BREACHING WATERWAYS: ALONG THE ANACOSTA RIVER
Artist Katie Kehoe organized a CALL/WALK with climatologist Jagadish Shukla and performance artist Heloisa Escuerdo exploring the impact of climate change and sea level rise in the lowlands of the United States’ capitol city. This walk was hosted by George Mason University Provisions Library. Katie shares her reflections.
Sunday May 5th, 2019, Kingman and Heritage Island Park
The night before our walk, flash flood warnings were in effect for the DC area; significant given we were assembling to reflect on flooding and sea level rise. I arrive early to walk the path and check for flooding, pulling logs and boards over muddy sections to make them more passable. It was cool and raining as scientists, artists, academics, students, activists, and community members gathered.
Wearing a wet suit and carrying a body board I’d made out of salvaged materials, I invite participants to walk in pairs, taking turns to talk from personal experience on the subject of flooding.
As we cross a bridge leading to Heritage Island, I announce that should sea levels rise by 6 feet, the island would be entirely flooded. Life jackets spanned both sides of the bridge. I demonstrate their use and hand them out for participants to wear.
We step onto the island, following a rough narrow path and soon happen upon performance artist, Heloisa Escudero, who is stationed on the southern tip of the island. Assembling under a tent, Heloisa invites us to state our anxieties related to sea level rise and perform a walking ritual to symbolically block them.
When we move on, I invite participants to reflect on what keeps them afloat – in their life, in their work or literally, on the water. The path is muddier and people offer hands, helping each other to cross rough patches.
We come to a wooden platform, there’s a life ring positioned on it and ties for mooring a boat fastened to its perimeter – it’s a raft on land. We step onto it and I invite people to share what keeps them afloat; their responses: family, hope, research, community.
We continue, walking to a look-out point at a second bridge and then return to the “raft” seeking shelter from the rain. Don Russell, Director of Provisions Research Center for Arts and Social Change, speaks to us about the history of the Islands and Dr. Jagadish Shukla, George Mason University’s (GMU) most senior climate scientist, adds context to our experience by discussing the science behind sea level rise; his colleague, Dr. Barry Klinger, another esteemed climate expert at GMU, adds insights from his research on climate science. A casual conversation evolves, with participants freely asking questions to Shukla and Klinger over cupcakes and sparking water.
The rain quiets as we walk back to where we started.