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The Pipeline Terminal

Hardisty PIpeline Terminal

Hardisty PIpeline Terminal

The next step on our Compassionate Earth Walk begins in Hardisty, where the Keystone XL Pipeline would begin. This “tank farm” is an industrial complex and hub for the oil industry in Alberta, sometimes referred to as “the Texas” of Canada. As we walked through this area, we had at least five Crown police patrol cars staked out on hilltops and intersections, watching us like hawks. They told us it was for our protection, but clearly they were assigned to prevent any acts of “eco-terrorism” a term used by Canada’s current conservative government for those who are standing up for the rights of the land, the waters and all life.

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Shodo walking past the “tank farm.”

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The Kindness of Strangers

The Kindness of Strangers

One of the most delightful aspects of being on the road is when you are cared for by strangers. This family went way beyond the call of duty making sure we got all of our muddy laundry done, providing a feast and listening with great interest and heart to our stories. Our “suppertime council” become a deep exchange I will not forget and their profound generosity will remain with me. I look forward to the opportunity to treat future wayfarers with this quality of openness and love.

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Tar Sands Healing Walk

Tar Sands Healing Walk

Back row: Jon, Lina, Taylor, Shodo. Front: Laura, Aneeta

“The tar sands are growing out of control, destroying the climate for all and poisoning the water of everyone living downstream.” From the Healing Walk website.

On the evening of July 5, over 500 people gathered to camp at Indian Beach of the Fort McMurray First Nation. After an evening of rousing speeches by Bill McKibbon, Winona LaDuke and others, a huge feast of moose, venison, lentils and rice,and hours of drumming and dancing around a large central fire, we were all awoken early, piled onto school buses and driven about 40 kilometers to the Suncorp and Syncrude industrial projects of the tar sands, or “oil sands,” as it is called by the industry and government.At first we entered a “Crane Lake Reclamation Area,” developed by Suncorp as a lame facade to the devastation. Sitting down right there in the middle of the trail, one of the ceremonial leaders offered a pipe ceremony to a small circle of elders, both native and non-native. After a press event down by the main road, the 14 kilometer walk began with 4-5 elder First Nations women leading the way.

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Many of us wore masks to filter the dust and fumes. A line of drummers and singers continued uninterrupted throughout the walk, alternating throughout the day. Every quarter of the way, the elders stopped to make prayers and offerings to each direction. The pace was slow and deliberate. The sky was overcast giving respite from the July sun. Despite the solemnity of the occasion and the gravity of the issues, many seemed in good spirits and the occasional passing trucker would pull his horn in support, egging on the walkers.

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The most disturbing sites were the toxic tailing ponds, the biproduct of extracting the oil from the sand and the root source of much of the devastation to aqua firs, river ways and lakes in the region. Before the walk, we learned of the great tragic losses of the First Nations of the Athabasca watershed, including suspiciously high cancer rates and warnings to not drink from or hunt or fish near any of the traditional water sources on their territories. These noxious “ponds” are scattered with bright orange plastic “scarecrows” to keep the birds from landing on the surface. The continual sound of canon shots rings through the air, further effort to keep the birds and other creatures away from the deadly effluent. We also walked passed billowing smoke stacks, massive earthmoving equipment and farcical “returning to nature” areas covered with grass— a mere band-aid to the ruined earth and water below. Moving at a the slow amble to accommodate all levels, it took over eight hours to walk the full loop. While my hips and knees were killing me, several grandmothers, each in their late eighties walked the entire route, the strength of their resolve inspiring all of us.

What a joke.

What a joke.

Protecting the Sacred One Step at a Time – Tar Sands Healing Walk 2013 from Zack Embree on Vimeo.

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Teepee Birth at Indian Beach

Teepee Birth at Indian Beach

We arrived at Indian BEach on Gregoire Lake a few days before the 4th Annual Healing Walk which turned out to be a huge blessing. We were immediately put to work mowing the grass, setting up tents, making wood piles and more. Our group, along with other helpers and the organizers were invited to the sweat lodge and then a huge feast of venison and moose. I watched the young chef for the event skin a deer with his brand new hunting knife bought earlier that day for the purpose of cutting the umbilical cord of his new baby soon to arrive. Later that evening, at the stroke of midnight, he delivered his eighth child in the teepee close by my tent. How magical to hear the drumming, singing and birth moans and finally the cheers as the baby emerged. This beautiful young family has made it their mission to raise their children in a traditional way, learning the indigenous language almost lost, living off the land and homeschooling in a remote part of Vancouver and studying traditional ways. They learned that this birth was the first in many generations to be born in this way and on this ancestral lakeside territory. The whole gathering was blessed by this new life and this reminder of rediscovering the old ways. The birth continued to be celebrated throughout the gathering, bringing a message of hope for the future.

I was deeply moved by the extreme kindness, inclusivity and generosity of the indigenous people hosting the event. No one was asked for money and by the time the crowds arrived our hosts were feeding over 500 people! They even made 500 sandwiches to pass out on the road during the walk! The culture of generosity and generalized reciprocity is alive and well among these people. It was also very moving and encouraging to see the First Nations people working deliberately together with non-natives in unity for a common cause—the protection of the waters and the future of all life.

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Through the Portal

Through the Portal

This photo barely captures the drama as we approached Indian Beach up by Fort McMurray. The horizon aflame, driving rain, lightning bursting all around us and a double rainbow served as our portal into the first stage of our journey. If this first display is any indication, the journey promises to be epic.

This is a Prayer.

Whoa. I am still shaking. That was really scary. Coming through customs in Edmonton I showed  my passport and the customs officer started asking the usual questions. “Are you here for work or pleasure?” “What do you do for work?” “Where are you going?” I was taken off guard and suddenly realized I did not know how much I should say and must have turned red or stammered or acted guilty. He told me to come into the immigration office. Then he got really tough and said, “You lie to me again and you will be getting on the next plane out of here, do you understand?” He began asking lots more questions and I told him the truth. “I am going to the Fort McMurray to participate in a prayer for the earth—a ceremony, not a protest.” “You mean like drum circles and sweat lodges and things like that?” I said, “Yes, something like that.” “We do not let people into our country to break the law, so you better not be planning on tying yourself to a tree or blocking  tractors or anything like that.” “Don’t worry!” I said, “I won’t! I have two kids at home.” Then he was on the internet looking me up and asking me all about my past. “You did childbirth photography?” “What was ‘The Feast in Dream Village’?” Doing a quick Google search now, I see he MUST have also seen my GoFundMe site and/or this blog. Then he took my phone and started going through my text messages looking for something incriminating. Luckily all he saw were a bunch of hearts and smiley faces! Eventually he decided I did not look too dangerous or threatening and let me go. Beware: In this computer age, everything you have ever said or done is available for view by anyone at anytime and can be used against you. I just got an email that someone is trying to hack into my gmail account. He is still after me! That’s scary. Thank goodness I am just here to pray.

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Lost our wheels already.

I have not even left Ojai yet and the drama begins. Shodo called today to say that our support vehicle, a veggie oil psychedelic school bus, is stuck at the border in Shelby, Montana. The bus, the driver and indispensable veggie oil mechanic were stopped at immigration and barred entry. I believe Shodo is slightly relieved as the bus apparently breaks down just about every day and was testing her patience. She has rented a car and will meet me and the others in Edmonton tomorrow. From there we will figure out what to do next. My “go light” plans are totally out the window as now I am bringing a camp stove and cooking pots and all sorts of added gear. Shodo seems to be flowing with it but did admit to me that she has been very un-Buddhist—freaking out and losing her temper while the younger ones just chill and have fun throughout all the various long delays. This should be interesting. Trust, flow, be curious, laugh, trust, flow.

“Working Together”

We shape our self
to fit this world
and by the world
are shaped again.
The visible
and the invisible
working together
in common cause,
to produce
the miraculous.
I am thinking of the way
the intangible air
passed at speed
around a shaped wing
easily
holds our weight.
So may we, in this life
trust
to those elements
we have yet to see
or imagine,
and look for the true
shape of our own self,
by forming it well
to the great
intangibles about us.

By David Whyte

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Dream of my Childhood Paradise

Dream of my Childhood Paradise

As the day of my departure draws near, I notice my dream life intensifying. The dreams continue to inform me and aid me in answering the questions: What longing or wound calls me to embark on this pilgrimage? What is my intention? Why such an adventure?

In the dream, I jump in a taxi and suddenly realize we are near the street where I grew up. Excited, I ask the driver to take a left and we are driving along the street where the brook flows. I exclaim, “See that brook down there!? That’s where I spent the most magical times of my childhood!” I am so impressed by how lush and pristine it all looks. The water is flowing even more abundantly than I had remembered and the trees were bigger and greener and create a huge canopy over the road. I think how wonderful and surprising it is that this natural place of my childhood still exists — that is has not been destroyed by development. As we drive along there is water everywhere and it is as if we are driving in a river. I am excited to arrive soon at the house I grew up in and I wake up.

The dream was so vivid of those halcyon days of youth spent outside. I remember well the “big tree” I used to climb, the “glen” where water dripped down a little waterfall (I wonder now if that was real or a man-made fountain?) and the wilder places beyond our suburban yard. When I was eleven I was told we were moving to New York City and I remember crying for weeks when I heard the news. While I eventually adjusted and loved the city life, I am keenly aware that this rupture of my intimate relationship with the wild world at such a tender age is a wound I have spent much of my life trying to heal. This dream visited reminding me that I am still seeking expression of this connection, this deep love. Can pilgrimage, protest and walking contemplation heal me and, in the process, contribute to the healing of the world?

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Van Jones on the Keystone XL Pipeline

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“Sometimes deep patriotism calls people to take extraordinary actions in response to a clear and present danger. The Compassionate Earth Walk is such a response to the threat of climate change. May they inspire everyone to the same courage and commitment in this time of crisis.” – Van Jones, author, The Green-Collar Economy

Van was kind to write us a little blurb for our efforts. Thanks Van!

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The Walking Staff

Shodo Spring and her walking staff

I was moved by a few things shared on our pilgrimage conference call. First, our Buddhist Priest fearless leader, Shodo Spring, will bring her walking staff. This staff is a symbol of the walk and will walk the entire route regardless of sections where Shodo or others may jump in the support bus. When this happens, one of the other walkers will take the staff. Second, in a discussion about who plans to walk and who plans to support “base camp,” one of our team members reminded us that this walk is a “collective prayer” and we must let go of any individual ego-driven attachments to exactly how many miles any one of us actually walks. This helps me hold my contribution as valuable even though I cannot walk the entire route. This quote from Arvol Looking Horse also gives me strength in my moments of doubt.

“Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger? Know that you yourself are essential to this World. Believe that! Understand both the blessing and the burden of that. You yourself are desperately needed to save the soul of this World. Did you think you were put here for something less?” ~ Chief Arvol Looking Horse