Text Story Collection


By Emily Theys

We found a piano. We took a walk. We met a man. We made a dance.

This week marks exactly one year from first day Cassie Meador and the Dance Exchange set out on a 500 mile walk to trace the sources of the electricity that power the homes and businesses in the DC Metro area. In that year a lot has changed–a piano that was headed to the junkyard was turned into a series of new voices in the form of beautiful ukuleles and guitars; a walk took place over two months and 500 miles and took us to power plants and farms, to mountaintops and riverbeds, through snowstorms rainstorms, emotional storms; a man named Larry Gibson entered our lives as quickly as he left, an untimely and unfortunate passing last fall just as we headed to the studio to begin rehearsals for the stage production of How To Lose a Mountain. A dance was built with many hands and feet—5 performers, 1 choreographer, a dedicated staff of 5 and countless DX friends, family, partners, donors and supporters who made the whole thing possible.

(Originally published April 2013 in Center for Sustainable Practices in the Arts Quarterly. Click here to see the full story.)

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Posted on: May 23rd, 2013
By Cassie Meador, Takoma, DC

We met Sarah Elkins during a performance of excerpts of “How To Lose a Mountain” at the Lewis Theatre in Lewisburg, WV when we appeared on Trillium Performing Arts‘ spring concert. Sarah is a writer, and is known for her “flash poems”–poems composed to the specifications of the person who orders it for the price they offer. I bought a poem when I was in town for $10, and was fortunate enough to get two really beautiful poems. One is about my 500 mile walk, and one was written after Sarah saw the excerpt of “How To Lose a Mountain”. You can read more about Sarah and her work at www.sarahelkins.com.

Voice of the Mountain

Where the Mountain Went

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013
Sarah Levitt, Takoma Park, MD

My text for How To Lose a Mountain was mostly developed by Cassie giving me a prompt–some phrase, idea, or topic she wanted to address through language–and then leaving me alone to write for a while. When I had a draft, I’d bring it to the group, get feedback, and go back into writing. Writing text for performance remains one of my favorite frustrations–finding what is “right” in language depends on the words chosen and their sequence, and it is often the very subtle shifts that make the most impact, that change the meaning and that make a character, transition or scene make sense in the narrative arc of a show.

My opening monologue in the show was the text that settled last. Here is some early writing that developed during our 2012 Summer Institute:

text 1

Cassie was really interested at this point in exploring what was visible and not visible in the process of mountaintop removal, and I was trying to find a way to talk about that without talking about it directly–this tends to be my strategy when developing text. How can we address a big topic by making it personal, by making it tangible, by making it a little bit messy and idiosyncratic? In this text (developed for our Summer Institute performance at the Capital Fringe Festival in July 2012), I described the theatre space I could see as a way to ground myself in the present and keep from slipping into memories:

text 5

Through writing this text, we started figuring out who I was in the show: someone who had to live in the present, someone who wanted to move forward and not look back in order to keep herself together.

After the Institute in July, we left “Mountain” for a while, and returned to it in the fall. We entered into a period of figuring out what I needed to say vs. what could be danced to tell the story. We knew my character had this thing about the past, and wanting to move forward, but why? We talked a lot about how much context to give and how much backstory the audience needed to know:

text 8

text 7

You’ll see a more direct attempt to create my backstory in that first draft above. The second version cuts the opening paragraph and picks up from the text that seemed more true to the tone of the show. Always we were asking questions like: would that character actually say those words? What would she actually reveal through language? What is she saying in movement that she doesn’t need to say in text? What is she saying through movement that reveals the subtext?

This opening monologue needed to set up my point of view, give me a starting point so I had somewhere to go, and set me up in opposition to the other characters on stage. It also needed to be something the audience could relate to–could they see themselves in my character? Could they relate to my values? We were asking a lot of this opening text, and we had many drafts ahead.

For a day or two in January 2013, we returned to this idea of naming what was around me in the theatre as a way to anchor my character in the present, and create more tension between nostalgia and my ideas of progress:

text 10

The biggest problem with this text as an opening monologue was that none of us could justify how I would be able to dance alongside the other performers and interact with them if I ripped into the conventions of theatrical performance so early in the show. Questioning within a performance the validity of theatre and dance as social action is extremely compelling to me, but it wasn’t right for the story we were telling in “Mountain”.

In February, we traveled to Syracuse to work on text with Zeke for a couple of days. We decided to try pulling out a narrative around speed as a way to talk about distance and progress, and our sound designer, Stowe Nelson, developed this draft after listening to a Radiolab episode about speed:

text 14

This draft really helped us to label some characteristics about my character and Zeke’s character in the show. It also helped us realize that my character had to have a value system–I couldn’t just spend the whole show pushing back against what Zeke and the other characters held dear. What did I value? Why did I love speed and progress? What was my character excited about? Why?

text 15

In this draft, we brought back in the idea of light. Cassie’s 500 mile walk that was part of the process of making this work began from her questions about the source of her power. Finding out that the source of the electrical power in her house was mountaintop removal made her examine the consequences of a very simple act: turning on the lights.

text 16

Electricity seemed to be a way to talk about speed, about convenience, about immediate access. But why did my character care? What about this speed and convenience was important and exciting to her? I went back to an idea Cassie and I tried over three years ago in an early rehearsal for this piece relating to airplanes and being far above the earth:

text 17

This text (in bold) definitely gave me a backstory, but it was just too many words, and tone-wise, not where we were in the piece as of early March. So how could we say all that? How could we say, in way less words, that I loved progress, and I wasn’t interested in looking back? That I privileged speed over thoughtfulness?

text 18

Easy: tell the audience you don’t have time to explain yourself to them. Finding this one line (one line!) did a lot of the work for us in terms of setting up my values and who I was in the work.

The final opening text (for now) is below, along with the text that comes later in the show.

text 19

The other thing, of course, about creating text for performance, is that the text we write is not actually meant to be read on a page, but said out loud, and there is so much to be mined in this translation from page to performance. I had the chance to try out each of these drafts in rehearsal, and through embodying the character that might say those things as I tried out different versions, it helped me find out who I was in the  show we perform today.

Posted on: April 19th, 2013
By Sarah Levitt, Takoma Park, MD

Shortly after we came back from the first 70 miles of the walk, I wrote a post for this site, and for the Dance Exchange blog, chronicling the experience I had out on the trail. Zeke Leonard, a Syracuse, NY-based collaborator on How To Lose a Mountain used my writing as source material for the “Walk Song”. Through a series of emails and Facebook conversations, he wrote and rewrote the song, trying to capture in music and words what it was like to walk from Washington, DC, to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Below is a slice of the correspondence between me and Zeke over a period of months.

As challenging as it was as times to develop a new song (not to mention a new work!) at a great distance, something about that distance, and what is lost and gained in it, really supported the themes of Cassie’s work.

Subject: Congratulations!
From: Zeke Leonard
Sent: Sunday, April 15, 2012, 7:26 AM
To: Sarah Levitt

Well, this part is done. You are on the other side of the 26 mile hike, and I am interested to know how it went. What did you learn? How did your body react to the different movement, the different sleeping realities?

I have been thinking about you all for the last several days. Though I do not wish for a life different from my own, I do wish that mine was structured in such a way that I could have been on the trail with you all, to have heard the conversations, to have seen the cold dawn, to have heard the water falling or the wind in the trees with you. Those moments belong to you all now, punctuated by your own footsteps and the footsteps of your companions. Tonight, a hot bath for you and a soft bed. Tonight, warm food and cold beer and in the morning hot coffee. But if you get a moment before they fade into sepia memory, I would welcome your thoughts and memories.

Hope you are well. Nice work.

z

RE: Congratulations!
From: Sarah Levitt
Sent: Monday, April 16, 2012 11:42 PM
To: Zeke Leonard

Hi Zeke!
Thanks for this great email–it was a treat to come back to technology and find this. It was an absolute pleasure to perform with you last week, and I can tell you that I can’t wait to get back to our duet again to see what it will be like post-walk. Although the thing that strikes me today is that how I felt when I was walking is how I feel when I dance that material–I can’t come up with a way to write this that doesn’t sound strange, but its like my body knew about the wlak and how I was going to feel before I did. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised: our bodies know so much more and do so much more than we think they can.

The 26 mile day was a pleasant shock. Walking is so strange! It is not running. It is not dancing. It is not swimming. It is weight shifting back and forth from left to right. And again. With variation from changes in the ground or your speed. Cassie, Paloma and I ran the last mile of the day because our feet just wanted something new so badly. One of the sweetest parts of the day was taking a break after 14 miles. We found a nice spot in the grass by the Potomac (which we followed all the way to Harper’s Ferry), and slept out in the sun. I woke up, and I started to wonder how I could keep walking. But you put on your pack and start anyway. Its odd–when you are walking that far, the goal is of course to arrive where you are headed. But it also felt, in those moments, that the actual goal was simply moving foraward. That in falling back in the rhythm of our individual footsteps amongst the group we were accomplishing everything.

The other thing that happened that day was that we started referring to distance differently (“We decide how we measure it”, right?). So instead of saying, “We have 10 miles to go”, we said “We have 1 more banjo to go”. And when we finished the day, we got to say: “We walked more than 2 1/2 banjos today!” I can’t tell you what it did for us to change how we thought about the distance we had to cover.

We sang a lot. Because when you are singing, you are not thinking about how much your feet hurt! We sang Disney songs, and folk songs, and Paloma was great at creating new lyrics about walking for songs we know. I’ve been working on a song for Mountain, so swe sang that one a lot, too. We recorded it when we got to town, so I hope you’ll get to hear it soon….

…We ate constantly! We taught two workshops. And we slept outside, sometimes in a tent, but mostly not. We met amazing people when we were walking. And I saw all of these things in my colleagues that made me feel immensely grateful to walk alongside them. And although you were not with us, I can tell you that you were with us–from invoking banjos as miles, to all of the singing we did. We stayed at this wonderful home last night that is attached to a dance studio and one of the women that hosted us played banjo and sang beautifully, so we all ended up singing together at the end of the night. And this also speaks to your impact on all of us–these sorts of things didn’t happen before our visit to Syracuse, and now singing and sharing this way feels like a vital joy…

Take care,
Sarah

Zeke and I were communicating through a number of different mediums at this point, including Facebook chat. You won’t be able to click through the links, but here is an excerpt of the conversation about Zeke’s freshly-recorded song. 

songstory1songstory2songstory3songstory4songstory5

Re: zekeleonard sent you a video: “500 mile song”

From: Zeke Leonard
Sent: Friday, April 20, 2012 8:40 AM
To: Sarah Levitt

Attachments: IMG_6475.jpg (182 KB)

Attached is the working copy. A little fuzzy, I’ll make the edits and send it along. I am sending it this way in part because I could not agree more with your point about “finished-ness”. The YouTube videos and a typed word doc make it seem so official, somehow, which is not where this is. It can be so hard sometimes to communicate process, can’t it? As you say, in the studio we both in our own ways have methods for riffing, for trying one thing and another without having to commit right away. I will often leave a couple of pieces of whatever the current project is on the bench over night or for a day or two and look at them several times before committing to using them in a particular way. This is one difference between our chosen crafts: I canot undo what I do to a particular piece of wood. And I am so pathetically nostalgic that I can not bear to do the “wrong thing” to a piece of lumber that was once a living tree. Seems disrespectful. Obviously there is no “wrong” in reality, but every piece of wood is so heavy with meaning for me that I tend to move slowly sometimes. It has been called out by some colleagues as a fault, but there it is. And it means that people often have to wait a lot longer for a piece from me, which makes them grumpy. Always things to learn, huh? Always progress to be made.

What a lovely contrast is song-craft! Words can be thrown around like two-year-olds, inserted and removed at a moment’s notice, placed and replaced. So lovely. So just now I am on a crusade against “dawn”, “road,” and narrative. At the moment it is a little too narrative, you know? Needs more of what I think you are referring to as imagery. So that will be the next iteration. Not sure when I think that will happen, but I am getting tired of singing it in the shower, so I need to get it on tape soon. Thinking I might try multi-tracking it in Garageband so that I can can do slide guitar overlay, and so that I can pull the vocals back some. I always think my vocals sound dumb if they are too present, which I think is actually about me not being confident in the words. Also a function of listening to a lot of 20’s and 30’s blues records, in which it is the shape of the sound of the words, not the words themselves that really matters. So I get caught in this purgatory of neither/nor, neither having words that are good enough to carry themselves not being able to simplify down to the place that it can just be around sounds made along with the music, you know? Again, always things to learn.

z

IMG_6475

We’ve continued editing and crafting this song over the last year. It doesn’t appear in How To Lose a Mountain, but we consider it a bonus track, and a song that was foundational to the process of collaborating at a distance. We sing this song a lot, and we’ll continue to watch it transform as we sing it here in DC and Syracuse, together and apart, on front porches in the hot summer months ahead.

You can listen to the version Zeke laid down in Syracuse in February here:

Posted on: April 17th, 2013
By Michiko Ishikawa (female/50s), Japan

Q. What is the most valuable part of your inheritance?

A ball of snow

The ball of snow which I have kept in the refrigerator is my most valuable item. When my daughter was in the third grade (nine years old)—she is now twenty-seven years old, one day in February she gave me a ball of snow. When she came back home from school and she said to me, “mom, this is the souvenir to you”. At first the ball of snow shaped a big perfect circle but at present the shape was changed than as it used be. Every year it gets smaller and smaller.
When my daughter was a little girl, I used it to charm away my daughter’s illness. Whenever she had a fever, I put it on her forehead and I said to her, “it can make you get better”. I brought up my daughter with the help of the ball of snow.

Though the foodstuffs are consumed very quickly, only this ball of snow has been kept in the usual space in my refrigerator. So it might be something to rely on all my life.

I am sorry not to be able to bring it today. I showed you the picture instead.

14-Michiko

Posted on: January 29th, 2013
By Makiko Sasaki [Mako](female/60s), Japan

Q. What is the significant distance you have traveled in your life?

My family

Recently I am thinking of the distance with my family members very often. It is probably because some of my brothers and sisters have passed away and my life style is also changed. I lived alone before but now I moved my house in order to live with one of my sisters. When living away from other members of my family, I didn’t feel any difficulties about how to relate with my family. Now I realized that we also needed take a neutral attitude each other. All of my family–currently I have sisters, daughter and grandchildren–are truly important beings for me. From now on I would like to be thoughtful to them and keep such a good relationship/ distance with them.

11-Makiko

Posted on: January 29th, 2013
by Claire Campbell, Brooklyn

Sometimes New York smells like pancakes and maple syrup; sometimes it smells like cheap, burning fuel; sometimes it smells like water drying on asphalt; sometimes it smells like sage.  This last scent is what I search for.  It’s the smell of home, of green growing things, of spring in rural Texas, of wide open pastures, of water on the ground and dust in the air.

You can catch the scent at the Botanic Gardens, on a breeze in Central Park, in the community garden above the Fort Hamilton Parkway.  It grows in the yard of a brownstone down the block.  The woman who lives there is a concert pianist, and she practices at odd hours.  Sometimes I’ll stop under the pretense of hearing the music float out her open window, but really I’m pausing to breathe in the sage.  It spills out between the black iron bars and onto the sidewalk.  The scent is stronger when it rains, which is funny to me, because nothing makes me feel farther from home than the rain in New York.  The endless drizzle here makes me wish for a Texas storm—the hard crash of heavy rain that’s gone in an instant, sweeping the sky clean.

Last month, my parents sent me a photo they took of an April field—red firewheels, yellow daisies, and blue mealy sage.  The image of wildflowers fresh in my mind, I went looking for sage.  I could have sworn I found it growing on the High Line, but a dear friend—one who teaches children to grow vegetables and knows infinitely more about plants—corrected me.  “That’s not sage,” she said.  “That’s a butterfly bush.”

But does it matter?  I’m not searching for the actual plant so I can pluck it, or dry it, or use it for its healing properties—to ease anxiety, digestion, or redirect bad energy.  I’m searching for a memory, a feeling.  Maybe what I’m looking for is a combination of things—honeysuckle, cedar, silver moon roses.  Maybe the sage reminds me of something solid that has no name, something that belongs in two places.

When my parents came to visit, I showed my mother the neighbor’s garden and the plant I was sure to be sage.  “I don’t know,” she said, pressing the light green leaves between her fingers.  “This might be lavender.”

We ate that evening at a fancy Brooklyn eatery and had sage-flavored ice cream for dessert.

It was delicious.  It did not remind me of home.

Now it’s June—spring with a breath of summer.  There are roses at the Botanic Gardens, wild garlic in the community green space on 16th street, and blooming linden trees along the park.  But it’s the sage I hope for.

It brings me back to a pasture that smelled of earth and clean air, a place that also smelled like cows and mossy creek water, a place I drove to and from with the windows down and the stars at my fingertips.

This last week it rained, and I paused beside the neighbor’s front yard.  I inhaled the scent of the sage/lavender/butterfly bush and thought of home.  I rested my hand on the black gate and pretended it led to the high pasture where my parents snapped a photo of wildflowers.  The music floated through the iron bars, the air was heavy, and I breathed in.

Sage at Brooklyn Farmers Market

Posted on: July 2nd, 2012
By Cassie Meador, Takoma Park

Alternative Summit
The beginning of my journey took place mostly on public lands and trails. As I headed south along the Appalachian Trail, I encountered hundreds of thru hikers with their hearts and feet facing north towards the goal of summiting Katadin beyond the majestic 100-mile wilderness of Maine. The end of their journey would have a steep climb, a mountain with a summit clearly marked by a sign and a rich legacy of foot traffic.
 
As I passed these fellow hikers, trail miles soon turned to river and roads miles, and it occurred me that the route I was taking was being walked for the first and likely only time.
 
I traveled over many mountains during the 500 miles, though it wasn’t until those final days and miles that I recognized the significant lack of a summit I would soon be facing at the terminus of my own journey. I felt the mark of miles on my body as we headed into this final stretch, still managing an injury, and unsure if the end was actually within my physical reach.
 
On the final day we traveled in the first lightning storm of the 500-mile walk. I made my way with Sarah and Matt through a thick tree cover to a thin divide where green and grey met. A flat land stood before us, one that couldn’t absorb the days rain or the shock of what had taken place there. It was an empty space, one that I’m not sure you could really even still call land. Stripped not only of its mountains, this was a place being stripped of the very life and culture that grows out such mountains.
 
There we stood in the presence of a kind of ghostly summit, one that could be imagined but not seen or made. In this moment, the walk was ending, yet as we faced such physical destruction, I was left with a feeling far from completion. The work of covering miles on foot was, of course, complete, but a much greater distance stood before me.
 
In the direction of what comes next and the work ahead of us, I’d like to purpose an alternative summit, one that will take the effort and determination of many. There are many already leading our way to this summit, great heroes I met along the way like Larry Gibson (above), Lorelei Scarbro, and many others whose voices are giving rise to a movement of repair, as they work to restore the health of their communities and the very ground they stand on. I propose that the summit needing to be made is one that can only be made by recognizing that this ground is the very ground we all stand on. The loss of the mountain is our loss. Our life and health depends on its protection and repair. This will require us to take responsibility, to stop taking more than we give back, and to value the beauty and function of nature beyond mere convenience or habit.

Posted on: July 1st, 2012
By Sarah Levitt

A long story about a long day during the last week of Cassie’s 500 mile walk:

Ellen and I went back and forth over email and text for a few days before I left for West Virginia. “It’s so beautiful here”, she said. “Bring some books. All you do is wait for them at the half-way point, eat lunch with them, drive to the final meeting point of the day, and then camp out at night. I love it.”

Ellen, Dance Exchange’s Managing Director, was calling me from Pipestem Resort State Park, where she was waiting to meet Cassie and Matt, who were walking toward her and finishing up their morning mileage. Cassie sustained an overuse injury a few weeks prior, and the best way for her to finish the walk was for someone from Dance Exchange to go out and provide “road support” with a car. This meant Cassie and Matt could then walk without their packs, which meant walking lighter, which meant walking faster, which meant finishing the walk sooner.

I drove out to West Virginia in a rented Mercury Mariner on Tuesday, May 29. I brought five books, my leftover protein bars from the first part of the Walk, and my ukulele. I planned to read and sleep and learn how to play the Carter Family’s version of “Wildwood Flower”. I camped out with Cassie and Matt inCamp Creek State Park on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning they started walking toward our lunch-time meeting point. I stayed in the park for a while to hike and run and be outside. I could feel the thing that happens to me when I am away from a city and highways: I start noticing what is above and below my line of vision, and I sigh a lot with relief.

With about an hour before our lunchtime rendezvous I left for the meeting point, a thirty-minute drive away. iPhone in hand, I drove out of Camp Creek with my windows down and “Mambo #5” playing on the only radio station I could pick up. I turned down Camp Creek Trail Road, and thought about how different roads are in West Virginia. We don’t have “backroads” in DC—not like these anyway. The road was gravel and narrow. And then gravel and rock. And then rock and dirt and tree branches slapping up against my car. And then me gripping the steering wheel and muscling the car over rocks and looking over the edge of the road into a well of brush and trees. I should turn around, I thought. I can’t turn around—the road isn’t wide enough. It’s only a few more miles. I will get there.

I drove down the hill and found a pool of standing water covering the road. At this point, the road branches off into two more roads. I get out of my car, and run down the first one to see if I can drive on it. No: water and mud. I run down the second one: Okay, this will work. And Google Maps says it connects to another road I can use to get to Cassie and Matt. Back in the car, I hit the gas to push through a big puddle, and then through another. But, no. This road isn’t a road—it falls apart past the trees. I have no cell phone service. I’m late to meet Cassie and Matt. I just need to go back the way I came and get there late. I need to go now. There is a small clearing. I drive into it and turn my car around. I put the car back in “drive” and head toward the road. I head toward the road. I head toward the road. I am stuck.

I rev the engine. No. No. No. Stop revving the engine it’s making it worse. I get out. I look at the car. I cannot be stuck. I reverse the car. No. I pull brush out of the ground and shove it under the muddy tires. No. I take my travel mug to the field next to me and dig up dirt with one of the oars leftover from Cassie and Matt’s attempt to raft part of their mileage when Cassie was still injured. I fill the cup up with dirt, and run it back to the car and put it under the tires. I fill a whole tote bag with dirt, and distribute it under the tires. I pray: God, please get this car out of the mud. I get in the car and accelerate. No. I put the car in neutral, and stand with one sandaled foot out of the car, and one in and rock the car. No. I get out. I get behind the car and push. No. I open the trunk and pull clothes out of my bag and shove those under the tires. No. Okay.

Okay.

I change out of my skirt and into my sister’s jean cutoffs and put on tennis shoes. I shove two protein bars and my water bottle in my purse. I walk away from the car and toward the road. I tie a shirt to a tree where I turned off the road so I can find my car again. And I walk. It’s now an hour past my meeting time with Cassie and Matt. I know they are worried. I walk mad and replay what I did wrong. I should have turned back sooner in the car.

Further down the road I was supposed to be able to drive on, I wade through a creek up to my knees. The cold water–! Walk up the hill, and up and up. I have service. I text Matt and Cassie: The car is stuck. I am walking toward the meeting point. They text back: Send us your location. I send them a drop pin. They call: We are five miles away. We’ll get there as fast as we can.

I walk toward them and they walk toward me.

I will find Matt and Cassie, I tell myself. We’ll walk to the car and then we’ll push it out. I pray more. We will do this. We can do this. I will not call Ellen and tell her the car is stuck in the mud in West Virginia. I will not get lost in the woods. I will find my friends.

I reach a road that is actually a road and turn right. A few minutes later, I hear an ATV behind me. I turn around and I think: Should I wave? He slows down. Is everything okay? I’m walking to meet my friends—hikers—my car—Camp Creek Trail Road. He says: Well, you’re in a hell of a situation, aren’t you?

I am.

Shawn is wearing a camo hat and camo shorts. He looks about 40 years old and is quick to smile. I ask if he’s a hunter. He says he used to be, but he hurt his back, so it’s something he doesn’t do very often. I’m comforted—my dad is a hunter. I like hunters. He says he’ll take me to his house, and then we can get his truck, and find my friends, and go get my car. He has an NRA sticker on his ATV. I smile. My dad has an NRA sticker on his truck.

He drives fast, waving at neighbors. I look at my phone’s map. I’m traveling away from Cassie and Matt. We get to his house and I call Cassie and Matt to tell them I found someone who can help us. Shawn says: Come in the house and you can meet my mom. I go in his house. His mom is standing in the kitchen and looks surprised to see me. She says: You’re pretty. I laugh. I ask about her house and her dogs and ask her what town we’re in. She says we’re in Mercer County. She gives me a bottle of cold water.

Shawn and I drive his truck toward where we think we’ll find Cassie and Matt. He doesn’t recognize the location Matt sent me. I write Cassie’s phone number on my thigh because my battery is so low and no sooner than I get it written down, my phone dies. We decide to go find my car first, and then find Cassie and Matt. In the car, I ask Shawn questions and he tells me about his family, friends, dogs, neighbors, his injury. He was a welder. He spent too many years working his body too hard and eventually his body gave out.  I tell him he sounds like a dancer. I tell him why Cassie and Matt are walking—do people in this area talk much about mountaintop removal? Not much, really, it is sort of seen as a necessary evil, he says. People might not like it, but they want to turn the lights on in their house and that’s what makes it possible. He talks about how his town has changed and how sad he is for those changes and sad for the loss of land.

We drive down Camp Creek Trail Road. He fights the road the way I did. I push tree branches out of the way through my open window so they don’t scratch his truck. He stops: there’s a grouse! You hardly see them anymore. He leans out his window, his face two feet from the side of the hill next to the driver’s side and makes a soft call: “bird…bird bird bird”. We drive on. You know, this isn’t a road, he tells me. It hasn’t been a road since the 80’s when the bridge over the creek collapsed. The phone told me it was a road, I say.

The road gets worse, and more narrow. You’re brave, he says. I can’t believe you drove all the way down here. I say: Brave? Or stupid, maybe? Brave, he says.

I see the turquoise shirt I tied to a tree hours before: we’re here! Turn left! He turns the truck and pops through the mud puddles and to the clearing. I don’t see the car. I don’t. What. No. Wait. Okay. It’s just a little further. I really drove this far?

He pulls out chains and a blanket and lays the blanket out in front of my car. He lays down on the blanket and attaches the chains. I hand him the next set. He gets up. Turn your car on. When you feel a tug from my truck you hit the gas.

Okay.

I feel the car nudge forward and I hit the gas. I fly up out of the mud and swerve toward the trees. I straighten the car. We go again—I accelerate and his truck pulls me through two more big puddles. We stop, and take off the chains. My car is free. I’ll follow you up the road, I say, and can you stay?—I want my friends to meet you! Sure, he says. I run back to get my muddy clothes that were under the car, and untie my shirt from the tree. We drive up the hill and a text comes through from Cassie: We are at your first location. I stop the car and honk at Shawn. I text them: Keep walking. You will see me soon. Shawn and I hug and say goodbye and I take his picture. You saved me! I tell him. He says: You know, when I woke up this morning I never thought that I might be doing this today. I laugh—me neither!

I drive down the hill back toward the point where the road branches off and I pull the car over. Alone again in the woods, I feel sick. I walk toward Cassie and Matt: back through the creek, up the hill. I see my tracks from before. I know I will see Cassie and Matt soon. I see them! We all smile, relieved. We were all scared. We didn’t know where you were! I had no service! I messed up your mileage! It doesn’t matter. Cassie, how does your foot feel? Pretty good. Well, how was your morning?

I wade through the creek for the third time that day and we get to the car. We drive. I think: it’s not over yet. I have to get us up this hill. I drive and we bump over rocks and Matt films from the back. I start to breathe a little more deeply.

And then:

There is a tree in the road. The is a tree in the only road out of the woods. It had rained in the days before, but here on this bright, sunny, hot day, the tree has fallen in the thirty minutes since Shawn drove away. A tree is in the road! We laugh. It is a big tree. Matt looks at the break—Sarah, this just happened! Okay. We rock the tree and it slides a little down the hill. We rock the tree more. We scramble up the hillside, toward the top of the tree. Cassie pulls a tree branch back out of the way so the tree will be free to slide down the hill. Matt moves to the bottom of the tree, Cassie holds the branch back with all her weight, I scramble back up the hill. 1, 2, 3: move. 1, 2, 3, move. The tree is moving inches. Matt stands on the bottom of the tree that hangs over the side of the road and the tree becomes a see-saw, lifting up from the road as Matt stands on it. Sarah, I think you could get the car underneath of the branch if Matt does that, Cassie says. I hop in the car, Matt stands on the end of the tree, I slowly move the car underneath of the tree and just barely clear it. I cheer. We did it!

We get back in the car and drive up the road. We smile and laugh—we would have had adventure enough to talk about, but now we can say that we ended our day by moving a tree. Matt giggles in the back seat.

What? We say.

That was so much fun.

photo-e1340821205165

 

Posted on: July 1st, 2012
By Shula Strassfeld

In February, I spent almost three weeks in Syracuse, NY as part of a Dance Exchange residency. I had not been excited about going. After all, I know what -20 celsius feels like! But I donned my LLBean coat and my Canadian winter boots (guaranteed to -35) and went. Not only was the weather unseasonably mild, the residency was extraordinary. We all look forward to going back.

Since returning to DC, I seem to discover Syracuse connections wherever I look, on the news, old friends. Last week, my car insurance renewal came in the mail. It was significantly higher than last year, so I called to see why. While the person who answered waited for her computer to bring up my file, we chatted about this and that. I asked her where she was. She answered, “upstate NY.” I said, “oh, where?” She answered (yup, you guessed it) Syracuse. I told her all about our residency, how much we loved Syracuse. We talked about Strong Hearts Cafe, Dinosaur BBQ, the canal museum, which she had not visited.

In the end my insurance will cost me less than last year. Because I love Syracuse? Who knows. I choose to think so.

Posted on: July 1st, 2012
By Noel Conneely

the land a carpet
the sky a net to stop us
falling out of ourselves
to stop us edging into eternity
before our number is called
not something to own
before selling for a prayer
the song of the raindrop drunk petal
when you sell the land
the sky comes apart
gravity loses heart
and then the big hole
where Santa comes in
hitches his sleigh
to Paul Revere’s horse
Metacome said no like
And on a spear went his head yeah
in Plymouth for oh years

Posted on: July 1st, 2012
By Zeke Leonard

One of my first memories is of my father using a handsaw to cut a piece of wood for a project he was working on.  I asked him to make me something to play with, and he said “I just made you that big pile of sawdust!”  I don’t recall what my reaction to that was, it is one of those memories that I can see only through a haze, that fades in like they do in the movies, with the sound of the saw cutting and that fades out again just as it comes in to focus.
 
When I was young my father made a lot of things.  My mother, too.  Looking back I realize now what a gift it was to have making be a part of my everyday life, and what a gift it continues to be.
 
When I was young I thought my father knew pretty much everything.  He knew how to make bookshelves, yes, but he also made me sand boxes and tree houses.  When I was about 5 he made me a plywood rocket ship with two seats in it.  It was spray painted silver and the controls in the front seat were made from milk-bottle caps and baby-food lids.  He made things for us to sit on, he made the table we ate at, he made the bed I slept in.  He did this because my parents did not have a lot of money for that kind of thing, yes, but he also did it because he and my mom loved to make things.  She did a lot of sanding and painting on a lot of the projects, but she also stitched curtains and baked and threw pots.  As I got older I helped a little here and there, a living example of what Shel Silverstein meant when he wrote “some kinds of help are the kinds of help we all can do without.”
 
These days when my family visits me we do it around a home improvement project.  It gives us all a common goal, something to work towards, and it gives us a focus for conversation, for planning out the days, for staying busy.  None of us are “sitting in the sun on the beach for a week” types.  I have noticed that my view of the landscape has shifted though; now when we work together my parents look to me for guidance.  At this point I have more training in furniture making and woodworking than my father, and I have different expectations about level of finish and about methods and materials than he does.
 
Over the holiday weekend my mother and father were both staying with us and we started work on renovating our porch.  My role these days is to plan the work for each day and to divide the work into tasks.  Some of how I do this I learned from my parents when I was younger, other parts I have learned over the last couple of decades of working with and for people on large projects.  The design of the finished project is in my head the whole time of course, and the methods for getting there also tend to be mine.  My parents have ideas about all of that, and there are discussions in which they bring to bear their considerable experience, but in general I am the in-charge person, the project foreman.
 
In addition, I now also have a small child running around who is playing in the sawdust and taking my hammer when I am not looking.  He does this not because he thinks the hammer is a toy, he simply knows we are using hammers and wants to work along side of us.  I am responsible not only for the project at hand, but also for his safety and his training just like my parents were when I occupied his role.
 
This weekend I lived in three times at once.  I was keenly aware of how recently I was the small child running around, getting in the way as I “helped.”  I was also the elder, watching with pride as my child led the way and swung a hammer with precision right alongside me.  And in the middle I was me.  Just me still, the one who was trying to keep tabs on everyone else, who was working out in my head what all of the steps might be, and who was trying to find the way ahead with all of the support that was around me.
 
I am used to the idea that “time is an enormous, long river” as Utah Phillips reminds us.  I like the idea and I try to celebrate it with the things I make and the way I make them. To be so viscerally reminded about my place as a person standing in that river was both poignant and lovely.

Posted on: July 1st, 2012
By Martha Wittman, Takoma Park

In August of 1985 I found myself joining the last three miles of a Peace and Justice walk into Burlington, Vermont. The 93 mile walk linked two churches offering sanctuary to two Guatemalan families, Weston Priory in the south and Christ Church Presbyterian in the not. The route followed the original Underground Railroad and was led by the Benedictine monks of the Weston Priory.

The families, the Ixcot’s sheltering in the Priory and the Velasco’s in Christ Church, (both with small children), had fled their homes in the mountains because of civil war and death threats against them. Even children were being killed at that time, seen by the military as “future subversives.”

They came seeking asylum in the United States because of its advocacy for human rights and its past generous history of accepting refugees. The found, instead, the threat of arrest, and deportation back to the terror they had just fled. They were caught in the political climate of those years.

Fifteen years later I found myself in Vermont once again. This time I was traveling with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. We were in the midst of collecting stories for a project called “Hallelujah- In Praise of Constancy in the Midst of Change.” I felt I wanted to revisit the story of the Velasco family and how they had lived in the lobby of Christ Church Presbyterian in Burlington. The community had helped them plant a field outside the church of corn and beans. A minister remembered a celebration as the father of the family sprinkled rum in the four corners of the field and everyone gathered for a turkey dinner, like Thanksgiving.

One section of our Vermont Hallelujah became devoted to the story of the Velasco’s flight from Guatemala. It involved a “flying table.” By the end of the sequence the table was turned upside down and carried high with a child standing inside, bracing herself on the legs, both safe and precarious.

Here is an excerpt of biblical text, given to us by a peace activist close to the family. It was reach during performance.

“But the stranger who dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you; and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” — Leviticus 19(34)

Posted on: July 1st, 2012
By Pamela Squires, Washington Post

danceexchange
 
The sun has just disappeared behind the hills around the Claytor Nature Study Center in Bedford, Va., and Cassie Meador is trying to conjure movement out of memories.
 
Eight people sit with her in a circle, but only one has any dance experience. The rest are mostly middle-aged residents of this town about 30 miles west of Lynchburg, Va., including two teachers, a postmaster, a nonprofit administrator, and a full-time mom. Members of the Takoma Park-basedDance Exchange offer prompts to the group: How has the landscape changed around you over time? What’s something you’ve made? When have you taken a risk or chance?
 
The visitors begin discussing their experiences: A man with a bushy grey beard talks about the growth of trees around his old home, gesturing with his hands as he speaks. One woman describes making sculptures out of clay. Another mentions change that moves like a stream.
 
Meador, the Dance Exchange’s artistic director, listens. Then, gradually, she gathers a movement phrase from what she’s heard and teaches it, piece by piece, to the group. In a few moments everyone in the room is moving, arms and torsos stretching up and out and down. In sequence they grasp the space before them to indicate a tree trunk, then align hands and wave them like a winding river. Wrists swivel and thumbs push inward—working with an imaginary lump of clay—and then in unison, arms pull back and suddenly fly forward, to symbolize taking a big risk.
 
This is the kind of work through which the Dance Exchange, when it was led by celebrated choreographer Liz Lerman, helped make its name—getting nondancers moving. And sure enough, when the workshop ends the Bedford residents linger, energized by the activity.
 
But Meador, 32, is about done for the day. She and a companion, Matt Mahaney, are 320 miles into a 500-mile trek from Takoma in D.C. to one of the sources of its electricity, the former site of a mountain in West Virginia. Today’s workshop comes at the end of a week’s worth of hiking and camping along the Appalachian Trail, and the exertion shows. Meador’s lost about 10 pounds and seems more vulnerable than usual, her shoulders hunched slightly inward.
 
The workshop is just one facet of “How to Lose a Mountain,” Meador’s first big undertaking since succeeding Lerman as the Dance Exchange’s leader last summer—and one that’s sure to set her apart from her predecessor. Meador, Mahaney, and members of the Dance Exchange set out in mid-April; earlier this week, Meador and Mahaney finished the trek. In between, as they made their way along the Appalachian Trail, they hosted workshops and met with activists, examining energy sources and civilization’s relationship with the natural world, in the hopes of eventually translating the experience into a stage piece that will premiere at Dance Place in March 2013 and at the Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisc., a month later. The Dance Exchange is also producing a website it hopes will contain 500 or more stories from people encountered along the way.
 
When Meador explains the origins of the project in public, she brings up her experience helping to teach an ecology class in Guyana three years ago. Living outdoors for two weeks, it was obvious where resources came from: Water was drawn from the river, and the only source of light was her headlamp. When she returned home, Meador realized how little she knew about the source of her electricity, so she did some research and was shocked to learn that much of it was linked to mountaintop removal.
In private, Meador adds that what really surprised her was how quickly she could forget it again. It’s just a fact, after all. “To really know,” she says, “it has to involve my body.”
 

 
How Meador’s journey will become a fully realized dance piece isn’t quite clear. “One entry point to the rehearsal process will be the movement we’ve collected. That’s the lumber,” says Meador.
 
“How to Lose a Mountain” has several moving parts. There are the workshops and the meetings with activists. There’s also a wide range of collaborators from around the country who’ve signed up to make cameos—like Zeke Leonard, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based musician and instrument-builder, and Melissa Fisher, an anthropologist at Georgetown University. A couple of the “creative team” members are at the Claytor Nature Center workshop: Mark Twery, a U.S. Forest Service employee, who helped develop the route that Meador and Mahaney are walking, and Kate Freer, a New York-based videographer who hovers over the event with her camera.
 
But for a project where so much time and energy has already been invested, the end result seems scarily vague. Freer will probably come back and film various spots along the trail that Meador and Mahaney have marked, and dance phrases have been created at workshops and elsewhere throughout the hike—but it doesn’t sound like the final piece will necessarily include any of them.
 
After the workshop, the group drives to an 18th-century farmhouse, where they’re staying the night. Meador’s still grasping at the piece’s eventual direction. “I don’t think the stage work will tell the story of the walk,” Meador says. “It’s not going to be a documentary.”
 
Ultimately, the final form of “How to Lose a Mountain” could easily center on the upshot of the trip itself: the myriad impressions and sensations and observations that come from being so close to the land; the transformative experience of living without electricity and sleeping on the ground and moving under your own power for days, even weeks, at a time.
 
At the house, dancers pour themselves glasses of wine while Meador eats a couple of slices of pizza. “This is my second dinner tonight,” she says. “I can’t eat enough.”
 

 
The next morning, Meador wraps up a conference call with the Dance Exchange’s home office while Mahaney prepares their packs. An adjunct dancer with the Dance Exchange and an outdoor educator, Mahaney has the lean and deadly serious look of a hardcore survivalist. He advised Meador to keep her pack as light as possible: They’ve got the clothes they’re wearing, plus an extra shirt (a luxury); a tent but no tarp; and collapsible water bottles that take up as little space as possible. Mahaney says he doesn’t even bring water with him if he knows there’s a source within seven miles.
 
Mahaney defines his role as “keeping Cassie safe and keeping her walking at maximum efficiency.” He’d love to wake up well before dawn and get a jump on the day, but she doesn’t like to walk that early—“and therefore she isn’t that efficient,” he says. So they wake up around 5:30 a.m. and get going an hour later. Then they walk all day long, an average of 17 miles per day, with stops dictated by the scenery. The schedule is remarkably stripped-down. For the most part the two spend all day moving, often in silence.
 
Meador finishes her phone call and says her goodbyes to the Dance Exchange folks who are driving back to their homes in Washington and New York. She, Mahaney, and Twery, the Forest Service official, pile into the car and head to the same spot on the Appalachian Trail where Twery picked them up a couple of days earlier, though not before stopping for supplies at a Walmart—one that was clearly carved out of the landscape quite recently. No one acknowledges the irony—Wal-mart, environmental destruction, that whole thing—but it’s presumably hard to avoid the trappings of modern life completely.
 
They arrive at the trail and Meador hauls her pack out of the car. “Back to work,” she says.
 
So close to civilization, this section of the path isn’t particularly special, but it’s a beautiful day and the greens and blues of the scenery glow royally. There’s honeysuckle and buttercups and blackberry blossoms, and cicadas—which have returned after a 17-year hiatus—are everywhere, molting out of their papery skins and taking to the air, filling the forest and meadows with a deafening sound.
 
Meador tries to explain how the walk is changing her. Serving as the Dance Exchange’s artistic director has meant more administration and desk work, and less actual dancing. “I hadn’t been as physical in the last year and a half, and now I’m finding I have a hunger to dance again, and to perform,” she says. “I’m coming back to my body. Usually I do that through dance, but it’s the same thing—seeing things differently as a result.”
 
With lots of time on the trail to think, Meador lets her mind roam—to the “sunrise sendoff” that the Dance Exchange organized on April 10, the morning she and Mahaney left, and the five days they spent walking with five other dancers along the C&O Canal to Harpers Ferry. She ponders the visit she made to PJM, a regional transmission organization that coordinates the flow of electricity throughout the Washington area, and the limits of what humans can take from the planet.
 
And she questions what will happen at the end of the walk, when she and Mahaney finally leave the Appalachian Trail and follow the New River into West Virginia, where the mountain, with its strip mine, lies. It’s unclear what will happen then, though they’re planning on meeting with Larry Gibson, an anti-mountaintop removal activist who lives near the site.
 
But mostly she wonders how she’s changing—as an artist, as a dancer—as a result of her trek. “I’m trying to trust that this is getting in my body, and it’ll come out later in some way,” relates Meador. “I’m letting my feet really be on the ground, just giving in to it. It’s a kind of faith in the ground and what grows out of that.”
 
Photo by Jori Ketten/Courtesy Dance Exchange

Posted on: June 6th, 2012
by Peter Whitehouse, Ohio

Before we lose more mountains, we need to learn to think like them. So Aldo Leopold advised us in his famous land ethic metaphor “think like a mountain” that was echoed by the progenitor of the concept of deep ecology, Arne Naess, himself a Norwegian mountaineer as well as philosopher.

“Thinking like a mountain” means aspiring to great heights, imagining for the long-term, understanding system of connections and relationships, and starting  from a broad based deeply rooted in the crust of the planet. Both Aldo and Arne lived in primitive shacks to connect more deeply to nature, and my friend Arne’s was located high in the Norwegian mountains. He even named his philosopher after it, Ecosophy T (Tvergastein). I have travelled the world to be inspired spiritually by mountains. The accompanying images show one from the coast of Norwegian when I traveled by boat up beyond the Arctic Circle and one in Nepal where Buddhist prayer flags decorated the peak at 17000 feet.  For me the conversation between land (mountains) and water (clouds, rivers, glaciers)  is the conversation between the masculine and the feminine in all of us. The rapes of mountains in West Virginia and around the world not only destroys land forms but also pollutes the associated water sheds.  For as short-term gain in energy we bankrupt future generations. We can live without mountains as some people do, but no one survives without water even for a few days. Hence it is Rachel Carson’s sense of wonder about the seas and other waters around us that teach us that the feminine metaphor that flowing water will always embrace and challenge the durability of mountains and even wear them down over time.

Go Cassie go! Gather and focus all the energies of the human spirit as manifest in dance-in-action.  Hike the horizontal and the verticals to create new stories to draw us into a healthier and more viable future. Through your actions and those of many others around the world we will slowly but surely change our relationship to the mountains that inspire us and the waters that sustain us.

Posted on: May 29th, 2012
by Jennifer F. Helgeson, Maryland

In the past seven years I have travelled nearly a million miles, literally and figuratively. It all just sort of happened; most of it I could have done without, but if it had to be this way, I think it has been (nearly) the best it could be. Some amazing people have come into my life and helped me heal without ever being aware of the events of my past. Other people, sometimes very close ones from my past and even extended family have of their own volition been the opposite of supportive; and I will never understand why this is the case; but, I have come to accept that it is the case.

In a body of freezing water, a person with my physical characteristics is estimated to survive about 15-18 minutes. I am not a strong a swimmer, so I would defer to the lower estimated threshold.
The sudden loss of my only sibling, and having my own health questioned, equated to being plunged into freezing, dark waters. And I needed to travel a lot, spatially and spiritually, towards acceptance and peace before my “fifteen minutes” of rescue time expired.

On 25 May 2005, two days after my university graduation, I found my brother dead in his room from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) during the night. He was the picture of heath and the pride of our family; and my best friend. He was my side-kick for 18 years; from playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to deciding what to get mom for Mothers’ Day. Andrew was exactly three years and two days younger than me and 9.5 inches taller. He maximised on our Norwegian genetics, with the look of a real Viking.

So, at the age of twenty-one, I learned the fragility of life in a somewhat brutal and scary manner. And as modern medicine has not caught up to heart health, doctors wanted to take all kinds of preventive measures so I would not share Andrew’s fate, though all indications are such that my heart mis-beats about as often as the average person on the street. Thus, one month later on 23 June, I found myself on the operating table getting an Implantable Cardio Defibrillator (ICD) fitted in my chest. In nearly seven years the device never went off until a recalled lead broke about a week ago and I was shocked repeatedly on a London side-street…but that is another story…

By the end of summer 2005, I was deep in the freezing water in need of an escape plan. I had been awarded a Fulbright Grant to live and research in Norway for the 2005/06 year and against much of my protesting, my parents got their passports and took me to the small village of Aas, Norway, just outside of Oslo, where I would learn to swim against the frozen tides. I could write a novel about my adventures there, so just suffice to say here that from reindeers and hitch-hiking to wacky roommates, crazy bike-rides and fishing, I waded the engulfing waters. My closer friends and housemates there knew what had happened just a few months before, but most did not. Sometimes I would take the train into Oslo and walk around those streets; I would see Andrew all over – tall, blonde young men. The only trip he ever took abroad was to Norway with me and my father a few years previous. And in a country so far away, it was strangely comforting to walk places I had with him before.

Ironically, I met the kindest people I would (in aggregate total) in the coming seven years in Norway. I came out of that year on a small canoe in that freezing water I would say, but I made it out before my fifteen minutes.

In the following years there have always been tests of perseverance that rocked the canoe, leaving me exposed to the freezing waters. When I was at the University of Oxford the exam system and level of time dedicated to my research sometimes left me wondering why do this if life is so short; why not just enjoy ourselves more?

And sometimes out of nowhere I have received correspondence that just left me in awe of the insensitivity of people, especially those who are rather fortunate themselves. I have been told “welcome to the only child club” rather than, “so sorry for your loss.” And a relation wrote the following at a very hard time: ‘My brother and I discussed being in touch with your family (mother) and this will sound insensitive, but it is VERY difficult to hear talk of Andrew. I hope I never know the heartache your parents have experienced, but it is difficult to be an honest listener.’ Well, it is natural for me look at this and feel like screaming: “gee, it is nice you have a brother with whom to discuss. And maybe while you are with your own son and grandson you could give a thought to my poor mother!!” But people like that live in an alternative universe and nothing I say will change how they act. I cannot change the circumstances of my life, but rather just the way I respond.

In the end, when I look back over my longest journey, the most important lesson has been to hold those who care about me close; to love and support them in return. As for the others who have nothing kind or supportive to add, even if they are blood relations, let them live their selfish lives, be careful not to wish them ill, but hope that they realise one day the power of compassion and become self-aware of their limitations.

We all have problems on some level or other. Sadly, some close friends have now also lost parents and siblings, battled illness themselves, etc. And since my first Norway adventure year I have lived abroad in the UK and travelled all around Europe, as well as getting as far as Uganda and South Africa for work. I like to think that I have really touched lives in a positive way in the field of environmental management. And in all the travels, I have found just this: there is always some truth to cultural stereotypes, but people are the same everywhere: some really loving and good; others selfish and unkind.

I know that post vita most people’s memories are idealised excessively by family and friends. But, the number of people who came forward as being touched for life by Andrew during his short 18 years in this world is proof that he was angelic in nature. The truth is he was much cooler than was I in high school (I wish I had just told him); that attribute combined with a big heart made him lovingly known as “Helge.”

Almost exactly seven years later, I am back at my family home to await an impending operation. Memories flood back and though I cannot say I am at peace with the fate dealt to my brother, I am at peace with how I can handle this challenge and scar that will always be with me. But soon it will be time to travel again, both physically and figuratively. There is a new chapter opening before me and it appears to be the most exciting yet, with love and support waiting. And well, I have found it to be true of many who suffer great loss, myself included: I have a lot of love and support to give to those who deserve and welcome it. I made it out of the water in time; and I thank the Universe every day for those who have helped me along the way.

Richard Andrew Helgeson Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) Public Charity, to raise awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in children and young adults.  P O Box 4024, Silver Spring, MD 20914.
Contact: 301-236-0448; rahfoundation@comcast.net
http://www.andrewhelgeson.org and http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/story/5424.

I am a curious, cautious guy.
I wonder what life will bring.
I hear the sunrise.
I see tomorrow’s destiny.
I am a curious, cautious guy.
I pretend not to care.
I feel fear about what is yet to come.
I touch my crystal ball.
I worry about what I may miss.
I am a curious, cautious guy.
I understand actions have consequences.
I say I will make is fine later.
I dream that I will be successful.
I try to make the wrongs right.
I hope I will end up content.
I am a curious, cautious guy.

R. Andrew Helgeson, Jan. 2004

Posted on: May 25th, 2012
By Kaho Ishi’i (female/teen), Japan

Q. What is the most valuable part of your inheritance?

“Life is Live”

“Life is Live” is the words which my mother told us before. It can make our lives more enriched and enjoyable when we feel/experience anything real/live. I would love to keep this feeling. In my case something live are music, dance and watching soccer games. Then I am moved by such live experiences and the impression permeates into my whole body. I get addicted to it and I can’t stop it!

7-Kaho

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Junko Furukawa (female/40s), Japan

Q. What is the significant distance you have traveled in your life?

As a sign-language interpreter

We live in many kinds of distance with others. In spite of the length of time and days to spend with together, we can get on well with others, laugh and/or cry each other in a moment. In the case that we has known each other for a long time, we become attached to the persons: sometimes we feel like caring about someone and checking how the persons are getting along. But on the other hand, we also feel like leaving from someone else. Even though we stay with together in the very condensed/ deep time, we could go away from the others as time goes by.

I am a sign-language interpreter. It might be difficult for many people to recognize the interpreters as an individual being. The interpreter plays a role of medium to help better communications someone with others. Even though the interpreter is working in the center of communication among people, they won’t see the interpreter. Before I didn’t care about such a situation because I am very shy. But here in the community dance group I am also accepted as one of the participants/colleagues. I am now enjoying the new (to me) distance with people.

6-Junko

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Izumi TsuDA (femaile/50s), Japan

Q. What is the most valuable part of your inheritance?

A diary

The necessary items which I have all the time are the diary, pen and wallet. I think of the diary as the most needed one among them. In April it is the first month of the fiscal year and now I have two diaries: the old and the new one. I note the important information in my diary: not only the schedule but also the private information of my friends such as address.

But on the other hand I am wondering whether I really need the diary or not. One day I chanced to go out without the diary. Then nothing happened. I knew I might live without it. But still I also know there are full of important information for me in it.
So now I get lost what is the necessary item for me…..

5-Izumi

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Hiroshi SAKURAI [HIRO] (male/20s), Japan

Q. What is the significant distance you have traveled in your life?

Distance between my center/root (of the body) and the world

When I open ‘my center’ toward the world, I feel that some relationships with people and nature can happen and then something related to me there will come back to my center. When we live our lives, we go out of our home/ center/ mind toward the outer world and at the same time feel the connection between our center and the world. Sometimes we go far away so that we lose the way back to our home/center. But we can go back to my home again.

Thinking of such a distance between my center and the world, I realize that the distance is the fundamental of my dance. For me, the dance can create the distance between people and/or between people and nature. And so I pay attention to my center so much while I am dancing. The idea of my center has multiple meanings in both substantial and abstract: the energy center of the inner body called Dantian, home, heart/mind, the whole of my body etc.

4-Hiroshi

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Eiko Nakayama (female/60s), Japan

Q. What is the most valuable part of your inheritance?

A hair brush made from pig-hair

Today I brought my favorite hair brush made from pig-hair. I have used it since my girlhood until now. I have used it so long a time that the hair of brush could be shortened.
When I was a girl, I had a beautiful long hair. At that time I liked brushing my hair under a skyful of stars. In my childhood, we didn’t have highly efficient rinse unlike one at present and sometimes we had to wash our hairs with soap for body. But then I brushed my hair with this hair brush every night and my long hair was shining much more glossily than my friends. My friends wanted to know the reason I had such beautifully glossy hair.

So still now I keep brushing my hair with this brush.

3-Eiko

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Chihiro Takahashi (female/40s), Japan

Q. What is the significant distance you have traveled in your life?

My name ‘CHIHIRO’

The most significant thing related to the distance is in my name ‘Chihiro’. The word ‘hiro’ is one of Japanese traditional units of measure. Hiro is the distance between both hands when people open their arms side by side. And Chihiro [chi: thousand] is thousand times of hiro and it can be used as a metaphor of something quite long and/or profound.

The length of hiro expressed with body parts is different for each person. However, we can accept and share the differences with together. To us living in the modernized world, it seems to be something strange. But we can learn the fundamental idea of community dance through the chihiro’s way of thinking/being.
So my name ‘Chihiro’ is the most favorite present gifted by my parents.

2-Chihiro

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Akira Kamekawa (male/50s), Japan

Q. What is the significant distance you have traveled in your life?

“I won’t let you alone”

This words is the tender and romantic words which my girlfriends had whispered in the bed when I was in teenage and 20s age. How many times those girlfriends told me such a beautiful phrase, I wouldn’t readily believe it. But rather I might feel isolated even when I was with them. For me in my younger days, it was not easily to believe in love –feeling not alone– through both the words which the girlfriends spoke to me and even some sorts of sexual relationships.

Thinking back to the old days, now I can understand that I was not alone and they really loved me. So now I thank them very much. Today with the help of young girls who are the participants here, I would love to reenact my younger days and feel the tender memory again.

1-Akira

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Yuko Taguchi (female/30s), Japan
Tenugui

Q. What is the most valuable part of your inheritance?

Tenugui (Japanese traditional towel)

Tenugui is one of my favorite items which I take very often in my daily life. A tenugui is a thin Japanese traditional hand towel made of cotton. It is typically about 35 by 90 centimeters in size.

It is plainly weaved and is almost always dyed with some beautiful pattern.

Owing to this size and form, tenugui has a multiple and convenient ways of using better than other towel stuffs. When it’s cold, we can use it as a scarf. When it’s hot, we can wipe the sweat with it. When we are injured, we can use it as a bandage. We can use it as a sack. The old ladies around here like to cook with tenugui around their heads—it is used for sanitary purpose. They also like to dry dishes with tenugui.

17-Yuko

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Osamu Takizawa (male/ 60s), Japan

Q. What is the significant distance you have traveled in your life?

Distance between me and others–a feeling like falling down to a bottomless swamp

I have engaged in the theatrical world for a long time—he is still working as an actor and a playwright, leading his theatre company as a director and he is also challenging to the puppet theatre as a puppeteer. As a person in theatre I try to pay more attention to the distance between me and others. I know we have some sorts of rules in terms of taking an adequate distance with others: how to take the intimate, personal, social and public spaces.

Also even in other spaces except for theatre I am thinking of it very much, such as, the distance with the person whom I love. The distance with my lover is in proportion to the intensity of love, that I think. It is a matter of course that the closer the distance between us is, the more powerful our love of gravitation is. But in order to know the correct distance we might need some affairs. When losing the correct distance, I feel like falling down to a bottomless swamp. Once falling down to the swamp, I am frightened of the instability at my feet. Then I try to find the bottom and wander into the swamp.

16-Osamu

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Miho Ishi’i (female/teen), Japan

Q. What is the most valuable part of your inheritance?

My favorite pouch marked in M

When I was an elementary schoolgirl, I danced on stage. Then a friend of mine came to see our stage and gifted me a pouch marked in M—M is the first letter of my name. At first I didn’t have any chances to use it and left it somewhere in my room. Later when I became a middle schoolgirl, I started to use it. I had used it until quite
recently. I put lip balm, mirror, hair-pin and other small things into it and took it with me everyday. It has been my favorite item for a long time. It was worn-out and I had to dispose of it.

Now I am using a new pouch which I bought by myself. But I believe that the old pouch is the item which reminds me of my precious memory with my friend.

15-Miho

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Mayumi Horiuchi (female/ 20s) with her daughter (Hanane), Japan

Q. What is the significant distance you have traveled in your life?

A new sense about distance in traveling with my kid

Traveling with kid, I got to feel harder. Before my daughter was born, I could travel easily in any long distance. I could also read a book and/or think about something during a travel. But now I can’t do so. Whatever I will do, I should try to think of as easy a way of doing as possible. Now I knew the reason quite a few mothers have car only when babies are born (sorry, I don’t have it). Before I became mother, I could travel light. Now I feel it much longer even in a short distance. My sense about distance was changed. On the other hand, I found that traveling with kid had more fun in a different way.

13-Mayumi

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Marika Nagaoke (female/30s), Japan

Q. What is the significant distance you have traveled in your life?

My (current) place

Three years ago, I moved from my hometown Saitama to Sapporo. And quite recently I returned home after two years’ absence. Then I found that it was no longer my place. It takes only one hour and a half by plane. The distance between Sapporo and Saitama is not so far in a sense but I felt the conclusive distance between me and my old friends. I knew I was not there any longer. No longer I belong to the groups where I used to be. But on the contrary I noticed the new place of mine. It is my new hometown here in Sapporo and I have my colleagues! The distance let me know my current place as well as what I should do here. So I am thankful to this distance.

12-Marika

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Maiko Ishigou (female/30s), Japan

Q. What is the most valuable part of your inheritance?

“Be a person like a secretary”

“Be a person like a secretary” is the words which my ballet teacher told me when I was eighteen years old. The ballet teacher taught me to be a person who can be aware of various kinds of things just like a secretary. The good dancer can notice any small changes of both things and people. If not so, we can’t do good dance.
At first I didn’t understand what I should pay attention to but later little by little I got to know what my teacher meant. I try to put myself in others’ place and more carefully think of the current situation surrounding me. I believe that I can feel more things through my body than before.

The words are always in my mind: when I dance, when I work and when I live in my daily life. The influential words made my life changed.

10-Maiko

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Kumiko SATO (female/60s), Japan

Q. What is the significant distance you have traveled in your life?

Communication (i-pad)

What is communication? Although there are various styles of language in the world, many people recognized the spoken languages as the main communication tool. Non-spoken languages such as sign languages and gestures are pushed away as communication tools for minorities. So I feel invisible distances with others and it seems as if I were in the different world. If the silent world or the world where people don’t feel any sounds in the auditory sense were spread out more than now, other enriched expressions different from communication through only spoken languages could come into the world, that I believe.

In Japan I feel such isolation more than other countries. When I visited USA, I knew it clearly. America is the multi-cultural country. People of diverse languages, cultures and races are gathering there. So they didn’t care about my way of communication—sign language. Rather they tried to understand what I meant without prejudice. Then I felt very happy.

But when I met the community dance group here, I changed my mind. People in community dance group manage to communicate with me even though they don’t know sign languages very well. I realized others made efforts to be closer to me in various ways. Then I feel like getting closer to them in return. I bought an i-pad as my new communication tool. With this I can feel freer to communicate with others than before.

9-Kumiko

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Keiko Ogawa (female/ 30s), Japan

Q. What is the significant distance you have traveled in your life?

A relationship (distance) between teacher and high school students

Last year I became a high school teacher. To be a teacher is my long-cherished dream. Finally my dream came true! and thus I might be working too enthusiastically as a high school teacher.

The trouble is that I don’t know yet how to make an adequate relationship with students. Besides, the physical distance and mental one are not always correspond. As a teacher I love to be closer to many students. One day I tried to take arm in arm with students. Then one student stepped back a bit though he still let his arm be in my arm. I asked him whether he disliked it or not. He answered me that he never disliked it but rather he felt happy—but in reality he felt some embarrassment as well. Through such experiences I realized how many variations of distance could exist. It is too complicated for me to understand but it’s a lot of fun to go forward it.

8-Keiko

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Jodi Kanter, Washington DC

A lake,
I was told in school,
Is a smaller body of water;
you can’t see the other side
of an ocean.
I stood behind the rocks
willing my sight to the other side
And felt smugly gratified
that it wouldn’t reach.
We’ll show them,
I told the quiet tide.
We’ll show all of them who think
We’re so damned little.

Its mood was always changing.
As a teenager,
my bony knees knocking
against the rocks
I loved that.
One day green,
the next day gray, the next
impossibly blue.
Change, change, change
the water rumbled.

Original name:
Lake Chippewa
I read somewhere in college
And for a time
this made me very sad.
Eyes closed, I’d listen
to the crashing waves
and hear the rhythmic chant
of an old Amerindian woman,
someone I never knew
but surely should have
lamenting in an unfamiliar key
the loss of families,
friends and nations,
branches cut to tame
unruly family trees.

Now, when I go home again,
I go back to the rocks.
Of course I do.
I sit.
I watch and listen.
I take my time
or try to.
But there’s no longer
written history between
the lake and me.
Our friendship
is a wordless one where
lost names are as irrelevant
as any other facts.
And although it’s I who came it’s she
who’s paying me a visit.

We sit together by the rocks.
We watch and listen.
We take our time

or try to.

We both know
that I will be leaving the world.
We both know
the lake will be staying.
But for the brief time of our visit
the vast, the mutable
and the eternal have entered
through my cracked
hospital window.

Posted on: May 14th, 2012
By Jodi Kanter, Washington DC

I don’t have wanderlust.  I like to feel at home and I feel most at home…well, at home.  Although I’ve seen bits of it and there are bits I’d still very much like to see, I wouldn’t spend any of the three wishes a genie gave me on a trip around the world.  I am not haunted by the yearning to inhabit a different body or a different belief system.

The most significant distance I have traveled in my life was a trip to the garbage can.  In my hand, I was carrying my birth control pills.  And again:  it’s not that I was in some situation that made it especially brave, objectively speaking, for me to do this.  I had grown up with loving parents.  I had a loving spouse.  I had a home and a job.  I didn’t dislike kids.  I had simply never been moved by the desire to have one.

But there was my partner wanting a child.  And there was my stepdaughter wanting a sibling.  And there was a foundational life experience offering itself to me, willing to give itself over to me just as I was.  But it wasn’t a lifetime offer.  My early thirties passed.  And my mid-thirties.  And my late thirties.  And there I was, still gearing up for that very short walk to the garbage can.

And then, one unremarkable day, I did it.

And now, here is this remarkable little being.

Is there a significant distance between who I was before becoming a mom and who I am now?  I feel I should say yes, but the truth is, I’m not so sure.  Coming to love my son has, of course, been its own astonishing journey, as it is with coming to love anyone deeply and permanently.  But when I think about the most significant distance, for me, it’s the one I traveled to arrive at the decision to be responsible for another life—that trip to the garbage can, the plastic lid opening as my foot pressed the pedal, and the flimsy package tumbling down through the air, freefalling, as I was freefalling, into a distant, vast, and almost unimaginable place.

Posted on: May 11th, 2012
by Ellen Chenoweth, Washington DC

I’m moved and inspired to hear of this long-distance march that took place earlier this year in Bolivia.  A group of 120 people, many of them disabled, walked 870 miles from Trinidad, Bolivia, to the nation’s capital of La Paz to lobby for disability rights.  870 miles in a wheelchair on difficult roads?  Incredible.

bolivianMarch

Photo credit: Disabled people in Bolivia on the march in quest for equality A 120-strong group is making a 1,400km journey to La Paz to highlight calls for state support. photograph by Juan Karita

Disabled people in Bolivia on the march in quest for equality

The Guardian, January 11, 2012

A group of disabled people in Bolivia is walking 1,400km, from Trinidad to La Paz – a route taking in both tropical climates and snow-capped mountains – to demand state benefits and an end to discrimination.

“We are asking for a law that gives us special recognition and a yearly allowance of 3,500 bolivianos [about £325],” says Carlos Mariaca, who is leading the caravan of 120 people – 75 of whom have disabilities, with the remainder being members of local NGOs and wheelchair monitors – to Bolivia’s main city.

Mariaca, 42, a quadriplegic who can only move a few fingers and tilt his head, spoke to the Guardian as his group – which is expected to reach La Paz in mid-February – approached the town of Buena Vista in eastern Bolivia.

The participants set off on 15 November from the city of Trinidad, further north, and have already covered more than 500km, counting on support and charity from the residents in the towns along their route.

“They give us rice, pasta, coffee, sugar and bread,” says Mariaca, who has been using a wheelchair for more than 30 years. “But sometimes we sleep under a tree or wherever we can find free accommodation.”

Living with a disability in Bolivia is not easy, especially if you are poor. Very few buildings and streets are accessible by wheelchair. According to Lucio Álvarez, an expert on disabilities at the medical faculty of La Paz’s public university, even this is not the greatest cause for concern.

“Social stigmas are the most serious,” says Álvarez. “People suffer serious discrimination. Even teachers, police officers and doctors don’t know how to deal with a disabled person.”

There is no precise data on how many Bolivians live with a disability. The ministry of health lists approximately 35,000 people nationwide, but human rights groups believe the number to be as high as 600,000, or 6% of Bolivia’s population.

Álvarez admits that without exact numbers it is difficult to implement national policies to help people with disabilities. Nonetheless, he says, it is hard to ignore their situation.

He tells the story of a small disabled child who was rescued by the police after being found in a pig barn surrounded by a wall of thorns. The child’s mother had placed the thorns around her so she would not move and roll over while she was at work.

“If we look at this from a western point of view,” says Álvarez, “this is a barbarity. But in a situation of extreme poverty like this, the mother really had no other option. If she stayed with her baby, they would have both died of hunger.”

Javier Salguero, who heads the ministry of justice department that deals with people with disabilities, dismisses accusations that the government of President Evo Morales is not concerned about what, he admits, is a marginalised sector of society.

“It is a priority of our president to attend to their needs,” said Salguero, adding that 40m bolivianos ($5.8m) is being spent to train teachers, offer job training and placements to people with disabilities, and help with legal needs. “We have a national plan in place that will guarantee equality in education, health, work and housing.”

Salguero insists that offering a state benefit, similar to the incentives provided to poor parents for sending their children to school, would be counterproductive. He believes people with mental disabilities, for example, would find it difficult to manage their money. “What we want to do is offer programmes that improve their situation,” he says, “and not give them cash that they would spend in less than a month.”

However, the protesters disagree and are determined to make their voices heard. Ahead of them on their journey to La Paz lie the Andes. It is the rainy season in Bolivia now, and the ascent to the city will be treacherous. “Our caravan will not be detained, and we will go on no matter the cost,” says Mariaca.

And if the politicians do not listen, he says, they are ready to go not only to all the countries in Latin America, but “all the way to the United States, to denounce our government … [for] ignoring the plight faced by people with disabilities in Bolivia”.

Posted on: May 4th, 2012
By Paul Kiczek, Online

Log for 38 Mile Walk
My plan was to take a 50-mile walk following the same path Robert F. Kennedy chose for his historic 50 mile walk in 1963 at this same time that year. I was motivated to see how this hike would have felt for him and also as a way to try and relive my attempt at a 50 mile walk in the summer of 1963. (Click here to learn more about the 50-Mile Hike Phenomenon back then)
 
According to the news of February 9, 1963, Robert F. Kennedy chose to walk along the banks of the Potomac on the towpath of the C&O Canal National Park in 20 degree weather. He started his walk at 5:00 a.m. at the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center (Potomac, Maryland) which is at milepost 13.2 and ended at or near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. The C&O is unique in that its towpath follows the Potomac for 135 continuous miles and has a well maintained, 7’ wide, flat gravely surface.
 
I wisely scouted out the basic access to the park and towpath on Friday afternoon stopping at several access points and traveling by car all the way to Harper’s Ferry to see our destination and to get a sense of the terrain and distance.
 
For gear, it looked like good weather was ahead but it was cold early on. I had a short sleeve mesh undershirt, a light polyester turtleneck, sleeveless fleece vest, and my shell jacket. I used light insulated underwear bottom under light trail pants. Shoes were my Vasque trail shoes with 2 pair of socks – light biking socks and walking socks. I used a biking cap for headgear. Plenty of sport bars, Amanda’s homemade granola, and two bottles of water to drink. Accessories included camera, iPod, cell phone, lumbar carrying pack and headlamp.
 
I started my walk two miles ahead at milepost 11 (Angler’s Inn) parking area, due to the fact that the visitor’s center area would not be opened until sunrise. I arrived at the towpath at 5:30 a.m., temperature at 27 degrees, being dropped off by Mary Ann in the middle of total darkness. The headlamp immediately became a valuable tool to get me going in the right direction. While I was uncertain in the beginning, I soon adjusted to this great beam of light in front of me and walking soon became almost normal.
 
There were patches of ice on the walk, but mostly the ground was hard due to the cold weather with hardly any traces of snow. The towpath is like others of this kind that were used to by a team of mules or horses to help tow barges up and down the river assisted by a series of locks along the canal.The locks are mostly preserved and the canal is a popular recreational area, especially in warmer weather.
 
One of the first things you notice in the pitch black is that you are often walking on a sort of 7 foot wide island, often with water on both sides. The canal is always on your right side. It would be hard to fall into the water, but not impossible, especially in the dark and where the road becomes covered with slick ice. On the other hand, the trail is so distinctive it would be pretty hard to get lost, even in the dark.
 
I approached the roar of the Great Falls and some dark ghostly images of the Great Falls Tavern at about 6:00 a.m., This was too early for any signs of light or life. You could not even get a visual sense of the falls, it being too dark and too cold to explore any further. So, I continued on quickly.
 
At this early stage I was keeping a fairly fast pace of about 4-4 ½ miles per hour. My heartrate was at about 120 which is about what I was expecting. Not trying too hard but trying to take advantage of the energy and enthusiasm I had. Everything looked good at this point. Sunrise came about 6:45 after I passed a couple of locks but my thermometer was reading 25 degrees and my arms were feeling a little cold.

pastedGraphic.pdfAt about 7:30 or so, I came to the Seneca Creek Aqueduct where I saw the first sign of life as some joggers and dog-walkers appeared. I felt like taking a casual break at the recreational center building but everything was still shut so I decided to continue on. There were some strange sounds from ducks and loons in the early morning with gunshots coming from duck hunters and a few people ice skating in the canal. Overall, there were maybe 30 people I encountered on the trail that day.
 
I was sending status messages out pretty often in the early stages using Jott.com’s voice service which transcribes your voice to text. It has a feature that lets you connect messages directly to Twitter or Facebook, so I was able to talk into my cell phone and get out short Twitter messages (Tweets). I also had my Twitter messages connected to Facebook so my Tweets were then sent to Facebook as Status messages. The only problem with this is that translations can vary and sometimes they come out real funny. Overall, the Jott thing was a great way to keep many people in touch with my whereabouts and status. My stops for messages were quick and easy and didnt involved keying in messages on keys smaller than tic-tacs in the cold! Sorry, if there were some crazy translations they probably were half-asleep in Bangalor too.
pastedGraphic_1.pdfThe entire morning was a good experience as I felt I was making good time and progress. At 11:30 I had finished 20 miles averaging about 3.3 miles per hour, my heart rate dropping to around 110-115. Then around noon I started to notice some pain and a little exhaustion Edwards Ferry. My feet began to feel more tender in spots and I had to make some adjustments to my shoes. Looking back, part of my problem was that I was running out of water and needed some substantial food. I pulled out the iPod shuttle which the gang had burned a playlist with songs about walking. Just the inspiration I needed!
 
Justin, Megan, Ali and John had figured to meet me and join with me at milepost 36, White’s Ferry, (for me 25 miles and the half-way point) and join with me on the next 13 mile leg of the trip to Point of Rocks, Maryland. One of the problems with the course is that it snakes along the Potomac in mostly undeveloped or farm land. There are probably 15 or so access roads that go to the trail in the 50 mile area I was walking, most either lead to a lock or to a small car ferry that takes a few cars at a time over to Virginia. So, there are many stretches of 5-10 miles where there is no sign of civilization. It is amazing that there is such country a short 1/2 hour drive out of DC.
 
I was fading a bit by 2:30-3:00 p.m. when I met with J,M,A & J so they were a real welcome site. Justin had brought a sandwich and they had a fresh supply of water, which I was sorely lacking. Frankly, due to this time of year and the semi remoteness of the trail, the water and more food supplies I carried were only enough to get me through 1/2 the trip, which I didn’t factor in. I might have dropped some supplies along the path the day before if I had thought about this. In warmer weather there are plenty of water pumps, fountains and at least one snack bar at milepost 36.
 
On we walked for another 13 miles with my 4 new companions. To be honest, I was preparing to do this whole 50 miles myself, but the kids and Mary Ann insisted on getting involved. I soon realized that support was necessary for this hike and the companionship and energy they brought helped give me a big boost. Most of the walk after about 30 miles seemed more mentally challenging as your mind goes a little dull and you start questioning your assumptions and confidence. This leg of the walk was in the late afternoon and I started to think about the next 12 miles ahead after the group would be leaving. My heart rate had dropped to about 100. The temperature was in the low 60s. My feet were aching and my hands swollen from hanging down in stride all day.
At about a mile before milepost 49 at Point of Rocks, I decided that I was not going to go any further. The walk lasted about 12 hours and we finished about 5:30 p.m., 12 hours after I started. I reckoned that the next 12 miles would require walking 5 hours in the dark of the night in a very exhausted state with my feet swollen and hurting. But, my biggest concern was the next leg was even more remote than the last 38 miles and it would be hard to get to me in case I needed help.
 
Mary Ann, met all five of us at Point of Rocks and we shared a glory moment having finished what we did. The funny thing is that 38 miles is probably as far as I walked when I last tried 50 miles in 1963. And, I kind of felt the same way about giving up before reaching the ultimate goal. There was plenty of satisfaction in doing what I did and a great feeling of relief that it was done. The best part was to be able to share it with friends and family.
 
But I still wonder if I can walk the 50… Hummm….?
 
I think I’ll give myself some time to contemplate the whole experience and reflect on the future of the “50-Mile Hike.” Is this the end of the line…or is it the beginning?
 

Posted on: May 4th, 2012
By Emily Theys, Charlottesville

Last weekend, I traveled to Charlottesville, VA to meet up with Cassie and Matt as they took a few days off the trail to lead a movement and story collection workshop in town. Over a delicious, hearty meal of omelets, biscuits, and gravy, I chatted with them about their journey so far. (At this point, they had walked just under 250 miles.)

How long have you been out on the trail at this point?
Cassie: We’ve been on the trail for 22 days at this point. We’re tracking the days, but my sense of what a day or week is feels much different out there. Your day is marked by your need to keep moving forward, the need to find a place  to rest or  to find water. It’s about the most essentials. The limits of the day are marked by using the full amount of light that you have and fitting the number of miles that you’re trying to do in a day.

What has been difficult about the journey so far?
Cassie: The hardest days have been the days that are cold and wet. Though when the conditions are like that you end up moving faster. You’re not stopping as much. If it’s a nice day, you’re going to stop and take a break. But if it’s cold and rainy, you’re just pushing through to find some kind of shelter.
When the larger group was hiking with us at the beginning, you could see how each of us would take the lead or a larger role on the trail; someone was always there to pick the group up. When you’re out there with two people, it’s harder.

Matt: Where you’ve decided to do something as a team, your hardship becomes the team’s hardship. You don’t do anything alone. It’s the team mindset. If someone’s having a hard day and the team still has objectives, then you add to the team’s objectives.

We saw photos of the snow you encountered along the way. Was it expected? How did you cope with it?
Cassie: At the time, we were staying at Workspace for Choreographers. There was no internet access out there and we didn’t have a sense of what the weather was going to be. We got a call from Sandra (the coordinator at Workspace) that potentially bad weather was rolling in and they were expecting 4-6 inches of snow. At that point we had to make a decision whether to go and get the miles in or whether to wait at Workspace for another day, which would mean we had to increase our mileage after that. Sandra was worried, but was going to take the cues from us about making the call. The day came and she dropped us off. The park ranger onsite had to paint the worst picture so we would be prepared, but ultimately we made the call to go.
My biggest concern was my feet being cold. We found a good solution by taking some of the food bags and wrapping that around our socks and putting that in the hiking shoe.
The snow blankets all of the movement and sound that is normally in the forest, so any sort of movement is really startling out there. There might be a little bird or deer, but there’s a kind of stillness and hush and an evening of the trail and the landscape. To be on top of the mountain in the snow, when you look down, there’s no snow in the valley. It was incredible to be right on the edge, of two extremes. Walking through the snow it was as if all of spring had been blanketed. There were these fiddleheads popping out of the snow, and the little trees had snapped. It made me wonder what of spring can bounce back and what of that has been damaged?

What kind of wildlife have you seen?
Cassie: We’ve had 8 bear encounters. One of the recent sightings was really exciting: We woke up really early one morning, and we were walking down the trail and there were two baby cubs walking towards us. We were trying to make some noise for them to go away and they kept coming towards us. We were trying to find where the mother bear was because you really don’t want to be stuck between the babies and the mama bear. We realized that we were right between the cubs and the mother. We were at a ‘T’ in the trail and able to back down. The mother came out and stood right up on her hind legs, which was thrilling, I’ve never seen the full height of the bear. It didn’t feel threatening, she was just trying to see the full view and find the cubs.

How have you sustained yourself on the trail?
Cassie: You’re always perfecting the system and rhythms and that of course has to be adapted as the weather shifts. But we’ve found a good system by getting up early as the sun comes up and beginning to move so that our bodies don’t get too cold. The warm meals help. We cook two warm meals a day, breakfast and dinner and snack in between.
Mentally, although I may not be making as much, one of the things that we started with in the larger group was singing and songwriting, and that’s continued in some way, more in my head than outloud with the group. But I have this little trick of picturing Sarah and Zeke and the rest of the company just around the curve at the top of the hill and they’re sitting there singing and I think “if I can just make it around the hill I’ll see them singing.’ Music has helped sustain me through this time.

Matt: I’m really goal oriented out there so it’s the hike itself that sustains me. Making our miles and making good choices about where we’re taking our water from. The practice of being in the back-country is really motivating. You always have to keep your end goal in sight. You’re taking these incremental steps, you’re monitoring how wet your clothes are, judging the daylight that you have left when you need to be thinking about how to get yourself dry or warmer so you can have a good day the next day. You can’t be lazy about the choices you’re making. That’s extremely motivating for me.

What are you looking forward to most on the second half of the walk?
Matt: I’m really looking forward to the portion of the walk where we turn off the AT and go north and walk along the river. I think the walking will become challenging, the route finding is easy because you’re following a river. It’s been exciting to see Cassie push her limits. It’s fun to see that. She’s getting better and she’s becoming more tolerant of the “suck” factor. She’s becoming more ok with things not being in her control and doing what she can to make herself comfortable.

What do you miss most about home and your life off the trail?
Cassie: Making. I’m someone who puts my worry to work and I do that often through making and producing things. When you’re out there the ideas come or the worries come, you have to just walk with it, be with it. There isn’t anything in that moment that you can do or make with it. There’s a way that I’m going to be cutting back into my life that I’m excited to be back in the studio making, back home making meals. It’s a really useful practice to have some distance from that, and spend more time with the ideas before you’re in that production mode. So often we’re having to produce so quickly, so it’s refreshing to have the distance from it.
On of the things that happens out there, there’s an equal softening and sharpening. Much like what happens when it rains, the ground softens and opens up but all the trees and leaves become so clear and sharp and upright—I feel that happening in my body. There’s an equal weight and softening and at the same time, there is a sharpening. That’s an interesting challenge to bring back to the studio and to life. To sense that balance makes me feel ready to cut back into life in a new way.

Posted on: May 4th, 2012
by Ellen Chenoweth, Washington DC

One of the most intriguing questions of this project for me is: when have you felt compelled to live your life in a different way?  I came across this story by a friend of friends named Manjula Martin who rode her bicycle across Europe for 6 months: http://ht.ly/aFwsa.

Manjula describes some of the impetus for her trip: “My situation wasn’t unique or dire. Things were going all right, except for money. I liked my apartment, except for all the piles of objects I couldn’t seem to stop accumulating. Social life? Great, if it weren’t for the feeling of isolation rising in me thanks to day after day spent staring into various screens.  I was restless.”

Some of her reasons for leaving echoed some of Cassie’s thoughts for hitting the road as well, wanting to connect with our landscapes in a physical way.  “If I wanted to move through the world in a different way, feeling every literal bend and bump of its infrastructure instead of sitting at a desk, traveling by bike was the way to do it.”  As someone surrounded by dance and dancers, I often chafe at our culture’s abundance of screened interactions as well.  I know that Cassie is interested in exploring different speeds of experience too, experiencing the hours in a different way traveling by foot rather than traveling by virtual bytes.

Many of Manjula’s reflections echoed observations that I’d heard from Cassie and Sarah’s time on the trail, as well as Cheryl Strayed’s in her book Wild.  One was the gratefulness for walls, for the very thin layer of protection provided by a tent’s nylon.  Sarah laughed as she told me about how she expected to sleep in the open air each night, but quickly discovered that she craved the layer of insulation from the world provided by the tent.

I’m also interested in the descriptions from both Manjula and Cheryl Strayed of how quitting was a frequent passing thought, but also not really an option.  When you’re on the trail and the nearest access point is 20 miles away, you’re going to have to hike 20 more miles, even if you want to quit.  No one is going to magically appear to rescue you.  This perseverance even when you don’t really feel like continuing is fascinating to me.

Zeke brought up an old anonymous hobo poem that includes the lines: “With nothing but road and sky in sight / And nothing to do but go.” Sometimes there’s nothing to do but go; the only way to get out is to keep going forward.  Manjula puts this as “Bike touring rule #5: No one will get you out of here but you”, which strikes me as a valuable piece of life wisdom.

Posted on: May 3rd, 2012
by Ellen Chenoweth, Washington DC

On Saturday (4-28-12) I picked Cassie and Matt up at Rockfish Gap, right where they finished hiking through the beautiful Shenandoah National Park.  While trying to figure out exactly where the access point was located, I found the following historical tidbit:

Rockfish Gap was the site of Mountain Top Tavern, one of the most famous taverns in Virginia. Many important conferences were held here. In 1818 a convention of 28 prominent citizens of Virginia, including Chief Justice Marshall and ex-presidents Madison, Monroe, and Jefferson, met here at Mountain Top Tavern to decide whether the University of Virginia should be in Staunton, Lexington, or Charlottesville. (Guide to Shenandoah National Park, http://www.guidetosnp.com/web/LogoftheDrive/logs6.aspx)

While exploring in Virginia, you’re constantly rubbing up against the history of the area.  I’m interested in exploring how artists and others have made and are making geographical histories visible.  A few months ago I went to a Salon Contra evening here in DC, sponsored by the Pink Line Project, where multi-media artist Hasan Elahi spoke about his work.  Elahi had made a piece called Flow – Wet Feet (Dry Feet) that consisted of video shot at Sunrise Beach, Florida at the same location where U.S. Coast Guard officials had turned a water cannon on Cuban refugees in order to keep them from reaching land (and therefore reaching legal status in the U.S.).  The video just looks like a tranquil beach, but Elahi highlights the violent history of that particular patch of land.

As I picked up Cassie and Matt from the trail, I was thinking about Madison, Monroe and Jefferson gathering at that same place to figure out where to put the University of Virginia.  Is there a tavern in your town where the important decisions get made?  Is there a piece of land close to you with an invisible history?

Posted on: May 3rd, 2012
By Paul Kiczek

In 1963, during the end of the Kennedy administration, a strange fad quickly grabbed the nation’s attention. Based partly on a genuine concern for the public’s fitness and partly on a dare, the nation briefly took to the streets in record numbers. Most walked like they never had before and would never do again.
 
Most of us learn to live comfortably within our limits but occasionally we like to test where our boundaries lie. When presented with a difficult physical challenge, we might assume that only someone with extraordinary motivation and self-confidence could pull it off. However, there are situations where, conditions being right, a small spark can ignite a huge fire. Given the right set of circumstances, even average people can reach well beyond their limits and achieve something they never thought possible.
 
Read full article here

Posted on: May 3rd, 2012
By Brian Buck

Glen Echo Park used to be the end of the Trolley line for Washington DC. People would ride the trolley out from the city to visit the Amusement Park. The trolley company used the park as inspiration to ride the trolley. Once the park was converted back to its original mission as an Arts & Culture center, Sam Swersky worked to have a replica street car placed at the park as an iconic representation of how visitors used to get to the park. It offers a visual tool for the interpretive rangers to reference when telling the story of Glen Echo Park and its journey to its present day condition. In May 2005, I had the privilege of being able to ride on the trolley, while on the back of a truck, as it entered the park (at the time I was Property and Events Manager for Glen Echo Park). It was an exciting moment to ride into Glen Echo Park on a simulated trolley ride as it made its last entrance into the park. Rick Sherbert and an electrical engineering friend of his went through great pains to create a make shift way for bells and whistles of the trolley to work, just for show of course. The trolley itself had its own. It had been in operation in Philadelphia up until 2003. Some of the modern advertisements were still in place on the interior. The trolley was a unique addition to the park.

Last week, one week after Cassie’s walk began, that trolley was taken away. There is a big empty hole where a trolley used to be I feel fortunate to have seen one of the last pictures taken in the park with the said trolley.

www.bhbuck2.org

 

 photo[3]

Posted on: May 3rd, 2012
by Zeke Leonard, Syracuse NY

I have seen
The old gods go
And the new gods come.

Day by day
And year by year
The idols fall
And the idols rise.

Today
I worship the hammer.

-Carl Sandburg

i have been involved in several conversations lately about value.  It has become important recently to examine the things that I value and do what thinking I can around why these things or people or customs or cultural assumptions are valuable, and in fact whether they should be valuable at all.

Central to who I am, and who I have been for most of my life, is my ability to understand that I can shape the world around me physically.  This takes a lot of forms, but as a baseline being comfortable with myself as a maker and with my need and desire to make has helped define who I am to myself and to others.

When asked what we do we often respond with a job description.  “Teacher,” in my case.  Or “woodworker.”  Or for people that I know “computer programmer” or “HR director.”  This is often what we are paid to do in order to maintain a certain lifestyle, but for how many of us is that what we do, what we love, how we choose to spend our time?  I saw a graphic recently that had been made when the unions were campaigning for the eight-hour day (yes, that is a gift of the unions, not a magnanimous gift from a benevolent management.  People died to bring about the eight-hour day.  As broken as a some of the union systems are, it is important to remember that they also brought about a lot of good in the lives of the working class) that called for “8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep. 8 hours of what-we-will.”  So responding to the question “what do you do?” with a job description is at best only partly right.

What do I do?  I make.  I do that in my work life, but also in my home life, where my family and I make all kinds of things, from bread to songs to furniture to piles of rocks.  We make sticks into light sabers, we make dance parties in the early morning kitchen, we make furniture for our home.  My answer to the question at hand is “I make stuff.”  So does my family.  And that is something that I value greatly.

It always surprises me to be reminded what an anathema the idea of making something for yourself is to a lot of people.  Smart people that I know and like who have thumbs and good brains have been culturally trained to forget that they can make, that they can influence the world around them in a positive way, that all it takes is the desire to do so and the ability to research methodologies.  Mark Frauenfelder wrote a book about that called “Made by Hand” that is a pretty fun read, but the striking thing to me is the subtitle:  “Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World.”  The implication here is that there is a loss of value (meaning) in the objects around us.  For a maker, the assumed reason behind that is that the more separate we become from the origins of the objects and spaces in our lives the less value they have, even if they cost a great deal of money.

I was taught from a very early age by both of my parents that I could and should make things (in large part because they made things).  I learned the lesson so well that I live it today, and am passing it on to my children as well.  Now that is valuable.

Posted on: May 1st, 2012
by Jeff Callesen, Milwaukee

the greatest distance 
I have traveled
has been in my head

long stretches 
of static thought
transformed 
by electric impulse

shocking thoughts
become a new
reality 
for me 

to think about 
what I didn’t know
just a day
ago 

dreams 
to be forgotten
dreams 
to 
be

Posted on: April 24th, 2012
By Sarah Levitt, Harpers Ferry

1.
When you are singing, you aren’t thinking about how much your feet hurt. When you are eating, you aren’t thinking about it either. Or talking, or laughing at a marionette dance Paloma does right at the moment you need something to take your mind off of your feet. Matt Mahaney, a former Dance Exchange dancer and outdoor educator who led our hike, said early on in our 26 mile day, “The way your feet feel now—this is as bad as they’re going to feel—they won’t get worse”. Tender feet that called attention to themselves with every step became another thing to notice as we moved ever forward. They made themselves known like the encompassing green, the sunning turtles, the owl that turned his head sharply to stare us down, the waterfalls, the millipedes, the gnats, the mile markers.

2.
During Dance Exchange’s  2 ½ week residency in Syracuse, NY last February, we made a new piece with community members built from ideas and stories about distance. Distance between people, places, ideas, cultures, and histories all found their way into our work. During this residency, we met Zeke Leonard, a professor in the Department of Design at Syracuse University. Toward the end of the show, Zeke and I shared a short exchange: “There is distance between us”, I said. Zeke responded, “We decide how we measure it”.
In a section that was created in this residency, and was recently performed at the Kennedy Center (you can watch it here), Zeke tells the story of creating a banjo from instruments sourced from a 10-mile radius of his home in Syracuse. His “10-mile banjos”, created from pitch pine from a demolished building, a $2 cigar box, and old guitar parts tell the story of the places from which they came, and demonstrate the beauty of reuse.
Shortly after taking a break on a sunny patch of grass along the Potomac, 14 miles in to our 26 mile day, the group began referring to 10-mile stretches as “banjos”. Instead of having 12 miles left to go, we just had to cover just a little bit more than a banjo.

3.
I love no mirrors. I love no mirrors! I never want to see myself again. I see five other faces and I’m happy to see them. They see me, and so do the trees, so that is enough. We’re all smelly and disheveled. It’s a little bit like rehearsal, except that in rehearsal, the disheveledness becomes style. Out here, our appearances are a result and a function of the way we are living. And likewise with our bodies—the physical choices we made were of necessity to keep walking and stay warm and eat and drink and sleep. It was without calculation, or artifice, and it felt like dancing.

4.
The tears that I cried in an aerial dance studio in Knoxville, MD at the end of my 60 mile walk between DC and Harper’s Ferry with a team from Dance Exchange probably had their roots in fatigue, first, and the emotions that came up when I thought about leaving the walk, second. But they were triggered by watching Matt Mahaney dance a movement phrase he created from his experience on the Walk. During our time on the C & O Canal towpath,  Matt knew what to do about blisters, he carried our packs for miles to give our legs a break, he showed us how to light the camp stove, set up and take down our tents, and pack our packs. He woke us up with hot water bottles to keep us warm for a few more minutes in our sleeping bags. And at the end of the first big stretch, the evening before four of us would head back home, and he and Cassie would continue forward on a much longer journey, he made a beautiful sequence of movement in which he caught a bit of those 60+ miles in his tired body.

Posted on: April 23rd, 2012
By Zeke Leonard

Not sure you have any reason to know Steve Wishnevsky.  I sure do, he has been a part of my life in various ways for about twenty years or so now.  Ex-hippie, musician, maker, grump, writer, community builder, crusty old fart that he is, he helped shape who I am pretty profoundly.  I met him in the early ‘90’s in Winston-Salem at a jam session that he was running.

I had only recently figured out that the long skinny end of a guitar went in my left hand and the big round part went against my body on the right.  It was through the extreme patience of Wish and the community of musicians at the weekly jam session at a little restaurant (now long gone to make way for a freeway overpass) called the Rose and Thistle that I slowly started to figure out that a guitar might be used as something other than a prop to attract young ladies. It might be used to, you know, make actual music that some people might even want to listen to.  This was a revelation to my twenty-year-old self.

I have played at a lot of jam sessions over the last couple of decades.  I have played in front of people as well, alone or with bands, as a regular member or as a guest, and I have learned a lot from a lot of people, but it was the initial welcome into the world of making music that Wish and the folk at that jam session extended that made it possible.  It remains to this day my favorite way to play music.  That is, with other people also playing, playing to and for and at each other all at once, with many voices rising and many hands working, joyously creating together something that is so much more grand than the sum of its parts and that transcends music and the act of making music and becomes the act of creating community.

Among the things that Wish makes and has made for much of his life are musical instruments.  Some of them are pretty strange, and they all bear the mark of a mind that, as we used to say down where I grew up, “ain’t quite right.”  In this case, Wish ain’t right in all of the best ways.  He experiments with woods that most luthiers (instrument-makers) would turn up their nose at.  He makes odd contraptions like harp guitars with experimental tunings or ten-string classical guitars.  I would not even know how to play most of what he makes, to be honest.

For the holiday this past winter, I wanted to get a Wishnevsky guitar.  I have been making a lot of cigar-box guitars with a tenor scale, and have been getting pretty comfortable playing at that size. I wanted a “real” guitar that had that scale to play around with.  One of the things that Wish has been doing a lot lately (well, for a long time, really, but lately I have been more aware of it) is re-using things that otherwise might not have much of a life left in them.  Of course this resonates with me.  He has also been getting locally felled wood for his instruments.  So the proposition that I could own a guitar made of wood from my hometown by a maker who lived in my hometown proved too irresistible a draw for me to pass up.  It finally arrived this past week, and it looks like this:

[kate insert photos here]

The back is just crazy, wormy box elder, which is not a wood one would typically use to make a guitar.  I am sure glad that he did, though.  It looks like hot rod flames drawn by fungus that get in to the tree, spreading the red pigment that can be typical in box elder. In time this redness will fade, which means that the guitar itself will change identities visually as it ages, in the same way that all guitars change tonally as they age and the cells of the wood get older and more mellow.

The top of the guitar is made of cedar salvaged from the firewood pile and has the high-contrast flecks of red and white that mark red cedar.  The fingerboard is dogwood, a very hard wood that makes me think about climbing the twisting dogwood branches in my yard as a youth.  The dogwoods were the most accessible trees for a young climber, low to the ground with a lot of branches of a size that was good for small hands.  They provided a different kind of lesson as I grew, eventually occasionally breaking beneath my weight and teaching me about gravity and pain and the need to respect the natural limits of trees and people alike.

Needless to say I have been really enjoying playing this guitar, and I look forward to playing it with others in the very near future.  When I play it I am making music with my hometown and my childhood.  The trees that gave their lives to make this instrument grew up breathing the same air that I did, they felt the same sultry heat of North Carolina summers as I did, they absorbed the same sunlight as me.  I feel connected to this instrument immediately, and it is a real joy to play.

In an important way this is what powers me.  This idea that we can be a community of makers, that we can make what we make in a way that is heavy with meaning and that builds community and uses objects or music or movement or even just a way of thinking to create ties that are positive and supportive helps me get out of bed every day.  Most of the people who have been important to me in my life over the years have been community builders each in their own way, and this idea that together we can make the world better is a primary motivating force in my life.

It is a pretty fortunate place to inhabit.  I am thankful.

wishguitarback

Posted on: April 23rd, 2012

Our town—the closest town to our establishment—Poolesville, MD. We have a town council who meets on a regular basis. They make the decisions with input fro the community when needed. Poolesville is made up of approximately 6,000 people!

(submitted by a local shop owner where Dance Exchange stopped for an afternoon along the walk.)

Posted on: April 18th, 2012
by Zeke Leonard

I have a complicated relationship with New York City.  When I first moved there I was young and there was no other place I wanted to be.  Smitten in the way that belongs to the young, I wrote bad poetry and read good poetry in praise of it.  I collected and read and re-read books about the history of the City or that use the City as a backdrop or a foil.  I loved flying in over the vast grey landscape of artificial canyons and fabricated mountains as I returned to what I thought of as “home” when I came back from work trips or family vacations.  I was mystified by people who wanted to live anywhere else, and extolled the virtues of what I thought of as “my City” to anyone that did not walk away.

Needless to say, there are many people who still feel that way.  Some of them are good and old friends of mine.

Also needless to say, my views about the City shifted.

The reasons are many and varied, and took several years to fully assert themselves, but for a lot of reasons I started to feel crushed by the relentlessness of the city, and I started to resent many of the things that I had previously celebrated.  Important to note that the city itself did not change, of course, it never does.  Or rather, it is constantly changing in the same ways over and over again.  What shifted were my own feelings about where I was, physically and existentially.  Most importantly, I started to think about where I wanted to be and how that fit into my life where I was and I realized that there was a disparity between those two points.

In 2006 I moved out of the city, feeling like I was able to breathe again for the first time in years (my wife did not share that feeling of deep relief, and it was and remains a topic of discussion).  Moving to Providence, Rhode Island was a joyful experience for me, and I thought that I was at last free of the concrete shackles of New York City.

Except.

Except my emotional DNA had been irrevocably altered by a decade in New York.  There is something about the city that got under my skin, that burrowed down through flesh and sinew right to my bones, and then dug deeper, into my marrow, where it took hold and has not released its sharp grip even now.  Though I emphatically do not want to return long-term to that place, I even now can not escape what Thomas Wolfe calls “the terrible and obscure hunger that haunts and hurts Americans, and makes us exiles at home and strangers wherever we go.”   Having spent time there, having met my wife and gotten married, having made a great many friends and forged experiences that shaped me, I am to this day connected to this place I have so little desire to be.

In some ways I still think the way a lot of New Yorkers think, that it is the center of all things, and that all other cities want to be like it.  It would be hard for me to move to Boston, say, or Los Angeles, because if you are going to live in a city why wouldn’t you choose the City so nice they named it twice?  Everything else is just second place, an “also-ran.”

I fully recognize how broken this thinking is.  And, as I say, I have no desire to return.  Flying in this past weekend, looking down at those same grey canyons and fabricated mountains that used to fill me with joy and pride I had to suppress a shudder.   I felt a flash of thanks for having escaped, and for having a different home to go to when I flew back out and a flash of dread at the knowledge that I would be inhabiting these concrete canyons for a day and a half.  Six years later the feelings that City evokes are strong and complicated.

Perhaps the most important thing leaving the City did for me was that it gave me a feeling of power over my own decision making.  I had gotten into a way of thinking that had a lot of rigid (and self-imposed) rules about behavior and consumption and my ability to have my own hand on the tiller of my own destiny.  When I left, I felt that I had been given a chance to re-write all of the rules, to wrest control of the tiller away from the forces that had been directing it and take control of it myself.  Sometimes we really do need dramatic change of locality to remind us about the power that we do have over our own lives and over our decision making.

Moving away from the City did that for me, and it has so far proved to be a lasting lesson, one that I have been working to keep in the forefront of my mind.  We have so many external forces prodding us to abdicate control of our decision-making:  Social customs, familial behavior patterns, corporate desire to sell us things, a collective commitment to equating value with cost.  If we can calm the maelstrom and step back and really look at the decisions we make and really pay attention to the factors that are causing us to make them, we often find that we alter the way we make those decisions and often we alter what those decisions are.

Posted on: April 18th, 2012
By Lauren Green, Dance DC

The stage is set with a mountainous display of card castles and a toddler’s wooden chair; one rogue breath of wind could blow the whole set away. With that air of vulnerability, three dancers begin an excerpt from Dance Exchange’s “How to Lose a Mountain,” to be completed in the Spring of 2013 based on the experience of hiking 500 miles to find the origins of domestic energy. As the dancers toss the playing cards across the stage, a path is laid before them. Dancers Sarah Levitt and Shula Strassfeld embrace on the precipice of a toddler chair. One foul move and the whole card castle could tumble down, but if they hold together, they can balance on the edge of the cliff.
 
Click here to read the full story

Posted on: April 18th, 2012
By Siobhan Burke, Dance Magazine Blog

Perhaps dancers know better than anyone that the surest way to comprehend seemingly incomprehensible things is to physically do them—or to get as close as you can. That’s certainly the case for Cassie Meador, artistic director of Dance Exchange, who embarked yesterday on a 500-mile walk in an effort to grasp the complexities of the resources that fuel her home: where they come from, how they reach her, and the untold stories behind that journey.
 
Click here to read full post

Posted on: April 18th, 2012
By Huffington Post

Cassie Meador not only would, but will walk 500 miles. Tuesday night, she’ll explain why.
 
Meador, artistic director for the Dance Exchange, is setting off for her very long walk on April 10. She’ll be traveling by foot from her home on the District of Columbia side of Takoma through Maryland and Virginia to West Virginia. (Meador says she’s not disclosing the exact location where the walk will end “for safety reasons.”)
 
Click here to read the full story

Posted on: April 18th, 2012
by Cyndy Patrick

Cassie Meador is on a quest. She has decided to take a little walk — a 500-mile walk,to be exact — to trace the source of the energy she uses in her Washington D.C. home. It all started with a bit of research that led to a disturbing conclusion. 
 
“Learning that my power comes from a mountaintop-removal coal mine left me completely shocked. I realized that I was responsible for what was happening in those communities, part of the choices I make every day.”
 
Click here to read the full story

Posted on: April 18th, 2012
By Pamela Squires, Washington Post

The Dance Exchange program Tuesday at the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts was a pre-kickoff to the official kickoff Tuesday of a two-month dance project by this Takoma Park-based company.
 
Artistic Director Cassie Meador and some company members will trek 500 miles through Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia to explore the energy sources that power our homes. This project culminates in a dance production titled “How To Lose a Mountain,” set to premiere next spring.
 
Click here to read the full story

Posted on: April 18th, 2012
Sarah Levitt

I found in mid-February that my first day on the trail would be a 25 mile day. I panicked a little—can my body actually do that? I trust that my body can perform in rehearsal and on stage week after week, but this stamina is of a different sort than what it takes to walk long distances. Also, at the end of hard day of rehearsal, there are things like a warm bath and soft bed waiting for me—not so on the trail.

I started doing short hikes to begin building my stamina for spending long periods of time on my feet. My dad and I set out in mid-March on a 12 mile hike through Patapsco State Park in Maryland, and I expected to crawl back to the car. But it wasn’t so bad. So I thought: next weekend, I’ll do more. I live in College Park, Maryland, which is close to some small parks. For the sake of increasing my mileage, I decided to walk from my house to Greenbelt Park, do a trail in the park, and walk back. The total distance would be 14 miles.

I left my house and walked fast. I set a goal for myself to walk at a 4 mile per hour pace to see how quickly I could cover distance. And I loved it. I clipped along Route 1, my feels striking the pavement with assurance and speed:  I am walking fast! I am strong! I am poweful! I am smart and resourceful! I have food and water! 14 miles is nothing! I will do 18 miles today at least! These joyful exclamations went on for a while. The sun felt great, the sky was blue, there was a nice breeze and I was walking.

It’s all fun and games and pride until your feet start to hurt. And my feet started to hurt. After 8 miles, I felt heat building on the inside of each heel and I knew the blisters were coming. No one likes pain, but this was what I did this walk for: to see that I could be uncomfortable, and still keep walking. After 10 miles at a brisk pace, I stopped to stretch on the park’s trail and could hardly pick up my leg. I was alternately groaning and then laughing at myself trying to use a bench to balance as I stretched out my legs. Then I got mad. It was too soon to stop! I have to keep walking. My pace was slower now, and my mind had no sway over my body anymore. It would walk at the pace it wanted to (slow) all the way back to my apartment and every step hurt.

Crossing the exit ramps took much more focus and care than when I set out hours earlier. There would be no dash across between fast cars. There would be patient waiting for a long enough break between vehicles so that I could cross slowly. My body was tired, I was hungry and thirsty, but that didn’t change the ultimate goal of the day: walk away from home, then walk back. In a neighborhood that cuts between University Boulevard and Route 1, I realized I had two miles to go. I had walked 12 miles already. I could do two more.

I got back to my apartment, and sat down at the kitchen table. I untied my shoes. I gingerly wiggled them off each foot. I peeled off a damp sock and looked at the bulbous blister on the inside of my swollen heel. I did the same on the other foot. My body was so stiff. I hadn’t taken into account before I set out that walking the bulk of my miles on concrete was going to be harder on my body than walking on a trail for that distance. I stretched out, laid on the couch, and started to wonder what it would be like to be this tired, this beat, and then have to sleep on the ground, and get up and do it again the next day.

What I had to do the next day was go to rehearsal. I woke up the next morning sore and blistered. I pulled on tennis shoes and worked out a way of walking on my toes that didn’t hurt my heels, and wondered if walking like that had been the worst idea the day before a rehearsal. I told Cassie about my walk while we warmed up. She said: let’s make a dance about it. I told her the full story of my day, from waking up, to going to sleep that night. She instructed me to tell it using very literal physical gestures, and she filmed it. We then watched the video to begin to pull out interesting moments to sequence. My four-hour walk translated to a 14 minute long story to Cassie, which we then turned into a 2-minute dance. My walk and its translation into a dance mirrors the much larger process Cassie begins soon: walking 500 miles to create a new stage work. You can see the first draft of the dance we made here.

Posted on: April 2nd, 2012

This 500-mile walk is not only about tracing the sources of our resources and the distances they travel to power our homes—it’s about the stories in each community that we will pass through. It’s about the people, the land, the plants, the places we call home. Cassie Meador’s journey is as much about creating a new story as it is about unearthing old stories, lost stories, and untold stories. Dance Exchange has developed a series of beautifully illustrated playing cards (designed by Jenny Greer) to engage communities on the trail (and far beyond) in the age-old tradition of story telling.

People have been playing cards for centuries. First used in China over a thousand years ago, decks of cards featuring ranked suits made the gradual journey west, probably travelling by foot as people and pack animals carried them along trade routes through India and the Middle East into Europe. By the time they immigrated to the Americas, cards had evolved to a variety of purposes: for the entertainment and sociability that games provide, for the sometimes destructive risk and excitement of gambling, for divining the future, and for educational purposes. Often it’s hard to tell where one function ends and another begins, and hard to know whether they are a good or a bad influence on human life: cards have both been cursed as “the devil’s picture book” and used to teach Bible verses.

Playing cards have been a part of Cassie’s past, too. As a Georgia native, Cassie’s great-great-grandfather was playing cards when he lost an entire mountain in a poker bet. In one moment, the family’s claim to acres of timber and arable land and who-knows-what buried under the turf, all gone … and from then on it was the women in the family who had to take charge and be responsible. Or at least that’s how Cassie’s grandmother tells it. Other families tell it too, about the same mountain but different hands that it has passed through. So what’s the real story? Did the mountain pass from hand to hand in a series of poker games? Or is “lose a mountain” just a way that people in that corner of Georgia talk about the changing fortunes of their ancestors? What’s fact, what’s fiction? Is fiction sometimes truer than fact?

Our cards are designed so that you can play regular games with them (but be careful if you place any bets!), and they also feature pictures and questions designed to get you thinking, talking, and telling stories. You can use the questions to think about your own life and experiences, to interview someone else, or to start a group conversation. The stories can emerge in writing or video, or take the form of a photograph or other picture.

These questions and prompts were developed as a way to encourage the storytelling process. Use them as a starting point to let your memory stretch, let your imagination wander, and contemplate your connection to your place in the world. We will be inspired by your stories, share them proudly on this website, and may even incorporate your rich responses into the research and development of a stage work called How To Lose a Mountain.

Posted on: March 29th, 2012
By Emily Theys, Washington DC

The past couple of weeks at Dance Exchange, it’s felt like a sprint to the finish line as we complete the planning process for the How To Lose a Mountain 500-mile walk. The plans are falling into place and the news is being spread far and wide about why Cassie is doing the walk and how folks can join the project. But the real marathon is just about to begin. With less than one month before the long-distance physical journey begins, I checked in with Cassie Meador to see how she’s feeling as the walk gets closer.

What are you most excited about as the walk becomes more real?
The fact that we’re getting to share the news with more people is an exciting part of it. I’ve been thinking about this walk for over 3 years now. I had the impulse to walk out my door and just do the walk, so to wait 3 years is a long time. I think probably the most exciting thing is feeling the support of everyone in the organization behind the project. To be in rehearsal this morning for the events at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and the Kennedy Center and then to step out and see staff members and interns meeting about finalizing the end of the route, it all feels like its truly coming into being. I had a friend that emailed me the other day and he had been talking about the walk with some of his family. His enthusiasm about the project reminded me of the excitement around all of this. When we’re wading through the logistical weight of the walk, its good to remember the excitement around it all, too.

What are you scared or nervous about?
Two things—I think the walk is definitely a test of endurance. I am worried about my own physical limits. There’s a forward momentum to the whole thing; there’s no turning back, it’s only going forward. We do have stops along the way, but I’m thinking about what it will take my body to get through that, to stop and start again so many times. In a lot of ways that’s the thing I’m both scared and excited about—to see what it will mean to live with only the resources I can carry on my own body for these two months and to see how that informs not only the choices I make when I return home but what it’ll be like to be making and using my body as an artist as I come up against my own physical limits.

The other thing I’m scared about is I feel like I’m putting myself in more public view than I am used to on this walk. I would’ve walked out my door to just do it but it’s a different thing to do it in an institution. We’re doing this in a way where we’re trying to make the process so visible. That can be scary but ultimately I think it’s essential if we want to reach people through the kinds of questions that this project is asking.

Oh, and I’m worried about being cold and wet!

What is the most important thing that you’ll be carrying with you out there?
There’s not a lot that we’re carrying. We’re actually trying to carry very little. But if I think about what’s most important, it’s probably the fuel in terms of food and water. There’s no other experience that I’ve had other than hiking and long distance walking where you have such a close relationship between what your body is using and what it needs to be fueled to continue. You feel the sort of instant surge of replenishment or energy when you have a bit of water or have a bit of food and that feels really important.

The other thing will be my pencil and notebook. As the walk approaches there’s a kind of an increasing hunger to be on my feet and be outside but there’s an equal hunger to be writing and trying to capture the experience.

What kind of food will you be eating out there? What foods will you miss most?
We are in the middle of dehydrating 30 pounds of yams. I love sweet potatoes; my fear is by the end of this trip I may not! There’s a great chili recipe that has cocoa in it that my friend Sarah from college gave me, so we’re making lots of batches of that. And another recipe from a good friend and dancer, Thomas Dwyer, for chipotle black beans. We’re cooking all of my favorite recipes that people have given me that can be easily dehydrated. The food I’ll miss the most is the food that comes out of my garden at this time of year. I’ll be gone during a lot of the planting season so I won’t be able to plant my garden. I’ll miss those things the most, but I’m looking forward to when I get back. I have lovely housemates who will be keeping up the garden. So who knows, maybe I’ll return to fresh tomatoes!

What’s the longest hike you’ve taken in the past?
The most extended time that I’ve lived outdoors was for two weeks in Guyana. Though we were walking a lot, we were always returning to the same camp spot. The longest I’ve hiked at once was 42 miles with Meg Kelly (DX Production Manager). We hiked the state of Maryland.

Do you think your body is up for another 455 miles?
I sure hope so!

What has inspired you to take on such a physically demanding journey? Do you think your training as a dancer will help?
This project is talking about power, and not only the power that we use in our homes but also what we can do with the power of our own bodies. It felt really important as I’m examining where the resources I use come from, specifically where the power that feeds my home comes from, that I actually take this journey using the resource of my own body. As a dancer I know what it takes to get to a certain physical place to have to perform. This is a different kind of beast, a different kind of training. The kind of determination that goes into the training, the stepping back when you do encounter unexpected injury or fatigue, the way you are listening to your body and adjusting to your surroundings–these are skills I have built over my 10 years of dancing and touring with Dance Exchange. I’m hoping some of that carries over into these new elements, though I know it’ll be a completely new challenge.

How have you been training over the weeks and months leading up to walk?
If you’re going to be walking 500 miles in the time frame that we are doing it, it means getting used to being on your feet all day. A lot of the training has been walking and building a base level of fitness. I had to work on that base level after a year and a half of not being very physically active through our organization’s transition. I’ve been running too, which has been interesting and a challenge with my schedule. The company has been traveling so I went from being in Syracuse during the cold winter months, and I just got back from the desert in Arizona; running has been a nice way to ground myself in a place as I’ve been doing this traveling. I get to cover distance and get to know a place in a way that I don’t always have opportunity to. I’ve also been doing a lot of walking meetings and walking interviews, so it hasn’t only been my training but also getting other people involved with me.

What will you think about when you’re having a tough day on the trail? What will get you through?
There is such an incredible team of people that I’m doing this walk with and also an incredible team that is making this walk possible even if they’re not able to be out there with me. All of those people will keep me going, knowing the effort people have put in to make this happen and the people who will be out there with me. It’s much like a rehearsal process: you’re always going to have days that are more difficult than others, it’s the other members of the team that help get you through it.

I can be really goal-oriented when I am on the trail. There’s the enjoyment of being out there, but there’s the goal of getting to the next town, to the next public engagement, to the next place where we’ll be collecting another series of stories. I think the deadlines will help.

Another thing motivating me is that I feel like I have to arrive at this site where these mountains once were. I think the image of that final place and arriving there is something that I’ll be thinking about to keep me going.

Posted on: March 19th, 2012