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Archive for the ‘Light’ Category

The Agape Community is an ecumenical nonviolence center advocating and organizing large scale, faith-based systemic change. Celebrating the birth of that exemplary luminary from the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi, we hold a day-long celebration, outside on our 32-acre grounds three miles east of Sacred Quabbin Reservoir. In recent years we’ve heard from Muslim, Native, and Black and Brown voices. This year we honor our founders, Suzanne and Brayton Shanley, and all our successors, young adults with vision and energy.

The major achievement was partially turning over leadership of Francis Day and by implication, Agape itself, to younger people, part of our painful, fitful transition as Suzanne and Brayton Shanley, co-founders and co-directors, mellow into elder years. Paradoxically, the crowd seemed older than usual, more grey, white, and silver heads.

For me and perhaps many of us older, more Catholic Worker-related people, Frida Berrigan and her mother Liz McAlister, were the hits. Frida, daughter of Phil Berrigan, spoke about place, being uprooted from her original home, Jonah House in Baltimore, her parents saving nothing of the old house to move to their new home as custodians of a cemetery. And then how she plugged into the new community, New Haven CT, running for mayor on the Green Party ticket. She doesn’t expect to win, only to raise issues, many of them related to neighborhoods, thus place, her main theme.

Altho few of the youngers in the crowd may have recognized those two, now venerables, they heard powerful words from both. Liz was recently released from 20 months of pretrial detention and faces a trial on Oct. 21 when we’re all encouraged to stay tuned and pray, with possible prison time following for her. Her infraction? Kings Bay Plowshares 7 to expose illegal and immoral nuclear weapons that threaten all life on Earth.

On the ride home with El (other than her announcing her plans related to Agape), she asked, why different religions? What purpose do they serve since they mostly have the same core message wrapped in various skins, that is systems of practice and belief, activity and theology? I offered the following: partly it’s tribal. We seek people of our own kind, using the same language (I am led, in the light, meeting for worship, etc, from Quaker Speak, my language, opaque and confusing tho I often find it), birthed from the same parents (George Fox and Martha Fell in mid 1600s England), sharing a name (Quaker, Religious Society of Friends, Friends, People of the Light), and with the ability to connect with others nearly instantaneously by reference to our tribe (Oh, Parfaite Nthuaba, you’re from Burundian—and Quaker? And you from Nepal—and Quaker?). Families across borders. Mostly, unless in schism mode which constantly threatens.

Another key reason is individual propensity to a structure or scaffolding. I prefer non-deism. Thus Buddhists are one of my key tribes. I prefer a social-politically radical teacher. Thus my man Jesus. I prefer to be grounded in earth. Thus my Native Indianism. I prefer to eschew hierarchy. Thus my opposition to mainstream Catholicism. I’m just not familiar enough with Islam to be drawn to it. I have many homes.

Agape Community

Francis Day 2019 – A Short Video

Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead, I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

June 24, 2018, Sunday, Cambridge

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More than 15,000 children have been detained when they tried to cross the southern border of the United States unaccompanied

I notice the propensity of many to use compressed (or short cut) thinking rather than extended (or deep) thinking. Example: immigration. Compressed thinking concentrates on the presence of immigrants only and how to block entry to the United States. Extended thinking incorporates why they are refugees and what to do about that. In many cases of immigrants and refugees at our border we consider only the fact that they plead for entrance. We disregard not only their personal reasons for entry but, more deeply, what generated those reasons, namely in many cases how our government treated their country.

Proximal problem (using dental terminology): immigrants and refugees appear at the border. Medial problem: because of conditions in their country and what they seek. Distal problem: inter-hemispheric relations, exacerbated by the foreign policy of the United States.

I used these terms, proximal, medial, and distal, with Sh. last evening over dinner at Zoë’s (sitting two tables away from Cornel West) to help explain my hypothesis about my urinary bleeding [possibly stress-related from my project to photograph Palestinian refugees]. Proximal cause: urethral wall irritation. Medial: stress from planning the European trip, spiked by Yousef’s betrayal. Distal: universal dread hinging on the 3 potential catastrophes we face, economic collapse, nuclear war, and climate crisis. I had discussed it extensively with many people while on retreat at Agape.

Similarly, Israel uses compressed thinking in response to the Great March of Return, of Palestinians in Gaza who struggle non-violently (mostly) for their Right of Return and the end of the blockade. Stop them at the fence! Don’t ask why they are at the fence. Disregard the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe begun in 1948 when Israel was declared a state and expelled many Palestinians. Forget about the role of the world community—especially the United States—which either ignores or exacerbates the conflict and injustice.

For my Friends Meeting at Cambridge summer potluck submission on the theme of cycles and circles, I’ve decided to submit twin photographic panoramas from Quabbin, a wintry view of the frozen water body with a few figures on it in the distance, and a dramatically altered rendition of a recent view of the water and sky, put thru an infrared simulation filter. The idea stemmed from first, the overall exhibit theme of cycles (summer-winter), second, what I can easily access (Quabbin), and third, what will most surprise viewers (the juxtaposition and the two photos separately). I believe I’ve made a good choice and await the verdict of others, shamelessly dependent on comments.

I’ve completed the retreat photo series, posted to my website, announced to the Mission Council, and later will announce via MailChimp to my limited audience. I’ve titled the series, Witness to the Light, and begin it with the puzzling photo of about 10 people gazing off and up. Second photo shows the object of their intense stare—the new solar panels on Bridget House. I follow this introduction with forest elements, lichen, ferns, chestnut tree leaves, then old trees, finally the water itself, shown in multiple ways, with my Canon and phone cameras. I include two short videos, one of lapping gurgling water, the other of light playing thru the clouds and trees on the back of the hermitage.

Somewhere in my blog I might use the following (which I used in some emails) in my announcement:

From the sacred depths of Holy Quabbin Reservoir, reflecting the overhead in its deepest memories, as it fosters life for those of us who drink its waters.

PHOTOS

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Where the families of 95 of the Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israel during the Great March of Return (up to May 26, 2018) are from, now in Israel. As of August 13, 2018, more than 170 have been murdered.

In a few weeks I leave the United States for nearly two months in Palestine-Israel, hopefully also Gaza, to photograph internally displaced Palestinian refugees and their homes of origin, now in Israel. Earlier info here (to be updated soon).

THIS IS THE LAST OF SIX EPISODES ABOUT MY RETREAT AT AGAPE-QUABBIN.

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS: Agape’s Francis Day Celebration: Muslim Voices in an Election Year (2016)

June 21, 2018, Thursday, Agape 

Last morning in the sunroom.
Summer solstice.
Fog over the garden.
After mistakenly dumping the fresh coffee grounds D. had thoughtfully loaded into the pot the night before, another in my long series of mistakes caused by faulty assumptions.

Finally, yesterday I found my photographable topic while on this retreat: sky, not any sky, but a radiant sky, clouds radiating from many points. And not only that sort of unusual sky, but sky over Quabbin. I’d hiked the newly raked Hermitage trail to Lyman Road, proud of myself for finding the trail, not losing myself in the Quabbin Wilds, down the road thru Gate 45, further on a rough gravel road, as I swatted, dodged, swore at myriad insects, mostly large, nasty, persistent, biting deer flies, and found the swimming spot B. recommends and I’ve used before. I’d forgotten my paper map but had it memorized (probably poorly). Plus I once again had scant Internet coverage (along with phone), enough to activate my phone map. Down the trail-road to the shore, from about 300 feet scan the shore for the sandy spot I’d used before, spot it, and shift myself around a rocky point to be less noticeable.

Now the question became to swim or not to swim? It’s a chilly day, the water is cold, I’d need to remove my clothing and then spray repellant over my skin again after I’d dried off. I have grown wobbly in my old age, less sure of my footing on rocks. I’m alone and might drown or slip and crack my head or have a heart attack, to be found floating lifeless in the Quabbin, a corpse polluting the pure sacred waters I so love. How ironic.

I decided not to swim. I sat in the fluctuating shade and finally the idea emerged: photograph the sky. I did, first with my Canon camera, slicing vertically thru the atmosphere for maximum pixels and to show maximum sky (because everywhere above me the sky spread its strands), and second—as the sky slowly clouded up—with my iPhone. I will have two versions to compare. [Later, a third after I’d reworked one.]

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A series of vertical exposures with a compact camera (Click to enlarge)

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Made with the panoramic mode of iPhone (Click to enlarge)

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Reworked in Lightroom, using Infrared simulation (Click to enlarge)

This pleased me greatly, as if a hungry man, nearly starved to death, finally found food. Not just dumpster food (which can be delicious in my experience), or home-cooked food, or restaurant food, but elegant food, perfectly cooked.

I scanned the rocks looking for one that called to me as a gift to my altar at home. I recalled being here a few years ago on another trip, probably a winter retreat. Also looking for rocks. But during that period I had a prospective partner, Sh., and chose a second rock, a companion for the first, as a gift to her. This time I only chose one, thinking, I do not have that hoped-for partner. A second rock would be meaningless. Thus my current station in life, my current thinking about my current station in life.

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Click for movie

On the walk in, I’d noticed recent truck tracks and wondered, is anyone here, will anyone spot me, will I acquire a shore companion, will I be booted out and possibly fined by the environmental police? I saw and heard no one. Another memory came to me, biking along this shoreline road, and perhaps, preceding that event, walking this same route with L. She’d grown tired and found a napping spot on the ground. This must have been before the widespread infestations of deer ticks. Or during a season absent of insects. So yesterday’s walk evoked many memories and speculations. Quabbin is a repository for memories, it nourishes the heart as it quenches thirst.

Last night I showed the movie, Sophie Scholl, the Final Days, to B., D., A., and T. (About the White Rose, a student-led, non-violent anti-Nazi resistance group; many paid with their lives.) Even upon my second viewing the movie maintains its importance, as both a well-crafted piece of art and a message for our times. The acting again stands out, in all parts. The sequencing. The lighting. But above all else the meaning. This woman and her colleagues courageously understood the truth of Nazism, contrasting with many of their peers—and stood for it, risked their lives. Seemingly a hopeless cause, their lives continue to resonate.

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Sophie Scholl, German Gestapo photo, 1942

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Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, Trailer

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?

—Sophie Scholl

Watching it with 2 young women, I wondered, would either of them so absorb the story that someday they will be called to a similar action? And I wondered about the two men in the audience who’d done something related and suffered arrests and jail (B. and me), would this be a model for something we might do later, as a version of Nazism possibly envelops our country?

A story plays in the past, but also in the present. One can’t easily escape the “what if” effect. What if that had been me in those times, or what if those times hit us now? No better place than Agape to ponder these questions and no better time, on retreat.

Before dinner—S. and B. had graciously invited me to dine with them separately from A. and D.—B. and I sat in the gazebo drinking beer, his cold, mine room temperature, Harpoon IPA, with the young buoyant O. swirling around us providing “tea.” “Just water,” she reminded us, “we will pretend.” B. and I discussed the Irish Troubles because he and S. have had extensive first hand experience in Ireland and with some of the participants in the Troubles. He told me they’d once joined a Zen peace effort which brought together 2 IRA members and 2 Provisionals from Northern Ireland.

We were unsure of the utility of comparing Palestine-Israel with Ireland but I continue to read the book, “The Northern Ireland Peace Process: Ending the Troubles,” by Thomas Hennessy, in hopes of discovering something useful in that story to apply to Palestine-Israel. And besides, I’m curious how the peace, precarious as it might be (especially with Brexit) was achieved. B. thinks major breakthroughs occurred when rival leaders were brought together. This was done in stages, and in the earlier phases, in secret. Much as Mandela spoke with De Klerk in secret before public talks in South Africa began. (Both were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.)

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Dinner conversation, because of O.’s presence, was necessarily truncated. B. and S. are devoted grandparents so O. was allowed to participate on her own level. Our general conversation theme was aging. How to incorporate various Agape participants who, in their aging, are becoming more and more needy. Who would care for B. and S. when they become seriously ill? How effective could their daughter be? Would the large community of Agape rally for B. and S. as it did for Wally and Juanita Nelson? (I happen to believe yes.) And what of Agape itself?

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The late Pat Tracy, devoted Agape Community member, at workday, 2014

For some reason, perhaps mistaken (again making faulty assumptions), I seem not overly worried about my own endgame. Who will help me? Daughters? Quaker community? Personal friends? Some combination?

I have my community, as S. and B. have theirs. I have my photo-film-writing archive. They have their Agape archive (soon in the form of a published memoir). Agape might end with their end. As my archive might end with my end. Truly, among the mysteries of life, continuance and succession.

As I write, email from Agape tings my little iPhone alert bell, while either S. or B., most likely S., in the basement office below me bulk emails Agape missives. The current themes are American Indians, incarcerated immigrant children, and Catholics. Sun slowly cracks thru the fog. “That is how the light gets in, there is a crack in everything,” sings Leonard Cohen.

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ONE MORE INSTALLMENT OF THIS BLOG COMING

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS (St. Francis Day 2017: Listening to Native Voices—Standing Rock is Everywhere)

Agape Community

June 20, 2018, Wednesday, Agape  

Writing again in the sun room in the Francis House, early morning, after:

A chilly night in the Hermitage,
bothered endlessly by mosquitos and I presume spiders,
itchy all night.

Reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries, the version related to her writing assembled by her husband Leonard Woolf, I ponder, are there premonitions of her death?
Didn’t she die by suicide?
Any hints of that along the way?

All on a Tuesday morning, my 3rd day on retreat, sun at my back, chapel and prayer at my front. The day unfolds, the retreat unfolds, my life unfolds, all unfolds.

Last night I dreamt one big dream that seemed in two parts. In both parts I prepared to direct operas. One ended in a spectacular twin dance line which I photographed and later, after altering, made into an image even more impressive. Very wide, nearly panoramic, with lots of white created by dust kicked up by a long, still, solemn line of dancers, one line from an African country. The black bodies contrasted with the white dust.

As I entered the staging area of one opera I met Peter Schumann, founder-director of Bread and Puppet Theater, who asked me where I was going. “To direct an opera,” I said. He looked surprised, unbelieving. On one opera set, my father tried to move or add a watering hose; i asked him politely to please not do that because it would ruin the staging.

Unlike in many of my dreams, here I felt proud, I was accomplished, and I did not worry about outcomes. Maybe a little worried about how the operas would be received. What were the operas about? I’m afraid I have no idea, one maybe on a Classical Greek theme.

It had been a difficult night. Bugs frequently assaulted me, mosquitos and maybe spiders. I itched constantly. How could I produce a coherent (albeit based in dream logic) dream? Or perhaps, frequently waking, I had better access to my dreams. Did any of the bug assaults influence my dreams? Dreaming proves I slept at least a part of the night. The night ended not only with blazing sunlight, now unusually early—after all it is one day before summer solstice—but the nagging worry about how to implement my photographic Palestinian refugee plan. Can I make sufficient contacts in Gaza and elsewhere to actually photograph internally displaced refugees and then travel to their original sites? I should work on this immediately upon return home, writing people, organizations, etc. The challenge is how public to be since certain issues I intend to treat are so controversial?

Waking very early, I vowed to not sleep in the Hermitage tonight, my last night on retreat, to surrender to forces of the natural world and sleep in Francis House tonight. For a solid night’s sleep.

To summarize my last few days here (not including the Mission Council meeting on Saturday which began this retreat), I’ll quote myself writing to Sh.:

My retreat goes well, bike rides every day, visits to the Quabbin Reservoir nearly every day (and immersing myself there one time, a form of baptism), sleeping in our remote cabin called the Hermitage, experiencing a massive rain storm last night, with lightning flashes and crashing thunder, working daily in the garden, eating delicious home-baked bread and other nummies, and hanging out with S. and B. and others here. I’m reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries (the version edited by her husband) and an account of how people resolved the Troubles in Ireland. Agape and Quabbin are prefect sites at which to heal from my disappointment over summer photo plans.

In a schematic way that sums up fairly well my experience. But what about my deep experience, the inner experience, the hidden experience. How would I sum that up?

No epiphanies. Rather an ease of living, hanging out with the earth and friends here. A slow down time, breathing out rather than breathing in (remembering how L. would often call for a breathing out time in our sometimes overheated relationship).

Last night during my bug attack agony I suddenly thought: what if I have a heart attack in my sleep? Folks in the big house will wonder where I am, late for prayer at 7:30 am, not showing up for breakfast.

Where’s Skip? Maybe someone should check.

And they’d discover me in bed, call me to wake up, worry that something tragic had happened, shake me, check for breath and pulse, discover I’ve left this planet, exactly opposite the way I’d hoped to leave: as an active shooter, camera type, definitely not in my sleep, but aware of the death process, fully awake to a signal moment in my life. Despite my disappointment, I had died in an appropriate location—a rustic cabin that I’d helped build, the woods, Agape, near Quabbin. Couldn’t ask for a better location.

More garden work yesterday, with D. and A.—not watering this time because of the previous day’s heavy rain—installing cardboard and hay on the ground into which someone will later insert plants thru holes. This to prevent weeds, and also, D. believes, to encourage the growth of earthworms because they won’t need to surface for copulation when they’d be prey (or so I dimly remember).

Photo courtesy of Agape Community, 2018 (more info)

After lunch B. and I cleared the trail between the Hermitage and the road which leads to Quabbin. B. was surprised by the amount of undergrowth, mainly ferns.

Never in my 30 year’s here have I seen so much growth, he said.

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Trail between Hermitage and Francis House in the winter 2014

He strode ahead slashing with a weed sword (modern version of the ancient scythe) while I followed behind with a rake. Working together is often a form of relationship-building, most powerful perhaps when the results are tangible and have some longevity. Next year’s leaves, branches, shrubs, and ferns probably will erase our work on this trail. Returning, I asked B. if I could lead, to test my orienteering which is abysmal. With one exception, I did not err. This gives me some confidence that today, if I choose, I might myself, alone, find the path, the road, Quabbin, and depending on weather, swim.

That left a few hours in late afternoon for free time. Trying to build a discipline of at least one bike ride per day, I hopped on, lugged up hill south toward the town of Ware, turned right onto Lyman Road, along the road past a few houses, including the one owned by the fellow who is very protective of his property and takes down B.’s trail markings, past where the Hermitage path intersects the road, slightly further, thinking, maybe I’ll walk the path tomorrow, partly as a test of my trail-finding abilities, and enjoy this section of the Quabbin.

 

S. and I discussed the topic of watershed. She told me she’s been telling people that they live in the watershed of Quabbin. I countered with my definition of watershed: the area immediately surrounding a water body which drains into that body. Think of a watershed as a bowl, with a barrier that separates the watershed from other watersheds. All water rained or snowed into that watershed drains into that watershed’s water holder, a lake, river, etc. I promised to check.

So today, my last full day, the day before summer solstice: morning prayer in a few minutes-breakfast-see what assignments B. has for my morning, if any-get to the Quabbin whether by foot via the path we cleared yesterday or in some other way-read–join with others-make photographs maybe.

Today I might be unusually tired because of last night’s sleeplessness.

PLEASE TUNE IN LATER, ONE OR TWO MORE ON THE WAY

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS FROM WINTER 2018 (Agape Community & Quabbin Reservoir)

June 19, 2018, Tuesday, Agape

Sitting in the “sun room,” frogs croaking outside my window.

Morning light streams in behind me, cool-warm and muggy air, after a torrential rain fall and electrical storm last evening.

Yesterday I worked in the garden, more than I’d ever worked that garden before. When I came to B. to discuss clearing the trail to Quabbin from the Hermitage, he said, “this is urgent, the garden is dry, we need to water”—this despite the forecast of heavy rain. (B. does not trust forecasts, believes they’ve gotten worse. I checked. A recent study suggests they’ve improved, dramatically in some cases like one-day forecasts, marginally for 9-day forecasts.)

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Courtesy of Agape Community

So I happily, in thick humid heat, worked with B., D., and A. to water, plant, and weed. All very satisfying. Using the scuffle or stirrup hoe (with the flipping edge), I rapidly tore out numerous uninvited plants, vowing to use such as device at home in the community garden (If we have one. It was earlier at Agape that I discovered this magical tool.). I planted eggplant and winter squash and other seedlings, carefully as instructed carving small pits around the plants to conserve water. I used the watering can to individually water plants, and, when close enough to the spigot to minimize dragging the hose across plants, the hose and sprayer.

The pleasure was not only in my contact with earth, not only in doing useful work, not only in the exercise, not only in the service to Agape, but in the camaraderie I shared with my comrades.

Then, about 6 hours later, rain fell. Heavy rain, strong winds, a tornado alert, lightning flashes and thunder crashes, unlike any storm I recall experiencing in the Boston area in recent years. We just don’t have such storms, perhaps buffered by the ocean.

[710p] Base of the storm from the #Quabbin Reservoir. http-:pbs.twimg.com:media:COf0eArVEAAdxpI SM.jpg

Storm over Quabbin Reservoir, courtesy National Weather Service

D. and I considered a possible power failure. If the main line went down, would we still have electricity? D. reasoned yes because we have new solar panels. I reasoned no because they are connected to the grid and there is no sun generating electricity. (On Saturday morning, before we began our Mission Council meeting, B. and S. brought us to the straw bale house to inaugurate the solar panels. We mused that here we witness twin mysteries, the sun and electricity itself. What precisely is the sun and how does its energy transform into electricity? Similarly for electricity, what precisely is it and how does it transport power?)

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The Mission Council (aka Steering Committee) views the new solar panels
on the straw bale house

About power failure I believe I had the correct interpretation: if the wires connecting us to the grid were severed by the storm, we would lose electricity. This was not to be tested because, other than a faint flicker, electricity continued. To this morning when I contentedly discovered I could make coffee with the electric coffee maker.

A retreatent faces a decision: how much to integrate into the routine of the retreat facility? Here, as S. explained, I could separate myself totally from the Agape routine, eat when and where and what I like, sleep in, rise early, engage in my own prayer cycle, go off for the entire day, stay in the Hermitage the entire day, bring in and consume booze (secretly), same for meat. Or I could completely be an Agape-er, pray at 7:30 am, eat at 12:30 and 6:30, work as assigned, etc. I choose a middle path. I meditated late with D. last night, nearly falling asleep, but I enjoyed the moment. I prayed with the group in the morning, happily considering the clash between the Hebrew testament reading about revenge and the Christian testament to offer the other cheek. I ate lunch with everyone. I cooked for the happy trio of D., A., and myself (a delicious stir fry from frozen last year’s harvest, and my signature mashed potatoes and carrots, using for my first time an immersion food blender).

I biked to the Quabbin for the second time this trip, thru Gate 43, down the long road to the boat dock, a brief foray onto a trail, and back. Not very thrilling, but loaded with memories. Most recently a bunch of us from the Mission Council (Agape’s steering committee) during our weekend retreat last spring walked to this spot and observed and photographed the dam. Bob had photographed us as a group but never sent us the photo. Earlier I was here with Sh. as part of the workday experience, probably driving to this spot to picnic. The tables we’d eaten at had vanished. (But not the memory, not yet.)

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Part of the Mission Council at Quabbin, photo by Bob Wegener

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A small section of the Quabbin Reservoir, January 2018
Click for enlargement

Despite the heat and despite the fact that I’d already expended a fair amount of energy in the morning on the garden, I felt a new ease in scaling the hills on my bike. Not as arduous as the day before; I’m getting used to these hills.

Nothing photographically. Not a pixel recorded to be later manipulated and shown. In fact, as much as I remain attentive to photo possibilities, so far on this retreat I am not strongly motivated to using my camera. If I return home with few photos, I doubt I’ll be disappointed. I’m not here to photograph; I’m here to heal, to enjoy, to serve, and to appreciate the earth.

Via email I learned that L.L. from Friends Meeting Cambridge suffered a stroke. At last word she was unconscious and expected to shift to hospice in her home. What a blow. I’m not sure what precursors existed for her, whether she had any signs of impending final days—and whether this even presages her final days—but I suspect, if she were conscious, she would be utterly surprised. As my father was when he was “stroked” by the hand of death. I recall visiting him in the ER shortly after his stroke and heart attack, how surprised and fearful he looked. He might have been thinking, “what has happened to me, why can’t I think as I was once could?”

Where I write now, in the sun room, I am surrounded by ancestors—Paul Hood, Phil and Dan Berrigan, Dave Delinger, Juanita and Wally Nelson, Tom Lewis, Rich Bachtold, Pat Tracey—all represent the dead; and Islam Mathematica, Tom Gumbleton, Charlie McCarthy, Teresa Shanley, S. and B. of course, Brother Kato, Omar, Ali, Saba—who remain alive.

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Philip Berrigan, we remember you with deep affection and remain inspired by your life. Presente 

On December 6, 2002, Philip Berrigan died of liver and kidney cancer at the age of 79 at Jonah House in Baltimore. In a last statement, he said “I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself. (Agape Community)

Like my friend L.L. and my father Fran, some of the dead may have been struck rapidly, with barely a hint of their new station in life, whereas others may have suffered long days of pain and worry—and expense.

I ponder: who of my community will die next? Me maybe, a daughter, someone here today, Sh., someone from the Quaker community?

Who and what once existed below the waters of Quabbin

MORE TO FOLLOW

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS

June 17, 2018, Sunday, Agape

Chilly night in the cabin. a.k.a. the Hermitage, sunny, clear, dry, heat expected.

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I am here for 5 days, hopefully 5 blissful days. I am here to heal from the disappointment of postponing phase one of my big plan, Palestinian refugees in Europe. I am here to renew my relationship with the hallowed workers at Agape and the sacred waters of Quabbin. What are my retreat’s components?

I packed into my small, red, wheeled luggage L. had given me 8 years ago when she moved to Oakland. (At the last moment I discovered one wheel did not roll smoothly so I squirted oil and WD40 on it and eventually it freed.)

I contemplated what I would do when. When walk to Quabbin, when walk down the road (spotting a black bear near Gaudet Road), when sleep, when get out of bed, when wash, eat, etc. All on a very free schedule. No rush, no deadlines.

Click here to enlarge

I expect to be surprised (the black bear, meeting J. and A., other guests at Agape, ticks, etc).

I will read books (about solving the Irish Troubles, and Virginia Woolf’s diaries.

I will freely decline invitations to do something (last evening attend a song fest that A. and E. sang at and the 80th birthday party of Paula Green, and Catholic mass this morning).

I will photograph spontaneously (black bear, morning light on the interior of the Hermitage, Hermitage immersed in the woods, etc).

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I will only peripherally participate in my various extra curricular, time-sucking pursuits I usually do at home (Palestine-Israel work with New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, Raytheon, E., family, as important as they all are).

I will try to ignore distractions like dear O., granddaughter of S.-B., daughter of T., (O. currently plays around me with her dolls as I try to write this journal in the chapel, which I thought to be private).

June 18, 2018, Monday, Agape

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Hermitage

Warmer night in the Hermitage, calm, some clouds.

Sitting in the meditation chamber of Francis House looking to the main room, my back to the garden.

The high of the yesterday—biking to Quabbin Reservoir’s Gate 44 and nearly to the intake pipe (fenced off since September 11, 2001), with a diversion right onto the small road immediately before the fence to the water where, lo and behold, for the first time in years, maybe decades, I entered the sacred Quabbin waters, ceremoniously immersed myself in the healing waters, and lingered.

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Click for expanded view.

I had surveyed the shoreline for possible boaters and authorities, spotted only a few far off who seemed headed for the boat dock. I felt safe but had decided not to go in naked or to go deep enough to swim. A few minutes into my immersion I saw a boat with 3 men heading my way. Guessing they were environmental police and would at least scold me, at most fine me, I began crafting stories.  From total honesty: “Yes, officers, I am aware of the rule of no swimming, I am ready to accept the consequences, I love Quabbin and couldn’t bear not being fully in the water (perhaps appealing to our shared love of Quabbin).” To a lie, a probably feeble attempt to skirt punishment: “I slipped into the water, with no intention to swim. I was clambering around rocks, and being an older gent, I simply lost my footing.”

As they neared, I thought I observed that they wore brown shirts, a sure indication of a surveillance mission. But, as they closed in, clearly heading toward me, I noticed they were all bare-chested. A good sign. When they were within about 50 ft—I wasn’t sure they saw me, they might run over me—I lifted one hand out of the water (I was lying in about 8 inches, on rocks, blissfully submerged except for my head) and waved. They smiled, waved back, and put-put-putted along. No further incidents.

The next phase of this tiny but monumental ceremony was drying off. This forced me to confront the temptations of my iPhone. Mysteriously I had both phone and Internet coverage, even here in the wilds of Quabbin. And earlier I thought I’d discovered the GPS functions well without phone or Internet. While waiting for my underwear and shorts to dry so I could reapply bug lotion and find the path back to my hidden bike, I could cruise the Internet, write people around the globe, phone family to remind them of the day, Father’s Day, and otherwise engage as I ordinarily would when not on retreat. But I resisted. I kept the phone tucked away in my pack and decided to simply appreciate the long moment of sun drying my clothing and body.

Water lapped gently around me and up and down the shore, changing its rhythm with each passing boat. Sun subtly shifted; I reposed myself and adjusted my clothing’s position to accommodate. Wind alternately blew and subsided. Except for the motors, all was deep silence. For the moment I was fully tuned to the earth; Thoreau might be proud of me. What a pristine moment.

Clothing and skin relatively dry, I reapplied my bug lotion, and worried my way thru the thick brush, thick with leaves and branches as well as ticks, to the trail. I noticed, when I expanded my phone’s screen view, I could see precisely where the trail—it had disappeared in the brush—would reemerge. A new era. Does this diminish the importance of observation, leading me to not notice subtle signs of vegetation? Or can I maintain disciplined observation? What would Thoreau do if he had a smart phone? Would he be less smart?

Up the hill, retrieve my hidden bike, aim right at the main road toward the intake pipe, check for surveillance cameras, decide not to scale the short fence (about 4 ft tall, rather than the 10 ft fence I recall seeing just after 911), decide not to follow the path to the baffle dam (where B. told me later he and S. had been regularly nabbed by the green cops), bike up and down numerous hills (when is the last hill?), and home. Wondering, had E., when here in 2014 for an Agape workday, biked some of this same route? Not thru Gate 44 but thru Gate 43 and to the boat dock? I will check when home.

In discussion with J. and D. yesterday, we considered the question of community. “The Agape Community”: where is the community? A., a relatively new arrival, young, thin, and quiet, told me the day before she had expected, when locating Agape in a listing of intentional communities, that there would be a cluster of long-term people here. Other than S., B., and D., no one else lives here for more than short periods. Where are the people?

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The Mission Council, AKA, Steering Committee, of Agape

First, there is the core community of B., S., and D., and, while T., their daughter, was growing up, she as well, making 4 maximum.

Second, there are the visitors— the interns, retreatants like myself, guests like those who attend our annual Francis Day and other special events, and various other drop-ins.

And third, there is the community of memory, people who have been here and died, like Dan Lawrence who was crucial in building Francis House, Alden Poole raising money for the straw bale house, and people in my personal community who I communed with yesterday during my dip into the waters of Quabbin. L. features heavily. Love on the Hermitage floor, camping on Quabbin shores in the winter when she delighted me with special carnal attention, her thrill at meeting Quabbin for the first time, and then the many times we’ve returned here (never in my memory for Francis Day which is odd).

Obituary of Alden W. Poole

Alden Poole, former Mission Council member, World War Two veteran,
former member Veterans’ for Peace, courtesy of the 
Boston Herald

Then C. for Francis Day, me heavily anticipating (maybe she also) intimacy together for the first time. She was so excited, not by the sex which was frustrating because of my elderly problems, but by the quadruplet of earth, activist Christianity, S. and B., and carpentry (I don’t believe she resonated with Quabbin itself). One year, a few years after we’d broken up, she and I found ourselves together here in the winter when I was on retreat. She continues contact with S.

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Maria Termini, 2011, photo by Skip Schiel

And finally (for now) E. We were here in 2014 for a workday. I recall her in the garden weeding; I recall sleeping with her in the large 3rd floor room, improvising intimacy with the door open. I recall biking with her to Quabbin, maybe Gate 43, bringing food for a picnic, biking back up tough hills, walking our bikes. I praise her for giving this aspect of my life a try, but regret that it did not fully connect. Later, when asked how she felt about our visit, she said, “I like everything about Agape except the religion.”

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Shola Friedensohn, 2014, photo by Skip Schiel

Oh, how inexorably wishes become memories, memories wishes.

So, to answer A.’s question about where is the community in the Agape Community, it is multi-dimensional, a many-layered thing. It is not what most would expect but it is real and true. Just a little hard to view.

What else? A long conversation last evening with D. as we prepared and ate dinner, partly about fatherhood. I had reminded us that the day was Father’s Day; “do you have kids and what is your relation to them?” Not particularly close but his son usually remembers to check in on Father’s Day. I told him about my two daughters, how close I believe we are, but how so far they’ve not contacted me on this so-called special day for dads. No matter, I trust our relationship.

A long conversation with J., the young man with the thick black beard and long black hair, about community, his life in New Jersey, living with his family, all siblings still in one house, his doctoral program in theology. And about my work, the risks I sometimes take. T., the daughter of the co-founders and co-directors, was present as well, an unusual event. She may have heard things about me she’d never known about. That morning I’d played minimally with her adorable daughter, O., in the chapel as I tried to concentrate on my writing. A most energetic little girl, now 6 years old and very vital.

S. has foot problems, compounded by recurring Lyme disease. Last winter she broke one foot when she slipped on ice, and then, compensating, put too much pressure on the other foot, injuring it. Yesterday she was in too much pain to visit the beach with her family.

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STAY TUNED FOR PART 2

Agape Community is a lay Catholic community consisting of several community-built buildings; a core community of Suzanne and Brayton Shanley, the co-founders and directors; one permanent resident, Dixon George, and a constantly changing set of interns, volunteers, visitors, and retreatants. I am on the steering committee, known as the Mission Council. I helped find the site 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir, which I’d explored and photographed for years before we established the Community in 1982.

Additional info:

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Prayer is one hundred percent attention.

—Anonymous

During my first visit to Gaza in 2004, I accompanied a team of doctors and psychologists visiting hospitals. I photographed as they spoke with children wounded by Israeli soldiers. A 10-year-old boy, riding his bike in front of his house, shot in the stomach by an Israeli sniper. A 13-year-old girl, playing with her friends on her roof, her wrist shattered by a .50 caliber tank shell fired by an Israeli sniper. The doctor explained, “these wounds will heal but the trauma may never.”

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As I photographed I felt water surge behind my eyes, as if about to punch thru my eyeballs. I held the torrent back, wishing not to embarrass myself or end my photography because I couldn’t see. But when I entered the taxi to return to our office, I wept. I thought, I am so sorry, so very sorry for you. As Quakers might say, I hold you in the light—and I add—the spreading light of compassion.

Someone at my Quaker meeting had given us the profound message that tears can be regarded as prayers, a deep connection between ourselves and others who suffer, even if we do not know those people, the vast, innumerable “Other.”

Because one of my main photographic themes is depicting the suffering of others, currently mostly in Palestine and Detroit, I realize I now have secondary trauma, a mild form of PTSD. One consequence is that I weep frequently, sometimes spontaneously, often when I hear about suffering.

Currently, reading about the ongoing carnage—again—in Gaza, this time Israeli sharpshooters killing unarmed Palestinian civilians, most of them young adults, some of them children, I weep again. One may be the 12-year-old girl I photographed in 2004, now 26 years old, or the 10-year-old boy, now 24. Is the boy included in this group photo of the shaheed, or martyrs? Is a soldier who shot the children in 2004 now an officer giving orders to fire on Gazans demanding their right of return?

Gaza Martyrs

Palestinian martyrs from Gaza, shot by Israeli snipers on March 30, 2018

Despite the suffering I observe and share, my tears are sometimes tears of joy. I weep when I hear good news, as when a stranger stops to help someone. At that moment I say, I am so so happy for you. The light in me greets the light in you. We are connected thru the spreading light of compassion.

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Israeli sniper

The Great March of Return (of Gazans to their villages and towns)—Israel Threatens More Force After Gaza Protests Leave Nearly 100 Dead, 12,270 Wounded

Night in Gaza 2

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Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016—or writing later.

Quakers to Refineries (photos)
Added November 23, 2016

Johnny’s Neighborhood (movie)

I find myself at a crossroads with this project, nearly 7 years since I began it. Now I cannot decide what to do next—consider the active photography ended, make small changes in my direction, or make major changes like devise a new strategy. Do I have too much brick and mortar, i.e., buildings, and not enough blood and guts, i.e., people? I wonder, for you the viewer, of the dynamic I have studied and tried to photograph, what comes thru?

To gain some clarity I’ve joined a group exhibition at my Quaker meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts. In my portion of the exhibit, referencing the exhibit theme “Hope Springs Eternal,” rather than show only finished exhibition size prints  I chose to show a set of thumbnail prints, each about 1.5 by 2 inches on 13 by 19 paper.  I ask you, the viewer, to vote by noting file names of photos that interest you, and sending me the names. My late mentor, Andy Towl, once asked me, when you view an exhibit, Skip, what stops you?

What if anything in my array of these small photos from one of my six sessions at Motor City (rapidly becoming Bicycle City) stops you? Please let your eye dance across the images, with as little conscious thought as possible. What strikes you?

If you click on the array below, you’ll see a matrix or grid. You can then click on the array, individual grids will pop up, and you can use the arrow keys to run thru the set. To enlarge the image so you can read the file names of individual thumbnail sets, please click on “view full size.” You can easily comment in the space on the lower left of the unenlarged grid. (A little complicated, I realize.)

Feel free to comment to this blog, write me at skipschiel@gmail.com or phone me at 617-441-7756.

I plan to return to Detroit in June, mainly for urban agriculture and events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the uprising.

Here’s my general statement:

Searching for the Seeds of the New Detroit Miracle

An examination of the shifting dynamics in the country’s iconic post-industrial city

I have been photographing, making movies, and writing about Detroit since 2010, when I attended the U.S. Social Forum that summer, initially awed by the abandoned and scrapped buildings and the enormous swaths of vacant land. Later I learned about burgeoning urban agriculture, the arts movement, numerous civic projects, innovative reuse of buildings, the rise of bicycling, Big Money pouring in to build sports stadiums and commercial and residential housing, etc.

The inner core, some 20% of the land thrives with the injection of Big Money, largely from local billionaire entrepreneurs. Paramount among them, Dan Gilbert, the founder and chief of Quicken Loans, and the late (died Feb. 2017 at 87) Mike Ilitch, founder and owner of Little Caesars Pizza. Together they might own more than three-quarters of the newly developed property such as sports stadiums, office buildings, and luxury housing. Black and largely economically suffering people, many suffering from the recent bankruptcy of the city, inhabit the remaining 80% of the area.

I was raised on Chicago’s Southside from 1940 to 1955 when my family ignobly was the first to flee African-Americans searching for new housing. I have always been ashamed of this part of my family history and recently realized that by returning regularly to Detroit, living in a Black neighborhood, part of the 80% land mass, I have returned. I’ve made friends among my neighbors, developed a portrait series about them, and I’ve interviewed some about changes in their neighborhood.

Influenced by mentors Robert Frank and his book, The Americans, and W. Eugene Smith with his Pittsburgh Project, I hope to reveal aspects of Detroit beyond what’s now termed “Ruin Porn” and ultra beautiful and expensive development. I hope to portray the dynamic between Big and Little Money, development and gentrification of the urban core fed by Big Money, and the effects on housing, education, water access, urban agriculture, and economic development in the periphery, resulting from Little Money. This includes reduced pensions and health benefits of civil retirees and, to a lesser extent, police and firefighters.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of what some call “The Uprising,” others “The Riots,” marking a new phase in Detroit’s demotion from what had been named “The Paris of the West.” And now? I intend to continue my photographic exploration. As W. Eugene Smith has stated, “Truth is my prejudice.”

I ponder: will Detroit become the model for post-industrial urban resurrection or self implode?

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Anniversary of Uprising

Turning Derelict Buildings into an Urban Farm in Detroit

Riverwise magazine

James and Grace Lee Boggs Center for Community Leadership

 

 

 

 

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The Tetons & the Snake River, Grand Tetons National Park, 1942 c, Ansel Adams

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Mobile Homes. Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973, Robert Adams

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

PHOTOS

Social landscape photography portrays the effects of human beings on the earth; it is photography of the human-built or human-altered landscape. It may incorporate the natural landscape, the usual domain of landscape or nature photography—but it is most distinctly not about the natural world. In the more traditional approach human beings, any sign of human beings like roads and cabins, and any human effects on earth are notably absent. I believe this general attitude is a deliberate absence.

Consider the work of the exceptionally talented—and exceptionally limited—photographer, an American icon producing iconic photographs of the American landscape, Ansel Adams. Despite my love of his photos, Adams rarely shows people (and when he does, as in his Manzanar Japanese-American internment camps series, they look like rocks).

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Dust Bowl, Dallas, South Dakota, 1936, uncredited

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Yakima Washington, 1939, Dorothea Lange

Sharply contrasting with Adam’s photos are those from the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. These vividly and intentionally portray the effects of human beings on the earth—sand storms, fleeing farmers, destroyed farms. This is the crux of social landscape photography—how we human beings interact with the earth. This expanding awareness reflects our larger concerns with global climate change.

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Point de vue du Gras, France, 1826 or 1827, Joseph-Nicephore Niepce

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Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838. Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre

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Nelson’s Column under construction, Trafalgar Square, England, 1844, William Henry Fox Talbot

Social landscape photography has been around since the first photographs—or heliographs as they were first called. Consider the first photographs by Niépce, Daguerre, and Talbot. All involved buildings and people, implicitly the interaction between human beings and the earth.

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Quai d’Anjou du Matin, Paris, 1924, Eugène Atget

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New York City, 1888 c, Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives

Consider Eugene Atget at the turn of the last century. Recognizing the massive changes on Paris and environs created by the industrial era—and for other reasons, financial in particular—he assiduously photographed “The City of Light.” Likewise, his contemporary, Jacob Riis, newly emigrated from Denmark to the United States, photographed tenements in New York City which resulted in major changes in housing laws and the end of the most dangerous housing.

For contemporary examples, look at the aerial photos of numerous photographers like Alex McLean; Marilyn Bridges with her book, Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes, and the highly popular series called The Earth From Above by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

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Fleet of B-52 Bombers at the “Bone Yard,” Tucson, Arizona, 1991, Alex MacLean

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Mesoamerica, 1986 c, from Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes by Marilyn Bridges

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Icebergs & Adelie penguin, Adelie Land, Antarctica, date unknown, Yann Arthus-Bertrand

In 1975, confirming the need for an expanded sense of landscape photography, the prestigious photographic venue, The George Eastman House, in Rochester NY, presented the startling exhibit, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Oddly enough, given last names, one of the featured photographers was Robert Adams, no relation to Ansel—a dramatic contrast. Attesting to the importance of this genre, since 1981 various adaptations of the original exhibit have been circulating worldwide. In 2013 Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach edited and published Reframing the New Topographics, which brings the genre up to date.

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In my own work and teaching, motivated primarily by the global climate crisis, I detect a clue to my new direction, long nascent, but now more clearly evident: Social Landscape Photography.

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Downtown development in Detroit, 2016, photo by Skip Schiel

LINKS

The New Topographics, on artsy.net

New Topographics: “Landscape and the West – Irony and Critique in New Topographic Photography” by Kelly Dennis

Deadpan Geometries: Mapping, Aerial Photography, and the American Landscape” by Kim Sichel

“What is landscape – further thoughts” by Bob Coe

Photos of Boston’s new Seaport district

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Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.

― Jack Kerouac

Inspired by a photo exhibition I recently viewed called The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip at the Detroit Institute of Arts (based on a book by Aperture with a fuller array of photos on the same theme) I will now sketch my Open Road experiences, hoping later to flesh this out more fully as perhaps a photographic memoir.

First however, I should nod a thanks to Jack Kerouac and his revolutionary, and for me highly affecting book, On the Road. I read it when well into my 30s, with family in Maine, camping for much of the summer. I recall reading it while riding in our car to Branch Lake. The book was old and decrepit. So as I finished a page I tossed it out the window, heedless of environmental consequences, but I thought then, as pages flew like autumn leaves, a fitting reflection on the ephemerality I detected as a subtheme of the novel.

When a youth during the depression unable to find work in his hometown of Dubuque Iowa, Fran, my dad, hopped a freight train and landed in Chicago. No doubt he influenced me to, as soon as possible, join the Open Road, even tho at that moment I was yet unborn.

I attempted a similar vagabond trip—my first real road trip— when, at the age of about 4, I decided to run away from my pleasant, safe, comfortable, relatively loving Southside home in Chicago. I gathered a few things, probably candy bars and pop (and toilet paper), into a large hankie or bandana, and tied it to a stick. I threw the contraption over my shoulder and set out. I made it to the local school, Caldwell Elementary, about two blocks from my home, and quickly returned.

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Skip Schiel, age 4, 1945

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Skip Schiel in his First Communion suit, age 7, 1946

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Skip Schiel with Tom Rinkach (L), age 11, 1952 c.

While at Boy Scout camp in Michigan, my buddy, Kruli, and I ditched the program to make an all day hike. Without permission we left before breakfast, returned after dinner, and carried with us only brownies that my mom had sent me—and that crucial toilet paper.

Between my junior and senior high school years, my dad and I canoed Boundary Waters along the Minnesota-Canada border. I felt responsible for him, even tho I was only 17 years old. Until that trip I’d resisted the idea of attending college. Since my father was a salesman (a traveling salesman at that, eventually in charge of a large Midwest region, warranting many road trips for him) and sometimes very persuasive, I expected he would urge me—incessantly as he’d done before—to attend college, make something of myself, utilize my interests and possible gifts in engineering to become an electronic engineer. During that entire ten-day journey, he never raised the topic.

I decided to attend college. Long bouts of paddling, lugging our canoe over portages, making camp, and cooking together might have softened his outlook about me, developing his trust that I’d make the correct decision.

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Frank (Fran) J. Schiel, 1958, Boundary Waters, Minnesota-Canada, photo by Skip Schiel

Fran and my mother, Pearl, with my sister Elaine when she was old enough, every summer drove long distances for vacations—West Coast to San Francisco, East Coast to Maine. Dad photographed; eventually I took over, probably reluctantly. Mainly he (because I refuse such setups) created endless images of Pearl in front of some scene or historic marker.

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Frank Schiel, Elaine (sister), Pearl, Chicago’s Southside, 1954 c. photo by Skip Schiel (probably)

My big road trip break was in the summer of 1959. I’d just graduated Arlington Heights High School in a Chicago suburb, felt a strong urge to “go west, young man, go west,” and boarded the Union Pacific train to Utah where I thought I might find summer work, possibly on a ranch. Shortening that story (which could constitute one chapter—or even the entire memoir) I ended up working the balloon dart and bingo games with a carnival that paired with rodeos traveling thru Colorado and Wyoming—the summer of my big rupture from family.

During term breaks at Iowa State University I would often not return home (long distance, 300 miles) but instead hitchhike around the Midwest, with camera, with curiosity, producing numerous slide shows that predictably bored all the neighbors and family I could persuade to watch.

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Skip Schiel in Cimarron, Arlington Heights, IL, 1960 c.

Still at Iowa State, I bought my first vehicle, a Ford pickup truck that I named Cimarron (after a western movie), and let it cart me around to places distant and exotic, like the Black Hills. Amidst wandering defecating, fornicating buffalo, sacred to the Lakota Sioux, I camped, I photographed.

My first international road trip was to Romania in 1977, the year my father died. As an instructor of filmmaking at Boston College, I’d received a scholarship to attend a program in Cluj Romania, in the heart of the Transylvanian Alps, as an introduction to Romania. It was skilled propaganda during the era of the tyrant, Nicolae Ceaușescu, designed to generate positive impressions of this then communist and iconoclastic country. Altho by now I’d identified as a photographer and movie maker I decided not to bring equipment for this first, for me monumental, road trip. Instead, I’d observe, observe as purely and contemplatively as I could. For this decision I am forever grateful. When to not photograph is a skill difficult to develop.

With my wife Lynn and our two daughters, we bought a black VW bug and drove it each summer, Katy and Joey stuffed in the back seat, luggage hurtling from the roof top carrier, back to Chicago and Racine Wisconsin to visit grandparents. I photographed along the way.

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Joey, Skip, Katy (left to right), Watertown Massachusetts, 2009

For three months in 1979, one year after Pearl’s death, two years after Fran’s, I visited Nepal and my sister Elaine and her husband Bob, studying Buddhism with a lama at the Swayambhu monastery. I made numerous road journeys, including one with a guide to Helambu, the foothills of the Himalayas. Lots of mountain walking then.

I should add the many mountain hikes with family and my former partner Louise over a long period of time—White Mountains, Green Mountains, Sierra Nevada, etc. Don’t they constitute travel along the open road, a very open and winding road?

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Skip & Louise, White Mountains, 2002 c.

In 1982, a pivotal year for me, I drove across the Great Plains alone and discovered American Indians.

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Rosebud Reservation, 1983

Which led to 1983 when I bused the same route at the end of winter, and took up residence on the Rosebud Indian reservation, hosted by Jesuits. I lived and photographed there for one month.

(In this report I do not constrain myself to car-based road trips only, but include other modes of transport, soon to be foot and plane, never boat or ship, surprising because of my love of water-borne transport.)

In 1988, the first of my many Alaskan journeys (roughly every 3 years) I walked solo the Chilkoot Gold Rush Trail. Since then I’ve made other Alaskan exploits, alone and with my Juneau family.

In the summer of 1989 my newly discovered mate, Louise, and I flew across the country to visit her family. Followed in the summer of 1990 by a car trip across that same continent to meet my family. With stops in Chicago for cousins Karen and Bob and aunt Anna Mae and uncle Spike, Rockport for cousin Ginger, Dubuque for uncle Eldon, Napa California for her mother and father, Elizabeth and David, and Juneau for Elaine and Bob. Returning, we stopped at Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations and learned about the upcoming Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee that winter. We decided to raise money for the Ride generally and to ourselves participate as support people.

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Elaine, sister (L), and Louise

In early 1990, with Frank Gatti and Tom Sander, I explored South Africa on behalf of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, mostly by car but also for short trips on foot. Circumventing restrictions from apartheid we had reasonably free range of the country.

In Dec 1990, Louise and I boarded the train for Denver, rented a 4-wheel drive SUV to help as support people and participated for 2 weeks on the frigid plains. We camped out some nights, stayed in school gymnasiums on others. Louise walked the final day with Buddhist walkers into the Wounded Knee Massacre site for our final ceremonies, Wiping the Tears and Mending the Sacred Hoop. Here she met Jun-San, a nun of the Japanese Buddhist order, Nipponzan Myohoji, that would lead inexorably to more road trips we shared—almost entirely by foot.

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Morning circle, Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990, photo by Skip Schiel

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Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990, photo by Skip Schiel

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Lakota lands, South Dakota, 1990, photo by Skip Schiel

In 1995 I joined the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War 2 from a Japanese perspective. We walked (mostly, also used bus, train, and plane) thru Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Running out of money in Hungary after about 4 months, I returned home to raise more money (with help from Louise and daughter Katy) and incidentally joined the Turtle Island pilgrimage that Jun-San, one of the Buddhist nuns, had organized to support native rights. We walked from Plymouth Massachusetts, around Lake Ontario, to New York City, to learn the story of Peacemaker (the founder of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy). Staying on reservations and reserves (in Canada), walking thru the Hudson River Valley in the spring, we finally arrived at a major conference in NYC about violence. We walked some 1000 miles in about 3 months.

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Auschwitz main gate, December 1998, photo by Skip Schiel

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Croatian women, Lipic Croatia, former Yugoslavia, 1995, photo by Skip Schiel

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Boy with peace crane, Cambodia, 1995, photo by Skip Schiel

At the end of that long walk I returned to the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage and walked from Thailand to Japan, thru Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The journey of a lifetime—until the next one.

Then in 1998 on the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage I and many others, mostly European Americans, African-Americans, and Japanese walked from Leverett Massachusetts, down the coast to Savannah Georgia, thru the deep south to New Orleans. I left that pilgrimage for one of my own, first driving thru the Mississippi Delta to Chicago and across to Leverett in Western Massachusetts, and then by train back south for 4 months of pro bono photography to groups we’d met during the Middle Passage Pilgrimage.

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From the book, The Middle Passage: White Ships/ Black Cargo, by Tom Feelings

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Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, Ingrid Askew, co-founder & co-director, 1998, photo by Skip Schiel

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Gulf Coast, Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1998, photo by Skip Schiel

In 1999 I rejoined the pilgrimage in South Africa and remained there for 4 months doing photography.

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Robben Island, South Africa, Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1999

Subsequently (and earlier), driven mainly by Louise’s enthusiasm, she and I joined Nipponzan Myohoji for various walks: to and around Walden Pond in Massachusetts; in 1992, commemorating the Columbian quincentenary in a counter cultural manner, Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to Reno Nevada; numerous Walk for a New Spring journeys thru Boston and environs; and the Hiroshima Flame Walk in DC (which was mostly Louise because by now my enthusiasm for such long walks had waned and Palestine-Israel had taken over).

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Louise, 1995 c., photo by Skip Schiel

And currently Palestine-Israel and Detroit. In Detroit I bike around the sprawling city. In Palestine-Israel for short periods I rent a car and have traveled the entire length and breadth of that small (by United States standards) region, mainly by bus and shared taxi—Negev Desert, Galilee, Golan Heights, and the Israeli coast, also Gaza, by foot and rides with friends.

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Skip Schiel in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, 2003, photo by Mark Daoud

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Pre-wedding party, Gaza, 2013, photo by Skip Schiel

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Johnny Price, Detroit, 2011 c., photo by Skip Schiel

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Ghost Bike, marking a bicyclist’s death, Schiel’s folding bike in the background, Detroit, 2016, photo by Skip Schiel

Later I may add various other photographic tours I’ve made in the United States while touring with my Palestine-Israel presentations, especially south as far as Florida by train and bus, Chicago by train and car, and the West Coast, California to Alaska, by airplane, train and car. At each location I prod myself to walk, often to photograph.

When will I reach the end of my road? And how will the end manifest? Who if anyone might emerge as a solid travel partner or am I fated to walk this path alone (probably, most unlikely that current close friends will ever join me). In addition, my peers and I are aging.

I conclude this little foray into my road trips with two quotes, one by the illustrious peripatetic poet, Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, the other by what might have been a fellow walker but this was not to happen, my former wife (or simply my former as we call each other), Lynn.

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am large, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me…

—Walt Whitman

And from Lynn, her inscription in Whitman’s, Leaves of Grass, that she gave me shortly after we’d met.

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2016

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LINKS:

The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip (at the Detroit Institute of Arts, summer 2016)

The book the exhibition is based on, by the same title

My photos

“And you will be carried where you do not wish to go” in 8 parts, part one

Auschwitz to Hiroshima: A Pilgrimage, 1995

On Turtle Island, A Pilgrimage, 1995

My account specifically about my Open Road experiences in the troubled lands of Palestine and Israel:

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 1

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 2

And my most recent writing and photography from Detroit (as of posting this blog)

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