When we were 14, my friend, Janey, and I had the brilliant idea to walk the 40 km from our farm to Lake Simcoe, Ont. So on the following Saturday, we packed a lunch and set out. Twelve hours later, we accomplished our mission, and I phoned Dad for a ride home. That was it. Recently, Janey mused, "Today kids walk for causes; we just walked." Ah, but we enjoyed one long, beautiful day of doing nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other in the fresh air.
Peace Pilgrim, who walked for her cause, was likely the first such walker I learned about. She gave up everything, even her name, and walked over 25,000 miles in America, preaching peace. She wrote books, notably Steps toward Inner Peace, slept in beds and ate food when offered; otherwise, fasted and slept under stars. From 1953 until the end of her life in 1981, walking and speaking peace were her life.
In 2008 and 2011, grandmother Gladys Radek of the Gitxsan and
Wet'suwet'en First Nations led walks from Vancouver to Ottawa, calling
attention to murdered and missing Aboriginal women. Her niece, Tamara
Chipman, went missing on the infamous Highway of Tears in 2005. She was
16. When I met Gladys in Calgary, I noticed a slight limp; I assumed it
was from walking the first 1,000 km. But I learned that Gladys had lost a
leg in a hit-and-run accident years earlier. She told CBC news that she
walks to heal pain deeper than blisters or sore muscles.
Anishaanabewe grandmother Josephine Mandemin
has her share of blisters. She leads prayer walks in Ontario, having walked many shorelines, including around the Great Lakes. Mandemin’s passion is to bring attention to the over-use and desecration of water. Walking with her in 2014, I learned how offering tobacco and praying on the lakeshore with friends is a profound way to honour the element that gives us life. Polluted water can kill, just as a religious zealot can, after all.
When Calgary immam Syed Sowarhardy
learned that an Ontario father had killed his daughter as an "honour killing," he mortgaged his home, bought a camper van and found a friend to drive it. Then, in 2008, Sowarhardy began walking across Canada on a multi-faith walk to end domestic violence. My husband, Bill, and I caught up with him in Saskatchewan that summer. I remember the meadowlark's song and watching heat waves make the prairie shimmer over the TransCanada pavement.
Sometimes, I imagine walks like these taking place all around Turtle Island; we need not travel overseas to the Santiago de Compostela to make a pilgrimage. And I wonder if walkers in times past may have left spiritual footprints on the trails we find. When I walk this summer, I would like to have a talk with abolitionist Sojourner Truth
. Born a slave in the 1700s, she escaped and became a powerful orator, walking hundreds of kilometers with her message of equality (Her most famous speech is “Ain't I a Woman?”)
Many of us will soon put on walking shoes — for justice, healing or pure pleasure. We'll take to trails, shorelines and highways. What a beautiful way to slow down, feel the sun's pace and be deeply present in the world. Part two will be published on May 19.
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