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Trebbe Johnson

Trebbe Morocco CULife’s a heroic journey, I’ve always felt—full of monsters to fight, obstacles to negotiate, surprising allies to support you, and divine lovers who beckon you into some mystery you’re both drawn to and scared of.

I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been an incredible journey of ups and downs, triumphs and trials, sorrow in the midst of great joy and, even more amazing, joy in the midst of the deepest chasms of sorrow. Approaching the mystery of another human being from this point of view immediately gives me a sense of all they’ve strived for, hoped for, lost and triumphed over—and all before I know a single fact about them. Knowing the facts that fill in this mythic frame, I am continually awed and amazed by the feat of being human.

My deepest  sorrow is the degradation of the natural world and the seeming indifference of so many people to what is happening all around them. Yet because I see people as mythic and heroic, I can’t help believing that if we can just reconnect with our love of nature—even broken nature—we will be compelled to sustain our planet not just because we have to, but because we passionately want  to.

Over the years, I’ve struggled through my own dark times with addictions. I’ve been through the illnesses and deaths of lovers, family members, and friends. Personal darkness—my own or that of others—grieves me but does not throw me off balance, and I know that, no matter what one is going through, astonishing acts of beauty, compassion, and even joy wait to be given and received.

Living in an old stone cottage on the Berkshire Downs in England when I was in my twenties, I discovered that if you sit still in one place, any place, in nature, something amazing will soon happen. The wind blows the light across the field. The reflection of a hawk wafts across a woodland pond. A single red berry spins wildly at the end of a stalk. In 1988, when I heard that there was such a thing as a vision quest, where a person remained for several days in one wilderness place, and that you didn’t have to be a native person to receive insight from the earth, I knew I’d found a path I had to follow. 

My formal training to be a vision quest guide from 1992-94 was with Animas Valley Institute, the School of Lost Borders, and SOLO Wilderness Medicine. I also embarked on a self-defined educational path to learn several skills I felt I needed to be a really good vision quest guide. I took a public speaking class and a women’s self defense course, studied dowsing with two master dowsers in Maine, learned drumming from Babatunde Olatunji, was part of a Jungian dream group, and became a certified guide of the Personal Totem Pole process of guided imagery.

For thirty-five years I’ve been self-employed, primarily as a writer, since 1993 as a guide of vision quests, workshops and other mythic journeys. In 2009 I founded Radical Joy for Hard Times, a non-profit organization devoted to finding and making beauty in the Earth's wounded places, and I currently serve as executive director. I’ve had a few other jobs as well: life-drawing model, street-sweeper in my English village, award-winning multimedia producer in New York, translator of German, abridger of audiobooks. I’ve tried to do what I love, and if that hasn’t been possible, I’ve tried to love what I do. I’ve camped alone in the Arctic, studied classical Indian dance, written journalism about the Navajo and Hopi people, and slept in beautiful wilderness areas from my own back yard to the Sahara Desert. I have amazing friends all over the world. I live with my husband, Andy Gardner, a potter and rustic furniture maker, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, where we have a big organic garden,  lots of books, and mutual wonder at the mystery of this other person we live with.