Standing Rock

Moonrise over the Missouri River

(Super)moonrise over the Missouri River

As a guest at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in mid-November, I joined thousands of other #NoDAPL water protectors in praying and preparing the camp for a North Dakotan winter. On arrival, we attended an orientation reviewing the seven Lakota values (Prayer, Respect, Compassion, Honesty, Generosity, Humility, Wisdom) guiding life at the camp and how to be of use (“We support this fight in whatever way its leaders decide is most useful. We come prepared to work and not expect anything in return. Every person who comes to camp must try to bring more resource than they use”).

Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires, or the seven divisions of the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota people)

Camp of Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires, or the seven divisions of the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota people), November 13, 2016.

Being there was a powerful experience, and this video captures some of the spirit of the resistance to the pipeline and the environmental injustice of its rerouting south of Bismarck:

Other thoughts that help describe the spirit and historic nature of the camps:

As resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, N.D., concludes its seventh month, two narratives have emerged:

  1. We have never seen anything like this before.
  2. This has been happening for hundreds of years.

Both are true. The scope of the resistance at Standing Rock exceeds just about every protest in Native American history. But that history itself, of indigenous people fighting to protect not just their land, but the land, is centuries old.
— Leah Donnella, NPR

Our struggles have been kept both out of sight and out of mind — easily forgotten by those who aren’t directly impacted.
It should be clear to everyone that we are not simply here in those rare moments when others bear witness.
To reiterate (what should be obvious): We are not simply here when you see us.
We have always been here, fighting for our lives, surviving colonization, and that reality is rarely acknowledged…
Yes, everyone should be talking about climate change, but you should also be talking about the fact that Native communities deserve to survive, because our lives are worth defending in their own right — not simply because “this affects us all.”
So when you talk about Standing Rock, please begin by acknowledging that this pipeline was redirected from an area where it was most likely to impact white people. And please remind people that our people are struggling to survive the violence of colonization on many fronts, and that people shouldn’t simply engage with or retweet such stories when they see a concrete connection to their own issues — or a jumping off point to discuss their own issues.
–Kelly Hayes, Transformative Spaces

I felt safe at camp; I didn’t want to leave. The power of the place is immediately apparent. Time operates differently, without reliable cell phone coverage or internet, the day and night unfold at their own pace. We wandered around, supporting how we could, meeting protectors, connecting with friends and family, watching, learning, and just being present…
What I need to stress, again, is the role of the protectors. They are there to stop the pipeline, but to do it in prayer and without weapons. They are there to fight for the recognition of the rights and presence of the Standing Rock Sioux, and to fight for the water and land. But this is not just a fight for the environment, and I want you to remember that. This is another battle in the ongoing resistance to settler colonialism.
–Adrienne Keene, Native Appropriations

The “water protectors” called their main camp Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, after the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation. There they erected tents and tepees, parked campers and horse trailers, and planted the flags of about 300 tribes, which flap in the wind on the long dirt track called Crazy Horse Avenue.

The Seven Council Fires camp and the adjacent Sacred Stone and Red Warrior camps have become communities of Native American solidarity likely not seen in more than a century. Lakota and Dakota people say these tribes have not joined to face a common enemy since the 1876 defeat of Gen. George Custer. — Sandy Tolan, LA Times

On our way to Standing Rock, we saw a recently completed segment of the pipeline and were surprised by how wide it was.

A small stretch of the nearly-complete 1170 mile Dakota Access Pipeline, along Route 83 north of Mobridge, South Dakota

A small stretch of the nearly-complete 1170 mile Dakota Access Pipeline, along Route 83 north of Mobridge, South Dakota

Arriving in camp, it was amazing to see people from all over North America. We saw plenty of license plates from Florida, California, and the Pacific Northwest. At the sacred fire in the evening, we listened to the leader of a youth delegation from Saskatchewan. And we joined in a wide range of other discussions, from maximizing the efficiency of wood-burning stoves to the sacredness of the ground on which we stood.

Understanding the lessons from past oil development is a common theme here. “They always tell us to trust them; that they have all this smart, intelligent technology,” said Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “But we’ve learned from other people, from other pipeline communities, that it’s not if a pipeline is going to spill or leak, it’s when.”

For Goldtooth and others, a larger agenda is playing out along the river.

“The goal is to build sustainable communities,” said Goldtooth. –Sandy Tolan, LA Times

Most of the manual labor we contributed was helping to expand the composting system for Grandma’s Hoopa Kitchen. When the Rev. Noah Evans was there (with a delegation of 500 clergy who burned the Doctrine of Discovery) a couple weeks before my trip, he was given the job of serving tea to everyone who walked into this kitchen. The kitchens of Oceti Sakowin are worthy of a story all their own:

Floodlights dot the hills where drilling is taking place

Right after we left the camp, the US Army Corps of Engineers paused drilling, calling for “additional analysis and discussion,” but not a full EIS. And the weather finally turned wintry, with the year’s first snow falling and the Morton County Sheriff warning that those at the camp would likely face hypothermia. A few days later, with temperatures in the mid 20s (Fahrenheit), law enforcement used water cannons on people standing where I stood a week before, reportedly injuring hundreds.

Roadblock on Highway 1806

Police have maintained this roadblock on the public highway since October, under the pretense that the bridge’s structural integrity needs to be tested after the vehicles were burned on it, requiring residents of the Standing Rock Reservation to take a lengthy detour to reach Mandan and Bismarck.

To take action,

Stars over North Dakota

Stars over North Dakota

Massachusetts Bay and the Queen Mary 2

Queen Mary 2 docked in Boston

Queen Mary 2 docked in Boston

Pictures from a flight from Bedford to Provincetown (via Norwood, Foxboro, and Plymouth) and back. The Queen Mary 2 was approaching Boston from the north on our flight to the Cape, and docked at the Black Falcon terminal on our flight back.

Crawford Notch

Pictures from a hike out of the Dry River Campground in Crawford Notch State Park, via the Bemis Brook Trail, Arethusa Falls Trail, Arethusa-Ripley Trail, and Dry River Trail

Mount Wutai

One of China’s Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism, Wutai Shan is home to 53 monasteries spread across five peaks.




One of the few Chinese cities with its ancient walls still intact is Pingyao. Its central location made it an early banking center in China.


Fen River and Taiyuan

Fen River and Taiyuan

Straddling the Fen River, Taiyuan is the capital of Shanxi Province. It is notorious for air pollution, though coal burning in Shanxi has been reduced slightly in response to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and economic downturn. Taiyuan is home to 3.2 million official urban residents, plus another million who have rural hukou registrations. The latter group consists of a floating population of migrant workers, typical of those who provide much of the labor for China’s construction and manufacturing sectors, as well as long-time residents of “urban villages,” small settlements that have been engulfed by the expanding city. The focus of our urban design studio was Wucheng, one such urban village in the center of Taiyuan.

Wucheng’s small apartments and boarding houses are a source of affordable housing for laborers and students at Shanxi University and other nearby education institutions. While there are some nearby regional parks, neighborhood green spaces and basic municipal services are lacking for the urban village’s 38,000 inhabitants.

Social tensions stemming from the hukou system, poor working conditions, and an economy transitioning from mining and heavy manufacturing to high tech, lie just below the surface. South of Taiyuan, a Foxconn plant with nearly 80,000 workers in what amounts to a company town saw a riot in 2012.

The new mayor of Taiyuan, Yanbo Geng, has spoken about environmental priorities:

“Beautiful water and blue sky are an integral part of our province’s history. A good ecosystem is central to beautifying Taiyuan City.”

Planned ecological corridors seem like a promising step on paper, and the metro system under construction could help make transportation in the city more sustainable. But concurrent efforts to widen streets and construct highway flyovers will counteract these steps.

By 2030, it is projected that more than 40 other cities in China will, like Taiyuan, have populations that exceed 4 million people. Unless major shifts emerge to address social concerns and improve the energy performance of transportation and neighborhood systems, the environmental vision espoused by Mayor Geng may be only wishful thinking.


Pictures from a Sunday afternoon stroll in Yuanmingyuan, a complex of imperial gardens northwest of Beijing:

Northeast Corridor from the Air

Pictures from an unlimited-visibility flight up the Northeast Corridor, from Washington DC to Boston. The density of this megalopolis makes it perfect for real high speed rail.

Continue reading ‘Northeast Corridor from the Air’