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.
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.
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.
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.
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