I’ve lived for 15 years on the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Washington state, home of the Suquamish Tribe. During that time, I’ve been honored to make some wonderful friends and to work with the Tribe on projects, including securing the return of the land where Chief Seattle once lived. (Here’s how it happened.) I’m not Native, but I’ve been invited to paddle with the tribe on their annual canoe journey, traveling out on the ocean and 600 miles north to the small island community of Bella Bella, all in hand-carved cedar canoes.
These are just some of the joys of living here, and this is how I met a talented young artist, Katie Ahvakana. It took me a couple of weeks, but I finally worked up the courage to ask her to paint the tiny camper I would be taking on my road trip. I wanted something to remind me of home and of my neighbors, and I wanted to be reminded that this journey would take me out of ordinary time and space.
Here’s how Katie describes what she did with the front panel.
Katie collaborated with her friend and talented artist (and fisherman), Toma Villa, who works with groups of children to create breathtaking murals. Toma was the artist behind the spray paint.
The sides of the camper depict a shell, which along with the pickup truck make the truck and camper into a large snail. All that’s missing are antennae for the hood! That seems appropriate. I’m driving a small, 4-cylinder used truck that gets decent gas mileage. So, yeah, I will feel like a snail climbing the mountains.
The snail also represents “slow journalism.” I plan to take my time getting to know the people and places I’ll encounter along the way, although not as much time as these walking journalists, whom I envy.
And the snail shell, called a caracol in Spanish, is the symbol used by the Zapatistas of southern Mexico to represent the autonomous communities where, instead of focusing on their struggle with the Mexican government, they live and govern themselves in their own way.
The spiral of the snail shell also has meaning. I plan to make a large, uneven circle around the United States. I will not be the same person when I return. A spiral denotes return and transformation.
Spirals are also used to describe something changing at an accelerating rate. That seems appropriate to the current times. Things are getting worse and worse, but also better and better. As I travel, I hope to learn more about the transformations going in both directions, but especially where the potential lies for things to spiral in positive directions.
Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to see Caracol as she travels the U.S.