"Look how mortals are blaming the gods, for they say that evils come from us. But in fact they have woes beyond their share because of their own follies.
Day 72 - Saturday, September 2, 1995 - Visitors from the Cherokee Nation, the Free Cherokee, and the Chikamauga Nation came to visit, and to join our walk for the day.
David Brown and Sondra Scott, representing the Chikamauga people, carried the Sunbow 5 Eagle Staff as the group stepped along together for 12-plus miles to the Dolphin Emporium, an environmental center in Chattanooga.
The walkers were in such high spirits that they ran the last mile together. Ned—happily full of chicken and pancakes—sprinted along that last mile playing his drum and singing the sacred Sunbow song to support the other pilgrims.
The Sunbow 5 Eagle Staff has grown shaggy. Nearly every Native nation or group the walkers have met has gifted the walk’s staff with an eagle or a hawk feather. It has become over-feathered and unwieldy. Today Tom trimmed the staff down by removing some of the feathers, presenting them to individual walkers who have distinguished themselves through strength, dedication, respect, caring, and love in action.
In the afternoon many of the Sunbow 5 pilgrims ventured with local guides to Red Clay Earth, a park and lake that has long been sacred for the Cherokee. This was the last place the Cherokee were able to gather as a nation before they were split apart and forced onto the Trail of Tears. At that time, back in the 1830s, the fire keepers took coals from the sacred fire and carried them all the way to Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma, so they could kindle the fire there.
According to walk advisor Grandmother Johnie Leverett, the Sacred Fire is an ancient tradition with the Cherokee. In the old days there were seven fire keepers, one representing each clan. Each Spring, in a ceremony of renewal, the fire was extinguished and then rekindled, using seven different kinds of wood.
In 1984 sparks from the transplanted fire were carried ceremonially back to Red Clay Earth-Blue Water from the Western Band of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Once again, their fire burns in the East.
The walkers spent a long stretch of time at this sacred site today, praying for the realization of their vision: unity of all the people, all the races, and all the faiths in support of a clean and healthy Earth.
One of the most compelling landmarks on the grounds is "Council Springs" known to the locals as the "Blue Hole." This natural spring has a visible blue pool and is considered a sacred place to the Cherokee.
The water rises from an underground cave below a rock ledge and finally flows into the Conasauga and Coosa Rivers. Some 350 gallons per minute pass through the Blue Hole each day. .
Despite the impressive natural beauty of the region, people who are open to the subtleties of spirit often sense a paradoxical mixture of sacredness and saddness at Red Clay. So it was felt by the Sunbow walkers.
Up north in Ottawa, Grandfather Commanda packed a suitcase, and boarded a bus. He began making his way South toward Chattanooga—a ride that would eventually take over 40 hours. That long stretch on a bus would whither many a man or woman, but Grandfather, at age 84, had not a whisper of complaint. He wanted to get to the walk, and he was willing to pay a price of discomfort to get there.
Before he got on the bus and departed from the North, we spoke by phone. Grandfather explained to me that he felt it was important to be with the walkers now that they have turned and are heading West.
He told me that, even though I might not have heard all the details while serving as walk coordinator in remote New Hampshire, personal conflicts have been simmering since the start of the walk. Numerous, unresolved issues have been building in intensity, and he hears about it from all sides. Tom and other walkers have been asking for Grandfather's help and guidance.
Apparently things are a lot more intense and convoluted that I have been able to appreciate, since I am sitting in an office and not with the walkers day to day.
Many walkers have complained to me, and especially to Grandfather, about Tom's leadership. They say he takes off in Bess, our little blue truck, and is hardly ever around. They also claim that he is having temper outbursts punctuated by angry yelling. Some of the walkers feel abused. But as Grandfather reminded me, Tom's personality is not the only issue— a lot of stuff is going down among the walkers.
Some say that since Joe Soto joined the walk with his family, there has been an increase in tension, as if Tom and Joe were each vying for power and leadership. Tom and Joe are old friends dating back to their shared participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and the essential support they gave to each other over the years as they moved into sobriety. But now, some of the walkers tell me, tensions are building. They descibed it as a classic ego conflict between two alpha males.
Grandfather Commanda doesn't claim to have any easy solutions for all of this. But as ever, he has faith. And he has hope. He's says he's going to sit with everyone in the circle, and let spirit do the healing.
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 73 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire