Friday, May 30, 2008

Still in New Orleans

Hello everyone -- I have some new pictures for you here shortly I hope - my computer is still being feisty with me. We think it's the power cord that is funky and hope to get that fixed today. So...with the fact that I only have a little battery power left, I thought I would use it to just write a little something about what's been going on for us.

P.J. left our walk yesterday which was devastating to our spirit. Depending on who you listen to; he was either asked to leave or he chose to leave. In talking with P.J., he felt good with his decision and has no regrets - as he put it, "Hey, me and Creator are good...Creator released me from a commitment that was hard." and that works for me in my heart.

But his leaving has been a catalyst to emotions that have plagued our intimate family ever since Canton, OK...when the four of us sat down and made a pact, that whatever happens...we would get each other to Washington, D.C. There has been so much going on within camp politics, camp behavior...that we have all been questioning our commitment to stay here.

Well, I just got my 3 minute warning on my battery power.'re gonna have to wait to hear what that is all about ...hopefully not to long. At this point I am staying...can't speak for the rest.

Will keep ya posted.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Here's one for Jen's family

Feel I've been remiss in posting Jen pictures. Here's a beautiful one that I took today at the Dulac Community Center. Jen has been working hard on re-organizing the kitchen trailer. A totally necessary and mostly thankless task. Carrie helped her, but even Carrie said that it was Jen who was the taskmaster of this operation.

Anyhoo -- we love Jen.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Jun-san Interview

I've mentioned Jun Anju-san several times over the course of the last three months and really wanted to sit and do an interview with her. When I asked her, she said, "Nikki-san -- you read these articles, get your information."

I couldn't tell if it was modesty or that she was just entirely too busy - but she handed me these wonderful articles written about her this past February for the Bennington Banner, a New York area paper. "These are front page stories. It is amazing - this is conservative paper, from conservative town, it's amazing to me that they write about Buddhist nun in this paper." She let me know that I only had tonight to read them because she was sending them to her mother in the morning.
And it kind of struck me that Jun-san had a mother. Not that she wouldn't of course, but....I would love to meet her mother.

As a disclaimer, before we get any further, I would like to add that any background information in this piece is from the Banner article, written by Mark E. Rondeau, including some quotes. Anything written specifically about the Longest Walk is my work. Okay.

I have grown to have incredible affection for this woman over the past several months. She used to scare the crap out of me...she is so feisty and determined and just has this strength of spirit and body that is simply impressive. She will be 60 this year and can walk circles around anybody in this camp -- she mentions this frequently when she sees people not walking. Especially the young people. "I am 60 years old. I walk every day 15-16-17-20 miles. You should walk every day..all you young people."

I have loved hearing her stories -- she was a wild child, she talks about having an evil twin as a way to separate the chanting nun from her more...mmmm...rambunctious side. She grew up in Tokyo riding motorcycles and hanging out with a rowdy bunch of kids. She married, divorced and headed to India. She was unhappy.

In India she saw people connected to a more natural way of living. Because of their poverty, most people didn't have electricity and rose and slept with the sun's movement. She noticed that despite their poverty, people were generally happy. She came to realize that her unhappiness was related to not living a natural life.

And it was there in India that she met a man named Nichidatsu Fujii who founded the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order, of which she was ordained in 1977. This order is known for their fasts for peace and social justice and for building of peace pagodas around the world. They are a walking, chanting order - using the small hand taiko they chant Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo. This chant is at the center of their order and comes from the Lotus Sutra teachings of the Buddha.

If you ask Jun-san what the chant means she will tell you something like, "you know what it means." or something equally Buddhist. She will chant it. She will also greet you with it when she hasn't seen you for a bit. It's how she answers the phone. It's her spirit. It is said that this chant encompasses prayer for all beings and things and is essential for bringing peace to the world.

Jun-san recently left the Walk for 10 days to return to her Peace Pagoda (one of only two Peace Pagodas in the U.S. - she was gifted this land in 1983 and work was completed in 1998) in Grafton, New York where her community hosted their annual Flower Festival, honoring Buddha's birthday. We missed her while she was gone. She said that we wouldn't, because of the evil twin theory, but we did.

There is an order to things when she is here and a consistency of spirituality...her drumming, her chanting..even though we had the wonderful monks Gilberto Shonin and Kenaida Shonin here to keep the chanting and morning prayers going...Jun-san keeps us moving. If we have more than a couple of days in one place, she will make sure we do directional walks, or sunrise walks...for her, these are not walks for walking sakes, "it is good discipline, to walk every day." Sometimes we tease her and tell her she's addicted to it. "like cigarette," she's said. "but, I no give up walking. I give up cigarette." She was a heavy smoker in her day...drinker, partier. "I crazy woman."

I find her inspiring because of her commitment to her order, to her prayer. Since coming to the states and walking in 78 - she has walked thousands of miles all over the world. For the disarmament of nuclear weapons, for the end to war, for political prisoners. She has chanted outside prison walls for Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal and for Dennis. She fasted outside the White House for 55 days in protest of the first Gulf War. According to the Banner article; “Fasting is a good way to connect, to understand suffering people. When people see me fasting, people change their mind.”

This morning I was able to sit with her for a few minutes and ask her about the differences between the 78 and 08 walks, and how she felt this one was going. She told me: "In 1978 I was still just 29-30 years old. My personal way was that I know no English, nothing about Native culture, so I just walk, walk, walk, walk. In 1978 we walk many more miles. Thirty miles everyday and no stopping sometimes for 2 or 3 hours. But sometimes people were tired and they ride bus. But monks were crazy, we just walk, walk, walk, walk."

At the end of the walk, in D.C., her teacher Fujii came and spoke at the closing ceremony. "He told us Japanese people," she remembers, "That our mission in United States is to support Native people because if you make United States for peace, Native prayer is center to this land."

She continued, "And this is most important to me. Not bringing Buddhism, but I feel that Native people's prayer is center for making peace. Native people have a very deep connection with Nature. When my teacher told us this, I felt very same thing and understand what he's talking about. He also said that Native people's history has been so much destroyed by Western culture and Western civilization and so the Native people get weak; so we should beat drum and walk behind them. When I was young nun, just ordained in 1978, I know nothing about Buddhism. But I know I could walk and drum and pray behind Native people. And I have been doing that for 30 years, walking and drumming behind Native people."

I asked her about the difference in focus on these two walks.

"In 1978 the issues were focused on Native people's rights, water rights, treaty rights. Today this is focused on everybody, all nations - so there is more connection to Earth. This walk is very key to the world because we are all related to the planet. Native people have most deep connection to nature and their prayer is deep connection to nature and this is very important key for the world and for all nations. All of these issues are the same all over the world, so I mean everywhere we have to raise up consciousness; so this is a good chance for all nations to come together to do this. So my message to people is that there is no time for war, we have to take care of this beautiful planet and we should be taking care together."

We talked about hopefulness, I told her that some people have lost hope for the healing of Earth. "There is no meaning, hope or not hope. You just have to do, otherwise this planet is finished. People say I am one person, Jun-san cannot change Earth, she has no power, it is not possible. But first you have to do some action. But I have lots of hope, this walk we see many people waving, many people saying hello, many people bringing water. This is hopeful, many people are becoming aware and raising consciousness."

"I appreciate very much people giving up their lives, their money, their school, their family to come on this walk. I think all people here have very deep connection to Earth spirit. People will start talking about other people not walking, or other people are lazy. But I do not believe that. Every person here has good things to offer, each person is helping in their own way. It does no good to look at other people and point fingers. You look at yourself and ask yourself if you are doing what you can do."

I told her I was impressed with the fact that she is up early, chanting; walking every day, drumming every day...that it was hard work.

"Oh no," she said, and she laughed, "hard work is having family life, seeing same guy all the time, same cooking for same people. Having to make money. Go to office. Go to computer. That is hard. This is easy."

Well, when you put it that way...

I love her sense of humor. She is so approachable and I rarely see her take things to seriously (except for walking of course). The other day, one of our walkers, Amy Wagner, asked a question about why she walks behind the monks, so we asked her.

"Oh, because they are monks, I am nun. Woman. That's because when we go through the forest and the elephants come, the men get stomped first."

Nice one Jun-san.

I have had moments of frustration with her though too...I'll admit. But it's fleeting. This morning I was surprised by a 5am walk. I have never missed a walk by being unprepared for it..I was tenting behind the building and really just missed all the hustle. I was up, but not quite ready when the bus was filled up and ready to go.

"Nikki-san -- you walk today?"
"Jun-san! I didn't know!"
"Where you hiding that you don't know?"

I was mad. Mainly because I would've walked - I like drumming behind her and didn't yesterday and would've welcomed the opportunity. But mainly I felt a little ashamed, didn't want to let her down...think I was a slacker. Thought she was mad at me.

But tonight she came up to me, while I was writing my runner blog and gave me these articles. Looked at my pictures on the blog and all seemed okay. Of course it would. I remember her telling me one day in the parking lot about how all peace walks are the same. "Sometimes people walk, sometimes they don't. It no matter really, people do what they do." with everything...

" run today Nikki-san?"
"How many miles"
"Only four?"

Thanks Jun-san. Truly.

Runner Blog - Raceland to New Orleans

I’ve only just recently joined the cadre of runners that cover long distances for the walk. It’s been a really different challenge from walking and I’ve enjoyed the new experience quite a bit. (Up there in the photo is, from left to right, Joe Spado, Ammon and Kid Valance)

This morning we needed to cover the distance between Raceland and New Orleans so the walkers could walk through the city. A similar distance will be covered tomorrow from New Orleans to our new location in Picayune, Mississippi.

They only needed me to cover 4 miles – which is just about where I’m at as far as distance goes. My first run, about 10 days ago was 2.5 miles – and then last week I did 6 or 7; so the four miles that I committed to seemed like a totally doable amount. Plus, while the weather was still hot, it was cooler than it has been and we got to leave early enough that we weren’t in the super heat of the day (note yesterday’s blog).

Each run that I’ve done has been stronger than the last, which is encouraging…and as it turns out I was nearly able to finish out my entire run without having to stop to walk it off a little. However, today I ended up stopping 40 minutes into my run for water and a little breather (remember Airplane? – oh, nevermind) – and when I started running again, my end marker was right there. That’s okay though…it’s good to know that I’ve increased my endurance steadily even in these last three runs – I’m hopeful that I can get up to ten miles over the next 7 weeks.

Covering the majority of our run today were Kid Valance, Maggie and Ammon; who ran 18, 12, and 9 miles respectively. We were shuttled by returning support and all-around nice guy Joe Spado. While we were waiting for Maggie to finish her run, Joe and I started talking about the fact that it was Memorial Day. I asked him, as a Vet (April 1968-Feb 1970), how he took the day. Note that this discussion started because we noticed a lot of truck traffic and open businesses on a day that was supposed to be a holiday. Here’s what Joe had to say:

“It’s a holiday – well, who gets the holiday on Memorial Day? I see plenty of hustle and bustle, people going to and fro. I’ve passed by two cemeteries this morning and none had a flag flying or anything announcing that there was a service or a program going on. When a nation this big has a holiday…and it’s not even evident what it’s for…I mean maybe people are taking a moment out of their day today, some quiet time to reflect, I would hope so anyway.
You know in the Native community veterans are remembered at ceremonies all the time. Vets are recognized and mentioned. You know, those who are veterans – in war – in combat, you will have a brother or a sister who you will always remember; and then you will remember everything else that goes along with that. And I have a specific person in mind when I think about Memorial Day, you know, this was a human being. I’m glad we are finishing up (the run) early today because when we have circle tonight I’m going to honor my fallen friend and all the others who have served and who are serving – I brought my drum and I’m going to sing my song and that’ll be good.”

Thanks Joe, and for all the men and women who have served in our armed forces. We have many veterans on this walk, and I have friends back home who have served in Vietnam, Korea and now in Iraq and Afghanistan. No matter my political feelings about these things, I honor those people who have given up their lives for what they believe in…and sometimes even when they don’t.

We had picked up Ammon already, who had finished his 9 miles, and so the three of us were there to greet Maggie when she came in from doing her 12. Maggie is hysterical because she is so passionate about picking up trash that she even does it on her running stints. She showed up with some red caution tape tied around her waist that held a discarded Louisiana license plate, a bungee cord and a glove “for the trash crew, oh, and I found a baseball, but it was all ripped up so I didn’t keep it. And can you let people know that on my birthday (on Wednesday) I want everyone to pick up trash.”

So noted, Maggie.

She also told me that she came across some men fishing in the Bayou and stopped to talk to them, “hey…I hope you aren’t going to eat that fish, because did you know that these waters have more bacteria than any other place in Louisiana?”

“God will take care of us,” they said back to her.

“Okay, have a nice day!”

And she ran off. She said she recently learned that they've been doing water testing down here for three years and have just got those results back. They're hoping to start educating the public about the health risks of fishing and swimming down here in the Bayou…hope it works.

We had to drive about 20 miles or so to pick up Kid who was running straight to the Superdome, that’s where the Walk will start from tomorrow morning. We were about a mile away from the parking lot when we heard, “HEY!!” And there was Kid, sitting on a stoop. He told us he didn’t think we’d be able to find him in all that mess, so he just came up to meet us at the offramp.

How was your run, Kid?

“Sweltering hot. But I did have some excitement trying to cross that bridge.”

That would be the Huey P. Long Bridge crossing into New Orleans, a nearly two mile stretch of road – and, as we discovered when the three of us were driving across it to pick Kid up – that pedestrians were not allowed.
“Jeez, I hope he didn’t get arrested trying to cross this thing,” Joe said.


Apparently, while he was approaching the walkway onto the bridge, Kid heard that distinct, “whoop, whoop,” of police sirens. “Well, I took another step,” Kid said, “and there it was again, so I turned around and saw two state troopers sitting there and they were definitely looking at me.”

I can’t go into the entire discussion that was had between Kid and these two officers, because I just can’t do it justice here. Let’s just say that he was not allowed to cross it on foot and that the one key phrase I remember him being told was, “If you’re gonna cross that bridge, you better give me your I.D. now boy, ‘cause you gonna be dead.” I don’t think they meant to infer that he would be shot or anything…I hope…I think they were proposing that traffic was so crazy and the lanes so narrow that he would likely not survive the cars whizzing past. I’m sure that’s what they meant.

Anyway he said the officers told him that a bus went across the bridge and that if he was determined to cross it, that would be the way to go. The bus stop was down the street at a gas station so he headed over there and was informed that the bus didn't run on holidays.

So Kid headed back out to the street to try to hitchike across it when (after another little conversation with the police who were definitely giving him the stink-eye) a bus started rounding the corner.

Kid sprinted over to it (‘cause, you know, he’s a runner) and he had enough change on him for the fare. Kid said to the bus driver, who was the only person on the bus, "Hey, I was told these busses don't run on holidays."

"And this bus driver sort of paused and looked down, nodding his head and then said, 'Mmmmmm, well now see, this particular bus run on this particular holiday."

When Kid had him drop him off just on the other side of the bridge, the driver asked him where he was going.

“The Superdome.”

”What?! Now, you know that’s nearly twelve miles out from here?”

Kid said, “The guy thought I was nuts, he kept trying to give me transfers, he was shaking his head at me when I told him that we were doing this thing on foot. I’ll tell you though, he was the perfect anecdote for the previous experience with the law.”

Thanks Kid…so glad you had a safe run without any jail or hospital time. What a trooper.

And that’s how that all went today.

Sorry Theresa - meant to get this one on last night

We wouldn't want to forget about the other prized possession from the gift box. She wore this for two days, I'll have you know. You are a very sweet Mama.

Walker Blog - Dulac, New Orleans

You know those movies where they are displaying “heat?” There’s usually a shot of a big ball-o-fire sun, it’s usually kind of wavy – sometimes they show just a bleached out scene with a soundtrack of cicadas in the background…everything is kind of still and lethargic.
Do you have that picture in your head? Good.
That’s what today’s walk was like…it was hot, hot, hot. The temperature was in the upper eighties and the humidity monitor was set on “sopping friggin wet.” When I woke up this morning in my tent I may as well have been in a steam room.
But…no matter…this is what our day had in store for us as we prepared to do a 12 mile walk in the Dulac and Dularge Communities.

Jamie Billiot, the Executive Director of the Dulac Community Center spoke to us in circle before our walk began. She told us of the environmental concerns that have been affecting this area for some time and are of great concern to local residents.

One of the facts that really stuck with me was learning that these folks are losing land at a rate of one football field every 20 minutes through erosion. When we were being bussed to our starting point today we actually saw a patch of vegetation as big as a kitchen table floating down the bayou. The reasons for this are two-fold:

One; oil companies have been drilling and dredging and removing most of the minerals from the soil without replacing any of the natural content of the land – thereby making the soil fragile and unable to support itself.
Secondly; while the manmade levees offer protection from rising floodwaters during hurricane season the problem with them is that they also prevent sediment that naturally settles after flood events from replacing eroding soils. Locals predict that much of the land in this community – including what we were standing on this morning – will be gone in twenty years.

Another environmental concern is the loss of the beautiful cypress tree and the creatures that use that forested habitat. The cypress is a freshwater tree, but the erosion is also allowing more salt waters from the Gulf to leech into the bayou waters…killing off the cypress. This was a lot of info early in the morning, and I really appreciated Jamie taking the time to let us know these issues before we began our walk. It always helps me to know what is going on in an area while I am walking…it keeps me focused when my mind drifts or I start to think about how hot it is…all this info reminds me why we are here, so thanks so much Jamie.

The day started off hot and just kept climbing. We were lucky enough to take a break in the shade and listen to Jamie Luster talk to us about some of the local vegetation and there traditional uses.

She showed us the Spanish Moss that was hanging off the trees and told us that this was used as a pain reliever and fever reducer when boiled in a tea. She also said that local women would craft the fibers into skirts. Much later, this plant was used by upholsters in cushions and sofas and that the first automobile seats were stuffed with Spanish moss.
Then she showed us the palmetto plant and taught us how these plants were used to make baskets….so that was all very cool.

We finished up our walk at the Knights of Columbus Hall where we were fed an amazing lunch of breaded and baked fish, shrimp boulets (sp), salad, rice and white beans and desert. It was all soooo good and I am definitely now a fan of Louisiana cooking. Everyone was so sweet to us and I wanted to pass on how appreciative everyone was of the lovely meal and the air conditioning!!

So thanks so much everyone – it was a beautiful day (hey, did I mention we saw a real live alligator cruising along in the bushes alongside us? We did!) and I’m looking forward to checking out another portion of this community tomorrow.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Orleans = music and gift packages from home

Gift Packages are fun. I got one from my Aunt and from Gwen and Joan. Got really, nice practical stuff from everyone as well as some super fun stuff and nice treats.

I picked up the one from my aunt at the post office...but I got my other one sent to Kathleen's brother Mark's house. He lived in New Orleans for about 20 years - he now lives out of the country but rents his place to a really nice man named John who let us have mail sent there.

Kathleen said that it was really weird being in town without her fun brother Mark there and she wanted me to take this picture of her sitting on the steps outside his house. It's such a sad photo! Don't worry Mom, she didn't stay this way long.

Anyway, we opened Kathleen's gift box at Cafe du Monde -- here is the prize item -- hysterical, this is a front and back view.
P.S. Susannah, Mary and Lizzie - this is from Kathleen.......nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah -- you have to imagine her doing that in a "look-what-I-have-that-you-don't" voice.

We also got some homemade chocolate chip cookies sent - here is all that remains from that. The cookies were a perfect treat next to our cafe latte's - thanks Mom!

Here's another couple of photos from our party at the Cafe. This is the cutest picture of the cutest couple ever.

Here's the scene from our party of 12 or so -- there's Mike on the left - that was a really pleasant surprise, wasn't expecting to see him at all. We also had Ammon, Wako and Kira join us. Really, really nice night.

I don't want to gloss over the fact that there is still evidence of Katrina everywhere in New Orleans. Kathleen talked about it "just not feeling right." I couldn't imagine really living there .. on my early morning walk I saw so many boarded up and condemned houses; found this writing on the concrete.

Carrie, Joe, Jen and P.J. went to the Ninth Ward to talk to folks and witness the continued devastation there. Kathleen, Fritz and I didn't go there - and I'm hoping Carrie will share some photos. Gwen asked me to take pictures around town...and I've got some video...but I don't know how to post that yet...and I just didn't want to take pictures of people's destroyed homes.

It's funny though..cruising around the drunken fumes of the French Quarter, seeing all the tourists careening around - I wonder how much people really thought about what had happened here three years ago...and how much a lot of the local residents have been left behind along with all of that destruction. I would see these bumper stickers all over saying things like "(RE)New Orleans" and, "Proud to call New Orleans my Home." I suppose all I'm saying is that I'm sorry so many of you are still suffering through that disaster and I pray that the right help arrives before hope is lost. And it's hard to know, right? I was there for a day...that's just the feeling the day left me with.

Loved this little trio we saw -- it was actually the last thing I got to see before I left town and I'm glad this is the image I will remember.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Quick! Get some pictures up before we get kicked out of the room!

Okay, now I have a little time to write some captions to these photos so they have some context. I'm hoping to get some photos from Carrie as well, 'cause she takes excellent shots and she spent a lot more time in New Orleans than I was.

Anyhoo -- one of the coolest things about being in New Orleans was seeing and catching up with many old friends from the walk, many of whom we last saw at Navajo Technical College in New Mexico. We got into town late at night and were able to get ahold of Wade and Mary who are living there and working with Felipe. We ended up camping at Felipe's place near the French Quarter that night and they made us a nice breakfast the next morning. Here is (from left to right): Wako, who just recently rejoined our group, Joe Spado, who also returned last week to our absolute joy, "Cousin" who works with Felipe, Kathleen, Mary and new walker Kira (sp?). What a lovely scene.

I took this picture for my friend Chaela. Apparantly, the guy who ones the house we were staying at, loves all the neighborhood kitties -- there are about 17 of them who eat out of these bowls.

Saw this photo op on an early morning stroll around the neighborhood in someone's window.

Here's one for the Perillat's

Here is Felipe and his friend Lynn and some other woman who I can't remember her name.

Felipe and Joe Spado having a deep discussion. Joe taught us the Joe Spado song the other day and we sang it that morning. It goes to the tune of the Davy Crockett theme song, "Joey - Joey Spado - he's a real nice guy." It's addicting to sing.

Here's Camp Felipe. I slept on that bench in the foreground. It was SO hot and muggy there in town...but it was also a mosquito haven so I had to actually be in my bag all night - which was like sleeping in a steam bath. But, it was really my own stubborness because I had the choice of being in the big tent or inside...but I like my own space. Hence...bitten all night long.

Awwwwww -- man have I missed Wade. His smile and his laugh and just his passion for life and living a right path. It was so great to see him. I heard he and Mary are planning to head out West in awhile which excites me - 'cause their location is close enough that I would be able to visit from time to time. Yay for that.

Here's a little sculpture scene from the French Quarter.

Here's the Mississippi River - it's not a great photo, but it had to be taken.

Some random photos from the French Quarter. Spot the truck! Kathleen talked about Cafe Du Monde for weeks - and so it was cool to finally get to see it. I actually drank coffee just to say that I did. It was very tasty...chickory I think. The place was packed all the time and they had this little tiny bathroom where, when you waited in line you could watch the kitchen madly at work. All this place served was coffee and beignets - kinda like French donuts with boatloads of powdered sugar on them. There was this huge vat of powdered sugar that they would dip into and pour onto the plate of donuty things. It was kind of intense watching them. It was hot in there - pretty tough work I imagine.

Okey doke, that's it for now. I have some more photos I'm gonna try to post here in a second.

Friday, May 23, 2008

U.S.S. Kidd - Motel Battleship

Never thought I'd ever spend the night on a battleship, but there I was, tucked up on the second deck in my sleeping bag with the Mississipi River rolling on down below me.

Not sure how it came about that we got to sleep on this WWII vessel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and it kind of creeped me out at first - but then it became kind of fun in that uncomfortable sort of way.

A few of us were not prepared to spend the night in the crew quarters below. Too hot. Too claustrophobic. Too many memories, too many ghosts? So maybe a dozen of us found spots in various places topside. Some slept under the massive machine guns or just alongside a steel wall. Kathleen had this nifty little bench next to some 12 foot long missiles. I was on the deck right next to the life rafts. Creepy but kinda cool. I wasn't inspired to take many photos, so even when I can upload them you won't see much.

I slept pretty well though I went to bed really late. It was hot and the mosquitoes were biting the crap out of me. I spent a lot of time walking around the decks, climbing ladders. It was late and the moon was very bright. Sometimes I would come around the corner and find someone sleeping in an odd spot and almost trip on them; but most of the time I wondered what it was like for all those men that lived and fought on this ship back in the day. It's a museum so they still have some of the rooms set up as if you were in the 40's. You could see the old maps and the officer's quarters. Take a look at the kitchen and witness how the bathrooms were set up (no room for modesty there). You could also see postings of the daily schedule to see how these guys spent there time when they weren't in battle.

During WWII, 330 men lived on this ship, nicknamed "the Pirate of the Pacific" - don't know when it was turned into a museum - we didn't get to spend a bunch of time there, but it was a beautiful memorial and it was super cool spending time there. I don't have pictures at this point, they are on Kathleen's phone and I'll get em from her at some point here.

Moving On...

Donaldsonville, Louisiana - the beautiful people of...

We had kind of a crazy entry into Donaldsonville, located about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge. I won't even get into it here - but once we landed I was immediately impressed with the kindness of the folks who greeted us and treated us to their community center and facility; as well as cooked us an amazing jambalaya meal. I told the cook afterwards that I had eaten jambalaya before...but I had never really had it until I had his dish. Man it was tasty.

It's hot down here. Hot and muggy. We took a shower and two minutes later were ready for another one. So there's the mugginess and the damn mosquitoes, "the state bird" as they refer to them down here. I have never been so chewed on in my life. I don't remember mosquitoes ever affecting me this badly before. Yikes. Then there are the chiggers and the ticks and the maneating alligators...but boy is Louisiana a beautiful state.

In the morning Kathleen, Carrie and I were doing are kitchen duty. Somehow our kitchen trailer got left behind in Baton Rouge and by the time it was noticed missing it had been locked behind a gate at the museum. So we had no food and had to run out and purchase a bunch of PBJ fixin's for the walker's lunch.

While we were there we had a most excellent chat with these two gentleman: That's Lincoln Moore on the left, the Assistant Mayor of Donaldsonville. Lincoln is a former Forest Service employee and worked in the Clinton Administration as well. On the right is Norman (Nick) Nicholas who works for the City of Donaldsonville and is as sweet a soul as anyone can meet. In the time we were there that morning they had gotten us ice, milk, water donations and some spray paint that we use to mark the start and end points for the runners. We just had some all around pleasant conversation with these folks and secured the fact for me that the best thing about this walk is meeting the people in all of these towns we pass through.

We also met Donna Schexnaydres, who is married to Councilmember Kent. Together they run a bed and breakfast in town, The Victorian on the Avenue. They are working to help revitalize business in town that slackened off once the interstate was put it...the common theme in the downslide of local commerce. We talked a little bit about Katrina and she told us that many people in town helped house victims of that tragedy. She was on her way to the local television station to do an interview about her experience with the walkers. She helped make the food and hospitality happen for us in Donaldsonville and if I ever get back here to Louisiana I will definitely make a point to spend a little more time in this sweet little town. Thank you Donaldsonville!!

Interview with one of my favorite Walkers, Ray Muckuk

Hey guys, here's an interview I did with Ray last week. I just sent it to the longest walk website and thought I'd post it here too. Like I said earlier to follow later.

Raymond Muckuk Interview

Whenever we get new walkers and they are introduced into the circle, if Dennis is present he will ask them, “and how far are you going!” and I remember when Ray said, “all the way!” Ever since then we’ve called him “All the Way Ray” – or we’ll just refer to him as “All the Way.” It’s a little corny, but it works.

Ray is one of our strongest walkers. He is always out there on the road, either walking or running. He comes from Ontario, Canada and is Ojibwa, “from the Old World.” He now lives in Minnesota where he worked at a homeless shelter before joining the walk. He is quiet and thoughtful and when he speaks, which isn’t often in a group, he is one of those guys who is worth listening to. I should say though, that one on one…the man can talk. With his strong Canadian accent and his methodical way of talking, he can be very hypnotic to listen to…in a good way. I was in the car as part of the running team when we picked him up after he had just finished 15 miles. He had plenty to talk about. Here’s a little interview we did with him. With us was walker/runner Kathleen Perillat who also had a few questions for him.

NJ: Okay, here we go. How did you find out about the walk?
RM: Through a friend one or two days before it started. I quit my job where I was doing security and medical support for the shelter and went to Alcatraz. I thought it would be a good way to discover America and I wanted to go on foot. For me, I’m just learning the cause (of the walk) as I’m going along.

NJ: You are always working out. Even at rest stops we see you doing push ups, how many are you up to a day now?
RM: An easy 500

NJ: Have you always been so physically inclined?
RM: Basically I grew up like that. I want to be physically and mentally ready all the time.

NJ: What’s the longest run you’ve done so far?
RM: 18 miles was the longest stretch. They started giving me 15 miles now. 5 (miles) wasn’t a challenge anymore, or 10 – but, you know…I don’t want to sound arrogant or nothing there.

NJ: How is the walk going for you?
RM: Me, I’ve been accustomed to the chaotic life. I’m a chaotic kind of guy – it don’t bother me, the whining and the crying. For me, I recognize authority and I do what he says. And it doesn’t matter if I like him or I don’t like him; I honor and respect him. I listen to my boss and work to accomplish what he’s doing about the environment.

NJ: Just want to clarify. Who are you referring to?
RM: Mr. Banks

NJ: Thank you. Has anything surprised you so far about the walk?|
RM: I’ve been really surprised with all of the support we’ve been getting (from the communities). It’s a real blessing to be seeing all of that.

NJ: Did you know much about Native issues down here in the states; being from Canada?
RM: I’ve been aware of some of the issues since I came down here in 2006.

NJ: Can you tell me some more about what you’ve learned here?
RM: I guess a lot of it is a spirituality of heart. It’s amazing how everybody tries to reach for whatever they’re after…when it’s really easy to see whose doing it all. You know I appreciate and respect what they (the walk) are doing for me.

At this point Kathleen asked Ray a few questions.

KP: Are you still glad you are here?
RM: Oh I love the challenge and the people that I get to meet. And to break the walls that I’ve been trapped in and to come out and see the real world.

KP: Ever thought of leaving the walk?
RM: Yeah, I get my days. But I always try to understand why I am going through that wall again and try to face it and finish it. It’s been an experience for me to get out of that frame of thinking. Where I get to thinking that everybody is against me.

KP: And you don’t still believe that do you?
RM: Now that I’ve come to believe; so many doors have been opened to me that I know I can succeed in anything I want to do.

KP: Is there one person you’re really glad you’ve met?
RM: (long pause). That’s a really hard one because I enjoy everybody’s company. It’s hard to say because I like all of them. I can’t decide on one only. Why not go out there and experience everybody; where they are from and what they do.

KP: What do you like better, running or walking?
RM: Doesn’t matter

KP: Do you like port-a-potties?
RM: (smiles) That…I have to say yes. It beats going out there in the woods.

KP: Do you still like setting up your tent?
RM: Not really – but I have to do it.

KP: What’s the first thing you want to do in D.C.?
RM: I live for today only. What if the world gets bombed tomorrow? I don’t want to live that far ahead. That’s the challenge, to get by today only, ‘cause I don’t know what tomorrow holds. But the plan is a different thing. I can plan it.

NJ: What are you missing from home?
RM: Being away from home, ever since I was a kid. I knew the dangers of family. I love my family and that’s all they need to know.

NJ: Any favorite treats?
RM: Sugar, I guess. You know I live and hunt for survival, and I have to know how to live in a city too so I can do both. Live in the woods and survive in the city. I was born in the wilderness. Not in a hospital.

KP: If you were interviewing someone, what sort of question would you ask them?
RM: That’s a good question. I don’t know, ‘cause half of the time they would bullshit me if I ask them; so why not see them live it out so I can see if they’re serious about what they are doing. Then I’ll ask them.

NJ: Thanks so much Ray.
RM: Anytime. Make sure I look good for the ladies.

Greetings from the Houma Nation

No pictures to share with you. I am in a computer lab that can't upload pictures from my little camera memory card. We'll be back up and running soon - Carrie's computer has arrived in New Orleans and we'll be picking that up today or tomorrow and she has promised me access to it. Yay for Carrie!
We are really close to the Gulf of Mexico down here in a town called Dulac. One of the many places devastated by Katrina and they are still working on getting themselves back up on their feet. They have been incredibly gracious to us at the last minute. We were supposed to be staying up in Raceland, but it turned torrential on us and flooded out the fields we were to be camping we wound up here at the community center. Grateful for the dry shelter!
We will be here for 5 days I think...things have been changing a lot recently as we wind down. We have 7 weeks left to go people -- seven weeks.
Anyway -- I'm gonna try to capture an interview I did with Kid Valance and put it up here. It's up on the Longest Walk website, but I forgot to put it here. I'll add pictures to it when I get a chance. I love Kid. Truly, truly do. Here it is:

One of the more steady, calming presences on this walk is Sacred Runner Kid Valance. He has a grace and comfort about him that immediately sets you at ease; and a gentle, Kentucky drawl that makes you feel like your sitting on a warm porch, sipping something cool even when you're in the middle of a snowstorm.

I've gotten the opportunity to talk with Kid quite a bit on this walk..checking in about his day, his run..shooting the breeze. Kid is our lead runner and organizes the other runners for the day's outing. Recently, we sat down outside my tent to have a little chat and put this interview together to let folks know a little bit about what makes this man run.

NJ: Tell me about how you started running
KV: I've been running ever since I was a little boy, growing up in Winchester, Kentucky. I had an amazing amount of energy as a kid and found it was a good way to use it up. On Saturday nights I would stay up late, all night in fact. I would wait for the Sunday paper to arrive, the big fat one with all the comics and movie ads in it, and I would read that. And then, right around dawn I would take off before anyone could catch me, and just run. Even as a boy I always had this connection with the Earth and with running that was a spiritual connection. But it wasn't until I did my first Sacred Run that I knew there was a tradition of spiritual running that was a heritage thousands of years old.

NJ: When was this, your first Sacred Run?
KV: That was in 1991, the one we did across Canada.

NJ: How did you find out about it?
KV: I was at a friend's record shop in Cincinnati, Ohio..a little 45 place, you know that kind of store that sold vinyl and I met Emmett Eastman. He was there talking with my buddy and he said, “hey, Kid's a should talk to him.” And that was how I got on my first Sacred Run, it was that year, in '91.

NJ: Had you ever run distance before, competitively or in other marathons?
KV: I had run 15 miles on my own...sometimes all the way up to 25-30 miles a day. In fact, it was my first 25 mile day that I realized there were really no limits to what I could do with my body.

NJ: Dennis talks a lot about how you ran 30 mile days, ever day. Was that in 91?
KV: No, no...that was in 1996 across the States. Yeah, I ran 30 mile days for 104 consecutive days.

NJ: That's amazing, how did your body hold up to that?
KV: Well, we did run hurt...I wasn't the only one of course, there were several of us doing that...but what I found was that even when we ran hurt, our bodies would heal themselves as we ran. Your body can do what you ask it to do.

NJ: After that was over, all those miles, how did you feel?
KV: Honestly, I missed the effort so bad that I went into an amazing depression. I felt lost without all that focus.

NJ: So, tell me about that first Sacred Run, in '91. What was that like for you?
KV: Well it was amazing and I found that I immediately had a connection with it, spiritually, that I never had before.

NJ: Let's sidetrack a bit and talk about your've played at some of our events and even woke us up the other morning with a couple of tunes. How long have you been playing?
KV: I've been singing since I was a teenager, I was fronting bands which was a lot of fun. And then in my twenties I picked up the guitar because I wanted to play the kind of music I wanted to hear, and that wasn't always happening with the bands.

NJ: You write songs as well, how did that come about?
KV: I started writing songs right around the same time I picked up the guitar, I've written about 70 so far...most are for the electric guitar, stuff to be played with a band that doesn't translate well to acoustic. I will say though that I'm almost finished writing my song for the Walk.

NJ: Where are you performing that?
KV: Not sure yet, wherever they ask.

NJ: Do you get nervous performing?
KV: No, not for a long time now. One of the best shows I've ever had was in front of 1200 people, opening for Johnny Winter, they were the perfect audience for me, it was a lot of fun. The most nervous I've been I think was performing for just one person.

At this point in the interview, Walker Carrie Nelson, who is part of a group of new runners walked over to us. I asked her what she thought of Kid.

KV: Hey, do you want me to leave, 'cause I'll get bashful when you start to gushing about me.
CN: (Laughs) You know, one of the things I love about you Kid..and you are one of my favorite people, is that you're a great running coach. You ask people to check-in with their bodies and then encourage them to keep going. I've found that really helpful, to learn how to listen to your body and then slow down if you need to.
KV: Thank you very much, I love working with new runners.

CN: You know it's funny. Just the other day someone came up to me and we were talking about you Kid ,and this woman said, 'He's just such a humble man,' and I totally started laughing and said, 'wow, you don't know Kid do you.' (they both laugh). But actually, I was thinking about you and how much I love you and I thought, okay, Kid is like a really good biscuits and gravy. You know how you can have a really, really good plate of biscuits and gravy...and then you can spend forever trying to find that again...that's what you are Kid, a really good biscuits and gravy.

KV: That's funny. I once had an old girlfriend tell me, 'Kid, you are 40 miles of bad road.'
NJ: And what did Jen say the other day? 'Kid, your singing is better than getting yelled at in the morning.'
KV: Yeah, that's a good one for the press kit.

NJ: So...we'll wrap this up, let me ask has your body held up all these years, any surprises?
KV: I've been doing this kind of running now for 17 years and the only thing I am constantly surprised by is how forgiving the body is. That and the older I get the faster I used to be (laughs). No, you know, I think running is the best way to celebrate being a spiritual animal. I just love it.

NJ: Anything you'd like to add?
KV: Yeah, here's something. A message to the kids. Any youngster out there who says they are bored....they are woefully misguided... and that their friends and their peers have been terribly let down. It's a big, beautiful world out there with work enough for everyone.”

NJ: Thanks very much Kid.
KV: That was a lot of fun, you're welcome.

P.S. Just so you guys know, Kathleen and I have recently joined the cadre of runners. It's a very, very cool experience and I am SO glad Kid is open to adding less experienced people into the mix. Our first day Kathleen and I each ran 2.5 miles and then two days later he had Kathleen, Carrie and I split 21 miles between us. We each started off doing 5 each and then we found we had 6 left to cover to get us to our end point. It was blazing hot that day and it was afternoon, so the three of us took turns running out a mile at a time - it was way fun and I am super excited to get back out there and do it again. It's definitely more challenging in a really different way. The cool thing about running is that you definitely suffer out there, but it's for a much less length of time than walking. A five mile run took me just over an hour - whereas a normal 16 mile walking day will take upwards of 8 hours (with breaks and stuff) -- so it's just a different pace of the day.
Anyway -- that's the news from down here. We are heading into New Orleans soon on a side camera is waiting for me there - so no more cell phone pictures! YAY!
And thanks Gwen and Joan for putting that package together for me. Also, I know my Aunt Rebecca got off a package for me as well, and I'll be picking that up.
Thanks everyone...hope to be talking to you more frequently in the coming weeks.
Much love!!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

random picture time....take two

Hello folks - got this thing figured out -- there is no order to these pictures, time or place...let's go, eh?

This was just taken a couple of nights ago when we arrived in Shreveport, LA -- we got escorted into town by about a dozen police officers, corralling our caravan. I got video of that scene, hope to figure out how to upload that in time. This camp was right on the banks of the Red River, right in the center of town. We had two train tracks running around us as well as a couple of major highways. Very loud. And I slept actually pretty well. It's amazing what I have learned to sleep through on this trip

This is Andre...or Julian...they are relatively new walkers, from Alaska. Love them both, but I still can't tell them apart 'cause I'm an idiot; I really want to say this is Julian and hope they don't read this and get pissed at me! Anyway, this made me laugh because he just walked up to us...silently..with this signboard that told us about the day's plan. That...and look at the kitchen crew list. What the heck is happening there?

mmm..Kid Valance singing to us under a near full moon. Can't remember, oh yeah, this was in Texarkana a few days ago.

We were staying at a rodeo grounds in .... somewhere small in Texas, I can't believe how quickly I forget these towns. We had been awoken by crazy rain and thunder and lightening the night before, pounding on the tin roof of the horse corrals inside. I actually slept really well...on wooden bleachers with the fans going all night. It was really very cozy. Anyway, Kathleen had been gifted this flute the day before by a local and here she is working out a tune on it. That's Jen and Nathan in the background.

Oh man, this laundromat. It was the saddest laundromat I have ever seen. There were two "working" dryers in this row. One actually just blew air and didn't tumble, so I suppose there was really only one. This is P.J. being disgruntled. This place had rotting floors and kicked out walls and one odd little room just filled with discarded clothes, free for the taking. It was open 24 hours and we figured that was only because there wasn't really a door to lock the place up. This was in the rodeo fairgrounds place in Texas.

Carrie and I did runner support coming out of Oklahoma. The route was a little wacky and we would drive up ahead to make sure the runners hit the routes right so they wouldn't get lost. This was on Mother's Day and Dennis declared that only the men would be walking and running that day, as well as doing all the cooking. It was a sweet sentiment.

This was taken a couple of days ago, on our way to Shreveport. We were doing trash duty. Not much else to say about this. It's a picture of me to appease my family, even though you can't really see me. Sorry 'bout that.

My girls inside the truck. One of the more common things I see throughout my day. I just noticed this when I looked at the picture again...but take a look at Kathleen's left hand and you can just make out the little rubber ball of a horn that rides on the dashboard and that she honks out the window at walkers, cars following or in front of us...or just because she wants to make noise. What's funny about this picture to me is that she's got this kind of serious look on her face, so does Carrie...and then there's this silly horn. Love them.

That's it for now. Talk to you all soon.

wow...miss talking with you guys

Hello everyone - so sorry I haven't written in awhile. My computer is on the blink and I haven't been able to type or get online for well over a week. I am writing to you on Roman's computer right now. We are up in the Presidential Suite at a Casino in Marksville, Tennessee. A bunch of folks are up here getting ready to watch a pay per view movie; and I wanted to take this time to show you all a few pictures, but blogger isn't cooperating. Dammit!!
Anyway, I'm gonna work on getting the computer fixed when we get to New Orleans and will be in one place for 4 or 5 days. I may not be able to get it up and going, but it looks like one of my buddies here on the walk is getting her computer sent out to us, so I'll be able to use that.
Just to let you know, we crossed into Louisiana yesterday and will be heading down the state pretty quickly. At this point we have just about 7 weeks left. I go back and forth between wanting it to just be over and realizing how much I've come to love many of these people and will dearly miss them when we all part ways in D.C.
Anyway .. they are having a pillow fight. Things are getting nutty. Gonna run.
Lots of love and I hope to talk with y'all soon.


Friday, May 9, 2008

Hello All

Hey guys -- still in Tulsa -- the walk is heading out of here about 80 miles today..I'm in town with Kathleen and Jutta, waiting to put her on a bus which will eventually take her home to Germany. Sad, sad, sad. We'll head home after that.

Wanted to post a quick note though to let you know that I had to exchange my cell phone after mine got all weirdly electrocuted during the lightening storm a few days ago. So...lost pretty much all of my phone numbers. So..if you would like to email me at nikkijardin@yahoo and give me your digits...if you want me to have them that it...that would be great. can call me, and my phone should capture it then.

Anyway..pretty brain dead can't get it together to do much of a blog anyhoo. And all I have for new photos is a picture of downtown Tulsa.

Much love;


oh...okay, Kathleen and Jutta tolerated my taking their photo...this is them at this coffeeshop
putting together a puzzle.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Still up..might as well post some pictures

It's still close to midnight...but I wanted to put up some recent pictures for y'all since you've been so patient in waiting for new posts. Don't even know what I have in the hopper..let's see shall we?

Mmmm...this is a pic of a field in Canton, OK. I know I've said this before..but Oklahoma is really just a pretty, pretty state.

Here's a random shot I took from inside the truck. If you are sitting in the middle seat..this is pretty much what you are going to see. You gotta just take people's word that there is anything at all out the window.

This little abandoned cherub was sitting behind the casino in Canton..and no..we weren't gambling.

This just cracked us up. What the $(%)? I don't know how anybody finds there way anywhere in Oklahoma..this is actually seems to be a fairly common site.

This one is for you Theresa...Kathleen said you wanted to see what P.J. looked like. Here he is with Joe Spado and his wife Barb...Carrie is peeking her head up there. It's not a great picture, I'll try to get a better one soon. We did get good news in that Spadoman is joining the walk again in two weeks! Yes!

Kathleen took this one with my phone. It's from the sunrise walk last week.

This was taken the same morning. It was the first time in ages the three of us were walking together. That's Carrie and Kathleen (obviously) just warmed my heart to have them ahead of me..I took a break from drumming just to walk along with them for awhile. It was sweet.

Okay, that's it. It's now almost 12:30 -- hey, the boots are off. Gotta go to sleep.