June 23, 2012 is the third annual Global Earth Exchange of Radical Joy for Hard Times. On this day, people all over the world go to wounded places to make a simple act of beauty: creating the RadJoy bird out of found materials. In this way, they give back to a place they love that has given so much to them and offer up a vision of wholeness, healing, and beauty.
Here's a story from Meredith Little, co-founder of the School of Lost Borders, the preeminent wilderness rites of passage organization, about her 2010 Global Earth Exchange near her home in the Owens Valley, eastern California.
What Happened: 1913 the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) began draining this large alkali lake, formally a sea bed, diverting the water into their aqueduct for the growing city of Los Angeles. When the wind blows, which is often, it lifts one of the worst dust pollutants (PM-10) in the country through the long, narrow Owens Valley. Incidents of asthma and lung disease are high in the towns up and down the valley. For decades the Valley has taken DWP to court to do something about the situation. For decades DWP has delayed action by spending millions on “studying the problem.” In 2001 the courts ruled that water be sprinkled onto small areas of the lake. Alkali plants have been planted here and there. But when the wind blows, clouds of dust still blanket the valley.
Act of Beauty: After smudging and crossing our threshold, members of the group separated out onto the floor of the dry lake, strewn now with ditches, puddles of water around sprinkler heads, patches of salt brush, and vast areas of alkali soil crunching under my feet. I notice my inclination to quickly look for the beauty here … the signs of life.
Beauty. Look for beauty. Of course somehow everywhere. And then I begin to feel sick and nauseous. I sit down in the dust. What’s this? It is anger … not so much at “the wound”, but at the feeble, chaotic efforts to “heal it.” Pipes sticking through raised banks in vain attempts to spread the little bits of controlled water. Hedges of dense salt grass. Lines of sprinklers scattered across the distance.
I’m angry for the pretending and false promises that this takes the wound away. I hear myself inside saying … nothing can “pretty up” the wound. First we must acknowledge that this wound is real. No more lies, no more false promises of “fixing” it … and I am constantly connecting this with what we do with each other and our own personal wounding stories.
I’m sitting now on a cement block where the water is regulated, looking down on one of the small pools being spilled a bit of high sierra water from the mountains. A chant of sound begins to spill from my mouth, a rhythm that is new to me. I sit softly following its voice, and finally feel like I’m here, just sitting and witnessing, giving company, being in the truth of this wound. For the first time I feel like I’m really seeing what’s here, with curiosity. I walk to the puddle of water and want to put my hands in and see what’s in the dark clay soil just under the surface. Thousands of lava, wiggling, rising up. I see dead or shed exoskeletons that pile above the waterline. I see the little miracles of beauty clinging to what remnants there are of possibilities. I build a very small stone pile of pebbles, and bend a very old piece of wire into the Radical Joy bird to leave by its side.
I look up, and down the road a DWP truck is coming slowly, stopping to make adjustments at the water regulators. I stand, and the sprinklers stop. I walk slowly back to the road. I recognize my tension around the DWP driver. Is he the “enemy”? I feel my resistance to him as he drives closer, then passes me with a blank face. I let in this feeling of “us and them.” The truck turns to return up the road, and I wonder what I’ll do. I suddenly break into a smile, and wave. His face transforms into a very big smile, and a very big wave. We share this wound and this wounded area.
I think how very loud a wounded area speaks. I wonder why I have avoided walking here before.