Unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.
Unless you become like a child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Bird looked to be in her early 60s, well endowed, with grey unkempt hair, donning dirty jeans, a well-worn grey sweatshirt and a blue stocking cap that sat loosely on top of her head. She had lived at Lama in the 90s for about five years and from time to time returns, as she feels called.
With generous hospitality she welcomed me into the kitchen, served me fennel tea and biscotti and hurried to get me settled before the sun went down. After I finished my tea we went to the larder (cellar) where I chose potatoes, beets, carrots, onion chard, squash, avocado, orange, apples and pears for my sustenance during my stay. Dried goods were waiting for me at the hermitage.
With food in one hand and luggage in the other, Bird led me out of the kitchen and through the forest, along a narrow path to “Bear Hermitage,” pointing out deer tracks along the way. She showed me the tall, covered, silver can where I could leave my request for provisions each day by noon, collecting them by 3:00pm the same day. In this way, I would not be disturbed and not see any other people during my stay. As we neared the hermitage, she pointed to the compost outhouse and explained that I would flush it with the straw in the bin next to the hole where I’d deposit my waste.
After an exhilarating walk, carrying my luggage we made it. Just in time for sunset.
Bird built me a fire in the wood stove, made sure the kerosene stove-top was working, directed me to the dry goods and tea provided, pointed out the cans of water for drinking and washing, made note of the pee-bucket, and then scurried off to respect my time in sacred silence, solitude and stillness, promising to check on me the next day to be sure I didn’t get snowed in.
Exhausted from the long day of travel, I melted into the hermitage, totally sinking down into the present moment. I lit the oil lamp and did my best to prepare a hot meal of lentil-carrot stew with brown rice.
I’m no camper. But I imagine this would be a camper’s dream. Out in the middle of the mountains, modern society left far, far behind, a cozy, warm shelter provided, stocked with wood for burning, kerosene for cooking and provisions to boot.
I soon came to learn with the help of a journal, that the carefully crafted hermitage was a Vaulted Straw Bale house built by hand in silence by 8 women builders under the guidance of Shay Salomon from as nearby as Taos and as far away as Tokyo. During construction, every hour a bell was rung and the builders sat still in mindfulness for five minutes, helping the builders return to the present moment.
The work was done as “practice,” and stands as an incredible witness to integrating prayer and service, spirituality and work.
The Vaulted Straw Bale hermitage with limited lumber used and only the energy expelled by human activity, leaves a very tiny eco footprint. And since it’s extremely well insulated it is very energy efficient, requiring very little from the earth to sustain it.
When the foundation was ready, the woman from Tokyo taught the others how to draw Japanese characters on rice paper for intentions such as joy, harmony, love, and abundance and each blessing was put into the foundation for all the future hermits.
As it turns out, the hermitage was named for a cinnamon brown female adolescent bear that was killed on the Lama Foundation property at the time of the construction. Sadly the last Grizzly bear in the area was killed around 1950 but there are still many Black Bears. The story is that one of the Lama guests chased the young female bear up a tree. The game warden was called and eventually the bear was shot once in the jaw and a second time bringing it tumbling 30 feet down to the ground to her death.
The builders report that the next day the land felt stiller, drier. They built while mourning the needless death of the innocent creature, while a white mocking bird cried the entire day.
The builders wish to make the point that modern society is fabricated on an economy that overlooks nature, health, well-being and enlightenment; that we are not only out of sync with the natural world, but we are destroying it. Their mission and witness, like Lama’s is to dream of a better world where we live in harmony with nature, non-harming, taking only what is needed and giving back in symbiosis.
And so, in Bear Hermitage, I found myself embraced in a vision and presence that cries for a more peaceful, harmonious world.
Interestingly, the hermitage feels like a warm womb.
Taking in my surroundings and everything I was already receiving, I laid down heavy on the elevated bed, listening to the roar of the wood burning stove, snuggled under the down comforter and heavy quilt, gazing out the huge bedside window at the spectacular starlit sky, feeling held, connected and hopeful. It was 8:00pm.
Here in your womb I am safe
I let go and find I am held, connected
You nourish me
I find rest
I become a child again
Naked, unafraid, free
You sooth me
And I re-member
The fragmented, separated parts of me
You knit back together
And I remember nothing can separate me from you
A secret, hidden work
Here in Your womb.