Walking for Water and Life

posted 27 May 2018, 06:14 by Geoff Dalglish

The crystal clear headwaters of the Eerste River in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve near the town of Stellenbosch in the heart of South Africa's winelands

‘Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence’

Henry David Thoreau, poet, philosopher and naturalist

It is to the womb of wilderness and the healing balm of Mother Nature that I constantly return for renewal, trusting the whispers in the wind and the laughter of the waters to guide and inspire my next steps.

After much walking and questioning, clarity is again emerging and I’m in Scotland co-facilitating Experience Week programmes within the Findhorn Foundation community and holding retreats on the sacred Isle of Iona.

It is both a joy and a privilege to serve in this way and will help prepare me for a pilgrimage walk in the land of my birth – South Africa. 

After at least two years of envisioning, members of the Eerste River Crystalline Water Tribe are agreed on a broad outline for a source-to-sea walk in September that is both an action and a prayer. It recognises that Water is Life and is our common ground worldwide.

Water connects us – humans, animals, plants and all life – and this pilgrimage is intended to be a celebration, an exploration and an opportunity to listen in humility to the waters and the many voices of our watershed and ask: How might we serve? What is ours to do?

‘Eerste’ means first in Afrikaans, a language spoken by many South Africans.

The Eerste River near its source in the Jonkershoek Mountains

We see the Eerste River Water Walk as a local acupuncture point to help support an awakening and heightened awareness in the larger water body of our world, believing in the power of story, prayer and action to inspire change, contribute to the healing needed, and to restore old relations and create new ones.

Inevitably it will be a journey through Inner and Outer Landscapes that draws inspiration from the love affair of many with the waters that sustain them and all life. It is inclusive and welcomes the involvement of many communities and individuals linked to the Eerste River and its tributaries in the picturesque Stellenbosch region of South Africa’s Western Cape.

It supports the vision of water protectors that include the First Peoples of many lands, the international California-based Walking Water initiative of which I’ve been part in recent years, and dynamic local groups like the Stellenbosch River Collaborative and Eerste River Crystalline Water Tribe.

During September we’ll walk from the source of the waters in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, following the waters to and through the historic town of Stellenbosch to the ocean.

We’ll walk in the footsteps of our ancestors and at their time-honoured pace, walking waterways that were well known to the First People of the land as well as the colonists and slaves who followed later.

Source-to-sea walkers will be able to follow well-maintained paths along the headwaters

Our intention is to practice deep listening, to suspend judgements and to harvest stories of the ancient and modern history of the region and those profoundly connected to the Eerste River. It is a chance to observe the contrasts of pristine headwaters and polluted waters downstream, as well as the impacts of agriculture, farming, industry and residential communities, both wealthy and disadvantaged.

Along the way we’ll visit ancient sacred sites and conduct ceremonies that honour the waters, the ancestors, the custodians, the authorities and the organisations tasked with stewardship of the Eerste River. Those that do not respect the waters will also be gently held in our awareness and prayers.

On Monday, September 24, Heritage Day, we hope to have completed the walk and our band of pilgrims will come together to share stories, hopes and dreams.

While publicity and big numbers are not a priority during the initial exploratory walk, any who’d be keen to join will be welcomed. It is also possible that with a greater understanding of the challenges and inspirations of the waters and life alongside, a bigger event could be co-created in 2019 or beyond.

Many passionate water protectors from various sectors of local society know the river more intimately than I do, although some of the challenges and learnings appear to be universal.

Water protectors Lydia van Rooyen and Charl Pienaar at a sacred site along the source-to-sea route


I draw much of my inspiration from the global Walking Water initiative (www.walking-water.org) which was an epic 880km journey walked in three parts over three years.

It was a pilgrimage of spectacular contrasts as we followed the waterways – natural and manmade - from the source high in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains to the City of Los Angeles and ultimately the place where the polluted and channelised LA River spills into the ocean at Long Beach.

The early weeks felt like a loveletter to the Earth and particularly to the waters as the walkers delighted in traversing areas of astonishing natural beauty. There were also times of intense challenge inside and out in the extremes of the desert as temperatures soared and sandstorms battered the travel-weary pilgrims.

Perhaps most challenging of all was the final fortnight walking through the city to the sea. Sleep often eluded us as we slept in city and state parks under bright lights, ceaseless traffic noise and the unrelenting busyness of the second largest city in the United States.

And yet there were so many highlights, not least of which was the warmth and enthusiasm with which many Angelenos welcomed us.  It is indeed a City of Angels.

The river meets the ocean at a beach appreciated by nature lovers,  fishers and local residents 

Appropriately the walk started and finished as a prayer and a blessing, and always the intention was to build bridges, especially between the needs of the people of Los Angeles and those of Payahuunadu, the Paiute tribe’s name for the Owens Valley where a significant portion of the water flows from.

Much of the walk was undertaken against the backdrop of California’s most devastating drought and a worldwide water crisis of epic proportions. Many parallels can be drawn with the situation in South Africa and especially Cape Town and other neighbouring areas.

I give thanks for the camaraderie, friendship, hospitality and commitment of those I walked with, among them leaders and elders of the indigenous tribes who inspired me with their spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness, and long-range vision.

I’m inspired by the wisdom of many, including cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has”.  And primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall, who noted: “Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something that you don’t believe is right.”

Geoff Dalglish

A moment of pure joy for water protectors Natasha Rightford and Bernie Cohen James at the river mouth





The Art of Listening and Questioning

posted 29 Nov 2017, 11:34 by Geoff Dalglish

Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something that you don’t believe is right’

Jane Goodall, primatologist, anthropologist and UN Messenger of Peace

Water is Life and has inspired this ongoing pilgrimage and exploration

Walking Water has been an epic three-year, 880km journey made up of many millions of footsteps, countless questions and a determination to listen, harvest stories and set intentions to manifest outcomes that serve all.

It has been a pilgrimage of spectacular contrasts as we’ve followed the waterways – natural and manmade - from the source high in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains to the City of Los Angeles and ultimately the place where the polluted and channelised LA River spills into the ocean at Long Beach.

The early weeks felt like a loveletter to the Earth and particularly to the waters as the walkers delighted in traversing areas of astonishing natural beauty at the time-honoured pace of our ancestors. There were also times of intense challenge inside and out in the extremes of the desert as temperatures soared and sandstorms battered the travel-weary pilgrims 

Perhaps most challenging of all was the final fortnight walking from the Cascades through the city to the sea. Sleep often eluded us as we slept in city and state parks under bright lights, ceaseless traffic noise and the unrelenting busyness of the country’s second largest city.

And yet there were so many highlights, not least of which was the warmth and enthusiasm with which many Angelenos welcomed us.

Most of the Walking Water prayer has been against the backdrop of extreme drought 

Appropriately the walk started, continued and finished as a prayer and a blessing, and always the intention was to build bridges, especially between the needs of the people of Los Angeles and those of Payahuunadu, the Paiute tribe’s name for the Owens Valley.

It seemed especially auspicious that the start of Walking Water on the 1st of September 2015 coincided with a call by Pope Francis for a global day of ‘Prayer for the Care of Creation.’

As millions of people around the world bowed their heads in prayer for the wellbeing of all life on Earth - including humanity – walkers, local residents, county officials and elders of the indigenous tribes of California’s Owens Valley sang and prayed to honour the waters and invite new ways of being in relationship with the natural world and each other.

Significantly much of the walk was undertaken against the backdrop of California’s most devastating drought and a worldwide water crisis of epic proportions. Ultimately there was a last-minute reprieve for the city when heavy snowfalls in the Sierras at the end of last year allowed a deluge of water to be channeled through the LA Aqueduct.

It brought welcome relief to many city dwellers, although the Owens Valley continues to suffer.

We walked with water, often hidden from view within concrete pipes and underground channels

The Valley remains parched with vegetation dying because the level of the water table has been pumped to below where the roots of trees and plants can reach.

And Owens Lake, which was sucked dry within a decade of the opening of the Aqueduct in 1913, remains a bleak moonscape that is a symbol of the Valley’s deprivation and a reminder of what can happen when humans try to enforce their will upon natural systems.

This year, the third phase of Walking Water, we resumed on the 14th of October and immediately enjoyed another synchronicity - the walkers whose numbers included representatives of the tribes, were invited to join celebrations for the newly recognised Indigenous Peoples Day. The city had decided to honour the tribes and scrap the more usual Columbus Day commemoration of the controversial colonist’s landing in 1492.

Certainly history has not been kind to the indigenous people and part of our walk has been described as a trail of tears.

Historians point to two major events that precipitated an ocean of pain and heartbreak: 150 years ago the first white settlers arrived and forcibly displaced the native tribes who’d lived sustainably for thousands of years, while a century ago it was the turn of both the tribes and local settlers to suffer as the waters were diverted from the Owens Valley via a 377km aqueduct to grow the City of LA.

Walking Water is about community and caring, sharing, questioning and listening 

Often there have been painful reminders of the dominant settlers’ worldview. An example is the museum in the head office of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). It completely overlooks the hardships caused to the people of Payahuunadu and ignores the fact that the tribes lived sustainably and had an effective system of irrigation ditches and canals long before the arrival of the settlers. The true history of this land needs to be told.

It is a core element of the inspiring story in the documentary film Paya that was screened to walkers and guests during an evening at TreePeople.

And yet there appears to have been a slight shift recently and a growing willingness by some water and political officials, along with some senior LADWP officials, to engage.

Steve Cole, assistant director of the city’s water distribution division, joined us one evening, spoke of his love of water and answered questions. He expressed a willingness to expand on the initial contact and have followup meetings with Alan Bacock, water coordinator for the Big Pine Paiute Tribe.

Pivotal to his own career, which has spanned almost 27 years with the LADWP, was a time of crisis in the city after an earthquake. He was refuelling his vehicle and an elderly Asian man approached him and said simply: “Thanks for what you are doing.” It was a life-changing moment and crystallised his role as a servant of the city.

Always we attempted to follow the waterways, natural and manmade

As we neared the sea we walked along a cycle path flanking the LA River and were joined by a number of supporters, including several indigenous activists.

Tahesha Knapp-Christensen, an Angeleno of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, carried the water container that would be poured into the Pacific Ocean on the completion of the walk.

But first there were many songs and blessings, actress Maggie Wheeler leading the Golden Bridge Choir, while indigenous elders offered their wisdom and support. Among them were Harry Williams, a Bishop Paiute Tribal elder, Kathy Bancroft, a Lone Pine cultural resources preservationist, and Charlotte Lange of the Kuzedtika Tribe.

During the walk WW core team leader and Big Pine Paiute tribal member Alan Bacock had deeply explored the question: “Can I forgive?” Standing on the shore he appeared to have found his answer: “I love the people of LA … and that means restoring relationships,” he said.

Visionary Andy Lipkis, founder of TreePeople and an important change agent in Los Angeles, insisted: “A new city is not only possible, it’s happening.” 

We walk for the children and next generations like young Owen Bacock of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe 

As in any journey, there were highs and lows. Sometimes there was suspicion and even mistrust, and yet we all found our way and walked on together carried by the strength of our common care and prayer. It seems that there are the tentative beginnings of a new dialogue and the exploration of new relationships and possibilities.

“So we begin to ask what impact has our walk had?” Gigi Coyle muses. “For the walkers, and those that shared parallel walks in other parts of the world, it was significant for sure. We feel solidarity of care and responsibility growing world-wide. And for those ‘in charge’, making the decisions, at minimum we hope we have awakened respect and a willingness to deeply listen.

“We will look for the peoples’ hearts to guide them as well as their minds, to widen the circle of awareness regarding who and what they serve, to expand their understanding of different approaches and to engage in some of the changes we and others are proposing. Time will tell.”

Geoff Dalglish

* Look out for an in-depth Walking Water report that will be published soon 

Geoff with Rajendra Singh, the Waterman of India and winner of the Stockholm Water Prize

Showcasing a more Sustainable Future

posted 25 Nov 2017, 10:33 by Geoff Dalglish

Trees create a cooler and more inviting environment

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean’

Ryunosuke Satoro, Japanese writer and poet

Want to be inspired? Then how about a visit to the award-winning TreePeople conservation charity nestling high on a ridge in Coldwater Canyon Park in the very heart of Los Angeles.

Here you’ll see how we can all make a difference in a world that faces towering challenges topped by climate change, environmental degradation, rampant materialism, social injustice and a crisis of the human spirit.

Born out of the efforts of a teenager more than 40 years ago, TreePeople has provided a spark of care and concern that has led to the planting of more than two million trees by more than three million people, most of them Angelenos from the City of Angels spead out below.

That teenager is practical visionary Andy Lipkis who was recently described by the mayor of Los Angeles as one of the city’s most important change agents.

Recognising that trees are vital to any city’s wellbeing, he and others began planting trees back in 1973 when he was just 18. The logic was simple: a healthy tree canopy cools and protects as it reduces the build-up of heat from sidewalks and buildings, slows the runoff of water by absorbing it into the ground, and helps combat flooding, pollution and soil erosion. It also provides food for people and habitat for wildlife.

Andy Lipkis, visionary founder of TreePeople in Los Angeles

Trees make the air breathable, streets walkable and schoolyards playable - and there’s the added benefit of community building when people come together to plant and care for trees, to harvest rain and renew depleted landscapes. The result is a greener, shadier, cleaner and more water resilient future that nourishes spiritually and emotionally.

Government officials now acknowledge that the city infrastructure systems designed to protect public health and safety and other needs were built for a climate that no longer exists, leaving city dwellers increasingly vulnerable to flooding, water shortages and life-threatening extreme heat and fires. This means that community building and urban greening becomes the new green infrastructure most quickly deployed to provide needed protections and save lives.

Walking Water coordinator Kate Bunney observed that the heat rising off city sidewalks and concrete surrounds everywhere felt hotter and more punishing than what we’d experienced with similar temperatures in the desert.

The irony is that some areas of LA, and usually the more affluent ones, have up to 22 percent tree cover, making them cooler and more pleasant, while in many disadvantaged neighbourhoods tree canopy cover is down to 6 percent or less. This means it is hotter and life more stressful there with the cumulative impacts of the growing environmental injustice story linked to higher incidents of chronic disease and mortality, along with dramatically increased risks of skin cancer.

For the Walking Water pilgrims one of many highlights was the chance to leave the concrete behind during a two-night stopover at TreePeople where we pitched our tents on site and joined leading water activists and decision-makers in discussions. We also had the chance to join a Drought Solutions Tour that is offered free of charge to visitors.

Sylvia Belgardt steps through a stormwater pipe at the start of a Drought Solutions Tour at TreePeople

It takes only a few minutes and has often been life-changing not only for visiting youth groups, but for engineers who have never before seen the implications of current water practices and future potentials presented so simply and holistically.

The tour starts by stepping through a section of stormwater piping at the entrance to a garden, where a fine mist of simulated rain immediately focusses attention.

We walk alongside a mini man-made stream and three worlds are presented: what happens in nature, how that changes when the same space is urbanised with central control, and finally how we can mimic the principles of natural systems to retrofit or adapt the current urbanised model.

The old story of centralised control allows rainwater to flush into the street, picking up pollution and carrying it on a channelised journey to the ocean, contributing to some of the most polluted beaches in California.

The TreePeople vision could make the city vastly more water resilient while reducing dependence on imported water.

It’s simple and logical: harvest rainwater. And collaborate with others to help heal the environment and enhance the lives of individuals, communities and ecosystems. It’s a journey from the head to the heart.

When we mimic nature we can harvest rainwater to top up the aquifer and combat flooding, pollution and soil erosion

The demonstration site shows how easy it is to do by using a system of downpipes to capture rain from the roof, sending some into a rain barrel or storage tank, while overflow is diverted to a rock-filled depression called a bioswale that allows rainwater to slow down and infiltrate the ground. Permeable pavements reduce runoff and the risk of flooding, while a detention basin acts as a sunken garden to collect rainwater and allow it to seep into the ground, refilling the aquifer. The border is a raised berm that features only indigenous plants that sip water sparingly.

Another important contributor is a layer of mulch that helps cool the soil and keep it moist during dry weather, while adding valuable nutrients to the soil as the organic matter decomposes and encourages worms and other beneficial organisms.

It’s not rocket science and almost anybody can recreate some or all of these features at home in the city and suburbs.

And this is just the beginning. Working quietly behind the scenes, TreePeople has been playing a pioneering role in bringing together the LA Department of Water and Power, the City’s Bureau of Sanitation and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District in a groundbreaking coalition of agency partners.

They’ve joined forces in the Greater LA Water Collaborative and created the LAStormCatcher Project. It’s a 21st century pilot scheme where six homes were retrofitted with large tanks and rain gardens to demonstrate how Angelenos can make a sizable difference by capturing storm water at home.

Andy Lipkis guiding the walkers through the water harvesting demonstration site at TreePeople

Andy insists: “The communities of Los Angeles can achieve a climate-resilient future and be better protected from flooding and drought.”

The LAStormCatcher initiative features hi-tech cloud-based monitoring to enable government agencies and the public to partner in recharging the local water supply, reducing polluted runoff and averting the risk of flooding. Changing climate realities demand a new approach to water management and the latest technology is rich with promise.

It equips homeowners and agencies to monitor rain forecasts and direct water to where it is most needed, whether to replenish groundwater supplies, reduce polluted runoff, lower flood risk or to irrigate gardens and landscapes.

The latest studies reveal that 1.2-million of the 1.5-million residential properties in LA County are viable to capture water from their roofs.

The implications are exciting and a recent study by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (the Stormwater Capture Master Plan), supports TreePeople’s predictions that almost half of the city’s water needs could me met with harvested rainwater. And a further study by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) asserts that a dedicated policy of rainwater capture, coupled with reusing, reducing and recycling, plus cleaning up its groundwater aquifers, could enable LA to meet 100 percent of its needs with locally sourced water.

Sheila Kuel, the LA County Supervisor, stresses: “It’s not just that we have to act now, but we really have an opportunity if we work together.”

Andy adds: “LA can be a role model thanks to the global impact of its media, its remarkable ethnic diversity and its place in the world as a trend and style-leader. As we change it here, we change it everywhere.”


Geoff Dalglish

Trees help make the air breathable, streets walkable and schoolyards playable 

Meeting Angels in Carmageddon

posted 27 Oct 2017, 16:40 by Geoff Dalglish   [ updated 8 Nov 2017, 15:47 ]

For the love of water ...                               Photographs: Julia Maryanska

‘Angels speak to those who silence their minds long enough to hear’



It seems that we can thank a devout Franciscan priest for the spark of inspiration that led to Los Angeles being nicknamed the City of Angels.

Back in 1769 Father Juan Crespi, who was accompanying the first European land expedition through California, described in his journal a “beautiful river from the northwest” which later became known as the Los Angeles River.

It flows around 77km (48 miles) from the San Fernando Valley through the city that is home to 4-million Angelenos, finally meeting the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach where we’ll end this leg of Walking Water.

No doubt Father Crespi would be disbelieving if he could see what we see. That once magnificent body of water has been imprisoned in concrete channels and its modest flow is fed by treated sewage water and irrigation overflow as it collects unsightly urban and industrial garbage on its pilgrimage to the sea.

Certainly few could have imagined how the initial settlements on the LA River would become an oasis in the desert, a flood of water imported from afar helping to grow it into the second largest city in the US, the global home of the TV and film industry, a world-ranked economy and a place where the automobile rules supreme.

The Walking Water pilgrims heading for the Department of Water and Power headquarters in LA

I first fell in love with LA decades ago as a car-crazy student, although the relationship ended up on the rocks in 2012 when I walked from LA on a 1,000km journey to the redwood trees in the north. I jokingly nicknamed it Carmageddon and hoped I’d never need to return to the so-called City of Angels.

Fast-forward to October 2017 and here I was along with around 30 others walking through the very heart of the city in what at first seemed like a kind of madness. The heat being reflected upwards from tarmac and city sidewalks was brutal and the busyness and noise of the traffic a constant assault on the senses. And to make the pilgrimage especially unusual we were pitching our tents in neighbourhood parks, courtesy of a special concession by the authorities. These areas are a sanctuary for city dwellers during the daylight hours, and often off-limits to all at night. Homeless people were never far away and envious of the dispensation granted to these foot-weary pilgrims. 

On one level it was truly awful, our nights a clickety-clack cacophony of trains, the wailing of emergency vehicles, blaring music and the endless rumble and thunder of engines powering super-sized automobiles, pickups and gargantuan trucks. The city never sleeps … and often we didn’t either, despite our exhaustion.

And yet something important and often magical was happening. We started each day walking meditatively in silence – our’s and not the city’s! Walking with many questions we were greeted by often surprising insights. And everywhere we seemed to be recognising that spark of divinity that lives within us all, even if it is sometimes deeply hidden.

Walking through the streets of LA takes days and the heat off the concrete can be punishing

We experienced the lush, green, over-irrigated wealth of Hollywood and Beverley Hills and rubbed shoulders with the downtrodden and marginalised in the poorer suburbs. Many of the less affluent areas showed real pride in their modest homes and carefully tended gardens, with a beautiful sense of community evident in the joy of children and their devoted parents and grandparents.

While walking through South Central LA I met a shabbily dressed African American who was raging and screaming obsenities. I greeted him politely and he responded with surprise and friendly recognition. Walking seems to be a great leveller.

Everywhere there was curiosity about our source-to-sea journey that is both a prayer and a social, spiritual and environmental action. We walk for the waters and a restoration and healing of relationships. With ourselves, others, and the waters.

In a matter of days my cynicism about LA has been transformed. Yes, I still loathe the noise and busyness, but what a gift it is to empathise with so many living on or near the streets. Half the world’s population of 7.5-billion souls is now in cities and the migration continues.

Daily we’ve been meeting super-heroes intent on making our world a better place, and some like Orland Bishop, a social architect who mentors youth, individuals and organisations, walk with us.

Andrew McDowell is the enthusiastic founder of the With Love Market & Cafe

I’m also learning to re-examine my perceptions as a white male settler in the company of indigenous people and others of colour. The question of social activism and justice has been centre-stage throughout and became a focus of a Talking Water evening when we circled up with Orland, youth coach Kruti Parekh and Angela Mooney, executive director of the Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples. 

Angela’s observation that colonisation leads to a severing of relationships resonates deeply. How we all need connection,  relationship and community!

Meeting Marcos Trinidad, the charismatic director of the Audubon Center, was a breath of fresh air and not surprisingly he has a passion for LA’s abundant birdlife, although his greater gift is in responding to the needs and challenges in his community. He devotes his time to bringing people together in Debs Park, making the nature connection more accessible to a population other than the upper white class.

Key issues include gentrification where escalating housing prices force low-income residents to seek more affordable options. For some homelessness becomes the only possibility.

We walk among so many focussed on fundamental issues of survival. And meet angels responding to the urgent needs around them.

Chris Henrikson is the founder of Street Poets that inspires and motivates youth, some of them incarcerated

A visit to Metabolic Studios created by artist and visionary Lauren Bon is a revelation. One of her dreams involves bending the LA River back into the city. A section will be freed from its concrete straightjacket and its waters diverted through a wetland and cleaning facility in the making. It will then be distributed through subterranean irrigation to the nearby Los Angeles Historic Park and future Albion River Park.

She marries creative processes with social actions and brought the Historic Park back to life and funded the major makeover as a gift to local communities.

We visited the Department of Water and Power and had a private meeting with Steve Cole, assistant director of the city’s water distribution division. What emerged was important in this long story of water relations with LA and Payahunaduu (the Paiute word for the Owens Valley) and will feature in a blog in days to come.

The next day we were hosted at the nearby With Love Market & Café that is the brainchild of former advertising executive Andrew McDowell. It offers healthy food and builds community with a variety of free events ranging from yoga classes and cooking demonstrations to creative evenings.

Andrew explains: "With Love believes that all people, regardless of income, race, social status, location and language are equally important and deserve the same opportunities as anybody else.

The Walking Water group with the Street Poets

"We have the goal to help right things that are wrong by both helping people out of the hole and working with them to fill that hole so that they and others will not fall back. Together we can make a difference in LA."

It is a model that some other communities and US cities are taking a keen interest in.

That evening we joined Street Poets, a non-profit poetry-based peace-making organisation dedicated to the creative process as a force for individual and community transformation. It breaks the cycle of violence among at-risk and incarcerated youth, awakening them to their gifts.

Chris Henrikson founded the organisation more than 20 years ago in an incarceration centre for troubled youth and will soon hand over leadership to one of those he mentored. He leads us in a group creative started off with a Water Blessing by poet and philosopher John O'Donohue. The results of a 10-minute writing frenzy were inspiring as we shared around the circle of 40. The larger community poem that arose from all of the individual offerings connected us all and moved some to tears.

Water is our common ground and when we devote attention to it there's a profound beauty and gratitude that emerges from all.

Water needs to FLOW and that's an acronym For the Love Of Water - it's also the title for a documentary film and a water activists' group in South Africa.

Geoff Dalglish

The LA River was straightened and contained within concrete after flooding in 1938

Walking the Trail of Sorrows and Hope

posted 24 Oct 2017, 13:24 by Geoff Dalglish

The William Mulholland Memorial Fountain in LA


You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle’

The Bible, Psalm 56:8


Insights sometimes appear suddenly and often with a painful intensity when you walk in meditative silence and treat each step as a prayer and a blessing, always asking: what are the learnings. And what is my part to do in all of this?

And so it was on the seventh day of the latest leg of our Californian pilgrimage when we arrived at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Los Feliz Boulevard at Griffith Park in the heart of Los Angeles.

In a matter of moments the mood shifted from curiosity and quiet introspection to pain, grief and anger as the William Mulholland Memorial loomed into view, stopping the Walking Water pilgrimage in its tracks.

The centrepiece of the display is a giant fountain and on this idyllic sunny morning its abundant imported waters sparkled blue and inviting. But for many walkers, and especially those from the parched Owens Valley, its presence immediately triggered a flood of emotions and memories of incredible hardships and injustices.

A memorial plaque to the founding father of LA’s water system describes William Mulholland as a self-educated engineering genius, humanitarian and visionary, although nowhere is there a hint of respect or recognition for those of the Owens Valley who were deprived of their local waters when the LA Aqueduct began relocating the Owens River to the city in 1913.

William Mulholland, LA’s water chief

Nor is there mention that Mulholland was more villain than hero to some. He was part of the conspiracy to buy up vast tracts of land in the Owens Valley to secretly gain control of all water rights for the city. Later he also masterminded the St Francis Dam northwest of LA that failed catastrophically in 1928, 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 450 lives in what was the worst civil engineering disaster in US history.

It was a mistake he carried with him to the grave. When a jury found him guilty of having caused the loss of lives, he broke down and wept. “I envy the dead,” he lamented.

Circling up a few minutes after visiting the memorial, I noticed tears running down the cheeks of some, while others sat in stunned silence. A few later admitted to a quiet fury.

Singer-songwriter Sarah Nutting was visibly moved. “As I approached the memorial I felt an ancient stirring of grief … and the tears flowed. Every day the tears flow, and I trust that they too will find their way to the sea to swim into the great big ocean of our collective water prayer.”

We’re praying for a new era of improved relations where there is shared care and respect for the peoples and places at source as well as in LA, the home to a population of 4-million water users.

Walker Julia Maryanska connects with the waters

Two years ago, during the first stage of our epic walk from source to sea, I wrote: “Imagine if the City of LA was to make a symbolic gesture like switching off the Mulholland Memorial Fountain …” Well they’ve done exactly that although the gesture somehow feels wholly inadequate. Yes, jets of water no longer spray high into the sky to evaporate in a fine mist, but the fountain remains full of the waters captured hundreds of kilometres away. Healing, justice and reparations are needed, not small gestures.

So what are the lessons, the learnings? Do the possibilities extend beyond what has continually been described by LA’s Department of Water and Power as good efforts that reflect a care for the Owens Valley communities?

My own feelings of an overwhelming sadness continue amid concerns for the indigenous tribes who have been robbed of their lands and waters and been victims of a genocide that has claimed the lives of so many, among them women and children.

And now it feels infinitely more personal and closer to home as for three years I have walked this land with the some of the tribal people as well as those from other countries whose stories are not so different. Through the Walking Water prayer I and many other activists have come to know and deeply respect a number of the indigenous people, particularly from the Paiute tribe.

They walk with us and open-heartedly share their joys and hurts, displaying a generosity of spirit and willingness to forgive that is often inspiring.

Janka Striffler tries a section of the aqueduct piping for size 

Alan Bacock, water coordinator for the Big Pine Paiute Tribe, said that he had been with the image of Christ hanging on the cross. “I remembered His words: ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.’ And that raises a powerful question. Can I forgive?”

We resume the walk and the mood shifts yet again.

Our footsteps take us alongside the LA River which is mostly channelled and confined between concrete banks, it’s meagre flow fed by treated sewerage water and overflow from the irrigation of lawns and gardens.

The river is visibly polluted in many places and signs warn that elevated bacteria levels can occur at any time and that contact with the water may increase the risk of illness. The entreaty is to wash your body if any contact is made with the water. Wash yourself where and with what?

Despite the health hazards the river is home to many of the city’s poorest people who have created makeshift shelters between its banks, while wildlife is also demonstrating an adaptability and determination to survive. We enjoyed sightings of herons, cormorants, kingfisher and other water birds, LA boasting an astonishing variety of birdlife. 

Irrigation overflow tops up the treated water in the LA River 

The great dream of cleaning and rejuvenating the river is alive with many Angelenos, among them Andy Lipkis, the visionary founder of TreePeople who points to the enormous logic and potential of harnessing treated water, including sewage water. “All water is recycled,” he argues. “What you are drinking is dinosaur pee and maybe your own.”

Another with a grand vision of rewilding the river is artist and photographer Daniel Dancer who specialises in what he calls Art for the Sky, his latest creation involving us all.

Along with around 450 children from the LA River School, and later a number of young members of the Paiute Tribes of the Owens Valley, we become part of a magnificent living, breathing artwork on a school playing field.

The idea, we discover, is for the children to form themselves into the body of a kingfisher, an emblematic symbol of healthy rivers and waterways and the largest bird that can hover without the help of thermal updraughts.

Daniel has created a huge outline of the bird on the sportsfield and the youth carefully arrange themselves to form the body of the bird, most of them wearing blue and white shirts. The walkers, on hands and knees, form a spiral emerging from the kingfisher’s beak. It is symbolic of the prayer and dreams we all carry.

Youth from the LA River School and walkers create a giant kingfisher

There is a wonderful atmosphere of fun and camaraderie and when he feels that we are all perfectly positioned, a drone equipped with a camera is remotely piloted to a position high above us all to capture a bird’s-eye view of the artwork.

That evening Daniel joins us in a circle in the public park that is our home for the night and passes his computer around, watching our faces light up with delight and amazement. Together, we of all ages and backgrounds from many different parts of the planet, have created something remarkable. The kingfisher is a beautiful and inspiring image of hope and possibility.

Geoff Dalglish

Visit www.walking-water.org
















Walking for Water and a New Story

posted 18 Oct 2017, 20:25 by Geoff Dalglish

Heavy snowfalls in the Sierra Nevada Mountains have restored the flow of water to LA 

‘Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet’

 Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk and peace activist


Eyes were often moist and voices choked with emotion as Walking Water pilgrims and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power representatives met on 14 October at the Cascades against the dramatic backdrop of a century-old marvel of engineering that also symbolises the capture and relocation of the waters of the Owens River.

It was here in 1913 that the city’s water chief William Mulholland officially opened the LA Aqueduct with one of the briefest and most controversial dedication speeches in history: “There it is. Take it!”

He was a hero to thousands of Angelenos who rushed forward with their tin mugs to drink of the sweet imported waters, while in the Owens Valley his words were seen as devoid of respect for Mother Earth and salt in the wounds of many who’d lost so much.

Synchronistically the 2017 sendoff and blessing ceremony for Walking Water was acted out on the newly-proclaimed Indigenous Peoples Day in LA – the city choosing to replace Columbus Day and the more usual commemoration of the arrival of the Italian explorer and coloniser in 1492.

The City Council had voted to eliminate Columbus Day from the city calendar after siding with activists who viewed the Italian navigator as a symbol of the genocide of native peoples in North America and elsewhere

Alan Bacock of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe invites James Yannotta of the LA Department of Water and Power to come together for a moment

Is this the beginning of a new story? 

Walking Water has been both a prayer and an action as local and international walkers followed the waterways – natural and man-made – from the source high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains above Mono Lake towards the place of end use.

Already they have traversed more than 750km (470 miles) through mountains and desert and their footsteps will take them another 80km (50 miles) through an urban environment to the point where the LA River feeds into the ocean at Long Beach.

“It is a journey of healing,” coordinator Kate Bunney insists. “We are not walking against anything but walking for water and all life.

 “We walk with many questions and harvest stories as we head into the city engaging with communities and leaders along the way.”

 It is about the healing of our relations with the land, the waters, ourselves and each other.

Walking Water coordinator Kate Bunney setting the pace

At a pivotal moment in the blessing ceremony Alan Bacock, water coordinator for the Big Pine Paiute Tribe, invited James Yannotta, manager of the LA Aqueduct, to join him in pouring water with the two embracing briefly afterwards.

Behind that gesture lies a legacy for many in the Owens Valley of injustice and broken promises. Charlotte Lange, chairperson of the Kutzadika People asked pointedly: “When will an indigenous person be invited to join the leadership team of the LA Department of Water and Power?”

Respecting indigenous rights and sensibilities has been core to the Walking Water pilgrimage and before it was given the go-ahead three years ago, tribal elders and members were consulted and their permission sought to walk ancestral lands. Now their voices are helping to shape the journey.

During the Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations in San Fernando the 30 walkers were warmly welcomed when they arrived in time to witness dance rituals by men, women and children that originated millennia ago.

When one of our team leaders insisted that they did not wish to interrupt the sacred tribal dance and celebrations, she was assured: “You are part of them.”

In recent days the walkers have been received and catered for by representatives of local communities, including a group known as the Young Warriors connected to the Tia Chucha Bookstore and Cultural Centre. They dished up a delicious vegetarian dinner and when asked questions by the walkers they openly shared their dreams for becoming writers and healers as well as together opening a café featuring a healthy cuisine.

Climbing the Santa Monica mountains is a welcome change from pounding city pavements

The city, meanwhile, has taken the unprecedented step of allowing the group to pitch their tents in public parks, invariably in the proximity of a handful of the 50,000 homeless people who are part of the LA reality.

According to fellow walker Orland Bishop, a social architect who mentors youth, individuals and organisations, the houseless people are often forced by necessity to seek community on the streets and in parks. They include many young people with nowhere to go after leaving the foster care system at the age of 17 or 18. There are also war veterans from the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Vietnam, along with some facing mental health challenges who are not able to be adequately cared for.

Moving in silence at the beginning of each day, the walkers found the city to be both a place of astonishing beauty and obvious hardship and struggle. The country’s second largest city is home to countless Hollywood success stories that personify the Great American Dream, while being juxtaposed with a disturbing and often hidden underbelly that includes a huge prison population, many of them young people of African American and Latino origins.

For all the pilgrims it is a journey of listening and learning. We walk at the time-honoured pace of our ancestors and in their footsteps, each asking questions individually and collectively.

What is our part in the healing and co-creating of a new story in our communities? We ask again each day, will our walk, our prayer, help to wake us up and inspire care and responsibility within ourselves and our homelands? Can we, with others of many ages, backgrounds and cultures, dream a more beautiful and sustainable future where resources are truly shared? What can we learn from listening to those who were here long before, listening to those we meet along our way, listening to the water itself? What habitats do we choose to create with the water we are blessed with? Are we willing to change the dream, the structures, the currency we have created if they truly do not serve the needs of our time? What is ours to do?

Geoff Dalglish

Visit www.walking-water.org

Walkers pause to appreciate where they've come from

Photographs: Geoff Dalglish and Julia Maryanska

Recalling the original Magic of Findhorn

posted 2 Aug 2017, 02:54 by Geoff Dalglish

Mountain man John Willower where he is most at home ...

‘The essence of this community is to bring heaven down to Earth, to learn to do everything with love’

Eileen Caddy, Findhorn community co-founder

If you were to rewind half a century, you’d see a young English schoolteacher called John Willoner arriving at what is now the celebrated Findhorn Foundation community, unaware that his life was about to transform radically.

Always the adventurer and seeker, John’s curiosity was aroused by a postcard sent from a friend at the Findhorn Bay Caravan Park that contained the cryptic message: “I think you’ll find it interesting here.”

That was in 1967 - the same year the Beatles released their hit single All You Need is Love and the fledgling spiritual community in the northeast of Scotland comprised only six permanent residents – co-founders Dorothy Maclean, Peter and Eileen Caddy and their three young boys Christopher, Jonathan and David.

John soon became the seventh, although it was to take a number of visits over a six-month period before he quit his teaching post down south and followed his inner prompts to join what was later described in a best-selling book as The Magic of Findhorn.

John wearing a tie in the background and Peter and Eileen Caddy in the foreground

“The magic is still alive for me, when I am open to it,” he confided recently in an interview at his compact and inviting wooden Eco home in The Park’s Field of Dreams. He shares this beautiful space with his South African partner Sylvia Black.

“The original essence is still present and the openness and trust among people continues to be strong,” he says. “What keeps me here is the feeling that I can continue to serve and contribute to the community.” 

Looking back 50 years he recalls a somewhat bleak dunescape that was devoid of flowers, birdsong and mature trees.

“On that first visit I saw a rubbish dump and lots of dilapidated caravans and I was looking for site number 27 which was quite difficult to come by because it was out of sight in a hollow.”

His friend Dennis who’d sent the postcard had been been there a few weeks and introduced John to an energetic older man with a military bearing called Peter Caddy. “They were smashing rocks to create a base for a bungalow. I was given a sledgehammer and joined in.”

Outside the Original Caravan with Dorothy Maclean and Jonathan Caddy who was born in the caravan

Although he only stayed a couple of hours on that occasion he remembers that something compelling was happening as seeds were sewn for the birth of what evolved into a pioneering spiritual community, Ecovillage and centre of learning.

“In the early days we worked seven days a week from getting up to going to sleep. Peter was very clear that he expected people to work and to work hard physically. There were no programmes then and it was just physical activity like gardening, with Peter leading by example.

“I really enjoyed the company of the three founders. There was some sort of magnetism that’s difficult to pinpoint. I enjoyed being in this place that was gradually growing around the first caravan and I had no wish to be anywhere else. So I gave in my notice not really knowing what was ahead.

“Peter taught, not in a lecturing way, but while digging alongside him there were pearls of wisdom.”

Fast-forward to 2017 and 73-year-old John surveys The Park with deep satisfaction. “It makes me believe that the desert can bloom and today it’s like a Garden of Eden compared to what it was.

Celebrating his 70th birthday with a cycle ride with Jonathan Caddy and Geoff Dalglish 

“In the early days we were focusing on the garden and building foundations and it wasn’t until the early 1970s that the time was right for growing people, which was the start of our holistic education programmes.

“I feel a great passion for Findhorn and love to share it with others – especially the area around the Original Garden and seven bungalows where I first worked.”

His admiration for the founders also continues to inspire him. “Dorothy demonstrated selfless sevice to the whole and could turn her hand to anything. Eileen was a very loving and down to Earth person who was practical and always available for her boys. Peter was very focused and taught by doing. It was a privilege to dig alongside him.”

Although soft-spoken and unassuming, John’s love of mountains and the outdoors is legendary and there’s a steely determination that has seen him stand on the summit of all of the 282 Munros that are the highest peaks in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, highpoints of many holidays include mountain hikes and interacting enthusiastically with everyone he meets.

Although he still occasionaly works relief shifts as a local school teacher, his main role in recent years has been serving in Findhorn’s busy Conference office. This has facilitated enduring friendships with many spiritual teachers who have visited Findhorn, some staying in his hexagonal home which is called Honeypot in recognition of his love of beekeeping.

Celebrating with Jonathan, Dorothy and Craig Gibsone, who arrived a year after John in 1968


Among this circle of friends are Robert Holden, Caroline Myss and Christian mystic James Finley, who described John as a genuinely grounded, sincere and contemplative person. “How much I cherish our friendship because of the kinship I feel with you.”

David Spangler, who pioneered the Foundation’s role as a centre of learning, insisted: “I can’t think of Findhorn without thinking of you. You occupy such a powerful role and imagery in my memory of the time I lived in the community. I remember your go-to spirit. Your willingness to try anything and the love and helpfulness that you brought to every situation and every day.”

One of his most cherished and enduring friendships is with Dorothy Maclean, the sole surviving co-founder who is now 97. He visits her daily and says simply: “I love her dearly. She is someone who always puts God first.”

Christopher Caddy, the oldest of the three sons, paid tribute to John as an inspiring and supportive surrogate father. “I’m not sure that you realise what an immense impact you had on my life. At a time when the roots of Findhorn, the foundations were being laid, our parents had little time to bring up their children and you took on the role of being big brother and surrogate father.

“You taught us how to erect a tent, cook using a primus stove, helped us choose our first sleeping bags, then took us hillwalking, mountain climbing and introduced us to caving. At the same time you were there as my tutor, educator, my teacher. I needed somebody to help me on my pathway, to help me with my homework, and there you were, sent from God to look after us. So thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Geoff Dalglish

John in the Mountain Club hut on Cape Town's Table Mountain with his partner Sylvia, left, and friends

Slowing to the Pace of Our Ancestors

posted 1 May 2017, 03:53 by Geoff Dalglish

For centuries Iona Abbey has been a welcoming beacon for pilgrims

As a pilgrim I discover the mystery, the magic, the meaning and the magnificence of life in every step I take, in every sound I hear and in every sight I see’ 

Satish Kumar, spiritual and ecological activist

How interesting it is that I’ve travelled many millions of miles flying, driving and sailing – and yet it is only while walking at the pace of our ancestors that I’ve slowed enough to appreciate the difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim. 

Almost always it has been in wild Nature that I’ve found my greatest inspiration and clarity, although occasionally I’ve known that peace and serenity as my spirits have soared in cathedrals, temples, mosques or meditation sanctuaries.

Most often those magic moments have happened while walking or sitting alone in a place of natural beauty, usually at daybreak while celebrating the luminosity of first light. That’s definitely a treasured time for many pilgrims.

Findhorn Foundation co-founder Eileen Caddy spoke of the ‘small, still voice within’ and encouraged each of us to take quiet time to hear those whispers of inner knowing, while centuries ago Persian poet Rumi insisted: “Silence is the language of God; all else is poor translation.” There seems to be widespread agreement that whatever our faith, or lack of it, we benefit from gifting ourselves with time away from everyday busyness to centre ourselves and be still.

Exploring the sacred Isle of Iona in the time-honoured manner of our ancestors

Pivotal to my own growth and understanding has been meeting Earth Pilgrim Satish Kumar a few years ago and then attending a five-day workshop led by him entitled Exploring Inner and Outer Landscapes. The 80-year-old former monk guided a programme that immersed us in the loving embrace of Mother Nature as we explored beautiful Scottish landscapes around Findhorn, often walking meditatively in silence.

Life, he insists, is a sacred journey and the Earth our sacred home.

“Either we can act as tourists and look at the Earth as a source of goods and services for our personal use, or we can become Earth Pilgrims and treat the planet with reverence and gratitude.

“Tourists value the Earth and all her natural riches only in terms of their usefulness to themselves, while pilgrims perceive the planet as sacred and recognise the intrinsic value of all life.”

I try to do that every day, regardless of the weather, allowing myself time to walk through the woods to Findhorn Beach, pausing to appreciate the trees around me, the sky above, and recently an amazing and prolonged encounter with a solitary dolphin.

A participant in last year’s Pilgrimage retreat enjoys a secluded beach walk 

Soon my friend Adelle Horler and I will be blessed with a fortnight on the Hebridean Isle of Iona where the Findhorn community has a cosy retreat house overlooking the sea called Traigh Bhan.

In the summer months and certain other times of the year it offers week-long guest retreats, and we are privileged to be holding two. The first is entitled The Way of the Pilgrim and begins on 17 June, while on 24 June we have one of our regular Summer Retreat Weeks where we’ll all have the opportunity to co-create an expansive and nourishing week.

A maximum of six guests will be accommodated in each retreat and the proviso is that all have completed Experience Week or a programme that has immersed them in the community’s core values of inner listening, co-creation with the intelligence of Nature, and the experience of work – or service – as love in action.

It is an invitation to join us on the sacred island that has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries since the arrival of the Christian monk and missionary St Columba in 563. We share work and play and prepare and enjoy meals together.

The retreats combine the opportunity for solo or gently guided walks, reconnection with the beauty and healing powers of Nature, meditation, and time to relax and enjoy the simplicity of island life.

For more details click here

Walking a labyrinth at Columba Bay

The Traigh Bhan retreat house is an oasis of peace

A pilgrim enjoying a protected beach on a sublime sunny day

Traigh Bhan guests share a meal during last year's inaugural Pilgrimage retreat

Relaxing in the garden with an uninterrupted view across to neighbouring the Isle of Mull


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 www.biospherefoundation.org)

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











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