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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 (A Vital Conversation: Ecology, Justice and Peace—St. Francis Day, 2014)

June 22, 2018, Friday, Cambridge

In last night’s dream I was photographing in a strange land; it felt a little like Jenin in the West Bank. Boys swarmed around me, like gnats; men worked on a mechanism with brightly shining metal pipes; sand was everywhere. I was with others. We tried to photograph but the boys kept interfering, pushing sand into our gear. I fiddled with a bag of small pills, spilling them onto the sand. As usual I was totally frustrated.

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Jenin refugee camp, my photography workshop students, 2015, photo by Skip Schiel

Finally, I am home from 6 days abroad, i.e., Central Massachusetts with Agape and Quabbin. Am I healed, have I recovered, did I make starting discoveries?

I feel healed, for now. Someone from my urologist Dr. Das’ office left a phone message that the ultrasound of a few weeks ago reveals thickened bladder walls. So they want to do a CAT scan. This is mildly alarming, but it also may lead to some certainty about what caused the urinary bleeding. Maybe it’s not so simple as stress somehow causing the urethral wall irritation.

I feel recovered, at least partially, from the trauma of a broken summer photo plan. Still no word from Yousef (around whom I built my entire summer photographic project about Palestinian refugees in Europe), with none expected, merely hoped for. To more fully recover perhaps I should have sipped the healing waters of Quabbin, rather than only immersed myself. I’ve talked out my trauma with numerous others at Agape, received a compassionate ear, especially from S. whose special gift—among many—is compassionate listening.

Did I make any startling discoveries? I tried out my idea of global terror or angst or dread on several people, B., D., probably B. and S. With some agreement, some new ideas. I also tested my idea of immigrants and refugees as the New Jews during morning prayer, with some acknowledgment. I opened that up a little more with D. as he drove me to the Worcester train station yesterday. Jews are disproportionately represented at our local sanctuary church, more than their congregation numbers would predict, possibly because of their long-suffering as a displaced or confined people, in fact, as internally displaced refugees. That is, within their own country of origin, say Russia, they’d been relegated to the Pale, and thruout Europe to the ghettos.

Jews perennially have often been regarded as subhuman. Similarly, many believe immigrants and refugees to be subhuman, dehumanized, so they can be treated inhumanely. Witness the current separation of children from immigrant parents at our border, an abomination.

How else are immigrants and refugees the New Jews? They’re understood by many to be the major threat to this nation, imagined as a flood of aliens infesting the purity of our America Made Great Again. Similar to how Nazis used Jews as the hated poison; they contaminate the purity of the native stock. Jews are used to build political power. They are forced into unwanted jobs. Many parallels, a startling realization. And I’m certain I’m not the first to make this connection.

I plan to use excerpts from the White Rose leaflets (German resistance group opposing the Nazis) as my email footers, with a note about the movie, Sophie Scholl, the Final Days. In this movie, a key moment energizing her activism was learning how the Nazis killed the undesirables, the infirm mentally and physically. Might the current brutal, inhuman, immoral, illegal treatment by our government of immigrant families inspire a similar movement in this country?

Now it is a question of mutually coming to our senses, of mutually keeping one another informed…. If a wave of insurrection surges through the country, if “it is in the air,” if many join us, then this system can be cast aside with one last mighty effort. An end with terror is always better than terror without end.

— 2nd leaflet of the White Rose

Another discovery was the burbling sound of the Quabbin shore. I made several videos of this, as much to listen as to see. Holding the camera vertically I thought I’d wasted the chance for a useable video. (Same with the video of the back of the Hermitage as light, modulated by clouds and trees, played on the wall.) Examining the files yesterday, I discovered I could rotate them 90 degrees to make them horizontal. Whether this holds when viewed by others I’ll have to test. I also made panoramas at the shore on my last day at Quabbin, with my Canon and iPhone. Both might be useable.

For years I’d been claiming full credit for suggesting we locate Agape near Quabbin. My story is that B. told me he and S. were interested in homesteading, but weren’t sure about the location. At the time in the early 1980s I was photographing Quabbin; so I naturally suggested they look there. To test the idea, B. and I drove to the region, found a realtor, and checked various sites, partly for “perking” [to determine whether the land would percolate i.e., support a septic system, a requirement.]. We landed where we now are.

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The intake station in August 2001, now off limits after September 11, 2001

My earlier Quabbin photographs

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Topographic map—Quabbin Reservoir is the light blue vertical region slightly left of the center of the state (above the CH in Massachusetts).

Second version, from B. himself: inexplicably he’d received a flyer in the mail advertising property for sale in the Quabbin region. He asked me if I knew anything about the area. I told him about my photo project. One day we explored together. In this version I am not the sole inventor of the placement; I hitch on to the mysterious flyer.

S., his wife, remembers my version. How can we discover the absolute truth, if there exists such an absolute truth?

Riding the commuter train home yesterday (delayed 40 minutes by an outbound train, which was never explained), I suddenly thought, I‘ve missed a signal opportunity for another Agape photo series, what I might title, “The Don’t Smile Agape Portrait Series.” I would ask individuals like S., B., D., etc, and T., O., and any guests to pose for me and not smile. This would counter Agape’s usual style of smile broadly, hug each other. OK, I can do this next time.

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Photo courtesy of Agape Community, 2017

A final discovery concerns my revised Palestinian refugee photo project, dealing with the threat posed by publicly announcing myself as photographer-proxy for those trapped in Gaza. I could omit discussion of the second part of this project, in effect, photographically hopping the fence to enter the original lands now in Israel of Palestinian Gazan’s. I’d serve as their photographic proxies. Simply say that I’d like to meet people in Gaza whose origins are elsewhere; 75% of Gaza residents are refugees, internally displaced refugees. Or if that project becomes impossible because I can’t enter Gaza (needing permission from Israel), I could pursue the alternative L. earlier suggested, that would be easier on my stress-prone system, to photograph Palestinian immigrants in the United States, mostly in Dearborn Michigan where I visit regularly as part of my Detroit project. This would probably not raise alerts from Israeli antennas searching for any sign of security threat.

I have to reframe my project, develop two ways of writing about it, one that is public and another closer to the truth, the first I would use when writing to friends in Gaza and for possible funding, and the second closer to my intention, the deeper truth.

Which brings me home, where I stand at this moment, writing this journal entry. How do I feel? Relatively safe, satisfied, alert, ready for the next phase of my life.

Last night as a minor rite of passage, I downloaded all my text and photo files to my big iMac, converted where necessary, examined, and pondered: what does all this mean? This morning I struggled with Word file types, doc and docx, my old iMac not quite as supple as my new in opening files. Eventually I overcame technical glitches. I reviewed important email, aghast at how much is in my Forum, Update, Promotion, Social, and Scam folders. Little by little I get thru it. One important aspect of my retreat was utter refusal to look thru most of these folders, opening only the most important in the folder marked Important.

Ditto for restricting myself from web exploration. About the only time I researched was for the question of what constitutes the Quabbin watershed? This kept me in the retreat mode. I should apply some of this discipline now when home.

MAYBE ONE MORE EPISODE

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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.)

Troubles cover.jpg

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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ListeningToNativeVoices

The old people came literally to love the soil, and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. The birds that flew in the air came to rest upon the earth, and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing. This is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life-giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.

—Chief Luther Standing Bear

PHOTOS

St. Francis House

Francis House and Agape Pond

AGAPE COMMUNITY & ST. FRANCIS

Agape Community’s annual St. Francis Day celebration, this year with the theme, “Listening to Native Voices, Standing Rock is Everywhere,” seeded by Brayton Shanley’s trip last winter to deliver straw bales to Standing Rock—what I believed then was clearly a fool’s errand—drew more than our usual maximum of 200. Suzanne Shanley (his wife and co-founder and co-director) thought maybe 400-500 attended. Clearly the line of parked cars on the road extended further than I’d ever seen it. I was in a good position to gauge because I’ve been on parking duty for years.

After parking and walking and lugging, a person approaches Agape and hears the drum, smells the sweet grass and is smudged, spots the tipi placed strategically at the entrance of the main gathering area, sees many people in brightly colored regalia, watches the dancers, notices the tent holding some 300 chairs (which would be a good index for crowd size estimate), and then spies all the food and beverages arrayed on many tables. Ah, I am here!

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Photo: David Legg © 2017

MY NATIVE HISTORY

I am here, thought I, because of my Native heritage, not in my genes but in my history. This panoply of native elements at Agape reawakened my experiences with Lakota Sioux people, dating back to my direct introduction in 1982, extending to my month-long visit to the Rosebud Reservation the following year, stretching to the crucial stop Louise, my former partner, and I made in the summer of 1990 at Rosebud and Pine Ridge during our cross-country journey. We learned about the upcoming Bigfoot centennial ride, which led to our participation in the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee that winter. That had been preceded and was followed by other personal Indian connections, like the National Day of Mourning, Boston American Indian Center, Slow Turtle, Wampanoag powwows in Mashpee on Cape Cod, visits to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Reservations in Maine, American Friends Service Committee Indian program in Maine, etc. Names from Rosebud and Pine Ridge came back to me: Birgil Kills Straight, Ron McNeil, Mr. Kills in Water, Shirley Crazy Bull, Amy Respects Nothing, Mr. Tall Bear, Mrs. White Lightning, as names have also fled my memory such as Louise’s MIT student and her son who was so honored after the ride, and the first Lakota’s I met in 1982 when I picked them up as they hitchhiked across the rez. Fortunately, as a steering committee (AKA Mission Council) member I was able to weave some of my experience into planning the event, but Brayton’s trip was truly the major trigger.

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Big Foot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, December 1990. Photo: Skip Schiel © 1990

Growing up and slowly realizing what Whites had done to Indians in the past created a longing in me to return to that past and as a White person counter history. (With Louise, I made an effort during the Big Foot Ride.) Impossible but now I can struggle for Palestinian rights, one of my major current photographic projects.

MY PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITS

Fitting with the theme of sacred water, I exhibited photographs about water justice in Palestine and Michigan, demonstrating parallels. When I entered the chapel/exhibit room during lunch and a little after I’d been scheduled to speak, around 12:30, no one was there. Then a few people dribbled in and then—thanks to Sam, a fellow Mission Council member who’d help promote the exhibit—suddenly others popped in, filling the room. I announced myself as the photographer, leading to small conversations, speaking in a loud voice to be heard by others, but without interrupting their viewing.

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A photo exhibit by Skip Schiel, “From Palestine to Detroit and Flint: Water Justice”

Despite the small size of the space I was able to show most of what I’d brought, some 12 photos from the 2 sets, Palestine and Michigan, along with some descriptive panels outlining water politics. Without being explicit, I suspect the viewers could make their own connections between the Stand Rock Water Protectors and the struggles in Palestine, Flint, and Detroit. I also exhibited my photos from the Wounded Knee Memorial Ride, placing them in Francis House near the wood stove, centrally located.

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Site of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Photo: Skip Schiel © 1990

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Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, at St Francis Day

CHIEF ARVOL LOOKING HORSE

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, was the anchor and perhaps major draw of the event. Luckily, because El, my fellow Mission Council member, and I arrived the day before to help set up, we were with Arvol and other Indian participants like Beatrice, informally during lunch and dinner. He seemed shy, not prepared to be such a major figure, tall and thin, weak and perhaps ailing, tired—and, I reluctantly claim, not skilled in public speaking. Rather, he appears, unintentionally, to play the role of the proverbial Holy Person. A bit cryptic, uniformly serious with slight breaks in this publicly and many breaks in smaller company, definitely rambling and repetitive; in short, for me, a disappointment as a speaker. Listening to him I often wondered what would be my experience with other Holy Persons, Gandhi, Thoreau, Dorothy Day, Rachel Corrie, Thomas Merton, Jesus, Mohammed. I know Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X would impress as speakers, but what of these others whose words have resonated thru the centuries? How well did they speak in person?

A “disease of the mind” has set in world leaders and many members of our global community, with their belief that a solution of retaliation and destruction of peoples will bring peace. In our prophecies it is told that we are now at the crossroads: Either unite spiritually as a global nation, or be faced with chaos, disasters, diseases, and tears from our relatives’ eyes. We are the only species that is destroying the source of life, meaning Mother Earth, in the name of power, mineral resources, and ownership of land. Using chemicals and methods of warfare that are doing irreversible damage, as Mother Earth is becoming tired and cannot sustain any more impacts of war. I ask you to join me on this endeavor. Our vision is for the peoples of all continents, regardless of their beliefs in the Creator, to come together as one at their Sacred Sites to pray and meditate and commune with one another, thus promoting an energy shift to heal our Mother Earth and achieve a universal consciousness toward attaining Peace.

—Chief Arvol Looking Horse

Perhaps because of the theme I remet many folks from various movements and decades who I’d not seen in years: Paula G. and Jim, Suzanne C., Nelia who I belated realized had been with Brayton and Tim delivering the straw bales (she is blind and I know her from Quaker gatherings, an indomitable spirit), John S. who brought 3 young people in his van, Ricky and Deb from the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage in 1995; along with many Agape stalwarts like Eileen E, Kathleen and Dave Legg (Dave my photographic colleague at most Francis Days, this time we collaborated especially importantly because of the conflicting photographic policies—not during prayer, OK during most ceremonies, not Arvol too much because he gets distracted, etc; Pat W. who is another photographic colleague, and Pat F.); the largest contingent of Friends Meeting Cambridge Quakers in memory including David A., Minga C-B, Suzanne C., Maeve, Diana L., Dinah S., Patti and Bill M., but no one from my peace and social concerns committee except Suzanne C; and others whose names I’ve forgotten now and yet others whose faces were familiar but I didn’t know names. Such community strengthening was a major part of the event, not only for me I’m sure.

Who was missing? Louise most vitally, the only human being on the planet I share these issues so deeply with; my fellow Quakers and activists, Jews especially from the Palestinian rights movement; S. which pains me; M., surprisingly not there; Rob, Chuck, Lynn, and other close friends and family members. But this is contemporary life, contemporary community: wide-spread and fragmented.

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Children’s view of the event, photo by Emily

WATER

As expected, water was a major theme—water is life, Mni Wiconi (pronounced mnee wi-choh-nee), Water is Life. Quabbin Reservoir was in the background, Agape Pond in the foreground where we held the water ceremony. I was able to do the ceremony twice, once early Saturday morning led by Beatrice Menase Kwe Jackson, known as Bea, and Peggy, not photographing then; and at the conclusion of the program, photographing it from across the pond. As with Indians, water is a crucial ingredient in my life but I’ll not recount all the elements which began with nearly drowning when I was about 3 years old, rescued (as the family tells it, I have no conscious memory) by Fran, my dad. As the major ceremony began, rain very lightly fell, more speckles than drops, signaling sky presence of water. And thru the day clouds came and parted, at one point in the late afternoon singeing the treetops behind the garden, which stunned and awakened me once again to the power of light. I photographed it.

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Water Ceremony at Agape Pond

Women and men lined up separately by the pond. After being smudged with sage and sweetgrass, two men assisted one woman as she threw tobacco into the water, tenderly hooking arms, for the moment intimate, followed by water from a copper cup. Once the women had done this, at least during the morning when we had fewer people, women helped the men. In the afternoon musicians played guitar and violin and sang, which added greatly to the otherwise long and repetitive ceremony. I doubt this was official Lakota, or even Indian, maybe an amalgam of various traditions. I noticed Arvol and most Indians did not participate.

STORIES

Then there were all the stories from Indians, mainly of current suffering and struggle. The genocide continues, but now with a velvet glove. One group in particular, the Lenape from New Jersey, who own land, but because of insanely difficult conditions required for permits are effectively barred from their land. In the crowd I watched for Two Clouds, a Ramapough person from Mahwah, New Jersey; Chief Dwaine Perry, Ramapough, also from Mahwah; Chief Iron Bear; Strong Oak Lefebvre of the Visioning Bear Circle; Gentle Hawk from the Worcester Intertribal Indian Center; and others unannounced. Apparently missing were official reps from Wampanoag, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people, plus folks from Plymouth Massachusetts, Boston Indian Center, etc. The absences were as indicative as the presences. Competing local Indian events, given the weekend’s name, Indigenous People’s Day, may explain some lacunae.

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A member of the Ramapough people of Mahwah, N.J., who have long sought federal recognition as a Native American nation.

Counterbalancing stories of on going oppression, Arvol spoke about Standing Rock, the power of prayer, of story, of presence, saying he and colleagues never expected such wide publicity. During the informal session the day before I asked about the White Buffalo Calf Woman story and he, as I’d hoped, confirmed that the first elder and teacher of the Lakota people was a woman—or at least half woman, but certainly fully female. He began each of his two speeches with Mitakuye Oyasin (All My Relations), without translating it. His first language is Lakota and Suzanne whispered to me that he often has trouble translating his thoughts into English, which might be a factor in his speech making.

BURNING THE DOCTRINE OF DISCOVERY

From a Christian perspective, one outstanding element for me was when we symbolically repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, that absurd and highly revealing papal bull (declaration from the pope) issued shortly before Columbus began his journeys of “discovery”—which were in fact journeys of exploitation. (That and priestly sexual transgression should effectively end the belief that Catholic clerics, from subaltern priests and brothers and nuns to highest rated popes, have direct communication with the so-called god. Is any more evidence needed?)

We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens [Muslim Arabs] and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property […] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.

—Pope Nicholas, 1452

How did we perform this repudiation (a goal without a clear plan long fostered in some Quaker circles)? A woman cleric led a recitative prayer about repudiating the Doctrine; another cleric handed a facsimile of the Doctrine to Brayton who burned it in our sacred fire (so-called sacred, what does all this religious language truly mean other than to establish an emotional tone?), and carried its ashes on a fiery torch to the pit dug for the white pine burial. All very Catholic in its pageantry (pageantry I sometimes yearn for while Quakering).

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Brayton buries the ashes of the Doctrine of Discovery in the pit in which the white pine tree will be planted, supported by members of various Christian communities.

I managed to miss photographing most of this, trying hard for position but wishing to maintain some modicum of politeness, not bump people aside who were in my way. The symbolism of this act may be important, but educating people might surpass the symbolism in importance: more people are now aware of the Doctrine and the imperative to ban it, an incentive to reverse its legacy. I suspect even the current pope himself, Francis—true also of our honored St. Francis—would choose to repudiate what one of his misguided predecessors did.

Brayton Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Brayton Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Suzanne Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Suzanne Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL AMERICAN INDIAN-LED, NONVIOLENT MOVEMENT AGAINST COLONIZATION?

Brayton had given a rousing introduction to Stand Rock—as did Suzanne to Agape—speaking personally about his experience last winter delivering straw bales, claiming that this is the first American Indian-led, global, nonviolent movement against colonization. Arvol has been speaking across the country, at Wellesley College the day before, and flew the next day to Cairo Egypt. This connection, Standing Rock and Egypt, suggests Standing Rock is an outgrowth of the Arab Spring. Being so-called Columbus Day, now transformed into Indigenous People’s Day, I wore my pin, “Discover Columbus’ Legacy: 500 years of racism, oppression, and stolen land,” which I acquired in 1992 during the resistance to the Columbian Quincentennial.

Columbus pin

Many have forgotten this moment exposing and opposing the Columbian Conquest but I suspect it was a key step toward Standing Rock. So if we devise a timeline of activism we may uncover the interconnectedness of the movement—its intersectionality, to use a now-current term for blended movements.

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“They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.” (“Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies” by Bartoleme de Las Casas, who was an eyewitness to the Columbian Invasion)

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T-shirt by Jared Yazzie (Navajo) available from Beyond Buckskin Boutique

MOVEMENT HISTORY

To recount from 1945:

  • Freedom struggle in the USA-1945-1968
  • Anti-war movement during the Vietnam era-1962-1975
  • First contemporary resistance at Wounded Knee-the occupation in 1973
  • American Indian and Black Power Movements weaving thru this period
  • Big Foot Ride Memorial Ride—Wiping the Tears, Mending the Sacred Hoop-1990
  • Columbian Quincentenary-1992
  • Arab Spring-2011-2014
  • Occupy-2011-2012
  • Black Lives Matter-2013-present
  • Standing Rock-2016-present

I’d like to think more about these interconnections, and consider all this against an article I’ve read in a recent New Yorker magazine about the failure of movements, or better, how movements can succeed (with better long-range strategy as in the Freedom Movement vs. hasty organization as in the Occupy Movement).

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Planting the white pine tree

THE WHITE PINE

Finally we planted a white pine, which is a key element in the Peace Maker story of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. As a final act of remembrance and anticipation most of us made tobacco offerings to the tree, how it can symbolize overcoming the Doctrine of Discovery and all that erupted from it in the past more than 500 years, Standing Rock a recent example. This planting is an act of confession, contrition, repentance, as well as resistance, renewal, and forward march into a more just present and future. Mni Wiconi, Water is Life.

I left reservation life and my native people, the Oglala Sioux, because I was no longer willing to endure existence under the control of an overseer. For about the same number of years I had tried to live a peaceful and happy life; tried to adapt myself and make re-adjustments to fit the white man’s mode of existence. But I was unsuccessful. I developed into a chronic disturber. I was a bad Indian, and the agent and I never got along. I remained a hostile, even a savage, if you please. And I still am. I am incurable.

— Luther Standing Bear (1921)

Luther Standing Bear

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St. Francis with Sultan Malek al-Kamil, Egypt, 1219. Artist: Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

In 1219 St. Francis and Brother Illuminato accompanied the armies of western Europe to Damietta, Egypt, during the Fifth Crusade. His desire was to speak peacefully with Muslim people about Christianity, even if it mean dying as a martyr. He tried to stop the Crusaders from attacking the Muslims at the Battle of Damietta, but failed. After the defeat of the western armies, he crossed the battle line with Brother Illuminato, was arrested and beaten by Arab soldiers, and eventually was taken to the sultan, Malek al-Kamil. 

—www.trinitystores.com/store/art-image/st-francis-and-sultan

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Holy humility confounds pride and all the men of this world and all things that are in the world. —Francis of Assisi

LINKS

“Marking the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi with the spirit of Standing Rock,” by Eileen Markey

White Buffalo Calf Teachings with Chief Arvol Looking Horse

What is the White Buffalo Calf story and why is it important to Lakota people?

“Ramapoughs Trial Continues As Tribe Claims Town Is Trying To Outlaw Prayer At Tepee Site,” by Daniel Hubbard (Patch Staff)

What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

Doctrine of Discovery is Burned (video made during the day)

Why the white pine tree?

What is the Peace Maker story of the Haudenosaunee?

“Is There Any Point to Protesting?” by Nathan Heller

“On Turtle Island (North America), February—April, 1995,” an account of a Buddhist-led pilgrimage by Skip Schiel

“A Winter Count,” by Skip Schiel

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