The Works of Catherine Berendsohn

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Walk For Future Generations- 80 Mile Walk Across the Everglades in 6 Days

When I headed to the Everglades last weekend I knew it would be important for me to get to see the land and shinning water and I looked forward to the walk. I planned on attending the first day and being prepared for more. I did not know how much more would be coming. 

Betty Osceola was our General, whipping us into shape, educating us about the land and reality we were facing with the development we had come to take a stand against. She also taught us about the power of our focus, our inter-connectedness, and our effect on each other as well as the need for us to listen. To really listen, something our fast-paced lives and talkative habits made a seemingly distant hope. What was really amazing about this walk, was how it grounded us, and by its end I think we found a greater power together. We found the "we" instead of "I" and in silence found a shift of awareness. We became aware of all the conscious life around us we normally pass by, being deaf to its messages. And as Betty said, we thought we came to save the Everglades and the land's native people. Instead, we were the ones who were saved.  We have to be healed ourselves before we can heal the world.

That first day dawned a miracle in my life. I have been lost in grief like I have never known before. It swallows me whole and smothers me down. I feel like the dead walking when I have to act like all is well. The truth is, it isn't. It hasn't been. I am at the "peak" of my life and feel so beaten I have felt old, like it ended just as it was starting. Grief can take many forms. The worst is the death of yourself. A living one. Unknown, unrecognized. Dead bones walking.

Betty says that we live surrounded by dead things. Cement, asphalt, concrete. I notice, when I go to streets all covered by pavement. There is a cold and creepy hallowness. Far from "The Architecture of Happiness". Things seem more threatening, people more likely to be dangerous. This is usually very true in my experience. The wealthy and well adjusted tend to be surrounded by beautiful trees, stately lawns. Even so, my own walls are a habit I usually have no reason to question. Betty said, walking and being surrounded by life each day, was going to detoxify us. I am amazed by how much she was right, and the way in which I became more aware. Deafness. I feel a physical awareness of the amazing life forms around me as I have not before. I always loved being outside. But we were learning something words on a paper cannot convey to you. Only being in life can give it to you like that.

That day, when I was first shown what my home really is, it was like the earth, the Everglades, was embracing me. I gasped in air realizing a cavernous feeling had been dwelling in my chest. I didn't naturally feel like breathing deeply in my day to day life. The air was so alive and fresh it opened me up, a fresh gasp found its way into my lungs. I physically felt life touch what had not been exuberant enough in me before, a lack of desire to breath deeply happens when your will and joy for life is smothered. In that breath, it was like life had showed up for me. Here. All of it, just by the miracle of its subtle beauty all around me. I couldn't even feel as much a part of it until I was in it, the difference of rolling down the window, and having the wind and water blowing past my every inch. It was like a baptism, a cleansing by wind, light, water, motion. 

My friend Houston allowed me to join a private tour of his home in the waterways and tree islands. It was because of him that I found myself on this air boat, learning a new awareness of respect and the reality of the water, and how its high levels effected the delicate tree islands and the people who live off the landscape.  I can't say what it meant to discover the joy of just feeling alive all over again. Some tears are beautiful for the release of finally getting to feel right. To feel at home. To feel nurtured by the very light around you. By the wind whipping past, grass and birds and sky. 

We stopped for a moment of silence. As an example of my "monkey mind" I was enjoying it, then suddenly worried my phone could go off. So even though it didn't, the thought was loud in my head and I didn't stay connected with the quiet. I think my mind is so used to jumping around and distraction, it found something to fill the unusual gap from noise. I didn't realize til the week ended, that that moment of silence out on the water would truly be the only one. Because even as I walked 80 miles across the Everglades, it was next to a road tearing by with noise. Truckers supporting our efforts blew horns so loud I felt like I would jump out of my skin. People flew past, music stations blasting, much like I have enjoyed doing on the straight open road, carrying my own little world across the landscape at full throttle. Even when at one of our stops I was amazed by a beautiful boardwalk through ancient cypress, the road murmured. Even at the camp, the wash of cars passed us, like they have next to my house ever since I can remember. The roads grow in all my private spaces, getting louder, bigger, making more deafness to all that disappears in their paths. And I realized after returning home, the only time I was away from a road's presiding over the noise in the background, was that moment when Houston turned off the engine. Realizing that, I find is a bit sobering now. What quiet will be left? It is only in quiet that the softest voices can be known. It was meeting these living voices I usually take for granted that has really stayed with me after Betty's walk. Our walk.

Each day we would walk 15 miles, and once we finished we took the support vans back to the center camp. We got to feel more and more like a tribe, everyone in it together. At night we sat at the council fire, and in his quiet and wise way of waiting, we would become slowly aware of the signal of Bobby C. Billie. Our elder, a carrier of wisdom and heart medicine, of the earth's medicine. He watched us and recognized our ails and dysfunctions,  and above all I think, he and Betty were teaching us the medicine of realizing the importance of messages in our actions, the need to be more conscious of what is respectful treatment, and above all, that we, ourselves, are important. We are the link for all life to come. And they showed us how to listen. 

Western culture and TV seem to teach us not to take much seriously. I think even our own importance. Betty said if you knew how to respect yourself, you would know how to respect me. How to respect life. This seems really true. I think if we were to get vulnerable, and get brave, and really ask ourselves if we think we are important, most people don't. Betty said in 30 years of educating kids on her own air boat tours, she's asked them this question. Raise your hand if you think you are important. She says over all those years, at the start of her tour, the children of every grade, age, and background, do not raise their hands. After her tour, when she shows them how much effects the land, how much one piece matters, and shows them that they are the link to all the future generations getting to have this too- when she asks them then, raise your hand if you think you are important, most all of them do. Some are still afraid to claim it. Well this walk showed me my suffocated voice, my pain in feeling silenced, is justified. Because I am important. Because we are on the brink now and what we are fighting to save is ourselves. I'd like for my grandchildren to have a land called Florida that is not under ocean water, or paved into dead zones because people thought they could destroy such precious life systems, and then copy what they never understood was irreplaceable.

"Mitigate" Betty said. That is a bad word as she put it. Because it is the magic eraser governing bodies or companies use to dismiss the damages that are done to our natural systems. You can't take the main sewer line and break the pipe, and stick a plank over the mess just to cross it, and look the other way and act like that did something about it just because you don't want to deal with the shit that's rising. You may want to act like you don't notice the stink, but eventually the bilge builds up, until it carries the plank away and you along with it. I'd rather avoid the shit storm, thank you very much. And that is exactly where we are sending ourselves right now. 

Someone said to me there are so many causes to pick from you can't help them all. Somehow I feel like I am starting to see a bigger picture with a somewhat different conclusion. I think all kinds of seemingly disconnected world problems are united and we need to address the whole picture. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, this is why you are important. One person maybe can't fix all the problems of the world. But each person in the world is somehow connected to every world problem. Each person knows by their experience what feels wrong, what they did not like, what deserves to be better. Usually when an oil owner, or politicians make a far reaching call that devastates many people, they do it because it is all from a distance. It is easy to think the River of Grass Greenway sounds like a nice idea, a green bike path through the Everglades, until you walk the every mile next to the road and discover what can't be noticed driving by at 70 miles an hour. How far out the marker of the Department of Transportation Right of Way reaches, that the land they conveniently claim is disturbed is in fact pristine by two feet from the roadway. That the survivors left in the too quiet wilderness that rest in water and protected buttonwoods and mangroves would be paved and filled, the beauty of the water channels ripped out and the water that already shows the stilling of its southward flow would be damned even more. 

One of the most powerful days was when we stopped for the press moment. Funny, just like when I was an organizer for March Against Monsanto Miami when it began here in 2013, there wasn't any press that showed up much. When I did the Monsanto work, we got one reporter, I think Channel 6. They didn't air anything, they made a short article online. They got the numbers wrong, making it sound small, 200-300 people, when my friend who oversaw so much to make it possible used a counter and counted almost 1,900 people. This was similar. I think I saw someone from Channel 10 at a stop once. But this day, the press was supposed to come Betty said, and none did. Too bad, it would have made for great contrast and dramatic TV. Sometimes what is most noticeable is what is missing.

That day we stopped and set up signs about protecting our water and stopping the River of Grass Greenway or ROGG. We were in front of a gate that really has no place being in the Big Cypress Preserve. It was the entrance to an oil refinery. Bobby C. Billie and Betty said that the Everglades has recently become the largest land deal in American history for oil extraction. As part of this, massive 30 ton trucks that emit seismic vibrations will be used to locate oil deep underground, crushing the delicate interweave of surface matter that keeps the River of Grass alive in the dry season and all the things that live inside it. Just to get a sense of the parks' priorities, the oil truck entered the gate, two armed rangers let it pass, and with our protesting and signs such a threat to them, they took an aggressive stance with their weapons and stood behind their truck doors, using them like a shield! For crying out loud, really? A bunch of walkers with nothing but their voices and signs and feet. We laid on the grass to catch a break, some people had babies with them. Betty walked over to a sign that was "talking to her" as she put it. And did it ever have something to say. 

It said this land was for the people, and Betty pointed out we had the right to go where the rangers were standing with guns defending an oil truck. What are they really supposed to be defending? The parks have a few responsibilities and often it has to do with roads and in may places milling timber. But really the responsibility is to us, the people, and as a world heritage site, to the world's people. They don't want people seeing these activities it seems, because they know these actions don't sit right. People won't be so thrilled to see all this. How much does the pay grade of the six companies that now own all our media channels get effected by the trail of money, "Big Oil" the industry not having to pay the atrocious costs of their water use and damage by the millions of gallons each day just to cool facilities, the dumping and death of oil spills like the one in the Gulf that moved across the Earth's ocean gyres, the trash and plastic bags filling our oceans, the emissions overheating our atmosphere and melting our ice caps, their repression and buying up of our best chances of survival by repressing the green inventions that have already replaced their damning and outdated industry, and the over-extraction of the planet's resources such as what they are doing right now behind that fence. 

Like Betty said, if you knew how to respect yourself, you would know how to respect life. If you could really comprehend no glass tower can keep you from the fallout of this Jenga game, all the pieces standing stacked on each other as we rip the support from the foundations at our own expense, we would stop. We could shift this planet into a green and sustainable system quickly. We have the factory power, the technology, the inventions, the ideas, and the people to do it. We just haven't got really that this is a game of Russian roulette and the barrel is pointed at us. All of us.

When the Great Depression happened President FDR made jobs through road building in the national parks. What we aren't seeing is we have the best job boom facing us humanity has ever had. To save our species, technicians are needed with a great incentive, industry based on the best possible products instead of planned obsolescence. Best, taking into account their materials full range of real impact. Right now oil would be under if it had to pay real cost. By not letting money represent true cost, which would mean not only profit but also the real losses of the resources it represents, we have turned a tool of organization, money, into a feint game. And the distraction is breaking down the entire system of value, and our living system, that supports our first and only value, life.

Now we still use roads to make money. But like elders say, one day you will realize you can't eat money. You can't breath money. You can't drink money. In fact it can mean nothing if people realize it doesn't represent anything anymore. In the Great Depression it could be used for lighting a fire. There is another use for it.

Money isn't bad. But thinking everything is about money, when money is just a metaphor for EVERYTHING ELSE, is. The things we actually value to have a good life, the resources and services and home environment it takes to live well, these are what we reprsent with money, to make exchange easier. But if you screw all that up and don't have much left to exchange, a mansion won't matter at the bottom of the sea, or if radiation kills you, or if you can't go outside because the air poisons you. You'd think it is obvious, but instead of letting the obvious be obvious, and having leaders put on their big boy pants and deal with what is the new threat or issue, our leaders have often buried their heads in the sand because what is really happening calls for a bigger kind of action that is inconvenient for the status quo. For the work on all that has set up the money to flow one way without hindrance of collateral damage to slow down the train of "Our interest over Theirs".

We all have a common interest to survive, to live, to get to continue, to get to live where your family before you was born, to get to have your children know it too if that is what you wish. 

Forcing. I see a lot of forcing. Forcing smaller voices that want their right to live, like plants, animals, the earth systems, to be destroyed for a game of profit we made up. We can see our bigger priorities now. We can play a better game.

See, what I get is a picture. And now that I have walked from the eastern side of my homeland to its western ocean, that picture is alive for me as it was not before. I used to teach as a tour guide at the Deering Estate at Cutler. A beautiful useum at the meeting place of ancient tribal lands, war and resistance and unconquered spirit of the native people fighting for their right to exist. What a place, where industry of America's hard working backbone and big money such as Charles Deering's wealth and status from manufacturing tractors and steel meets the respect of the beautiful and rare wilderness.  I love that place and it was probably my most important job for what it revealed to me. 

I taught guests about its history. A wealthy industrialist bought a development to make it his estate, and even more, to preserve the landscape he saw as rare as the Amazon. It is the best example of what "trickle down" economics is supposed to mean. Only thing is, how many people get what money represents so well as Charles Deering did? He used its mass representation of all our resources, to actually preserve something that is for all of us. He loved the land, and only when you love a thing can you understand it. To understand, is to love. If you understood deeply what you are, the joy of it in your connection to all these different forms of life that make yours possible, you could know, as an oil CEO, that Gulf water is your own insurance policy. This River of Grass, is the Kidney of the Earth's system. this really is an active and accurate metaphor. It has a function.

Tour guide talk- all this land in south Florida, well you see the rocks have holes in them like a sponge. Because each piece of the land is a filter. It cleans the water, and makes the purest water, some of the best in the world. Most of the water in the world is salty. Here, a miracle happens. All of this state is a sophisticated network for water purification with a cost to replicate that is near incalculable. How much for one water treatment building? Now imagine that covering all of this state. It is amazing.

More of a tour guide picture- So holes. I lived in North Florida near its border, in the capital called Tallahassee. I would swim in the springs up there when it was hot. What is left of them. They have been dwindling over my lifetime. They are so clean and clear and beautiful, the best part of summer. that water goes south, it all goes south. Water doesn't make boundaries. It crosses them. It's all we've got. And it circulates. The rain and land make it fresh for us to drink. We didn't used to have treatment facilities, we had marshes and mountains, snow and streams that were pristine by their own astonishing power, by gentle stages, all effecting each other. And it is this that flows through the holes of the limestone.

These holes in Florida's limestone give way to underwater caves and massive areas we call aquifers. like a lifeblood below the surface. And midway Lake Okeechobee is the big powerhouse, fueling the Everglades, which is not a square at the tip of the state even if that is what it shows on our maps. It is a continuous spilling pathway of millions of acres of "shinning water" as the Miccosukee describe it. And when I worked at Deering, I researched for them. One of the things that I treasure was reading the written records of Spanish Explorers and the first American settlers describing the way it looked, and the gallons of water that thrust this clean water into the bay. It make a perfect mixture of fresh and salt water for the birthing place of fish and marine life, and the food was abundant. I wish I could have seen it like that.

See, I don't want my children to read my own descriptions and to think, I wish I could have seen it like that... and I hope they can be ancestors one day, so others get the chance to see.

Tour Guide Talk continued- the fresh water is what protects Florida since it is porous, and rock is not a barrier. The fresh water is what keeps salt out, and that means the marshes keep our land balanced and dry too. 

More talking points... We have been in an unusually stable period of earth's history during mankind's development. The planet has had a completely different atmosphere, it was thanks to the renaissance of plants that oxygen was established. The earth can be a very different environment and adjust. It has been much hotter and we would not survive that now, but the earth would just change. Change is a part of the earth's history. Florida itself is a transitional landscape. The shifting of ice caps changes the shape of its coastlines.  It has been a desert, much wider than this, covered by water. It is a very low continental shelf on the east coast. 

So, now that I walked it, and I personally saw all I used to talk about up close and for myself, I see those words differently. This was a walk for future generations. The Everglades is a liver for all the world. As Bobby C. Billie said, if the Everglades go, it is the mark for the rest of us. Human beings have kept our position because we have adapted to change. That means paying attention, listening, getting creative, and taking action to preserve our lives. The only way we save ourselves is by getting in gear everywhere. All of it, we need all of it. We need each other. It is too big for one person. But we are not alone. We are in the same boat. It is a little blue ball spinning on the edge of a great disk of stars, and it knows how to heal itself, and us. We think we know so much, and that is precisely when we can't learn. You've got to get there is so much that we don't see yet, so let's not throw it away. Cause we are really just throwing our own delicate place in this amazing picture away when we do that. We need to recognize the value of our own lives. The profoundness of what chance it is to live, and to listen, because this is it. This moment. Get it. Understand. Love this moment, love this life, learn how to have respect for your life so you can feel the greatness and fullness that gives you. It was in feeling this that I felt the miracle of getting to be me. Of getting to be here. Life is so simple. Life is so pure. All you have to do is breath. And you will receive the gift of love that really is your life.

It was in silence that I woke up to all I was deaf to. That's my hope and prayer for us all. Please, see me. See what is worth it. See where real value is, before we destabilize what never needed our help to work, it just needed us to let it be left alone. Beauty is not to be exploited, abused, or destroyed. It is to be respected. To be approached carefully, because things, like the systems of nature that are beautiful, are not toys novelties, or needless. Nothing is pointless in nature. In anything. It is all important. Beauty is a pattern that is the highest evolved. That is what attracts us. Respect it. Understand. It's right to exist unmolested and undestroyed protects yours.