Excerpts

Here are some excerpts from Ed Fallon’s book, Marcher, Walker, Pilgrim.

From the Introduction

Sean Glenn and Mack Wilkins

Walking across America is an enormous challenge. Pounding pavement, gravel, and sand 15 – 20 miles a day for eight months is unkind to one’s body, even under the best conditions. The difficulties are markedly greater when one walks on a schedule, as we did, with rallies and events planned along the route weeks and even months in advance.

When you walk on a schedule you can’t take time off for an illness. You can’t rest for a week to recover from an injury. You can’t take a leave of absence for a funeral or a wedding. You simply keep going or you quit.

It became important for me to try to walk every step of the way. Sure, there’s something gratifying about traversing the breadth of a continent on foot. But far more important, I saw the March as a moving dramatization of the urgency of the climate crisis. Our steps were sacrificial performance art, showcasing the deep individual commitment we all must make to assure our collective survival in the New Climate Era.

From Chapter 1: Failure

I lie still, like a wounded animal hoping to avoid detection from a real or imagined predator. I try to stay warm yet feel unable to move. The reality of my isolation presses ever harder against my chest, against my heart.

I had left the other marchers a week ago after conflicts that had grown so virulent and tiresome that I desperately needed a break. I needed to walk in peace before rejoining the group for our final hike to the White House. But now I miss the camp, despite its dysfunction. I miss the familiar comfort of my tent. I half-hope, half-imagine, that Sarah Spain, the March’s gregarious logistics director, will drive by, sense my presence, and pull over to rescue me.

Sarah has certainly worked her share of miracles on the March, instantly connecting with whoever stood between us and whatever we needed. In an Arizona bar, Sarah’s cowboy hat and eagerness to pose for a photo with a shotgun scored us a rodeo-ground campsite. In New Mexico, her charm with a commune of aging hippies landed us foot massages and a delicious meal.

Whether it was campsites, food, vehicle repair, or showers, Sarah always found a way to deliver.

But today, there would be no Sarah-magic.

From Chapter 2: Why Not a March!

In February 2007, Bill McKibben came to Iowa State University where he spoke to a packed house about climate change and the loss of community. His message was a blend of warning and hope. “Americans will be happier if they return to the 1950s lifestyle of eating together as a family, talking with neighbors and carpooling to work,” McKibben exhorted.

Consistent with his call to simplicity, McKibben joined a group of us afterward for chili and corn bread. We sat on stark benches under dim lights at a long table in one of the campus dining rooms. I guess you could say it was very 1950s, but my mind got stuck on the dining scene from Oliver.

Joe Biden (photo credit: Hollywood Reporter)

I have no stomach for self-absorbed celebrities, and I’ve met plenty. Joe Biden came to mind as I sat across from McKibben. Biden had called to seek my endorsement in his campaign for President in 2006, the year I ran for governor in Iowa. As we settled in for a beer and a game of pool, Joe asked about my campaign. Twenty seconds into my response, Joe jumped in, and for the next hour the conversation was all about him. Nice guy. Captivating stories. Lousy listener. Biden won the game of pool but lost my vote.

I can’t speak to McKibben’s pool game, but when it came to conversation, he was the opposite of Biden. He was down-to-earth and unpretentious. As we blew on spoonfuls of hot chili and corralled wayward crumbs of cornbread, Bill mostly listened and asked questions. He was genuinely interested in what students were up to and curious about my campaign for governor.

From Chapter 4: Post-Victorian Man

Despite occasional spells of doubt, I nurture the notion that as a man slogs through the tasks and tumult of his daily life, he eventually meets the woman of his dreams and they both know with unshakable conifdence that they’re meant to spend the rest of their lives together. Admittedly, I’ve met only a few such couples in the flesh, though they can be found in abundance in fictional literature, the bulk of it pre-dating the 1950s.

For better or worse, somewhere in the middle of the last century, there occurred a seismic shift in how American males regarded romantic relationships. The love-intoxicated, idealistic man-hero of Victorian times sobered up. He accepted the fact that divine forces weren’t simply going to guide him to his true love, where recognition of their predestined union would be mutual and instantaneous.

Post-Victorian Man — P-V Man, we’ll call him — learned that love is more than chemistry and predetermination. With the strength of character and clarity of purpose that have come to defne our gender over the millennia, P-V Man knew that if he were to reel in an adequate life partner it would, alas, require time and effort. He wisely pivoted his strategy, seized the initiative, and began to spend prodigious amounts of time in bars.

By virtue of either my Catholic upbringing, idealistic nature, or perhaps a genetic defect, I totally missed the P-V chapter of American-male history. Through five decades and two divorces, my unfettered confidence in the reality of the Victorian love model remains rock solid.

Mostly.

From Chapter 6: In the Shadow of Valero

The March begins. A group of students wearing dust masks and dragging a replica of a polar bear leads us into the street. I sense a collective rush of ecstasy among marchers as the first steps of this incredible 3,000-mile journey begin. I look at Sean Glenn, an amazing young woman who has decided to march the entire distance in silence. Sean is beaming. I beam back. Sean spent the weeks leading up to the March in Des Moines and, as we trained together, she’d become like a daughter to me.

We walk through largely Hispanic neighborhoods, the Pacific Ocean fading behind us and the skyline of Los Angeles opening before us. People line the street to cheer or wave from their homes. It feels more like a parade than a march. The sky had looked foreboding all morning, but so far there’s no rain. “Maybe the clouds blew their wad the past three days,” I say to myself. “Maybe we’ll get through today without a drenching.”

At the two-mile mark, our numbers drop to about 100 stalwarts who intend to go the day’s distance — 19.4 miles through Los Angeles’ industrial underbelly and some of its most impoverished neighborhoods.

About a mile later, the skies open to a flood of cold, driving rain that plagues us the rest of the day. The rain is like a strong summer storm in the Midwest, complete with thunder, lightning, and torrential downpours. The rain turns city streets into raging rivers that push against the curbs and eventually flood the sidewalks. We cross intersections wading through water up to our calves. The current flows so fast some marchers feel like they could be swept away.

Our organized march quickly devolves into a struggle for survival.

From Chapter 12: Payson

Reaching the Rim is exhilarating. It’s as if we’ve just scaled Mt. Everest. I expect to see more mountains north and east. Instead, the land suddenly and dramatically flattens. “Well, I guess those Bible thumpers were right,” I joke. “The Earth is flat, and we just crawled over its edge.”

Ed with Steve Martin and Shira Wohlberg

It does indeed feel as if we’ve scrambled up the side of the Earth and now triumphantly survey a planet lush with pine trees. I suppress the knowledge that, in a few miles, the pines will yield to scraggly junipers, then to high desert, where it can be cold, windy, and often inhospitable in spring.

We rest just beyond the Rim at 8,000 feet. I’m utterly exhausted. Shira and Steve found the ascent challenging, too, but it hits me hardest.

“This altitude is kicking my ass,” I say. “All three of us hail from flat country, but you guys seem to be handling it better.”

“Maybe it’s not the altitude,” says Steve. “Maybe it’s all that weight you’ve dropped.”

“Well, I’ve been feeling sluggish since Payson, and have dropped 24 pounds in just six weeks,” I reply. “You’ve lost a bunch of weight too, right?”

“Yeah, twenty pounds. But that was weight I could afford to lose. You, not so much,” Steve laughs.

I consider Steve’s viewpoint. “Nah, you’re no doctor. It’s the altitude,” I conclude defiantly.

But I’m uneasy. I’ve always listened to my body. And right now it’s telling me something’s wrong, something I need to figure out soon or pay the consequences.

From Chapter 13: Food

The Windwalkers home is like none I’ve ever seen, an “Earthship” that Mary and Tim built from adobe and old tires in 1994. Solar panels provide most of the power, although the design itself takes care of much of the heating and cooling needs.

Tim Windwalker

Everything about the interior is comfortable. Art is everywhere. A dragon carved from a hibiscus plant sits next to a poinsettia. Veins of stained glass run across the walls. A lotus flower painted with soy-based stain decorates the entry-way floor. A jungle-like greenhouse occupies the southern wall of the Earthship.

Tim and Mary make shoes for a living. Their shop runs entirely on solar. “We’ve made 4,000 pairs of shoes with equipment powered entirely by the sun,” notes Tim. “Fossil-fuel-free footwear,” he smiles.

Like me, Sarah’s work demands Internet and phone service. She shows up a bit later and we spend a few hours catching up on March work. Mary invites us to stay for dinner: barbecued, wild-caught salmon marinated with raspberry chipotle sauce. There’s a salad of beets, carrots, and pinion nuts. Organic red wine provides a rare treat.

The night is cool but not cold. We eat, talk, and relish this moment of life under a full desert moon that drifts slowly over the White Mountains to the South.

“Look at that,” says Tim. “An unobstructed view, free of power lines, cell phone towers, wind turbines, or bright lights. There aren’t too many places you get to see that.”

True enough. It feels as if Sarah and I have stumbled on a slice of paradise. Yet all is not well in paradise. Tim talks about how every year the desert creeps a little closer.

“When the desert reaches your doorstep, what will you do?” I ask. “How will you adapt?”

“We’ll leave,” said Tim. “What else can we do? Without water, what we have here can’t exist.”

Tim speaks matter-of-factly about what climate change and impending desertification mean for him and Mary. Maybe they’ve already come to terms with it, but I feel a deep sense of sadness that all this effort and beauty might be abandoned.

From Chapter 14: Hypothermia

Nature and I have always been lovers. As a kid, after my bus ride home from the torture chamber of Catholic grade school, Nature would soothe my wounds. Her love helped me forget, at least for a time, the physical and verbal beatings by bitter, barren nuns too old to teach and too senile to care.

Nature helped me forget the time I was slapped hard in the face for the crime of waving to a friend through the window of the classroom door.

She helped me forget the time I was punched in the stomach on the playground by another student, completely unprovoked, and then brought to the principal’s office to be spanked.

She helped me forget that my best friend in third grade was beaten nearly every day — and that Sister Antionette, the nun who beat him, held him back a grade so she could beat him again for another year.

While Nature couldn’t stop the abuse, she provided a balm where none was offered.

I’d jump off the bus, dart home, tear off the tie that hung like a noose around my neck, and run into the forested arms of my lover. With Nature, I always felt unconditional acceptance.

We would flirt with abandon. I teased her, dared her to love me as much as I loved her, dared her to love me to the very edge of self-destruction. We played the games lovers play. She always won. “But only because I let you win,” I taunted.

When the moon waxed full and flooded the salt marsh near my childhood home, I’d venture out before the tide’s crest, eager for a playful fight. I’d find my way to some thin sliver of ground, a spot slightly higher than the land around it. I’d lay claim, drive a stake into the mud and attach a rag to its top to let Nature know what king now reigned here. Then I’d await my lover’s watery wrath and the inevitable advance of the sea.

The tide would push in gradually, conquering a few inches at a time, until my kingdom was reduced to a tiny island. At the last minute, I’d heroically leap to dry ground, abandoning my claim, managing a dramatic escape from a cold, briny death.

As I ran home, I’d glance back at the wreckage of my kingdom and watch Nature submerge all but my rag in her ocean’s cold, healing waters. “See,” I’d shout. “I let you win again.”

Our games were particularly fun in winter, when ice flows provided even greater opportunity for juvenile foolishness. I never came close to drowning, but twice filled my boots with icy water and returned home shivering, cold, and feeling very much loved.


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