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Meeting Up with the Pilgrimage

We’ve noticed over the last week that there have been several attempts by several folks who have failed to meet up with the pilgrimage as expected. I swear we’re not playing hard to get! So this post is just to disseminate information further so that it’s easier.

1) We have our walking directions posted! If you are trying to find us, we’ve posted our route for each day so that you can follow along where we expect to be walking. PLEASE VISIT THE ROUTE PAGE

2) Make sure you have Meg or my phone number. Mine is 774-313-0881. Call us when you are expecting to join so we can give you up to the minute route information. If you aren’t able to reach us – cell service is very spotty in southern New Hampshire – please leave a message or send a text.

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Day 6: as like bread torn apart

We have crossed a threshold. Tonight marks the halfway point of our Pilgrimage, having put six days behind us with six more ahead. This afternoon, we crossed from Massachusetts into New Hampshire, the border demarcated by an unassuming stone tablet. Searching deeper, a feeling grips us tonight that we have entered a new phase of our journey, pushed beyond a tipping point now that so many of our walkers have had to return to the patterns of regular life.

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Pipeline pilgrims in two states at once!

As Meg put it this evening in a time of spontaneous contemplation, “the streams of others have had to part from ours.” Though we may have spent as few as 24 or 48 hours together, we have come to love and hold them tight in a unique community, a group built together that feels not just empowering, but also necessary for us to engage soulfully in this work. We think of Rob running for maple water through the woods and of Jacob climbing pines, of ecstatic dancing in fields and contagious yawning sessions, of ideas exchanged and hearts opened, of presences still felt.

The departure of those who have become beloved to us feels for me as like handfuls of bread torn apart from their loaf. Our wholeness has been split, breaking apart pieces of what we have crafted together, an act of disruption necessary, but more than a little crumby. At the end of our impromptu evening worship, we all joined hands, and I felt our community was making itself whole anew. With our palms soft and warm as dough, we made ourselves ready to be shaped into a new community, ready to rise fresh tomorrow morning.

We remaining pilgrims wrestle now with holding our palms open and not grasping. The absence of friends weighs on us like a millstone. Ours hearts ache for Karen and Katherine, Rob and Morgan, Jacob and Satoru, Lauren and Maple and Jess, and all the others who have travelled with us, be it for days or a few hours.

Honoring their time with us, we now put our hands to kneading a new group, as we must continue to do each coming day of this pilgrimage. And we look with gleaming anticipation to those who have left with hopes to rejoin us, to Sue and Ben, Tessa and Bruce. And this touches on what, for me, is the core of faith: not merely hoping, but fully knowing that somehow the streams of all our lives will soon be poured into the same cup again.

Our overflowing compassion for all those that have walked with us and as us. We cannot wait to see you again.

Day 5: measuring stories in footprints (extended Easter reflection)

Along this route, I keep mentioning that I have never done anything like the Pipeline Pilgrimage before. And then I remember that this is only mostly true. Almost exactly five years ago, during senior year of high school, a best friend and I walked from San Diego to Los Angeles over Easter Break.

Unlike the Pipeline Pilgrimage, my friend Eric and I did not walk because of any convictions, political or spiritual. We walked because we wanted to, because it was absurd, and because all our friends were visiting colleges over break. Our Human Geography teacher was livid when we told him about our trip. A reformed mountain man, he asked us why we didn’t just drive an hour to backpack the Southern leg of the stunning Pacific Crest Trail, rather than slog through the heart of the urban sprawl octopus that is coastal Southern California. We didn’t have a solid answer.

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Cool guys returning from a journey.

But in our walk, Eric and I learned more about the anatomy of our home turf than we had in our previous 18 years. Through the soles of our feet, we felt the asphalt exoskeleton of the Southern California megalopolis. We saw the inventedness of this paradise-on-earth in the cookie-cutter cul-de-sacs and non-native flowers, irrigated by diminishing northern snowmelt. We intimately learned the paradox of a sarcophagal superhighway alongside the infinite horizon of the Pacific, our sight focused by the toil of self-propelled motion, vulnerable without the barriers of windshields, high speeds, or convenience.

Five years ago, Eric and I took a walk, not a pilgrimage. These two journeys, both traveling on road shoulders for numerous days, through strikingly gorgeous places threatened by a dependence on fossil fuel infrastructure, are similar superficially. Yet the intentions that launched the first journey are squarely different than those driving the Pipeline Pilgrimage.

Last time, plates rattled over our families’ Easter dinners as an earthquake shook Southern California, and neither Eric or I felt the tremors, our own exhausted legs trembling on the road. This year, we walk so that we might better feel the tremors of conscience, seeking interiorize how this pipeline would validate the quakes fracking causes in the lands and communities of Appalachia.

Near the beginning of my first walk, I learned that my feet were not invulnerable to blisters. My cheetah print Converse shaped an infected black crescent across my right heel that lingered until well into my first year of college. Now, on this journey, we process the fact that our hearts are not invulnerable to the process of blister and callous, either.

Eric and I ended our journey with a trip to Venice Beach, where I chased Pacific Common Dolphins, my cousin Malcolm and I got conned out of $40, and Eric and I absentmindedly scored my uncle’s Prius a hefty parking ticket. One week from now, we will end our pilgrimage at the terminus of the pipeline, where the gas will be shipped to Nova Scotia for export, expediting climate change. On this walk, we bear more doubt as to the joys and sorrows that the end of our road will bring.

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Sojourning from Woolman Hill following Easter worship.

On my first Easter walk, Eric and I snubbed a surfer-turned-youth minister who invited us to Easter service as he ate salmon paste on Keebler crackers at a beachside table. When asked why we walked, we gave our stock answer, “for facial hair,” and then continued on our way.

This Easter, several dozen of us sat together in morning worship at Woolman Hill. Baby Jasper emotively burbled the living sounds of church, at one point singing out a clear cadence amidst his vocal stumbling. Orange ladybugs massed around small holes in the meeting house corners, moving gently across the windows and walls, worshipping alongside us by hatching or mating or celebrating life in whatever way ladybugs do in the drywall. And, in the evening, we accepted graciously the invitation to fellowship and enjoyed an abundant Passover Seder shared with us by All Souls UU in Greenfield.

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A vibrant seder at All Souls. Good food and fellowship all around.

Reflecting now, I better see how Eric and I did in fact walk purposefully. We walked because, as with the Pipeline Pilgrimage, we felt we could do no other. We needed to measure for ourselves whether the stories of Southern California that we had been raised on rang true.

Five years ago, after several days of our walk, Eric and I collapsed in a Huntington Beach motel and watched Gossip Girl, the flashing images overpowering and nonsensical. Now, we go on pilgrimage aware that much is the same of the narratives we have absorbed about climate. We walk now searching not the television flicker of false hopes, but seeking a real and constant light that appears only in our unsettled quest for it, on pilgrimage now yearning for narratives of hope on climate change that hold any real truth.

Day 4: the sinkhole

This morning, the Pipeline Pilgrimage encountered our first real challenge since hitting the road. Sue walked out to her Ford Taurus in the parking lot of UCC Conway to find that a massive sinkhole had appeared beneath her car overnight.

From a distance, the sinkhole looked bad enough – 4 feet across, directly beneath the frame, and alarmingly close to the tires. Upon standing by the edge, one saw the situation was much more treacherous. The offending hole was some eight feet deep, dropping down to the septic tank, which had been exposed by a split in the concrete casement. The ground threatened further collapse in the day’s early moisture, the earth peeling away near the front left tire, a precarious two foot mud overhang that could give way suddenly.

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Five harried minutes of dressing and lacing boots and a minute of astounded head scratching followed Sue’s call-to-action, and then the pilgrims leapt into action. A few of us proposed an attempt to drive around the hole, but the turn radius was too wide. We considered knocking on doors to find boards to bridge the hole, but given the overhang this attempt might, too, land Sue’s car in deep shit. This really left us only one other option: we had to pick up the car and move it away from the collapsed ground by hand.

So we pried our fingers beneath the tailgate of the car, and after a few minutes of grunting, straining, and “one, two, three,” managed to rotate the rear and then the front of the vehicle clear of the hole. Jay drove the car to safety, and we posted stantions around the perimeter of the collapse. Hoots, hollers, and earnest hallelujahs at our success reverberated down Whatley Street. The buzz of celebratory relief in the air was liquid thick. The whole experience seem unreal in retrospect.

Just after, as we tried to breathe out our adrenaline shakes during morning worship, Sue brought to bear the day’s early excitement as an analogy for climate change. In so many words, she spoke of a tendency to face her problems individually. Yet the situation with her car and the septic sinkhole was obviously impossible to face alone. Climate change, too, she expounded, is far too immense a problem for any one of us to take on individually. Without thoughtful coordination, even the most impassioned attempt to face climate change won’t budge our world from the risk of collapse, but it might well strain your fingers and throw out your back.

Faith can move mountains. Pilgrims under pressure can move a Ford Taurus. If we orient ourselves towards the correct hopes, and coordinate ourselves in community, we might just be able to move ourselves away from collapse, before the earth gives way fully beneath.

(Note: When several pilgrims returned to Conway to pick up their cars, the whole church parking lot had been cordoned off. A prayer from us to United Congregational Church in Conway that Easter joy might be found despite this moment of tomb.)

Day 3: walking wonder and grief

We’re well past the eleventh hour on Good Friday, the most heartbreaking day in the Christian liturgical calendar, so be warned: the tone of this post is pretty somber.

Just before setting out this morning, the day’s pilgrims each shared two or three words to bring intention towards what they would be walking with today. Responses ranged from “embracing our wonder” to “broken and crucified.”

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Hillary showing us one location along the proposed NED pipeline route. Earlier, we passed spot where the pipeline would run through a Mass udubon sanctuary directly next to Nine Mountain Retreat Center.

We then set out into the mist of the gray morning, carrying the first two miles in deliberate silence, reflecting on these intentions. A distinct solemnity hung damp in the air around us. But, for me at least, it brought an earnest wish for renewed purpose. Emerging from this caesura came a spacious vitality, not so unlike the frost required for Easter lilies. And, not so unlike the stretch of Holy Week itself.

In the beginning, all I could hear was the crunch of our footsteps and the streams of snowmelt, my own breathing and subdued birdsong, the sudden burst of flapping as two wood ducks spooked and alighted from an ice-crusted lake. I tried to maintain focus upon the grief and bereavement of Good Friday, hoping to thaw the ice sheet of embarrassed restraint that keeps us from falling into our own vulnerability to confess the fearsome reality of both the crucifixion and climate change.

Yet for all my sober intent, I found myself distracted by the lightness of my heart after two days of delightful fellowship and good fortunate, of great food and beautiful scenery (and, at Nine Mountain, even a hot tub!). I found myself distracted by the awakening of the woods in Spring, intoxicated by the storybook hills unfolding along our path. It was all too good, too joyous, to see anything else.

And then, suddenly, a mechanical racket lanced through the quiet, the thudding of a Caterpillar along a dirt road, punctuated by the baring ellipses of the vehicle in reserve. The rumbling and blaring was deafening to ears adjusted to the whisperings of the landscape. And it struck me that this was a parable for my dilemma this day, and for a root cause of climate crisis, too.

We become absorbed by the immediate, by creeks, swaying branches, and friendships, as well as our blistering feet. We sink ourselves so into today that we neglect the obvious – our call to preserve what we fall in love with for future generations, even for those children alive today. Our present surroundings distract us until, like Jesus beaten and killed by the authorities, or like a boisterous Caterpillar during a period of silence, or like a world with unconstrained emissions, that which we love today loses its chance of tomorrow.

But maybe, if we are honest enough to grieve at the path we are headed down, we might just be wise enough to choose a better walk.

Day 2: a day to savor

Today was glorious. Within an hour of leaving the church in Dalton, we were outside the reach of Town, walking a country road among rolling hills of hemlock and white pine. The sense of spring was definite in the lighthearted birdsong, pleasant conversation, and our constant shedding of layers. For the first time in months, I breathed full, fresh air, and felt I was back in the land, away from the strip malls and neon signs that can seem so omnipresent.

Just before setting out, during morning Quaker worship, our host Sue Barnes, spoke from amidst the silence, “I feel so blessed to have just shared breakfast with you all on the day our Lord shared the Last Supper with his disciples.” The joy behind these words warmed me, yet the depth of her analogy cut to my heart. On this pilgrimage, we gather in sweet fellowship while we grieve an unnecessary pipeline that may well be built, threatening the lives of all those in the future. Two millennia previously, the twelve disciples gathered a final time with their friend and spiritual teacher, also blessed by the hospitality of a stranger’s table, uncertain about the future, but well aware that Jesus’ actions in the temple would not be without retribution.

Our Maundy Thursday has been wonderful, a day to savor. The sun has warmed our backs, and the conversation has flowed from faith to carbon taxes and everything in between. I learned to distinguish a yellow birch from a paper birch, and heard a lewd joke about tree species in the process.

With plenty of daylight remaining, we have been welcomed to the Nine Mountain retreat center, a beautiful spot in the woods of Plainfield. They have an obvious distaste for the Northeast Energy Direct given their table of anti-pipeline literature and buttons featuring a toad with bulging eyes and the caption, “Please keep pipelines out of my home.” The smell of roasting vegetables wafts throughout the house, colorful tapestries adorn the walls, and (my personal favorite) a hot tub awaits us outside. We are comfortable, warm, and safe, and the sounds of fellowship and live piano drift up the stairwell.

Today has been ideal in so many ways, a blessing for us all. I meditate on what we are walking for, and contemplate how we, like the disciples at the Last Supper, might rejoice in what we are given, and yet not, like the disciples that night in Jerusalem, make the grave mistake of falling asleep in the garden.

Day 1: Communitas

With bleary eyes, I write this first blog post from the office of First Congregational Church in Dalton, where we will be turning in tonight following an evening of potluck, fellowship, reflection, and a bit of song. We walked today through strip malls along busy roads, by a pulping mill, and past Silver Lake – contaminated by PCBs from the adjacent factory, and apparently for some time unable to freeze in winter. We exchanged glances with a troupe of deer and highway drivers as we walked bearing our one banner, “Climate Change: an invitation to new life? #pipelinepilgrimage.”

Though only we walked under five miles today, we’re all pretty beat – the day has been a joyful whirlwind of introductions, conversations, and new faces, some of whom will we with us just for the day, others who will be with us for the full twelve. Tomorrow there will be other new faces joining us, and others blessing us with food, lodging, and support. It is particular to perch on the end of the first day, and ponder what manner of Pipeline Pilgrimage sub-culture might emerge as we continue on this walk.

About a year ago, I took a class on Christian Pilgrimage. Fascinating as the course was, I didn’t expect that it would have a direct application to my own life. But in light of the Pipeline Pilgrimage, I find my mind going back to the experiences of all those pilgrims trekking along the Camino de Santiago, climbing Mt. Sinai to see the burning bush, seeking miraculous cures from the bones of saints and from desert hermits living atop pillars. To set out on all these pilgrimages meant leaving behind comfort and custom to seek a different and more faithful walk, and it is in this spirit that we engage in this pilgrimage, too. Through our walk, we aim to look inside ourselves and understand what it means to support infrastructure that threatens the wellbeing of the next generation, and all those beyond.

More or less the biggest concept in pilgrimage theory is “communitas,” the idea that pilgrimage creates something of a sacred space in which parties can transcend conventional social boundaries. It seems to me that this is precisely what it means to address climate crisis effectively –to come together, to unify despite boundaries and ideologies, to together forge a new path, a walk both more faithful and more sane.

The most striking instance of this communitas we all felt today was cross-generational participation. One family, in particular, joined us for the day, spanning three generations, from grandmother to 4-year-old granddaughter, pushed along in her stroller. The young pilgrim’s frog-hops and pig noises brought an appropriate light of joy to our walk, but also grounded our footsteps in somber authenticity. For me, her presence was a reminder – as to why and for whom we make this walk, as to what is at stake – and a question mark, as to how we will change ourselves, as to what we might do.

What Makes This a Quaker-Led Pilgrimage?

“One of the strengths of Quakerism is not telling people what they should be doing, other than encouraging them to listing within.”

Debbie articulated that basic yet profound tenant of Quakerism on our planning call the other week as we reflected deeply together on how to hold a Quaker-led walk that is welcoming to all. This journey is one that will be walked by people of many faiths, yet it is our intention to create a uniquely Quaker space.

The intentions document that we wrote together includes many of the aspirations that under-girds the Quakerness of this walk. The main manifestation will of course be frequent silent waiting worship, our lack of signs and chants, and the ubiquitous “queries”. Friends have a long tradition of holding a searching question in mind, in worship and business to explore together a topic. Climate change is certainly something that begs more questions than it does answers.

We have a vision of using the framework of the stations of the cross each day to explore our relation to the pain and grief, and the invitation to new life that the threat of climate collapse presents us. It seems likely that we’ll take some time each day in the large group or smaller breakout groups exploring these ideas with a daily query.

I also wanted to share some ways in which logistically this will be a Quaker let pilgrimage: namely that whatever business or decisions need to be made will be done so in the manner of Friends. The team of Friends (mostly the YAF Climate Working Group) who have initiated the walk will continue to provide leadership and the main decision making body of the pilgrimage, and will broaden the group to fit the needs of the decision being made.

Well, nothing too earth shattering here, but wanted to share some more of these thoughts. Can’t wait to see you all out walking today and for the next 12 days!

Community Potlucks

Each evening of the pilgrimage, we’ll be hosting a community potluck.

Please join us for an evening of food and fellowship in support of the Pipeline Pilgrimage.  Bring a dish to pass and hear the stories of the walk and the local efforts to confront the pipeline project. Please also bring a plate, cup and utensils if possible.

Locations

Wednesday, April 1, 6:30pm – First Congregational Church in Dalton, 514 Main St, Dalton, MA

Thursday, April 2, 6:30pm – Nine Mountain Retreat Center, 9 Mountain St, Plainfield, MA

Friday, April 3, 6:30pm – United Congregation Church of Conway, 44 Whatley St, Conway, MA

Saturday, April 4, 6:30pm – Shintaido Farm Retreat Center, 595 River Rd, Deerfield, MA

Sunday, April 5 (Passover Seder Potluck – no shellfish, pork, leavened (yeast) bread, or mixed dairy/meat dishes), 5:00pm – All Souls Unitarian Church, Greenfield, MA, 399 Main Street, Greenfield, MA 01301

Monday, April 6, 6:30pm – United Church of Winchester, 99 Main St, Winchester, NH 03470

Tuesday, April 7 – Supper will be provided for pilgrims – no potluck

Wednesday, April 8, 6:30pm – The Lodge at Windblown Cross Country Skiing, 1180 Turnpike Rd, New Ipswich, NH 03071

Thursday, April 9, 6:30pm – Unitarian Universalist Church, 20 Elm St, Milford, NH 03055

Friday, April 10, 6:30pm – First Church of Nashua, 1 Concord St, Nashua, NH 03063

Saturday, April 11 – Supper will be provided for pilgrims – no potluck

Logistics, Logistics, Logistics

Hello Friends! We’ve just published the list of where we’re going to be when every day. There are still some places to be determined, but we are 3/4 of the way there with housing. What a gift! The main thing is, that if you plan to join us, you can now find out where and when we’re going to be meeting, by checking out the new Logistics page.

We’ve also published a whole lot of other logistical information, if you haven’t found it already: including public transportation connections and the scoop on housing and food etc. If you’re planning on joining the pilgrimage at any point, please take the time to read through this important information.

I also want to raise up our intentions document. In embarking on this walk, this pilgrimage, we are setting out some clear intentions that make this unlike other protests or marches that you may have been to. Please take the time to read, reflect, and digest it. And we’d love it if you had reflections to post them in the comments at the bottom of the page.

Love and Light to All!