Thank you all for your kind words and well wishes for the dearly departed. Marla, bless her heart, managed to track down a bike that a friend had borrowed for a year in seminary, so now I am riding a different mount. Jim from City Bicycle fixed her up nicely, and we bonded over his Montana ancestry, a fellow westerner is always a welcome sight in these far lands. We are leaving Lowell tomorrow for Greenfield, Mass, a 100 mile journey broken up over two days. This will be a true test of my new steed, but I have faith in Jim’s craft and in Marla’s good sense. Yippee Kai Yay.
We spent the afternoon guests of Chip Hamlet, the jolly, giant parishioner who opened the Pawtucket Congregationalist Church to our stanky, beleaguered crew. His home has belonged in his family since the 1850’s, and he showed us a loft space where his father, who will turn 100 in February, used to play when he was a boy. He gave us a tour of his barn, built in the 1730’s by a family, the Varnums, that had lived there since the 1640’s. As a Colorado boy, dates like this make my head spin, no white man would set foot on my home soil for several centuries when these people were building these structures. The age of the civilization here in New England defies my Western concept of social time; families living on the same plot of land for centuries, farming and building and tending and growing and dying in never-ending succession down the generations
The age of the land and the people on it plays into what I’ve come to understand of the East and the West. In America, the West has forever been a land of uncertainty and adventure, a frontier where space was guaranteed, even if security was not. This space acted as a safety valve, a place where the wild, the dreamers, the restless souls could go and build their visions with their own hands. The East represented tradition, civilization, the safe and certain way of doing things. Here a man could til the soil his great-grandfather had staked out and tilled, drawing life forth from faithful soil, running and playing in barns and fields that had stood watch over his forefathers. Here the people grew into the land as they shaped it, and grew into each other too as time wore on and families bound together, sharing life and land and love and building a society that stood its ground down the generations.
Here, the old and traditional are venerated. They represent stability; they represent a connection to a deep identity as old as the ships that bore their ancestors to these shores. In the North, though, I have seen a streak of independence, of passionate desire for progress of a kind I have never experienced. Pastor Ruth, the head of the church that hosted us here this week, freely admitted to me that she sometimes found Christian doctrine limiting in her search for the Divine, and I was introduced today to the idea of a gender-free reading of scripture because God does not belong only to men or Man. Chip showed us a secret false barrel in his barn where runaway slaves were hidden from bounty hunters, and the sermon today was about the decision of the United Church of Christ to divest from fossil fuels across all of its congregations in New England. These are people whose tradition is bound up in the construction of a better world, building John Winthrop’s City on a Hill one brick at a time.
Tomorrow we ride west, into the Pioneer Valley and the land that stands to fall to frackers if we do not succeed. Greenfield seems ready to welcome us with open arms as the next phase of our adventure begins. The super-moon is huge and radiant orange in the deepening night, and Diana smiles on her beloved children as the riders sleep, one by one preparing for the voyage ahead. Goodnight, my comrades, tomorrow we ride.