Post-Pilgrimage Reflections from Hattie Nestel

As part of my opposition to the proposed Kinder Morgan Corporation pipeline that would carry fracked gas from fields in Pennsylvania through New York State, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, I participated in six days of a Pipeline Pilgrimage led by Young Adult Quakers through six New Hampshire towns.

The pilgrimage occurred one year since my knee replacement. I wasn’t sure how I would manage in hilly New Hampshire, but I was determined to give it a try. I was the oldest person on the pilgrimage by twenty years.

Going through New Hampshire’s beautiful hills, lakes, and forests along the proposed pipeline route, I was sickened by the thought that this all can be destroyed with one signature from FERC, the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission, approving the proposed pipeline.

Since late last spring, I have worked with hundreds of others in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania to oppose this pipeline, called the New England Direct pipeline by Kinder Morgan. In November, I demonstrated against FERC with newly formed Beyond Extreme Energy, BXE activists DC and will do so again at the end of May.

I have sold more than five hundred lawn signs and bumper stickers opposing the pipeline. I have interviewed more than thirty-five people who are targeted to have the pipeline go through their properties. I have video-interviewed our federal and state politicians about the proposed pipeline and have arranged to have the interviews aired on twenty-six Massachusetts cable access stations and Youtube.

Nothing is ever enough. Almost daily, headlines in our local newspaper report on our progress or lack of to stop the pipeline.

Informational meetings bring experts in energy fields, politicians, and now lawyers hired to help us stop this destruct and destroy the corporate dinosaur threatening our beautiful states and ways of life.

We know New England does not need nor would we benefit from the two billion cubic feet of fracked gas intended to go through this pipeline. The gas is likely intended for Europe via duty-free ports in Maine. Fracking extracts an extremely fossil fuel via an extremely dirty process that injects chemically treated water into shale formations to break up rock. The process is an immense water hog, and storing chemically toxic waste used in drilling is as unsolvable a problem as storing radioactive waste from nuclear power reactors.

The proposed Kinder Morgan, Tennessee Gas thirty-six-inch pipeline would deliver enough fuel to produce more than twice the combined power generated in all of New England by coal, petroleum and nuclear fuels in 2012!
The gas would be liquefied and exported to Europe from Dracut, Massachusetts through the port of Saint John in New Brunswick, Canada.

Many of the towns that this pipeline would go through have only wells for all their water and feel threatened by the risk and destruction that pipelines pose to their water supply. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, much land is conserved against development to protects wildlife corridors, wetlands, farms, and forests. The proposed pipeline threatens even conservation land, although lawyers and land specialists look for every avenue to oppose the pipeline. During the pilgrimage, I heard heartbreaking stories of homeowners who had conserved, protected, and loved their lands for decades only to face eminent domain proceedings that would rob them of their property and the prospect of land too toxic to live on or sell if the pipeline is built.

More than fifty Massachusetts towns have passed resolutions opposing the proposed pipeline to prevent it from going through their towns. New Hampshire towns have adopted the same strategy. Still, no one knows how our states rights’ to decide will stack up against the feds.

One arguments about gas pipelines is that natural gas is cleaner than coal. However, drilling, storing, distributing, and burning gas produces both carbon dioxide and methane. They are both powerful greenhouse gases. Over time, methane becomes concentrated in the atmosphere and is a great risk to global warming. Although the propaganda about fracked gas is that it is cleaner than coal, when considering both carbon dioxide and methane, gas is not a safe bridge to renewable fuels.

My knee survived the pilgrimage, and I ended up with lots more physical energy, more contacts, and increased appreciation of the beautiful landscapes and lives that will be devastated if we lose this battle. I am grateful that I was able to participate in the pilgrimage. And I had fun.

Post-Pilgrimage Reflection from Rob Levin

Promoted for awesomeness. Rob wrote this in a comment after he left us. -Jay

Hello dear Pilgrims,

I am 24-hours PPP (Post Pipeline Pilgrimage) and feel the urge to reach out to all of you, my climate family. I’ve been thinking of everyone all day as I’ve been back at work, smiling at the thought of your walking and walking and walking (20 miles is a helluva day!).

Spiritual tectonic plates are still shifting for me. I can’t say I have any more answers than I had when I took my first steps with you last Wednesday. But somehow I feel a lightness, a diffused sense of opening and possibility.

I drove home with Morgan yesterday. If you ever need a hit of enthusiasm, spend three hours in the car with Morgan! Her ideas, combined with Satoru’s wisdom on suffering and oneness, combined with 117 other conversations I had with all of you, have me bursting with energy. You have become irresistible to me.

The immediate effect of all this is that I’m hoping to Go Big with an upcoming Peace and Social Concerns Committee meeting at my Quaker Meeting. Up to now we’ve been saying that we should only take on one or two things at a time, that if we try to do too much, we won’t accomplish anything. And we don’t want to rock the boat too much. Well, after Pilgrimming with you, I’m feeling led to propose a far more ambitious package of actions. Bill M’s silver buckshot approach. It’s not going to change the world all at once, but it’s going to be a start, combined with all of your efforts.

Yours in Spirit,

Rob Levin

“Thus quieted, I heard what I believe” Reflection by Paul Dobbs, Winchester, NH

Paul journeyed with us for two days in New Hampshire, and wrote this in a comment on Patrick’s last post – but it needs to be shared more widely. – Jay

I am deeply grateful to the organizers, to the sturdy long-distance pipeline pilgrims, and to everyone who walked, for their leadership and friendship. My participation, just 21 of the total 150 miles, was ever so modest. But nevertheless it was, by far, the best thing I have done for myself in a long time. The whole of it—the silences, the walking, the silent walking, the quiet encountering of crows, phoebes, trees, rivers, sheep, people along the road (adults and children involved in their lives), the houses, fields, trees, the crushed bottles and cans underfoot, the white horse who shyly engaged us, the thoughtful conversations with new friends, and those silences, and that walking, walking, especially the silent walking—did quiet me far more effectively than my ordinary meditations, valuable as they are.

Thus quieted, I heard what I believe, that there is no reason to doubt the consensus of the climate scientists, and that their assessment is careful and true: that we humans are steering this beautiful planet toward catastrophe. And I heard a curious secret whispered to me: the fact that many, indeed most, others also do believe what the scientists say, but they are managing, as I had managed, to live each day not hearing what they believe.

It seems the goal is now to sustain the quieting, so to be able to heed what one hears and then to act, with others, to correct the course.

Abundant Gratitude

Dear Pipeline Pilgrims,

I confess that I don’t have words sufficient to capture the beauty, power and transformation of the 12 days we spent walking together. I just know that those days have continued to reverberate in my hearts and thoughts. Thank you for taking the time away from your day-to-day lives to walk with us – your spirits and your dedication continually moved and inspired me. Thanks to all who provided food, housing, support cars, trail magic, scarves, and so much more – we came away nourished in every sense by the generosity of so many. I know that I will continue to reflect on what I learned over those 150 miles for many months.

We’re going to conclude our blog by posting reflections from pilgrims. We would love to hear stories from your experience of the pilgrimage, what this experiences meant for you,or how you’re living out the pilgrimage as you return to your daily life. Just email us the text (and a photo if you want one included) and we’ll get it posted.

Many photos of the pilgrimage are on Facebook – we also heard many requests from people not on Facebook to share photos so we’ve set up a dropbox folder. Please add photos to that folder if you’d like to share them with the group. The link is

WGBH’s Greater Boston show aired a short segment about the pilgrimage on Monday night. You can find that piece and the links to all our other media hits at

See you down the road, dear friends.


p.s. Just wanted to give a shout-out to Patrick, Kelsey, Jimmy and Theo who carried the pilgrimage forward by sleeping out in the Harvard Yard with Divest Harvard on Sunday night.

Day 11: spacious closure & closing worship

This final blog post of mine marks our last night on the Pipeline Pilgrimage.

The day has had a sense of spacious closure to it, the last day I can hold in my open palms before the ritual of tomorrow’s sending off, our final full day moving after the pattern we have built.

Our experiences today were both distinct and kin to our other days. We sang “the Farthest Field” in morning worship, and tears followed for some. We inflated a peaceful silence for the first hour of our walk. We sojourned through woods, neighborhoods, and fields, and shared thoughts on the climate movement, faith, and the beauty of our surroundings. We better learned one another’s stories.

Joyful surprises found us – a trumpet sent us off with “When the Saints Come Marching In,” and a familiar trail angel, Ellie Richardson from the MACUCC, greeted us with warm brownies. Through headstands, on swingsets, and by way searching for dragons in the clouds, we played. Our team of Great Climate Marchers comprised our sturdy backbone. First Congregation of Pelham honored us this evening with a sumptuous feast.

We engaged in our final evening of spiritual conversation, sharing our gratitude and seeking to understand how the pilgrimage has informed “what is our work to do?” We each brought a unique perspective, our own sense of personal calling.

Yet one undercurrent churned beneath what each of us had to say: in this pilgrimage, something special has come together. The Pipeline Pilgrimage will continue to stand out for me as the most memorable and empowering piece of activism I have known. This pilgrimage has been marvelous in the thickest sense of the word. Our walk has been so much more than I could have expected, and not because of any one of us, but all of us together, led by something greater than ourselves.

So we hope to share this with you during our closing worship tomorrow at Christ Church United of Dracut, beginning at one o’clock and running until three. We invite you to join us in a moment of Easter hope and transformation, knowing that this pilgrimage – like all others – will never really end, but becomes a practice of resurrection when we bring it back into the rest of our lives.

May the light continue to guide our paths, and yours.

Day 10: what prayer?

As has threaded through these blog posts and our social media presence, the hospitality on this pilgrimage has been incredible to the point of almost being overwhelming. The banks of our hearts have overflowed from the constant shower of kindnesses. We lug around an embarrassing abundance in our boxes that spill over with extra bread and apples. Trail angels appear with seltzer water and candy bars, toasted almonds and still-warm brownies. We meet Buddy, an area man slated to have the pipeline located a stone’s throw from his pillow, to discover that the Discount Oil truck that honked at us did so in welcome, specifically finding us on the road to greet us, passing us back and forth three times.

We are humbled by the gift of his witness and of herons in flight over icy rivers, of tonight’s cavernous sanctuary and of an organic camaraderie whose quality I cannot articulate. There have been few times in life when I have felt so thoroughly grateful.

And yet, our central intention in setting out on this pilgrimage was not to enjoy hospitality and welcome. Our walk is not meant as a bonding retreat for climate activists, nor as an occasion for personal spiritual revitalization. We have walked 129 miles thus far because we are moved by the bleak knowledge that the impacts of climate change are terrible beyond our imagining. As I write on this penultimate night of our pilgrimage, I wish to refocus upon this grief at loss to come.

This morning, one of our pilgrims brought fresh to our attention these impacts, the fierce images we have already seen in Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy that we would prefer not to remember. Clips of bodies floating in the streets and people stranded in their apartment buildings, unbearable scenes that will become more frequent as climate change continues.

Over a week ago, one pilgrim made a comment that has lodged itself inside my memory like a splinter under skin: “I feel like I am saying goodbye to the land.” Even if this pipeline is not built, this entire region will be nearly unrecognizable by the end of the century, as bark beetles infest forests and the syrup buckets disappear, as variable heat and cold wrack ecosystems and houses alike, as the forest is cleared for industrial land use intensification to bring agricultural production to pace with climate risks.

Debbie, a pilgrim who joined our walk today, quoted a friend about seeking to “see every thing as if it were the answer to a prayer.” The approach resonated with me as a spiritual-psychological trick of sorts, a thoughtful practice to bring one towards a more faithful walk with God. I can envision the prayer answered in the presence of the homeless man with his cup for change, on the bruised feet of a pilgrim needing moleskin, even with the gas pipeline proposed a neighbor’s backyard.

But when I contemplate this with regard to the surrealistic mindwarp that is climate change, I come up dry. What prayer could be answered by this invisible existential menace around the corner, the paradox of simple and complex that shatters common sense like a brick through a window, that breeds hostility and fear where we most need unity and courage? I grasp for an answer, but I can’t begin to conceive of what it might be – what prayer could climate change’s awful reality possibly answer? We did not choose this cup, and I don’t know that it can be made palatable.

I suppose that’s where the prayer comes in.

Day 9: making a joyful silence

We’ve been joking for over a week now that we have not had quite enough suffering on the road to qualify us as proper Pilgrims. Sure, we’ve earned our fair share of blisters, but we’ve mostly enjoyed abundant hospitality from our hosts and potluck cooks, from the land and fair weather, from one another and the Spirit. We’ve had snow, but still no rain (though I may have just jinxed us). So on some level, today’s wintery conditions were a welcome challenge.

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Pilgrims shuffling cautiously along as we begin our trek. Michelle is happy enough about it.

Our day started with Shira sliding down the ice. As the group set out for the day, we brandished the ski poles from Windblown to traverse down the hill towards New Ipswich and then marched through a slushy roadside for hours. In the bite of the bitter wind, we all wore our heavy coats, and several of our pilgrims draped themselves in every layer they had brought.

Following lunch, Bruce invited us into an hour of intention and silence as we began our walk from Greenville to Milford. So we set off through the ice-caked forests of New Hampshire country roads in a contemplative mode, pausing to watch a stream, walking lost in thought, observing the swaying branches of frosted hemlocks.

Then, suddenly, Meg and Leah ran forward with our banner flapping above their heads, laughing. And, the next thing I knew, madness had broken it out within the silence. Erratic footsteps sounded on the ice and bursts of laughter ballooned and popped. Pilgrims wrapped themselves or blinded each other with the banner. Flapping our arms and charging at each another like bulls, spinning and snowboard sliding on the treaded ice, skipping with arms linked and mercilessly scooping others into our chain, we delighted in our silliness. For what must have been a full half hour, laughter echoed in the trees as we pranced and pantomimed.

Charles spoke of this moment later as, “tapping into that seven-year-old in all of us.” Bruce likened it to the jubilant “wheee!” of the streams and the pines. Our play was vital and necessary, and I doubt we would have found this space had the weather conditions been kinder to us, the going easier. Our clowning transformed the dreariness of a cold afternoon, inflating a home for absurdity in the face of winter and silence.

Maybe laughter can help us skate over the quagmire of despair, and into hopefulness. Maybe it’s just healthy not to be serious all the time.

I don’t want to risk over-interpreting this one.

But I am reflecting now on how joyous buffoonery can be a spiritual practice just as much as any solemn ritual, equally an excursion into sacred time, breaking us out of the ordinary and freeing us from our conditioning, ultimately helping us to see just a little differently.

Final Pilgrimage Weekend – Join Us

Dear Friends,

As we write tonight, the Pipeline Pilgrimage has traversed 119 miles from Pittsfield, MA, to Milford, NH. We have had over 100 people walk with us over the past 9 days; we have been graced by an abundance of delicious food and warm places to stay; and we have had people all along – including the media – notice that we’re doing something very different.

While we have bandaged feet and tired bodies, our spirits have been moved by the journey, the contemplation and the people we have met. Our daily worship and reflections continue to be inspired, and there seems evidence of the Spirit at work in all of us.
This weekend we will finish our pilgrimage by walking to Dracut and we would love to share the final few miles of our journey with you as we place one foot in front of the other on this journey of faith.

You can join for a few hours, for a day or for as long as you are able. If you need a ride from public transit, call or text 607-592-9328. We will also be able to provide shuttles back to your car where you join the pilgrimage for the day.

Saturday, April 11

8:00 a.m. Gathering at First Church of Nashua, 1 Concord St, Nashua, NH 03063
Walk Distance: 9 miles
End Point: First Congregational Church, 3 Main St, Pelham, NH

Sunday, April 12
8:00 a.m. Gathering at First Congregational Church, 3 Main St, Pelham, NH

12:00 p.m. Lunch Break
Walk Distance: 5miles
1:00 p.m. Closing Gathering and Worship at Christ Church United, 10 Arlington St, Dracut, MA
3:00 p.m. Finish – Shuttle back or walk with group to MBTA commuter rail.

We hope to see you this weekend.

Love and Faith,
Jay and Meg

Day 8: babies bearing witness

The presence of infants and children has been an unexpected delight, lightening our steps throughout the pilgrimage. We had a baby brigade for our walk today, two-month-old Fox and four-month-old Juniper, bundled in blankets over their home-knit gnomish duds. Now, as I begin to draft this during downtime prior to our community potluck, I see other young children accompanying their parents into the glowing pine atmosphere of the Windblown Ski Lodge.

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The baby brigade! Juniper with her mom, Hannah, and Fox with his dad, Craig.

With us, these babies are bearing witness. They bear witness to the risk of this pipeline, to the community rallying against it, to the rich hospitality boiling down like maple sap into syrup, to our desire to transform ourselves and our society towards a sane course on climate change.

Fundamental to bearing witness is the notion of testimony, as in court. And I wonder now, amidst the warm conversation here in the Lodge, what these burbling babies will say in fifty years about the decisions we made in the era of mass awareness about climate change. Will they laud our bravery and moral integrity? Or will they condemn our nearsightedness, bemoan us for forgetting that we hold the lives of billions in our collective hands?

Two days ago, a nine-month-old joined us in Greenfield. I learned over breakfast that his name was August, though August was not his birth month. And this peculiarity, alongside his vocal ministry of coos and excited squeals during morning worship, led my contemplation.

I feel drained in my arms and neck as I recall the way that his name suddenly thudded into me like a dart thrown into cork. Because we are now, as a world, in a period like the final days of August. Summer is coming to a close, and though the harvest continues for some time, we know that the fall lies ahead, and the winter beyond that.

Words uttered by Jesus before his crucifixion in the Gospel of Luke, “For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

The data is in – there will be a winter with climate change, and by any realistic assessment the way will not be easy. But a coming winter does not mean we consign ourselves to hypothermia, and, besides, we today decide the severity of this winter. We could opt for a freeze on fossil fuel infrastructure and lay our obsessive consumption to fallow. We decide whether to build a strong cabin to insulate many, or a lean-to merely for ourselves. Or, perhaps, we will choose to slog knee-deep in the snowfall, addled, digging barehanded through snow banks to uncover our treasures that the intensifying blizzard will continually submerge.

The understood severity of climate changer means that there will be no endless summer. The transition from a fossil fueled, consumptive world, to a green-and-gold idyll of wind power, farmers markets, and bike lanes for all will not be seamless. This summer may come, but if it does, it will follow winter. For the sake of August, Juniper, and Fox, I hope we might store up our late summer harvest wisely.

Day 7: the real work

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

-Wendell Berry, “The Real Work”

This morning, before we began the 14 miles of New Hampshire hills that roll between Winchester and Fitzwilliam, Meg read the above poem. Wendell Berry’s words wash away our fear and lead us towards embracing our ignorance. For today, I understand the need to admit our uncertainty if we wish to seek for authentic truths, or, in the context of climate change, a real path forward, sensible and commensurate with the scale of crisis.

In the Gospels, a whole lot of folks sit at Jesus’ feet and just don’t seem to get his teachings. Even his twelve disciples ignore the way of the Kindom he has been expounding for them to argue about who gets first place. The fault is not with Jesus’ pedagogy, but with the listening skills of his audience.

Today, I am seeing how many of those keenly interested in Jesus’ words fail to understand, because they listen to their own expectations, rather than the one speaking before them. Arguably, Jesus’ death came about through a (deliberate) misunderstanding of metaphor – seeing Jesus as a violent political revolutionary, because that is precisely what people expected the messiah to be.

When our minds cling fully to whatever brand of solution we buy into, it leaves no room for us to listen. But confessing uncertainty removes our mental earwax. As I walk this pilgrimage, my body is hammered with the awareness that when we admit we lack the specifics of life after death, when we admit that we do not hold the schematics for the evacuation out of climate crisis, we hollow out the space to learn together through listening and witnessing boldly.

It’s not just about the humility of admitting that we do not know the right idea yet. It’s about realizing that sometimes, the right answer is in proclaiming that we do not know. And so I propose we celebrate the mysteries, and embrace the community that can be built through confessing our uncertainly. Because it is only when we lay false hopes in the tomb can we see the new creation born ahead.

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Jimmy shreds.

I write this blog post now by firelight from a wood stove, and the warmth of a drifting fiddle and guitar. I am trying harder to listen – to the musicians and the crackle of the logs, to my fellow pilgrims and to those locals scared about the pipeline, to the message behind the hospitality from Fitzwilliam Inn and the Jensens, and to hear the way forward on climate present through this all.