Stories from the Tar Sands Walk in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom

The second annual Tar Sands Free Kingdom Walk is over. Of course, there are feelings of satisfaction, relief and exhaustion. But also a strong sense of longing, of missing the solid shared purpose we held together over those two days. How can I convey what a wonderful, important experience this was?

Twenty-five of us walked out of North Troy, VT (near the Canadian border) on Friday morning, following the route of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline. We were honoring the land, celebrating the communities of the Northeast Kingdom and calling attention to plans for transporting tar sands products through this old pipeline. We had six energetic orange-clad Climate Summer bike riders along with us for logistical support. It was to be 18 miles to Irasburg on main roads, farm lanes and snowmobile trails. We set off down VT 105 to the joyous music of the Bread and Puppet Marching Band, who walked with us for the first mile or so. What a great send-off! 

Then down to the River Road Bridge on the Missisquoi River for a lunch break and a press conference. The historic covered bridge was draped by Tyler's banner, created for the occasion: “Protect the Kingdom from Tar Sands”. We talked and listened and ate, then, gathering our forces, continued on. It was hot and steamy on Friday afternoon, “a real sunscreen day”, as Paula put it. A strong west wind came up as we walked down East Hill Road, cooling us off, but forcing up to fold up the banners we were carrying.

We arrived around 3:30 PM at Dexter Randall's house on Kittredge Road in South Newport. The horse barn where we camped overlooks his farm, 400 acres of rich hay and pasture land. Dexter, a former state legislator and a down-to-earth philosopher, welcomed us with open arms. Patrick had just arrived with the NOFA pizza oven and, with help from many volunteers, was quickly setting up and getting ready to produce pizzas for the hungry walkers. We raised tents, chopped vegetables and settled in for the evening.

Ominous dark clouds scudded over on the brisk wind, but they continued on past without a sprinkle. As we munched delicious pizza and salad (vegetables from 4Acre Farm in Barton), the NEKtones, a great local band, came and set up to entertain us. Later in the evening, after a spectacular sunset, the rain finally came in earnest, with thunder and lightning, forcing the band to unplug and everyone to scurry under cover. When the rain stopped, we watched the iridescent moonlight through fast-moving clouds.

In the morning, we improvised an early breakfast: potluck fruit salad, leftover pizza, granola with yogurt and, of course, lots of coffee and tea. An early drizzle cooled us off and reminded us to bring our rain gear for the day's walk. Ruby led us in a ritual of remembering all the reasons why we were walking this path, calling out the names of our home places and of waterways in the Kingdom and beyond.

Then we off, up over Clark Mountain, through the roughest part of the Walk. We were joined on Saturday by many new walkers, including Geneviève and Anne-Marie, organizers from Equiterre in Montréal. The snowmobile trail we followed over the mountain, flanked directly on the left by the pipeline right of way, was tough walking, but we helped each other and made it through, stopping for snacks and water fill-ups on the Irasburg side. Tyson, a Fox News producer, showed up to do a short piece on the Walk, then we continued on. In last mile or so, down Back Coventry Road and VT 58, we were drenched by a furious downpour and thunderstorm.

We marched on, cheered by the new structure in Ron Holland's yard: a salvaged piece of oil pipeline newly blazoned with “No Tar Sands Anywhere” on one side and “No Tar Sands Ever” on the other. We arrived at the Church Fair looking soggy but happy as we circled the Irasburg Green singing, “This Land is Your Land” and “They are Digging Us a Hole”. Betsy, KC, two of the Climate Summer riders had set up our booth at the Fair and were busy spreading the word on tar sands until the skies opened up. Finally the rain ended and the sun brought all the fairgoers out again. The Climate riders stayed to take over the 350VT booth while we shuttled Walkers back to their cars in North Troy and Newport and picked up our stuff at Dexter's place.

In the course of two days and 18 miles, we formed a tight, though fluid community, a shared sense of purpose, a rededication to the goal of protecting the beautiful land we had walked through. Geneviève had shared stories of her recent visit to Alberta for the Tar Sands Healing Walk, reminding us that we were working to protect not only our own watersheds and farmlands but also those of the Cree and Dene people whose Boreal forests were being devastated by tar sands mining and gas fracking. We had helped each other over rough roads through sore feet and frayed nerves. We were stronger than when we had started on Friday.

More Photos of the walk here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/350vt/9357231501/in/set-72157634774503455/