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The Vision Keepers Review
Review by Janisse Ray, published 6/25/07 in the Brattleboro (VT) Reformer
When Doug Alderson was a young man, only eighteen and hiking alone on the Appalachian Trail, one day he became so lonely that he began to talk to rocks and trees. Then a strange thing happened: he heard a response.
“The earth answered in a way that a river does when it flows shallowly over rocks,” he writes in his memoir, The Vision Keepers: Walking for Native Americans and the Earth, just out from Quest Books. Part of nature’s answer to Alderson was a vision, that of an older version of himself heeding the teachings of Native American elders and working to protect the environment.
In his engaging and delightful book, Alderson tells the story of his quest to become that person, helping to fulfill a Hopi prophecy that describes four cycles of human life (the third ending with a great flood and and humanity now occupying the fourth.) The Hopi predict a fifth cycle during which people will have learned to live in harmony with each other and the natural world. Alderson finds a Muskogee medicine man, Bear Heart, who agrees to teach him.
From peyote ceremonies to the Sun Dance, from spirit visitors to prophetic dreams, from sweat lodges to sacred spots, Alderson describes his pursuit of an earth-based spirituality with a narrative that is simple yet rewarding, and in a style both humble and quixotic. His is a steady flame.
Most of The Vision Keepers is an account of two walks Alderson organized in the 1980s to bring attention to native spirituality and the environmental concerns for the earth. One was a seven-month, 3,800-mile walk from Point Reyes, California to Washington, D.C., and the other retraced the Trail of Tears backwards across the American Southeast, from Oklahoma to Tennessee, over a period of four months. On both journeys, walkers became a small band of visionaries, tribes traversing much-changed ground to bring a message to the nation – to support Native American rights and environmental protection.
The book delivers the same message and helps make the dream of an eighteen-year-old seeker come true. Not only is it a defense of Mother Earth, it offers unique insight into the struggles of an entire culture, personal reconciliation, world peace, and preservation of the Earth and its ancient wisdom. As Alderson reminds us, visions can become reality!
Alderson lives in a community just south of Tallahassee, Florida. An avid kayaker, he is also the author of Waters Less Traveled: Exploring Florida's Big Bend Coast.