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Albatross!

posted 29 Oct 2018, 07:33 by Geoff Dalglish   [ updated 3 Dec 2018, 00:50 ]

 A single feeding flight can last days and transport the albatross thousands of miles

 Until my ghastly tale is told, this heart within me burns’

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Albatross is a word seared indelibly into my consciousness after two profound experiences on epic sea voyages in vast oceans decades and many thousands of miles apart.

The first played out on a journey between Japan and Hawaii and was viewed through the eyes of a lovesick 17-year-old feeling all the pain of having bid farewell to a gorgeous new love he was destined never to meet again.

I experienced that terrible angst of teenage love like a knife in my heart and spent long hours alone on deck, staring forlornly into the waves, until something miraculous and healing happened. An albatross appeared alongside the ship and shadowed us for days. Whenever I looked, there it was, lifting my spirits and filling me with a sense of awe and wonder.

Decades later, in December 2010, I embarked on a seagoing odyssey south from Cape Town to Antarctica aboard a scientific research ship that alternately filled me with elation at the wild beauty of the Southern Ocean, and a growing sense of foreboding that I would perish on this journey into the unknown.

And then it happened again … whenever I ventured outside to view this wild world of stormy seas and ever-present icebergs, I’d see an albatross effortlessly riding the wind currents, day after day.


I decided it was one of the most remarkable sights I’d ever witnessed, and the albatross was one of the most inspiring creatures I had the good fortune to share life on Planet Earth with. The more I watched it, the greater the love and admiration I felt for this wandering soul. And indeed for all life.

What a wonderful world we live in that includes a legendary seabird that can leave land as a fledgeling and not return for years, slowly growing into adulthood and living entirely off the bounty of the ocean, just as its ancestors have done forever.

So it was with a sense of excitement that I recently watched the full-length film Albatross, the promotional material billing it as “a love story for our time from the heart of the Pacific.”

Artist and filmmaker Chris Jordan invites his audience  to “come with on a journey through the eye of beauty ... across an ocean of grief … and beyond.”

It takes us to remote Midway Island in the North Pacific Ocean, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continent.

Who could not love the goofy-looking fledgelings?


“Midway was a US naval air station and now it feels like a postwar battlefield with dead albatrosses juxtaposed against old military buildings. Now the war is against plastic and albatrosses are the casualties on the frontline,” he explains.

Against the backdrop of decaying military infrastructure, more than a million albatrosses come to Midway to nest and rear their babies. But a tragedy is playing out as the parents unwittingly feed their chicks a toxic cocktail of plastic pieces ranging from bottletops, cigarette lighters and toys to those fish-shaped soy sauce bottles that come with takeaway sushi.

Parent birds serve as an umbilical chord directly from the sea to their babies, but they have no way of understanding that these brightly coloured throwaways have no nutritional value. They are often sharp-edged and cause irreparable internal damage, also weighing the fledgelings down to the point where many are doomed never to take their first lifegiving flight.

It is an environmental tragedy and the experience, so hauntingly and artistically portrayed in the movie, is not only about the suffering of these magnificent birds, but also about what it reflects back to us about the destructive power of our culture of mass consumption. It shines a light on humanity’s damaged relationship with the living world.

Chris Jordan asks: “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time, and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us, and our future?”

Albatross adults mate for life and have beautifully synchronised mating rituals


We are living in a Plastic Age and his exquisitely crafted film features astonishing photography, an inspiring soundtrack and a tightrope walk between beauty and horror. It is a clarion call to action to mend our broken relationship with the Earth.

“I want people to watch this film and feel sadness and rage and realise that comes from a place of love. Don’t pull the plug out of the bathtub just yet,” he suggests. “Don’t let all that raw emotion drain away. Once you feel love, you can be more courageous and make more radical choices.”

I wholeheartedly agree and remember the words of primatologist Jane Goodall: "Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.

"Only if we understand will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved."

The film is helping me to change my relationship with plastic and appreciating that all the plastic ever created is still with us. It lasts forever and yet we throw much of it away after a single use.

My hope is that many will see this film. Chris Jordan is offering eight years of his work as a free gift to the world. He sees it as a contribution of love, beauty and hope.

Albatross was screened recently in Findhorn's Universal Hall and will be shown at the Mountain Club of South Africa in Cape Town on Friday, January 25.

Or you could watch the trailer or full-length film here.


Geoff Dalglish


 

Driven by Passion

posted 21 Sep 2018, 09:12 by Geoff Dalglish

Geoff Dalglish with the Ferrari F40 at the legendary Maranello test track

I think God is going to come down and pull civilisation over for speeding’ 

Steven Wright – humourist and writer

 

My love affair with the automobile started when I was four years old and has led to so many tumultuous and passionate encounters.

It was never about being faithful or monogamous, and many polyamorous relationships captured my heart for mere hours or days. Others were so intense that years later I still enjoy total recall of every precious and lustful moment we celebrated together.

It was this way with the Ferrari F40, which was then the world’s fastest road car. And I was privileged to drive it absolutely flat-out around the legendary Italian company’s private racetrack at Maranello.  

Afterwards I noted: “On very rare moments I have experienced that deliciously heightened sense of awareness when my concentration was absolute and I became one with the machine, flying faster and higher than ever before and moving beyond mere mortality.

“In a moment like this the exhilaration of speed overcomes the natural fear of dying or getting hurt and everything is instinctive, flowing with a perfection that is pure poetry. It is a Mozart moment that might never again be replicated.

The funky and all-electric tandem two-seater Renault Twizy

“This is not to be confused with pinnacle motoring experiences, of which I’ve had many, that come simply from driving awesomely fast cars like the Audi S1, which dominated world championship rallying until this breed of supercar was outlawed in the interests of safety. The speed had become so outrageous that too many drivers and navigators were dying.”

Looking back on a motoring career spanning decades I still rank my meeting with the Audi rally car back in 1987 as a highlight, the explosive performance shattering all my preconceptions and providing an adrenaline-rush second to none.

Both the Ferrari and Audi rally car were insanely fast and utterly intoxicating, and yet, if you fast-forward to 2018 there’s a good chance you might find me walking, cycling, catching a bus or driving an electric car.

No, I haven’t died and been punished for my massive carbon footprint with consignment to some sort of motoring hell. Rather, during the past decade I’ve made some conscious decisions to explore different ways of being upon our precious Earth that are more sustainable and less destructive. And it feels good.

Sure, I still enjoy speed and the satisfaction of driving as well and efficiently as I know how. But my priorities have shifted. I’ve experimented with not driving at all for a year, not owning a car, and in recent years with being a member of the Moray Carshare in the northeast of Scotland.

Charging the electric Nissan Leaf from a charging point within the Findhorn ecovillage

From humble origins with a trio of old bangers used by a handful of members just over a decade ago, the car sharing scheme has grown to 15 cars owned by the car club which today boasts 172 members. It has earned recognition and support from the Scottish Government.

Members go online and book vehicles parked at four main locations within a radius of less than 10km, and usually no more than a 10-minute walk from their homes.

These include electric cars and I take huge delight in collecting one from a charging station within the Findhorn ecovillage. Three nearby wind turbines supply most of the community’s needs and feed electricity back to the grid in windy times of plenty.

I love the idea of using ‘free’ locally generated power and not having to fill up at a petrol station.

A favourite electric car was the funky tandem two-seater Renault Twizy which served as a great marketing billboard for the car club, although in many ways it was woefully inappropriate for Scotland. It had no heater or windscreen demister, was barely weatherproof, and was limited by a a top speed of just over 80km/h and a meagre driving range. But on a good dry day it was fun!

Carshare manager Gordon McAlpine

More appropriate by far are the Nissan Leafs which are quiet and comfy five-seaters with a better range between recharges, and a popularity that has made them the plug-in favourite in many major car markets around the world.

Inevitably if I’ve needed to undertake a longer journey I’ve opted for an economical low-emissions runabout like the petrol-powered Toyota Aygo. I’m amused at my resentment when I have to top it up with fuel!

How the system works is that if you are over 24 and have a valid driver’s licence you can opt to pay a subscription, go online and book an appropriate vehicle for your needs, paying an hourly rate and a fee for every mile travelled. It works best for people who don’t have a daily commute and don’t leave the car parked for many hours at a time.

Club members don’t worry about depreciation, insurance or maintenance, and according to estimates for most it is less than half the price of actually owning a car.

The mission statement reads: We aim to provide community benefit through offering convenient and affordable transport options that minimise environmental damage and encourage social cohesion.

Geoff reducing his ecological footprint with pedal power 

Affordability is a definite selling point, although manager Gordon McAlpine, the visionary Scot who launched Moray Carshare 11 years ago, says a recent survey indicated that even more important to many members is reducing their environmental impact, along with convenience and the idea of sharing resources.

Gordon, who will soon lead an expansion into neighbouring towns with more electric cars and a fleet of electric bicycles, insists that it isn’t only about meeting transport needs. It is also important to build on the feeling of community and connection that many enjoy.

He sees an important difference between a business and an enterprise that emphasises social and ecological benefits.

“Can we learn the best ways to share precious resources," he asks. "What can we create when we pool our own resources into a community entity designed to serve the whole? And create a culture that facilitates the use of technology to meet the needs of the individual in a way that also serves the greater good of our human society and of our planet as a whole."

The car club works well and I’m indebted to Gordon for introducing me to a way of motoring that saves me money and reduces my environmental impact. So despite my passionate Petrolhead background I’m 100% behind schemes like this becoming more widely accessible to motorists everywhere.

I’ve significantly reduced my carbon footprint, and if ever there’s a longing for an adrenaline rush, I have the zero-emissions option of a vicarious high-speed driving adventure courtesy of Google and YouTube.

And perhaps once in a while I’ll fantasise about another sweaty-palmed, adrenaline-pumping racetrack outing in a scarlet Ferrari …

 Geoff Dalglish


A bonus for Findhorn community members is that nearby wind turbines supplement the energy supply

  

Feral and Free!

posted 17 Sep 2018, 03:47 by Geoff Dalglish   [ updated 17 Sep 2018, 10:04 ]

Feral Findhorn community elder Craig Gibsone with his daughters Inanna, left, and Tara Pinheiro-Gibsone


'Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom. How do they learn it? They fall, and falling, they’re given wings’

Rumi, 13th century poet and philosopher

If you were to rewind half a century to 1968 and the modest beginnings of the Findhorn community you might bump into a young Australian, making his first tentative visit, and being greeted by a none-too-inspiring landscape of barren sand dunes and decaying military infrastructure.

“The physical landscape was completely trashed and there was no sign of life other than perhaps a seagull or two,” Craig Gibsone recalls with a sense of wonder.

“When I first came there were about a dozen people and in the 70s it rapidly went up to 100, 200 and then 300 people. But you could still know all of them and now that’s impossible. Today the community in its wider context probably spreads in a 30-mile radius from here.

”Another thing that’s completely different is that I was so innocent, in a sense naïve,” he remembers. “The founders had such a powerful, clear intention of what they were going to do – change the world!

Flashback … Craig Gibsone, from left, with Findhorn community pioneers David Spangler, Eileen and Peter Caddy and Dorothy Maclea

 

“They have really contributed to the Global Ecovillage Network which to me is the closest thing I can see to the Network of Light that was one of the early intentions and was always meditatively and inwardly strengthend. Today it exists throughout the world.”

Casting his mind back to 1968 he says: “I just turned up.That’s what you did in those days. There were no bookings or telephones. And I was totally accepted from the word go. I got to stay in a caravan with nine other people.

“The strongest experience was feeling my heart opening to a sense of limitless love. It just happened spontaneously in meditation.”

As Craig approaches his 77th birthday he can take quiet pride in being part of the powerful impulse that created the pioneering ecovillage and spiritual community that’s been variously described as an experiment, a mystery school, laboratory for change and a hothouse for spirituality.

He shies away from any perceived rank and privilege that might come with a half century of contribution, although I can attest to the fact that he’s touched countless lives, mine included.

Craig’s passion for pottery is a creative outlet that endures to this day

“Feral elder sounds pretty good”, he says, explaining his role. The truth is that he serves as the senior co-ordinator of ecovillage programmes and is a former focaliser of the community. He’s also a painter, potter, musician, builder and passionate permaculturist. Recently he co-authored a book entitled Permaculture – A Spiritual Approach.

What’s the glue that has kept him engaged?  “A supported daily spiritual practice that allows intuition to flourish, with no form of dogma”, he says without hesitation. “I like the way that meditative or reflective practice, from walking on the beach to sitting in the Sanctuary, is accepted and practised daily.

“And there’s an outer dialogue that happens everywhere and at all times – over meals and in community meetings.

“It has helped me evolve my listening and communication skills, not just with my fellow human beings, but with all life. Findhorn had such a feeling of being a life school, and it wasn’t just me alone, but a group of like-minded people with the same intention. I feel that same spirit and energy within the community today, and it’s keeping me nourished and alive.”

Does the magic exist for new and younger visitors? “The person to ask is an Experience Week guest. A large number of people have some heart-opening and experience of a different way to live. I see it does do that.”

Craig in the pottery studio at his recycled whisky barrel home

Perhaps more than anyone else I know, I see Craig being totally open and welcoming to a constant stream of visitors to his recycled whisky barrel home and wild and abundant permaculture garden.

“It is important for me to live a holistic lifestyle and allow younger generations to experience an environment that is soft, playful and fun, while exposing them to the practical reality of fulfilling their dreams. I use the house and garden and my daily life as part of the classroom for my work as an educator. And I believe that the best way to mentor and support others is to invite them into my own spaces and experiences.”

Fun and laughter are part of the mix and a popular Findhorn saying is: “If it isn’t fun it isn’t sustainable.”

Of course, living in community brings its own challenges. “The hardest lessons of my life have been here,” Craig admits. “They’re a place that says ‘OK Craig, you are the problem. So resolve that within yourself and with one another.’

“It’s a constant thing of renewal of yourself and your attitude. Don’t go to sleep. It’s too easy to go to sleep.”

Playing his digeridoo during a nature sharing

Despite his obvious energy and vitality, some community members worry about Craig’s health and current cancer journey, although he personifies an embracing of life and letting go of fear and limiting beliefs.

“I almost have a naïvety about health, even though I have cancer again. I had my first bout of cancer when I was 24 and if I look at my health thing I’ve had my appendix removed, my tonsils removed, melanomas removed, I’ve had dengue fever, been shipwrecked, held hostage … and all these things could be life-threatening. But they’re just things that are happening and I don’t have any fear around them.

“When it comes to cancer I’ve been living with it fairly consciously for over 50 years and my first choice was to stop cobalt therapy while in my 20s. It was so debilitating and the worst possible experience …”

Around three years ago he was diagnosed with an aggressive prostate cancer and chose not to go under the knife, or have any chemical or radiation treatments. Instead he embraced a series of mistletoe treatments and modified his lifestle to avoid toxins while eating healthy organic food, much of it from his own garden.

“The mistletoe has an intelligence I have to work with,” he explains. “I’m not looking to eradicate the cancer or cure myself. I’m just learning to live with it. I think we’re all living with cancer to some degree, and through some process of imbalance, it asserts its presence.”

Craig mentors dynamic young activists like Maria Cooper who play an increasingly important role in shaping the community of tomorrow

He looks at humanity and the spread of cities, deforestation and climate change and sees parallels with the explosive growth of cancer cells. “I used to refer to us as a plague of locusts  … it seems we humans are very paranoid about cancer and fighting it tooth and claw. I have to release myself from a paradigm of a battle that I have to win.

“How can I live with it and with global warming and be responsible, grow my own food, reduce my footprint, recycle and create a permaculture loop where there is no waste?

“I’ve been blessed with an upbeat, positive, almost childlike attitude to life, and feel freer now than ever.”

To make his point he laughingly bursts into song, singing lines with which his mother serenaded him during his early childhood: ‘When I grow up I want to be me, the best me you ever did see, so my task will always be, to keep me free.’

Geoff Dalglish


Writing your own obituary

posted 11 Jul 2018, 01:45 by Geoff Dalglish


'What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly'


Richard Bach, author and philosopher


Imagine that you are attending a funeral. Feel the atmosphere: perhaps a grey, wintry day and gentle rain glistening on a huddle of people predominantly dressed in black, the sombre voice of a priest intoning the last rites as a spade scatters earth and stones on the coffin. 


Let your imagination roam free. Maybe the soundtrack of the deceased’s favourite music is playing and a relative sobbing, while others sniff noisily and dab ineffectively with handkerchiefs ... or perhaps there are no regrets and it is a joyful celebration of a life of contribution lived to the full.


Now rewind a few minutes to the service in the church and look into the open coffin ... and see yourself lying there.


What do you think and feel? What obituary would you write for yourself and how would those words compare with how your family, friends and colleagues view your time on this Earth?


This was a fascinating exercise conducted during a Findhorn community workshop a while ago and the unspoken message was simple: ensure that the life you are living is the grandest expression of your highest ideals and how you’d like to be remembered. Today, rather than tomorrow.



Would someone be moved to say: “Geoff had fun up until his very last breath. He sucked the juice out of life and was a free spirit, a loving Dad, Grandad and a true friend of the Earth. He believed that service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth - and his life was a reflection of that.”


The exercise reminded me of the inspiring example of Brooke Astor, New York’s First Lady of Philanthropy who died in 2007 at the age of 105.


By night she reigned over New York society with a disdain for pretension, and by day devoted her time and considerable resources to New York’s unfortunate - for decades she was known as the city’s unofficial first lady.


With a wink and a smile she liked to quote the leading character in Thornton Wilder’s play, The Matchmaker, saying: “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it is spread around.”


I was deeply moved by something she wrote entitled When I Go From Here.



WHEN I GO FROM HERE


When I go from here, I want to leave behind me a world that will be richer for the experience of me.


I want creatures – the animals and the birds – to be less afraid of human beings because they have known me, because I have blessed and loved them and, far from doing them any harm, have done them good. 


I want to leave trees that are rustling with my thoughts; trees that have heard me speaking to them when we were alone together, trees that, one day long after my form has disappeared, shall still in some mysterious way, cherish in their very beings their secret knowledge of me, so that others who seek shelter from the rain or who seek shade under their branches, shall catch the peace that went out from me.


I want to leave the whole of Nature nearer to the whole of man. I want to store up riches in the wind, and to leave blessings travelling upwards to the stars. I want to leave my peace in the grass. I want the tears that I have shed for the sake of high love to come again in the dew. I want to leave Nature richer for having known me.


I want to leave my fellow man more sure that there is a Divinity that shapes his ends. I want to leave him with the knowledge that death is nothing and life is everything.


When I go from here, I want to leave behind me a deeper sense of God.



 Geoff Dalglish


Honouring Peace Pilgrim

posted 6 Jul 2018, 04:36 by Geoff Dalglish

Geoff against the backdrop of Mount Everest or Chomolungma, the Goddess Mother of Mountains


Life is like a mirror. Smile at it and it smiles back at you’

Peace Pilgrim

 

Saturday July 7 is the seventh anniversary of an event that changed my life – I went from Petrolhead to Pilgrim with my vow to walk the equivalent of the circumference of the planet with messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon our beloved Mother Earth.

Now, more than 25,000km and many millions of steps later, I’m examining what comes next and feeling deep gratitude for the love, magic and miracles that have characterised my odyssey. I’m remembering so many highlights topped by my walk through six countries and four European mountain ranges as an ambassador for WILD10, the 10th World Wilderness Congress. And more recently as a pilgrim walking California’s Owens Valley from source to sea during the Walking Water initiative that is both a social and environmental action and a prayer. www.walking-water.org

Remembering also the incredible pain and hardships, perhaps worst of which was lying exhausted in deep mud and being repeatedly wakened by slithering slugs crawling across my face.

That was truly a Dark Night of the Soul and followed some Dark Nights of the Soles where I had pushed myself absurdly hard, with my feet and back crying out for relief. Why? What was I thinking?

Just 11 days into my world walk on July 18, 2011 – Nelson Mandela’s birthday – I experienced another milestone, but not without some unexpected help.

Spiritual and ecological activist Satish Kumar  


My plan had been to complete the walk from the Hebridean Isle of Iona to the celebrated Findhorn Foundation community that is my spiritual home. The last day was a 16-hour, 50km traverse between Granton-on-Spey in the heart of Scottish whisky country, and the Findhorn Community Ecovillage, with a detour to the Cluny Hill former Victorian hotel that accommodates community co-workers and guests alike.

Just minutes into the walk I realised I was physically and mentally shattered and couldn’t walk another step. I discarded my 20kg rucksack and wondered if I’d ever have the strength to lift it again. “I need help, please help,” was my silent and desperate entreaty to the heavens.

Then something magical and mystical happened. The pain eased and when I attempted to lift the bag, it had no weight! I set off again with a spring in my step and began fantasising about treats I’d love, the list topped by a slab of chocolate.

Some hours later I spotted the first and only other hiker of the day coming towards me and quickly realised it was my friend John Willoner. He’d guessed I be on that route, on that day, and his pack was crammed with goodies with which to welcome me back to Findhorn. You guessed it: chocolate and delicious snacks.

I’d set off at 6am and finally reached my goal at around 11pm, feeling unstoppable and wondering if I should keep walking, just for the joy of it.

'Peace Pilgrim' is a major source of inspiration. Visit www.peacepilgrim.org 

On that day and almost every other I’ve given thanks for inspiration that has come from many sources. These include my daughters Bonnie and Tammy, the Findhorn community, ecological and spiritual activist Satish Kumar, and Peace Pilgrim, a remarkable silver-haired woman who walked tirelessly for 28 years in North America, vowing: “I will remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.”

Known simply as Peace Pilgrim she said a pilgrim’s job was to rouse people from apathy and make them think, adding: “Love is the greatest power on Earth. It conquers all things.”

Penniless and walking without any organisational backing, she touched the lives of countless thousands who were inspired by her message of achieving peace between nations, individuals and that all-important inner peace that is the starting point.

On July 7, 1981 she died instantly in a car accident when she was being driven to a talk she was offering. She was 72 and had said in an interview the day before: “Death is a beautiful liberation into a freer life.”

Exactly 30 years later I went from Petrolhead to Pilgrim and from a more car-based materialistic life to that epic walk that started on the sacred Isle of Iona. The choice of the date was a way of honouring Peace Pilgrim’s remarkable legacy and the many lives she has touched.

Today I see each step upon the Earth as a prayer and a blessing, given and received. And I try to walk as a pilgrim who sees the sacred in everything around me, rather than a tourist who simply views the Earth as a collection of goods and services.

I walk in gratitude for the many gifts I receive from valuable insights to the smiles and greetings of strangers. Life is so precious!

The Mayoral welcome for Geoff, friend John Horler and other walking pilgrims at WILD10, the 10th World Wilderness Congress in Salamanca, Spain in 2013

 Walking from source to sea through California's Owens Valley - known as Payahuunadu to the indigenous Paiute tribes


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.”

https://www.treepeople.org/lawatercollaborative

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’

Proverb

 

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

 

 


 


 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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