Many years ago, I spent the month of October picking apples in the Okanagon Valley in Washington State. I’d spent the summer working as a seasonal employee of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, supervising a Youth Conservation Corp Crew, monitoring wildlife on a refuge near the Columbia River and I wanted to add a little to my winter grubstake. I also had enjoyed the camaraderie of the orchards during two previous harvests- crisp early mornings around a small campfire to warm our hands for the work ahead, the Mexican migrants singing from the treetops as they picked, the assortment of hippy types sharing meals and swapping tunes in our small trailers at night.
A rare day off found me driving my old beater of a Rambler south down highway 97 from Tonsaket , a town by the Canadian Border. Suddenly by the side of the road I saw a small wisp of a man, don’t think he would have hit the 100 pound mark, running in place with his thumb jerking repeatedly in the hitchhikers salute, certainly the strangest hitchhiking posture I’d ever seen. Since I’d hitched thousands of miles over the previous years, I was prone to pick up just about any brother of the road who didn’t look like he posed an imminent threat, so I pulled over and opened the door. Before he gingerly hopped in, my guest put his palms together and bowed deeply to me, and I could see that he was a Japanese fellow probably about in his mid- sixties. I noticed right away that he was holding a large ziplock bag with an eagle feather, whose quill was beautifully beaded in a traditional peyote stitch. He noticed me looking at the bag and said,
“Ah…. Eagle Feather. Must Not Have Eagle Feather! Today, I am coming from court. I am arrested for Eagle Feather. ( At that point, it was not lost on me that it was my previous employer, The Fish and Wildlife Service that enforced the ban on possession of eagle feathers by non natives) But I tell judge, that Eagle Feather given to me by chief ___ when I walk from Alcatraz to Washington D.C. for peace and justice. Judge let me go and keep eagle feather!”
“You walked 3000 miles across the country?!”
“Yes! Walk across country for peace 3 times. Now I walk again for peace again from Los Angeles to New York. But pick apples first for little money. Picking apples very hard, but good… empty mind. Walk across country easy!”
I had lots of questions of course. What did he eat along the way? “ Ah… Dumpsters and Dunkin Donuts!” It turned out that this man, belonged to an order of Japanese monks whose lives were dedicated to walking for peace. “ I am survivor of Hiroshima. Must never happen again. Never! ” I have always remembered this day as an encounter with someone who walked his talk like no other person I have ever met.
My friend J.K was among the first to arrive in Taos NM during what has been called ‘the Hippie Invasion. Perhaps the most notorious of the communes that popped up like mushrooms at that time was the Hog Farm of Merry Prankster fame. This next is a story that John related to me about a fellow named Little Joe Gomez- an elder of the Taos Pueblo who took in on himself to help some of the new comers learn how to live and get by in their new surroundings.
Up in the Jemez Mountains in the 1940s Los Alamos NM was the secret cradle of the Atomic Bomb. After the war, I’m not sure how much later, the town’s existence was revealed and the first tours were offered. Little Joe was there for on of those tours. When it concluded, the guide asked if there were questions.
“Who is responsible for this?” asked Little Joe. “ I want to talk to them.”
The guide seemed puzzled.
“What do you mean by responsible sir?”
”Responsible… I want to talk to the people who are responsible for this. Now!”
The guide then suggested that Little Joe talk to his supervisor who was duly summoned. Little Joe repeated the question and again was greeted with a baffled expression. “What do you mean by who is responsible for this?”
Joe was frustrated but kept his composure. He explained.
In Taos… we have a tradition. At a certain age, when the elders determine that a young man is old enough to be responsible for fire, we take him up into the mountains, we show him the different kinds of wood… we teach him which is best for kindling, which woods send sparks, which give the most heat. We tell him how to tend it, to keep it to an appropriate size… to be aware of the wind… We remind him of it’s power to give life , but also to destroy. We come back to the village, and the boy lights his first fire. We teach him to be responsible for it and then we celebrate with him..
Here at this place I have just seen… you created the greatest fire in the world. One that can destroy worlds. I have been asking and asking and yet I can find no one who will tell me that he is responsible for this fire.”
I thought I might simply wrap up the post here and let those stories speak for themselves. But I experienced the a fire earlier today while trying to relax in the sauna at my gym. I’m not referring to the electric heater and hot rocks. As I sat on the bench I listened to a man and woman ranting and raving to each other about “Mexican criminals” invading our borders. It was quite clear to me that they were profiling their remarks, well aware of the others in the room with them, including someone who was quite likely an Hispanic immigrant. “ I know what I’d do, said the woman. I’d line each and every one of them up against a wall, take a machine gun and kill them. Kill them all and dump their bodies on the border wall were going to build.” The fire of intolerance. The fire of anger and hatred. Reluctantly, I have to admit that at that moment I felt the fire of my own anger towards them flare up and I wanted to lash out. Yes, I did say something. No I didn’t let it pass. But did I come from a place of equanimity? Probably not. Did I dampen the flames, their or mine? Probably not.
Where does disarmament begin? Who is responsible? Can I even take one step let alone walk this way for a lifetime? Who is responsible? Who is responsible? Let Peace Prevail on Earth.