Planetwalk 2013: Our Last Day Walking

National Geographic Explorer John Francis has been leading an undergraduate group on a “Planetwalk” through rural U.S. states. Meanwhile his longtime collaborator Jon Waterhouse is on a somewhat similar mission in Alaska. Follow them both here on Explorers Journal.

Our last day walking, and the weather was a glorious performance of sun and gentle warm breezes, passing with us over the Indiana countryside and Amish communities and farms near the town of Geneva. I walked slowly at the end of a tight knot of Planetwalkers. Through the six days of our journey we had become a family. There was a bittersweet anticipation that this year’s walk would soon be over.

As we approached an intersection I saw the school, and then the students all dressed in black and white. The boys’ black trousers and white shirts, the girls in what looked like long black dresses. There were about 30 of them, frolicking in the afternoon sun. When they saw our variegated band in the distance they stopped their lunchtime play and stared into another reality.

Planetwalkers rest at the Happy Corner church (photo by Fangfei Duan)
Planetwalkers rest at the Happy Corner church (photo by Fangfei Duan)


I separated from my family and headed toward the school. They moved slowly, like a puzzled heard caught in a bright light. Then a few of the younger children broke and ran back into the school, while the older children gathered around me. “Is your teacher here?” I asked. One boy nodded yes, and another went inside.  When their teacher came out into the yard she was dressed in a simple black dress and on her head she wore a black bonnet. She smiled, and I realized standing there, my banjo cradled in my arms, dressed in my polyester, microfiber garments, that breathed, wicked and kept water away, that I had stepped back in time, into an almost forgotten reality,

If you have been following The Voices of Planetwalk you may know that just the day before we had Skyped with my colleague Jon Waterhouse who was on a Healing Journey traveling in the Arctic, first in Saint Mary’s on the Yukon River, while we walked toward Saint Mary’s in Ohio, thousands of miles away, and now he was just in Russian Mission. When we looked at the screen and saw the ice-and-snow-covered landscape and the wizened faces of the Elders and heard the voices of the community we were transfixed, and our world grew.

About a mile from the school we ended our walk for the year. But where we end we will begin again, knowing our world a little better, bringing our communities closer together.

NEXT: Read All Planetwalk and Healing Journey Blog Posts

Human Journey

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Meet the Author
John Francis, a visiting associate professor at the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, known the world over as the Planetwalker began his environmental work in 1971, when he witnessed an oil spill in San Francisco Bay. Feeling partly responsible for the mess washing up on the shore, he stopped using of motorized vehicles and began to walk. Several months later, because of the arguments his decision caused, John took a vow of silence lasting 17 years. During that time, he founded Planetwalk a non-profit environmental awareness organization, received a B.S. degree from Southern Oregon University, a Masters in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana-Missoula, and a PhD in Land Resources from the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ending his silence, John served as project manager for the United States Coast Guard Oil Pollution Act of 1990 Staff, in Washington, DC. and United Nations goodwill ambassador to the World’s grassroots communities He authored Planetwalker: 17-Years of Silence, 22-Years of Walking and “The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World” both published by the National Geographic Society, where he is currently an education fellow.