by Ben Weilerstein, Social Media Coordinator the Western MA team
Some places have such a concentrated essence of fantastic and quirky happiness that it’s hard to imagine they really exist. Ashfield, the first town in which we stopped that is directly threatened by Kinder Morgan’s newest proposed pipeline in Massachusetts, was one of these places. The first indication of Ashfield’s unique qualities was our housing. Ricki Carroll, known locally as the “Cheese Lady” and internationally as the “Cheese Queen,” hosted us in her thoroughly and extravagantly decorated home. Upon arrival we were greeted by an art studio filled with glass mosaics, large round clocks worked into complex, dark wooden stands, walls covered with diverse sets of paintings, and shelves of handmade dolls. I was surprised to find our bedroom, as I had become so enraptured by all the art that I had forgotten I wasn’t in a museum.
The magical feeling continued and deepened when we attended an indigenous blessing of the land where a compressor station for the pipeline is proposed. We’d been to a number of church services before, and the religious and spiritual reverence for the earth and creation gave a deeper meaning and power to our work during Climate Summer. This ceremony, however, had a different format and focus. The crowd of about 50 stood in a large circle and held small, leafy bits of pine branches that had been distributed earlier. The interconnectedness of humans, land, water, and nature as a whole was invoked and affirmed throughout. Those who felt called to speak out did so, raising anger, fear, frustration and hope towards the heavens. Some sat and meditated. Enthralled by the whole experience, I stood for a while staring at the sloping hill and the forest behind it.
Later that night, we met members of the Ashfield Gas Pipeline Resistance group including Jen, Ben, Jim, Jane, Nan and Delta, the woman who led the ceremony. We all shared how we came back to involved, what we would be doing if we weren’t busy fighting a pipeline, and heard from Delta about the many colleges she attended and protests in which she participated in against nuclear power plants. They treated us to dinner, the first time our team had eaten at a restaurant all summer. The bounty and quality of the food lent some wonderful absurdity to the evening, as I again thought that Ashfield was simply too good to be true.
What made our experience in Ashfield so special, however, were not the comfortable beds nor artistic accommodations nor restaurant food nor even the intense commitment of the organizers there to the fight against the pipeline, though it was truly impressive. What made Ashfield so special was that our hosts very quickly shared something very deep with us. The blessing ceremony brought forward those feelings of love and empathy that are often ignored in our daily lives. The sharing of personal histories and wisdom about social movements and community during dinner that night served to include our team in the group and indeed in the community of Ashfield as a whole. Ashfield was fun, quirky, tasty, beautiful, and comfortable, but what made it so amazing was that these qualities were shared and experienced in a tight and welcoming community.