Day 59 - Sunday, August 20, 1995 - The walkers made an early morning pilgrimage to the local laundromat. When their clothes were clean and folded away, they also packed up their tents and moved.
It was an unhappy move. Cherokee tribal administrators ordered the walkers to leave. They wanted to clear the grounds for an upcoming motorcycle rally. Tom was upset about this. He said he feels the walk should be able to use the ceremonial grounds for a couple of more days, and he pressed the case. His arguments fell on deaf ears.
Our camp moved within the Qualla Boundary to a large, beautiful backyard at the home of the Walkingstick family. The Sunbow pilgrims will be comfortable here, even if not readily visible to the public.
In the afternoon several walkers drove for about an hour to visit the old-growth trees at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, part of the Nantahala National Forest.
The wondrous forest commemorates the American author Joyce Kilmer, who had the opportunity to write only a few poems over the course of his short life. During World War I, Kilmer became a soldier in the United States Army 165th Infantry, Rainbow Division, and was ordered to France. In 1918, at the age of 31 and during the waning days of the "War to End All Wars," Kilmer was shot and killed by a sniper.
Kilmer's most famous poem is Trees. Although short and simple, the poem has meant a great deal to many people. It's meter, rhyme and straight-ahead sentiment make it memorable, especially for people already disposed to appreciate the tree mysteries.
Kilmer Memorial Forest is considered the most spectacular example in the United States of an old-growth forest – a forest that has never been logged. In this undisturbed place, hardwoods have had time to grow to their full maturity.
Some of the trees are 800-years old now. They were already at the 300-year mark when Columbus made his voyage in 1492.
Some trees are twenty feet around the base and more than a hundred feet high. They include hemlock, sycamore, basswood, dogwood, beech, several species of oak, and yellow poplar. Among the great trees lie swarming banks of mountain laurel and rhododendron, and lush carpets of moss
The giant trees here create an atmosphere akin to a cathedral. Light filters down through the canopy as if articulated through stained glass. Peace and quiet pervade. It took six walkers, with arms fully outstretched, to reach around one huge poplar.
As is the ancient tradition on Turtle Island, in the peace of this holy place—this sacred space—the walkers entered into discrete ceremony to express praise and thanksgiving.
While the walkers roamed the primeval forest, R.G. Gray Fox Bryan spent the day driving home to Northern Virginia with his son Cody, age 9. Before leaving the Sunbow camp, Gray Fox called me to give a report on how things are going. He told me that he and his son would come back to join the walk again.
"These are real people," Gray Fox said."They are sincere people who are doing something important and beautiful. There is so much love and power in their message. They gave us a very warm farewell. It was overwhelming for my family and me.
"We met so many people during the few days we spent with the walk,” Gray Fox said.“They listened to us, and treated us kindly and well.
Strip mine scene - Photo by Tom Def from stock.exchng.com
"Then driving home we saw the destruction of the earth that the Sunbow walk is calling attention to. We drove by so much destruction, such as strip mines where the ground is bare and erosion is eating away at the soil, and clear-cut forests. That really drove home the importance of the walk.
“It was a new beginning for me and my son,” Gray Fox said. “The experience of being with the walk gave us a tremendous amount to think about."
The way Gray Fox sees it, the walkers need a bigger audience in the towns they pass through. “More people need to come out and meet and listen to the walkers. When they see the sacrifice these people are making, and join in the sincerity and eloquence of their prayers, then they will understand."
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 60 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire