We Are One!

posted 5 Nov 2016, 02:11 by Geoff Dalglish   [ updated 5 Nov 2016, 02:59 ]

Biospherians Sierra Silverstone, Gaie Alling and Laser Van Thillo

'It may seem that their work is insignificant - one small boat, one small team in the middle of the ocean - but it is not. It is the most important thing anyone can do to make a difference'

James Cameron, filmmaker, screenwriter and deep-sea explorer

Living for two years within a sealed ecological system known as Biosphere 2 – which was described as one of the most exciting scientific projects since the first moon landing – changed everything about the way its human inhabitants related to the Earth as a support system for all life.

It is now 25 years since they stepped across the threshold in Arizona and to celebrate that rite of passage and all that has unfolded since, a trio of Biospherians and their supporters have created a fascinating 44-minute film entitled Odyssey in Two Biospheres. It is available as a free download.

In much the same way that astronauts have looked back from outer space on our blue planet with a sense of awe and wonder at its beauty and preciousness, Biosphere 2’s team of eight scientists explored and celebrated the interdependence and interconnectedness of life from the inner space of a unique glass-enclosed structure in the Arizona desert.

What their scientific minds had known and understood translated into a deeper spiritual understanding with very practical implications – what we do to our environment we do to ourselves.

“We hurt ourselves when we pollute or deplete our natural resources because we are our biosphere,” Abigail Alling asserts, referring to the land, sea and atmosphere that support life on Earth. “We are part of it and we need it – it is our life support system.

        The eight Biosperians back in 1991

 “Without our atmosphere that separates us from the universe, a separation that allows life to thrive on our planet, nothing would be alive. There would be no water and no air to breath. It is really that simple and is the reason why we must learn to live intelligently with our biosphere.

 “All of us can make the difference and it starts with caring. I do care. I love my beautiful earth’s biosphere. I enjoy being a part of it and its wellbeing. I wish to become an intelligent steward of this biosphere because a healthy biosphere means I will be well and so will those whom I love.”

By definition the Earth is Biosphere 1 and the term applies to the planet’s complete ecological system including all organisms and the environment in which they live.

 That ambitious pioneering experiment in Arizona during the early ‘90s was intended to be – and became - the second fully self-sufficient biosphere after the Earth itself. And from its experiences and challenges have grown greater understandings that could help humans to develop technologies to explore the possibility of surviving in environments like the moon or Mars.

 A trio of the original eight – Abigail Alling, Mark ‘Laser’ Van Thillo and Sally ‘Sierra’ Silverstone – have made it their lifelong passion and mission to share the insights of those two remarkable years – they were sealed in their world in miniature for longer than any astronaut has been in space!

Mark 'Laser' Van Thillo with Biosphere 2

Key to their ongoing work was the founding of the Biosphere Foundation and its mission to inspire intelligent stewardship of our world through sustainable community-based conservation projects, educational programmes that inspire people to get involved and make a difference, and through making valuable research data freely available. (To learn more visit

Always it comes back to the need to take better care of the Earth. They insist that it can be as simple and as profound as supporting an initiative like Walking Water, which has traversed the Owens Valley that is home to the three for a few months each year in between projects that are mostly based in Indonesia, Bali, Sri Lanka and Singapore.

Their message of gratitude to the Walking Water pilgrims is: “Thank you all of you who are walking for our water in the Owens Valley.

"The most important thing we learned about working together within Biosphere 2 is that no matter our differences, we could transcend our personal and cultural habits and come together to care for our biosphere. The health and wellbeing of our biosphere was the value that brought us all together."

For the free film download click here


The Right Stuff

posted 28 Oct 2016, 08:22 by Geoff Dalglish

'As you walk upon the Earth, treat each step as a prayer'

Black Elk, Oglala Sioux elder

For decades the Mojave Desert has been synonymous in my mind with myths, legends, extremes of weather and feats of human courage and endurance – so what would it be like to walk through it?
I imagine all Walking Water participants had some anxieties around the long, hot, dusty days we’d spend tramping across this harsh landscape with its fearsome reputation for howling winds and searing temperatures.
Straddling a significant portion of Southern California along with parts of Utah, Nevada and Arizona, Mojave spans more than 50,000 square miles, although luckily our route by-passed Death Valley which enjoys a reputation as the hottest place this side of Hell with a temperature of 134 F (56.7 C) recorded in 1913 - the same year the controversial Los Angeles Aqueduct was completed.
More than anything my mental images of Mojave were shaped by an inspirational 1983 movie called The Right Stuff that told the story of the early years of the US space exploration programme and acts of great daring and courage.
It was here high above Rogers Dry Lake on 14 October 1947 that US Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager took a bold leap into the unknown and became the first human to shatter the sound barrier and fly at supersonic speeds. He entered the record books at a time when one in four experimental flights ended in tragedy.

Coincidentally that historic flight happened on the same day that this year’s Walking Water prayer and pilgrimage ended at The Cascades almost seven decades later.
Our walk, mostly following the aqueduct and pipelines above and below the ground, threw up many physical and emotional challenges, not least of all was witnessing the deep scars caused by mining in landscapes radically altered by vast wind farms and solar ranches that introduce their own aesthetic and environmental controversies.
Often we walked a land littered with broken glass and millions of spent cartridges, one afternoon and evening being reminiscent of the soundtrack for an apocalyptic movie as our campsite reverberated with gunfire, the discharge of automatic weapons and occasional explosions.
And even more disheartening was the fact that we were no longer seeing the clear flowing creeks that characterised the early days of last year’s leg of Walking Water from the source of the waters at Lee Vining Creek high in the Sierra Mountains above Mono Lake.
Now water trucked in to drink and sometimes wash with became an ever-greater luxury, and a brief outdoor camp shower a celebration and a time to abandon modesty. Being clean of the layers of dust and sweat felt more important than whether our nakedness was glimpsed by fellow hikers.

And yet for all the harshness of a terrain that has too often been desecrated and disrespected by humans, a haunting beauty remains and the critters astound with their resourcefulness and will to survive.
Eager trackers within our group were well aware that we were part of a wider community of life as they studied the footprints of coyote, mountain lion, bobcat and even a solitary bear venturing far from its normal food sources. More than once we enjoyed nocturnal meetings with rattlesnakes hunting for rodents between our central kitchen area and the buckets that served as portable toilets.
Always we asked questions of ourselves, of those we met along the way and of the waters that were only rarely glimpsed. Where the aqueduct has been sealed to minimise evaporation it was reminiscent of a prison visit as we glimpsed the underground flow through metal bars set in concrete.
Eventually we found ourselves in a changed landscape with tree-covered slopes, and yet the tinder-dryness remained a hazard.
Once during a lunch stop we noticed a puff of smoke appear on a nearby slope and within minutes we were witness to a runaway fire fanned by strong winds. The wail of sirens and clatter of helicopter blades reverberated across the hills as every available fire-fighting team rushed to the rescue.

Bouquet Reservoir ... our first glimpse of an open body of water in ages

Not wanting to get caught by the out-of-control blaze we dusted ourselves off and hiked vigorously towards the hamlet of Green Valley and our overnight stop at a backpackers’ lodge that normally welcomes hikers from the nearby Pacific Crest Trail.
Owner Terrie Anderson opened her doors and heart to us and refused payment, although we passed the hat around and happily collected and offered our donations.
Heading off again it was with a sense of relief that we finally encountered the open and seemingly unpolluted waters of Bouquet Canyon Reservoir, which features an inlet and outlet pipe to store or release water for the thirsty City of LA.
Although the dam is normally closed to the public the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) graciously allowed us traversing rights and arranged for Ethiopian-born engineer Abebaw Anbessaw to be our friendly and informative guide.
Leaving the reservoir behind, and lifted by just the sight of it, we felt that Walking Water was gathering momentum. Everywhere we ventured we were being met by kindness and an appreciation for our attempts to foster a new relationship with the waters, each other and all life.

Rajendra Singh ... the Waterman of India

Looking around our circle of international change agents I was inspired by the commitment and passion of participants of all ages from all walks of life and many different parts of the planet. I decided that they’re definitely made of the right stuff.
Some four years earlier English-born Kate Bunney was called by the waters to create the pilgrimage walk and carries the vision of a healed relationship between people and their environment.
Bolivian Marcela Olivera successfully joined her Cochabamba community in a battle to reclaim ownership of the local waters from a multinational bottling giant intent on profits rather than the wellbeing of people. She now heads a water justice network of grassroots organisations united by their commitment to the democratisation of the waters.
Jewish Israeli academic and engineer Shira Kronich of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies is bringing together Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians in a trans-border peace-building initiative that insists that Nature knows no boundaries, and nor should we.
Meanwhile Rajendra Singh of India is eloquent proof of how one person can make a difference. Last year he was honoured with the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize in recognition of his work in rejuvenating rivers and co-creating with nature to bring water to more than a thousand villages in Rajasthan.

Marcela Olivera ... the Bolivian water justice advocate

North American Will Scott is the co-founder of the nature-based Weaving Earth Center for Relational Education and is dedicated to cultivating resilient, reciprocal relationships with people, places and communities in order to best respond to the dynamic times we live in. He believes a key question is how to remember ourselves as an interconnected part of a biosphere that is a closed system. “So many of us were brought up to believe we are separate and to ‘other’ ourselves from life,” he said.
Owens Valley resident Gigi Coyle has devoted much of her life to the waters and as a wilderness rites-of-passage guide and Council trainer, she spoke often of the power of questions. “In all the walking and all the silence have you listened to what the water has to say and teach?”
Many questions were with us as we took the final steps of Walking Water 2016, striding past a gushing fountain and well-irrigated upmarket housing estate as we arrived at The Cascades. It was here in 1913 that LA’s water chief William Mulholland famously declared: “There it is. Take it!”
This time, this walk was not a ‘Trail of Tears’ as was the case for so many Paiute in 1863, and yet there was still a lot of grief present. We were in the company of representatives of the native tribes including Alan Bacock, water coordinator for the Big Pine Paiute Tribe, who noted that Mulholland’s much-quoted statement was devoid of gratitude and respect for the gift of life-sustaining water.
He surprised some by insisting: “I love the people of Los Angeles.” He’s worried about how they, like his own people in the Owens Valley, will navigate the escalating water challenges of an uncertain future.

The Cascades ... this time without a drop of water visible 

Photography: Geoff Dalglish











In the Footsteps of the Ancestors

posted 7 Oct 2016, 17:30 by Geoff Dalglish   [ updated 7 Oct 2016, 18:53 ]

Red Rock Canyon a few minutes before sunrise
Red Rock Canyon a few minutes before sunrise

‘We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the Earth. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet’

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist


Walking Water is a fervent prayer and pioneering social action and as we participants walk ancient paths we aspire to be as caring and conscious as many indigenous peoples have been for millennia.

We’re walking in the footsteps of ancestors who lived lightly upon the Earth, seeing the sacred in the skies, the waters, the trees and all the creatures that are our kin in this miraculous interconnected web of life.

Perhaps nowhere did we feel this more profoundly than in Red Rock Canyon State Park where we slept alongside spectacular towering cliffs beneath a vast canopy of stars.

It is here at the southernmost tip of California’s Sierra Nevada range, where it converges with the El Paso mountains, that the Kawaiisu Tribe lived and roamed for at least 10,000 years, experiencing a sense of awe and wonder at the Creator’s amazing artistry.

More recent visitors have shared some of that reverence for the rugged beauty of the rock formations, filmmakers choosing the inspiring backdrops for scenes in no fewer than 140 movies, including Jurassic Park, the original Planet of the Apes film and numerous westerns.

Walking Water participants circle up to discuss the day ahead 

Setting off early in the magic light favoured by photographers, we followed paths less travelled including a dry sandy riverbed. Each of us pilgrims maintained a reverential silence and for me it was one of the best days yet!

Always I felt conscious of those who were here before, trying to see the world through their eyes as the land’s original environmentalists, many of whom have been unwavering in their determination to protect all life.

What might those early peoples think of today’s scarred landscapes where a river has been stolen, groundwater depleted and poisoned and the mountains denuded of their tree cover?

As we neared Jawbone Canyon excitement soared within many of us as we saw a series of lakes glistening in the distance - yet that joy was short-lived. The square edges and straight lines were the clue that we were approaching a sea of solar panels erected on an industrial scale.

 At the Jawbone Canyon trading store we were warmly welcomed by Bobby who lamented the deviousness of specialists who’d claimed to be conducting routine inspections of the water wells in the area.

Hiking out of Red Rock Canyon soon after sun-up

It transpired that they were acquiring vast quantities of groundwater to wash dust from the solar panels, while claiming that knobbly motorcycle tyres were a major contributor to the dust problem. A keen off-roader himself, he indignantly showed me photographs of the earthmoving equipment used to prepare the solar ranches and insisted that they created far bigger environmental challenges. Later that day I saw what he meant as huge dust clouds billowed off the freshly turned earth of a new solar ranch.

Not surprisingly with its proximity to the Mojave Desert, the canyon can be punishingly hot, although on this occasion it was the high winds that made it difficult to pitch a tent, tear off a convenient length of toilet paper, or eat a supper that wasn’t seasoned with sand. To be honest being outside that night wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had although there was compensation in the magnificence of the stars.

 Just as I was squirming into my sleeping bag I felt a prickle of anxiety as I heard what sounded like uncomfortably close gunfire – it turned out to be fireworks set off by friendly locals intent on celebrating Walking Water’s presence in Jawbone Canyon.

 Many have been deeply touched by the intentions behind the pilgrimage and when I spoke of the parallel initiatives happening around the world, one local park official said: “It gives me the chills. Thank you for what you are doing!”

 Although there’s much joy and good-natured banter within the group, many have run the gamut of emotions with pain, sadness and even outrage.

The off-road terrain was the roughest walkers had encountered so far 

A particularly uncomfortable memory that’s haunted me since last year’s leg of the walk revolved around the story told by Alan Bacock, the water coordinator for the Big Pine Paiute tribe.

 On that occasion he was leading our band of walkers along a route he'd never traversed before, when he heard that small, still voice within urging him to stop, retrace a few steps and listen. 

He explained afterwards that a dramatic scene had played out in his mind's eye and he realised he was standing near Fort Independence and witnessing an historical happening in 1863. "Babies were crying and mothers attempting to hush them as they tried to listen to the solemn and urgent conversations of their menfolk, as they debated what to do.

His Paiute ancestors had been driven to starvation after the arrival of the settlers, and had been hiding out in the wilds in the wake of a series of violent conflicts with the US Cavalry. Now they'd decided to  accept an offer to attend a feast at Fort Independence, having tired of violence, hunger and a precarious life on the run.

What followed was a massive betrayal for the tribe the included women and children. Food and water supplies at the fort were perilously low, and after being disarmed, they were forced to take part in a cruel 320km (200 mile) march southwards in the punishing heat of July.

Walking alongside the 'stolen water' of the Los Angeles Aqueduct

Their destination was the army outpost of Fort Tejon, near the latter-day city of Bakersfield. Conditions were brutal. Many died, some escaped, and at least one young daughter was entrusted to the care of a family of kindly white homesteaders. 

It is a sad chapter in the history of the Owens Valley tribes that understandably troubles them deeply to this day.

Ray Naylor-Hunter of the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone tribe, who is walking every step of the way with us this year, had grown up with the heart-breaking story first told to him by his grandmother.

 He shared his version of the ‘Trail of Tears’ with the group and many were moved to tears. Our suffering in the heat and wind paled when compared to what we could only imagine that forced march in the furnace-like heat of July must have been like without any of the precious supplies we carried.

 “People were crying the whole way,” Ray shared from the stories passed down of incredible punishment and sense of hopelessness.  We also wondered what it must have been like for the guards on horseback to witness this heartbreak and death march for many.

Ray Naylor Hunter of the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe

“We’ve talked about a pilgrimage and possibly a re-enactment of the forced march,” Ray confided. “It would help us to feel the hurt, to grieve and ultimately let go off the pain and begin the healing.”

 Later in the day we stopped alongside the aqueduct pipeline to offer personal reflections and a prayer. Fighting back tears, an elder in our group expressed his grief in a prayer for forgiveness and healing for the troubled world that we are all a part of.

The camp was quiet that evening and the mood sombre as each walker sat with the question of when in our lives we had been called to take a stand and what it was that we had stood for.

 We rose at dawn the next day and walked again with our sorrows, joy and questions of what is our part in an urgent personal and global story about water …..


Heartbreak and Hope!

posted 29 Sep 2016, 17:01 by Geoff Dalglish   [ updated 29 Sep 2016, 17:14 ]

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher and poet


It was the stuff of nightmares and easy to imagine that all the demons of Hell had been unleashed as the wind moaned, howled and gusted ferociously while loose panels of roofing screeched, banged and clattered through a seemingly endless and sleepless night.

Was the tortured moonscape of the dry Owens Lake expressing its outrage at the pain, suffering and injustices of the past century following the audacious theft of its waters to slake the thirst of the fast-growing City of Los Angeles?

Or was this simply another day in a land of extreme emotions and climactic conditions?

Within a decade of the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913 the vast lakebed had been drained and become the scene of swirling dust clouds that blocked out the sun and threatened local residents with the worst airborne pollution ever seen in the United States. Asthma and respiratory diseases were the norm.

And on the eve of the resumption of the Walking Water pilgrimage participants were given a taste of what this parched wasteland can be like when Mother Nature vents her fury. It was an uncomfortable night that won’t easily be forgotten.


And yet the mood was of excitement and hope as the dusty and sleep-deprived group wriggled out of their sleeping bags to greet the sunrise on 23 September. The previous evening had been the answer to many a fervent prayer as key role players – including a senior representative of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) - had come together in a Walking Water circle for the first time. The tone was respectful and the setting in a ruin of a building on the lakeshore as unusual as the occasion was historic.

Mike Grahek, manager of the Southern Aqueduct and head of operations and maintenance at Owens Lake, spoke of his high dream: “I’d like to see cooperation between all the parties for a mutual benefit.”

Seated alongside him was Alan Bacock, water coordinator for the Big Pine Paiute tribe, who has patiently played the role of a peacemaker despite the bitter and blood-soaked history of his people who first lost their lands and waters to ranchers 150 years ago.


Walking Water is a journey from the source of the waters to the place of end use and is being staged in three parts over the three years. It is both a prayer and an action that began on 1 September last year and resumed on 23 September this year with a goal of reaching the famous Cascades outside of LA on 14 October. It will thread its way through to the ocean on the final leg late next year.


The walk coincides with an urgent global focus on water issues with California in the grip of its fifth year of crippling drought. To make matters worse, the summer of 2016 has been the hottest in US history.

Paiute-Shoshone tribal leader Ray Naylor-Hunter

It has brought together an international gathering of change agents including community leaders, activists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, photographers and members of the First Nation tribes. Their goal is to listen to and get to know the local watershed, to learn from old and new stories and ultimately to create a new and regenerative relationship with water and each other

Among those attending a blessing ceremony at the start were tribal elders and the LADWP representative. All seemed deeply touched when eight-year-old Lydia Gonzales of the Lone Pine tribe and her baby sister Mariah as they sang an opening song.

The first days of the 2016 event have seen a rollercoaster of emotions as often-footsore walkers have navigated challenging inner and outer landscapes.

We’re following the waterways – natural and manmade. But mostly it has been tramping along in the heat beside an aqueduct buried beneath the ground, with occasional glimpses of a giant pipeline snaking its way south. Sightings of open bodies of water have been rare.

One brief stop was at the controversial Crystal Geyser bottling plant that is pumping precious groundwater from wells alongside the dry lake at Olancha. Requests to learn more from management have so far been unsuccessful, possibly because their hands have been full in the wake of a damning grand jury finding reported on the front page of a local newspaper.

The kitchen support team

The Crystal Geyser website claims that their ‘alpine spring water’ is the only major US bottled water that’s captured directly at authentic natural springs, while other major bottled brands are actually selling filtered municipal tap water.

“We’re not just environmentally friendly, we’re activists partnering with federal, state and local governments and conservation trusts to protect the land surrounding our sources. We do this for the good of the water and the life-giving nature that provides it.”

Later that day we met with Dustin Hardwick who is representing 43 residents of the tiny Cartago lakeside community who are taking action to protect their waters that they believe are being threatened and poisoned by the bottling company’s actions.

He brought us copies of the Inyo Register newspaper that reports a grand jury finding that county officials neglected the concerns of residents regarding claims of arsenic contamination and toxic pollution at the Olancha plant.

According to the report proper permitting was not obtained for an arsenic pond at the Crystal Geyser site at Orlancha and arsenic was released into the underground water aquifer after the pond liner failed.

Attorney and duck hunter Gary Arnold (centre) welcomes Walking Water participants

In the first week the only place where the walkers came into close contact with a sizable body of water was at the Little Lake Ranch adjoining Highway 395. The beautiful lake is fed by natural springs and serves a group of 25 wealthy duck hunters who are determined to protect the waters and expand wetland habitats to support more wildlife.

Attorney Gary Arnold welcomed the walkers and enthusiastically showcased the beautiful property adjoining Fossil Falls, a prized picnic and camping site.

He stressed that he and his fellow duck hunters are keen conservationists and recounted the story of a successful legal battle to prevent the nearby Coso geothermal plant from depleting the groundwater in a quest to keep generating electricity. The operation was literally running out of steam and wanted to pump fresh groundwater into the system.

“How green is your energy when you deplete groundwater in a desert,” he asked.

A compromise was reached allowing Coso a tenth of the water at Little Lake although it seems that the operation wasn’t especially viable anyway and pumping stopped a few weeks ago.

Walking Water is becoming a meeting ground for many who have profound water experiences and each day participants sit in circle and share fresh insights.

Lia Bentley, a 24-year-old artist from New Jersey, says: “The pilgrimage has already created alliances among those who walk from different parts of the country and the globe with those who live in this watershed. I feel very moved by the resilience of the communities along our route and by the possibility of healing relationships with the land and waters.”  

Ray Naylor-Hunter, superintendent of the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, has been inspired by the commitment of Walking Water and other initiatives to heal our broken relationship with the Earth and her waters.

After a long hot day on the trail, he was moved to tears and declared: “This is the great turning my people have been praying for. There are so many people here engaged in wonderful bridge-building work.”

May it continue …


Mulholland: Visionary or Villain?

posted 15 Sep 2016, 19:55 by Geoff Dalglish

William Mulholland provided the water that made the City of LA what it is today 

‘There it is. Take it!' 

William Mulholland, LA’s water chief

By any standards The Great Los Angeles Aqueduct is a towering engineering feat. It is also utterly audacious and unprecedented in that it was nothing less than the theft of a major river whose source began hundreds of kilometres away high in California’s magnificent snow-capped Sierra Mountains.


It’s architect and engineer William Mulholland achieved instant celebrity status more than a century ago with LA newspaper headlines variously describing him as superman, a genius and the man of the hour.


He became known as the founder and father of LA, the second largest city in the US. Today the Greater Los Angeles Area is home to more than 18-million souls.


The opening of the giant 375km aqueduct on 5 November 1913 was the crowning moment of his life. “There it is. Take it!” he invited in arguably the shortest dedication speech in history. Angelenos needed no further encouragement, thousands surging forward with their tin mugs to scoop up the life-giving waters.


It was heady stuff and not bad for an Irish immigrant who’d never completed his schooling and arrived penniless on American shores, finding work as a ditch-digger. Hollywood could hardly have scripted it better.

The pipeline is a remarkable engineering feat through incredibly harsh terrain 

And who could argue the magnitude of the achievement. The world had never seen anything quite like this with a pipeline snaking its way across desert and mountains and relying on gravity to keep its precious waters flowing. No less remarkable was the fact that despite its chief engineer having no formal qualifications, the aqueduct was completed on time, under budget and is still supplying the city.


Of course, further north in the Owens Valley the mood was – and is – rather different. Mulholland was never the hero, but rather the bad guy in the black hat. When news of the scheme first surfaced, a local headline warned prophetically: “Los Angeles Plots Destruction – would take Owens River, lay lands waste, ruin people, homes and communities.” It did all that.


Within a decade many schools and businesses had closed and the vast Owens Lake was dry, becoming the source of the worst airborne pollution in the country as winds whipped up clouds of toxic dust. The incidence of asthma and respiratory diseases soared.


For a while it looked like defiance in the valley might put the brakes on LA’s water grab. Dynamite was used to good effect to damage the pipeline with hit-and-run saboteurs hiding out in the hills. The California Water Wars were under way but were rather short-lived and no match for the city’s might or ruthlessness. Mulholland despatched 600 heavily armed police who quickly took control. LA had won.


When Mulholland had famously invited citizens to “Take it,” he’d believed that he’d supplied four times the water the city needed and probably enough to take them into the next century.

Walkers will reach the famous Cascades around 14 October this year

But he, and probably everyone else, underestimated the building boom, skyrocketing population growth and a reckless disregard for water conservation measures.


When it became apparent that more water was needed that could be stored in a huge reservoir, Mulholland discovered the duplicity of his friend Freddie Eaton, the mayor of LA, who had secretly bought the only viable site in the Owens Valley for a dam. He’d registered the deed in his name and demanded 1-million dollars, a then exorbitant ransom.


By now Mulholland had become obsessive about acquiring more water and bypassed his treacherous friend. Instead he chose to head downstream and build the St Francis Dam in the San Francisquito Canyon, around 70km northwest of LA’s downtown area.


It was to be a tragic mistake although he couldn’t have known that.


A leak had been reported and he conducted a site visit and pronounced the reservoir to be in good order. Just hours later, on 12 March 1928, the worst imaginable happened.


Without warning the reservoir structure failed catastrophically, unleashing a year’s supply of water from the Owens Valley. A giant tidal wave of water carrying 1,000-ton blocks of concrete wiped out entire communities and claimed more than 400 lives in the country’s worst ever civil engineering disaster.

The City of LA, like much of the US, again faces chronic water shortages  

It caused the second-greatest loss of life in California’s history after the natural disaster of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.


Mulholland’s career was over and from being revered as a founding father, he was seen my many as a criminal and faced possible indictment.


When a coroner’s jury found him guilty of having caused the loss of lives, he broke down and wept. “I envy the dead,” he lamented.


Now, 103 years after the opening of the LA Aqueduct, a group of role players that includes representatives of the First Nation tribes, social and environmental activists, representatives of communities around the world, local entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, filmmakers and photographers will resume the Walking Water pilgrimage.


Walking Water is a journey from the source of the waters to the place of end use, and is being staged in three sections over three years.


During the first leg last year participants followed the waterways – natural and man-made – from the source at Lee Vining Creek near Mono Lake to the dry Owens Lake around 320km and three weeks later.


Now the walk is poised to resume at Owens Lake on 23 September after a blessing ceremony in the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation. Then it’ll follow the waters – mostly unseen in a giant pipeline – to the Cascades where Mulholland uttered his brief and unforgettable dedication.


“It is a project to bring together the many voices of the Owens Valley and City of Los Angeles and to co-create a new relationship with water and each other,” said Kate Bunney, Walking Water coordinator.


“It is not a protest, or about taking sides or about recriminations, but about harvesting stories, learning and sharing, and hopefully finding models of water stewardship that could be shared elsewhere in the world.”


Visit Cadillac Desert: Mulholland’s Dream (a full-length documentary)


A flashback to 1913 and the opening of the Great Los Angeles Aqueduct at the Cacades 


The Prayer of the Paiute

posted 15 Sep 2016, 07:26 by Geoff Dalglish

Young Owen Bacock of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe is a symbol of hope

‘I see a time of seven generations when all the colours of mankind shall gather under the Sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again’

Crazy Horse, Oglala Lakota Sioux leader


Seven-year-old Owen Bacock of the Big Pine Paiute tribe is named after his parents’ great love of the Owens Valley and as a bridge to his Irish ancestry on his mother Anna’s side.


He is a symbol of the hope that his generation and those to come will share in a more sustainable and heart-centred world where the gross injustices of the past 150 years are addressed and the Paiute can have an equitable share of the waters that are essential to their wellbeing.


Owen’s father Alan Bacock, the water coordinator for the Big Pine tribe, is a soft-spoken peacemaker who explains: “I love living here in the Owens Valley because anytime of the year I can look up to the Sierras and see the glaciers. The glacial melt and the snowmelt provide the water that I use every day. It is amazing to have the source of the water that I use originate from such a short distance away.

"Owen was given his name as a bridge. Owen connects him to the Valley he was born in and to his Irish ancestry, where Owen is a popular name."

He says his family’s hope – and that of so many others – is that the community be granted access to the water it was promised some 77 years ago, with a more generous and predictable supply being pivotal to the community’s fruit and vegetable gardens, and their ability to plan for a healthier future.

Playtime for seven-year-old Owen Bacock  

Ironically, at a time when many plants in the Reservation are withered or dying and the farmers’ market faltering because of inadequate water supplies, water from a faulty pipeline buried on adjoining land belonging to LA’s Department of Water and Power (LADWP) which is supposed to be flowing onto the Reservation has been gushing along the fence line and not reaching those for whom it might be a valuable economic and emotional lifeline.


Water has been a pivotal issue for the tribe since 1860 when the first white settlers arrived in the Owens Valley and commandeered the fertile lands and irrigation ditches the Paiute people had created as part of a sustainable lifestyle that had served them for centuries.


These first people had had no concept of property ownership or water rights but had lived lightly upon the land and in harmony with their environment, believing the Creator had placed them there aeons before.

"My tribe has been struggling for the last 150 years as a new philosophy came into the Owens Valley through settlers who believed that natural resources were to be bought and sold as property," he says. "This philosophy has permeated throughout society bringing about injustice to our people, as well as to indigenous cultures in America and around the world.

"We have been left to reside on a small area of land with an unresolved quantity of water to use. As a result, we would like to be able to increase the area that our people can steward and have resolution to the amount of water available for tribal use. This would give us the ability to provide for our people now and to develop plans for the future."

Eight-year-old Lydia Gonzales of the Paiute-Shoshone tribe of Lone Pine was one of the youngest Walking Water participants last year

He adds that water - and the habitat it creates - is seen by tribal members as something to be shared with the whole community of life it supports, and not just for humans.

The water woes of the Paiute tribe seem to be echoed in a number of other First Nation communities with a major global spotlight now shining on North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where representatives of more than 90 tribes have gathered and camped out in opposition to an interstate oil pipeline being built from North Dakota to Illinois.


Kandi Mossett insists that they are not protestors, but protectors. “When we desecrate the waters we desecrate ourselves.”


In a hard-hitting TV commentary, NBC presenter Lawrence O’Donnell said that Dakota means friend or friendly but sadly the Native American tribes who gave that word it’s meaning had never been treated as friends.


“The people who were here before us, long before us, have never been treated as friends. They have been treated as enemies and dealt with more harshly than any other enemy in any of this country’s wars. After all of our major wars we signed peace treaties and lived by those treaties. After World War 2 when we made peace with Germany we then did everything we possibly could to rebuild Germany.


“No Native American tribe has ever been treated as well as we treated Germans after WW2. 

 Alan Bacock with a tree that’s suffering from a lack of water

“Donald Trump and his supporters now fear the country being invaded by foreigners who want to change our way of life, a fear that Native Americans have lived with every day for over 500 years.


“The original sin of this country is that we invaders shot and murdered our way across the land killing every Native American we could, and making treaties with the rest. This country was founded on genocide before the word genocide was invented, before there was a war crimes tribunal in The Hague.


“When we finally stopped actively killing Native Americans for the crime of living here before us, we then proceeded to violate every treaty we made with the tribes, every single treaty. We piled crime on top of crime on top of crime against the people whose offence against us was simply that they lived where we wanted to live.”


He added that every once in a while there is a painful and morally embarrassing reminder such as what has been unfolding in North Dakota where the indigenous people were having dogs set upon them and being pepper-sprayed.


“The protest is being led by this country’s original environmentalists, Native Americans. For hundreds of years they were our only environmentalists. The only people who thought that land and rivers should be preserved in their natural state. The only people who thought a mountain or a prairie or a river could be a sacred place.


“That we still have Native Americans left in this country to be arrested for trespassing on their own land is testament not to the mercy of the genocidal invaders who seized and occupied their land, but to the stunning strength and the 500 years of endurance and the undying dignity of the people who were here long before us. The people who have always known what is truly sacred in this world.”


Elders and children of the Paiute-Shoshone tribes will offer blessings at the start of the Walking Water pilgrimage in Lone Pine on 23 September.


We walk for water and for life, for Owen and his generation and the generations that will follow.


Geoff Dalglish

A number of tribal families joined Walking Water when it passed through their Reservations last year and many more are likely to join this year's leg of the pilgrimage


posted 27 Aug 2016, 13:59 by Geoff Dalglish

Rajendra Singh surveys the desolation of Owens Lake

'The destruction of the Earth’s environment is the human rights challenge of our time’

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

A passionate love of all life and a burning desire to honour the rights of the Earth is bringing together an inspiring international group who’ll resume the Walking Water pilgrimage in California’s parched Owens Valley on 22 September.

Each is driven by a great love affair with the natural world and many have amazing stories to tell of how their footsteps brought them to this pivotal time and place when the planet is facing a global water crisis.

Walking Water coordinator Kate Bunney answered an inner call to create the event as a healing journey while core team member Gigi Coyle has long been committed to the waters and famously returned captive dolphins to the ocean where they joined a pod of their wild cousins. Her partner Win Phelps has walked an equally transformative path and went from the glamorous world of being an award-winning Hollywood film director to the soul-serving role of a wilderness rites-of-passage guide and advisor to the water initiative.

 Fellow walker Mark Dubois is a 2-metre tall gentle giant who catapulted himself into the media spotlight during his youth when he chained himself to a boulder to prevent a dam flooding a river system he loved deeply. He regarded his possible drowning as of no greater consequence than that of all the other creatures and Ecosystems that would perish – “I was just one more critter,” he insisted.

Singer-songwriter Sarah Nutting raising dust 

Another Walking Water icon is Rajendra Singh, the celebrated ‘Waterman of India’ who won the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize last year after demonstrating that it is possible to co-create with nature to revive rivers and bring water to thousands of parched villages.

And equally inspiring for me is local peacemaker Alan Bacock, the water coordinator for the Big Pine Paiute Tribe. He fervently believes that an attitude of openness is important for all participants and says: "To prepare for a walk like this is really to prepare for a journey that in a lot of ways is beyond us. Because of that we need to go in prayer. We need to prepare ourselves in prayer and say: 'Creator, utilise this in the best way possible. Help all of us to be instruments. May none of us be thinking that we are the only aspect that's needed.'"

For my own part my road had reached a dead-end before I made some radical changes and began walking with messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth five years ago.

I’d finally recognised that the way I was living simply wasn’t sustainable. I needed to drastically reduce my ecological footprint and become part of the solution, rather than the problem.

It's hard to imagine anything more soothing for tired feet than walking through a hot spring 

Which brings us back to the desolation of Owens Lake, the place that became notorious for the worst airborne pollution in the United States. Once a vast and beautiful lake, it was sucked dry within a decade after the City of Los Angeles channelled the waters south via a giant aqueduct, creating a legacy of choking clouds of toxic dust.

As an asthmatic with a history of respiratory challenges it is a place that scares me, and yet like all the others I’ll be there on 22 September to play a part in this wonderful healing journey.

Kate Bunney stresses: “It’s not a march. It’s not a demonstration. Walking Water brings together role players from all walks of life - including representatives of the indigenous tribes who are the first people of the land - and hopefully with ancient and modern knowledge we can co-create healthy ways of being in relationship to water and each other.

“We walk toward a vision of a regenerated environment. Our approach is to work in a way that is synergistic, collaborative and future-orientated, revolving around a simple bottom line: for the enhanced protection of all life.”

The event, which is divided into three sections to be walked over three years from the source of the waters to the place of end use, has attracted a diverse and influential group of participants including community leaders and members of the Paiute tribe, activists, philanthropists, business leaders, educators, artists, poets, photographers and film makers.

We are walking water with around 70% of our bodies compromising water 

The first phase of the epic 960km walk started on 1 September last year from the headwaters above Mono Lake that are traditionally fed by alpine lakes, natural springs and the Sierra Nevada snowmelt. Late in 2017 the walk will reach the thirsty Greater Los Angeles Area that is home to some 18 million souls.

Perhaps appropriately we took our first steps together at a time of crippling drought throughout California and many parts of the United States, our action coinciding with a call by Pope Francis for a global day of ‘Prayer for the Care of Creation.’

Twenty-two days later after countless adventures together that have cemented many lifelong friendships while helping raise awareness around the urgent need for a new relationship with water and each other, we completed the first phase at Owens Lake with prayers and rituals of gratitude.

It is where we’ll resume the walk southwards, hopefully reaching the Cascades in Sylmar during mid-October.

“In the end we all need to act for and with water,” Kate insists. “The Owens Valley is an incredible example of what happens when water is not managed in a sustainable way. It is also an incredible example of where a community can come together to make a difference. Many are coming together to create positive change. Deep change is possible here and it has already started.”

 Personally I like to think we’re now all together in the FLOW - For the Love of Water.

Visit and the Walking Water Facebook site

Geoff is an ambassador for the Findhorn Foundation community during the Walking Water pilgrimage and is also an international representative for the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).


posted 23 May 2016, 00:15 by Geoff Dalglish

Celebrating the freedom of wild nature         (Photograph: Britta Schmitz + Vera Franco)

‘If you open your eyes very wide and look around carefully, you will always see a lighthouse which will lead you to the right path!’

Mehmet Murat Ildan, author and playwright

If your inner whispers of knowing are being drowned out by the clamour and busyness of modern-day life, how about a soul stopover on the Hebridean Isle of Erraid?

Here on a sometimes wild and windswept tidal island it is the natural rhythms of nature and ebb and flow of the tides that dictate the day, rather than the pressures of a rush-hour commute or the need to keep up in a competitive and materialistic world.

Time seems to stand still and it is easy to imagine that life was like this in the 1800s when Erraid welcomed acclaimed Scottish author, poet and traveller Robert Louis Stevenson, whose family of lighthouse designers and engineers lived in the row of stone cottages. Today they are home to a tiny working community and a handful of guests.

It is a place where you can slow the pace, quieten the mind and enjoy a leisurely exploration of inner and outer landscapes. 

Many visitors report a deep yearning for a different and more meaningful way of living, and few arrive by accident, most undertaking a deliberate and extensive road journey that includes at least one major ferry crossing to the Isle of Mull before catching their first glimpse of the island. Then it’s a short boat ride or even a stroll at low tide.

Happy family … Steve and Julia Pittam with Jack and Libby

Was it divine guidance or a happy coincidence that Julia and Steve Pittam chose to park their caravan in the campsite on the opposite shore, where they met a friendly Erraid islander who suggested they come over for a cuppa?

It was a glimpse of a world they’d barely dared to dream of, and just to be sure, they booked a retreat over New Year at the height of winter. “I wept,” Julia recalls. “I didn’t know there was a place in the world like this.” 

Both had been involved in successful careers down south and now Julia is the island focaliser, while Steve fills a variety of essential roles. “It was a big jump leaving our careers as teachers and all we’d been brought up to believe in, although I don’t miss that life.

“The main reason we came here was to bring up our children together,” she says, rejoicing in the safety and freedom of being on an island with like-minded people. “There’s a lot of love in the group.”

Jack is now eight and Libby six, their devoted Dad boating them across to Mull and back each day for school.

“They love it here,” Steve insists, and so does he. “It doesn’t feel like work, but love in action. I love being so close to the elements and to the water, to be in a place of raw nature and out of the rat race.”

Wouter de Jong in the candle-making studio

Remembering their move to Erraid five years earlier, he says: “It’s as though something had told me we needed to go to Erraid - perhaps that small still voice within.”

During school holidays Jack and Libby get a taste of that other world of towns and cities, so they’re reasonably street smart, while learning through osmosis to care deeply for people, animals, plants and the Earth.

When I asked the youngsters what it was like living on Erraid, Jack was emphatic: “It’s great. I love it,” while Libby was adamant: “I never want to leave.”

What’s not to love?

The island measures just a mile across but is postcard-perfect with many highlights - Balfour Bay where a white sandy beach meets shimmering blue waters; the Wishing Stone with its panoramic views towards distant horizons; and the modest building known as the Sanctuary where one can go within to the accompaniment of bird calls and the occasional munching of grazing sheep.

Former resident Wouter de Jong, who is visiting from Amsterdam, says: “Living here for three years has nourished my soul and was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Claire Turner is a candle-maker, cook and gardener

Claire Turner, a 26-year-old Yorkshire lass who grew up on a farm, proudly describes herself as a cook, candlemaker and gardener.

“Erraid is a beautiful place to relax into the joy of being,” she insists. “It’s a place to strip away the layers, let go of the unnecessary, and just be. I appreciate working with my heart and with my hands to share love and sustain life. It is enriching living together in this way, a fulfilling way of being.”

At 23 Matt Shepherd from Cheshire is the youngest would-be resident. “Erraid is the first place I’ve found that harbours both an energy and a community that actively encourages me to be open and authentic and to share the joy that that feeling brings to me.”

My friend Adelle Horler and I chose to join the Love in Action volunteer programme where we immersed ourselves in community life, weeding and planting in the organic gardens, chopping wood and sharing kitchen duties.

The routines are familiar to me as Erraid enjoys close links with the Findhorn Foundation and neighbouring island of Iona, where the Foundation has the Traigh Bhan retreat house.

Matt Shepherd with the postbox that's purely decorative these days

Some visitors choose Erraid for a personal retreat, while most opt to explore community life in between savouring the outstanding natural beauty of the rugged Hebridean landscape.

It is also an ideal setting for a family eco-holiday that allows children to explore in safety while developing their sense of freedom and adventure.

Many arrive and depart on a Foundation bus that travels between the two islands and the Findhorn community each Saturday.

The island is owned by a Dutch family who holiday here for a month each year, entrusting it for the remainder of the year to members of the Foundation who cherish their role as custodians and count themselves incredibly blessed to live simply in harmony with this natural world. Their daily rhythms include tending the organic vegetable gardens, caring for the chickens and a retired cow called Morvern, harvesting firewood, planting new trees in the woodland, preparing healthy meals and periodically engaging in the meditative manufacture of magnificent rainbow-hued candles that supplement the community’s modest earnings.

The main request from the Dutch owners is that the community maintains the buildings and land within the settlement.

Chat to any Foundation member who has tasted a significant slice of Erraid island life and there is a love and longing to return. “It is a place where you can not only have dreams, but live them,” says Paul Johnson, who shared nine wonderful years with his partner Debbie and the latter years with their son Josh. “We hadn’t planned to have a child but after living on Erraid for a year couldn’t imagine anywhere on Earth better to raise one. Josh loved being there.”

The lighthouse cottages house community members and guests

Visit and

Choosing to Live Lightly Upon the Earth

posted 29 Apr 2016, 06:57 by Geoff Dalglish

Flashback to 2009 … Gabrielle Buist, Biz Brocke and Catriona Mackenzie at Glen Affric

‘What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another’

Mahatma Gandhi 

Seven years ago my life changed dramatically when I willingly bid farewell to a blissful Cape Town summer and signed up for an intense month-long Ecovillage living experiment at the opposite end of the world, joining an intentional community in the northeast of Scotland.

Swapping shorts and T-shirt for heavy winter layers I’d last worn during an icy ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, I found myself in a white snow-blanketed landscape and silently asked the question: “Have you lost the plot?”

This was a journey to the end of my comfort zone and beyond and I somehow knew this was one of the most important decisions I’d ever made. I was choosing to explore the idea of living more lightly and lovingly upon our beautiful Earth and doing it in the company of people from around the world who were no longer satisfied by consumptive and unsustainable lifestyles. There had to be a better way and together we were determined to find it!

My metamorphosis from Petrolhead to Pilgrim had begun in earnest and there was no turning back.

I recognise that my arrival at the Findhorn Foundation community and Ecovillage in 2009 was pivotal for me - and for many others seeking pointers to more joyful and sustainable lifestyles.

Harvesting pine cones for their seeds

Another 30 folks from all over the planet had also signed up for what turned out to be an intense and exhilarating rollercoaster of a month. It left me feeling dizzy with delight and possibility. And if there was a highlight among so many it was perhaps the visit to the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve hosted by the award-winning Trees for Life conservation charity that is one of the best rewilding projects in Britain.

Just one percent of the original Caledonian Forest survives and yet award-winning conservationist Alan Watson Featherstone, the visionary Scottish founder of Trees for Life, appears undaunted by the enormity of the challenge.

His high dream is a rewilded Scotland – from restored forests to the return of predators such as the lynx and wolf that’s probably the most demonised creature of all. “Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?”

Alan explains: "Rewilding offers an exciting vision of hope, through the positive and practical work of renewing and revitalising ecosystems. In the Highlands we have the opportunity to reverse environmental degradation and create a spectacular, world-class wilderness region — offering a lifeline to wildlife including beavers, capercaillie, wood ants and pine martens, and restoring natural forests and wild spaces for our children and grandchildren to enjoy."

In 2012, supported mainly by volunteers, the conservation charity planted its millionth tree and today is well on the way to realising its next major goal of planting another million trees by 2018.

Trees for Life founder Alan Watson Featherstone

Grabbing an opportunity to join the latest Applied Ecovillage Living (AEL) group I returned to Glen Affric and again found myself uplifted by the passion of the participants (many of them younger than the Trees for Life project) and by Alan. He led the way as we trekked through fresh snow, showing a reverence for the trees and creatures as he explained just how we can restore a natural balance to degraded Ecosystems.

It was a revelation to see how much has been achieved in the 26 years of the charity’s existence and even in the seven years since my last visit to the area – and how urgently we need that rejuvenation on a planet that is in the grip of climate change and often devastating human impacts.

But looking around me perhaps the best thing was seeing that spark of determination and hope in the faces of the 16 participants in this year’s AEL group. All are seeking a better world where they can feel more in alignment with their highest aspirations.

For many the programme and time spent at Findhorn has been life-changing. German Laura Bolz, the youngest participant at 19, said: “It’s been intense, fun, beautiful and really, really transformational,” adding wistfully: “I want to find a place where I belong.” 

For some, at least for a while, that is the Findhorn Ecovillage and community, six of the youngers in the group deciding to stay on a little longer.

And I notice that despite the weather I’m still here, treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth while experiencing what it means to live each day more consciously. I’m learning a lot and that feels good. 

A remnant of pristine Caledonian Forest shows how it can and should look

Finding the Peace of Iona

posted 18 Apr 2016, 03:31 by Geoff Dalglish   [ updated 18 Apr 2016, 07:22 ]

‘That man is little to be envied whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona’

Dr Samuel Johnson, 18th century poet and writer

Life is a pilgrimage - and where better to renew pilgrim vows and set fresh intentions than on the sacred Isle of Iona.

For many centuries this Hebridean island has attracted travellers in search of healing, renewal and a deeper connection with the divine, countless thousands following in the footsteps of Irish monk and missionary Saint Columba who arrived in 563 CE, bringing Christianity to Scotland.

It is a place steeped in history, bathed in blood and according to some legends is the final resting place for 48 Scottish kings including Duncan and Macbeth of Shakespearean fame.  “If I be destined to die in Iona, it were a merciful leavetaking,” an abbot reportedly declared in the 600s. “I know not under the blue sky a better little spot for death.”

Sheep outnumber humans here, at least during the winter months. Today Iona is home to some 175 permanent residents who live simply, being largely sustained by more than 120,000 annual visitors from around the world who make a pilgrimage to a place that continues to inspire writers, poets, philosophers, musicians and artists. And like pilgrims of old they all arrive by boat, continuing their journey on foot.

Pilgrims set off from Iona Abbey on a weekly walk arranged by Iona Community

It was here on 7 July 2011 that I started my own pivotal personal journey, vowing to walk the equivalent of the circumference of the world with messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth.

Now, nearly five years and 20,000km later, I’ve stopped counting the steps, although I recognise each one as a blessing given and received, each step taking me further along a path of inspiration, discovery and insights.

Highlights on this latest visit included the Sunday service in Iona Abbey and some gentle solo walks. Mostly it was about being rather than doing, especially during quiet meditations in Traigh Bhan’s sanctuary where I was aware of the flickering of the candle, the whisper of the breeze, waves gently breaking on the nearby shore and the sounds of lambs bleating. It’s spring and there’s new life everywhere.

On past visits I’ve often been inward-focused but this time I made it my mission to learn more about the Iona Community, an ecumenical Christian fellowship of men and women dedicated to justice, peace and upholding the integrity of creation. 

I joined the gentle Pilgrimage walk that starts every Tuesday outside Iona Abbey at St Martin’s Cross. The cross has stood rooted here for over 1,200 years, surviving Viking raids, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the industrial revolution and world wars. It engenders a sense of timelessness.

Rosie Magee was our guide on the Pilgrimage walk that starts at Iona Abbey

Hosting the walk was Rosie Magee, a feisty and fun-loving Presbyterian minister from the north of Ireland, who helped lead a group of 13 of us. We walked slowly, stopping often for reflection, song and prayer.

I was especially moved by our visit to the ruins of the Nunnery that was founded around the same time as the abbey and flourished for almost 400 years. And yet what do we know about these religious women, Rosie questioned. “We have no information about them, where they came from, what their names were?

“It tends to be those in power who write history,” she observed

Significantly in a male-dominated world the abbey has undergone major restoration work and will be closed again for fresh refurbishments in September 2017. Perhaps it is appropriate that the Nunnery is left as an evocative ruin.

One imagines that the nuns’ pattern of daily life would have been very similar to that of the monks: eating their meals together, worshipping in the chapel and going about their everyday tasks. But we know next to nothing about them. 

The ruins of the medieval Nunnery on Iona

Here at this crumbling reminder of the often unsung role of women, we were invited to remember women of faith and those whose names never made the history books, as well as the countless contemporary women who shape the world through their service.

“Let us remember the women who have shaped our own lives by their example. If you wish, speak any of these names aloud now, so that these nunnery walls may once again reverberate with the energy of women who have served God.”

Someone called out “Mother Mary,” while I added “Sister Theresa” and then the names of my own daughters Bonnie and Tammy, who I’d photographed in these same ruins five years earlier.

As modern-day pilgrims we were encouraged to open ourselves to each other and to fresh ideas.

Pausing at Martyr’s Bay we pondered an event in 806 when 68 monks were reportedly murdered by Viking invaders, while a recent nearby memorial reminded us of those local islanders killed during WW1. The invitation was to consider the victims of violence everywhere and especially the current plight of refugees.

My daughters Bonnie Dalglish and Tammy Lapping at the Nunnery

At Iona’s only crossroads, which is a minor intersection between a single-track road and an unsurfaced track, the invitation was to consider the crossroads in our own lives where our decisions may take us down new and unfamiliar paths.

Reaching the beach that is the furthest point from the Abbey during the walk, we reflected on Columba’s journey away from the safety of the known and considered the turning points in our own lives.

Before heading homeward we were invited to pick up two stones, the first symbolic of that which we wish to let go off - something we need to leave behind. “We cast this rock into the sea and turn and without looking back, pick up a second stone as a sign of a new direction or commitment that we move towards.”

Often I choose to write words in the sand that I wish to release, like fear, guilt or judgement, allowing the incoming waves to wash them away. On this day the sea was so calm that I accepted the invitation to hurl a stone, the splash symbolising a letting go of self-induced busyness.

Picking up a second stone I decided that it will remind me to be more present and to practice deep inner listening. After all, it is in the silence that mystics report hearing that small, still voice of God, or have flashes of intuition and access those whispers of inner knowing. 

I decided to ask better questions like “Is this who I am” and “What would love do now?” My vow is to talk less and listen more.

Flashback to 2011  the start of my world walk with a sendoff from Bonnie and Tammy

A meditation in the Sanctuary at Traigh Bhan

The Traigh Bhan retreat house on the sacred Isle of Iona

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