Arts and Entertainment

Giving peace a chance

Pushkara Sally Ashford peeks out the door of her brand new handcrafted gypsy vardo wagon. Ashford is getting ready to wheel out from Whidbey on a pilgrimage for peace. - Photo courtesy of Pushkara Sally Ashford
Pushkara Sally Ashford peeks out the door of her brand new handcrafted gypsy vardo wagon. Ashford is getting ready to wheel out from Whidbey on a pilgrimage for peace.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Pushkara Sally Ashford

A wagon of peace is rolling home, and its owner would like to invite the community to welcome it with song.

The peace-wheeling, hand-built gypsy wagon, owned by local resident Pushkara Sally Ashford, has been a year in the making. Ashford will eventually live in the wagon as she pulls it along throughout the journey she calls “Sing Peace! Earth Pilgrimage for Peace and Global Harmony.”

The first leg of her pilgrimage will begin the day after Earth Day, April 25, but until then, the gypsy wagon will be home on Whidbey Island, where it will be featured at the Yoga Lodge in Greenbank on Saturday, March 6 and Sunday, March 7.

The community is welcome to come by at 7 p.m. on Saturday to view the wagon, followed by singing at 7:30 p.m. led by songweavers Laurence Cole, Rob Tobias and Sara Tone who hope to bring the audience to their feet in an interactive sing ‘n mingle style, with songs celebrating the earth and the unity of life. The evening includes clips from “Sound of the Soul: Taking Humanity to a Higher Note,” an interfaith film documentary of the 2009 Sacred Music Festival in Morocco.

On Sunday the celebration of peace continues with a “Singpeace! Family Event” from 1 to 3 p.m., with singers gathered outside to sing around the peace wagon.

Mick Dodge, the “Barefoot Sensei,” will demonstrate E.A.R.T.H. Gym (Exuberant Animal Rhythmic Training Hall) activities and practical play, the goal of which is to feel the exuberance of the land under your feet.

Ashford said Dodge’s training has been eye-opening for her. “Sinking our soles deep, singing harmony with the land,” she said of it.

Ashford has given a lot of thought to the land this year since she introduced her plan to design and build the handcrafted Roma-style wagon for her pilgrimage. Her plan is to spread the message of peace and draw attention to housing, health, food and environmental issues.

This 70-something maverick is a former teacher, singer and now a grandmother who wants to focus on the big picture and the long-term legacy that will be left to her grandchildren and their grandchildren.

“My mind is going toward the 500-year plan, the 1,000-year plan, for the rainforest, water and the other components of true sustainability,” Ashford said.

“I’m going for ‘peace in my lifetime’ and I’m willing to do what it takes to bring it about.”

What it took first was designing the wagon and finding someone to build it.

Ashford found herself at the “How to Build a Gypsy Wagon” course offered by master craftsman Jim Tolpin at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking.

After creating the design on paper, she commissioned Tolpin and a team of other craftsmen to help her finish the project.

“It was a very delightful process for me, because I didn’t know I could do that,” Ashford said.

It was a satisfying collaboration that, when all was done, left Ashford with a beautifully crafted green-living wagon — complete with decorative carvings, stained-glass windows, a 12-volt solar electric panel, a composting toilet, running water and a beautiful French vintage-style propane fireplace. Etched into the windows are symbols of the most meaningful things in her life, including her grandchildren, her guitar, animals and the lyrics to a song.

During the process, other pilgrims of peace began to take notice of Ashford’s intentions, and she has subsequently gathered several followers in her serious pursuit.

Ashford and her ever-growing band of singers and activists hope to establish a culture of peace by drawing attention to issues with songs and activities such as the planting of trees and other communal tasks that will bring young and old people together to make a long-term commitment to the earth. She used as an example Ecuador, which in

2008 approved a new Constitution that granted inalienable rights to nature.

For Ashford, peace and harmony in the world are not a dream or a fantasy or a pastime.

“They require the efforts and attention of everyone of us,” she said.

After Earth Day, Ashford and friends will circle the Olympic Peninsula, stopping along the way to create “singing villages.” They will visit part of Oregon and then head north again in time for a stop at the Folklife Festival in Seattle.

“It’s meant to be joyful and fun,” Ashford said.

“When we think about the warring mentality of the world and the economy, none of us really knows peace. But when we sing together, it’s hard to bear a grudge, and the joy takes over.”

It is with joy that she follows the intentions of her heart.

Her plans are not set in stone, and she is not sure where the wind will take her after that, but Ashford is sure that, with the help of social networks and other means of news travel, her repertoire for a culture of peace will have a snowball effect, and that people will know these songs when they come together in the “singing villages.”

Having felt a strong need to let go of her “homebound” style of living and build a vehicle that would transport an important message, Ashford said that to consider one’s relationship to the land, and that one is its steward, is central to everything else in life.

“We need a strong base — habit is formed in habitat.

I want to strengthen the base of the culture here. There’s plenty to do; plenty of neglected and unattended concerns to address,” she said.

A lot of people are becoming interested, Ashford said, and there has been a steady gathering of older women she calls the “Elderwise,” who have begun participating in various ways.

It is not a hurried journey, and Ashford said it will be going on for a long time. It is, in fact, a commitment that has spiraled into other connections such as having been named an “Ambassador of Change” among 50 others in the world who are sponsored by a program called “The Movement of Change,” a network comprised of people who believe and act as if they could change the world through their positive messages. Ashford’s message will be published in a “Messenger Mini Book” through the organization.

It is one way people are taking ownership of intention, she said, about the journey of change that needs more than one voice. Ashford has every intention of making her voice heard.

“That’s what I signed on for in this life,” she said.

Suggested donation is $12 for adults, free for children age 12 and younger.

For advanced tickets, call 579-2129, or e-mail singpeace.pushkara@gmail.com.

Parking is limited; carpools are appreciated. Also, a shuttle will run between the Greenbank Park-and-Ride at Highway 525 and Bakken Road and the Yoga Lodge at

3475 Christie Road. For the Web site, click here.

Click here for more info. All donations will go to the support of social and environmental projects.

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