Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Women's Harvest Celebration

There is frost on the vines and snow on the mountaintops as the women gather to celebrate the beauty and bounty of harvest time, to renew our ages-old commitment to each other and to life, to stand as witness for others and be fully present to ourselves. It is a time of opening, of healing, of insight.

For eighteen years, an evolving group of women has gathered in the mountains of western Montana each September to spend four days together, witnessing, sharing, honoring. With compassion and honesty, with love and caring, we sit together in circle and tell the stories of our lives, what holds us down, what lifts us up. Where we are stuck and where we flow. How we are nurtured, and how we need to be but are not. We speak to each other with full eye contact and complete attention. We sing, we dance, we drum, we chant, we breathe. And we do it all in the context of a deep and abiding love that is the sacred space where flows the source of all life. After four days together, crying and laughing in each other’s arms, we are as close as true sisters.

This annual gathering, The Women’s Harvest Celebration, is the creation of a gifted therapist and counselor, Dr. Susan Rangitsch, a psychologist who lives and works in Missoula, Montana. She works both with individual clients in her office, and with groups of people, often in remote areas, doing spiritually-based work. (Susan came to visit me last March and I wrote about our adventures here, here, and here.)

I first heard of Susan’s work through friends in the Seattle area in 1993. I was immediately intrigued and wanted to meet her. That year was my first Harvest Celebration, and I attended each year after that until I moved to Alaska in 1999. For reasons which must have made sense at the time--but which I can’t fully recall--I did not attend Harvest again after 1998 until this year. Having returned, I am aware all over again of how important this work is to me, and how valuable. I will not be absent again.

For the last few years, Harvest has been held at the Blacktail Ranch in Wolf Creek, Montana. A huge working ranch on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Blacktail is a beautiful place with craggy mountains and wide, sweeping vistas. Both deer and bear roam the hillsides and come right up to the lodge. Hawks and eagles soar on the wind currents and coyotes howl above the canyons at night. Mountain lions pace the rocky outcroppings and scream their irascible natures into the night sky. And that sky will take your breath away. Miles from even a small town, there is no light pollution whatsoever; the sky is inky black and scattered with an infinity of stars. The Milky Way fairly leaps out of the sky it is so bright. Familiar constellations seem bigger, brighter, closer. Shooting stars flare and die every few minutes, until all my wishes are whispered to them.

In the meadow above the main lodge, there is a beautiful octagon-shaped building called the Hogan. It consists of one large room with a door in the eastern section and windows in each of the seven other sections. Each window looks out upon a slightly different view of mountains, meadows and tall trees, and each is beautiful. A small entry room is attached with space for hanging coats and a cabinet unit holding supplies for tea. The structure has electricity but no running water; there is an outhouse about twenty feet away. It suits the needs of our group perfectly.

There are two dozen women attending Harvest this year. Five of us have worked with Susan for many years and often act as her assistants; we are known as “the teachers.” About half of the women are young, in their twenties and thirties, and half are older, in their fifties and sixties. Some are attending for the first time and some are veterans of many Harvests past. Some come with huge issues to wrestle and some come simply to be in service, to hold space, to witness. We are a kaleidoscope of personalities and natures.

At the center of it all is Susan: leader, teacher, counselor, mentor, friend, holder of the mirror, asker of hard questions, challenger of assumptions, demander of honesty and deep personal integrity. She holds all present to the same high standards she requires of herself, and all rise to that expectation with their best effort. Susan is incredibly intuitive and deeply perceptive to the energies flowing in those around her. It is often amazing to watch her work with an individual in the circle; whether it is a gentle word, a piercing question, or a wrestling match on the floor, she unerringly knows just what is needed.

The rhythm of our days forms quickly. Breakfast is served in the main lodge at 8 am and we gather in the Hogan at 9:30 for the morning circle. At noon we break for lunch and the afternoons are open for a variety of activities: horseback riding, hiking, cave exploring, sleeping in the sun, journal writing, beading and craft making, meditation, yoga, massage/body work. Sometimes there is a late afternoon circle from 4 to 6, sometimes not. Dinner is at 6 and evening circle begins at 7:30 or 8 and lasts until around 10. After the evening circle some women go immediately to bed, some stay up for hours talking and visiting.

The entire experience of Harvest is about living in spiritual community with openness, honesty and loving kindness towards one another. The time in circle is about working out the issues we all have in our daily lives, both large and small. Difficulties with child-rearing, problems within marriages, poor or failed relationships, issues with self esteem, the challenge of shutting down our internal self-criticism with which we nag ourselves constantly. The issues which come up are universal to women’s experience, and often painful to the individual woman struggling with them. Sometimes with tears and sometimes with laughter, each woman’s story is heard. The work she needs to do is supported. She may be quite shaken by what transpires, but she inevitably leaves the circle feeling stronger and with a clearer vision of her path.

Women come to Harvest from all different religions and spiritual traditions. Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan, Agnostic, Atheist have all been present, and all are honored. Susan draws from many different spiritual disciplines in guiding the prayers, meditations and activities of the group.

The final evening is one of joyous celebration. Women come to the circle dressed in their best finery and wearing a party mood. There is a tradition of a small gift exchange known as Giveaway; if someone’s story has touched you, if you have been impressed with someone’s work to deal with her issues, if someone has shown you a special kindness as you have worked with your own issues, it is appropriate to give her a small token—something which is meaningful to you, and which will therefore become meaningful to her. The process of Giveaway is often accompanied by many hugs, kisses and tears.

The final circle often has dancing and drumming as a part of it. Youthful energies run high and want an outlet for exuberance. This year’s circle contained a number of young women who are excellent dancers, their bodies lithe and limber and their movement an expression of pure joy. It brought tears to my eyes to watch them.

The Women’s Harvest Celebration is for me a most blessed event. It is a brief time spent in spiritual community with a loving and supportive circle of women, shepherded by a caring, sensitive and intuitive leader. It enriches my life immeasurably to be there and I will see to it that my attendance does not falter again.

For more information regarding Women's Harvest Celebration and other programs by Susan Rangitsch, please see her website:


Blogger TBTAM said...

Beautiful post - sounds like a wonderful celebration!

Thursday, September 27, 2007 9:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Caroline said...

That sounds AMAZING.

Thursday, September 27, 2007 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Shelby said...

lovely celebratory post.

Saturday, September 29, 2007 6:00:00 AM  
Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...


Tuesday, October 02, 2007 3:37:00 PM  
Blogger Smalltown RN said...

how wonderfully well written this post's like reading a novel....thank you...I am glad I stopped by....

Sunday, October 07, 2007 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Borneo Breezes said...

Tundra- what a delight to come back to blogging and your writing and find this gem.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 8:45:00 PM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

Thanks, everyone for your comments. It was an incredible experience that continues to have echoes in my life. Borneo Breezes--how nice to hear from you, it's been ages! Hope you are well.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger The MSILF said...

Awwwwwww, I love hippie women's spirituality/journey groups. Unfortunately, since not living with my mom, I never hook up with them anymore. Was nice to read about yours.

Sunday, October 14, 2007 9:38:00 AM  
Anonymous a missoulian... said...

a beautiful entry. thank you! this made my week!

Monday, October 15, 2007 3:58:00 PM  
Blogger Mouse said...

How wonderful this sounds
Thank you for sharing...

Thursday, November 01, 2007 10:42:00 PM  

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