River pil­grim­age takes pad­dlers on 400-mile spiritual jour­ney

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY KATHY MCCORMACK

Charles Mont­gomery wel­comed the chal­lenge of hik­ing the steep ter­rain of the Con­necti­cut River head­wa­ters in re­mote north­ern New Hamp­shire, ad­mir­ing the birds, the plants, the woods. He also loved the op­por­tu­nity to pray.

For four days, the 82-year-old re­tired doc­tor was part of the first leg of a 40-day pil­grim­age of ca­noeists and kayak­ers of all faiths along the 400-mile river, New Eng­land’s long­est. The group traded cell­phones for pad­dles to par­take in a spiritual jour­ney, the first event of its size on the river, which flows from the Cana­dian border to Long Is­land Sound.

“You be­gin to let go of stuff,” said Mr. Mont­gomery, of Walpole, New Hamp­shire.

The Epis­co­pal dio­ce­ses of New Eng­land and a group called Kairos Earth or­ga­nized the “River of Life” pil­grim­age. The idea came from Robert Hirschfeld, New Hamp­shire’s bishop.

Bishop Hirschfeld, 56, an avid rower, sees the jour­ney as a way for peo­ple to re­new their re­la­tion­ship with God, con­nect with one an­other and with na­ture, and have fun.

“It’s be­come some­thing far greater than I had imag­ined,” said Bishop Hirschfeld, who trav­eled the first leg and plans to get back on the river with his daugh­ter next week in Hanover, New Hamp­shire. There are times, he said, when all you hear is the sound of loons and pad­dles hit­ting the ca­noes.

“It causes one to re­cal­i­brate one’s soul. You don’t use your cell­phone; your lap­tops are nowhere to be seen,” Bishop Hirschfeld said. “You’re sud­denly re­con­nect­ing on a to­tally dif­fer­ent level with one’s be­ing.”

Nine peo­ple started the first leg of the trip on May 31, hik­ing where it was too shal­low to pad­dle at first, be­fore ven­tur­ing into bod­ies of wa­ter that even­tu­ally fill into the river. Par­tic­i­pants can join in at any part of the trip, or fol­low a spe­cial prayer book at home with daily read­ings, re­flec­tions and Scrip­ture pas­sages.

There also are events on land. In Ver­mont, some peo­ple are plan­ning a mini-pil­grim­age by car on June 17, fol­low­ing the Ot­tauquechee River from Killing­ton to Hart­ford. A sto­ry­teller will share river tales, and a hy­drol­o­gist will give a talk on the river’s en­vi­ron­ment and its wa­ter­shed that day at the Montshire Mu­seum in Nor­wich, Ver­mont.

The trip co­in­cides with mul­ti­cul­tural fi­esta at a church in Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut, and a con­clud­ing cel­e­bra­tion in Es­sex, Con­necti­cut, on July 8. The pil­grim­age ends the next day at Long Is­land Sound.

Most pad­dlers are ex­pected to join as the pil­grim­age reaches Mas­sachusetts and Con­necti­cut, bring­ing the es­ti­mated par­tic­i­pa­tion over­all to sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple.

It rained a lot dur­ing the first week of the trip, but El­iz­a­beth Stevens re­called one day when the sun fi­nally came out.

“It was such a fab­u­lous, mov­ing mo­ment that I started pray­ing out loud,” she said. “I was just moved. … That was what the pil­grim­age was about, so that we could con­nect with na­ture and com­mit our­selves once again to do­ing a bet­ter job of tak­ing care of this world that we’ve been given, and this river that we have been given.”

Par­tic­i­pants, led by sev­eral guides, av­er­age about 10 to 12 miles per day, rain or shine. They set up camp­sites and ex­plore a dif­fer­ent spiritual theme each week. The fo­cus of the first part of the tour was peo­ple’s con­nec­tion to the wilder­ness and wa­ter.

For Ms. Stevens, 67, the river al­ready is part of her ev­ery­day life in Spring­field, Mas­sachusetts. So it was spe­cial to her to par­tic­i­pate in the first leg of the pil­grim­age and see its ori­gin. Ms. Stevens also plans to pad­dle again later, in Mas­sachusetts and will be there on the last day of the jour­ney near Long Is­land, where she was born.


Epis­co­pal dio­ce­ses in New Eng­land have or­ga­nized a 40-day “River of Life” pil­grim­age for ca­noeists and kayak­ers of all faiths so they can par­take in a jour­ney.

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