Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Leaving Mississippi

Yesterday, after two weeks in Mississippi, I crossed over the border into Alabama. It makes me a little sad because I developed a kind of intimacy with the Mississippi of Highway 11, a road that suffered the impact of Katrina's fierce winds, that rushed up the middle of the state after she was finished with New Orleans and other coastal areas. 

At first I thought that all the deterioration I saw along the highway - abandoned homes, boarded-up stores, closed businesses, empty lots and warehouses -  was the result of the 2005 storm. But slowly I came to realize that even before Katrina the booming towns along Highway 11 must have been losing their traffic and their customers to the new interstate, Route 59, and to all the chains that sprung up at the highway exits. 

Such has been the progress of our market force-capitalism. Such is the progress to which countries around the world aspire. Nothing can withstand the inexorable advance of the culture of oil-based locomotion: cars and trucks in hundreds of shapes and sizes. Everybody needs one or two, all business requires the transportation of people and goods, and new businesses spring up at an amazing rate to fill yet new needs and desires. Surely traffic glutted the two lanes of Highway 11 and a new superhighway seemed essential. 

Now the traffic along Hwy 11 in Mississippi is largely local retail business and the maintenance of public works, roads, forests, wetlands, with all kinds of work trucks dominating the road. I noticed in the vicinity of Laurel that every other business related to the upkeep of those trucks. There were gas stations and mechanic shops, tire shops and muffler shops, shops for barding and welding, tinting and detailing, hydraulics and pneumatics, nuts and bolts, oil tools, wheels and brakes ... A lot of run-down stations, fenced up shops, empty lots that had once seen plenty of activity. I saw oil addiction at its sad end, where it left a destroyed landscape and users gasping in their agony. Yes, sometimes I go for hyperbole - it wasn't all that bad, but I suspect that's where the oil business is headed.

No one walks. There are no sidewalks, no benches to sit on or shaded places to rest. No public restrooms or even water fountains. Bridges have no lanes for pedestrians. Still, it's worth walking. I've shared some of my nature photos with you and mentioned the wonderful stillness of moments when there is no traffic along an isolated stretch of road. Have I mentioned the birds and the flowers? I will remember Mississippi for all these, and for the kindness and warmth of the people I met, the storekeepers and folks who offered me rides along the way. 

They told me that they take care of each other. But they also said that it was no longer as safe as it used to be before Katrina. Refugees from New Orleans have moved up into Mississippi communities, some of them bringing a more predatory culture that has changed folks' perception of their own safety and that of the neighborhoods.

Climate refugees, this is what we're talking about. People displaced by ravaging storms in delta areas. People who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, in some cases their families. Violence is only a step away when all is lost. We cannot afford to be complacent in the face of rapid climate change, even if we live in relatively safe areas, because the reality of climate refugees is bound to affect us all. We should be roused to action first by compassion for all those who will be in the path of destruction, rising waters, drought, famine and thirst; and second we should be motivated by our own desire for survival, for ourselves and our families.

On a more genteel note, I give you one of my first images from Alabama. The face of Highway 11 has changed.


New map to follow my progess

Thanks to the collaboration among several of my family members, an interactive map that can be updated on a daily basis is now available. Check it out at: http://tinyurl.com/gretasprogress. Click on the text entries in the left column to see the complete posting. For future reference, the link will be listed with other links on the right side of this blog.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tomorrow, March 28 - Turn it off

You probably all know, but tomorrow, Saturday 3/28, the world will mark Earth Hour by turning off lights and electrical appliances between 8:30 and 9:30 pm to raise awareness of global warming. More info at earthhour.org. Please join in and make it a success.

Yesterday I met the public works supervisor in Heidelburg, MS, a very knowledgeable man who proclaims himself a longtime environmentalist. As soon as he realized what I was about he mentioned the Earth Hour action tomorrow. He told about how at the time of Katrina he made sure the county was ready for the inevitable disruption of water service: he prepared generator backup for the water supply system and was able to put it in place immediately. Some other areas went without water for a week.

Yesterday's heat made me wonder what it would be like in the summer. After a longish walk I stopped at this church to sit in the shade and sip my V8 juice. A member of the family who 'owns' the church stopped by to see if I was up to any harm since not long ago someone broke in and hauled all the hymnbooks outside. I asked him to take my picture so you could see the shirt that I had made last week when I got the signs for the van.

The shirt is effective. People don't stop to offer me rides, they just slow down - sometimes they honk or wave. The other day I really wanted a ride back to the van but no one would stop. Oh well.
I've seen a lot of trucks carrying logs, mostly larger trucks barreling down the highway, making me afraid they'll topple over onto me. I always think logging is a bad thing, but here I wonder if they plant enough trees to effectively replenish the forests. The other type of truck I see all the time is the tanker - carrying oil or gas perhaps?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tavern encounters

From Hattiesburg, Mississippi

(After over a week on the road I need to post a disclaimer: for reasons of safety and logisitcs I've decided that I shouldn't try to walk every stretch of the road. With a driver for the van I'd be able to walk most of the way, but alone I'm doing what I think makes most sense. To give you an idea: I walked 46.8 of the 76 miles between Slidell, LA, and Hattiesburg, MS. The two contributing factors for not walking the other 29.2 miles: I chose not to walk a dangerous stretch where Rt. 11 joins superhighway 59 to cross Honey Island Swamp between Louisiana and Mississippi. And I drove forward to find a clinic when I developed a nasty infection on my Morton's toe.)

Since I last posted, I walked my farthest yet in one day: 12.8 miles on Friday, from Purvis to the outskirts of Hattiesburg. Since then only 6 miles on Saturday, into a little place called Eastabuchie. When I stopped at a tavern to ask for a glass of water, a bunch of men and two women welcomed my with beery cheer. The water was icy and delicious, and I stayed to talk awhile with the folks. I handed out my flier after I told them I was walking to Canada - that always gets people's attention. 

One of the guys, particularly talkative and jovial, commented, "Go to bed early? No way. Eat vegetarian? You gotta be kidding!" My answer: "Maybe you can find something there you can do to help. Plant a garden? Change your lightbulbs?"

Another fellow spoke to me quietly, so the others wouldn't hear, "I have a book to recommend to you, Walking Across America." "By Peter Jenkins," I asked. "Right. And two other books, Blue Highways and Walk Thru Time." 

Here are a few photos from the road:

A sign of hope along the way.

A reminder of how foolhardy our culture has been. 

Another hopeful sign: cows, sheep and lambs, and a donkey. But will they survive as temperatures rise?

This one's for Guy - he'll know why. But the rest of you might enjoy the thought of the carnival setting up in the dusty town square come June or July. 

I came back to Hattiesburg to spend Sunday here. I'm off to Ellisville today, Laurel tomorrow.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A new sign on my support vehicle

I'm really pleased to have a sign on my 'gypsy wagon' that will let everyone along the way know about the WALK and the website. 

Tuesday morning I saw a sign company from the road - M&M Industries - and went in to check if they could do something for me right away. Sure enough, they put a team on it and in two hours I had signs on both sides of the van.

(This is my third posting today. I've had to sit the day out while an infected toe heals, so I spent the day at the Lumberton Public Library with my laptop. Hurrah for public libraries! Don't miss the other posts.)

Photo gallery

A house that stayed intact during Katrina.

A house that didn't.

An unusual sight along the road, a health food store. The owners are to be commended. The juxtaposition of 'yard eggs' (local) and 'açaí' (from Brazil) amuses me.

Churches abound along the road: gathering places and literally refuges from the storm. I loved this sign.

My hostess for a night. Thank you, Dora.

Please read the blog entry below.

First five days

Miles walked:

3/14 5 miles at the beginning of Highway 11, just east of New Orleans
3/15 9 miles from Slidell to Pearl River, LA
3/16 10 miles from Picayune to McNeill, MS
3/17 9 miles from McNeill to Derby, MS
3/18 6 miles from Derby to Poplarville, MS
3/19 recess in Lumberton to recover from staph infection in toe

In August, 2005, after leaving the coast, Hurricane Katrina raged up Highway 11 (as the locals call it) wreaking damage, blowing off roofs and felling trees and posts. The aftermath was brutal: no electricity for weeks, difficult communications, impassable roads, and suffocating heat. "My two little children stopped eating when the heat got up to 105°," a woman in a little diner told me. Another woman who invited me into her home and showed me photos of Katrina's damage told me that the fish in her pond all died because of the heat.

This is what climate change will bring to millions in the vulnerable coastal areas around the world.

People are still rebuilding their homes, those that can. But along the road I see many vacant buildings, both homes and businesses. One man told me that a huge tree fell on his house, just eight inches from where his wife was sitting. "I spent $70,000 to rebuild my home, but if we get hit again I won't rebuild. I'll buy a mobile home for $4,500." A couple told me that the storm picked up their house, twisted it and put it down again totally destroyed. They couldn't afford to fix it so they've moved in with his mother, in her dilapidated mobile. They invited me in for a shower and a St.Patrick's Day dinner of cabbage and ground beef with hamburger helper. I parked in their yard and they set my van up with electricity. Fresh coffee in the morning before they set off to fish for catfish and I started out on my first walk of the day.

You don't talk to these folks about a vegetarian diet. Steak, fried chicken, catfish are deeply ingrained comforts they're not ready to give up; not now when life is so hard. I noticed that people smoke a lot, especially the women. Obesity is a problem, along with diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes. They might try to raise a few vegetables, maybe some strawberries, but it isn't easy in the heat and with all the insects.

And except for someone as crazy as me, walking isn't an option. Villages are far from each other and homes spread widely through the countryside. The roads have no shoulder, just a thin strip of pavement outside the lanes where the vehicles barrel by. (I step aside, into the grass, every time a vehicle approaches. This slows me down, of course, and I watch my step because I've seen snake carcasses along the road, as well as other roadkill; armadillo, nutria, possum.) Everyone around here has a car, mostly SUVs and large pickup trucks. There are no buses, no public transportation. The Amtrak train blows its whistle every morning as it speeds by to Hattiesburg, Birmingham and north. The local people are utterly dependent on oil.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

On my own

Guy just left this morning on the 8 o'clock train to Philadelphia. The sun is peeking out and I'm hoping to walk 7 miles to Pearl River this afternoon. 

Thanks to those who sent me well wishes. Please let me know in the text of your emails who you are unless your sender identity is really clear. All you need to do is sign your name at the end of the message. Thanks. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The southern end of Route 11

After a Sounding near the Mississippi River this morning, where Guy and I were joined by four Unitarian Universalists for a time of listening and reflecting, we found the very beginning of Route 11, in the Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Center east of New Orleans. We walked for two hours in rain that sprinkled or poured most of that time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Warm days in Baytown, Texas

First I want to welcome the new 'followers' of this blog - you encourage me and give me new energy. Also, thanks to those that post comments. If you want to leave a comment without signing in, use the Anonymous option and let me know who you are by putting your name in the text. I love to hear from you.

In the lobby of the church I visited in Galveston on Sunday, rows of moccasins mounted on globes line the wall, representing a lighter footprint on the Earth. In the photo here you can see some of the actions recommended: Switch to socially responsible investments, Reduce the use of PVC, Drink tap water, Drive no faster than 55 mph. I'll add a tip from a posting I received this morning: ultra-soft toilet paper "comes at a high environmental price - the destruction of millions of trees in North America, including rare old-growth forests in Canada." This comes from www.stopglobalwarming.org. Check today's issue for the article including suggestions of what to use instead of the softest whitest tissue.

Why are we stuck in the Houston area? For me it's a nice place to be stuck for a few days because I'm at my sister's home in Baytown, enjoying her company and her comfortable home. I've been walking with her in the early mornings, when the birds are singing full-throat in the trees and the azaleas glow in their red, pink, purple and white glory. Guy is enjoying the garage-full of tools as he fixes cabinet doors on the support van and installs a vent dome to replace the one I broke two weeks ago. The truth is that we weren't going to indulge in this pleasant stay, but on our way here for the visits to Houston and Galveston, we blew a tire and discovered an oil leak, two problems that had to be dealt with before we could continue on our way. Turns out the oil leak is not serious, and we're picking up the new spare tire on our way out of town tomorrow. 

We'll go down to the Louisiana Coast and spend some time walking along the area where Ike and Rita wreaked their damage not long ago. I'll send some photos. This area between Galveston and New Orleans is the prototype of coasts around the world that are suffering the impact of climate change. I'm aware that this landscape may be gone forever the next time I come this way. 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

March 8 - The symbolic start of my Climate Walk

Even though I did little walking today, I count it as the symbolic start of my WALK. I visited the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston where my sister is a member, and was invited by the minister to deliver the benediction at the end of the service - an amazing service that started with a song about our love of nature, moved through a sermon that spoke of how fear constricts and grace surprises and lets us move ahead, and a song that proclaimed "When the Spirit says Go, I Go." I felt that the service had been designed to help me on my way.  

These were the words of my benediction: "I bring you a blessing of love and gratitude for our Earth, for its beauty, its fierceness and its mystery; and I take from you the blessing of your strength and commitment to creating a better future. May we go from this place of worship in peace; may we walk gently on the Earth. Amen."

In the afternoon my sister and I drove down to Galveston, past the huge refineries, over great bridges and causeways, and into a city that has suffered two big hurricanes in the past years: Rita, in 2005, and Ike in September of last year. I needed to go to Galveston because the Gulf Coast from Galveston to New Orleans has become the beacon symbolizing the vulnerability of the land, the people and animals, and the plants in face of global warming. 

A small but wonderful group of members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Galveston County met with us in front of their church at the eastern end of the island. I was glad that one of them brought her dog, Collie, to represent all the pets and other animals. I told them about my walk, why I was doing it and when and where, then we went down to the beach along the Gulf Coast for a sounding. We stood in a circle to listen to the sounds around us - silently for a full minute - then shared our sense of the power of the waves, the strength of the gulls, the vulnerability of the people. I asked them to share with me their stories of hurricanes, the evacuations, the losses, the starting over - waiting in lines, eating Red Cross meals in the streets when there was no electricity, deciding to stay on in Galveston despite the belief that there will be another big storm, and another...  I am grateful to them for helping me understand a little of what it's like to live through a hurricane and its aftermath, and to love the land and their community.

I'd hoped to take the ferry across to Port Bolivar after the meeting in Galveston, to begin my trek along the coast to New Orleans, but I had to come back to my sister's in Baytown to deal with a couple of problems that emerged with the motor home on the trip down from Pennsylvania. I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Off to Texas

Today I set out for Houston and Galveston, Texas. My husband, Guy, is joining me for the first week of my adventure. We will take the gypsy wagon, a small 1982 GM TranStar motor home, my base of operations, to New Orleans. Along the way we will check out the systems and ready everything for my first steps on Route 11, on March 15 or 16. (See my blog for children - www.climatechangechildren.blogspot.com - where I write about my gypsy wagon and carbon emissions.)

This Sunday, before setting out for New Orleans, I will have the opportunity to address the members of the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Houston, at the morning service, and in Galveston that afternoon.  

Monday, March 2, 2009

Climate Walk Website

Please check out my new website - http://climatewalk.homestead.com. 

I will continue to post on the blog. In fact, in just a few days I will start posting data on my actual walk. Guy and I plan to leave Bethlehem this Thursday evening enroute to Houston from where, on Sunday, March 8, we will start off to Galveston in the early afternoon. It's really going to happen, folks.

If  you would like to become a sponsor of the WALK, giving a small (or not so small) donation to ensure that materials can be printed and communications maintained, the website gives information on how to do so, including a PayPal DONATE button. 

Even if you don't donate, your support as a follower and reader of this blog is important to me. I would love it if you leave a comment now and then.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Museum of Natural History

This Thursday, on our way to Boston, Guy and I stopped in at the Museum of Natural History in New York City, to see the Climate Change Exhibit. It occupies six or seven rooms and outlines the history of climate change since the 1600's and especially in the 20th century, as well as demonstrating the effects of global warming in a variety of ways. Even though we were already aware of much of the information, we found the exhibit interesting, compelling, and sometimes beautiful. 

I highly recommend it for everyone -  it will probably convince those that are on the fence or haven't been interested, and it will deepen the understanding of those who have been paying attention. In the first room of the exhibit was a large, unequivocal statement on the wall to the effect that the current warming of the planet is caused by humans. 

My only caveat regards the cost of a visit to the museum: $24 for adults, $18 for seniors. I don't know the price for children and students. The ticket gets you into the whole museum, where most of the other exhibits are open to visitors, whereas the Climate Change Exhibit requires the ticket to enter. So I recommend going with time and energy to take advantage of other exhibits, spending as much time there as possible. We only had four hours between buses and weren't able to go through other amazing areas that just caught our eyes in passing: Primates, Animals of Asia, Civilizations of Asia, and much more.