Perhaps if my young adult life had not derailed so completely, I might never have discovered the restorative power of nature. I would never have hiked so far into the mountains alone and caught my breath as I rounded a bend and came face to face with a majestic moose. If I hadn’t lost my family, I might never have realized that I could pour my heartache into the winding stream that sustains the life of the magnificent, four-legged, awkward creatures who revived my will to live. From hours spent alone, questing in nature, I began to discover a new way of belonging. I started to hear everything in the natural world speaking to me in its own language—about itself, about me, about life. I breathed deeper. And I gratefully took it all in.
When we traverse paths through the natural world, we may begin to hear messages from the earth, sky, trees, plants, and animals. Over time, we learn to decipher and believe each one, as we would a trusted friend. This becomes our medicine, the spiritual antidote for what ails us. We tread deeper into our inner nature from wisdom we glean from the outer. Even through unimaginable difficulty and sorrow, we experience being seen and held by the larger world, reassured that spring will surely follow winter. Moose Medicine seeks to wind you through the backcountry of your own consciousness, where a pristine remembrance thrives. May you track your own form of moose medicine well.
Table of Contents
PART I The Medicine of the Elements
Chapter 1 Animal Dreams
Chapter 2 Sound Bites
Chapter 3 Buffalo Ribs
Chapter 4 Mountain Magic
Chapter 5 The Good Earth
Chapter 6 The Standing People
Chapter 7 The Stone People
Chapter 8 The Air We Breathe
Chapter 9 Mysteries of the Deep
Chapter 10 River Songs
Chapter 11 Fire in the Earth
Chapter 12 The Power of Place
Chapter 13 The Fairy Councils
PART II The Medicine of Plants, Place, and Animals
Chapter 14 Returning to the Open Trails
Chapter 15 All That Renews
Chapter 16 The War Within
Chapter 17 No Longer A Poultice
Chapter 18 Whose Greed?
Chapter 19 All On The Same Rope
Chapter 20 Arid Passageways
Chapter 21 The Nature of Time
Chapter 22 No Earthly Escape
Chapter 23 The Shaman’s Way
Chapter 24 When You Believe
PART III The Medicine of Two-Leggeds
Chapter 25 From Shadow to Light
Chapter 26 From Abandonment to Belonging
Chapter 27 From Shame to Consciousness
Chapter 28 The Art of Loving
Chapter 29 Intimate Broken Places
Chapter 30 Reconstructing Conflict
Chapter 31 Recognizing Your True Purpose
Chapter 32 The Medicine of Conscious Prayer
Chapter 33 The Grandmothers and Grandfathers
People and Places
Willows grace the sides of the slow-moving streams that meander through the mountains of Southwest Montana where I am wandering. The fragrance of clean water pours into my lungs and I scoop it in greedily. I have once again arrived here at the West Fork of the Bitterroot River to seek adventure with Moose. Having already left my vehicle and county-traveled dirt roads behind, my eager feet are now guided by seldom-used deer trails winding far into the high mountain valley floor. Flies buzz carelessly and sun warms my grateful skin while I lose human thought with every step. My breath deepens, and I simply absorb trees, sky, water, grasses… Soon I will spot one of my favored moose in his quiet habitat. His long, dusty brown muzzle will open deftly to chew on streamside branches. Tall willows will camouflage his massive body, but I will spot him by finding a lone willow whose top branches tremble with the feeding. I will tremble too, thrilled with such danger and awkward beauty so close to my own. After feeling amazed and slightly afraid of him, I will begin a conversation by tumbling out complaints about my life’s sorrows. Yet this bad habit will soon subside as the wonder at the majesty of life- his and mine- begins to grow. I am fully alive, safe and at home on wild ground. This I know. This
I can count on.
My journey to learn how to thrive through the unexpected rigors of my early adult life began with the realization that Moose were becoming my personal ‘medicine’. Perhaps destiny decided to help me survive the loss of marriage, miscarriages, and attachment-disordered adopted children by drawing me into the heart of nature as a way to rebuild my own heart. That first summer of depressive absence for all my hopes and dreams of a happy family, I had been aimlessly winding through willowed streamside trails alone, just north of Yellowstone Park. Upon rounding a wide curve, I happened upon a large bull moose, only 20 feet away. He was moving at an oblique angle to me, clearly having heard my loud approach. He only glanced my way briefly, more interested in browsing the middle of the slow-moving stream. With huge withers and in full rack, he clacked along the underwater stones while mouthing green fronds. I froze mid-stride while fear turned to admiration. My first close encounter with Moose! I began to feel myself altered into an odd but deeper reality while gazing at his large brown eyes, his curiously- rounded muzzle rising out of the water and descending back in, his quiet sloshing around the willow-side waters. He was alone and content. As if in a dream, I started to relax, to feel something from him about the capacity to survive, even thrive, alone. I sank into a sit at the base of the small aspen that could no sooner protect me than I could protect it. I was aware he could strike me with his powerful front legs, yet I couldn’t leave his presence. The water kept lazily curling and sloshing along, birds singing their summer songs and wind teasing the branches of the trees surrounding us both. Who could be afraid now? Soon his wellbeing began to infuse my own, until my breath at last seemed to be his. We stayed close like that for some time, breathing in tandem, him grazing on long green stream fronds and me transfixed, cross-legged and still.
He eventually ambled off with only one more casual glance in my direction. In the aftermath, I breathed in the air to capture last bits of his musky scent. That he was surviving so well in such solitary company profoundly impacted me that day, and has since informed my own ability to survive the un-planned solitariness of my own life. The fact that I could share a moment of profoundly felt recognizance with him and live to tell about it was even better.
Native people worldwide describe learning from wild animals as a type of “medicine”. They believe that you can be actually ‘adopted’ by any animal species in the wild, either for a season of specific need or for your entire life. Perhaps you have had a special experience with an eagle, a crow, or a deer. When you realize that a wild animal has important lessons for you and you begin to discern it’s “messages”, that animal is considered to be your ‘medicine’. When writing and referring directly to ‘your’ animal, out of respect, you capitalize the name, just as you would a human’s. These animals, and the encounters you have, are nature’s offering to restore inner balance and peace of mind in the midst of stressful life events.
Moose Medicine invites you on a virtual retreat by day (or bedtime read by night) into nature adventures through the power of story. You will be able to traverse the pristine backcountry of your own psyche, where your senses will come alive to the Zen-like presence and teachings of Moose, earth, and sky. You will hear rivers reminding you how to flow with life, touch the ‘Stone People’ to access their ancient wisdom, and feel the flutter of those elusive fairy beings flitting around to lighten your wearied mind. It is my intention to trot you through my own first-hand experiences to engage your heart and feed your mind, renewing your spirit and inspiring you to discover-or rediscover- your own magical experience in the natural world. You may then remember how keenly you belong-to nature, to the world, and to yourself.
Moose Medicine offers an antidote to the pain you’ve suffered, whatever that pain looks like. Whether a difficult childhood, teenage angst, or adult losses, these chapters are designed to resource your pain to the patient arms of nature, where you will find compassionate acceptance and a poultice to ease your wounds.
My many adventures with Moose in the wilds of Southwest Montana over the past ten years have invigorated my thought processes, developed my spirituality, and birthed a sense of community with nature, myself, and others. I discovered how any encounter with trees, plants, animals, and even weather patterns in nature can help resolve grief, inspire new personal or professional direction, offer new vigor for relationships, and guide when change is in order. Nature will offer the teaching; the translation will be up to you. As many already know, when you listen sufficiently and allow yourself to believe your growing intuition, your private experiences in nature will assist whatever issues you face. Time spent with conscious intention to benefit from nature will rebalance your priorities, enliven your spirit, and quiet your mind. You will gather greater strength within yourself, your community, and your world. You may also gain insight as to what stage of your life journey you are in, where you’ve been, and where you are headed.
During the dark night of my own passageway in early adulthood, and while searching for answers to life’s disappointments, I punctuated my retreats into nature with a return to school for my Master’s Degree as a licensed psychotherapist. I found a growing sense of the need to listen deeply to myself and all species of “other”, to develop compassionate presence, to become a parent to my own wounded inner child and to find and discover what would provide sustainable inspiration. Through my concurrent study of the “psyche-spirit” connection of Transpersonal Psychology and immersion into that intelligent and nature-aware community, I began to see how many resources were readily available through progressive healing techniques that accessed the wisdom inherent in body, mind, and spirit. I excitedly gathered these ancient and contemporary practices into my professional tool kit and utilized them in group and individual retreats, corporate settings, and 1-1 counsel. Authors and teachers, such as David Whyte, John O’Donahue, Bill Plotkin, Thomas Moore, David Abram, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Marion Woodman, Pema Chodron, Richard Moss, Rupert Sheldrake, Jamie Sams, Jacquelyn Small, Dawna Markova, and literally hundreds of other articulate seekers helped me build my own platform to live and counsel well. Indigenous teachings and honorary invitation into Grandmother Twylah’s Wolf Clan of the Seneca Nation also anchored me deeper into the magic of nature and of the Medicine Wheel as a spiritual tool to teach life lessons. After incorporating all of my teachings into my own experience of restoration in nature, I then spent next twenty years providing soulful respite for hundreds of fellow-journeyers, both through my private practice and by taking clients out into nature for ceremony and ritual so they could discover their own deep connection to the natural world and find tools of support, self-renewal, and connection to the greater community of people, plants, animals, and the universe. I also continued my own self-study of nature writers and enthusiasts, learning that I was far from alone in discovering the magnificence of magic so deeply held in nature.
Not everyone has the luxury of coming to Montana (or the many other lovely natural locations around the world) for respite and renewal. Many city dwellers seldom have the chance to wander boggy streams and have the kind of wild encounters I have experienced. Yet even if you are a city dweller, no matter where you live on the globe, you can still access a quiet park or sanctuary where the earth has been fairly undisturbed. It is here in nature that we all can, and must, re-learn the art of listening to sentient others all around us- earth, sky, trees, plants, animals, even to that which is ‘natural’ within our human species. As we come into balance within, we will naturally move towards balancing our world without. This is our ‘medicine’- the spiritual antidote for what ails us.
The chapters that follow are mapped to support you in navigating your own life challenges as you traverse your own unique psychological and spiritual territory. Along the way, I hope you will discover- or rediscover- guidance, inspiration, and insight through relationship with the natural world that you can freely apply to your own life. Part I, “Ambling Through the Elements ” details direct natural-world experience, strolling between encounters with moose and teachings from the elements of earth, wind, water, and fire. Part II, “Wild Wisdom” carries more personal thought processes as it winds through more adventures with Moose as well as other animal, plant, and geographic locations that prompt a variety of ecological and human healing realizations. Part III, “Natural Two-Leggeds” questions and explores humans’ true place in nature and seeks practical ways to live more naturally with ourselves and others based on the innate ways that nature organizes itself.
Through reading these narratives of experience in the natural world, I hope you will be inspired to ‘get up-close and personal’ with nature, or to return to time alone in the natural world if you have strayed from it. In the process, may find yourself spending more contemplative time in nature and experience more of your own cadenced balance and sure steps. Moose Medicine seeks to wind you through the backcountry of consciousness, where a pristine remembrance thrives. We are living in the great Knowable Mystery. May you track your own form of Moose Medicine well, with all the wild encounters appropriate to such a magnificent journey.
Moose Medicine Back Cover Endorsements:
“At last, a book that explains how to connect with nature through heart and soul. Moose Medicine offers peaceful solutions for all our ills.” Barbara McGowan, artist and author
“For those hungering to find their way through spirit in nature, Robyn Bridges is a is a compassionate and knowing guide.” Ginny Watts, M. Ed., psychotherapist, world dance artist, and author
“Gentle and powerful, this beautifully written book guides the reader into self-reflection and new possibilities…” Steve Guettermann, College Lecturer and author