Nala and the Big Storm

By John Stokes

July 25, 2013

For the past eighteen years The Tracking Project has held Dreamtracking— a summer camp for girls 12 – 18 — in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Students learn traditional tracking and wilderness skills together with the Arts of Life, including music, storytelling, dance and other arts.

Each day of camp we hold a dream circle; the girls learn techniques for remembering dreams and writing them in a dream journal. They learn that dreams leave tracks in our minds just as animals leave tracks in the forest. These dream tracks can be read just like the tracks on the ground — some vanish within minutes while others remain visible for years.

This year the students in all our camps for youth and adults were more interested than usual in the dream circle and the dream teachings. This story from our 2013 camp tells of Bella, one of our new 12-year-old campers and her dream of Nala, one of the dogs at the Circle A Ranch Hostel.

It is a story of animal dreaming and being sensitive to the messages we receive from the Natural World.


EARLY Thursday morning at the fire Bella told me that she had had a dream about Nala. Nala is a relatively small, young dog with the tan look of a lean Sharpei; she is extremely smart and she often bosses around and bullies the other dogs on the ranch. She visits our camps on a daily basis and receives love from all.

At the dream circle after breakfast, Bella shared her dream with us. It was very simple:

Nala came into the center of the dream circle and looked at all of us.
She told with her mind that we should prepare for a big storm.

Nala during the Tracking Project staff retreat, 2012

After the circle the staff and I went down to the kitchen area and I told them that I thought we should trust this dream and prepare ourselves for a big storm. We had already been receiving daily thunderstorms as part of our New Mexican monsoon season, so a storm bigger than what we had already experienced would be a big storm indeed.

Years ago I had found a book on the sale table — When the Snakes Awake: Animals and Earthquake Prediction by Helmut Tributsch — and I have been interested ever since in the way that animals behave prior to earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters. Animals are considered to be one of the earliest and most reliable predictors of events in Nature.

The idea that the little dog knew about an upcoming storm and was sharing the knowledge with us was worth listening to. I have come to trust in the messages that I receive from Nature.

So, we suspended our daily activities and switched to preparation mode, working on the woodpile, gathering, bucking and tarping the wood, filling all available five gallon water jugs, pegging down our tarps and sending staff members around the camp to make sure that all the girls’ tents were well-secured.

By noon we felt prepared for what might come, but on that day, Thursday, we received only a small amount of rain in the late afternoon — otherwise, no heavy weather.

The following day we had the usual high cirrus clouds early in the morning, shaped on this day in the form of a long white feather with a rainbow arc across it. Late morning brought us some rain, but in the afternoon the clouds continued to build and darken ominously. Around 4:00, we ventured on a short tracking outing to the area we call the Badlands, but the pouring rain and the strong winds turned us around shortly after we set out.

As the sky darkened and the wind shook the trees around our clearing, I stood by the fire pit, gazing up. Such high winds and black sky are not normal for the afternoon thunderstorms we generally receive during this monsoon time of the year.

“Everyone into your tents and stay there. We’ll call you when it’s time for dinner!”

This is a hurricane, I thought to myself. I have been around enough heavy weather in my life — hurricanes while growing up in Florida, cyclones in Australia — and I’ve seen many a hurricane or tropical storm make their way up to the high deserts from the Gulf of Mexico. “I think we are on the edge of a hurricane, “ I told my staff. “I’m not sure where the center is, but we are on the edge.”

The rain lashed us and the winds blew, thunder and lightning cracking all around us …but by 6:30 or so, we were able to get our dinner started on the fire. The rain continued through the night and sadly, we had to pack up wet the next morning as we closed up camp.

On returning to Albuquerque Saturday afternoon, we saw all the signs of a large storm— widespread flooding, large trees toppled over and shredded leaves littering the ground. We were told that a storm with hurricane force winds had struck the area on Friday afternoon. The highest recorded wind gust was 89 mph, enough to qualify the storm as a Category 1 hurricane.

We had indeed been on the edge of a hurricane! But with the early warning from Nala, we were totally prepared for the weather that hit us.

Nala during the Mentor Training, 2013

Jungian psychologist James Hillman has said that we need to liberate our dreams from our anthropocentric views of dreaming. “When someone dreams of a wolf,” he would say, “why does this have to represent the person’s wolf-like nature? What if the person had done something which caused the wolf to allow that person to enter the wolf’s dream?”

Do animals dream? Of course they do. Are we sensitive enough to notice?

How wonderful that Nala knew of the storm and told us about it. How lucky that Bella was sensitive enough to catch Nala’s dream. How good that we had a dream circle where Bella could share her dream. And how good that we listened to the dream and passed through the storm as well-prepared as we did.

Thank you, Bella. Thank you, Nala.