"The Útiseta. It is the practice of sitting out in nature to gain knowledge or insight into yourself and the world around you. For those who haven’t engaged in the practice of Útiseta, I hate to disappoint you, but this isn’t a How-To Guide. Still, a relation of what could have been a story told from a hospital bed. Though if there is enough interest, then we can talk How-To’s later. Where was I?
It was early in the Spring when I went out that night. There were buds on the trees, but the ground was still mostly dead leaves, and you could see through the trees. Stepping outside, you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was a warm Autumn or Spring night. Being one for tradition, there was a spot about a mile into the woods from my house where a wide creek sat beside a nice flat piece of ground. It was the perfect spot to make fire without worrying about catching the whole forest on fire and where I made my base camp for the night. For me, sitting out means going tentless with only the smoke to keep the mosquitoes out of your ear.
I set out into the darkening twilight with a simple pack full of supplies, my family sword (for reflection of honor) a wool shirt, and my drum. The walk out to the spot was only challenging because I kept thinking of one of those tiny branches hanging down are harder to see in low light and being acutely aware of the reality of putting an eye out on the stray branch. But, like any good Marine in the dark, I made it to the Objective with only minor injuries. Won’t lie to you if I said I didn’t feel a wave of relief once the fire got going. The dark does something special even to the most familiar places, especially in the woods. Has a way of transforming them into something both beautiful and terrifying. A liminal plane of awe that is perfect for spiritual work. With the moon rising and my fire going, I breathed in deep, the cold air and melted in with the sounds forest. The rushing of water. The call of deer. The growing symphony of frogs and chirping insects. It is easy to lose yourself in the noise. The heat of the fire on your face, the cold earth under your feet, and the darkness above you. After settling in, I took out my drum and began my first round of drumming.
When I was done drumming and opened my eyes, twilight was long gone. It was dark. If it wasn’t for the full moon above me and the fire, I think it would have been the definition of pitch black. It was the kind of thing that awakened a primordial fear, not of the darkness itself but what lies beyond it. I’ve been all over the world and slept in all kinds of dark, but alone in the woods, it is not hard to imagine a million eyes on you. A million eyes with a million teeth. All this pondering was making me hungry, so I broke open a fresh pack of jerky and a bottle of water to help sustain me until my next round of drumming. The idea was to flip between drumming meditation and self-reflection until the sun came up, but remember what I said about eyes and teeth?
I was wrong. Because it’s not the eyes or the teeth that you notice first, it’s the smell. Sitting around the fire, I had a good baseline for the smell of smoke and the cold, so when the scent of wet dog and piss began wafting in from behind me, the hairs on my neck stood up. The first thing I did was grab the sword I had laid next to me. With the nickname “Deer Cleaver” it was well tested and a great weapon but straining my eyes against the dark it came to me that that was no deer. On the other side of the creek, a shadow moved in the dark which would have been invisible to me if not for the bright moon and naked trees. There were black bears out in these woods, but to anyone’s public knowledge there were only two and neither of them enjoyed being around people. But, it’s hard to say which revelation hit first because it happened all at once. No, that was not a large dog. I have a very pungent scent of food. And that it was still early enough they might be coming out of hibernation, hungry enough to venture this close to a person.
For a long time, I just stared out into the dark. What finally shook me back to reality was when it grunted. That guttural rumble carrying cleanly and completely through the cold air. I was white knuckling the hilt of the sword. One the one hand, fighting a bear would be a cool story to tell friends and family. On the other hand, you’d have to be around to tell that story. I felt I had a good 60% chance of winning. But that didn’t factor in the potential damage of a mauling. Unsure if the math checked out, I started packing my stuff up and took my phone out of the Ziplock bag to phone a friend. Who in no uncertain terms reminded me that while cool, a bear fight is probably not the best course of action. I agreed. I threw the rest of my jerky as hard as I could on to the other side of the river and put out the fire. Thank the Gods I was on the phone. As soon as the last flame was extinguished, so was any sense of comfort. Now I was alone, in the dark, with a bear.
Being familiar with the landscape helped me keep my bearing on a path that had no trail. If I walked north eventually, I would reach a field and safety. Talking loudly on the phone with my friend I was hoping to dissuade any would be bear from a second course. With one hand over my eyes, I began the long walk home. I felt as though I was moving faster, whether it was the constant threat of being bear food or the fact that everything moves differently in the dark it was hard to say, but after a while, I came out to the large empty hay field a little sweaty but intact and with a story to tell.
Human beings are simple hunting creatures, we want to see the meaning in everything it’s in our nature. So, what was the meaning of the bear? Was it a messenger or just hungry? The odds of coming across one of the rarest mammals in our local area was certainly a treat I think I was only able to spin a meaning long after the fact and it’s not about the bear. It was about the fire. Our comforts, our fires, they bring the illusion of safety. The dark itself conceals a threat, it’s not the threat itself. To defend ourselves, we need to be ready to meet them with courage and steel, but not alone. We need a community our tribe at our back. Perhaps why I felt comfortable sleeping in the darks of jungles and swamps is because I had my brothers there. People I know who would pick of a weapon and fight alongside me if needed. But alone in the woods you become aware of what a frail thing one man is. Even if he is strong of body and spirit there are still threats, he cannot overcome."