REFLECTIONS ON A PILGRIMAGE

by Emmett Brennan

During those first days in the desert I remember a certain timidness. There was a fear in me to meet the intensity of the landscape, the intensity of the story there, the people, the prayers, the circles and songs. The water…

— The water. We went slowly, always listening for the water. It ran behind the aqueduct walls, through the trees and creeks, beneath our feet, behind our eyes and under our skin. Water was everywhere if we were willing to listen – even in the memories of dried tributaries —

I had joined the second year of Walking Water as a filmmaker and was documenting the journey as part of a larger project about water and climate. It’s often easy to disappear when holding a camera, to become the witness of someone else’s story while forgetting your own, so for me the pilgrimage became a lesson in embodiment. There was a fierceness to the walk that gently but persistently asked, “how willing are you to let this moment touch you? To stand for what is in your heart. Will you go there and listen?” Those questions, along with all the painful beauty of the walk, transformed me. They helped me to touch with new intimacy the part of my heart that cared deeply and the journey was slow enough for this place in me to become familiar.

Walking slowly as we did, I was touched by the story of Payahuunadu. The stories of the people and water who were forced from their homes and piped away – forced from ancient patterns of movement that had shaped the Valley and kept it well. These patterns, it turns out, keep the planet and her inhabitants well, too…

In working on this film, I’ve learned about the small water cycle. This is the process by which vegetation pulls water from the ground and evaporates it back up into the atmosphere, influencing temperature, humidity, and precipitation. When stretches of land lose their ability to transfer water this way, we see subtle shifts in the climate of that place which compound to erode the weather patterns all around it. It’s a dangerous spiral that destabilizes the climate globally. Walking Water was a brief yet deep immersion into such a place: the Owens Valley. Payahuunadu. What’s happening there is a reflection of what’s happening globally, and our growth as a species would benefit from a deep listening and attempted understanding of the patterns at play. This is the attempt of the film: to illuminate these patterns and remind viewers of their inseparability from all life.

For now, the film I keep referencing is titled ‘Reflection: Way of the Water Steward.’ It is a feature length documentary 3 years in the making. Broadly, it can be described as a poetic examination of the ways in which our relationship to water underlies the Earth’s changing climate and how we can design our world around a better understanding of water in order to move through this era of uncertainty and crisis. It presents an uplifting vision of what’s possible,  weaving in and out of Walking Water while dropping into visits with water visionaries like Walking Water advisor and TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis in LA, among many others.

We have the first rough cut complete and we’re raising money to finish the project mid 2020. I look forward to sharing about our progress in the months to come. Animating, scoring, developing an outreach and social action campaign… these are next.

To close, I’ll say that Walking Water was like a seed. The seed of a prayer that asks, “what is mine to do?” And, “what is a vision worth living for?” My continued work and dedication to completing this film is part of how I water this seed, and I am grateful every day for the impact that Walking Water has had on me and this project.

Emmett Brennan joined Walking Water for year 2 and is a producer and film maker – currently working on the film ‘Reflection: Way of the Water Steward.’ The trailer and website of the film are forthcoming. Please contact Emmett if you want to follow up with any questions or more info. 

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