September 28, 2011
Newsletter from China
Fall 2011 Newsletter
Washing Day Festival – Lhasa Tibet 2010 – by Lonnie Feather
We walk through the gate into a courtyard where I hear drums and horns; it is mesmerizing, melodic and pleasant with a strong drumming beat. I’m drawn to it and move forward through the monastery. But many other sounds and smells capture me and slow my pace as I look toward the center of activity. There is much to see and notice and people everywhere. Some are in a side room preparing what looks like an enormous meal, cutting vegetables, slicing meats and preparing interesting delicacies. And others are outside tending the barrel fires that hold large pots of food filling the air with savory smells, and nearby are rambunctious, excited children playing close to their parents. Red-robed monks are sequestered in the sanctuary of the main building playing their instruments in a compelling energy, their focus a meditation, a prayer, a godly practice.
This is a small village with open spaces to the foothills of mountains, barren and rocky. There are farmlands nearby and yak grazing, and down the street workers are building some kind of modern cement block structure. We are offered butter tea and sit in a small room while others move in and out completing their duties for the big event. As we sit, Betsy, Lhacuo a Tibetan filmmaker and I, take it all in and breathe a moment.
It is a much celebrated event, we learn, called the Washing Day Festival and in the center of it is their dependence of and honoring of the waters, the water that flows from the mountains above us, down through the valley, meandering through the village and then entering the monastery in a modestly small stone channel that moves it directly through the middle of the courtyard exposed to all. It is called Washing Day because this was traditionally the day that everything was cleaned from clothes to bedding before winter set in. Once winter came, there would be no cleaning in the freezing river water. And, it is a day to mark a special occasion and to perform a religious ceremony, a Buddhist celebration that honors the life that is their water.
As we relax and settle into the rhythm of the place, I reflect on the importance of water and its profound meaning of life to this community near Lhasa. I have to question then what is my understanding of the water that flows through my town.
I live in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, in a moderately sized city of Portland, Oregon. We’re in the North Temperate Zone with generally mild summers and winters and 37.5 inches of annual rainfall that makes our foliage very green and rich with trees, shrubs and grasses. It is a beautiful place with amazing areas of mountain wilderness and valleys that sustain a thriving agricultural base. Water is more than abundant and we have two rivers that run through our city, the Willamette and the Columbia, and yet they are not our actual water source. These rivers have been used for industrial run off and sewage treatment plant overflow for many years. Since the early 70’s our local government has made a commitment to clean it up but it is a slow process. And on the eastern edge of our state, the Columbia River sits next to the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant and I often forget that we are downstream from a potential disaster.
I don't consciously think about where the water comes from. I have knowledge of its source but it’s not a thought when I turn the handle and it flows out. And it isn’t a stream that runs through my neighborhood where I can see it and notice its health or sit beside it, or gather my daily water from it. The streams and springs in our cities have been paved over, buildings constructed over the tops of our local creeks, waterways forced into pipes that are conveniently hidden from view, and entire neighborhoods where homes and streets hide or totally destroyed the original geographical landscape, vegetation and watershed. Our main rivers are polluted and used for commercial, industrial uses, or for recreational value. There are some fishermen left on the river, but we always whisper, “Would you really want to eat it?” To actually use the water as a life source is an idea of the past.
I take for granted the strong flowing water that moves through the pipes of my house. It is always there, always clean and tastes like fresh spring water. But, there are no celebrations or acknowledgement of its importance, no gatherings of townspeople to honor it, and no conscious understanding of its life-giving gifts.
Summer 2011, Chengdu, China It is now the summer of 2011 and I’m here again in this thriving city of 14 million with Betsy and we’re working closely with Lhacuo to create a visually compelling book documenting Tibetan water sites. Amazing pictures of gloriously cascading streams of water near remote mountain villages or healing waters next to roadside stops and the stories that the locals tell of their history will fill the pages. It was just last year that we traveled together to Lhasa and this month we plan a trip to Muli County in Sichuan, China to gather more stories and start conversations about water and water remediation in the local villages. As we share these adventures together, I recognize that this is a profoundly important project for Betsy and for Keepers of the Waters with a message about the upland water sources around the world that are critical to all.
“If we think about the cultures that depend on water in such a basic way, we can develop a deep knowledge of water; and by documenting the cultures that understand the importance of water that is ‘alive’ (living, moving water free of contamination and pollution), we can begin to understand ways to bring our own water back. All of us who take water for granted need to rethink our relationship to water and we need the imagery and language to do that.” Betsy Damon
Keepers of the Waters strives to bring the language of water to many people across the globe. Betsy communicates her knowledge with townspeople and urban dwellers alike and shares her inspirations with students of ecology/environmental and art studies in the US and China, and tirelessly works with government officials in both countries. Her art demonstrates an iconic language of “living water” that continues the conversation. It is her words and her passion that inspire people to think about their water, their lives and our collective future.
Betsy Presented at University of North Carolina
November 14, 2016
Betsy Speaks at the 10th INTECOL Wetlands Conference, Changshu China
February 28, 2016
Betsy at the UN: The Power of Collaboration
January 05, 2016
A Wall: Socially Engaged Art from Greater China
November 25, 2015
Water: Elemental, Mutable, Essential
November 20, 2015
Healing Power of Art
October 08, 2015
Documentation of Betsy Damon's talks in Logan Utah
August 20, 2015
Website for Living Waters of Larimer
July 20, 2015
ArtPlace Grant for Living Waters of Larimer
March 03, 2015
Living Water of Larimer Workshops
February 15, 2015
January 28, 2015
Press for Living Waters of Larimer
December 16, 2014
2015 Fundraiser - Original Prints from Betsy Damon
November 01, 2014
Betsy at the International Water Conference
August 18, 2014
The Keepers Board Convenes
June 01, 2014
Water, Water Everywhere
February 10, 2012
It's About Water
October 30, 2011
April 28, 2011
February 18, 2011
The Dream of a River
October 11, 2010
An Amazing Model for Clean Rivers and Sustainability by Lonnie Feather
May 14, 2010
News from Betsy Damon and Keepers of the Waters – May 2010
December 30, 2009
Happy New Year (To Be Alive is to Have Water)
December 06, 2009
Composting toilet as a holiday gift?
August 13, 2009
reSources: Saving Living Systems (A report fromTibet/China)
June 30, 2009
reSources: Saving Living Systems (Hello Dear Friends)
June 02, 2009
"reSources: Saving Living Systems"
September 15, 2008
Update from China, September 15th
September 06, 2008
Great news from Keepers of the Waters and Betsy
August 19, 2008
Betsy Leaving For China
January 12, 2008
News and Projects
November 21, 2007
We Could Have Such a Beautiful World
December 18, 2006
Water - The Link in Our Life
June 24, 2006
May 23, 2006
Betsy in China
November 03, 2003
Water Exploratoriums in Oregon, Public Art in Beijing
August 30, 2003
Volunteer Opportunities in China
June 30, 2003
New Keepers of the Waters Online Network up!
June 30, 2003
Edwards Aquifer Park Design
June 30, 2003
Water and Art Exploratorium at elementary school
June 30, 2003
News from China