Once every three to four weeks, our students are put out on "solos." The week starts out just as normal and the first day of expo we hike to the solo site. The next morning there is a ceremony to begin the process. The students are not told what is happening beforehand but many of them guess and speculation is fierce. During the ceremony we stand in a circle around a medicine wheel and call in the four directions. Each student has a pile of stones in front of them and will use these to encircle themselves, signifying separateness from the group and beginning the silence of solos. Often there will be a reading or some theme for solos will be introduced--self love, the wild self, messages from the earth, creating a community. This time it is music, and the reading is called They're Singing Your Song.
We sit down and run them through the nitty gritty rules of solos--clothes must stay on, don't fall asleep until you can see three stars, stay in your area, call your name if there is an emergency, continue to practice yoga and meditation. Then we spread the students out and one by one lead them blindfolded to their sites. For each student I lug a five gallon cube of water out to them. My fingers are swollen and throbbing by the time we get to student #6.
Every two hours we do a round, checking in on each student. We give meds, check feet, dispense bug/sun/tooth/1st aid supplies, wash their hands, act as a lending library, work on fire kits, and encourage them to drink water. In between rounds we carve spoons, do paperwork, read aloud, cook dinner for everyone, journal, sleep, dream, and worry about the huge plume of smoke on the southern horizon. We call in on the satellite phone and our boss tells us it is 20 miles away, not to worry. We worry. And watch the helicopters zoom to and fro, listen to the distant sounds of chainsaws, wake up at 2:30 am to see the pink glow of the backburn on the ridgeline across from us. It is blazing hot and there is a steady breeze. No rain in over a month. We are all on fire ban. Walking rounds, it feels as though you have been shoved into an oven.
The girls as well as guides are battling bugs--the cedar gnats are far worse than the mosquitoes. No amount of bug dope seems to help. I am covered in bleeding sores, dirt, sunburn, and sweat. It is not my best look.
Solos will last 2 or 3 nights. On the morning of the last day, we take all of their p-time (books, paper, pens) to force them to sit with themselves without distraction. For some, the boredom is unendurable. We will close the solos again with ceremony, each girl removing their rock circle and returning it to the whole. They will share their experience, and then we will plunge back into the routine--showers, laundry, deep clean, and chores, therapist meetings, letters from home, tears and shrieks of laughter, a group together once more.