21 Days

When #relayofvoices started, there were two projects, or two ideas. One, to run home down the Mississippi River, and two, to work on getting outside of my own story, developing a dance with a group of women. For a time, the two projects became one project, and Relay of Voices was a huge endeavor with so many bodies and minds in the mix. Now we have stripped back again to a smaller team—there are no dancing women perhaps. And honestly, I don’t know if I will ever make that kind of work again. I’m finding myself in an evolution, my practice in a shift toward an unknown or unidentifiable identity. 

However, the project is clear and directed. We are just 21 days away from the start at the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. I have amazing support, and by some strange magic, the man I met a year ago at the start of my journey downriver, fell in love with along the way, and now married, is truly my closest collaborator and will be traveling with me down the river.

He is learning about movement, taking notes to understand my distinctions between actions, gestures, behaviors, rhythms, rituals, and routines—our key data points for observation in this movement research work. He is staking out logistics, and thinking through how the research, aesthetics, and athletics all come together.

We are story…

Richard Wagamese, (October 14 1955-March 10, 2017)
Ojibwe from Wabeseemoong Independent Nations, Canada
Author of “Indian Horse,” 2012, “Medicine Walk,” 2014
Hand set and printed by Ben Weaver at Sister Black Press

“we are story…. we get bigger inside, we see each other… we change the world, one story at a time…” — We start in Minnesota, with these wise words and the wise people of the Ojibwe in their land and home. In just 21 days. I know we will recognize kinship as we gather the voices, the stories up and downriver. Please share with us your stories as well. In person when we come to your town, and here on the website or on facebook as well.

We are listening to voices of Mississippi River in the 21st century, how their lives are shaped by the land and water they live with, the communities built up around them—a different narrative than the one Mark Twain wrote. Poignant, rooted, struggling at times, and much more that we will learn from listening. Why do you make this place home—up and downriver we will find a connected answer I think, even in different conditions.

Tom and I have been tuned into the news every night, with a news feed running on all 104 river communities we will visit, as well as focus on flooding, coastal issues, farming concerns, and more. We’ve had direct reports from one of our contacts in Morganza, LA—Ms. Carla Rivet—keeping me updated on the pending opening of the Morganza Spillway which is and will have an impact on she and her husband’s land and cattle operation. At the end of May, she said: “The opening of the spillway will affect many farmers who have farmland and are ranchers. We have to make the expense to remove about 200 cow and calf. It will demolish $10,000.00 of fence, ketch pen could be demolished worth $15,000.00. Projected grazing gone. Lease land to move cows to and repairs to landowners fence and gates. Projected crop loss. The community gets on edge due to the surroundings.” And then days later she shared this video of her husband moving his cattle:

Another Voice from the River—this one near Guttenberg, IA, Dean Schultz wrote to me carrying the River in his words…

Hi Victoria,
I just returned from a little journey in myantique and dented 16′ flat boat. I was going to fish but forgot my tackle box. I had hoped to find some land/island where I could stop and let my German shepherd dog, Whispering Willow, swim, but there was none as all the sandbars and islands are underwater. The voice of the river says, “All my little islands and sandbars are gone. All the little animals that lived on these oases of sand and trees have lost their home. Where are they living? Are they living?”

The river has been flooding all of May. The river has been flooding all of April. The river was flooding for two weeks of March and perhaps even when it was frozen because when I went on my winter hikes, I often found “false ice,” ice that is created when the river rises and falls beneath the ice.

I think the river talks to people everyday like the living creature she is. But people, “the dominant species,” will not listen as they continue to gather wealth to buy toys to take to the river and use disrespectfully. The river may be a God, but humans treat it like a playground or one more toy. It is much more. The river says, “Victoria, know me and speak for me. I am the artery running down the spine of America.”

Sorry, if I got too carried away here, but this is one of the voices.

May 26, 2019

Once we are out on the river with people like Carla and Dean, their actions, gestures, behaviors, rhythms, rituals, and routines will be the key data that will tell their story—stories not just in words but in lives lived and moved through, with the body. We are out to gather these things. We are about to begin.

So perhaps I began with a false premise those few years ago—to get out of my own story was not the goal. But to understand myself as connected with the stories of others, as part of the network of stories connecting us all. My fabric sown into theirs…

Already, and I have spent most of my time with my contacts over the phone at this point—but already, many of them have truly shared their voice, their story coming through, connecting with mine, forming a relationship that I know will continue on beyond the life of Relay. I do not know where this expedition will lead, despite all the plans and lists and databases and cameras and training etc. I do not know the story.

So far the story has had loss and sadness, as well as joy and excitement. I imagine more is to come. But what I hope for most, is to “get bigger inside… and change the world, one story at a time…”