Pipeline backdrop to pilgrimage

A group of Quakers and others from throughout New England embarked April 1 on a pilgrimage through parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire where Kinder Morgan has proposed a natural gas pipeline. The group will make stops in Winchester and Fitzwilliam this week.

On this Easter Sunday, a day for rebirth and renewal, a group of pilgrims continues its 12-day trek through parts of northern Massachusetts, on its way to the Monadnock Region.

The members are not walking in protest, but in contemplation of a large-scale natural gas pipeline Houston-based Kinder Morgan proposes to build in the region.

And while local concern about the proposal gave rise to the pilgrimage, the young Quaker group leading it asks that everyone stop and consider the larger, global issue: Climate change.

"We want to walk the route of the proposed pipeline not only to talk about the local impact, but to connect the pipeline to the broader issues of climate change," said Meg Klepack of Burlington, Vt., who with a handful of other Quakers planned the pilgrimage.

Klepack is a member of the The New England Young Adult Friends (Quaker) Climate Working Group. The group consists of 18 to 35 year olds who are calling for spiritual contemplation and togetherness to better address what they believe is a world-wide crisis.

More than 90 people have signed up to take part in a portion or the entire 150-mile walk, which began April 1 in Pittsfield, Mass., and will end April 12 in Dracut, Mass. This week, the pilgrimage will pass through the towns of Winchester and Fitzwilliam whose residents have expressed concern about Kinder Morgan's proposal.

The company is preparing to file an application for the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline with federal regulators at the end of the year. If approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the pipeline will traverse about 70 miles of southern New Hampshire, including the local towns of Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.

The pipeline's path leads right through Winchester resident Cyndy Ryder's property. Ryder, who has lived in the town since 1976, said Saturday she's opposed to the pipeline and any other project that invests in fossil fuels and not renewable energy.

"I don't like the pipeline even if it didn't go over my land," she said.

Although Ryder is not participating in the pilgrimage, she and other members of the United Church of Winchester are lending a hand as host to the pilgrims, who will make a stop in the town Monday night.

The church has planned a potluck dinner for between 5 and 6 p.m. The pilgrims will rest at the church that night before beginning their walk Tuesday morning to Fitzwilliam.

But they won't do so without a hearty breakfast, thanks to members of Putney Friends Meeting, a Quaker congregation in the Vermont town. Elisabeth Dearborn said about six people volunteered to cook breakfast and lunch for the pilgrims, which will be delivered Tuesday by 7 a.m.

Dearborn said she met Jay O'Hara of Cape Cod, who is leading the pilgrimage with his partner Klepack, at past meetings of Putney Friends and learned about the journey through him. She said she strongly supports the group's efforts.

"They're not traveling with a particular point of view. They are traveling to create dialogue." Dearborn said. "It sets a model for all of us to be asking the kind of questions we should be asking."

O'Hara said by phone Wednesday that Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline is the biggest, most important fossil fuel project under consideration in the northeast. The fact that society is continuing to develop plans for pipelines when the environmental effects of burning fossil fuels are widely understood is a tragedy, he said.

"Our society is continuing to barrel down a course that the scientists tell us will lead to grave disaster," O'Hara said. "We don't seem to be showing signs of a concerted effort to change the direction we're going. The pipeline is an example of that."

Klepack agreed, saying climate change is not just an environmental issue; it's a human issue. She described the pilgrimage as an opportunity for inward contemplation on the topic and not as a protest march targeting Kinder Morgan.

"We've got some serious soul searching to do about what living a good life means," she said.

The spiritual journey that the pilgrims will experience together is important to Winchester resident Jesse Ryder, who signed up to take part in the pilgrimage, from start to finish. He is a member of the United Church of Christ in Winchester and said he looks forward to the potluck dinner and overnight stay there.

Just hours before boarding a bus from Greenfield, Mass., to Pittsfield, Mass., he said by phone that the pilgrimage would be a new endeavor for him.

"What really makes the pilgrimage different is it's not in protest. It's really a way of forming a sense of solidarity and getting comfort in the fact that other people feel the same way you do."

O'Hara and he realizes a 12-day pilgrimage is not going to solve the world's climate change crisis, but that he hopes it will raise awareness and positively change the lives of those who undertake the journey.

"The most we can hope for is to change ourselves."

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or adandrea@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @ADandreaKS.