Monday, November 23, 2015

Mission Statement

[For periodic updates or to comment visit:]

As you will already know if you have been following this blog on the ‘updates’ page, I began a cross-country walking pilgrimage in the spring of 2015, with the parallel intentions of:  paying respect to the earth, engaging in conversation about climate concerns with people I am meeting along the way, and as a healing meditation for (as I put it) my intermittently misanthropic heart.  I offer a bit about my history and motivation below.

The result of two seasons of effort have been mixed.  In 2015 I made it as far as Ft. Morgan (eastern) Colorado, where I was forced to suspend the trek due to an intervening medical event, brought about by excessive heat and dehydration.  The condition was caught early and treated, but it also required a bit of recuperation.  I made the decision to do this recuperating back at home, and to set out again in the following year. Last year’s walk between Ft. Morgan and Crown Point, Indiana brought me another third of the way, before I took a nosedive on Route 30 (caught on a piece of wire road trash), and fractured my jaw.  Again, I came home to recuperate.  This time the recovery process required some disagreeable medical intervention, and follow-up dentistry(!)

During my months of walking I was fortunate to have enjoyed many types of support from a very generous network of friends from home, and people (‘road angels’!) along the way.  Walk days numbered 71 in '15 and 55 last year, and though it’s hard to be exact on this, the total miles fell somewhere between 1000-1100 in '15 and around 800-850 miles last year – not too far shy of 2000 miles altogether.  My walk days varied considerably; on ‘good’ days I was able to make between 20 and 25 miles, and there were also some 8-10 mile days.  And although I have taken rides under various extreme weather and other circumstances, I am gratified to say that I crossed the Rocky Mountains on foot!

History / inspiration (from original Mission Statement)

The idea of walking the continent has been a regularly recurring theme for me for most of my adult life, although the inspiration/motivation has changed many times. As much of my sporadic political and social activism has come from a negative place (anger, outrage), similarly, this idea has often sprung from depression and despair -- in the last decades, over constant environmental degradation and abuse, Iraq wars, drone killings (!), gun-mania, and who the hell are we ‘amerikans’, anyhow?

Between 1992 and 2003 I lived in a Buddhist community and in 1998 was ordained as a priest, though I am not currently in formal practice. Throughout this time I continued to think about pilgrimage as a practice. More recently I took the idea of walking practice on the road, on a Spanish pilgrimage via the Camino Santiago de Compostela in 2012, and found the experience to be intensely transformative, as well as being a form of ‘moving meditation’. My route took me from the Spanish Pyrenees near the French border, to the city of Santiago de Compostela, near the west coast – a distance of about 800 kilometers. So, as one can see I am a ‘seasoned’ long-distance walker, if only lightly seasoned! (In the 80’s I had experienced distance walking in England, on some of the numerous footpaths that crisscross the country.)

It must also be said that I have become more intentional about personal fitness and health after undergoing cancer treatment from 2008 - 2010. This period was transformative, too, in particular ways, especially in regard to life choices and priorities, and the clear imperative I feel to listen to, and honor internal guidance. The decisions I have taken since then have had the flavor of celebration and gratitude for this phase of my life.

Although I have been quite happy, personally, during the past few years in semi-retirement (having no pension I cannot retire fully!), there is no way to ignore the deeply disturbing, continuing global trends of environmental destruction and waste, acceleration of weapons production and distribution, public apathy (or paralyzing polarization), and the unbridled corporate greed that seems to be underpinning a culture of ruthless global exploitation. What to do? One without deep pockets can volunteer and rally, and sign/distribute petitions. Make phone calls to elected officials. And watch small gains in social justice all but swept away by large losses…

Meanwhile, in contrast with the part of me that enjoys my varied and busy life these days, it also seems that I have not been ‘cured’ of the pilgrimage bug so much as motivated to continue. The most recent incarnation of this walking plan, and I think the 'truest' way to express what inspires it comes down to the simple (though by no means easy!) act of paying respect, through walking and meditation, to the planet that we humans are so effectively suffocating. I will not deny feeling a certain element of despair and skepticism that humans can turn the tide of such massive pollution and plunder committed on relatively small planet upon which we depend absolutely. But, as well as the (one might say) ‘karmic imperative’ driving this need to express respect for the environment by walking, it seems important to make the acquaintance of Americans across the country (upon whom I will also depend along the way), and to see where conversations about climate might lead. Yes -- it would be possible to do this by car, or bicycle for that matter. But a person on foot has a better chance of actually ‘being where s/he is’, and connecting with others. And walking is a ‘statement’ I feel able to make.  

Logistics and Practical Matters

Subject to weather and other circumstances, I will plan to resume the trek in April of 2017, starting from Crown Point, Indiana, and continuing east on the American Discovery Trail, a not-very-well mapped network of back roads and former railway/canal right-of-ways.  I hope to be able to complete the journey to the East Coast by the fall of next year.  I am STILL open to having others join for all or part of the way!  If there is any interest, comments may be left on the ‘periodic updates’ page, and we can discuss options.


As mentioned, I have been grateful to receive support (including financial encouragement!) from some very generous people both at home and along the way.  And in the coming year I may be similarly dependent.  However, I am all but entirely outfitted at this point, and also may have some of own resources to work with at the outset.  As before I’d like to urge people who feel so inspired, to make donations to the various groups doing vital environmental work in the U.S. and abroad, including: 350.orgThe Center for Biological DiversityReverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, Avaaz, among others.

If circumstances prevent my departure, I will return any offerings people have made to me, or pass them along to some or all of the groups named above. Despite two seasons' worth of experience, I do not take for granted my physical or mental capability to continue the venture, or assume that I will make it all the way across the country. With a certain knowledge of the challenges involved, I am no less intimidated by the prospect!

For updates check out my blog updates here.

Setsurin Melissa McCarthy
(last update -- 4/10 2017)

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