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Of River Talks and Water Walks

May 8, 2014Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured Posts, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on Of River Talks and Water Walks

River Walk, May 8, 2014 with Emily Johnson.  Carrying the river.Our Tuesday Water Walk on May 6 was organized by Emily Johnson, a choreographer and director whose work is part of Catalyst as well as other projects.  Northrop Plaza in the spring can be a pretty active, chaotic space, and Emily asked us first just to be quiet and still for a minute (hard for this motor-mouthed teacher to do!).  She then gave each of us–there were five including Emily–a glass container, which she filled with water that she had just taken from the Mississippi River.  We would walk to the river flats, she explained, maintaining silence, and take the water back to rejoin the river from whence it had come.

This was a very moving walk.  Freed to look and listen rather than plan what we would say, we saw the wild turkeys that live on the bank just below the parkway.  We heard students and others taking lunchtime walks along the river, “at” the river but maybe not “of” the river in their chattering concerns with exams, summer plans, and so forth.  The rest of the group cut through a path along the slope in some woods, but I stayed on the pathway itself, marveling at a part of the riverside that I do not know well, and that I had never seen from this particular angle.

Once on the flats at the water’s edge, we returned the water to the river and reflected a bit on the experience.  To me, the carrying of small containers of water served as a reminder of the ways in which we are stewards of the whole river, taking responsibility for keeping it (healthy? safe? together?) on its journey through our community.

Emily Johnson’s forthcoming work SHORE is a multiday performance installation that “expands beyond the theater into the world.” Look for it, and participate, the week of June 14-22.

“Participate” might well be the “core value” for Wild River Academy and its ambitious plans to canoe the major rivers of the Mississippi River watershed in the next few years.  Last fall’s “Paddle Forward” expedition canoed the main stem of the Mississippi from Lake Itasca to New Orleans, engaging with diverse citizens and river people along the way.  This fall’s trip will be on the Illinois River, and participants are still being welcomed.  I met with the core team planning this trip last Tuesday right before the Water Walk and the surface impressions could not have been more different:  the Wild River folks’ enthusiasm fairly bursting out of them as they shared their passionate commitment to know the river, its issues, and its people.  Their steadfast advocacy was direct, focused, and capable of changing lives and the world.

But it would be a mistake to stop with a contrast between Emily Johnson’s silent reflective Water Walk and the Wild River crew’s bursting energy.  Both are committed to engaging the world and its dynamics, both understand water to be at the center of who and where we are, and both are dedicated to working with others to change our perspectives, to de-center the paths and habits we have fallen into.

It will take all of us, in our difference, to learn to live well with our waters.


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