Saturday, June 16, 2018

Sing the Water Song

It’s been a long time since I have written on my blog, over a year, but I got involved in something that required my undivided attention.  Now, the first phase of a long-term project is done, and I’d like to share it with you.

Through my friend, Paul Moshimer, I met Grandmother Nancy Andry about four years ago.  Grandmother Nancy became one of my dearest friends, a member of our family, and she has introduced me to other Grandmothers and Native American Elders who have shared wisdom, laughter and wonderful times together.  Grandma Nancy has traveled around the US and Canada for the last 15 years, teaching women to sing an Algonquin Water Song as her teachers, Grandfather William Commanda and Grandmother Louise Wawatie instructed her to do. 

The first night that I met her, Grandma taught me the song, which is sung like a lullaby by women to heal the water and to heal ourselves. Women are the life givers, like Mother Earth, and Native Americans believe that women are the Water Protectors and men are the Fire Protectors. There are many wonderful Water Songs from indigenous tribes, but this one is very simple to learn. You can sing it every day in the shower or watering your plants.
At a retreat that Grandmother Nancy held for a group of young, hopeful, talented women in March 2017, they urged her to record a video of the song so that women would be able to remember the Algonquin lyrics and the song would spread faster around the world. 

Grandma discussed it with the Native Elders in Canada, who agreed the waters are so endangered that it was time to spread the song as fast as possible. She received permission from the family of the woman who wrote the song, Irene Wawatie Jerome, and from Grandfather William’s daughter.  We decided to make a video and start a concentrated effort to teach women around the world how to sing the Water Song.

 The Grandmothers had shown me a kinder, better way to be a leader. The model is a circle, not a pyramid with one person at the top.  I had been searching for ways to encourage my own daughter, who was in her final year of college and about to embark on her career, how to be a strong woman and a leader without resorting to the cut-throat competition and hard practices that defined success when I was starting out in the film business many years ago.  I realized that things weren’t really better for women now than they were back then when I helped some of my friends found an organization called New York Women in Film and Television. So I called on a few of those creative, experienced professionals to join me, and we recruited younger women who were starting their careers to participate. 

The female crew of the video included women from Chile, Cameroon, and Mexico. We asked our friends and families to donate to finance the video and received fiscal sponsorship from the Utah Film Center so the contributions could be tax deductible.  As much as possible, everyone’s time and all the production expenses were donated too.
We filmed the video at the end of August on my property and at a nearby horse farm. Fifty women, ages 8 to 80, came from all Four Directions to participate.  There were women from Japan, South America, Canada, Africa, and Native American reservations.  Two other Grandmothers – Grandmother Margaret Behan, who is Cheyenne and was one of the original 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, and Grandmother Clara Soaring Hawk, who is a Rammapough-Lenape Clan leader and activist trying to stop a pipeline scheduled to go under the Hudson River,  joined Grandmother Nancy to teach us the song.  We also were honored to have Jun-San Yasuda, a Buddhist nun who has been a Water Protector and activist for peace and anti-nuclear activities for over 45 years.   There was a ceremony with everyone to set the intention of what we were hoping to achieve and then we recorded the song in my family room, which had been temporarily turned into a recording studio.

For the next two days, we filmed the video which was directed by my dear friend, Nicole Betancourt, whose mother has been one of my closest friends for 40 years.  It was an amazing experience to have some of my best pals, Cherie Fortis, Susan Lazarus, Jackie Sussman, my daughter, my husband, talented singer and activist Bethany Yarrow and so many friends and neighbors joining together, working long and hard to create something so beautiful and full of heart.  Spirits and ancestors were called upon to guide us, and their presence was strong.

Now, nine months later, Sing the Water Song is ready to travel around the world. We were fortunate to be able to premiere the video at Al Gore and his daughter, Karenna’s Center for Earth Ethics annual conference, “On Faith and Water”.  When we began the project, they were both very helpful in explaining the crucial need for people to move out of their heads and into their hearts to save Mother Earth and our waters.

In just two weeks, the video has been enthusiastically viewed over 36,000 times on Vimeo and YouTube, with positive responses from Native Americans and Water Protectors all around the world.  We are hoping that women will record themselves singing it and post it as well on Instagram.  Our next phase of an impact campaign is beginning as we spread the video at events, in classrooms and festivals.  Our website will have updated information and a blog to let everyone know the progress of the song, and we are making a documentary film to show its journey.

Every morning, after I feed the horses, I go up on the hill above the barn in the cedar grove and sing the Water Song.  It only takes a minute, turning East, North, West and South as I repeat the verse. The practice connects me to nature all around me, helps me find my voice and gives me strength to face whatever is ahead of me each day. Now, more than ever, the waters need our help.  Helping to heal the waters is helping to heal ourselves.
Here are the links to Sing the Water Song:


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Danger, Black Ice

I was really groggy when I took the dog out this morning at 6:30 am.  As I staggered onto the flagstone steps outside my front door, I slid wildly across them to the grass. Black ice.  Once Stella had taken care of business, I attempted to go back inside. The garage and back door were still locked, and as I tried to get up the front steps, I realized that it was too slippery for me to even put one foot down. I tried to wake up my sleeping daughter, the only other person at home, but she didn’t pick up my cell phone or the house phone or respond to my increasingly upset hollering below her bedroom window. 

Finally, I crawled.  Stella wasn’t sure what I was doing down on her level on my hands and knees.  She licked my face but then was scared to follow me because it was so icy that she could hardly stand up either.   Sitting on the floor in my front doorway, I realized that it had never seemed so far from the grass to the entry before.  It felt like someone had stretched the stony path and steps without my even knowing it.

As I gratefully sipped my first cup of coffee, I thought about the similarities between crawling to safety and what is going on all around me in our world.   I began considering the instinct to protect yourself.  And your home, your family, your loved ones, your country.  The protection instinct is so strong in all species of animals.  Right now, around the globe, for the two-leggeds, it is a reflex that is on high alert.  What will it take for us to feel safe and to trust each other again?  It seems like asking for the impossible.  I didn’t have the answer, but I knew that I couldn’t just sit and stew about it because there were two horses out there waiting to be fed.

It took a long time for me to dig out the “paw-safe” ice melt from the basement, and I got so frustrated.  I felt like everything that I knew I had and could rely on had gone missing.  Very cautiously, I made my way out to the barn.  The girls greeted me enthusiastically, and I especially appreciated the sloppy kisses from Siete that I got this morning.  I didn’t open the gate from the corral to the pasture because I was afraid it was too dangerous out there.  Maybe it will warm up soon, and things will go back to normal.

As I turned to go back inside, Silk suddenly stopped eating and rushed out into the corral to stand by the fence.  She focused on me intently, as if to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye out to be sure you get home okay.”  Yes, I get it, Silk. As we navigate through this suddenly treacherous new environment, coming upon the patches of black ice,  let’s remember to watch out for each other and  hold out a steady hand.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Shapeshifting into a New Year

These are strange times. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to what 2017 has in store for us, but I’m certainly glad to see this old year pass away.  I’ve crawled into my shell for the last six months, wrestling with intensely painful knee and back pain, the rejection and disloyalty of a close friend, and the chaos and expense of renovating our kitchen. When I woke up this morning and trudged out to the barn to feed the horses, I didn't feel the sense of anticipation and hope that I usually feel on the first day of the year. Looking around me, I thought about how the trees and the rocks and the horses don’t fret about the passing of time or worry about the future the way I do.   I had a short talk with Silk while she ate her breakfast about letting go of my expectations.

The weather has been wreaking havoc in the corrals and pasture.  It rains, then it freezes, creating moon craters and small skating rinks. Often, it’s just too dangerous to let the horses go out anywhere beyond the edges of the barn.  I used to worry that they would get antsy and pent-up from being confined, but recently I’ve noticed that they don’t seem to care at all.  They accept whatever happens, gate closed, gate opened, and don’t go racing around, frantic to move just for the sake of movement, even if it is dangerous.  They know better.

“Maybe it will warm up enough that the ice will melt today and you can go out there,” I said to Silk.  She just kept eating her mash.  She wasn’t concerned about anything except licking every last crumb from her feed bucket.   I took the shovel and carefully navigated the black ice to begin to chop up the skating rink in the middle of the pasture so that I could open the gate for the horses. As I cracked the ice with the edge of the shovel, getting a good workout for my arms and shoulders, I considered the lessons that water teaches us. 

Water reminds me that sometimes it’s good to be a shape-shifter, to open up to change and to let go.  Water is unpredictable, flowing gently, rushing wildly, turning hard and sharp as stone. We humans are mostly water, and water is absolutely essential for all living beings on earth. It is also very endangered, as we are witnessing more and more often.  The recent confrontations at Standing Rock have taught me that women must be the guardians of the water.  The strength of being genuine, allowing our emotions to flow and raising our voices to express what others might be afraid to say makes us powerful as a great river.   I believe that water is connected to our feelings and desires, and it can show us many ways to express ourselves.

One thing that I have absorbed fully into my bones this past year is an appreciation of how inseparable I am from Mother Nature and how we never stop learning from her.  The ice thawed, the horses spent a sunny afternoon in the pasture, wandering through the big puddles and tonight, it will totally freeze up and be a slippery mess again.  But this too shall pass.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Brink of Uncertainty

A few months ago, I had a conversation with the young man who helps me do my barn chores. He’s a polite, well meaning neighbor kid whom I’ve know since he was six years old.  While I was mucking out one stall and he was mucking the other, he told me that he was looking forward to watching the first Presidential debate.  I admit that I was surprised since he doesn’t seem the least bit interested in anything outside his small, isolated world.  When I asked why, he eagerly announced that he was planning to vote for Donald Trump.  Startled, I stopped mucking.  I tentatively asked why, and he told me that he liked Trump’s economic and health care plans.  I bit my tongue. I said that I don’t discuss politics. I didn’t blurt out, “But he’s a racist and he’s a bully and he’s disrespectful to women!” I was afraid that the young man would decide that he didn’t want to help me anymore and quit working for us.

 It was the first of many instances where I didn’t speak up when people in my community said things – often hateful and bigoted – against Hillary Clinton and in praise of Donald Trump.   I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to make them mad at me since I had to live with them long after the election would be over.  At the same time, I felt my mother looking down on me, scolding me for not calling a spade a spade and defending my beliefs.  I was ashamed of myself for being silent.

There was a terrible dichotomy because some of these people, who were clearly not concerned about the racism and the misogyny being spewed by Trump and his surrogates,  were at the same time, good folks, good neighbors whom I genuinely liked.  It would all be fine unless we dug a bit deeper and uncovered this really ugly truth.  I felt that they didn’t give a shit about what happened to people who were different than they were.  They didn’t want to be connected to everyone else on the planet. They wanted to protect their little corner of the earth and justify their own beliefs, and they appeared to truly hate anyone who thought the way that I did.  I began to feel their anger and frustration radiating all around me. It scared me.

Yesterday was my birthday.  It did not go as I expected it would. I thought that I would be celebrating the first woman President’s hard fought victory.  I really wanted us to have a Mom-in-Chief so badly. Our country needs nurturing and healing and an end to the bullying, mean culture that has mushroomed like a nuclear bomb during this election season.  Instead, there is terrible fear that we will fall back into the dark days before civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, environmental rights, human rights were given to those of us who had been previously trampled and abused. 

Over the years, I can see that my young friend, who reliably and cheerfully comes to help me with my barn chores, has also grown to love my horses.  He had never spent any time around big animals before, but it’s clear that he enjoys being with them.  It is also obvious that he loves trees, plants and nature.  This morning, when he comes to muck the stalls with me, I will try to start a new conversation with him.  I have no idea what I will say, but I will attempt to find common ground, listen carefully and keep an open heart. I believe that we all need to do that starting right now.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Too Hot to Trot

As the temperatures soar this summer, I’m spending much more time in my day with my horses, trying to keep them cool so the heat doesn’t cause them to be too miserable or get sick.  I’m grateful that I can carve out these short interludes to be with them and that they are right outside my back door.  It’s obvious that the horses are also very happy that I can act as their personal cooling agent. How often does that happen? Lucky girls!

Silk likes to stand in Siete’s stall next to the fan with the water buckets right under her nose. Every couple of hours, I drop in to lightly spray both horses with the hose to cool them down. Yesterday, I sprayed my arm too and feeling the delightful coolness of the fan blowing on my wet skin, I just turned the hose on myself and got soaked. Then, Silk and I spent about fifteen minutes standing absolutely still together in front of the fan.

The absolutely still part is important too. Standing without motion is something that I notice the horses do when it is very hot and they want to conserve their energy. Alone, I would have begun to fidget, but with Silk to show me how to do it effortlessly, I was totally content to rest next to her.

This morning, I asked myself, if I were a horse, what would I need to be comfortable today?  Fly masks, non-toxic spray to make me not taste good to insects,  cool water, and tasty hay and other interesting things to eat like grass and carrots are at the top of the list.  We are down to the very end of our second cut hay, counting the days until the new second cutting is baled and ready.  I was able to score nine very nice, clover laced bales to get us through this week until the fresh stuff is available next Sunday.  The girls are so pleased, murmuring “Nmm, nmm!” loudly as I approach with more flakes.  I also make a “tea” for Siete, adding a little molasses and sweet feed to the bucket.  She’s not a big water drinker, so it keeps her hydrated when it’s this hot.

It seems like things aren’t going to cool down for another four or five days.  To my surprise, I didn’t feel discouraged by that news. It sure beats trudging out to the barn in two feet of snow.  “Don’t worry, girls, we got this one covered,” I told them last night. “Nmm, nmm!”