The Call Of Walking Water

We will never know the worth of water till the well is dry.

Thomas Fuller, author, preacher and historian

With the benefit of the perfect vision of hindsight, each step I've taken since going from Petrolhead to Pilgrim has moved me closer towards participation in a pioneering pilgrimage called Walking Water that has global significance.

It starts in California's parched Owen's Valley on 1 September and will ultimately be a journey from the source of the water to the place of end use – the megacity of Los Angeles.

California's Avenue of The Giants where some of the world's tallest trees live

California’s Avenue of The Giants where some of the world’s tallest trees live

It is a walk for water and for life itself. And although it raises painful issues that have festered for the past century since the creation of a gravity-fed aquaduct channeling run-off water from the Sierra Nevada mountains to LA, it is not a protest but a creative collaboration.

Walking Water will bring together key players from all walks of life — including representatives of the indigenous tribes who are the first people of the land — and hopefully together with ancient and modern knowledge we can co-create healthy ways of being in relationship to water and each other.

Decades ago the issues led to a series of conflicts known as the California Water Wars and today the challenges remain as urgent as ever — water scarcity is an escalating worldwide concern and it is estimated that California has only about a one-year water supply in its reservoirs.

But there is an inspiring optimism that co-creative solutions can be found and that each individual can truly make a difference.

For my part I'll be one of the walking pilgrims and as always I'll write about my experiences. And when I look back on my earlier California experiences, first as a student in my teens, later as an automotive journalist, and more recently during a 90-day walk from LA to the legendary redwood trees, I see that it was all part of a process that has enhanced my understandings and insights.

Ostensibly my earlier walk in the US was a symbolic gesture of heading from my old life into the new. And as crazy as it might have seemed, I chose to start from LA, or what I jokingly referred to as Carmageddon, the epicentre of money, materialism, car-culture and the conspicuous consumption of rapidly dwindling resources, including water.

A bristlecone pine that's around 4,600 years old

A bristlecone pine that’s around 4,600 years old

It was also a journey through time from my car-worshipping days as a young student hanging out in Hollywood, to the places of peace and natural beauty that stir my soul these days. My geographic objective, many weeks of walking away, was the Avenue of the Giants, where I communed with the coastal redwoods that are the tallest trees on Earth. Some more travelling introduced me to the colossal sequoias that are the planet's largest trees by volume, and also the bristlecone pines that are the oldest living things to be found anywhere. Many of these gnarled and twisted trees are almost 5,000 years old, being already ancient beings when Buddha and Christ first sought their inspirations.

My bucket list had also included a visit to the legendary High Sierras and notorious Death Valley, the hottest place this side of Hell.

One last tick on the list involved a visit to Gigi Coyle, who was just a name although I knew she and her partner Win Phelps were wilderness guides involved with the California-based School of Lost Borders. Only later would I learn their remarkable stories. Gigi's love affair with water had famously led her to oversee the release of captive dolphins to the sea where they integrated with a pod of wild dolphins. Win, a former Hollywood film director, had worked with the likes of Clint Eastwood, and only found his true vocation much later as a wilderness guide, leading questers into the loving embrace of nature and back to themselves.

Death Valley is a reminder that much of California is parched desert

Death Valley is a reminder that much of California is parched desert

Their journey brought them to Three Creeks, which is also headquarters for an inspiring global outreach initiative called Beyond Boundaries.

Meeting them was serendipity itself, although I didn't realised it then as I trudged down a long dusty road through parched desert on weary feet, a wind whipping up sand that temporarily blinded me and filled my mouth with grit. Arriving at the lush oasis that is their base was like stepping through a doorway into another world. When I knocked tentatively on their door, I had no idea what to expect.

Of course, my timing was perfect. They were facing a minor logistical crisis: Gigi was due to lead a gathering elsewhere, while Win would be leading a men's group in a wilderness rite of passage. Somebody was needed as a temporary steward of the land, which is a magnet for the surrounding wildlife that depend on it's waters.

"Don't worry, I'll take care of things. You just do what you need to do," I invited. "You don't know this guy," Win observed, although Gigi was satisfied. "I have a good feeling about him."

Geoff at a view site overlooking Mono Lake which has been devastated by LA's thirst

Geoff at a view site overlooking Mono Lake which has been devastated by LA’s thirst

Three Creeks was an incredible gift. It allowed me to enjoy aloneness without ever feeling lonely; also deepening my connection with the natural world around me. Once when swimming in a pond I met a water snake, I also spotted my first bobcat patrolling the water's edge at sunset, and I came to know where the bees had their hive and which birds nested where.

My favourites were the diminutive hummingbirds and I felt truly blessed when they hovered alongside me, their tiny blurred wings making the most amazing sound as they beat at up to 80 times a second. When one brushed up against my cheek, I felt I'd been formally welcomed into Hummingbird Heaven.

More than anything Three Creeks was about the sanctity and preciousness of water, and I sensed at some deep level that my relationship was just beginning with this much-loved oasis and the surrounding landscapes of the Owens Valley. Now I understand a little more and see that I need to spend much more time in this place of astonishing beauty, with its backdrop of high snowcapped mountains.

Gigi is now part of the core team with Shay Sloan, a guide and team member of Beyond Boundaries, and Walking Water coordinator Kate Bunney. Some years ago Kate had the vision of this pilgrimage when she came from the Tamera community in Portugal to connect, be in service, train, and explore her relationship to Beyond Boundaries, Three Creeks and the Owens Valley, which is the deepest valley in the continental USA. Win will also be part of the support team, and serving as an elder and witness, a role every community is hopefully learning about today.

Snow melt from the High Sierras provides water to a parched land

Snow melt from the High Sierras provides water to a parched land

On 1 September, after months of preparation, I will join this team and 50 or so others. We will begin to walk 200 miles linking Mono Lake and Owens Lake. The intention is to walk a section of the route for three weeks each year until we arrive in LA in 2017. Three sections will give participants time to interact with the local communities and environment, and to weave in activities that have the potential to create beneficial long term impacts.

"We walk for the issue of water, we walk with water and the communities along this path that are so affected by this issue, and we walk towards a change in our acting and thinking towards water on both a local and global level," says coordinator Kate Bunney.

What a privilege to join this vision of a regenerated environment, a healthy valley and self-sufficiency for the Greater Los Angeles Area, which is home to more than 18 million souls.

Geoff Dalglish

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