in my determination or not. As the sun was setting two men on horseback came upon me in the twilight. They were trappers, of the kind likened to the fur trappers of the old west with fur hats and coats, riding saddles of buffalo leather trimmed with rawhide. Their coats were fashioned with antler buttons and laced with strips of sinew and rawhide. This place seemed both frightening and wondrous. After all, the two bearded men who now stood before me were everything I strived to be in life. The names of these two mountain men were Civility and Morality. They described this new land as the territory beyond the grave meant for spiritual exploration. They convinced me to abandon my burden and pursue the answers to the questions that I had. Finding myself in the company of those more experienced in the ways of this life than I, I stayed in their camp as we traveled the creeks for several months in search of prime beaver pelts. As the year now drew to an end, the weather was becoming brutally cold on the mountain side, so we made our way back down to the foothill country.
It was here in the foothills we passed an old man wearing rags, screaming to the eagles and the ravens and any other being who would listen. This man’s name was Evangelist. While Civility and Morality passed by Evangelist with disregard, I questioned him about what he was trying to convey to me so that I may better understand this world. Evangelist chastised me for abandoning my burden and for being so easily distracted from my journey. With great and immeasurable sorrow and shame, I departed from Morality and Civility without saying goodbye. I laid down my own coat of fur and took up my original garments in pursuit of the ranch gate again.
The travel seemed much easier the second time, now that I had come accustomed to the terrain, but always, in the back of my mind, I felt the stabbing heartbreak of my transgression. With every painful step towards the gate, I punished myself spiritually. Realizing very little of the truth behind the matter, I sacrificed my food when I left my former companions, so I fasted in hopes to regain a little hope and to pay atonement for my sin. Finally after many days and night of continuous travel, I reclaimed my burden at the ranch gate.
The vision of the old man directing me to the summit of tall rocks was now only a faint glimmer in my mind. And recalling the vision, I realized that during my travels, I had experienced nothing similar again. I struggled to find that feeling, to find that desire. With hope and uncertainty, I waited to travel until the sunrise.
As the sun rose the next morning, I found myself alone again. I carried my burden now with more pride than before and with a newfound understanding of what it means to be alone. A trail began just above the ranch gate and followed a small stream up through the timber. The weather was cold here, with frost on the branches of the evergreen trees marking winters annual onset. Several days and nights passed in the timber. I was unsure of my heading, yet followed the winding trail through the dark timber. Throughout this part of my journey, I felt a measure of despair over my failure, and my burden grew heavier.
On a fine, cool, early winter day, I arose to find the summit of tall rocks just above me as I came out of the timber. I ran for the summit, crawling, scratching at the rock with my hands to bring me the top. When I reached the rocks, just on the other side stood a beautiful house. The house, with large windows and a metal roof was built of cedar logs cut from the timber below. And above the front door, carved deeply into the beams read something I recognized from my life on earth. Those words moved me to such great lengths, at that moment, I understood the paradox of where exactly I was and where I was heading. The inscription read: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
For lack of a better explanation, my very primitive understanding of this place, the beautiful house, is a hunting lodge. A bull elk bugled loudly in the distance as the door opened.
Seated in a leather arm chair near a fire place sat a middle aged man in a woolen sweater who’s name he intentionally did not mention. With a deep familiarity in his voice he asked if I didn’t have somewhere else I needed to be at the moment, and pointed towards the window. I walked closer to the window and gazed upon a great and treacherous valley. On the other side of the valley was a delightful mountain range with snow capped peaks rivaling in beauty and ruggedness any I had seen in my life. As I gazed at the valley a great shadow fell over it and lightning and thunder filled the sky. I could see people advancing in great groups towards the center of the valley. These people brought with them fire and destruction, before the two groups met each other, in an instant, they vanished. I turned back to the empty chair where the man sat, to no avail; the entire house was now empty. Leaving only my weary bones and my burden, I knew where I must next travel: across the Valley of the Shadow of Death to the Delightful Mountains.
It was here at the beautiful house I found a compass to give me direction when I founder. This new tool would be useful to me in all moments from now on. I could not hesitate to continue my journey. Though the sun was setting, I made my way towards the valley.
Once I crossed easily through a small patch of timber, I looked behind me to see what actually was a vast forest and at that moment I realized that my new found conviction only hastened my steps. I started across the valley as the sun had just finished setting. All manor of noises came from the darkness. A wolf cried nearby, and lightning lit up the valley floor. I began to run as intense fear tormented my heart. I heard these words spoken by a voice I could not place, they brought comfort to me and they repeated unendingly in my mind; “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
The sun began to rise as I reached the end of the valley. Back through the timber and up a steep incline I went. I came to a large meadow in the forest and it appeared as though the meadow headed nearly in the same direction I had been traveling so I renounced my conviction to travel the known route up the drainage in the timber in exchange for the ease of the wide open meadow. I had not traveled long in the meadow before I came upon a giant bear feasting on the carcass of a man. I recognized the man as I drew closer, it was my acquaintance Obstinate. As I slowly retreated through the tall meadow grass, I came upon Obstinate’s companion, Pliable, who was badly wounded by the bear also. With the last breath that Pliable could muster, all that I could hear was “The worst is yet to come.” I retreated quietly back to the timber as Pliable passed away into darkness. Many days would pass before I learned the value of this lesson. And Pliable was correct.