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Climate Action Pilgrims Trace 150-Mile Pipeline Route

Jim Levulis

Thanks to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, April brings pilgrims to mind. Now, a group of people are days into their 12-day trek along the route of a proposed pipeline in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Jim Levulis went along for a step on the pipeline pilgrimage.With some resistance from the wind, the ringing church bells welcomed the travelers to their first resting stop on their 150-mile path.

“I welcome you all to First Congregational Church of Dalton,” said interim pastor Quentin Chin.

Having walked about five miles on day one from Pittsfield to Dalton, about 20 people sat down for a potluck dinner of lasagna, soup and vegetables.

Heading the pilgrimage is Jay O’Hara, who leads his fellow marchers in a moment of silence as they hold hands in a circle before sitting down to eat in the church’s dining hall. 

“Why don’t we have of gratitude and thanks for this bounty and for the walkers and for this beautiful day we had to walk in,” said O’Hara to the group.

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
The group holds hands before sitting down to eat at First Congregational Church of Dalton.

Pilgrimage leaders O’Hara and Meg Klepack are both Quakers and part of a faith-based climate action working group. O’Hara says the march is Quaker-led, but open to all faiths.

“Faith is the turning of dreams into deeds,” O’Hara said. “It is essentially acting on the unseen realities. Climate is like the ultimate unseen reality. So then the faith is the turning of our dreams of the world that we need, dealing with the nightmares of those dreams that could be if we keep down this path and turning our lives into the deeds that are going to change it.”

People from around the region and country, some of whom have taken part in earlier climate marches, are joining in. Along the way, the group participates in Quaker-based worship, which involves periods of silence of up to 30 minutes at a time. Klepack says faith plays a role for her by helping her realize everyone shares the climate, adding that it’s a daunting crisis that requires soul searching and listening.

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
Before stepping off on the 12-day trek, the group gathers for silent worship at South Congregational Church in Pittsfield.

“To hear what is mine and to understand what is being asked of us individually in this time of crisis,” Klepack said. “Is living a typical conventional life style appropriate given the scale and complexity of the climate crisis? Yet we know that no individual can solve this problem on their own so listening deeply for what is mine within the scope of what needs to be done is very important.”

O’Hara and Klepack are two of a core group of three that has set out to walk the entire Massachusetts and New Hampshire portions of the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. Kinder Morgan is aiming to build what could be a 36-inch pipe, each day carrying 2.2 billion cubic feet of gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale to a distribution hub in Dracut. The company insists its customers, regional energy companies, are calling for more pipeline capacity to lower energy costs. Aside from environmental concerns, opponents say the pipeline’s gas would be exported to Kinder Morgan’s benefit. According to the company, if everything stays on schedule including federal regulatory approval the pipeline would be in service by late 2018.  

Stopping to eat, meet and sleep at community and religious centers along the way, the pilgrims intend to meet with others opposing the pipeline or just interested in what they have to say. Karen Ribeiro of Amherst is on the steering committee of Climate Action Now, which opposes the project. Her pilgrimage will last more than 40 miles from Pittsfield to Deerfield.

“I wanted to just have a visceral experience of the route and walk the land myself,” said Ribeiro.

While he says they didn’t plan it that way, O’Hara adds the pilgrimage is timely as many other religions are celebrating Holy Week.

“The climate situation presents us with that question of – we have a way of being in the world of burning fossils unhindered and that way has to die and be put in the ground,” O’Hara said. “The question is how we are going to live into the new life of what comes next.”

And, as for their equipment…

“A pair of clothes to walk in and a pair of clothes to change into when we got to the place and a sleeping bag and a toothbrush and that’s about it,” explained Klepack.

The core group members plan to arrive in Dracut, the end of the proposed pipeline, on April 12th.

Click here for more information about the pipeline pilgrimage.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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