A visceral moment during our 50 Mile Rim-to-Rim Protest Run Against Nestle in the Columbia River Gorge stirs up some thoughts for an honest future.
We find this effervescent, middle-aged woman whittling her way slowly towards Mt. Chinedere, our first peak on today’s 50-mile Rim-to-Rim Protest Run against Nestle. 9 other runners and I already reached the summit and were descending, each swimming in a post-orgasm melted buttery bliss. Views from the top made royalty into all of us as we took turns wearing a crown of five snow-capped volcanoes. 4 hours of running so far. 15 miles in, 35 to go. Thousands of feet in vertical gain. 11 arrows released from the draw of gods, the fletchings of feather guiding us through a deciduous garden supremely greener than any Crayola chemist could create.
Laura is the 11th and last runner in the pack, so we inform her that Mt. Chinedere’s relentless ascent will soon be over. Her spirit could not shine brighter. Eyes bleeding bliss, her vivacity joins the surrounding festival of fern and fir. Laura had driven up the night before from Bend, stayed at a hotel in Cascade Locks and took off work just to participate in this portion of the protest run.
Laura is a hero.
Suddenly, she pulls me in for a tight embrace, to deliver gratitude for organizing such a meaningful event. For once, Laura confesses through a filter of tears and endorphins, for once we are able to fight with our feet. For once, we are able to alchemize this unique practice of long-distance foot travel into an act of political, social and environmental responsibility. For once we are able to fly above the often ego-saturated stratus cloud cover of training logs, PR goals and competition and simply run to fight for truth.
Laura and I become unified in this single moment, just long enough to synchronize our beating bloody fist motor heart muscles within, and share the gravity of today’s action against Nestle. Just for one moment. Just for one pixel. Oh, and what a prized pixel it is! A pixel, a node, a singular accent of Earth’s unfolding poem—this tectonic tango, an evolutionary ebbing and flowing that gives and takes from us, forever binding and liberating all at the same damn time.
Melting and freezing!
Charge and retreat!
Penetrate! Pull out!
Our hug eventually unravels, and Laura points toes toward her well-deserved summit, a crown of shimmering volcanic royalty. As I settle into my descent, into my descending mind, tears begin to stream uncontrollably down my face. Anarchist tears void of all authority. Wild waters. I have to stop running as I’m barely able to navigate trail through this emotional torrent. I realize that I am weeping in full recognition of our solidarity. For today, we all have become messengers. Cardiac couriers. Together, we have decided to heave our hearts into the high country, with bodies tightly guarding this beating life-source within. A ribbed fortress of bone, blood and guts, of fat and muscle. All protecting the staunch allegiance of our own heart, our own pulse-provider. Buckskin stretched tightly over hollowed cedar, and tapping. The beat builds with the climb. Labored breath, shuttling oxygen and blood to our limbs, our thoughts, our opinions, our actions, our minds and our souls. Daaahdum. Daahdum. D-dum. D-dum. D-dum.
And so, with our individual bodies wrapping protection around this complex, biological life-source, we attempt to deliver a message, of taking full responsibility to protect that which gives us all life: Earth. Stay with me. You see we must, fellow creatures. Because the Earth-Heart is currently being invaded, invaded by the clogging cholesterol of our consumer culture, of disposable ignorance, of short-sided ego-driven plans to destroy your life-source, to rape your Mother and ask that you watch, participate and teach your children to do the same. Repeatedly. And again. Okay, now one more time.
We must protect our Mother from further attack. Our meta-aggregate clan of emotion and intellect and spirit and soul must, I repeat must, cultivate a genuine reciprocity to protect the world, and for the world to continue protecting us. Advocating for the end to corporate control of water, this necessary lifeblood working in concert with Earth-Heart to offer existence to both plant and animal, is of paramount importance. We are all — whether we know it, think it, deny it or scoff at it — deeply, deeply invested in keeping her Heart pumping. Because She pumps for all of us. She pumps for you, Mayor Lance Masters, guided hand-in-hand through the halls of Nestle’s clever business model. She pumps for you, Governer Kitzhaber, who has yet to take a stand on the issue. She pumps for you, citizens of Cascade Locks, desperate for economic prosperity and vulnerable to any prospect of employment.
She pumps for you. My heart pumps for you. And we pump for Her.
So we decide to run. We decide to run in protest of Nestle’s plans to violently pump pints of blood from the Heart and sell it back to us in disposable, single-use petroleum-plastic bottles. We run because the vitality of your small town economy means absolutely nothing when the world’s pulse falls silent. (Medic!) Your attachment to Nestle’s misleading job forecasting means nothing once water is undrinkable, polluted and poisoned, when acid rain falls, when reefs are bleached into petrified phantoms, when spawning salmon retreat one last time. Your legacy as Mayor of Cascade Locks means nothing when your grandchildren wake up to a world of entirely collapsed marine ecosystems, chemical-poisoned air and an ash-heap for a rainforest. A brighter future for Cascade Locks on the backs of a great white bite of profit-driven corporate interest means absolutely nothing when the rusted Bridge of the Gods becomes an armed bandit border patrol executing environmental refugees crawling desperately across to migrate North, away from severe drought and uncontrolled wildfire tattooing the lands of the South.
When you consistently, stubbornly prioritize short-term economic growth for humans over environmental health, you will pay. We will pay. We are paying right now. So let us ask…
What is it that keeps your heart beating, friend?
What is it that keeps Her heart beating?
Quiet down, now. Listen.
That night, after 12 hours of running up, down, up and down again nearly 50 miles of the Columbia River Gorge with 25 other runners and dozens of supporters, I hobble stiffly around my apartment to the trash can, to empty pockets of dirt and food scraps. In the process, I uncover a small, rusted key discovered earlier on the summit of Mt. Chinedere. It was a peculiar find at the time, so I kept it. As the day of protest unfolded, I was now able to clearly see the significance of this gift.
Today, we all participated in what I think is essential for cultivating any personal, political, economic and environmental change. It’s communication. It’s community. It’s trust. The “key” to a more authentic, honest and sustainable future lies in our genuine, multifaceted capacities for connectivity. A deeper resonance with our selves, with each other, with our place, our home and with our non-human neighbors. Through co-organizing this with great friends Yassine and Willie, we met for hours, often overcaffeinated and overanalytical, to refine our approach. Our relationships got stronger. Working with Nina to complement the project with her exceptional creative talent and infectious spirit, our relationship got stronger. On the day of the run, we made connections with many new faces from all over the Northwest coming out in support, along with activist groups present as we transitioned through Cascade Locks. Our relationships got stronger. And arguably the most important connections were the open dialogue fostered with Cascade Locks residents and public officials, some of whom were in support of Nestle’s plan. Our relationships got stronger.
I place the key into my shoebox and remember back to the very moment I found it on the summit, a peripheral shimmer. It was here where I shared a strong, euphoric moment of trust in others who also felt strongly about this issue, about this Earth, about connectivity.
Yes, yes. I think that’s it.
So, I’m asking you to be brave. You, sitting there agitated. You, standing there, avoiding the questions that bite at your neck, that wild boar resting its hairy snout upon your shoulder, siphoning warm air into your drums. The questions of what you can do to make change. Global change, personal change. Where to start? How to do it? Why to do it? To question the padded way of life for which you’ve subscribed, to care enough to end habits that propel this unsustainable human trajectory recklessly forward.
I want you to be brave.
I want myself to be brave.
Go ahead. Dig a hole in the dirt and stick your head in it. Find the wildest space near you and go there. Alone. And sit. Sit with your mind, sit with your dripping heart, sit with your anxieties, your compassion, your love. Sit with your hate and your jealousy. Sit with your own skin, your own sexuality. Listen to its friction, its symphony of sandpaper across sandstone. Listen to your noise. Just. Listen.
Then act. Act with authenticity. Quit your job if you must. Move away from the bloated city or the small town that limits your growth. Move on from that relationship that doesn’t fertilize the soil of your soul. Choose to enter into one that does.
Baby steps, man.
But steps, nonetheless.
Our action against Nestle wasn’t earth-shattering, nor did it put an end this issue. Nestle persists. Corporate control of water rights endures. But regardless of its effects, we succeeded. We succeeded because we were able to take a shared passion and combine it with an environmental concern to spread awareness in our spheres of influence. Hundreds more people now know of this issue. So, I ask: how might your skills, your own passions, your unique fire pair with local social or environmental causes to help pry our eyes open to real issues around us? How might your talented self jam our forefingers into a lightsocket and sizzle our souls until we wake up screaming bloody murder to the cholesterol of capitalism and consumerism clogging the Earth-Heart?
What will it take for us to act…a Heart Attack?