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Acrylic and Sand on Canvas

Another painting inspires by the caves in the north of Israel.

I took a full day tour with Green Olive Tours into the west bank, to Bethlehem and Ramallah. It was an very informative experience- I would highly recommend it. I’ve done my best to caption these photos in order to help share my experience with others. I checked dates and stories using wikipedia (so please read keeping the “non academic” nature of the source in mind). Also, please understand this is just my experience based mostly on the information and perspective given to me by one amazing palestinian tour guide. Of course the situation is complex and layered so please take this as only one perspective. I hope though that it might inspire respectful discussions and spark people’s curiosity to do their own research and find other perspectives and come to their own informed conclusions.

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Just across the Bethlehem  checkpoint on the Palestinian side. All these taxis are waiting to show tourists around and take workers back home when they arrive back from a days work in Israel.

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Many Palestinians go into Israel to work and so at this checkpoint the lines start forming at 2 or 3am as they know it could take as long as 3 hours to get across the checkpoint.

Palestinians with clean records are allowed one 3 day visiting visa a year into Israel. On this 3 day visa they can look for work and if they succeed in finding work then then can apply for a 6 month work visa. If they do not find work they will have to wait another year to go back into Israel.

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The parking lot where palestinians have left their car for the day to walk across the checkpoint and work in Israel. This checkpoint is only for pedestrians.

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“The Nakba” is The Catastrophe, which is what many palestinians call May 15th, 1948, the day of Israeli Independence and the palestinian exodus.

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The barrier wall (aka the security wall, the apartheid wall, the fence…)

the first sections of the wall were constructed as early as 1994 but the move to make a continuous wall really began in about 2001.

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the palestinian side of the wall is covered in graffiti.

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These stories are part of what is called the “wall museum.” each one tells a short true story as told by palestinian women.

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They are worth reading…

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and they go on for what must have been miles.

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Here is a house on the palestinian side that is not allowed to open its windows on the second floor because of its proximity to the wall.

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Leila Khaled is a palestinian woman who is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Who took part in two hijackings. In her first hijacking in 1969 no civilians were hurt and her stated aim was to fly over Haifa, so she could see her birthplace which she could not visit. Her second attempted hijacking was part of a coordinated effort by the PLFP to hijack multiple planes. This hijacking was stopped. Although she was carrying two hand grenades she says she was under strict instruction to not hurt any civilians. After this second hijacking she was briefly imprisoned but then released as part of a prisoner exchange. It is believed that she is still alive.

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More graffiti…

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More stories…

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The Banksy shop.

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More stories…

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Some in our group taking an opportunity to leave their mark on the wall.

 

 

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A UN car driving through Palestine. Many of the Palestinians feel the UN has been largely ineffective and has given minimal aid to them

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Entrance to one of the refugee camps that has been in existence since 1948. The residents in these camps are people and their descendants who left their homes in places within what is now Israel during the war following Israeli Independence and have since been refused the right the right to return.

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Since the camp has been in existence for over 60 years it does not fit the idea many of us have of a refugee camp; there are no tents. People have built permanent structures. But they have been forced to build up and up for lack of room as their numbers grow with their children and the next generation.

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graffiti within the refugee camp: the dove is holding the “key” which symbolizes the key of return- many palestinians have held on to the key of their homes which they abandoned as a symbol that one day they will still return.

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A school within the refugee camp

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and in the courtyard right outside the school we see this graffiti.

 

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and this graffiti. 

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Now to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity…

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Here is the entrance to the church of the Nativity.

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A telling map that shows Palestine (in green) as it has shrunk over the years. In the last map the green is zone A; the area actually under palestinian military and civil control. All the rest (zones B and C) is actually under Israeli military and civil control. Jewish settlers are building particularly in zone C and through their building are slowly isolating palestinian communities making travel even within the West bank increasingly difficult.

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Inside the church of Nativity.

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people coming up from the cave where it is said Jesus was born.

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Although it is hard to see in the photo there are bullet marks on the stones in this courtyard which is within the Church of Nativity.

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Lunch just outside the Church of the Nativity

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Walking around the old city of Bethlehem. Our guide said these streets used to be full of shops and tourists but now tourists come in on buses and are dropped off right at the church of the nativity and then they generally leave. As a result most of the shops have gone out of business and some would say that the old city of Bethlehem has become a ghost town.

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More streets in the old city of Bethlehem with shops closed on both sides.

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The Palestinian currency that was used until 1948. Our guide pointed out that things were written in Hebrew, Arabic, ad English, symbolic of the fact that Palestine was an integrated state.  In contrast, the current currency, the Shekel. shows a pictures of Israel where there is no Palestine.

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Driving from Bethlehem to Ramallah, the de facto capitol of the west bank. This drive used to be a short 15 minute drive but due to the detours made by the wall and the settlements it now takes almost an hour and a half to drive from one to the other through the west bank.

 

 

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On top of all the Palestinian homes are often as many as 15 metal and black plastic water tanks. This is because Israel control the water in the west bank and in summer months they often only turn on the water one a month. So the palestinians fill these tanks when they have water and then use it carefully hoping that the water will be turned on again before they run out.

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Another Banksy.

 

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A Jewish Settlement in the distance.

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The wall that snakes through east Jerusalem. Over the wall on the left is Jerusalem, close enough to see but in accessible to most Palestinians.

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A jewish Settlement surrounded by a fence.

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A field of olive trees that was cut down in Zone C supposedly in preparation for the building of a jewish settlement.

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Bedouin encampments. Note that although these look somewhat like shanty towns to us westerners most bedouins living like this are doing so by choice. They are a people who prefer to live mostly outdoors.

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Our guide told us a story of once when some palestinians partnered with bedouins to build them more permanent structures. The bedouins were very excited but when the palestinians returned a year or two later they found that they were using their structures to house the animals. The Bedouins said they could not live inside in such structures.

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The sign as you enter into Ramallah, which is in zone A, so fully under Palestinian control.

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Arafat’s tomb. Arafat was well liked and is considered a hero by most palestinians.

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The bustling city of Ramallah.

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A Starbucks knock off.

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I had the best shwarma in Ramallah and it was only 12 shekels! In Israel it would have been at least 20 shekels.

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wonderful markets and people who are eager for you to try there goods.

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notice the two minarets which belong to mosques. They had speakers on them to broadcast the call to prayer.

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And now we head towards the Ramallah checkpoint to exit the West Bank and go back to Jerusalem. Immediately the traffic begins…

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Some kids are throwing rocks at the IDF (israeli defense force) and the IDF is throwing tear canisters back. The gas/smoke you see is the tear gas. People coming across the checkpoint were holding their shirts over their nose and mouth and rubbing their eyes.

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The palestinians coming back across covering their faces to protect themselves from the tear gas.

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IDF standing guard

 

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And here we walk through the checkpoint, where we go through turn stiles and metal detectors and put our bags through an xray machine. Once inside this area is it forbidden to take photos… Good bye west bank!

At risk of saying things that might get me into hot water I am going to share a little more of my own perspective as I have been digesting all this: My experience in Israel is that most Israeli’s do not know much about what the conditions are like in Palestine. I can’t help but feel the government of Israel is doing a pretty good job covering up the reality and using fear and propaganda (like the sign warning people not to go into Ramallah) to keep Israelis and the rest of the world from seeing what is going on. Every Israeli I talked to had only gone into the occupied territories during their army service, if at all, and of course they were in uniform then and likely experienced the brunt of the anger and resentment of Palestinians in the form of rocks being thrown, etc. But what would you do after years of soldiers throwing tear gas and arresting and sometimes killing your sons and brothers? As I told one of my Israeli friends about my experience in the west bank she said she felt humbled as she realized injustices were going on “in her backyard” and she was barely aware of it and not doing anything to stop it. She said it made her feel compassion for how Germany and the world allowed the holocaust happen… Is history repeating itself with the victims now becoming the perpetrators? Of course there are differences but there are also many similarities. It is certainly something to think about.

At the same time I can understand the mentality of much of Israel: Their day to day reality is much different then ours in the States. To give you a sense here are some things that happened in just the short month I was there: 50 missiles were launched from Gaza strip into Israel. They were all successfully neutralized but it still happened. A ship with over 500 missiles and weapons coming mostly from Iran was intercepted while trying to make its way to the Gaza strip. There was an attempted kidnapping of a soldier, which is apparently almost a monthly occurrence. And some soldiers went to investigate a child playing with a suspicious looking package along the security fence and it blew up. The mother of the family I was staying with witnessed a bus blow up during the second intifada (second wave of suicide bombings, which occurred in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s) right after she had dropped her son off at his military base. Every week she drove him to and from his base for fear of his bus being blown up. The soldiers currently in the army remember being in middle school and high school and their parents not allowing them on buses and telling them they had to be home by sundown and couldn’t hang out in public areas for fear of suicide bombings. So all this trauma is still very recent history and I believe helps keep the fear in place that has allowed for the current situation to continue.

But there are stories of hope and people doing good work. And I want to also share that because of me telling my Israeli friend about my experience she said she might take a tour of the west bank, like I did, and invite her kids to go with her. (yes Israeli’s can go. My tour guide has had a few Israeli’s on his tours and says he is always happy to have them, and they have never had a problem. It seems the law forbidding Israeli’s to enter into Zone A is not enforced, but the signs are used to try and deter it. The only thing is that they must enter and exit through checkpoints in zones B or C rather then zone A). And she said if her kids were still school age she would enroll them in one of the few integrated arab-israeli schools in places like Neve Shalom. Small steps towards peace. She also told me about a group she knew of where arab and israeli’s who have lost loved ones to the conflict come together to support each other in their grief, share their stories of loss and work together to find ways to build peace. Another thing she told me about was a group of older adults who have made a conscious commitment to serve as role models of how to be an ethical soldier when they go each year to do their 1 month reserve army service. Many of these people specifically ask to be stationed at checkpoints, where palestinians are often mistreated and much of the abuse of power occurs.

It is a complex but important situation and perhaps the best the world can do is stay informed and do our best to serve as watchdogs to try and prevent human rights violations. If you want to learn more a few documentaries I was told about are Five Broken Cameras, which is on instant play on netflix right now and Arna’s children. Five broken cameras was a great movie I thought, and I haven’t seen Arna’s children yet but it sounds like another fascinating movie.

Hope this post was informative!

4:12am

4:12am

I awake. Was it the rustle of the wind through the trees that awoke me? Or the chatter of the birds? Perhaps the first rays of dawn shining through the window?

“No. It is still dark outside,” say the twinkle of the stars.

“Go outside,” a voice whispers firmly in my ear.

I slide my feet into my sandals. Still in my pajamas, I grab a sweater and quietly open the door, careful not to awaken my roommates. Oh wait, there is only one. The other seems to have not returned from the festivities of the previous night.

All is quiet in the lit courtyard. Not a soul in sight. Not even the early risers. It is that hour of the day when one is not sure whether to call it morning or night. I walk down the stairs, through the courtyard, and across the grass, to the tall Eucalyptus trees that line the shore of the Galilee. There I slip off my sandals. Cool grass on my naked feet. I step carefully in the darkness. The wind seems to whip the water into a frothy white. It seems a storm is near. And yet, I feel invited.

I climb carefully into the womb that is a knot in the Mother Eucalyptus. There I barely fit, feet drawn close, knees to my chest. And there, in that safe embrace, protected from the wind, in the cover of darkness the tears come. Released from the night before, they bless my cheeks. I let them flow, my body sighing into the Earth Mother’s embrace. And soon the tears are replaced by a profound peace. And I rest.

I watch the white caps settle and the wind soften. The clouds clear revealing the same stars my ancestors saw. And now the sky begins to lighten, hinting at the sun to come.

I shift my body, looking to stretch my feet. And a tickle begins. In the predawn light my eyes do not see. But my hands brush away the tickles. And my mind connects.

“Ants! Have they been crawling on me all along?”

I jump nimbly down, and brush some more. But somehow it seems that it was only in my shifting that I had disturbed these little creatures. And soon I laugh at my momentary panic.

“Who am I not to trust that Earth Mother was taking care of me and would allow no real harm to come?”

I walk along the grass and find myself at the playground slide. Here I lie again. And here I stay until the last star fades and the birds begin to sing and the sun rises. Until the first early risers walk out to greet the day.

And gently I reenter the human world. Eyes of others notice me and look inquisitively. Perhaps my pajamas betray that I have been here a while. Or perhaps they wonder what caused such peace in the features of my tear stained face.

As my mind awakens I wonder about the Ants. And so I return to the Mother Eucalyptus. Something tells me, approach from the other side. The South side, rather than the North. And so I do. And as I reach my womb I see my little companions, like disciplined soldiers they march from the South. I follow their line, which weaves around the edge of her sacred womb. And so I see how I curled up safely inside, guarded by her little warriors. But when I stirred, indicating readiness to leave, that had been when I had disrupted their valiant march.

Ahhh, how Mother cares for her kin.

I give thanks to my little warriors, and thanks to the tree, and to the wind and the water and the sun. And the stars and the moon that have since faded. And to the cool damp ground beneath. And with care I step over the Ant procession. And with Awe in my eyes and Peace in my heart I return to the warmth of my bed.

Know, this was no dream.

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Inspired by the caves on the Mediterranean coast of Israel near Lebanon.

Inspired by the caves on the Mediterranean coast of Israel near Lebanon.

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Story

We all have our story, right? The story that makes you who you are, that helps you make meaning of your life and the crazy world around you. Sure, the story may just be a story- subjective and based on your unique perspective- and ask someone else in your life to tell your story and it may seem totally different, even unrecognizable to you. But I think we all have our story, even if it changes and evolves over time- a reality we create and choose to believe. Call it a world view, a religion, an ego, whatever.

What if suddenly you realize your story doesn’t make any sense? All the facts contradict each other and it seems like every hour, even every minute you can turn the story on its head, choose to believe a different set of “facts” and create a different story. You start to feel crazy, because all these stories are incongruous and none of them really make any sense. And suddenly you can’t tell up from down, right from wrong, or truth from lies. Is that what they call an existential crisis? Or is that just going crazy?

Imagine solving the mystery of your life. Not the unknown future but your past. It should make sense, right? I mean, you were there, you experienced it. You should have all the pieces and the information you need. But it doesn’t make sense. The pieces don’t fit. And so it becomes an obsession- trying to make the pieces fit. But they won’t. And so you start to question your own sanity. Why won’t the pieces fit?

Two-Row-LogoWebsiteNEW

A canoe and a sail boat sail parallel. Parallel lines never touch. They exist harmoniously. This was the basis for the two row treaty, the first treaty between the indigenous peoples of North America and the Europeans. When the Europeans (at this time it was the Dutch) came from the east, with their different language, culture, and ways, the native people saw that their ways were different and often conflicting from their own ways but recognized that they were still people and so sought a way to live harmoniously with them. Talks between the Europeans and the natives led to an agreement. The Europeans recorded it on paper. The native people used their own way to record the treaty; wampum beads, made from quahog shells. These beads were used by the native people for identification, to record events, and to carry messages. So the treaty was made into a wampum belt. On this belt were two parallel rows of purple beads to symbolize the native’s canoe and the european’s sailboat running parallel forever. In between these two purple rows, each two beads thick, was a row of white beads, three beads thick, for peace, friendship, and forever. The white beads represent truth. And so, in a white sea of truth, both sides agreed to travel down the road of life in peace and harmony with each other and all other beings on the planet. They pledged to not interfere with each other’s affairs and to take not more then they needed, leaving enough for the other and for the next seven generations. This treaty was to be forever. Or as the natives say, “as long as the grass grows green, as long as the water flows downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” And indeed, the grass still grows green, the water stills flows down, and the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. And the wampum belt still exists, as testimony to this treaty, while the piece of paper has long been lost or destroyed. But the europeans have violated this treaty many times, passing laws to try and change the native people, what they are, and how they conduct their spiritual, political, and everyday lives.

As 2013 marks the 400 year anniversary of the two row treaty the indigenous people and their allies are calling for this treaty to be honored as we move forward. We are asking to work towards an existence that leaves enough for others and for the next seven generations. An existence that does not interfere with the existence of other beings but lives harmoniously side by side. Is this not something we can all work towards? Is it not something that will lead to a better future for all our grandchildren?

This is what I came to realize over the last three days, as I walked and paddled with native people and allies from stuart park in Ithaca, NY to S.H.A.R.E. farm in Springport, NY, about 30 miles north of Ithaca. This is not just about the struggle of indigenous people. This is all of our struggle. This is about our earth and our children. Corporations are destroying the earth that we  all live on through fracking, mining, and consuming and they are doing it in our name. As the saying goes, perhaps you could stand by when they took the land from the Indians because that was not you. And perhaps you could stand by as they dumped toxic waste in the black ghettos because that was not you. But soon they will come for you and there will be no one left. Everyone suffers when clean drinking water is polluted. Everyone suffers when our food contains poisons. So really, we should all be joining this fight and demand that the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land that grows our food be sacred. This is not their struggle. It is our struggle. Already we are becoming victims to what we have helped create. Our taxes support practices we do not support. Our corporations have been elevated to the level of nations and exploit our resources with no consideration to the well being of future generations. And they do it in our name.

And so it felt so right to walk on the land and paddle across cayuga waters for three days and three nights learning about, spreading awareness around, and living the way of the two row wampum treaty. And the plants and animals seemed to agree. Three blue herons flew over us as we paddled the first day. And two foxes ran along the edge of the railroad tracks. Sitting on a rock on the water, Craig, a young Diné (Navajo) man played his wooden flute into the sunset our first night at Myers point. Little ducklings came, mama duck in tow, to swim around his rock. Walking through farm land the second day horses came, drawn to our drum and song, and then began to gallup in an earth-wise circle. Three baby colts and a half dozen or so full grown horses galloped and galloped in a circle, dancing for us. None of us had ever seen anything like it. The cows on the farms stood at attention and watched us, every single one of them following us with their big brown eyes, saluting our cause it seemed. The animals were saying yes. This is right. Walk together. Paddle together.  For peace and harmony.

There, in the context of peaceful, slow travel, magic happens. A Magic that leads to spontaneous music and dance in front of strangers in the evening. A Magic that leads to hard but necessary conversations as people open their homes and sacred spaces to us travelers of peace. A magic that leads to the opening of hearts and minds.

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And so the two row wampum renewal campaign is about beginning that healing through conversations and awareness so that we can find ways to walk side by side as brothers and sisters. And for myself, I will say this walk has helped me learn how to better do that. I feel I have begun to form the friendships, knowledge, and vocabulary to seek my place in this struggle. And the fears that acted as fences between people with difference begin to dissolve. Another magic that happens when you travel slowly with people.

July 27th through August 10th over 400 people will be paddling and walking from albany to the United Nations headquarters in New York City by way of the Hudson river. They will be caring the same message we carried on this three day walk: a message of peace, asking that we all work together to take care of this earth. At the same time, a group will gather in Washington, DC on July 13th and leave July 15th to walk across the nation, arriving in Alcatraz, CA on December 22nd to complete the 4th longest walk. The first one was in 1978 to call attention to legislation that was trying to be pushed through congress that would greatly restrict the lives of native americans. These pieces of legislation were dropped. In 2008 the 2nd longest walk took place to call attention to indigenous sacred sites. And in 2011 was the 3rd walk to reverse diabetes. This 4th walk is to take the medicine back home. The last three walks have been from the west coast to D.C., carrying messages out, to the rest of the world. This walk will begin in DC and travel back across the original route taken in 1978, taking the medicine home back to native peoples.

If you can, join one of these two momentous events. Even if only for a day. Go out and support the travelers as they pass through your area. Offer them food, water, shelter. All will be appreciated.

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Me and my fellow Paddlers and Walkers. What an all around good time.

“why such philosophical talk about something as worldly as homebuilding? Because what is worldly about homebuilding is that it happens on this earth, it uses natural and man made materials and it requires money. The rest of homebuilding has to do with beliefs, feelings, spirit and passion. Certainly shelters can be made without these, but they probably will not be the kind of structures that speak positively and warmly to future generations of occupants. For most people, homebuilding is full of the most sensitive emotions. It seperates them from their life’s earnings, either to a good or ill end. It can bring families together or it can tear them apart, for homebuilding can be a dark and dangerous sea full of shoals and turbulant currents. I believe a well designed and well constructed timber frame house is worth the voyage, and I offer this book to help chart the course”

This is the last paragraph of the introduction to The Timber-Frame Home: Design, Construction, Finishing written by Tedd Benson. And for me it captures much of why I build. Building, to me, perfectly matches my inclinations as an artist and person who strongly identifies with place and fulfills my desire to walk a “mystical path with practical feet” (a phrase taken from Bill Plotkins, Nature and The Human Soul). Building is a worldly endeavor with tangible, real outcomes. But is also so much more then that. It can build community, make a statement, create a sense of place, give pride, provide an anchor, a home. Who are we without a home?

It has been a little while since I have written about building but that is not because I have stopped exploring it. Quite the contrary, I think I have become even more committed to it. Almost six months ago I was given the honor of acceptance as a Heartwood School Apprentice. I will be one of four apprentices who will stay at the school through this summer taking courses and also being offered many fantastic opportunities outside of the courses to participate in raising’s, go to timber frame guild meetings, and visit historical timber frame structures in the northeast. And to add to this honor I also received the very first Berkshire Woodworkers Guild scholarship to help with the cost of this summer. This was an exciting and unexpected gift that reassured me that I must be doing something right.

Almost a month ago now I went to Heartwood for our first course, Fundamentals of Woodworking. It felt great to be there. I felt at home almost immediately. And although I am sure their will be many times during the apprenticeship where I will be challenged, get frustrated, and perhaps even doubt my abilities, this first week I felt strong and confident, which felt like a good way to start. In this first course I learned a lot about tools in the shop; their function, safety, and maintenance. And we also built a toolbox as well as a beautiful little shaker stool. I was quite pleased with how mine came out and will hopefully get a picture up here of it soon. I also met one of the other apprentices, Jack, who at 17 years old is the youngest apprentice Heartwood has ever had. We got along fantastically and I am excited to meet the other two apprentices, one of whom is coming from Argentina!

When I returned to Ithaca I was almost immediately presented with an opportunity to put my new knowledge to use. It was quite amazing actually. I had just pulled into the parking lot of Ecovillage at Ithaca (where I am renting a room until I fully move into heartwood on June 13th) when I saw Dave, a fellow ecovillage resident, struggling to carry a bunch of wood and tools from the shared shop back to his house. I offered him a hand and by the time we had reached his house he had enlisted my help in his projects. Dave is an amazing man. A professor of neurobiology at Cornell University, he built his own timber frame home in Song, designing everything, including his own ingenious windows and doors and enlisting a local blacksmith to help give his house a unique and beautiful look. He also tinkers with electric bikes in his spare time, using them to commute back  and forth to Cornell when the weather is nice (the hills in Ithaca make doing this commute on a regular bike only for the the most ambitious) and driving his small hybrid car that gets 70 miles to the gallon in poor weather. Now we are almost done building 4 storm windows that will match his interior window design and have a plan for a screen door that we are both pretty excited about and hope we can pull off.

In the little spare time I have between these projects and my work at the amazing local food coop, Greenstar, I have been reading some books on Timber framing. The first was Build a Classic Timber Frame House by Jack A. Sobon, a fantastic how to book that walks you through exactly how to build a classic hall and parlor house. And, having just finished that one I am starting in on The Timber Frame Home by Tedd Benson. Already I like his writing style which seems to intertwine the philosophy with the practicalities, because lets be real, yes, I like that building is practical, but if it doesn’t also fit into my belief systems and worldview then I would not be interested. The philosophies, beliefs, and ethics of building are of just as much interest to me as the practicalities of it, and I hope I never lose site of that as I delve deeper into learning all the practical skills to create a delivery system to manifest those more abstract parts of who I am. After I finish this book I hope to read The Company We Keep: Reinventing small business for people, community, and place by John Abrams, a book about a timber frame business on Martha’s Vineyard, and what it takes to run a responsible and ethical business. I like what one of the reviews on the back of the book says; “the company we keep is a soulful and refreshing reminder that businesses are no different from families, communities, or any other human organization– without mission or purpose they can be lifeless, even destructive, but infused with intention, they can sow the seeds for a hopeful future.” -Gary Hirshburg

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Environmental News, Commentary, Advice

Natural Health

The blog of A. Miwa Oseki Robbins

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