The destruction of the Earth’s environment is the human rights challenge of our time.
A passionate love of all life and a burning desire to honour the rights of the Earth is bringing together an inspiring international group who’ll resume the Walking Water pilgrimage in California’s parched Owens Valley on 22 September.Each is driven by a great love affair with the natural world and many have amazing stories to tell of how their footsteps brought them to this pivotal time and place when the planet is facing a global water crisis.
Walking Water coordinator Kate Bunney answered an inner call to create the event as a healing journey while core team member Gigi Coyle has long been committed to the waters and famously returned captive dolphins to the ocean where they joined a pod of their wild cousins. Her partner Win Phelps has walked an equally transformative path and went from the glamorous world of being an award-winning Hollywood film director to the soul-serving role of a wilderness rites-of-passage guide and advisor to the water initiative.
Fellow walker Mark Dubois is a two-metre tall gentle giant who catapulted himself into the media spotlight during his youth when he chained himself to a boulder to prevent a dam flooding a river system he loved deeply. He regarded his possible drowning as of no greater consequence than that of all the other creatures and Ecosystems that would perish – “I was just one more critter,” he insisted.Another Walking Water icon is Rajendra Singh, the celebrated ‘Waterman of India’ who won the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize last year after demonstrating that it is possible to co-create with nature to revive rivers and bring water to thousands of parched villages.
And equally inspiring for me is local peacemaker Alan Bacock, the water coordinator for the Big Pine Paiute Tribe. He fervently believes that an attitude of openness is important for all participants and says: “To prepare for a walk like this is really to prepare for a journey that in a lot of ways is beyond us. Because of that we need to go in prayer. We need to prepare ourselves in prayer and say: ‘Creator, utilise this in the best way possible. Help all of us to be instruments. May none of us be thinking that we are the only aspect that’s needed.'”
For my own part my road had reached a dead-end before I made some radical changes and began walking with messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth five years ago.
I’d finally recognised that the way I was living simply wasn’t sustainable. I needed to drastically reduce my ecological footprint and become part of the solution, rather than the problem.Which brings us back to the desolation of Owens Lake, the place that became notorious for the worst airborne pollution in the United States. Once a vast and beautiful lake, it was sucked dry within a decade after the City of Los Angeles channelled the waters south via a giant aqueduct, creating a legacy of choking clouds of toxic dust.
As an asthmatic with a history of respiratory challenges it is a place that scares me, and yet like all the others I’ll be there on 22 September to play a part in this wonderful healing journey.
Kate Bunney stresses: “It’s not a march. It’s not a demonstration. Walking Water brings together role players from all walks of life – including representatives of the indigenous tribes who are the first people of the land – and hopefully with ancient and modern knowledge we can co-create healthy ways of being in relationship to water and each other.
“We walk toward a vision of a regenerated environment. Our approach is to work in a way that is synergistic, collaborative and future-orientated, revolving around a simple bottom line: for the enhanced protection of all life.”The event, which is divided into three sections to be walked over three years from the source of the waters to the place of end use, has attracted a diverse and influential group of participants including community leaders and members of the Paiute tribe, activists, philanthropists, business leaders, educators, artists, poets, photographers and film makers.
The first phase of the epic 600 mile (960km) walk started on 1 September last year from the headwaters above Mono Lake that are traditionally fed by alpine lakes, natural springs and the Sierra Nevada snowmelt. Late in 2017 the walk will reach the thirsty Greater Los Angeles Area that is home to some 18 million souls.
Perhaps appropriately we took our first steps together at a time of crippling drought throughout California and many parts of the United States, our action coinciding with a call by Pope Francis for a global day of ‘Prayer for the Care of Creation.’
Twenty-two days later after countless adventures together that have cemented many lifelong friendships while helping raise awareness around the urgent need for a new relationship with water and each other, we completed the first phase at Owens Lake with prayers and rituals of gratitude.It is where we’ll resume the walk southwards, hopefully reaching the Cascades in Sylmar during mid-October.
“In the end we all need to act for and with water,” Kate insists. “The Owens Valley is an incredible example of what happens when water is not managed in a sustainable way. It is also an incredible example of where a community can come together to make a difference. Many are coming together to create positive change. Deep change is possible here and it has already started.”
Personally I like to think we’re now all together in the FLOW – For the Love of Water.