WALKING WITH WATER | October 2016
Walking Water is an action, a prayer and pilgrimage that intends to restore our relations with and to water. We walk the path from source to end user, the Eastern Sierra watershed down to Los Angeles, with people from many parts of the world – both local and global – to explore what is ours to do….. how are we to be with the waters, the lands and its people.
This year, we entered phase two of Walking Water beginning where we ended last year – the Owens Lake in the Owens Valley, California. The Owens Lake has been dry since the 1920’s after the Owens River was diverted away from its original destination and was fed into the LA Aqueduct. Previous to the settlers, it was a site of huge significance and life to the Paiute peoples and now it is a construction site for a huge mitigation project having become one of the most toxic air pollutant areas in North America.
We walked 207 miles over three weeks, leaving the Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra watershed after a few days and then entering Kern County and LA County to walk towards Cascades, Sylmar. We saw only three open bodies of water in those three weeks, the Haiwee Reservoir, the Bouquet Reservoir and Little Lake. Many of our days were spent following the pipe of the LA Aqueduct.
Our Pilgrimage was full of joy, grief, challenges and achievements that we hope we can convey just a little of in this report. We also want to show our deep gratitude to all who contributed to this incredible journey.
I feel my grief for the water is older than my bones, and the call to pilgrimage is bigger than my own longing. The journey focused our common eye on bearing witness, listening and asking questions to open a space of inquiry, beginning with curiosity and leaving the heart open to receive all sides of the story.
This year we were joined by 55 walkers in total from 12 nations: USA, Bolivia, UK, Germany, Portugal, India, Israel/Palestine, Holland, South Africa, and Poland in addition to walkers from both the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley and Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe.
The walkers came with a range of experience, knowledge and practice in working with water both around the world and locally. There was a balance of men and women and a wide age-range from 20 to nearly 70. Similarities in how water has been managed over the last 100+ years were shared, with different responses and strategies considered. Our common ground in its simple essence became our love and respect for water.
A Typical Day
Many people ask us how our day was and while we really took each day as it came – to be flexible with route, the weather and needs of the group – we did find a common rhythm that seemed to work well.
We had a small logistics team and kitchen team that either followed or went ahead each day – providing our group shelter, water and food. This team had to be flexible and very creative as they could never predict what would happen next with us on the trail.
Each day we woke with the sun, normally around 6a, drank a cup of coffee or tea, prepared breakfast and made a picnic bag for lunch. We packed up our own belongings and were in circle by 8am. A few times we met while it was still dark to avoid the afternoon heat. Here we would leanly share essentials from the night, maybe a dream that was significant for the group and place, along with some guidance from Gigi, Kate, and later Alan, when he joined for week three. Each morning as we left the base camp and each evening as we arrived to our next base camp we would offer a water blessing – giving gratitude to the water and land.
After the picture of our day ahead was shared, Krystyna and Laura guided us into silence with a question or thought for the morning. As the journey continued Hank and Jasmine met with the team and became our guides into the time of intentional silence with thoughts to consider. The silent walk often lasted the first two to three hours and our first break was enriched by hearing witness comments from the group. What did we see or find, discover or feel, inside or outside during this time, relevant to our journey?
We then set off again, walking 8 to 14 miles a day, with rest stops for lunch, and visits to important locations — such as the Crystal Geyser Bottling Plant or a natural spring that was discovered along the route. Not long after arriving in the afternoons to the night basecamp, we came together in council, song, and Talking Water. Supper was always a highlight just around dark and most would be asleep before the stars came out.
Some of our most memorable moments were:
Beginning our inquiry and concern by walking in silence through the parking area of the Crystal Geyser bottling plant.
Standing in a powerful silence when an angry rancher began yelling at one of our vehicles for “speeding”, in front of the whole group, to whom he then added an apology for his actions.
Co-creating spontaneous blessing ways at natural springs and pipeline sites along our route.
Finding our way into an “everyone must share a song” council that helped us meet the loud, wild and crazy 30 mph winds.
Being stopped and asked by many, “What are you doing?” Their concern led to offerings of help and their realization of the purpose of our journey most often led to gratitude.
Finding and learning about the Mojave green rattlesnake, tracks of bobcat, and bear.
Having two beautiful campfires permitted and started with bow and drill by our fire-keepers… one at Red Rock Canyon campground and the other the last night for our closing council, in the Santa Clarita campground.
Talking Water took place practically every other day serving as one of the spaces where we invited both walkers and local community members to share their stories and be open for questions and comments by the group. Doing this, we keep ourselves engaged in the issues and stories of the land we walk on and its people, as well as have a way to explore and practice the art of questioning. There is a deep impact to hear stories directly from the storyteller.
Some of this year’s highlights were:
Marc Valens – lawyer and land steward who has been working for many years to bring together all the different stakeholders in order to remove the Klamath River dams.
Marcela Olivera – Bolivian water activist who was instrumental in the people’s water uprising against water privatization in Cochabamba and who continues working for the commons today.
Alan Bacock – water coordinator of Big Pine Paiute Tribe and member of Walking Water Core Team who spoke of his people’s history as well as his personal journey in relation to water.
Mark Dubois – an earth care activist who has dedicated his life to saving rivers—most notably the Stanislaus–where he years ago chained himself to the river bed to stop it from being flooded.
Rajendra Singh – the ‘Waterman of India’, who shared his award-winning work in India in community empowerment and water management.
Raymond Naylor-Hunter – member of the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe who spoke of the Trail of Tears where roughly 900 Paiute were marched out of the Owens Valley in the 1860’s
Shira Kronich – an Israeli water engineer working for the Arava Institute who spoke of education between peoples around water with a focus on transboundary water management.
Krystyna Jurzykowski – co-founder of High Hope Retreat and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, a preserve for endangered species, who spoke of the healing power of giving and new relationships possible with money.
Mike Prather –a teacher and avid birder as well as a huge support throughout Walking Water – offering advice and local knowledge about the water issues in the Valley – this year spoke about the Owens Lake and how the water flows or why it doesn’t through the Valley.
Laura Whitney –President of The Ojai Foundation, who spoke of how the way of pilgrimage has led to essential changes in her life and her family’s investments.
Geoff Dalglish – journalist and ‘earth pilgrim,’ who shared the depth of his “turn around” from a career built around cars and cross-country expeditions to becoming an earth pilgrim, and subsequently walked thousands of miles for the human/nature connection.
Meredith Hackleman –a long time activist recently returned from Standing Rock, who spoke of the growing movement of water protectors and the increasing brutality they experience, what is needed there, and the power of non-violence.
Andy Lipkis – founder and president of TreePeople who spoke of the work being done in Los Angeles on storm water catchment and conservation.
Dustin Hardwick–resident of the small town of Cartago and board member of the Cartago Mutual Water Company that is now in dispute with Crystal Geyser – a water bottling company based in the Valley. Dustin’s community maintains that Crystal Geyser, through its methods of extracting, storing, and illegally discharging arsenic has contaminated the local groundwater aquifer.
Will Scott – co-founder of Weaving Earth spoke of the need for relational education in the great turning.
Jim Epstein – chairman of his family’s investment company for over 30 years and founder of various social initiatives, Jim spoke of his path in weaving social consciousness with money.
Johannes Ewig and Janka Striffler – co-workers of Tamera Healing Biotope 1 in Portugal, gave an insight into Tamera as one of the longest running intentional communities in the world whose intention is to create complex models for a peace culture.
And even our c0-leaders Kate Bunney and Gigi Coyle shared personal stories this year in between weaving thoughts and guidance for the journey throughout.