"Some of the medicine seeds I've planted include reminding women that not only our responsibilities but also our joys of life are because we are women on a female planet. Some women think, "What's that mean, female planet? But they've been calling her Mother Earth all their lives...
"I also remind them that, in our teaching, every man who's here is here by invitation of a woman, because a woman can't conceive unless on some level she gives permission to that soul who's knocking at the door to come on in. So, you're here on Earth by invitation."
Day 52 - Sunday, August 13, 1995 - Temperatures climbed near the 100-degree mark down in the bottomlands of North Carolina, with sopping doses of humidity. Thank heaven for the mountain air, for it was somewhat cooler up along the Blue Ridge Parkway where the Sunbow 5 walkers were making their paces.
Walking in contiguous relays, they covered just about all of the planned 60 miles, enjoying most every step. They ended the day at Doughton State Park, close by the shoulder of fabled Grandfather Mountain (5,837 feet).
Then things went awry. We were unable to get the park fee waived this time, and had to pay cash for camping space. The tent sites were expensive: $10 each. So to conserve funds the walk shelled out only $40 for four sites.
Meanwhile, food supplies are low. The walkers have only a pot of rice for dinner. After emptying the plain pot, the 35 or so walkers attempted to crowd into the four tents for the night. That didn't work at all. Many chose to sleep under the stars and to brave the bugs. Lots of bugs.
"Everyone accepts this sacrifice. This is what we have to do sometimes for the walk, and for the Earth," Tom told me in a phone conversation. "Some days we are cold, and some days we are hot; some days we are hungry, and some days we are well fed. No one is starving. No one is sick. We are just dealing with basic needs. There are no luxuries. But we accept that. We are keeping our focus on our prayers."
As in Virginia, the Appalachian Mountains here in North Carolina are wooded. The mountains roll in gentle beauty from valleys to summits, and there are often grand views: treetops and hills and mountains in cascading waves off to the far horizon.
The pilgrims stride from the deep forest to an outlook, then onward in forest again to the next outlook -- each thicket of forest enveloping them in moist, vibrant life; each outlook revealing another soul-expanding vista. With each step, as a matter of discipline, they pray.
The great, rugged spine of the Appalachian Mountains was named after the Apalachee Indians of the Florida Gulf Coast. Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto first took the name of the people and applied it to the long chain of mountains in 1540-41. At that time he was marching north from Florida through Georgia with a horde of war dogs and a phalanx of heavily armed soldiers.
After having helped Francisco Pizarro overthrow the Inca Empire of South America, de Soto had come to North America in response to the extravagant claims of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca.
Cabeza de Vaca claimed he had heard reliable, first-hand stories about fabulous wealth that was to be had in the "Seven Cities of Cibola."
Over the years those stories of vast gold treasure drove many men mad, as the lust for the legendary gold scrambled the basic human capacities for honesty, caring, respect.
De Soto sailed from Spain toward America on April 7, 1538, with 600 men, 200 horses, a posse of priests, and the infamous pack of war dogs. He imagined that if he could find the fabled cities of Cibola, he would find also that they were in fact cities of gold.
In the following years de Soto’s army rampaged across 4,000 miles of southeastern Turtle Island in a brutal and exhausting search for the golden empire of Cibola. The conquistadors marched with relentless brutality through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and elsewere. Ultimately, half the Spanish soldiers died on the expedition, including, de Soto himself.
They found little gold, but they did stumble upon city after city of a sophisticated culture of human beings who expended greatttime, energy, and resources on mound-building: what anthropologists call the Mississippian people.
As de Soto's expedition marched, it attacked these cities and villages over and over without provocation. Thousands of native people fell to the invaders' snarling dog packs, and to the guns and swords. The war dogs were massive, armored, strong, and trained-to-kill. In cities and villages across the Southeast, the dogs took the lives of hundreds of men, women and children. Strange new diseases soon followed the invasion of the conquistadors. Many thousands of native people succumbed to the sicknesses.
De Soto was able to travel swiftly because he followed the well-used paths and roads already built by the natives. As de Soto progressed he burned and pillaged many of the great cultural centers of the Southeast. This systematic plunder, murder, and enslavement of the southeast native peoples brought the collapse of their civilization. Of these great nations little is left now beyond the earthen mounds and their telluric mysteries.
Years after the conquistador's incursion onto Turtle Island, toward the end of the American Civil War in 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman would also blaze a trail of destruction in the Southeast. As if striving to outdo de Soto, Sherman and his Union troops burned Atlanta to cinders, then marched east out of the city on a path of intentional, industrialized death and destruction leading to the sea at Savannah.
The Appalachian Mountains which have borne silent witness to these sorrows -- the mountains De Soto named long ago -- stretch from central Alabama all the way north to Newfoundland, Canada. They roughly parallel the eastern shoreline of North America for over 2,000 miles.
Because a keynote of our pilgrimage is the spiritual act of forgiveness, the Sunbow 5 walkers made prayers for all the peoplle of the past and all the people of the present. They prayed for all the suffering and hardship, forgetting no one, including all. As they walked today on the Blue Ridge of the Appalachians, they prayed for the hoop, the whole circle of Creation.
In some respects this is one of the hardest parts of our pilgrimage, the forgiveness part, especially when one or another of the walkers feels a strong emotional connection to an issue, or feels he or she has a personal grievance.
When he visits with the walk, Grandfather Commanda will often mention something about forgiveness. He might say, for instance, that in his view we don't need to forget the past, and in fact we may absolutely need to remember it. But at the same time we can always forgive. Grandfather holds an unshakeable conviction that forgiveness -- along with honesty, caring, sharing, and respect -- is essential for lighting the 8th Fire.
Withered - trees on Mount Mitchell wither from drifting clouds of toxic air and water.
In an e-mail to the walkers, David Yarrow of Albany, New York, notes that during the late 1970s trees began to weaken and die on the summit of North Carolina's highest mountain peak, Mount Mitchell (6,684 feet).
By the year 1988 this phenomenon had been dubbed a "ring of death," and it was at the 5,100-foot level. Tests showed the ring of death was dropping lower down the shoulder of the mountain each year.
Rising more than a mile high, surrounded by the gentle mist of low-hanging clouds, Mount Mitchell is an extraordinary place. What's happening on the summit is thus felt acutely by those who know the mountain and the Carolinas.
As David noted in his e-mail, "All scientists could say is that what is killing the trees isn't a particular disease, insect, fungus, or other known pathogen. It's not in the soil. Whatever it is, it is in the air. Trees breathe it and they die. Every year the ring of death descends a little lower on the mountains.”
Now in the summer of 1995 as the walkers pass nearby, conditions have deteriorated further on the Appalachian mountain tops.
As the walkers were setting up camp at Doughton State Park, a ranger told them that nearby Grandfather Mountain was also suffering. He said that Grandfather Mountain -- one of the highest peaks and the local mountain considered sacred by native peoples -- is undergoing the same ring-of-death phenomenon as Mount Mitchell. Acid rain and acid air are killing the flora and fauna -- the life of the mountain. As with other Appalachian peaks, Grandfather Mountain is dying from the summit on down.
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 53 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire