Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reflections on the Longest Walk

I woke up this morning thinking about the very powerful work that is getting done on the Longest Walk. The young people who spoke about how the Walk was changing their lives, the people who received us in their different communities, the mix of ethnicities and cultures, the power of the land and the spirits of the land that we encounter in the walk.

Of course, there is difficulty--the usual interpersonal conficts that occur when a group of people are thrown together for any length of time. Some people complained about the 'negativity' of some of the people---but this 'negativity' has the potential to be part of the healing process of the Walk. (Also,kind of ironic--complaining about negativity!)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Houston, Texas

Took the Greyhound bus to Houston Texas where I will visit my friends Mike and Nic for awhile, two musicians from San Francisco who have bought an apartment building here and are having a go at being bigtime landlords.

I haven't been to Houston for thirty years. It's as hot and muggy as I remember it, though somewhat nicer--green and fashionable neighborhoods I never had a chance to visit the first time around.

My friends live in Cloverleaf, on the edge of Houston. Mexican restaurants, thrift stores, various businesses catering to automobiles, some with big signs with pictures of Jesus next to radiators and American flags saying "God Bless My Business, God Bless America."

I have decided to rejoin the Longest Walk later on.

Here's a picture of a Cloverleaf cat.

Austin Again

Back to Austin for several days where, this time without the bad cold, I could actually better appreciate my cuzns and the city of Austin, which has a relaxed flavor and a distinctly colorful architectural style which I liked.

We spent earth day in a small town outside of Austin, enjoying the exhibits, fishing for crawdads in a tiny plastic pool, riding on a glass bottom boat, and sitting on the grass listening to country and bluegrass music.

I am thinking a lot about my Texan ancestors since I've been here--hearing some of the fiddling of my great-grandfather in the bluegrass music, looking at maps and actually putting locations to the names of places I'd only heard about.

My cuzns wife Nina--a new cousin-- has been most hospitable. An engineer who became a later mother, she's dealing with two very young children in her early forties.

Ani, the baby, has discovered her index finger, and uses it frequently to point out the wonders of the world, accompanying the finger with excited indecipherable baby noises.

Eagle Pass, Texas

Drove down to Eagle Pass, Texas from Austin, to visit the Texas Kickapoo. Some of my ancestors may have been Kickapoo. so this was a special trip for me.

Eagle Pass is a sleepy little border town which has pretty much been absorbed by Mexico. Most people in town are of Mexican ancestry and speak Spanish--very few 'guero' faces here, outside of mine.

I found a delightful bed and breakfast called Weyrich Farms, a sprawling green pecan farm on the edge of the Rio Grande, run by two tall Texan ladies, mother and daughter. Leah (daughter) and I spent some time chillin on the edge of the Rio Grand, her drinking bourbon and me water, laughing and talking about where life takes you. I also went for long walks with their dogs, one with four legs and the other with three.

Spent a lot of time recuperating from my cold.

Finally got ahold of the Kickapoo tribal chairman for an interview at the end of the week. They are busy rebuilding their morale and finances after the corruption fiasco of a few years ago.

The Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino slot machines gave me some money for my trip. That was nice.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Austin, Texas

My father arrived in Window Rock after the walk. From there we drove to a motel in Gallup, and then hit the road early the next morning for the long drive to Austin, Texas, to visit cousins.

Unfortunately, I arrived in Texas with a bad cold and have been fighting it for the last week.

My father has since returned to L.A., while I have stayed here trying to recuperate and also catching up on life with my cousin, who has two delightful daughters I hadn't met before. Carina, four, who is exploring the world the way four year olds do, and a joyful one year old named Ani.

His mother Anne Marie ,is also here. She was nineteen when my uncle married her and is now sixty eight. Always a gracious and thoughtful person, even more now that she's aged.
We watched some old movies she made of her and her kids over the years.

An interesting trip down memory lane for all of us. Hard to believe how many grey hairs we all have now.

Good to catch up with all of them. Anne Marie and I talked about how you can tell whether or not a person has "followed their blueprint" in life--which to me seems to be the ultimate measure of success. Did you grow the way you were meant to and blossom in a way that is natural to you, or did you find yourself sidetracked, or stuck in the wrong box?

Fortunately, it seems to me that for the most part my family members all seem to have followed their original blueprints.

Navajo Nation: Window Rock

After a couple of days rest in Ganado, it was finally a day to walk.

My father had given up on the tent and taken a motel in Gallup. I stayed with the walkers.

We did around twelve miles, and were joined by local people from the rez--young and old, on feet, in wheelchairs, everybody moving towards Window Rock as the Buddhist monks and nuns kept time with their drum.

I made some new friends. One of them, also named Lisa, had a sore foot and wasn't going to walk, but she was asked to drum with the Buddhists, so walked anyway. She lived on the reservation. This was the first time she had left her 5 kids for any substantial amount of time. Her husband was taking care of the kids while she walked.

She says she'll go as long as this arrangement seems to work.

This was the first day of 'serious' walking for me. The beginning and end were fine--the worst part was in the middle. I also realized that I brought too much weight in my bag.

On the way, I spoke to another woman from the rez who had gone to California to live and then returned. "It's good to be home," she said.

We were greeted at Window Rock by speeches by members of the Navajo tribal council and others--and of course, food.

The welcome and appreciation the walkers have received from communities along the way has been phenomenal.

Navajo Nation: Canyon de Chelly

The Dine say that Canyon de Chelly is the center of Navajo Nation. Unfortunately, it does not legally belong to them, but to the US Park Service. We gathered in a forested area just outside the canyon, listened to speakers talk about the canyon, and ate.

Afterwards, we piled onto several pick-up trucks that drove us across the shallow river. One of them got stuck. Once in the canyon, the walkers sang The Longest Song--a song they sing at every community they stop at, each time adding a new verse. The verse here was: "Dine Nation is where we are, Canyon de Chelly is their home."

I found myself in tears again in the Canyon. Somehow the overwhelming magnificence of the canyon mixed with some of the residual grief I was feeling about Denise's suicide, as well as the power, sorrow and the beauty of the Navajo people, and I was caught in one of those painfully aware moments of the exquisite contradictions of this thing we call life.

I had to leave the circle of singing and stand by myself for awhile, next to the river. Behind me I heard someone say, " That's Mother Earth, crying through her."

Navajo Nation: Ganado Chapter/Window Rock

At Ganado, I convinced my father to set up his new tent and try camping out, something he hadn't done for probably 40 years. It was pretty funny, the two of us wrestling with how to set up this tent neither of us understood, while the wind blew us and the tent all over the place in the high desert of the Navajo Nation.

Finally, a friendly young Japanese guy helped us out.

I was very impressed with my Dad's willingness to try new things--but then he's always been that way.

The walkers had a couple of days off, so Dad and I went to Window Rock, where we visited the zoo and the Navajo Museum. Unfortunately, the main exhibit of the museum was closed, but the zoo was lovely--the animals, each with a partner, seemed relaxed and well taken care of.

Navajo Nation: Greasewood Chapter

So my father and I drove across Arizona, to Flagstaff, where we joined with the Longest Walk Two, who we found already walking down the highway to the Greasewood Chapter of the Navajo Nation.

A few more walkers had joined the group, which is now up to about 175. Only about 50 of these were walking when we caught up with them--at any given time, some of the walkers will be on kitchen or clean up duty and not walking.

It was good to see familiar faces from six weeks ago, when I walked in California--Emmet, the 76 year old runner, Julia, who seemed a little overburdened with responsiblities, Tony Galli from Pit River who had introduced me to the walk, looking windblown and tired but happy, young Andrea from DQ still striding along calmly. And of course Dennis, fiery as ever as he speaks to the group and reminds them of why they are walking.

Some of the people who had said they were going to do the whole walk had dropped out. Not surprising--this is not an easy endeavor, not just for the physical challenge, but for the emotioinal challenge of a multi-cultured multi-generational bunch of people thrown together on a strenous walk.

At Greasewood Chapter, two elderly Dine women sang, and then we danced. I was moved nearly to tears.