The Queen of My Self


The entire planet is heating up right now. Global warming is playing havoc with weather patterns, which in turn affects all plant and animal life. Our emotions are fired up and disagreements are reaching a boiling point, as is evidenced by the ever-increasing and escalating geo-religious-political-economic conflicts around the globe.

Time out! 

Now is the time to turn our attention to positive solutions and focus our thoughts and actions creating peace. Peace of Mind. Peace of Heart. Peace on Earth. There is a chance for peace.

In 1987, my dear friend and colleague, Dominique Mazeaud who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, initiated an extraordinary environmental art project that she called “The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande River.”

Once a month for seven years, Dominique spent an entire day walking along the banks and in the nearly dry riverbed picking up the garbage that had accumulated there. She started this project alone as a meditative ritual of purification

Picking up a can

From the river

And then another

on and on

It’s like a devotee

Doing countless rosaries.

Her humble dedication soon attracted supporters who would come to join her in her self-assigned endless, thankless task. And the city of Santa Fe chipped in by donating garbage bags to the cause.

A crucial element of her work involved keeping a diary, entitled Riveries, in which she writes about her experiences. Here are some excerpts:


My friend Margret drops me off at Delgado promptly at 9:00 AM. Because of the snow I was not sure of the conditions I would find, but did not doubt a second that I would put in my day. I find a stone warmed by the morning sun, which makes a perfect site for my beginning prayer. Yes, I see what I am doing as a way of praying.


1 can’t get away from you river

In the middle of the night

I feel you on my back

In my throat, in my heart.


Why in all religions is water such a sacred symbol? How much longer is it going to take us to see the trouble of our waters? How many more dead fish floating on the Rhine River? How many kinds of toxic waste dumpings? When are we going to turn our malady of separateness around?


Two more huge bags I could hardly carry to the cans. I don’t count any more. I don’t announce my “art for the earth” in the papers either. All alone in the river, I pray and pick up, pick up and pray. Who can I really talk to about what I see?… I have also noticed that I stopped collecting the so-called treasures of the river. It was OK at the beginning, but today I feel it was buying into the present system of art that’s so much object-oriented. Is it because I am saying that what I am doing is art that I need to produce something?


For the first time last month, my meditation directed me to go and be with the river and not do anything. The instructions were clear: “Don’t even take one garbage bag.”  I have landed in a new landscape where I discover the river is as true an artist as I am.


In “The River’s Call,” I tried to capture the emotions the river awakened in me. Doing the piece every month for seven years, they were many. Was it a new kind of feeling? Rivers were not totally new to me, but how to describe the mysterious something stirring my soul so deeply and kindling the passion that kept me in the river all these years?


Yes, there was suffering and darkness, but there was also undeniable beauty. For a river that had no water to speak of running through it (the Santa Fe River was named the most endangered river in America in 2006 by the American Rivers Associations), there were all kinds of little miracles for eyes to see. The green shoots that sprout under the rotting newspaper readying for their journey upward. The newborn snake nestled in the hollow of a dead tree.

The miracles were sometimes mysteries of a synchronous nature like finding a copy of the book of Black Elk Speaks when a class from the Indian American Institute of Art led by their art teacher Shelley Horton-Trippe came to see and experience my performance.

There were numerous encounters that provoked serious meditations, like a statue of Jesus lying in the grass of the bare river or the plastic bags filled with sand looking like glistening body parts, equally eerie and intriguing. What I discovered about my river journey was that both darkness and beauty (in all their shades) were always present.


Remembering the pain of the Earth had prompted me to be an artist and knowing that pain and grief had been the hallmarks of my life, this was a major realization that, in the long run, brought me much healing.

Surely, simply removing garbage from a polluted site is admirable, but Queen Dominique’s cleansing went far beyond a physical, politically correct action. What started as art became a spiritual ritual of purification — a mythic, sacramental expression of piety. As she cleaned the river she cleansed her deepest self of the delusion of being separate from Mother Earth.

May we take up her broom and join in the enormous job of tidying the planet.
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to


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