Climbing Mount Stewart: Exploring Place in Dreams

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Last night, I dreamed:

 I ride my bike and walk up a large hill or small mountain. As I climb, everything goes wonky – the path narrows and curves at a bizarre angle, gravity and perspective and the very directions seem to shift in ways I can’t understand. It’s all I can do to stay on the narrow gravelly path, as if I could just fall right off it as I go. From the top, I can see new green fields all around, and there’s a civic park there at the summit. Gathered there sitting on a wall are some women I knew in high school, with their young children, and a young man who was a childhood neighbor and playmate. One of the women smiles and speaks with me. I begin to have visions of maps, and understand that this place is called Mount Stewart.

I’m excited to begin 2015’s Dreamboat by introducing  some my favorite tools for exploring dream imagery, taking you step by step through fresh dream work. There are obviously many elements of this dream that could be unpacked – the strange climb, the various people at the summit’s park – but my focus here is on the mountain as it reveals itself to me: Mount Stewart.

Places in dreams – in particular, specifically named places – hold a lot possibilities. I don’t know any place with this name in my waking life, nor does it remind me of any place I remember visiting. So the first thing I do is use the best tool for researching dreams, imagery, synchronicities and such that I know: the almighty  google.

Google informs me that Mount Stewart is:

  1. A California mountain situated on The Great Western Divide, in Sequoia National Park, named after “The Father of Sequoia National Park,” in an area of the park called Valhalla. Stewart was an early conservationist who was also a journalist and fought to save the Big Trees (the park houses the biggest tree on earth).
  2. A small community on Price Edward Island, where a bridge across the river was an important transportation hub linking the two sides of the island.
  3. A place on Victoria Island, B.C. near Thetis Lake.
  4. An Australian asparagus farm.
  5. A memorial in New Zealand dedicated to early European settlers.
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Mount Stewart

That’s quite a list! I take some time to see how each facet of this list resonates, and what associations arise for me:

  1. That there is an actual Mount Stewart within a day’s drive is exciting. Looking at the map, I see that there is no road that goes there – it’s deep in the forest and can only be accessed by trail. Deep Forest and Mountain have been showing up in dreams and travel with increasing regularity and power for me, and I have never been to Sequoia but a dear friend considers it a spiritually transformative place that deeply affected her when she visited. You can be sure I will now be scheming on how I can make a retreat there sometime this year.
  2. I note that my only association to Prince Edward Island is that one of my favorite childhood authors lived and wrote about life there, and maybe I will revisit one of her books, since one of my intentions for 2015 is to reconnect with literature and fiction writing. I also note that I have ancestors who lived in Nova Scotia, although I know nothing about them or even which family line they came through. I will do some research on this.
  3. Victoria Island was a place I visited as a child, but was too young to remember much. I note Thetis lake because it’s good practice to note mythological figures who may be woven into the dream’s landscape – Thetis being an Archaic Greek sea goddess whose pre-patriarchal worship was deep and widespread and which record is largely lost, and who is remembered now for being mother to the hero Achilles. Also, another Canada connection. I take from this to be on the lookout for a connection to early childhood, powerful forces from beyond memory, and/or a reminder when working with this specific place of a larger context of the living earth and sea.
  4. Asparagus farm! The tag line goes, “We grow fresh green asparagus 8 months out of the year” and my first reaction is about how asparagus is a tender, early Spring vegetable – I feel a distaste toward the idea of over-forcing something out of its season. The “fresh green” reminds me of the green I see from the park.
  5. A memorial dedicated to early European settlers – I have been thinking and reading recently on ideas of whiteness, privilege, settler colonialism, and my own relationship with my ancestors. This process indeed feels like a long climb where the way the world works suddenly shifts, I have to account for different perspectives, and I have to tread very mindfully.

You can see how many facets of the image of Mount Stewart start to appear when held and turned in different directions. Exploring associations like this is one way of doing so. Another way of doing so, and one of my absolute favorites, is to explore the language itself. Where words appear, dreams are great punsters and make much use of the poetic depth of language and etymology.

First, I look at the word as it shows up: Stewart is an old Scottish name, connected to a line of royalty, of Old English origin by way of a Breton knight. (I note that I think I have some Scotch ancestry that I know nothing about. I think this may be connected to the line that wound up in Nova Scotia about which I also know nothing.)

From it comes the English word “steward:” a person who manages the household, or the affairs of another; a manager, caretaker, or guardian.

Digging deeper into the etymology yields the Old English stīġ + weard.

Stīġ: 1) house, hall, building, enclosure for animals. 2) An especially steep or narrow path. (!)

Weard: 1) guard or watchman, protector. 2) a protected place (neighborhood, section of community, area of a building, division of a forest).

Weard is also closely connected to an Old Norse word for cairn, a man-made pile of stones acting as a trail-marker, burial-marker, astronomical device, or spiritual monument. I note that this doubles the image of the small mountain with man-made park at its summit. I also note that part of my ancestry includes Norse folks, and with the earlier Valhalla connection there’s a doubling of this influence too.

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For me, Mount Stewart thus becomes a dream-place named for the process it embodies and illustrates: a careful climb up a steep and narrow path, which requires an attitude of oversight, guardedness, and stewardship (including the ecological stewardship for which the historical Californian Stewart was known). The park at its summit is a protected place, and needs to be approached as such. Whatever or whoever is beginning to be represented there by the people I meet in the dream should also be approached with these attitudes. The protected and stewarded nature of the place may reflect the purposes of cairns: orienting and connecting during movements between realms. As I deepen this dreamwork by turning to the figures and my relationships with them, I will bear all this in mind.

I understand this dream to speak to ongoing processes of learning and growth for me, touching many layers of my experience and practice: my relationship with mountainous terrain which was renewed last Fall when I traveled in the Carpathians; my relationship with forest terrain and its creatures, which are regularly present in dreams; my desire to have more travel and working retreats in my waking life; my relationship with the land of California, which has revealed itself to me in dreams before like this; my deepening practice of ancestral study and how that connects to issues of privilege, settler history (that great Western divide), and my stewardship of all this in terms of my own right relationship with the land I live in.

MtStwart

You can see the rich weave of information and influences these ways of working a dream create. The beauty of these tools is that you don’t need a lot of special equipment or education. Access to the internet, a playful and curious mind, and an intention to explore and expand an image (rather than collapse it into definition, as I might have done by looking up “mountain” in a symbol dictionary) are all you need. Held this way,  a dream becomes a puzzle that yields orientation, guidance, confirmation, and fresh ideas and directions to look toward. I hope you find it useful!

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Kaeti is a therapist, teacher, and dreamer based in Long Beach, California. All of her work (and play!) is interested in dismantling intersections of oppression and breathing magic and radical healing into all the daily corners of her life, into all the spaces of community she helps weave.

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