"What they greatly thought, they nobly dared.” - Homer
Day 1 - Friday, June 23, 1995 - Just beyond the high point of summer solstice, the Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth began at blazing noon on cracked pavement near a great bay of the ocean. In beauty we began.
The night before starting, a dozen of us had huddled at Harwich, Massachusetts in a Metachan (purification lodge) guided by our Cree relative, Ned Paschene.
Until the small hours of the night we clustered together in the domed hut of willow saplings, covered with blankets and tarps. We sat around a small pit filled with rocks which had been heated glowing red. Ned sang in his way, then poured water on the rocks to raise a scalding fury of steam.
|Purification Lodge - (Photo by dreamymo, courtesy of flckr.com)
Sweat rolled out of us for hours, cleansing and renewing, prodding us into progressively deeper states of consciousness. Surrounded and supported by sacred songs and herbs, we were safe to open to spirit. Bear was with us. For four endurances we stayed in the lodge, emerging in the deep of night to flush our skin with hose water, retiring to tents to tents on the lawn for three hours of sleep.
Long before dawn Tom roused us and sent us off down the road, headed for the sunrise ceremony. We were pilgrims of another sort, returning to First Encounter Beach with a drastically different purpose. We were not seeking a new home as the Pilgrims of history had done, but rather seeking to protect our home by uniting the races that had been split apart 400 years ago on this sandy stretch, and at countless other infamous places around our world.
At the beach we returned to the same sand hollow where we had gathered last November, away from the shallow bay shore and below the road grade.
As if soaked in a dye the color of beach roses, arrows of early morning sunlight rayed down upon the hollow and flitting over the gathering pilgrims. The fire was kindled again in the same flat place, among the same stones. The driftwood fire would burn for hours -- tended by fire keepers -- all morning and on through the day until sunset after the pilgrims had set out and were far down the road.
Perhaps 100 people, representing all the races of humanity and many of its spiritual traditions, circled the fire that morning and made final prayers and preparations for a walk of some 3,700 miles down the East Coast of the Turtle Island to Cherokee, North Carolina, then west to the Pacific Ocean at Santa Barbara, California.
After the sunrise ceremonies, we returned the 15 miles to Tom and Naoko's house in Harwich to pack up tents and sleeping bags, gobbled doughnuts and coffee, and make last-minute phone calls. The energy was high. Helter-skelter, we rushed back to First Encounter Beach about 10 AM for another ceremony, the final blessing before our first steps. We circled up again, this time under bright, sunny skies and energizing ocean zephyrs.
During the ceremony elders representing different nations offered messages, and brought us together in focused prayer for the safety of all walkers, and the realization of our vision.
Rev. Eugene Callendar of the Harlem Presbyterian Church in New York City created a frame of historical reference with his words: "I began walking a long time ago, you know. Forty years ago, I began walking in a little town in Alabama, in Selma. People decided that they could walk no longer the way they had been walking. They knew that they needed to walk with dignity. They needed to be recognized as children of God. That walk helped to spark a tremendous transformation.
"Today we know that there are chords of disharmony in the symphony of our lives. This is why we must walk again, and recognize with grateful heart that we are all God's children. How can we wipe away the tears of the people -- of all the people -- if our hands are like knives? We cannot. Our hands must be open and filled with love and understanding.
"This walk, I sincerely believe, will honor the Creator, and uplift the consciousness of people everywhere that the walk goes. This is Holy Ground where we start. This is Holy Ground, where the walkers are going, every step of the way, every place that they stop.
"This is a pilgrimage of righteousness. This is a pilgrimage of healing. This is a pilgrimage of truth. I am honored to be here at the start. I pray a blessing on my brothers and sisters of all colors, of all faiths, as the walk begins."
|Our pilgrimage route - We will walk south to Cherokee, NC, then head west to Los Angeles, CA, finally turning north to reach the Western Gate at Point Conception, near Santa Barbara, CA.
Algonquin pipe carrier Frank Decontie stood in for Grandfather Commanda. After a long journey to Cape Cod from his home on the Kitigan Zibi Reserve in Maniwaki, Quebec, Grandfather was unable to attend the start of the walk. Age 82 at the time and suffering from high blood pressure, he was exhausted. He rested all day at a nearby motel
In the hour before the walk began, Frank came before the fire and spoke passionately. Dark-haired, gaunt, about 50 years old, Frank stalked the circle intently as he spoke, fixing the people one at a time with a ferociously steady gaze. He knew that what he was saying meant something important. He wanted to be sure everyone got it:
"We have only one Creator, all of us. We have many ways of understanding or speaking about this, but only one Creator. We are not here for fun and games. We are not here for entertainment. We are here for sacred reasons.
"We are here to honor our Mother, the Earth, and to work for our children. When we pray, we pray for our children so they can join the sacred hoop, the sacred circle, and regain the sacred knowledge.
"When we pray, we pray with one mind, one heart, and one prayer in the circle. This makes us strong. This is what works for us. This is what brings the eagles to work with us.
“A walk is hard. This we know from other walks, from others who have walked before us. A walk calls for lots of sacrifice, lots of understanding, lots of endurance. We need a certain guidance, a certain direction, a certain strength. So we begin with a step in the right direction. We begin with humility, and with a prayer.
"Now is the time. Now is the time for this walk. The Eastern Door is open. We must carry word of this across Turtle Island, to tell the people. The Eastern Door is open. Now is the time.
"Love, forgiveness, understanding -- these are the teachings that Grandfather Commanda would have brought out today. They are the teachings that he gave to me, and I give them to you. This is what it's going to take to walk, what it's going to take to function in a sacred manner. We need to remember that we are walking for each other; we are walking for our children; we are walking for the Earth.
"We have to walk softly. That's it. Native people have, in these times, been called by Great Mystery to come forward, and that's what we are doing: at the United Nations, in Ottawa, in Washington, and in Mexico City. We are giving the Great Message that we have carried all these many thousands of years. We are giving the Great Message of our indigenous nations because we love you, and we care about you, and we want to help you. Help us, and we will help you.
"In the spiritual way of life there is no room for hate, no room for jealousy, no room for greed. You must have love in your heart, and you must have patience; then you can follow the spiritual way. This is what we know. This is what we say.
"A long time ago, at the time of creation, the Creator created people of different colors and gave them their instructions. From these different colors came all the people. As we have been told by our grandmothers and grandfathers, our people, the Red people, were the last to get their instructions. We were told: 'take care of this Mother Earth.' This is the instruction that was given. Also, we were told: take care of these people of the other colors, and everything that the Creator created. Take care. This was repeated four times, to make sure that it was understood and acknowledged, and I am acknowledging it again today.
"There could be physical pain, emotional pain, mental pain on this walk. We may want to quit. We cannot do it without help. So we must pray, and we must walk from the heart.
"I stand before you in humility as Grandfather Commanda's helper. This is what he would tell you. It is what he wanted me to tell you. This is the last thing we have to share with you. The land, it is gone. We have shared how we fish, we have shared how we trap, we have shared how we grow corn, and beans, and squash. This is the last thing we have, our spiritual way. And now it is coming out, because it is very important that we give it to you now. We give it to you because it is very important, and because we love you. These are the teachings of our hearts. I ask you to listen not just with your minds. I ask you to listen with your hearts. Because that is the only way you can receive what it is, what we are giving. These are the teachings of our hearts.
"This is a great thing, this walk, a great undertaking. This could be a turning point in the history of the world. We Native people see what is going on. We see the fish are gone. We see that there are no cod any longer here on Cape Cod. We see the trees are dying. We see that the fresh waters are now bitter. We see the people suffering everywhere. We see the animals dying. We see the hole in the sky. We don't need to go into a laboratory to understand this. We see it with our eyes, and with our hearts. We see what is going on.
"We want to live. We want to survive. We want our children to live, and to be part of the Sacred Hoop.
“Just the way things are now, it was seen a long time ago. It was seen that the Earth would suffer, that the animals would suffer, that the trees would suffer. It was seen a long time ago that there would be children of all colors who would want something better. That is why we are walking. Let us do it from our hearts.
"There is always hope. Grandfather Commanda always says, 'there is always hope.' That is what this walk is about. So walk. Walk with humility. Walk with dignity. Walk with strength. Walk in beauty. Walk with endurance. Walk for the children. Walk for all the people. Walk with hope.
"This walk is going to take eight or nine months. There are lots of elders out there across Turtle Island, and they have many beautiful teachings, many teachings that all the people need now. It is our hope, it is our prayer that they will come forward now that the Eastern Door is open. It is our prayer that they will meet us as we walk. That they will teach and share what they understand from their hearts. Be patient. Listen to the elders. You need patience to receive these teachings. It doesn't all come at once. You need patience."
When Frank finished his oration, Ned Paschene prayed. Then Tom Dostou. We all prayed. The Sun was high overhead by then at Noon. Frank climbed the sandy bank from the clearing where our sacred fire still burned. He searched about on the roadway and located a crack in the pavement. "This is it," he said. "This is where we will begin."
We took a break to give everyone a chance to get their shoes tied, and to generally prepare to walk on paved roads for the rest of the day. A school teacher named Fran Hutchins had been planning to travel all the way with the walk, and to bring his truck along to help transport tents, cooking equipment, and other gear. But Fran and Tom Dostou had engaged in a heated argument a couple of days earlier. Fran changed his mind. He refused to travel with Tom. The walk would have to start without a truck.
Providentially, during that 15-minute break, there arose a moment for three women to come forward with a gift for the walk: Jennifer Byington, Mary Ellen Wickum, and Polly MacNichol signed over the ownership of a little blue 1985 Toyota pickup truck named Bess -- a gift to the walk to carry the supplies and to help shuttle walkers back and forth.
Only a handful of people had pledged to walk all the way, perhaps six, but that first day, by way of support, the 100 or so people who had gathered to start the walk clustered behind a crack in the pavement to set out for the first half-day of walking.
In the moments just before the first step, Frank Decontie looked up and pointed.
"Eagle" Frank shouted, as all looked up. What was directly overhead, circling above the walkers, was an enormous Red Tail Hawk. Everyone present understood immediately that the great bird slowly circling directly over our heads was an omen. There was no mistaking it.
Many people see the red-tailed hawk as Red Eagle, and this is how they speak of this powerful creature. Red Eagle signaled the beginning of the Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth.
Eagle sees far, has spiritual vision, and often knows what is coming. When Eagle appears events fly fast. We were poised at a threshold -- standing under the Sun beneath the spiraling Red Eagle, and behind a crack in the road.
Moments later, at Frank's shout, our pageant surged across the crack and we began walking the long roads to the Western Gate in California.
Red Eagle cruised off into the distance behind us as we started. Then Red Eagle turned and came gliding again from behind, riding the currents of hot air rising from the pavement, and cruising low. The great bird slid silently through the air from behind and then over the heads of the walkers, then thrusting out front, as if signaling the way we were to head. Another Red Eagle, the mate of the one overhead, danced in the cerulean sky over the marshes to our right.
As we traversed that first mile, the Red Eagle that had flown above us was spotted, caught, then harried by two wildly, squawking crows. They nearly pecked Red Eagle to the ground. Wings, claws, and beaks whirled in the bright blue summer sky. Red Eagle was in trouble, then seemed to be escaping to rise, but then…nothing. Trees blocked the view.
Only one person, Dennis Gonsalves, observed the fate of Red Eagle. But as with the other walkers, he was too intent on moving forward to mention what he'd seen. Our omen was vivid, but we paid scant attention to its portent for the journey. The road stretched out an estimated 3,700 miles ahead of us. We were intent on getting started.
In beauty, our pilgrimage began. For three months we would walk from the north toward the south, heading for Cherokee, North Carolina. In Cherokee we would make a turn to walk to the western sea.
|In the beginning - Well over 100 people walked the first day. Here a small band makes its way along the road leading from First Encounter Beach. Naoko Haga is on the far right.
This first day we had walked just a bit over a mile when a man and his wife stood at the end of their driveway and waved us in. There we found tables laden with meat, bread, cheese, fruit, cookies, and cool drinks.
Roy and Mary Foley had read about the walk in the morning newspaper, and were stunned to see that William Commanda would be at First Encounter Beach. Roy is a Mik'Maq Indian, and when he was younger he had lived with William and his wife in Maniwaki, Quebec. But as the years had gone on he lost touch, and pursued his own life. Now, hundreds of miles from Canada, Grandfather Commanda -- and a band of pilgrims -- was about to walk by his front door. He and his wife did the native thing: they welcomed the travelers and fed them.
Within an hour after our miraculous lunch we were strung out on the road like distant beads, connected with only the vaguest of intentions.
Few had any idea where we were heading to spend the night, nor knowledge of the roads we were to follow. Tom Dostou was far ahead of us all, his jaw set, walking with determination, wearing rubber sandals.
Late in the afternoon I left the walk to begin returning to my New Hampshire home, where I would serve as coordinator the Sunbow 5 Walk, using a sun-filled room in a 200-year old farmhouse as the office.
Before leaving Cape Cod, Jacki Hayward-Gauger and I stopped for a rest at Rock Harbor in Orleans, Massachusetts,. There we saw in the western sky a Sunbow (Whirling Rainbow). The circular hoop of light was bright, but incomplete.
Sunbows remind us of the importance of living in respect and harmony with all the creations that make life possible: plants, animals, waters, minerals, winds, and other human beings. Sunbows the lore holds, symbolize an emerging understanding.
Eventually all the walkers completed the first day safely and pitched camp at the Peace and Justice Center in the town of Dennis, Massachusetts.
Grandfather Commanda felt better as the day unfolded, and as he rested in his motel room. "I recovered," he explained, "because Naoko and a couple of other women came to the motel where I was resting. They helped me, and prayed for me, and healed me all morning till about two or three in the afternoon.”
In the early evening, feeling stronger, Grandfather Commanda wanted to visit First Encounter Beach. He left his room with Rita Sebastian of Falmouth, Massachusetts. Rita has pledged to walk the whole way.
"Rita and I went out to have dinner at a restaurant," Grandfather said, "and we finished about 9:30. Then we went back over to the beach. I have a little pipe, with the bowl in the shape of an arrowhead. This is the one that I smoked there on the beach that night, and then I handed the pipe to Rita. Having smoked the pipe, I asked the Little People (Puckwidgini) to come and tell me about the walk -- to tell me how it would go.
"It took maybe 15 minutes," Grandfather said "and then from a distance, there was a bright small light coming toward me. It got very big. Then I could see what they were showing me in the sky: an Eagle, a Caribou, and a Thunderbird.
"They were all in one big hoop in that light together, with a reddish or pink color around them, " Grandfather said. "So that was it. We had never seen anything like that before. That was a response to what I was asking. Then I told Rita: ‘I have to find out what it means...’"
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 2 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire