Air and Water and The Bdote Tour

When learning about water and it’s influence in the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the Fall of 2016, I frequently thought of water’s symbolic association with emotion. The emotional aspects of our residency has manifested in many ways. We connected with the Dakota women by providing an emotional context for historical events on our Bdote Tour. We learned about the emotional connections of contemporary community in Frogtown when biking with Seitu, observing him interact with friends family and business owners along our bike tour.


Personally, the archetype of water as personal emotional experience was most present in my mind throughout the residency. I believe that our personal emotional responses mirrored the larger curations of the program. As a loving cohort, our sympathetic and empathetic abilities were exhibited during more challenging moments, such as the Bdote tour.


I remember Mona speaking to empathy as obstacle, and held onto this idea throughout the whole residency. I felt this concept greatly illuminated the reality of the head and heart relationship. Sometimes, the head shuts the heart down. Other times, the opposite occurs. And on different occasions, the two realms stalemate, and we are unable to make a decision between the heart and the head.  


This continuous meditation was further intensified when Mona shared videos she had created and embedded on the Bdote Tour website. In one video Translation of the Word Mnisota, Chris Mato Numpa provides his take on the translation of Minnesota ‘The land where the water reflects the sky and heavens’. The more common translation is the ‘land of sky blue waters’.” While numpa believes that both interpretations are correct, he prefers the former, and states that “my (translation) will be accurate whether or not it is cloudy or the sun is shining. The water will always still reflect the sky.” (1)


This, to me, spoke to the idea that even when we are experiencing tensions or conflicts between the heart (water) and the head (air), they are still always connected. They always see each other, show each other off as reflections, and communicate with each other.


This brought me peace, and I decided it was a helpful concept to construct a project around. I created a box, painted visceral red and black colors on the outside, and a deep yet calming blue within. I strung lights across the box’s ceiling, added clouds with white paper and chalk, and draped a translucent sheet across the top to create a slightly atmospheric effect. In order to enter this space, one had to lie down and place their head on the ground, inside of the box. They then were told to listen to a recording of water as they spent a few moments inside.


This idea reflected all of the feelings I had been experiencing during an exceptionally “watery” residency. The idea of being someone fixed in one’s own head, contrasted with the idea of a limitless sky. The idea of this “box”, the head, being full of racing ideas (air), contrasted with the sound of water in one’s ears. This sound was meant to remind the participant that while thoughts raced through the head, seemingly stuck in this box, that water is always moving, running inside of us, and around us, and that we can use it for calmness and emotional release. I appreciated this non-dualistic approach to stillness and movement, as air and water are highly mobile elements but the piece did not involve  movement on the behalf of the participant. This idea was highlighted by Mona’s video entitled Healing Place:


Healing and movement go hand in hand, but movement is also about stillness. Paying attention to ourselves first and then others around us, and that includes paying attention to where we are, and where I am standing right now. To know how you are connected or disconnected to this place. I can’t tell someone how sacred mother earth is to them.


Instead of saying ‘Tell me what this means’, try to experience it yourself. Stop your mind and open up your heart. Because I can’t tell someone what spirituality means to them.


Healing and movement go hand in hand, but movement is also about stillness. Paying attention to ourselves first and then others around us, and that includes paying attention to where we are, and where I am standing right now. To know how you are connected or disconnected to this place.” (2)


I felt that this point was very relevant to the work we are doing in the Nomad program, Both on the macro and micro cosmic level. It is important for us to stay mindful of the effects of our emotions and thoughts as we explore new terrains and mindscapes, and transform empathy from an obstacle into a tool for compassion.


Cited Videos


Healing Place. Bdote Memory Map. Minnesota Humanities Center and Allie, 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2016. <;.


Translation of the Word Mnisota. Bdote Memory Map. Minnesota Humanities Center and Allie, 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2016. <;.bdote



In part 1, we have touched upon the topic of re-framing our relationship to the “invasive” plant, or the “weed”. We can play a more active role in facilitating a balanced system by learning how to identify these plants, as well as understanding their medicinal and nutritional values.

A cohort member’s Nephew was generous enough to walk me around the town of Killingly to help me identify which plants he and the community have foraged. Not all are considered “foreign” species, however there is a benefit for the Park River Ecosystem if these plants are paid more attention and dealt with properly. Below is a list (not even close to comprehensive to give you an idea of how abundant our plant world is) of what can be found near the Park River, with an accompanying link that can elaborate upon each plant’s uses.

(The study of herbs is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires long and critical study, as well as anecdotal evidence to support the sadly lacking scientific research. Because of this, it requires strength, bravery, and passion to pursue. These links do not serve as the ultimate truth of these plants, but rather as ways to incite curiosity and to encourage further exploration. Nomad 9’s partnership with the Park River Ecosystem plans on further developing and bridging the education of the natural river landscape with its local community in the year to come.)


  1. Spearmint
  2. Mallow
  3. Day Lily
  4. Pokeweed
  5. Nettles
  6. Wood/Sheep Sorrel
  7. Yarrow
  8. Thistle
  9. Autumn Olive
  10. Milkweed
  11. Mugwort
  12. Grape Leaf
  13. Raspberry Leaf
  14. Kudzu
  15. Henbit
  16. Wild/False Peanut
  17. Mullein
  18. Dandelion
  19. Plantain

Suggestion for foraging toolkit


A foraging workshop for plants would involve story-telling and identifying plants at river’s bank. It can also be our research result about some spots along the river. We can launch it online and place them in our greenhouse.

Things that can be included:
-Names, characteristics of the plants;
-Usage, recipes, crafts (It can be a workshop including foraging, making, and teaching);
– The relationship with the environment (Natural? Urban? Half? Novel eco-system?);
-The relationship with human activity (Plants that move with a certain group of people, i.e.: Broadleaf Plantain is considered “white man’s footprint”; plants that brought by farming and gardening; personal memories, etc.)

Suggestion for starting our work:
-Take a picture of a spot, identify as many plants as we can based on pictures.
-Search for the information and materials in relation to the above categories.
-Group and analysis of our materials.

Readings and reference:

  1. Novel ecosystems-
  2. Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order by Richard J. Hobbs,Eric S. Higgs,Carol Hall-
  3. Plants in CT-
  4. Water treatment related projects, and the idea of turning ‘problems’, ‘invasive’ into  resources, it also relates to the idea of novel ecosystems –
  5. Good example for physical tools and presentation-
  6. Another good example for foraging, and the concern about the relationship between humans and the environment-



Jacob Paul’s Encounter with the Park River

So, I had this previous relationship to Hartford for this very simple reason, which is that the first woman I dated seriously after college was eight years my senior, and I was very naive because I got out of college when I was twenty, but also because I grew up an ultra Orthodox Jew who went to boarding schools until I got to school, so I stopped wearing a Yarmulke and started wearing a Portland Trail Blazers hat. And then a year after that I intentionally stopped dating. I had a bad dating experience my last year of college and I just wanted some space and I was working for a public theatre and we were at this bar across the street called Toast. We had an opening night party for this play called the Venus Hottentot, and I saw a woman I found very attractive. A short, pugnacious blonde woman was at the bar, and we started chatting. She gave me three ways to contact her, and so I got in touch with her. I also didn’t know what a relationship was at that age. This relationship became real after we went to the south of France together. She hated my writing, and thought it was offensive and said so, and I thought that was how relationships were supposed to be because I just didn’t know any better. She had huge anger problems. So when we came back, we moved in together in an apartment in Inwood.

We used to visit my Dad up in Boston, and he wouldn’t let us sleep in the same bed, which she wasn’t having because I was 23 and she was 31. At this point, I want to get out of this relationship. I’m depressed about my mother’s recent death, she’s taking care of me, she has anger problems. My landlord said to her one day, “Three wives! I’ve never hit any of them. If I hear more noise like that, you let me know and I’ll talk to him.” And then she came to me and said, “It’s so funny! He thinks you’re the one making the noise!” Which should have been my sign to flee. So, anyhow, my Dad on a good day is an awful cook, and on a bad day, he’s worse. So we would eat horrible food, and half-way home from Boston would be Hartford, and we found this restaurant (which is still open to this day and looks identical to what it did twenty years ago which is terrifying). So we would stop there and eat and we really fell in love with this place. It became our place because we were probably the only ones eating there mid-week other than insurance executives. We would sometimes rent a fancy hotel room and drink fancy wine. We had a strange relationship with Hartford.

Eventually, I came out of the depression around my mother’s death, and she wants me to move to Jakarta with her for her job. I thought, don’t worry, you’ll just write and she’ll take care of you. And then I thought, wait, I’m going to move to Jakarta right after the fall of Suharto to become a kept boy of this woman with a rage problem where I’ll know no other people. Fuck. I’m out. So I flew to France to break up with her and that was a whole big thing. She would call me from Jakarta to make fights. But, in all of this, the one thing I remember loving is the really nice restaurant in Hartford.

So, on my 26th birthday, I had ended this extremely dysfunctional relationship. Then we get back together. Then 9/11 happens and I work in the World Trade Center, which is an important to my re-encounter with Hartford, Connecticut. I was working for Oppenheimer Funds while doing a low-residency MFA. I had bought a bicycle, and would ride the greenway to work. I left early that day, so I could shower on the 34th floor. It’s 8:45, before anything has happened, and I’m showering. The other tower gets hit first, and I have no idea what’s happening because I’m in a shower in a cinderblock thing in the center of the building. I was naked for the biggest terrorist attack in America. I’m drying off and the alarm comes on and the emergency PA says, “There’s been an incident involving an airplane and tower 1. Tower 2 is a secure area, there is no need to evacuate tower 2, tower 2 is secure”. So I dry off, and I put my book and my cell phone in a locker and I walk calmly to my desk. I notice it looks like a ticker-tape parade outside, but I can’t see up to see what’s going on. None of my co-workers are there, and I’m not too concerned. Our floor’s fire warden, Phil Whitgower, says I should probably evacuate. “Cool”, I say, nonchalantly.  And I’m walking down the staircase making bad jokes while people are crying. I didn’t realize what was going on. All my co-workers had been there in ’93, so they knew how to evacuate, which is why they weren’t there. When I’m on the 28th floor, our tower gets hit. There was a tremendous sense of impact and an explosion sound, and we couldn’t tell if it was above or below us. The foundation shook and dust rose up. We didn’t know if there was a bomb below us and if we should go down. Anyhow, pretty much everyone below the impact floors survived. It’s amazing, right? In our building, the plane hit in the 60s. When we got above ground, we were pretty far north. This is where people were freaking out. When you watch the videos, and you see our tower get hit from the south, you see a thing shoot across and hit the building on Church Street, and then land. That’s actually a jet engine. And the turbine minus the cowling landed on the corner underneath some scaffolding. And there was a cop wrapping caution tape around it. To me, that will forever be the image of a man who knows he’s supposed to do something, but has no idea what could possibly be done and is out of ideas.

So police barricades are set up just north of where we have gone out. So I walk up to them, and my lawyer and my boss are there. All the trains are stopped. We walked north together, up to Houston Street, and we heard a huge gasp and we turned around and saw a huge column of smoke. Our building was gone and the other one was still burning.

I finally get to my grandparents’ and get in touch with people, and walked up to Harlem, took the train the rest of the way home, and got wasted with Mick. The dot-com collapse happened simultaneously, and my girlfriend lost her job. She went back to California. I started working in my company up in Hartford where they had excess office space. The following week after 9/11, they send us to Hartford to go live in the Hilton and work four tens. This isn’t boding well for my relationship because it’s bad to begin with. That was the hard thing for all of us. We were so radically separated from anybody that could have offered us support. We had an enormous per diem and most of it went to booze. What I did to try to mitigate that was to go bike shopping. I had locked up my red bike next to tower 2, and it was obviously destroyed. And one way I thought I could reclaim some sort of agency was to buy a new bicycle. My friend Steve Gainer was super into cycling and knew a bunch about bikes. We would drive around in his fancy BMW looking at bike shops, which meant that we’d be in downtown Hartford which was dead after dark, and insurance people were walking around drunk. And then you’d have the band of incredible poverty. And then you get to the suburbs, which is all gated communities for insurance executives who don’t pay any taxes into the city, and there you would find the bike shops, super insane, high-end bike shops. Really expensive. On one of these trips we go past the courthouse, and we suddenly realize that there’s a park just past it, and you can see over the edge a river emerge from underground. So I begin to become sort of obsessed with this river. I think this must have been the time I was just finishing up graduate school and I was working on my first novel project which is never to be mentioned. During that time, my co-worker had given me a subscription to National Geographic Adventure, which no longer exists, and in there, this guy John Waterman (who ended up blurbing my first book) had written this article about his circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle, and he had kayaked the portion that was the Northwest Passage. So I had read that, and I had kayaking on the mind and so I became obsessed. I started asking these guys at the bike shops if people did anything in the river, and they were like, “that’s disgusting.” And in the end what happened was that we found a bike shop that told us we could kayak a section of the river underground. So that was my first kayaking trip. We put in a little bit above town, and we float into these tunnels, and it’s fucking petrifying. But it’s too early after my last great trauma to have any kind of panic or fear of anything. I felt resilient as a motherfucker. I’ve been going to therapy. I’m fine.

So we floated through this long dark thing. Completely dark with occasionally a little light coming through storm grates. It was about 20 minutes until we came out. It wasn’t really legal, but there was nothing really blocking it because they didn’t think anybody would want to because it’s gross and it’s a rarely managed city. So we had our head lamps, and it’s quiet and silent, and I think it was probably safer because we were going in the end of September. So, at any rate, we had this uneventful float through these tunnels, and it was this kind of moment in which I expected to be able to attach all kinds of crazy things to, but really in the end, it was just a thing on the way to buying a bicycle on the way to writing a book about kayaking, and then I came out the other end.

Peeking at the Wildlife Near the Park River-

The private school next to the University of Hartford (the Watkinson School), maintains a nature-cam near the Park River.

Mary Rickel Pelletier graciously shared the url for the nature cam with me today, so I am sharing it with all of you. Enjoy!

(Copy and paste the text above into your browser.)

Park River: The Underground River

What if…

There was an underground art party in an underground river?

There were tours on the history of the Park River (also known as the Hog River)?

Would graffiti artists give artists talks on how to tag the tunnels of the river?

Could there be science class for children on canoes?

Below are some accounts on canoeing the Park River:

Canoeing the Park River

Paddling Hartford

The Hog River Revival 

Sad City Hartford Takes On The Park River

Artists Canoe Underground

How To Become A River


  1. Go to your nearest river
  2. Stand as close as you can
  3. Close your eyes
  4. Smell the river
  5. Breathe the river with your open mouth (don’t drink the water-it’s probably not safe)
  6. Touch the river (If you can)
  7. Listen to the sounds of the river
  8. Think about how corporations are killing you (you as person and as a river) with the commodification of water
  9. Water the river with your tears
  10. Kiss yourself is like kissing the river…we are all water

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