Archive: Wilderness Guides Council circles into its next phase

By Ann Linnea
September 2015

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In this month's Circle Tale, Ann Linnea shares her recent experience attending the Wilderness Guides Council's annual gathering. Held this year at Skalitude Retreat Center in Eastern Washington -- the site of PeerSpirit's own Cascadia Quest -- the meeting provided Ann with a wealth of reflections on circle, the transformation of organizations, and the opportunity to experience Skalitude in another season. 

I carried my backpack up the meandering dirt path, past other tents, through towering Ponderosa pines to a small, dry meadow, somehow spared from this year’s fierce fires in Eastern Washington. At our Cascadia Quest we know this as “Bear Meadow” because one year we watched two bear cubs run across it.      

Photo by Ann Linnea

Photo by Ann Linnea

After an hour, I had put up my tent and tarp and neatly arranged my little home. Then I wandered back downhill to join 80 other wilderness quest guides for our annual gathering. During our five days together we hiked, drummed, participated in ceremony, and sat together in council to make collective decisions about the organization.

For 24 years, the Wilderness Guides Council has been a loose affiliation of people who are passionate about promoting meaningful, earth-based rites of passage at the edge of modern culture. It is a pretty eclectic bunch, with a strong streak of independence, but also allegiance to the pattern and ceremony of questing: that’s our core.

Once a year we gather—usually somewhere in California at a park or private retreat center—to share program ideas, workshops, ceremony, and conversations about our work.

Because we were meeting further north this year, many guides from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho attended. At our opening ceremony half of the people present stepped into the center as first-time attendees. I noticed about 50 percent of the group was comprised of young guides—under 35. I am excited how this will broaden and strengthen the work of questing.

After many years of discussion, WGC became a 501(c)3 non-profit governed by an advisory council. Taking the time to become a 501(c)3 required years of conversation. Since PeerSpirit, Inc. is a supporting member of the guides council, participation has given us the opportunity to watch a very alternative organization use a different form of circle practice to manage challenging conversations and reach consensus. I appreciated how carefully the facilitators attended to the structure of their chosen path, The Way of Council by Jack Zimmerman and Gigi Coyle.

Before each council, the Four Intentions were spoken: Speak from the heart, Listen from the heart, Be of lean expression, Be spontaneous. In the councils, a talking piece was used, and to emphasize “leanness of expression” each speaker was timed.

In any circle practice, structure is an invitation to personal and collective maturation. Among the guides, a core group has met for decades, watched each other grow and gray, and developed their ability to have these conversations with increasing clarity of purpose and legacy.

As PeerSpirit now stands in this position of welcoming newcomers, welcoming younger circle guides, and shifting its home to the wider world, it was a comforting to see another out-riding organization practice circle at this level.

One afternoon I left the meadow and hiked high on a ridge overlooking the valley and with the a view into the Cascade Mountains. I could actually see smoke from a large fire to the south. Sitting up there, I was filled with enormous gratitude for the privilege of witnessing this transformative work in this wild place where we lead our quests.  I was also filled with appreciation for my aging stamina and continued ability to help people find themselves at their own wild edges.