Crossing the Continental Divide

[By: Mackenzie McDonald Wilkins]
[Sunday, May 4 2014]

Two months and three days ago I was caught in a torrential downpour in Los Angeles California with a group of ardent earth lovers. We didn’t know each other. We didn’t know what our journey would hold. All we knew was that we were chilled to the bone, soaking wet, and it didn’t matter. We were going to walk together across the North-American continent! About sixty days later we crossed over the continental divide, a momentous achievement for the Climate March that has survived the isolation of the Mojave, the heat of the Sonora, the snow and hail of Northeast Arizona, and the daily wanderings across this vast landscape. Yet, we marched over the divide as if it were just another hill to climb.

A few days before traversing the divide, we crossed into New Mexico, the “land of enchantment.” We stopped at this border, the edge of both Arizona and New Mexico, to snap a few group photos and hold a ceremony, leaving our troubles behind and welcoming new times. We marched over the divide, on the other hand, as if it were just another hill to climb. We walked in small-dispersed groups over the divide and we held no collective ceremony. What does this tell us about our connection to this great planet, our home? Has something been lost?

When I crossed the divide I was walking with crutches—I had hurt my toe about a week earlier. I lumbered up the slope, huffing and puffing the thin air, throwing my whole body with each step until I crested the summit and the dirt road turned downwards. On the downhill I nearly slipped and face-planted a few times but I kept going. Fortunately, Sean Glenn was there to calm my ego and turn my focus to the spiritual energy of the pass. As we descended and the road flattened I began to feel it…the millennia old energy of America’s spine, stretching from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego, shooting out nerves of water to the farthest reaching lands in two different directions. It was like being at the beginning of it all, a beginning that is constantly being recreated.

Despite this rush of energy, I crutched on. A few miles down the road, before arriving at that night’s camp, Sean and I met up with some other marchers and we came to a Buddhist stupa, seemingly in the middle of “nowhere.” At the stupa we meditated for a couple of hours. I contemplated our group ceremonies—our gathering at the Arizona-New Mexico state line; our meditations at this Tibetan stupa—and I saw the symbolic value we placed in these human-creations. The border, for instance, is an arbitrary line, drawn only a few generations ago. It serves to divide people, an invisible wall to keep some ‘other’ out and trap some in…certainly not the same as the snowy peaks and raging rivers that once divided and connected this continent.

I then contemplated our connection to the earth. Here I saw that, in our mindlessness, we overlooked the inherent value of natural wonders like the continental spine and the surrounding evergreen forest. I also saw that we have grown and are learning, one step at a time, the importance of this connection…we are the earth and the earth is us. What we do to the planet, therefore, we do to ourselves.
By walking, I have learned to appreciate my surroundings as never before. I often stop to observe a bug, smell a flower, hear the wind, feel the pine needles crackle under my bare feet. I am also learning a more profound lesson: that I am one with the earth, that I may find presence within myself, but also within the great mystery around me. Is this the spiritual connection to the planet that we talk about in camp, so integral to greater harmony with earth? Whatever this is, my footsteps across this continent are just the beginning of a much longer journey, one that will carry me, us, not only through fundamental political and economic transformation, but also through cultural revolution, towards balance and harmony with each other and the planet.