Continuing my series of reflections on Sense of Place, one of the deepest layers of place holds the beating heart of the local community. Whether or not we know it, deny it, ignore it, we are fast heading in the direction of mutual interdependence, and the relationships that can be built in our own communities will stand us in good stead.
The Transition Movement began as an imaginative activist response to the dire news about climate change and the fact that we are on the downside of oil production (peak oil) – and these realities remain at the core – yet the movement is far more than that. It is about community, about resilience; it’s about optimism and radical hope; it’s about play. It’s about healing, and it is about knowing one’s place.
My husband Jim and I live in a small village in central New Hampshire. We make giant puppets, the kind that require human engagement rather than simple manipulation, and for six years, we have had it in mind to stage an outdoor production, to introduce Restoring the Waters Puppet Theater into our own community. We see it as our our small part in the Transition Movement, but we weren’t going to do this alone.
This was our summer to do it! And it looked like this. In partnership with the Wilmot Community Association, we worked with members of our village, ranging in age from six to seventy-seven, to choose our totem animals, to make larger than life masks, to sew costumes, and – ultimately – to rehearse.
It’s fair to say, I think, that there were skeptics (I include myself among them). Every Wednesday evening over the course of the summer, we met, floundered around in buckets of flour and water, hiding chicken wire clippers from one another, cutting and sewing fabric. Wednesdays got bigger and bigger, with more and more people trying their hand at the art of paper mache.
There was more than the creation of puppets and costumes. Old Turtle and the Broken Truth is a spiritual story of conflict, ecological disregard, and the potential for healing. Each of us was invited to learn about our totem animal: its habitat, food needs, its character, and the stories of adaptation (or not) to the often wanton and selfish ways of the humans.
As the masks and animal characters themselves began to take shape, so – thankfully – did the infrastructure and supportive roles. The word was getting out, through volunteer publicity. Our favorite musician showed up, our friend Tom agreed to direct this motley group of non-actors. We had popcorn makers, a seamstress, lights, sound, and above all, we had an audience! Below is the You Tube video, in three parts. It’s a gem, even with all its warts and glitches. Sometimes it’s good to get them over with early on!
The night was magic. Ten days before the scheduled production, the forecast promised rain and thunder storms. The day itself was perfect; the people who’d come to see watched the sun – reflecting on the water of the pond – disappear, were bathed by the late summer breezes, and the sounds of the crickets. The sound system worked; we didn’t need the lights.
I think all of us – both in the production and watching the production – were a bit surprised to awaken to the power of imaginative collaboration, to the grace of risk taking, and to the possibilities for community art to deepen friendships. We were also surprised, I think, to understand the sacredness of the earth-community, to understand that we humans are part of a much larger narrative than the one we often think (and certainly act as though) we dominate.
Jim and I are grateful to have not only survived our first Restoring the Waters Puppet Theater production, but to have been so greatly enriched by all the creatures of our small village of Wilmot, N. H.