Friday, June 27, 2008
Did a quick thirteen miles today. It felt good to walk - I think knowing how little time we have left on this thing is helping me just put boot to pavement. I'm gonna miss all the movement I think - using my body in that way. Oh...and by the way; I weighed myself yesterday in this funky little naturalists store here in town...130 pounds. I was stunned. Addie keeps telling me I'm losing weight daily, but I didn't really think so. I've lost ten pounds in the last three weeks. It's the heat I think. Who wants to eat in weather like this. I feel fine though. Don't worry about it. Jeez, I haven't weighed 130 in probably 13 years or so, since the Nepal trip. Feels kinda good.
Kid talked to me last night and asked if I wanted to try to get a ten-miler in before we finished up. "Hell yeah," I said.
I don't know if I can run ten miles or not...but I get to try and that's cool. I'm a pretty slow runner, so ten miles means at least two hours on the road in motion. We are allowed to walk if we need too, and I might need to...we shall see. Don't know when that's gonna happen, but I'll let you know how it goes.
The walk in itself was uneventful. Although I was amused by this one thing. You remember how I wrote, a couple of days ago, about this deep conversation I had with Ray?
Here's how this one went today.
"Hey, Nikki. I was thinking about something and I wanted to ask you about it."
"Well, I don't know if you have these here; but you know those caramel bars?"
"Caramel bars. You know, with the caramel inside?"
"Well, yeah, like Rolos, but their flat, eh?"
"Yeah..I know what you're talking about."
"Well. I was thinking...how do they get that caramel in there?"
It cracked me up. We were about 45 minutes into our walk miles and everyone had been really quiet all morning. Sometimes someone will clue you into what they are thinking about, walking down the road. I love it when people are thinking about completely random stuff. And thinking hard about it.
We asked Maggie, cause we didn't know.
"Well, there are these teeny-tiny elves..."
I took this picture of Sunshine. Asked him to give me a Sunshine look and this is what he came up with. One of my favorite quotes from the last week involves him.
"I'd take you a lot more seriously if you took off my running shorts."
- Addie to Sunshine
We head to Alberta, VA tomorrow and then to Chester, just south of Richmond. We have ten days before we reach our base camp in D.C.
Oh, the beauty of rest days.
We have been staying at Occoneechee State Park -- a lovely campground on the lake. We can't swim in the lake (safety reasons...and the uranium, that's another story) but it's lovely to look at.
It was one of those of utilitarian rest days. I got a lot done in a relatively short period of time and then was able to relax and just enjoy the scenery.
Day started with asking Ammon if he would drive us into town so we could get breakfast and laundry done..go to the library. We would buy him breakfast of course. So, a bunch of us piled into the back of the truck and headed across the bridge.
(you may have noticed the new "tones" to my photos. Look out, I've discovered (finally) how to do that on my camera, so...there will be a lot of that while I play with it)
We pulled into this parking lot to check the library hours and asked a woman where a decent place to eat was. This has been so key to finding decent diners across the country. You gotta ask the locals. We were going to go to this one place at a hotel, but this woman said the only place to go to eat was at the Blue Collar Cafe. Name was good.
"She'll serve you a home cooked meal."
This place was great. It was tiny. The waitress asked if we wanted smoking or non-smoking, which was funny since there were only about 12 tables total in the place. We chose non-smoking. There was an older woman working the grill in the back, she smiled at us as we came in.
We took a look at the menu and loved the prices. "Damn, you can get a Rib Eye and Eggs for six bucks," said Patrick.
I have to say...that pretty much on any given rest day, I will go out to breakfast to get eggs over easy and toast. And sausage. So, I've eaten in a lot of diners over the course of this trip. This place...number one. By far. There was a pretty good place in Taos, but...this place had the best potatoes ever. You could tell they were homemade..they had great texture, kind of like potato pancakes. Eggs were perfect. And Patrick got that Rib Eye, and it was a decent size even for the price.
The cook, who was also the owner, named Nancy...came over to us and talked with us a little about the walk. We told her how much we loved the food. She told us that she bought the place several years ago from a white woman, also named Nancy, who had bought it in 1951 ("Of course, the colored couldn't own businesses back in that time.")
"I'm gonna write a book about my restaurant. Would y'all write a little comment or two in this notebook?"
We did..there were lots of comments from all kinds of satisfied customers. So...if you're ever in Clarksville...Blue Collar Diner. It's kinda hard to see off the road, it's just got this little sign and it doubles as a used car lot...so you wouldn't think it was anything. But it's something. Aww..look how adoringly Patrick is looking at Nancy.
After laundry and doing some blog posting at the library I walked back into the camp. Took a lovely, lovely shower (after 3 days...felt good) and then just hung in the woods for a couple of hours; writing, listening to music and sitting.
Wandered back into camp in the late afternoon and hung a bit with Patrick and Gilberto. Played Scrabble with Kathleen and Jen. Listened to Jen and Kid rehearse their musical number (Jen is doing back-up vocals during Kid's performance).
Took a couple of pictures of Masa - the ham - he made me take like, 7 photos of him. I liked this one.
There was a memorial service in the evening to commemorate a massacre that occurred on the island back in 1763 - wiping out most of the remaining Occoneechee Tribe - we learned that out of nearly 2 million people, only several hundred survived throughout contact with Spanish and European settlers over the years. Everyone gathered around the fire and said a prayer - the moon rose over the lake - a blue heron cruised by, squawking - and the breeze kept the fire bright and the camp cool throughout the evening.
I slept well. Good rest day. Nice.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I was so sad last night. I called gwen and told her all about it, and as usual she had good things to say; reminding me to do the stuff I’m supposed to do. Think the stuff I’m supposed to think and try to toss out the bad.
I miss home is what it boils down to. Miss my friends so much, you all…my tender little family.
So…I woke up this morning determined to try again.
And it was a beautiful day.
Started out a little funky as is want to happen around here.
I didn’t wanna wake up for one thing. And the drumming from the monks seemed unusually loud and actually a little aggressive. Jun-san and Gilberto are both going through stuff too and I think they were taking it out on the poor drums.
This walk has even stressed out our Buddhists. Criminy, imagine that.
But wake I did. And packed and got my tea and went to circle and found myself a seat on the bus and started to listen to the Indigo Girls on the ipod. And then I noticed that people were getting off the bus.
“Maggie,” she was sitting next to me, “why are we getting off?” I said, pulling off my headphones.
“Out of gas.”
Oh for pete sakes.
So Patrick and I strolled back over to our former campsite and played a bit with Addie and Booger. Got some more tea and coffee from Kathleen Café. And waited. Waited some more.
Eventually a gallon of gas was delivered and we piled back on…went to the gas station. Had more coffee and tea, took a look at the newspaper with our pictures in it. Noticed that the day was getting later and later and how happy we were to have to wake up at 4am only to sit around all morning and watch the sun rise higher into the sky. Hot walk.
But, we caught up to the walk at the first rest break (a bunch of walkers had already started, they had gotten rides in the vans and such) – and so we only missed 3 miles of the day.
So, let me tell you what’s going on with me and walking right now.
I ran, I think two days last week. There were rest days in there. Kitchen duty. Trash detail. Hooky. I don’t think I’ve walked a full day in like 7 or 8 days. Unheard of for me…and while it didn’t bother me at the time, I was really looking forward to walking today. For the meditation of it. The camradarie. The doing…it’s become such normal behavior to walk 16 or 18 miles that not to do it for a while just started feeling wrong.
The first 3 miles I walked alongside Patrick. We didn’t talk much. I didn’t feel like talking really. Just wanted to wake up and work through my conversation with gwen, check in with myself, feel my body move.
But the next three miles I walked with Ray and we had the most…I don’t know, just timely conversation about spirituality and where we are and what we are learning on this walk.
I love listening to Ray’s voice – he’s got this thick Canadian accent and a soft, deep voice and he speaks very slowly…and when he wants to talk, he’s generally got something to say…so it’s worth the patience of waiting for the next word. The next sentence. And when he’s talking about himself, he always starts off with, “For me….” And it’s just sort of Ray-sweet.
I would love to tell you Ray’s story, but I haven’t asked him if I could post it here, so I won’t just yet. But let me tell you that he’s got one of those inspirational stories where you go, “man…I’m so glad you’re here to tell me about that.”
We talked about how we felt placed here, on this walk, with these people. There are so few of us that it doesn’t seem accidental in the least. Goddess makes no mistakes.
“We get tested,” Ray says, “we will get those traps put in front of us until we learn to ask for help in stepping around them. I know my Father will take care of me. He tells me so every morning when I am given the gift of another day. I can give him all my burdens. My worries.”
He told me that he found the challenges of life “fun.” I laughed, feeling not so amused by a lot these days.
“No, they are. These are the good things in life. These challenges. The wisdom to know the difference, that’s what we learn. They’re fun because Creator is giving us these gifts to help us refine ourselves…I used to think I was perfect, back then. I was miserable in it. Now, I know…I am perfect only in the eyes of my Father, and I am given the opportunity to refine myself so I can be of better service to Him.”
These kinds of things, we talked about them for two hours…walking 6 or 7 miles down the road. At one point I found the conversation so moving that I wanted to weep for the joy of it.
These have been the gifts of this walk. Meeting these people and connecting with them at those levels. I love Ray, and we don’t get a lot of chance to talk…and I just appreciate his insight and his wisdom so much. He has found acceptance in something that I am really struggling with right now, and…it was just so helpful today.
“I see you have strength. Like me, I have strength. But it’s okay to be weak, that’s where we get our strength from. By humbling ourselves and asking for what we need from our Creator.”
It was really the same conversation I had last night with gwen. It was just unexpected out there, on the highway. We hadn’t really started out talking about anything really. And neither one of us revealed anything personal that was going on with us – but I have an idea what his stuff was, and he can probably gander at mine.
We talked about the walk and how to stay positive in it. We talked about how grateful we were to have survived the whole thing, and how to look at it positively over these next two weeks. Try to remember why we’re here and remember the people no longer with us and take all that into D.C.
We only have something like 7 or 8 actual walking days left. Do you know, they are actually becoming precious to me now? I felt so happy out there on the road today with everyone. Jen walked for a bit, Ammon came back from his run and walked a bit. Kathleen was out there. Patrick. And Ray. Kid would pop up at intervals and give us high fives.
At one point one of our support vehicles did something stupid and almost got rear-ended by a semi but…that’s kinda just par for the course. Everyone was fine.
But, this is kind of it you guys. We crossed into Virginia this morning. It’s our last state. We have something like 400 miles left to go. We’ve done over 4400. We arrive outside of D.C. on July 4th for a 3-day rest period and then walk into our final camp on July 7th where we will spend 3 days doing some sort of cultural exchange thing…and then we walk onto the Mall on the 11th.
And, there was an energy to our walk today that reflected that. People who never walk were walking. Flags were being carried that haven’t been carried in forever. Singing of Native songs were happening on both ends of the line along with the drumming (less aggressively I might add) from our monks.
You know what it felt like as we were coming into Clarksville this afternoon? It felt like the beginning of the walk. With all that hope and excitement and enthusiasm.
And as I walked in between Ray and Patrick, I felt gratitude like I haven’t felt in weeks.
And that’s a blessing. And those are the moments I’m gonna keep looking for over the next 16 days, ‘cause that’s all we got left. I wanna try and make it good.
Just a quick acknowledgement of dear Aiko’s 31st birthday that we got to celebrate last night at Mayo Campground in Roxboro, North Carolina (our last stop in NC).
She surprised me by telling us that she was going to be leaving us for a couple of weeks. She decided to go on a solo adventure out to the ocean.
“I have had very easy time here on walk. Free food and stay. Wanted to know difficult time in traveling America.”
Brave woman. She’ll be fine. She’s so sweet that I can’t imagine anyone hassling her, and her English is actually very good if people are willing to just be a little patient and look for simpler words if she doesn’t understand. She said she has gotten better with asking people clarifying questions.
“Sometimes, I just nod and say I understand, and sometimes I don’t understand. Don’t want to annoy people.”
She was gifted with songs and little presents from all of the various communities. It was a beautiful moment of honoring this kind and sweet woman. I gave her one of my littlest feathers that I had been carrying every since Fresno. It was too small to risk putting in my hat band and so I’d been waiting for the right moment/person to gift it too. I can’t think of anyone better than Aiko.
Amy lent me a little piece of red cloth, and I had some red string and we wrapped this delicate little downy red-tail hawk feather in it. I think she liked it.
Happy Birthday Aiko. I love you!
Sometimes there are days when I just don’t want to walk. They’ve been rare over these last months, but they do exist. I could not be feeling well, I could be in the funks, or I could be just plain tired. Sometimes I walk through it anyway…which is usually the best thing to do and by the time I hit the road I’m generally okay.
But then there are those moments when I just want to play hooky, call in sick, check out.
I did this the other day with Addie. I can’t even remember now what the reason was. Oh, now I do.
So; I was walking back to camp from a day in Asheville, NC. It had been a good day away – a rest day – and I had spent time in the library and in bookstores. Had lunch with a fellow walker, hung out at a coffeeshop and wrote a letter and a couple of postcards.
It was a three-mile walk back to camp. The weather was pleasant, it was early evening and I was grooving along to the iPOD happy as a clam. And then I hear this,
I look over and see Shegecko waving frantically at me by the side of the road.
“No, no!” I say, “I’m good. Walking back. No ride.”
“No, please come..” she tells me.
I walk over to this little blue car that I didn’t recognize, and notice Jun-san is driving it.
Yeah. Jun-san. Sixty year old CRAZY woman, behind the wheel of the car.
“Jun-san! What are you doing driving?”
”No, I drive. Drive long time.”
“Okay. Right. What do you need?”
”Nikki-san. You come to friend’s house and use computer to help with route. Tomorrow we have no route. Need you to use computer.”
You can’t say no to a request like that. I really wanted to. I was so happy in that moment and I was wanting to get back to camp, pack up for the next day and go to sleep. Instead I get brought into Jun-san madness world. I did it for the walkers really. But I will say that my life was deeply at risk getting into the car with her driving. Insane driver. Insane in the driving-20-in-a-45-zone kind of crazy.
I’m not even gonna go into the entire farce that went on there. I walk in, there are maps everywhere – the phone is ringing off the hook and I have to talk to these people from other states and cities to discuss routing and Japanese nuns needing rides from the airport, and something about a festival somewhere down the road at a temple. And then people are stopping by this house and throwing wrenches, no friggin toolboxes into routes we had just discussed. I recall hearing Kid Valence screaming from the other end of the phone when we had to call him back a third time to change the running miles and location (not at me…I could just hear it, it was that loud). I did get a shower there though. That was nice.
It was dark when I got back. The route seemed deeply…confusing. And I think I remember going to bed knowing I wasn’t going to walk the next day. No way.
So I talked to Addie who had to drive to take care of Little Booger, and asked if I could ride along with her for the day. It was cool with her, so I did.
And we went thrift store shopping, which was awesome. Found this little place outside Asheville called, “whatever,” and it was filled with great stuff. Here are some photos of said stuff.
The lady at the counter was really sweet. We told her about the walk and she got all excited, said her daughter-in-law had just saw us on the news and mentioned it. People usually react positively to our adventure. They think it’s cool or crazy one of the two. I only recall one truly bad reaction from a guy in….I can’t remember the place…or the state for that matter…it was the place at that truck stop where we got to order anything we wanted and didn’t have to pay for it…and there were showers there too….
Kathleen was telling this guy about what we were doing and she was talking about native issues and the like and the guy interrupted her and said,
“Well, as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with the environment.”
”Oh, but it does,” she said…and her voice had just a smattering of edge to it.
“Yeah? Well, there’s nothing wrong with the environment,” he said…sitting there with a trucker hat and one of those short sleeve plaid shirts. He was probably in his sixties. Let’s say he was smoking too. You could smoke in that place. (Where was that…we were camped in an industrial park…it was somewhere in Oklahoma I think…it doesn’t matter.)
At this point Kathleen had wandered over away from the dining area and was talking at him from behind his back. She was looking over the cold drinks…or the snack food or something when she said;
“Oh…I beg to differ that there’s nothing wrong with the environment.” And that time, there was definitely an edge.
She looked at me and said, “Let’s get out of here.”
I could’ve finished that sentence with, “Before someone gets hurt.”
But that was one of the few negatives we’ve had to deal with along the way. It’s mostly been this sort of fun, excited reaction…people are kind of amazed that anyone would walk that far. “Hell, I don’t like walking to the curb to get my paper in the morning,” one guy said to me. There’s a slight rock star feeling to the whole thing at times, but, you know, we aren’t rock stars and so the feeling is fleeting. Very.
Where was I going with this story?
Oh yeah, the field trip. The thrift store. It was one of many we visited that day.
But, it wasn’t a complete hooky day. We did go to Walmart and scored some water donations and tried to get a couple of shoe donations for Paco, who just joined us, but didn’t really have any decent shoes. So…we didn’t show up at the next camp completely empty handed from our day off.
And it was fun. I remember laughing, which was nice. I didn’t know Addie very well, so it was fun to get to talk with her. The night before, after the whole Jun-san abduction, she and Kid and I had a really nice talk down by the river, waiting for the full moon to come up. It was one of those sweet little moments that just felt like everything was going to be alright.
And that’s how the field trip day went too. It just felt comfortable and fun. And needed.
And that was that day.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Don't have a lot of time to write today. I'm in Durham, NC - spent the night in town while the rest of the group is in a field somewhere outside of Mebane. I wanted to come in and...well, write to all y'all and show you some pictures. But I also wanted to do laundry and make some calls.
I have free minutes on the weekends and where camp was we weren't getting any signal. So...it's hard enough right now, being so close to the finish line. I am - we are - chomping at the bit. Do you know that we are about 4 hours away from D.C. by car at this point?
It'll take us two weeks to get there 'cause we just can't get there any earlier than the 7th. So....lots of patience. Patience. Patience.
We seem to be holding up okay though. We're tired for sure - anxious to be with our family and friends again - ready to stop moving, stop not knowing where we are spending the next night - stop seeing each other every day....kinda sorta. I was writing to Carrie today and telling her that I have hit the point of nostalgia in the present when I realized that I will never be around all these people at the same time again. I might see folks one on one; but the dynamic of my little family will be lost. It doesn't feel sad right now, just a little wistful at times...mostly it just makes me happy that I've gotten to know all of these beautiful people and have had the opportunity to spend time with them.
Lots of time with them.
I know I've featured a lot of Jen and Kathleen pics - Carrie too - it's 'cause I'm around them a lot and...their mothers ask me to. But - there are other people in camp that I see pretty much every day and I figure you might want to see just who I'm talking about.
This was taken back at camp. This is Addie and Kid - Addie joined us in New Orleans and is the primary parent of Little Booger. She's looking devilish here because she just challenged Kid to a vitamin eating contest. I'll report here that Kid successfully swallowed 33 vitamins at one time. Don't worry - we checked the maximum dosage of all of them. He was fine. And he won.
Patrick. Patrick is so irked by this whole thing, but he's actually walked more miles than just about anyone else on this journey. He started on Alcatraz and he'll finish. "You're miserable life will never look so good." That's his motto for the Longest Walk. He makes me laugh.
Ah, Sunshine. It's really hard to describe Sunshine - he just is who he is. I need to upload some video at some point because it's hard to capture the essence of this guy in a photo. He is motion. Yesterday we were at a Flying J just waiting for the caravan and he just started doing these quasi yoga-kung fu-spastic moves, watching himself in the glass of the store. And it was so...Sunshine. Love him. We found this t-shirt for him at a thrift store. It was him.
Here's our guy Ray and Yuri, we love Ray so much. Such a great guy, eh? Yuri is very sweet as well and has been with us pretty much the whole time save for a couple of weeks. She's really quiet so I don't know her very well -- but she's always smiley and lovely.
Anyway, the computer I'm using at this library is really slow to upload images, so I'm gonna have to cut this short and hope that the next place I'm in I can give you a little bit more. I've got more...trust me. Man I miss my computer you guys. But just think of how many libraries I've gotten to visit. Just think.
We're heading towards Roxbury tonight I think. I'll talk to you again soonly.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I opened up my email this morning to a message from Lauren, who I worked with at Sisters of the Road. Apparently my wallet was found and sent to my old work address.
Totally random, eh? I don't know why they sent it there. I don't carry any of my business cards anymore. The only thing I can think of is that they 'googled' me and found some old stuff online from when I worked there. Who knows. Good choice though, librarian in Childersburg.
Yeah, I left it at a library in Childersburg, Alabama. Those folks were so nice. I remember that place well actually because I was in there forever, tied up one of their computers for about three hours while I worked on a really difficult street roots column.
I also remember that day because I wasn’t feeling well and think I got either a touch of heat exhaustion or was suffering from some stomach malady that had been going around camp. It had been blazing hot and I walked pretty much the whole day – I think I did about 14 miles. 3 of the miles I spent with Carrie in the truck dealing with angst.
God, it’s all coming back.
Okay, except for the library there wasn’t much good about Childersburg.
Hmmmm….and I’m not gonna go into it all here – but that’s the camp where some stuff got aired out. No regrets, just…ugh.
It’s funny how I can’t remember town names. It’s really rare when I can remember what city we were in. But I remember experiences. I can remember the camp site generally. Where my tent was. In some cases there are focal points. “the place where the tire fell off the truck.” – “that camp where the dead snake was” – “member that place with those nice people in the RV next to us?” You know, that kind of stuff.
Childersburg will be remembered for a late night talk and stomach flurries. And, the place where I apparently left my wallet in a library.
But…talking is always good. And getting my wallet back is definitely good. I was just about to try to deal with Oregon DMV to get a replacement license sent to me. No need now.
So…things are looking up.
We leave Asheville tomorrow morning and I’m kinda sad about that. This has been a great town to rest in and we’ve had terrific local supporters. We’ve been fed really well and generally just loved up. And we got to witness a gorgeous full moon last night, cresting above the trees over the French Broad River. Got to howl a little and that’s always encouraging.
I actually don’t know where we are going tomorrow. North.
Hey guys…as of tomorrow we have 21 days left before we hit D.C. How crazy is that?
Wish me luck. Oh, and Big G – thanks for the laugh.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Every time we cross over into a new state I get more and more excited about the fact that we are getting closer to our destination. I actually got to run across the border into North Carolina yesterday – took some pictures with my cellphone, but I’ll have to show you those at another point in time.
It’s getting tough guys – tough to stay on this road. We are SO close and I am SO over being here. Tired of all the grumbling and dissension in camp (we now have a “rebel” camp of nearly 30 people that are no longer with us, but are close enough by to cause
tension). I’m tired of all the inner drama of my own intimate family on this journey.
Tired in my body – tired in my heart – just…well.
I was running yesterday and just felt absolutely fatigued with all of it. Got to camp and met up with a local organizer who offered up her house for the afternoon for a shower, a washer and dryer and her computer. It was lovely just to sit in an actual kitchen and watch someone cut up vegetables, offering me a raw this or a raw that on occasion.
On the way to her house we passed by the rebel camp and Maggie wanted to stop and say hello to them. I really didn’t want to get embroiled in all of it, but she insisted and there we were. Within a few minutes we had a few of the folks at the car raging and railing and imploring that we should join the “true” walk and forget about the “Dennis Banks” walk down the street.
To tell you the truth the whole thing made me sick to my stomach. I did not come here to pick sides. I didn’t come here to fight with people. I didn’t come here to stake some claim to one man or one cause or one anything.
If I had been able to get my hands on any money at the time (my card will be arriving tomorrow) I would’ve very likely been out of here and on my way to the Cape.
I was talking to Gilberto and asking out loud why I should stay here and continue to suffer all of the bullshit drama that’s going on in camp – that’s going on with my friends and that’s going on with me. Why not just go somewhere where I am loved and can be of service and chuck all this into the proverbial rubbish bin?
“Well, I gotta tell you Nikki that I was going to leave too, about three weeks ago. And I talked to Shonin about it and he convinced me to stay. And I’m staying for a few reasons. One is that I made a commitment to Shonin to stay here, and another is that…you know, we go through all this stuff, and it’s painful and hard. It’s like looking at your own vomit, everything that can come up when we are in these types of settings – looking at your own shit (and, yeah Gilberto talks like this). I find, that sometimes when we have all this come up, all this manure, the work is to take it and find someway to make into compost that is actually going to be worth something.”
I’m here today. I’m in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s not a rest day, but I’m making it one. I’m at the library. I’m going to coffeeshops. I’m hitting bookstores and exploring this city on my own, on my own two feet.
Sometimes I get a little pang of loneliness about what’s going on for me and for this walk but I only think it’s uncomfortable because I’m doing what I need to do to wrench myself away from old patterns and into the ones I know are good for me. Some of you know what I’m talking about and some of you are going to be a little lost. It’s okay…I’m okay, and that’s probably good enough for now.
One of the days we spent at the Peace Pagoda about thirty of us took the trip out to Oak Ridge, TN where the Y-12 Test facility is located – a base where nuclear weapons are manufactured and tested and, since 9-11, is where biological and chemical weapons are also produced. It’s a hot spot for vigils and activism among the peace movement and I was glad we were close enough that I could make the trip.
We don’t get to do much of that anymore on this trip – which is unfortunate as it’s this kind of stuff that keeps me going – seeing positive local works in action around the peace and environmental movements. Sometimes hearing about everything that is wrong in the world can only be tempered by witnessing what the hell people are doing about it.
So we walked about 7 miles out there, doing our singing and chanting and drumming thing. When we got to the gates there were about a dozen local activists waiting for us; they do vigil every Sunday evening and Monday morning and we got there right when they had arrived.
As well as their greeting, we noticed the mobilization of about a dozen armed officers just behind the fence line. As we crested the hill we could see them clumped up in a little knot, but as we came closer to the entrance of the facility they began to spread out and ready themselves for whatever it was we may be up to.
Not to worry though – no one was planning on being arrested today – we were just there to chant and drum and sing. Jun-san walked right over to the wire fencing and continued her na mu myo ho ren ge kyo – as about 20 people or so lined up beside her. Some of the security guards were laughing, others were standing at ready, some looked bored.
Afterwards we circled up, introduced ourselves and heard some words from the local activists. Jun-san then asked some of our number to speak, calling out representatives from the Dine and Havasupai Nations to offer prayers in the center of the circle. She then asked Marek, from Poland (one European country that neither manufactures nor stores nuclear weapons) to say a few words in his language.
I think the most moving comments for me though came from Shegecko-san – one of our Japanese friends – she had been fasting for the previous week, while continuing to walk and drum (no easy feat). Jun-san mentioned that Shegecko was fasting in prayer for peace and for the ceasing of all nuclear weapons – she was also praying for the remembrance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Shegecko came out in the center of the circle and asked all of the Japanese to join her. Wako translated for her as she explained that they would be singing the Hiroshima song, “Blue Sky,” where lyrics essentially call for an end to war and peace for all nations. They sang the song and it was lovely and I am continued to be warmed by these people from Japan, and how little animosity they show their American friends. It’s heartening in a time and place when many Americans are fighting amongst themselves in terms of racism, that a group of people who we tried to destroy are coming hear and praying for peace for our nation as well as ours.
So thanks so much for that. Arigato!
Thank goodness for the Buddhists.
Seriously, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to tolerate this trip without their presence. I love Jun-san, despite questioning her judgment at times – and Gilberto I just want to take home with me so I can have his smile and hugs available at all times.
We were recently able to spend three nights at the Smoky Mountain Peace Pagoda, a temple of the Nipponzan Myohoji order that Jun-san belongs to.
Run by Itsume Shonen and Denise Anju-san, it was the haven for us after several days of strife and struggle both in the greater world of the camp, and our little intimate family.
I’m not gonna go into so much of that here; just don’t want to go there at the moment.
Anyway, this place was set way, way on top of a mountain with the Smoky’s in the background. It was Buddhist-serene in every way – quiet, clean, neat and lovely.
When we arrived there we could hear the sound of about 20 drums banging out na mu myo ho ren ge kyo. It was cool. The most we normally get to hear is about 6 or 8 at a time. So to hear that reverbing off of the wood walls and down into the canyon was immediately comforting to me.
We found ourselves a little campsite off in the woods and began helping prepare lunch with some of the local temple volunteers. I found out that a woman named Beth had recently hiked the Camino, the Spanish trail I will be taking on in a couple of months here. She gave me some good pointers about the trip while we chopped carrots.
Found out that my friend Lisa from back in Portland knows Itsume and Denise from Peace Walks she has done down in Georgia – so that was a nice little connect that I was able to pass on.
I was able to attend a couple of prayer services, which were most comforting and hear some readings from their order’s founder…who…I will get the name wrong I know it, so let’s just call him the Temple founder for now – I think a name used for him is Guriji Fuji – but that’s not his full name, kind of a fond nickname – anyway – we got to hear from his book. I heard a passage that struck me, as it seemed it could’ve been written about this damn walk. The next morning I asked Sister Denise if I could borrow a copy of the book to quote the passage and she said,
“Oh, we were going to give you a copy of this book.”
I wasn’t expecting that at all – it’s a wonderful gift; I’ll have to show you a picture of the calligraphy Itsume did for me as an inscription a little later.
It was a terrific respite and it was all I could do not to just flee the walk and stay there indefinitely. But I hope to be back at some point and am considering doing the SOA walk in November if my money holds out.