Walking East, Walking West
14 hours; Pawnee lands, W 19th Rd east of O Rd, So-called Marquette, NE
Performance; 35mm, text

Serena asked me to photograph her walk east from a set point towards the rising sun at dawn and not stopping until high noon at which point she was to turn around and walk west towards the sun setting until reaching the point of departure. I said yes, later realizing that I too was going to walk east from a set point at dawn and not stopping until high noon at which point I was to turn around and walk west towards the setting sun until reaching the point of departure. So on a Friday in August we rose at dawn, filled buckets with water and placed them and ourselves in the back of Ed’s pickup. He drove us to the intersection of O road and 19 road with Asya in the back with us exposing super 8 film until the battery died in her camera. All got out of the truck and gathered in a circle as Serena passed around a blessing she had written down in blue pen on thin paper. When we all read it Serena and I shared hugs with Asya and Ed and the two of us walked east, while the two of them drove east and deposited the water buckets every two miles. The sun had not yet risen above the cornfields but cast a purple-blue gradient upon the sky. She had nothing but papers offering explanations to strangers and the blessing in her pockets and I carried just a camera and an extra roll of film which I used to photograph her first few steps and again when the sun began to peak out from behind the rows of corn and again and again as it rose higher in the sky and shone more brightly on her face and again when we reached the first water bucket and she knelt down and gave thanks and cupped her hand to bring the water to her lips and I stopped to repeat her gesture and we peed in the cornfields on opposite sides of the road and we continued on, crossing highway 14 and over a small bridge over a stream and the oasis of trees it brought. I walked on the north side of her and she on the south side of me and as the day moved on I took less and less frequent photos as color temperature of the light became more static and as the atmospheric temperature rose and we focused more attention to each step and breath and the mantra we followed and the anxieties and mundane thoughts our minds produced. The anxiety grew as we pressed on and had yet to see the next water buckets and as we approached an intersection that we both were silently banking on being the one with water simultaneously cast nervous looks at the ground where they should have been. At this we realized the trip we were throwing ourselves in and let the mantra be louder in our heads and Serena closed her eyes and cast her hands before her open to invisible embrace and moving them to various positions before her and before long we came upon the next water buckets an intersection next to a cornfield. We slowly came to a stop before them and spent some time standing there before Serena went over and knelt down and gave thanks and cupped her hands to bring the water to he r lips a few times and then cupper her hands to bring water to her face and arms and rose and I stopped photographing and put the camera down and repeated her gestures and we peed in the cornfields at sat in meditation, I facing north and she south for some minutes until we realized that the sounds we were hearing were no longer just the wind rustling the corn but a tractor on the road heading east and we stood up and the farmer driving gave us a confused look but a friendly wave which I returned with a smile and a wave while Serena remained stoic We both repeated the ritual of taking in water after the tractor turned south at the intersection and with a smile shared we continued east. Our pace slowed to s stop to enjoy the shade offered by a rare cluster of trees and before long after beginning to move forward again a car appeared heading west and unlike the vehicles we encountered up to this point which drove by us without slowing down this one came to a stop and rolled its window down. We approached to see a police officer tucked within asking politely what we were doing and I broke my silence to saw that we were walking but it became apparent that he required a more specific answer as his driving west on this road was no coincidence and I suspected that a red car that had passed us twice going the same direction had raised concern to the authorities but after getting non verbal confirmation from Serena that she was ok the lawman was put at east and took a moment to the read the blessing that Serena handed him and say ‘That’s very nice do you want it back?’ and he was on his way and we were on ours. And our minds were clouded by thoughts of the encounter and when we came upon a small pond surrounded by old trees I followed Serena off the road onto a bank overlooking the water and we stretched and took to the grass and let sleep take us and clear the mind and I woke to my teeth clicking together three times and opened my eyes to Serena sitting up, my consciousness that was not bound by sleep had noticed this and woke the body and mind up because it was time to move on and we went back to the road and shared a smile and walked east. We came to a small patch of field taken by slovenly bushes and grasses which I followed Serena into, taking photos as she picked lamb’s quarters leaves gently from their stalk and when she had gathered a bouquet of the leaves we made our way back to the road and shared a smile and walked east. Now the sun was high overhead but still just in front of us casting shadows of our bodies that lingered close behind us to the northwest and time slipped away as we lost ourselves with each step and with each breath. With each repetition of mantra with the occasional paranoid thought or glance at the house we were passing in fear that another concerned citizen would sound the alarm of the unusual that must be feared upon the sight of our act but the day continued in peace and we came upon a large field to the south full of tall grasses and bushes and scrubby trees which I followed Serena into being mindful of the house that was visible up the road which likely shared the same owner as the land we trod upon but I followed her and watched her search through the plants inspecting leaves and fruits and photographed her white form against the brown-green prairie and when nothing was deemed edible we made our way back to the road and she set her body facing east I saw right in front of where we had exited the field the last two water buckets, so I touched her arm and gestured and when she noticed we shared a laugh and she gestured with a cupped hand to her lips that I was to drink first so I smiled with gratitude and slowly went over and knelt down before the bucket and gave thanks and cupped my hands to bring water to my lips and then to my face and neck and arms to bring some relief to the body and I rose and moved aside and she repeated my gesture and after she put the leaves of lambs quarters into the water to rinse the dirt and fertilizer and pesticides off and offered the clean bunch to me and I accepted with gratitude and broke the bunch in two and handed the one half back to her and we both gave thanks and ate leaves one by one until we looked at one another with a shrug for food that was the last thing on our minds and the hardy leaves were not exactly satisfying so we gave thanks to the plant and gave our bodies more water and meditated I facing north and she south and we tried to make mantra louder than the stinging flies in our minds to some success and gradually we got up and made our way to the road and she faced east and I saw the sun directly overhead and pointed at it and she smiled and turned around and we shared a look of love and walked west the sun’s heat and rays grew in intensity. With each step and breath and at ties it was difficulty to stay with the mantra with thoughts and sensations of burning skin and stinging flies clouding the mind but I could be freed from the depths of this when I could feel when the mantra grew louder in her and vice-versa and on and on this went with each step and breath and occasionally I broke from my position next to her to expose a photo, noting the position of the shadow cast by her body at first small coming directly north and slowly moving east and elongating. When we passed the occasional grove of trees we did not linger like we did before but let the slow steady movement of the sun draw us ever forward noticing the way it lit up the gravel under our feet letting each stone become a gem and the small white flowers that grew along the edge of the road the entire way feeding white butterflies that appeared as flowers animated and flown from their stem. Now we came upon te next water buckets at an intersection as the edge of a cornfield and we stopped and stood before them a long while before Serena went and knelt before them and gave thanks and cupped her hands to bring water to her lips then to her face and neck and arms and after she rose I went over and knelt and repeated her gesture and she went to the cornfield to pee and as she came back I rose and went to the cornfield to pee and I did not hear over the sound of the liquid against the earth the sound of a motor and truck tires against earth until a man with a thick moustache was asking Serena, sitting before buckets of water wearing white and not speaking “What are you doing… what are you doing” and I came out from the field still buttoning my pants breaking my silence to tell him we ere fine so he would move along and he did and we sat down and meditated her facing north and I south looking into each others eyes aware of the beings residing behind our walls of body and mind, the thinness they ever were, then we both faced north to relieve our faces of the sunlight but not our bodies of the stinging flies and after some time we gave our bodies more water and went back to the road, shared smiles and walked west. The sun was hotter still and I looked up to see small clouds moving across the sky, the first all day, and my mind dwelt upon them, tracking their movement trying to predict when one could cover the sun. Then some small landmarks reminded me this was the same spot where we had ourselves in the trip over water as we walked east and I closed my eyes and let mantra take over and before long world around became dim as a cloud covered the sun and mantra grew louder and louder and the shade left us and I watched it move along the road before us. Part of me wanted to run after it but I stayed next to Serena sharing her even pace. Two more clouds passed over, bringing relief and renewing focus and after the last one moved away to uncover the sun their work was done and we stayed focused and in our mantra with quiet minds as the sun moved farther and farther ahead of us casting longer and longer shadows behind us and the hum of the cicadas of the afternoon was slowly joined by the chirping of crickets of the eve. Through this din the moan of cars and trucks on highway 14 reached our ears and walked west over a small bridge spanning an oasis of trees and stream and unfettered habitat before we crossed the hot asphalt lit yellow by the falling sun of the highway and when we came upon the last buckets of water we would see on this journey Serena kept her pace. I thought to stop her but her act felt intentional and resided in faith of her act and followed, moving from her side to expose photos mapping the process of the sun upon her body in the land around, sinking lower but still blazing upon us. We walked with eyes half closed, steady breath our minds overpowered by mantra and invisible energy flowed from her body to mind and from my body to hers and suddenly her pace slowed to a stop and we looked over at another shared a smile and she fell upon me in a one-arm embrace and I mirrored her gesture and our breathing fell in sync and our minds fell quiet and we stayed in the moment for as long as we needed to and we right ourselves and continued west full of feeling and purpose with eyes half-closed and mind full with mantra and here and there my mind darted around and found some point in the distance that it decided to be our stopping point and I let that plotting and tracking impulse go and closed my eyes and focused on the ground underfoot with each step and each breath and when I opened my eyes, O road was directly before us. Our pace carried us to the corner where Ed dropped us off all those hours ago but he nor his truck were in sight. Serena knelt and drew arrows pointing west into the dirt and gravel and I used the last of the film to photograph this act. After rewinding the film I set the camera on the ground to watch her draw the last arrow and she rose and we shared a smile and she started waking west and I followed, relieved of my single non-corporeal burden. With each step and each breath we drew further away from the pick-up spot and thoughts of worry and confusion filled my mind as my thirst became apparent and a voice rose in my mind ‘o ye of little faith, follow her’ and I let go of my worry, remembering that the camera I left behind nor my thirst were not me and all will be well and I stopped to remove my shoes and cast them to the side of the road and Serena follow this gesture and we continued west until we reached the point I had roughly anticipated before to be the distant stopping point and her pace slowed to a halt and we stood there until it was all I could do to let my body fall to the ground and catch some rest and she looked down at me and gestured to a grassy meadow to our south, the first of its kind we had seen the entire day. We walked into the inviting grass, through a muddy spot and up a gently hill where we stopped and stretched and laid back und meditated facing the sun, now low in the sky partially obscured by thin clouds. Thirst grew intense, flies bit and I did not know if anyone was coming for us but the voice calling out my faith stuck in my mind. Serena rose and I followed her down the hill, through the mud back to the road. We were lower and the sun was lower, resting just above the horizon and we took tiny steps west watching it fall behind the earth behind some farm structures as its last rays were falling away I became aware of the sound of an approaching truck driving west we turned to see the headlight of Ed’s truck approach as the last of the direct sunlight departed. We beamed at him as he gave a look of subtle relief and bewilderment and gestured to the back. He got out and unlocked the gate and we hopped in, legs stretched out on the open gate. He drove backwards and we shared a smile and Serena broke her silence to ask Ed to stop so we could get our shoes and we continued driving eastward backward until we came upon an intersection and as Ed slowed to turn around a dog appeared on the road right before Serena and I with dirty white fur with brown patches, a wild tongue and eyes filled with joy. Ed turned the truck around and drove east frontwards and we watched the dog run after for awhile and stop and disappear into the horizon. When I felt the truck slowing I knew reached O road and as we turned north an unexpected scene came into sight. Asya had prepared a table with two chairs and placed upon it a melon sliced into quarters with the help of Alex who drove so there would be room for all to return. She had her camera ready and Serena moved towards the table and I followed her just as I had all day despite food being the last thing on our minds and the nausea of dehydration tight in our bellies. We took our seats at the table set in the grass in the blue glow of twilight and gave thanks and cupped our hands around the melon slices slowly watching each others’ movements from the corners of our eyes and used our thumbs to push out the seeds and brought the fruit up to our lips and slurped juice and pulp into our empty bellies and listed to each other slurp juice and pulp while Asya filmed and other two watched and a huge moth joined us attracted by the fruit and tried to feed upon the same pieces we ate and when we had finished we laid back in our seats and gave thanks and Serena touched her face with juicy hands as we shared a smile and I said “Well Serena I’m pretty tired, whaddya say we go to bed.” And thus brought out of our meditation, but this meditation shall not be brought out of us. Truly this meditation shall not be brought out of us. OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI

Performance, performance score: Serena Caffrey
Performance, medium-format film slides, text: Hugh Hopkins