As Walking Water passes the midway point between California’s iconic Mono Lake and the Owens Lake dustbowl, our community-on-the-move has settled into a reverential pace that invites a deep and intimate connection with our surroundings.
Our world has slowed to a speed familiar to our ancestors and each morning we start together in a companionable silence, welcoming the new day and celebrating the sacred all around us.
Always there is the majestic backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains, although often this picture-perfect view is partly obscured by the smoke of wildfires. It is an indication of how dangerously dry the Owens Valley is, while the diversity of tracks in the sand reminds us of the other lifeforms that are also under threat.
I love the first part of the day – for me the luminosity of first light is love itself and feels like the warm embrace of an all-loving Creator who draws no distinction between humans, animals, birds, trees, rocks and rivers. All share equally in that giant early morning hug in the cool of the sunrise, before the heat begins to build relentlessly.
Each walker is touched in different ways by this harsh and beautiful land, local photographer Jasmine Amara declaring enthusiastically: “I was born here and I’m home with myself. It is in my blood and my bones. Being here makes me feel whole.”
Others feel it too, even though many of us come from different corners of the globe.
Somehow this part of California, which is spotlighting planetary issues of water scarcity, is uniting all of us in profound ways. The walking adventure is seen as an ecological action, a prayer, an educational journey and an individual and collective intention to create healthy ways of being in relationship with water and each other.
I’m thoroughly enjoying the walking and perhaps I foolishly challenged fate when I had the thought that many days had been relatively easy compared to the longer days I’m used to on my solo pilgrimages. Oops! Almost as the thought popped into my head an old knee pain returned and I became aware of a hotspot developing on my right foot, warning me that a blister might not be far away.
That night I’d also counted on a well-deserved sleep that was not to be. A squadron of mosquitoes staged a surprise attack and I became an unwitting blood donor, providing a transfusion to a multitude of thirsty flying friends. I tried to ignore them but those little pinpricks were a sure sign that all of mosquitodom knew about the free feast.
Then, to compound my discomfort, my self-inflating mattress punctured and I found myself in closer contact with Mother Earth than I’d planned.
I guess it is a pilgrim’s lot to accept whatever arises and deal with it in good humour.
As I write this we’re in the second half of this year’s pilgrimage – Walking Water is divided into three sections to be walked over three years, reaching the Greater Los Angeles Area late in 2017.
And its definitely got tougher since we left behind the shade of forests and trees and began a long and uncomfortable descent into the Owens Valley, finding ourselves with nowhere to hide from the punishing heat.
We trekked down a little-used road alongside towering powerlines and a huge pipeline built to divert water from the Owens River to Los Angeles – both being symbols of the city’s takeover of major resources of the region.
To an outsider it is surprising to see so many signs warning that the land is owned by LA’s Department of Water and Power and not to be trespassed upon – signs hundreds of kilometres from the city itself.
For some the pipeline is a century-old miracle of engineering achievement while for others it is a symbol that sparks anger and resentment. On this day it offered the only possible shade and our band of walkers deeply appreciated the chance to hide out in the relative cool beneath it.
At one point the pipeline had sprung a leak, creating a small oasis that vividly demonstrated the power of water. Here the vegetation was a lush and vibrant green while elsewhere the plants appeared stunted by comparison and their colours parched and faded by the heat, dryness and dust.
We have learned in our research that leakages in old structures are a concern for many people in many places in the US as well as throughout the world.
That night we endured another waterless camp on bleak, rocky ground that teased us with a tantalizing glimpse of the irrigated greenery of Round Valley, a hamlet nestling at the foot of the distant mountains.
Lured by the promise of walking alongside water again, we were up well before sunrise and stepped out joyfully, not for a moment imagining how our moods would soon be plunged into sorrow, despondency and even despair. The shift was noticeable the moment we passed a power station and witnessed how the once sparkling Owens River had been transformed into a lamentable shadow of its former self.
What’s happening here, I wondered. I’d started the day feeling eager and energetic and now my mood echoed that of the river. I felt dull, lifeless and robbed of a natural freedom to flow and meander between the contours of the Earth. Rounding a bend I discovered that a dam wall blocked the water’s onward journey. The smell was also one of death and decay.
The headline for this blog came to me and I later discovered that other walkers had shared similar feelings of sadness and regret for what we humans have done.
Coincidentally singer-songwriter Sarah Nutting composed a song also entitled Trail of Tears, although she avoided blame and judgement and was inspired to see the big picture “through the eyes of God.” Later, when she started to sing it to us, the tears flowed down her cheeks and she stopped strumming her ukulele and apologised: “I’m sorry. I can’t sing this now … it’s too fresh, my emotions are still too raw!”
I silently asked the water ‘What can we do to help?’ and was surprised to hear the words appear in my mind: “You can love me back to life.” The message immediately conjured up images of the remarkable work of Masaru Emoto, a Japanese researcher who pioneered experiments to demonstrate that human consciousness can alter the molecular structure of water. Frozen water particles studied under a microscope revealed hexagonal structures ranging from the ugly mutations of polluted water to designs of astonishing complexity and beauty found in pure, fresh water. With further research, which sparked the Messages from Water books, it was discovered that contaminated water could be healed by loving intentions, prayer and even the playing of classical music.
For me it is confirmation that my intentions do matter, and words from Sarah’s song keep drifting back into my mind:
‘If I saw it with God’s eyes
Would I judge or would I cry
O-o-oh or would I love, love, love?
May we find our way, back to love
May we find our way, back to love’
This post was written by Geoff Dalglish. It originally appeared on September 13th on his blog, Earth Pilgrim Africa.