An Uncompromising Yes: A Water Pilgrimage

An Uncompromising Yes: A Water Pilgrimage

Guest post by Kate Bunney, Walking Water and Sarah Nutting, MaMuse - September 3, 2016

As I begin to write this...

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are taking a stand to protect their water and lands against the Dakota Access pipe, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe are planning a run to save the Salmon, and many more, primarily indigenous tribal actions are taking place – to bring awareness and live an uncompromising yes for and with life. 

Walking Water, a walk from Mono Lake to Los Angeles, feels honored to be part of a global movement that is so strongly sourced in that YES.

Over the last 4 years of gradually bringing Walking Water to life the pool of people responsible and holding its vision has grown tremendously. It is not a project of one person, one vision but instead a weaving of stories, dreams and realities touching many walks of life. We are people, human beings who witness what we have done to the waters, to the lands and the peoples traditionally most closely connected to both. We are people who know that the water cycle has been so severely affected by our design and way of living, ground waters sucked dry to never be replaced, and drinking water – a luxury not afforded to 1/10 of the world population, being contaminated on a depressingly regular basis. And we are many people who have been working in and with community, with the waters, with conflict, for many years.

Our agenda is to put ‘life’ back in the center, back in the knowing of what we collectively are doing, and back in the empowering position of knowing that we can change it. Water is one element that every one of us needs, regardless of wealth, social position, religion, age or gender and with that we have the chance to unite and be part of a solution or many. We have the chance to go beyond the boundaries of what we have imagined so far.

Walking Water is about water, people and place – restoring those relations using the most basic of forms – Pilgrimage. By connecting those 3 elements or aspects we create a path of social activism that touches our dreams and hopes for a sustainable planet where we ‘fit’. Our experience of ourselves in Pilgrimage is shaped by moving through a landscape, crossing the threshold of different landscapes, and bearing witness to what is there. Our co-travelers become more than just people around us as they are also constantly being formed and in relation to me, the landscape, the waters, animals, stars and all that we can only imagine. Our community, our place then becomes bigger, wider, and more expansive than us. And it is at this point that we would no longer imagine that we don’t need each other, community, place, water. Instead we begin to embody life. 

Music, song and sound are essential to this way of embodying the many stories, the landscape around us, and expressing our YES in forms relevant to ourselves. Walking Water has been gifted a number of beautiful collaborations, among them Sarah Nutting of MaMuse. MaMuse is a folk, gospel music duo based in California and Sarah walked the first phase of Walking Water last year and is now working on her first solo album of songs, many of which were directly inspired by her experience on the walk. 

Sarah writes:

…song is in and of our bones, song is the prayer that we were all born to make and to soulfully understand… Song is so very much needed now on our planet.

From the moment I first stepped into the Lee Vining Campground, and beyond the circle of the opening ceremony initiating the first year of the three-phase Walking Water Pilgrimage, I felt attuned to the miracle, and the gift of song singing through me.. in the wind, in the sturdy dance of the Jeffrey Pines of high desert forest, in the stars of late night, tired feet, shooting star streak across brilliant sky…

the gratitude was insurmountable and uncontainable for this one body of mine, and so it moved through in words backed by melody, melody sans words, the cadence of rocks rapping with rubber soles.…

Some of these songs moved through and were gone as fast as a fox fleeting across morning time horizon, others lingered, awaiting completion, and some were born in a moment, fiercely and fully saturated with the messages, the pleadings of a deep, thirsty, sacred place - the Owen’s Valley...

It had been my intention to walk Pilgrimage and to create a solo album for many years, and little did I know that the two visions would merge so eloquently, in such strong solidarity. In service to water and to place, to song and to soul.

I am grateful for the inspiration that has come, and now the work of recording, of crafting, of calling the collaborators to sing with and strum with, to continue telling the story of our collective “Wild Belonging.”

Thank you...

Photo by Claire Potin

The social activism of now brings us all into the center, into a place of asking us each to be responsible, to be in relation to and in response to the challenges we all face, to live into what it means to truly belong. To live a life of belonging is to know and act in such a way that our grandchildren will inherit all and only what we care for. 

Inclusivity then becomes the inspirer, that which makes it possible and that which counteracts the field of separation so many of us find ourselves in and which so much political strategy relies upon.

“We don’t need people” - something I heard recently said by one who was working “for water management” – is still a too often held attitude in the water story of California and the water stories of many places in the US and around the world. It’s an attitude that ignores all and each of us. Ignoring ‘us’ can no longer be a profitable strategy. Instead, ‘needing us’ allows us to truly grieve and face up to what has been done in our name, and to awareness and gratitude that we have the opportunity to make amends.

Phase 2 of Walking Water will begin in late September at the Owens Lake, a lake that had much of its water drained by 1920 when the river was diverted for the Los Angeles Aqueduct. It is this water that provides roughly 30% of Los Angeles total water needs. The Lake is now one of the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.

We will again be 35 people – old and new walkers – who will include water activists, scientists, tribal members, community leaders, artists, musicians and policy makers both local and global – Bolivia, India, the Middle East, Kenya, Europe as well as the Owens Valley and Los Angeles.

The path this year will be roughly 200 miles and will take us through Inyo County, Red Rock Canyon, JawBone Canyon, the Mojave, through Green Valley, near to the site of the St. Francis Dam and into Santa Clarita, arriving to the Cascades in Sylmar after 3 weeks. We will see only one open body of water in those 3 weeks, and instead we will witness the pipe built in the early 1900’s. 

It will be a hugely moving journey for all of us walkers, to not be near water for 3 weeks, but to know it is there somewhere. It will be a time of grief for what we have done to the waters and to the original peoples.

And hopefully it will be a time of celebration that new times are coming- that new ways are being explored to manage water, that water is more valued, that there are new reasons to come together and make decisions together that will affect us all. We look to celebrate the people and projects that are working, creating and inspiring so many, in so many ways already – community is very much alive.

For more info on Walking Water please visit the website at: and consider contributing to Sarah’s solo album campaign on Indiegogo.

Photography Contributions: Jasmine Amara & Jen Fedrizzi, visual project @ About Water

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