Grief is a sacred journey

The Copper Vessel: Prayer Walk for a Gas Free Seneca

Copper BucketMy legs ache and a blister throbs, but I don’t stop or slow down.  I focus on the copper vessel ahead of me with its beaded red cloth cover. It holds water collected four days ago at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in New York State. The sacred bucket was carried by a relay of walkers eighty miles around the lake. I joined the walk Monday morning for the last eight miles.

A woman carries the vessel, always a woman. A man or woman carry an eagle feather for protection of the water. Simple white letters painted on a support car window read “Prayer Walk for a Gas Free Seneca.”

Yvonne Taylor and Joseph Cambell, co-founders of Gas Free Seneca

Yvonne Taylor and Joseph Campbell, co-founders of Gas Free Seneca

The water moves forward, never backward. The lead woman walks quickly while praying for protection of the water before passing it to the next carrier. If walkers fall behind, they’re picked up by a support car and driven a mile ahead to wait for the group. They can rest longer or walk again.

A few miles into the walk, Margie Rodgers, the local organizer, motions that I’m next to carry the water. She directs me into a car for a short drive. I get out ahead of the walkers, stand by the road, and wait. The copper vessel moves toward me. Serious silent walkers carry the vessel and feather and more follow behind, praying for the safety of the water of Seneca Lake and the water of the earth.

Margie with bucket and feather

Margie with bucket and feather

Margie and Sharon at Hector Falls

Sharon and Margie at Hector Falls

The lead woman reaches out to me with the bucket in her hand. We move forward together as prayers are said for the safe exchange. She lets go. I’m the water carrier now. A woman carries the eagle feather on my left side. The forward flow is both urgent and peaceful, and I sweat with exertion under my rain gear. In rhythm with my fast steps, I silently repeat “Ga nun da sa ga  Te car ne o di,” the Iroquios language blessing for Seneca, the Lake in the Hills.

Seneca Lake,proposed gas industry site on opposite shore

Seneca Lake with proposed gas storage facility on opposite shore

When we pollute our water, we kill life. Fossil fuels spill, leak, and explode. Sewage and toxic chemicals enter our lakes, rivers, and oceans. The gas industry threatens to industrialize and pollute beautiful Seneca Lake.

I had to be here today. No one woman walked every step, although four took the whole journey, rotating rest and support with walking or carrying the vessel. The water moved toward its destination from sunrise to sunset, sometimes 25 miles in a day.

Margie and Sharon Day, the Ojibwe Mississippi River walker who guides the ritual, sometimes carry the water or drive a support car. Sharon organized a prayer walk carrying water from the headlands of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, 1200 miles, in March 2013. In 2011, she gathered water from the Gulf and walked north with other walkers. She drove here from Minnesota to teach the ritual and lead the walk with Margie.

Margie with bucket, Sharon with drum

Margie with bucket, Sharon with drum

Offering to the sky

Offering to the sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m moved by Sharon’s simple humility in her long floral skirt, her purple parka, and her black watchman’s cap. With a ceremonial copper container, a feather, a water song, and her knowledge, she shared this sacred ritual journey.When we reach the southern tip of Seneca Lake where the walk began, my heart swells with hope. We’re here, pulled forward by the water. Like others, I’ve walked harder and longer than I thought I could do.

Crossing the grass in her black skirt and pink fleece, Margie carries the vessel to water’s edge. “Remove the cloth,” Sharon says quietly. “Offer it to the sky four times.” Margie lifts the pail to the sky. Four times. “Put the water in the lake,” Sharon whispers.

Copper Bucket

“Just fling it?” Margie asks.

“Yes.”

Margie gives the vessel a heave and the water flies toward the lake. The lake and the purified water are reunited and blessed along with thirty Prayer Walkers who are there and many others who walked and helped along the way.

I leave a basket of offerings from my garden for the ritual dinner—red fall raspberries, Sun Gold tomatoes, red peppers, and the last gladiola—and return home to the silence of my land. My inner prayer continues for clean water, for Mother Seneca, for Mother Earth.

With Paula and offerings

With Paula and offerings

Ga nun da sa ga  Te car ne o di

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Thanks to Sharon Day for her wise teaching and deep devotion to the water. Thanks to Margie Rodgers for organizing the walk and reading and correcting this article. Thanks to Joyce Hexum and Ali Murphy who were there for every mile and to many others who gave hours, days, and devotion. For my other posts about protecting Seneca Lake from gas storage and industrialization, see Angry Faces, Placid Water and Angry Faces, Churning Water. To help protect our water and Seneca Lake, visit Gas Free Seneca.

10 Comments
  1. Thank you Elaine, for capturing the sacredness of the Prayer Walk for a Gas Free Seneca. Most of all, thank you for joining your prayers with ours. May we all benefit!

  2. What a beautiful experience and so eloquently narrated by you Elaine 🙂

    • Thank you, D.G. I loved being there and writing about the day. It’s amazing what a quiet dedicated ritual can do to bring hope to our struggle to keep the gas industry from turning our beautiful tourist, winery, lake-country area into a huge industrial gas storage site with inadequate protection against water, air, and noise pollution. Sharon Day is quite a force, and I’m grateful for her efforts on behalf of clean water everywhere. I don’t know what I would write until I looked at my photographs, and the story was in that copper bucket.

  3. I found you on Patti Hall’s website in your comment about the challenges of being a caregiver. You sound like an empathetic person who has been honed by many life experiences. My aunt has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and naturally we nieces (she has no children) have had to cope with the financial, physical, emotional, and mental ramifications of all of this.

    You sound like an adventurous woman who bravely faces challenges. I’ll have to visit your blog again.

    • Thanks for your visit and comments, Marian. I’ll check out what you’re doing at plainandfancygirl. Yesterday Alzheimers.net posted an article I wrote about my mom. I wrote one there a month ago, too, about our experiences with her Alzheimer’s. Here are the links: http://www.alzheimers.net/2013-09-13/defending-alzheimers-patient/ and http://www.alzheimers.net/2013-10-22/a-daughters-alzheimers-story/. Alzheimers.net and/or my stories might be helpful to you. How hard for you nieces to have to take this on for your aunt. Alzheimer’s can be such an ordeal–in my mom’s case a dozen years. I hope you’re finding good support for your aunt and yourselves.

      I don’t feel so adventurous or brave, but when life hands us a disaster or two, we find ways to cope. I’m good at finding available resources and asking for help. Because of my childhood experiences with a father who was sick all my life until his early death, I know life is challenging for most of us at least some of the time. I try to offer help by leading hospice bereavement groups for women who have lost spouses and standing by my friends.

      Thanks again for the visit. I appreciate your comments and hope you find good support to help you with your aunt.

  4. Well done, Elaine, all around – in the doing, in the writing, in the being….

    • Thank you, Ellen. Today I picked up my basket and bowls from the dinner after the Prayer Walk. I didn’t go to the dinner, but found two packets of tobacco wrapped in colored cloth and tied with ribbon in the bottom of the basket. A gift and a demand from Sharon Day for me/us to continue our offerings and prayers for the water. Sharon Day acts on her ideas and expects us to carry on. I will. Thanks for your note and your generous guidance with writing and loving life as it is.

  5. What a beautiful ritual… thank you for sharing the experience, Elaine.

    • It was simple and magic–and my thighs ached the next day. Sharon Day is quite a force. You might want to look her up on FB. She’s a fascinating woman.

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