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Walking the Hope

On September 11, 2001, shocked by that morning's news, artist Sally Linder and her friends began an odyssey to New York pushing, pulling, and carrying her hand-painted Ark of Hope.

Sally Linder believes that art can be a healingprocess that can transform consciousness. She recognized a comparable conviction in her friend Steven Rockefeller’s commitment to the Earth Charter and its vision that “environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace are interdependent and indivisible.”

For the Charter’s message to reach people’s hearts and minds, however, Sally felt it must find some form of universal artistic expression. She developed a vision of an exquisite chest to serve as a protective holding place for a copy of the Charter. From that vision came the Ark of Hope. She designed the 200-pound chest to be carried by two poles, each symbolizing a unicorn horn whose mythic power is to render evil ineffectual. Sally painted panels for the four sides and the top of the chest. The side panels honor the four directions. The five together evoke the elements of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. They represent the flora and fauna of the world in images from traditional cultures and spiritual traditions. The fifth element, spirit, is portrayed on the top panel through the immanental innocence of children and animals.

The next challenge was to give the Charter itself an artistic dimension. Sally decided to write out the entire document by hand on a papyrus scroll. She knew she could not afford a single mistake. The slightest erasure would mar the effect. The writing took her almost 24 hours, working without a break, but the result was flawless. Not one false line or dot. Four days later, the papyrus Charter lay safely encased in the Ark of Hope and was introduced to and celebrated by several thousand Vermonters. It was September 9, 2001.

When the celebration was over, Sally arranged for the Ark to be stored in a back room of the breeding barn at Shelburne Farms. She was cleaning out the barn with a small crew on the morning of September 11 when the news reached them. With absolute clarity, she knew she must take the Ark to New York.

“I can’t carry it alone,” was all she said. Two friends stepped forward. Each picked up a carrying pole. Supporting the weight of the Ark somehow helped them to bear the pain of the tragedy.

Feeling they must get the Earth Charter to the closest seat of government, they began to walk in the direction of the Burlington City Hall. Others joined them. The next morning, one of the walkers tracked down a cart that was just a fraction larger than the Ark. Wheels made all the difference. Pushing and pulling they reached the City Hall, where officials instructed that the building’s front door be dismantled so that the Ark could be brought inside.

New York City was still their ultimate destination. Sally foresaw little in the way of the details of how and when she and her fellow pilgrims would get there, but she had no doubt that they would do so eventually. She also knew that they must go on foot. With no prior knowledge of what each day would bring, where they would be by sunset, or where they would rest, they set out. Sally’s only certainty was that she must reach the United Nations. The Earth Charter belonged in the principal meeting place of all the nations. Taking turns guiding the Ark of Hope, the pilgrims set out.

On the road
Over the next two months on the road, the numbers of walkers ranged from two to several dozen. The little band moved along at a rate of about three miles an hour, averaging ten miles a day. Word spread and people flocked to greet them, sometimes to join them. Over the course of their long trek, educators, artists, truck drivers, unemployed people, students, car salesmen, ex-convicts, public health nurses, farmers, Gulf War veterans, homeless people, religious leaders, and family members took turns pushing and pulling the strange, beautifully painted chest.

According to Sally, “Gentle folks were coming out of their homes or businesses, wondering ‘What is it?’ There were gifts of flowers, apples, water, and bread. People joined the Ark for a block, for a day, for a picnic by the side of the road. It rested by night in barns, private garages, churches, schools, firehouses, and town halls.”

After a month and a half on the road, Sally writes that she was entranced by “the kind of beauty that leaves one breathless. Wild grapes dangling from black locust branches, tattered lace curtains behind a farmhouse kitchen window, a single soaring bald eagle, a farmer’s huge hands on the wheel of a tractor, an otter playing on a log. Our journey follows the wave of color from north to south and the migration of birds and butterflies southward—at one point hundreds of monarch butterflies landed on the Ark. We’ve taken part in two parades and passed through more than 35 small villages.”

In Connecticut, Sally was notified that the United Nations had officially agreed to receive the Ark. When they reached New Haven, the cavalcade rested for a weekend before moving on toward the Hudson River and the final leg of the trip to New York City. At the river’s edge they were met by the crew of Pete Seeger’s sloop, the Clearwater. They loaded the Ark onto the Clearwater’s deck and, after almost two months of walking, for three glorious autumn days Sally and her fellow pilgrims sailed down the river toward the port of New York.

They reached the dock of the 79th Street basin at 11 o’clock on November 8th, less than two months after the terrorists had struck the city. The travelers could not have hoped for a better reception. Not only was Dean Morton of the Interfaith Center among those cheering and welcoming them to New York, Pete Seeger was also there to play them ashore. All marched down Fifth Avenue to the Interfaith Center, which was to be home for the Ark while awaiting the finalization of arrangements at the United Nations.

On January 24th, in pouring rain, some one hundred walkers, including soprano saxophonist Paul Winter, escorted the Ark to the United Nations. The Ark remained on exhibit in the Visitor’s Lobby for the duration of the second preparatory meeting for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

In late February, the Ark returned to the Interfaith Center. But that is not the end of its journey, nor of Sally’s. The UN World Summit is to take place in late August in Johannesburg, South Africa. Sally hopes the Earth Charter will be acknowledged and endorsed by the Summit then. The people of Diepsloot, one of Johannesburg’s outlying squatter camps, have invited Sally to visit them. Diepsloot is a community made up mainly of mothers and orphaned children. Sally and her colleagues plan to spend a week there, helping the children make books containing their own images of global healing, peace, and gratitude, which they will add to thousands more such books brought from half a world away. Then the children of Diepsloot will walk the Ark of Hope into the city and present it to the United Nations Summit.

During her time on the road Sally had noted: “All around the world there is such fear, such tragedy, such despair. But the walking transcends, and faith guides.”

So be it.

 


Nancy Jack Todd is co-founder of The New Alchemy Institute and of Ocean Arks International (http://www.oceanarks.org), and editor of Annals of the Earth. Learn about the Ark of Hope at www.ark-of-hope.org. See www.earthcharter.orgfor information about the Earth Charter.

Carolyn McConnell is senior editor at YES!

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