SEEDS Power Crawl 2011

The SEEDS (Somatic Experiments in Earth, Dance + Science) Power Crawl somatic action was postponed till June 26, 2011, due to a giant thunderstorm on June 25 Global Water Dances day that might have jeopardized lives had we gone through with it. Co-crawler Jen Harmon and I had scouted the site in a clothes-soaking downpour a few days earlier and knew better than to tempt fate twice. (Imagine: crackling power lines, lightening, rain swollen river.) On Sunday, drier but still overcast, we started under the power lines that come directly out of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, “sister” to Fukushima Daichi in that they have similar GE engineering. The voltage in the lines overhead audibly surges east to feed the voracious Boston Grid. We crawled from the giant tubs which anchor the high tension towers, back to the park access parking lot from which we had debarked.

Lines along the Grid. SEEDS power crawl, photos by Melinda Buckwalter.

The site is an other wordly conglomeration. There’s natural beauty—grasses, lily pads, birds, both water and air born, along the placid yet mighty Connecticut River. And there’s natural power—the atom-splitting generation of electricity for the multitudes and the awesome force of tons of water sliding silently by. In contrast to river-power, the lines literally sizzled overhead as we sat in contemplation of the power plant’s presence. How does the power plant feel to our bodies? I was interested in the psychogeography of the nuclear power plant. I had lived in the area for 8 years and signed many petitions regarding its existence, but never knew exactly where it was. Some locate it in Guilford, but I was surprised to find it is actually in Vernon, VT, across the street from an elementary school. Opinions differed about where we might be able to see the plant from. Across the river in Hinsdale, NH, the plant’s size and impact is somewhat diminished. It appears a little dowdy, no signature hourglass-shaped cooling towers made of tons of concrete, but a more modest cylindrical (and infamously collapsible) affair. It was its electricity traveling overhead on high tension wires that dominated our somas on the opposite bank.

Crawl route, power plant framed by high tension towers.

Really, it was almost impossible “to be” in this place with these grand forces: the atom’s, high voltage electric current, and tons of water flooding by. The voltage made our heads spin. I felt propelled to crawl out of there as fast as possible despite the soft pillowy grasses that cushioned us as we lay on our backs in a pre-crawl warm up. The birds and insects, however, seemed completely unphased, business-as-usual. Their chorus of calls and whirrs mixed with the electric buzz  to create a home-grown, space-age score for the crawl. Also apparently unphased or macho-istically stoic, were the fishermen who came with their children to cast lines in the lily-covered backwaters.

Hado from the Ho'oponopono prayer "We're Sorry, Forgive Us, Thank You, We Love You."

The Crawl for the Gulf Oil Spill I’d done the year before on the luxurious lawn at Earthdance (in all-to-nearby Plainfield, Mass) had plenty of space-time for contemplation, rest, and development-over-time of a score for my somatic action. In retrospect, that pace seems oddly parallel to BP’s attitude to the spill. How many weeks was it? It was so unnerving that tons of oil gushed into the Gulf while authorities seemed to take their time to act. In this current crawl, there was no such contemplative mood. It was all urgency. I crawled fast like a baby on a mission. I repeated the Ho’oponopono prayer, offered by Masuru Emoto for the Gulf and now for Fukushima, in rapid-fire style. We had chosen characters, “hado” of the prayer to tape to or carry on our bodies: regret, repent, gratitude, care for. Emoto believes, in his unique concoction of science and tradition, that the vibrations of words do effect the molecule of water, changing its crystalline shape, and ultimately passing good vibes around the Earth, a planetary homeopathy.

I wore repent and gratitude. I was grateful and amazed at the softness of the long grasses and weeds under my palms which made crawling surprisingly easy along the dirt track. But this time I worried more than I repented. In the Gulf Crawl, the repentance had been a weird pleasure: a way to let out the repressed sorrow over destruction of our environment. Now I could only stress about why I had felt compelled to invite others on this rather private journey. This choice of site, so strange in its juxtapositions, hadn’t cooperated to give participants any body time to connect to their personal reasons for being here. Rather, it created a survival-of-the-fittest vibe.

Earlier in the year (post-Fukushima) a few in our local dance making group were threatening to leave dancing: What is dance good for? What does it do? How can it help? What came to mind for me at the time was how the body can mediate, how the body can stand between and respond with a voice of its own, how the body can have useful and novel ideas, how the body bears new thought into existence. That’s when the necessity to crawl for Fukushima came to me.

Post-crawl, I talked to local art activist Julia Handschuh, fresh from performance studies grad school. She had questions, too, about who this kind of environmentally-based dance work is for, how it is often participant-focused and watcher-unfriendly. How effective is it? And I remembered Andrea Olsen, valiantly struggling to put the call to eco-dancers into words for her editor note in Contact Quarterly’s Place Two issue. Bone is rock! Blood is water!


All I know is that I am drawn to research the body and feel. I feel a purpose and a possibility for making connections, laying down lines of connection in the action.  More than metaphorical, the act is physical. Physical first and into metaphorical and then back to physical, creating a liminal world that calls another into being. I love the surprise in the cryptic yet obvious response of that world in this one.

For instance, this time as I crawled toward the park access from the towers, I began to notice more and more trash. First, it was tiny broken pieces of glass mixed into the dirt. I thought to clear the path for anyone crawling behind me. But the situation quickly got worse, there was the inevitable fishing line that strangles birds, and hooks, and then a plastic bag, cigarettes, and firecrackers. The bag became a receptacle to carry more trash and I collected as I crawled.  There was no way I could collect it all, but I picked it up as I saw it and stuffed it into my inadequate sack.

I reached the home stretch, passing the unflappable fisherman with his kids, making it over the rocky passes, and to the shady but glass-strewn last leg near the parking lot. I was determined now, despite the risk of a cut, to finish, to make it all the way mostly on hands and knees to the car, when my downward crawl-gaze was attracted by an apparition of blue on my horizon—an oasis. I craned my neck and the goal of my efforts revealed itself: a battered plastic drum forced into service as a trash can, masquerading in its blueness as a recycle container. What an inglorious end! I made my small trash offering (thinking of Matangi, the Hindu Goddess of Pollution) and, as an afterthought, removed the “hado” from my body putting it on the trash can. Later I saw that another crawler had done the same with “Love.”

Acceptable Receptacle?

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