“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one 'less traveled by' — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the Earth."
— Rachel Carson
Day 40 - Tuesday, August 1, 1995 - This is the 40th day of our pilgrimage. That makes an impression. In many of the world's traditions the span of 40 days is recognized as a key spiritual interval.
My own family tradition is Catholic. I remember as a child learning about the 40 days of the great flood that, it is said, destroyed the world before this one. I learned also about the 40 days Christ fasted in the desert, about the 40 days of sacrifice the faithful make in the season of Lent, and about the 40 days that elapse from Easter to Pentecost when -- according to the teachings -- Holy Spirit became universally available to the people. As a child I was deeply impressed with the tales of these passionate 40-day spans of spiritual unfoldment.
Perhaps the span of 40 days was first recognized as important from basic observations of the natural cycle of the planet Venus. Viewed from the vantage of Earth, about every two years Venus appears to move backward, or retrograde -- as if she were re-grouping herself before the next forward steps of her evolutionary journey through time and space.
Modern scientific observations of how long it takes an egg and a sperm to merge together and establish a fetus -- 40 days -- convey a sense of appreciation that 40 days is about how long it takes a person -- or a group -- to realize a truth, or to consolidate its spiritual identity.
On this, our 40th Sunbow day, the walkers' spirits were both up and down. They got an early start on the road. With three small groups walking contiguous 10-mile segments, they covered a distance of 30 miles to the Big Meadows campground along Skyline Drive in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park. But the heat of the day taxed everyone.
Over these first 40 days our walk has been through lots of ups and downs, but we are still basically on course. About 35 people are actually on the road, walking and praying for the Earth. Tom did his best to recall the names of the walkers and to spell them out to me over the phone.
The Sunbow 5 Walkers after 40 days
Charlie Commando and daughter Samantha
Kathleen (Kay) Deschenes
Jacki Hayward Gauger
Alycia Longriver (Kokum)
Ned and Charlotte Pashene
Regula (Rella) Vellacott
Joe, Inecke, and Julia Soto
Mary Ellen Wickum
Everyone has been impressed with the grandeur of the forest surrounding Skyline Drive. As they loped along through the heart of the day, the walkers saw glorious trees, a dozen or more deer, two bears, and several eagles.
In the afternoon the walkers fell into conversation with a park ranger. They waxed enthusiastic about the natural beauty surrounding them. But the ranger encouraged them to look more closely.
Despite the remote, rural character of this part of Virginia, pollution still makes an ugly mark. Lots of trees along this mountain ridge are dying from acid rain, the ranger said.
These mountains are a dividing barrier between the east and the central part of our North American continent. Huge clouds of pollution regularly drift in from smokestacks in the Ohio Valley, and then hang up on these Appalachian peaks, impacting the plants, trees, animals, and people.
Many days the air quality up high in these mountains is as bad as it would be on inner city streets. When it rains the trees and soil are drenched in industrial effluent. This poison rain-- the bitter drops -- is mentioned in several Native teachings that have been passed on orally from earlier centuries.
The ranger mentioned to the walkers that yesterday was an Orange Alert day, denoting poor air quality, the level just below the most serious category: Red Alert. The walkers also observed considerable damage to the weakened forest from a gypsy moth infestation.
Joe and Inecke Soto and their infant daughter Julia joined the walk today. They have just driven down from their home near one of the great sacred sites of North America, Niagara Falls. A pipe carrier, Joe is of Taino and Black heritage.
Joe told me his native name is Meshkawemoseth, "man who walks with strong feet." Inecke, is known as Naanokashiis, "hummingbird;" daughter Julia is Guundunguuus -- but is known by a shortened form, Doongees, which means “Little Barrel.”
Tom offered tobacco to Joe a couple of months ago and asked him to walk. He said he needed Joe’s help to make it. Joe agreed and has shown up with his whole family. They are planning to walk all the way to the Pacific.
Joe told me he joined the walk because he is close friends with Tom and Ned. The three of them met years ago in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program. They helped each other to stay sober; Tom, in fact, had been a major inspiration and help for both Ned and Joe. Joe said that the three of them will attend some AA meetings as the walk moves onward.
"It's always a good feeling when new people who are committed come to join the walk," Kay observed after welcoming Inecke, Joe, and Dungiis. "We can feel their elation. The spiritual connection is immediate."
Osho Genje Abe spent his last full day with our walk. Along the scenic deep-green route of Skyline Drive, he has cut a striking figure: gleaming white robe, wooden sandals, shiny bald head, full white beard, and a youthful, mirthful face that gives few hints of his 49 years. In his cap, Osho has been sporting Turkey and Red Tail Hawk feathers -- gifts to him from other walkers.
So striking was Osho's appearance that throughout the day motorists stopped their cars, parked, and came rushing over to say hello, shake his hand, and ask what in the world he and the other walkers were doing.
Osho will be departing for Japan tomorrow. Thus, he seized the moment to offer the walkers some advice. He said it is unimportant to focus upon the end of the walk or other accomplishments right now, and that, in fact, such a focus could well prove to be a distraction. "Leave it open and pray. Don't make too many plans. What you are doing is very important," he said. "Let Spirit guide you."
The walkers had been in such a rush early in the day that they started out without breakfast, and then never made time for lunch. When dinnertime came round at Big Meadows campground, the walkers made up for the missed meals. Local resident Helen Jordan and a dozen Intertribal friends drove up from the valley and brought with them a picnic dinner of fried chicken and spaghetti. They also came with broad smiles and a huge ceremonial drum.
After dinner, Helen and the walkers set the drum up on a three-legged stand, and six drummers sat around it to sound a heartbeat rhythm. Then they lifted the beat and their voices in high-pitched honoring songs for the walkers, and for the Zen monk. Nearby campers were drawn by the dozens to the booming heartbeat of the drum. They were welcomed to the circle, and many danced, tickling the surface of the Earth with their syncopated steps.
Just before our campfire was banked, a man came close into the circle and waited. Then when he had a chance to speak he mentioned that some Native people hereabouts have been waiting "a long time" for the walk to come through. "The Little People told us you would be coming," he said.
Throughout history lots of folks in lots of places have spoken of the “Little People." It is said that they are to be encountered in nature by people who are pure of heart.
In Europe people might speak of fairies, nymphs, elves, gnomes, Ballybogs, or Leprechauns. Greeks recognized the Hammadryads, Africans the Abatwas, Australia the Mimis, India the Devas, China the Hu Hsien, and Japan the Tengu. Recognition of the Little People is a global phenomenon. They are generally considered to be imbued with peculiar and sometimes powerful spiritual forces.
As is true around the world, Little People are also an important part of the lore of North America.
Grandfather Commanda told me that he has had many encounters with Little People, including the vision on First Encounter Beach the evening after the walk began.
In many Native stories concerning the Little People they are said to be well shaped and handsome, with hair so long it almost touches the ground. They are often helpful, kind-hearted, and great wonder workers. They love music and spend much of their time drumming, singing, and dancing. They do not like to be disturbed.
Cherokee lore holds stories with references to the Little People and the many purposes they may have. The Rock People, for example, teach that if you do things to other people out of meanness, then the meanness will come back on you. The Dogwood People teach that if you do something for someone, you should do it out of the goodness of your heart; don't do it to have people obligated to you or for personal gain, or you will create miserable entanglements. The Laurel People teach that we shouldn't take the world too seriously; always have joy and be sure to share your joy with others.
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 41 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire