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Walking in Solidarity

Faith Spotted Eagle and family

Compassionate Earth Walk joined by Lakota Sioux and Nez Perce Activists

My return to the Compassionate Earth Walk pipeline pilgrimage was both inspiring and brief. During the few days I walked with Shodo and her merry band of walkers, we were joined by an assortment of local pipeline activists. Faith Spotted Eagle, an elder from the Yankton Sioux Tribe, walked one morning along with Wayne Frederick, the manager of the Rosebud Buffalo herds and Gary Dorr, an activist from Nez Perce who had recently participated in a Tar Sands megaload blockade in Idaho. Their stories of their concerns for the land and the continued abuse of government and industry in indiscriminately plundering the earth for material gain rang consistent with the narrative we heard all along the walk. Another highlight was meeting with John Harter, a white rancher and local hero. He represents one of the only landowners in South Dakota unwilling to be bought by TransCanada. He has bravely taken them to court and refused to allow them to cross his land. Unfortunately, due to the laws of “Eminent Domain,” he is likely to lose. Eminent domain is “the power to take private property for public use by a state or corporation authorized to exercise functions of public character, following the payment of just compensation to the owner of that property.” I noticed in my conversations with the local tribal members, that there is a certain bitter satisfaction in knowing that white landowners are experiencing now some semblance of what they have experienced for generations — powerlessness in the face of colonization, domination and greed. Still, there was a sense that the resistance, however small the individual actions may seem, is cumulatively having an effect. Every delay, every resistance, however small, contributes to the financial and moral strain on the industry. While our small action as the Compassionate Earth Walk sometimes felt “too little, too late,” ultimately, I believe the pilgrimage encourages, educates and inspires many along the route to continue their efforts, large and small. This solidarity is critical and I choose to remain convinced that it all makes a difference.

After walking over thirty-two miles in three days, I chose to depart the walk and return home. I was deeply grateful for the brief time with them and the opportunity to complete my pilgrimage in a good way. Jon, one of the wise elders on the walk who had been there from the beginning, sang a beautiful song as part of a simple ceremony to send me off. It came to him in the moment and only after he completed singing it four times did he understand why this song had come. It was a song of the “chanupa”, the sacred ceremonial pipe of the Sioux. He told me that that chanupa is a way to communicate with the spirit world. He said, “I see you as a walking chanupa, always connected with Spirit,” and he blessed me on my way. Thank you, Jon. Thank you, Shodo. May you continue in strength and commitment and may it serve the earth and her people.

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Cowgirl Walks Again

Cowgirl Walks Again

Today I am in Billings, Montana getting ready to rejoin the Compassionate Earth Walk in South Dakota this evening.
Needless to say, I am curious to see how it is going, how Shodo and the other walkers are holding up and to hear the tales of their adventures since I left in July. It will be quite different with the big, blue, hippy bus.
I will try to post as I can.

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The Seahorse Fund

Seahorse Rock

This morning I transferred my remaining 675 shares of ExxonMobil stock into a “Donor Advised Fund” (DAF)at RSF Social Finance. A DAF is basically like a mini-family foundation that is held within a larger foundation. Contributing to this fund, which I have named “The Seahorse Fund” after my Dad, allows me a tax-deduction for the initial gift. They will sell the XOM shares immediately and I have the monies to give away to non-profits of my choice, as I please over time. I feel really good about this way of divestment and am delighted to be honoring my Dad in this way.

The story behind the seahorse goes something like this: I was on a vision fast out on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Ventura and woke up on the last morning to see a perfect seahorse-shaped cloud right above my head. I knew it had significance, so I sketched it quickly in my journal and went back to base camp to break the fast. The park ranger was there waiting for me with news that my father was dying. He died later that day. When I returned home to look up the meaning of the seahorse, I found that ancient mariners said it was the seahorse who escorted souls to the afterlife! (my Dad did spend lots of time on a ship during WW2) So it is a symbol of my Dad who I honor and give thanks for providing me with so much (including the XOM stock. yuck!).

The Seahorse Fund

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Grief, Integration, Resolve

Grief, Integration, Resolve

Two of hundreds of warning signs we saw along our route.

I am now back in Ojai, to attend to school and family and life, with a plan to rejoin the Compassionate Earth Walk in South Dakota in September. I noticed that it was only when I returned home and began to try to integrate the experience that the real grief of what I witnessed began to be felt. Floating in our swimming pool, I wept for the people of the Athabasca watershed whose waters are poisoned. I wept for the land scarred and ridden with the network of subterranean, insidious oil pipelines. I wept for the community of all life at risk in the face of climate change. I felt the sorrow of my own complicity and hypocrisy as I return to a life of relative luxury, consumption and comfort. Integration has not been easy as I have tried to hold onto the deep connection I felt with the earth while walking, meditating, sleeping, bathing and eating outside for two weeks. The veil between worlds felt very thin for the first days back and is slowly thickening as I jump into the details of everyday life. I purposely did not step back through the threshold circle as I left the walk, with the intention to hold this time as sacred until I join them again. I trust this was the right decision though I do feel a bit disoriented and in two worlds.

On my way to the Edmonton airport I passed this circle in a field. I hold it in my heart as a symbol of the circle of life that weaves through all things keeping us interconnected through space and time. I resolve to do my part on protecting and restoring this fragile web and I give gratitude to my ancestors, my Dad in particular, my family, and my community for making this journey possible. May it continue!

cropcircle

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Rucksack Revolution

Rucksack Revolution

“I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ’em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures.”
― Gary Snyder

A bunch o’ Zen lunatics engaged in morning zazen.

sittingzazen

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Ode to Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis

Late one night while staying at the lakeside campground by the town of Czar, I decided to take a quick skinny dip in the lake before bedtime. Attempting to dodge the swarms of mosquitoes, I must have been so hasty I failed to look up into the sky. A few minutes later I hear Lina shouting excitedly “Aurora Borealis! Aurora Borealis!!” We all gathered on the lakeside, me half-naked wrapped in my camping towel, and stared up in silent awe as it changed shape and brightness and color before our eyes. What a gift on one of my last nights with the walkers! And the mosquitoes were happy, too. (Above photo is from Google Images but is very close to what we witnessed.)

Jon offered us this poem.

Northern Lights

We have seen Aurora Borealis
On a warm mosquito bitten night
Casually acknowledging the sacred gift
Small talking in the face of God

We have seen Aurora Borealis
Revealing His and Her curtains of light
Appearing and disappearing silently without a plan
Dancing for poor and rich alike

We have seen Aurora Borealis
In the North where survival is an art
Where antagonists must be friends
Where distances are days apart

We have seen Aurora Borealis
We climbed the mountain; we have been Mecca
Our dreams and voices anointed, our callings blessed
The world will change

Jon R. Biemer
July 2013
Dedicated to the Compassionate Earth Walkers

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The Soul of the Land

The Spirit of the Land

After lots of discussion about how to walk, where to walk, what speed to walk, and the meaning and purpose of the walk, our group finally found a place of agreement and a rhythm. Together we realized that it was important to all of us to be able to alternate times on the main roads where we would be visible to passing trucks and the local population, with times on the back roads where we could feel the land and have our own souls nourished by it. By now the mythic sense of our journey has begun to sink in. I have begun to feel the earth under my feet in a deeper way and feel connected to the greater ancestral practice of walking. As we cover individually about 10 miles a day, and collectively, about 20, I am beginning to feel the satisfaction of covering great distance, little by little, on foot. In moments of awe and wonder, I feel such kinship with the ancient ones who knew no other way to travel and those who have practiced pilgrimage through the ages. As my body gets stronger and less challenged by the physical aspects of the long-distances, the act of aligning body, prayer, purpose and action begins to be felt as a great joy. The quiet dialogue within my mind and that dialogue with the elementals all around me, begins to blur and merge as my soul and the soul of the land become one. The morning zazen practice, I believe, helps attune to these energies and open us up to the bigger story of which we are a part. The walking staff, which I felt physically cumbersome at first, has become our loyal companion, ceremonially handed over with a bow, each time Shodo takes a break. I am falling in love with this walking.

me&staff

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Land Lovers

Land Lovers

Logan and Shawn Taylor

While resting on the side of the road, a young man approached us. He said, “My Dad was driving by and saw you and called me to say it looked like there were some protesters walking along. I am working for the local paper and thought I would find out what you are doing. Are you protesting?” Turns out it was his first week on the paper and we were his first “scoop.” We ended up interviewing him and learned his father and grandpa were cattle ranchers. When we asked if he thought his Dad would let us camp on his land he replied, “I think my Dad would like that!” We had some good chuckles, imagining his Dad saying something like, “Son, you can’t bring home everyone you write about!!” So we ended up staying on their land and had a most wonderful visit. Logan’s Dad, Shawn, was great and his grandpa, Bruce, totally adorable. They seemed delighted to have us as guests and a certain cathartic relief in being able to speak openly and frankly about their love of the land and their concerns about the encroaching oil industry. Defying my own cowboy stereotyping, Shawn and Logan’s “bachelor pad” was exploding with books on Amazonian shamanism, environmentalism, adventure travel, and ethnography by authors such as Wade Davis, John Perkins, Alberto Villodo and others.

Lina with Grandpa and Grandma Taylor

Lina with Grandpa and Grandma Taylor

Grandpa Bruce informed us that he gets up at 5am every morning, not to tend the cattle, but to practice yoga! In the morning, I followed Shawn down to the corral to watch his artificial insemination operation which was fascinating. After a long discussion about the state of the planet and the ecological crisis we are all facing, we asked, “What do you see as the answer?” He laughed and replied, “Oh I have no idea!!? That’s way too big a question for me!!!” Then he paused thoughtfully and said, “Well, learn to be happy with less I guess.” So humble and so real.

Before we hit the road, Logan wanted to show us what was happening down the road. They had been talking about the “new construction” and their concerns over the oil industry expansion that appears to be exploding out of control. On an intersection between beautiful pastures and farm fields bursting with yellow rape seed (canola), was the beginnings of a giant industrial project — a future train terminal for moving oil. We learned that with or without the Keystone XL Pipeline, there will continue to be lots of ways to transport the oil.

Train Terminal Construction Site

Train Terminal Construction Site

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Pipe, Pipe, Pipe and more Pipe

Pipes, Pipes, Pipes
We tried to find out if these pipes are awaiting Keystone approval or are of a different type. Not sure. We do know that there are many places along the route where you can see pipes piled up disintegrating in the wind, rain and sun. As Bill McKibbon optimistically pointed out at the Healing Walk, the activism is working! The resistance creates delays that cost the industry millions.

pipesforever

Pipes lined up to the horizon.