Walk to Paris: Day 1

Ed and Steve on Omaha Beach, standing in front of the memorial

The first steps on the road to COP21

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 – Omaha Beach to Asnelles

Today was hard. Steve and I hadn’t realized that the shops and most restaurants would be closed on Armistice Day. Our food consisted of meager amounts of nuts, dried fruit and cheese.

Our only meal came at sunset, from a fast-food joint striving to compete with the worst possible American swill dispensary. Despite being famished, I could barely choke down the dry burger, and I simply gave up on the soggy fries.

The first steps on the road to COP21

Ed and Steve on Omaha Beach, standing in front of the memorial

Halfway through today’s journey, my legs announced that they did not appreciate 15-mile walks. The unexpectedly brisk pace didn’t help. Normandy’s daylight is scant in November, and one does not walk the narrow, windy roads after dark.

We had started late in order to spend time at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. I explained our mission to the staff, and they enthusiastically approved of the urgency of climate action. They also understood the connection between the sacrifices made in WWII and the sacrifices needed to battle the climate crisis. One told me that the Earth does not need us; we need the Earth.

I thought of that as Steve and I walked over earth that, 70 years ago, had been ravished badly, sacrificially, in the struggle to liberate Europe from Fascism.

Steve and Ed with Josianne Rudd-Guillemette and Sandrine Paunet at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Steve and Ed with Josianne Rudd-Guillemette and Sandrine Paunet at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Yes, it was a hard day. My hamstrings screamed at me to stop. But as we passed reminders of the hardships faced by Allied soldiers in 1944, our walk from Omaha Beach to Paris felt like a Sundaystroll in comparison. I imagined landing there in 1944, struggling to fight my way through the pounding surf under heavy artillery fire, dead and wounded men piling up around me. What a hell-on-earth that must have been. And what tremendous levels of courage and heroism must have been needed to get through it.

We walked through Longues and saw the still-evident scars of a town bombed by Allied forces to root-out Nazi troops. For the residents of Longues, witnessing the destruction of their town must also have required courage and heroism,  knowing that they were being liberated even as their homes were being flattened.

Amy Swanson Salmon in front of her 800-year old home

Amy Swanson Salmon in front of her 800-year old home

Our host for the first two nights, Amy Swanson Salmon, heard about our walk from a friend. I hadn’t met Amy until  she greeted us at the train station. I asked what had inspired her to offer such amazing hospitality to two guys she didn’t even know.

“The act of crossing the Atlantic and walking in foreign territory seemed like a heroic act to me,” explained Amy. “I knew I woud be offering you some protection, some much-needed assistance.”

Amy said that if she had had more time, she would have encouraged churches to ring their bells as we came through town.

“November 11 marks the end of WWI. On that day, the bells rang in all of France. In my mind, I have always connected that with the slow, quiet act of walking.”

While I appreciated Amy’s kind offer, I confessed relief that churches were not ringing their bells as we came into town. That would have felt distinctly immodest, even if what we were doing was seen as heroic by her and others.

That said, for humanity to successfully address the climate crisis, acts of heroism are demanded of all of us, individually and collectively. Small acts from those who can do small things, larger acts from those who are able to do big things.

Perhaps this walk is a notable act of heroism in response to the climate crisis. I don’t know. What I do know is that for me, this walk feels like the most significant thing I can do to push for a positive outcome from COP21.

This walk will continue to be difficult. Yet so far, as my steps lead across the fields, beaches and towns of Normandy, I am reminded that this journey is so much easier than what others were called to do in response to the crisis of their time.

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6 thoughts on “Walk to Paris: Day 1

  1. Tamara Andrews

    I’m so glad to be reading about your walk! I will share this with my students tomorrow, so they can follow you too. We will be on the Normandy Beaches again next summer, in July. It is good to be humbled by the place and what those men did for France and all of Europe. I think your mission is worthy, but fewer people understand. Bon courage!

    1. Ed Fallon Post author

      Thank you, Tammy, and just seeing this now! I’d be interested in any feedback from your students, and happy to compare notes sometime on Normandy. The walk was truly a powerful experience for me.

  2. Sophie Ryan

    Yeap, most everything is closed on holidays and Sunday and everyday during lunch hour 12 to 3 pm usually! Especially out in the country ! Keep us posted and thank you.

    1. Ed Fallon Post author

      Well, the only bad meal I had in France was a pseudo-American restaurant. If you haven’t seen Michael Moore’s new movie – Where to Invade Next – there’s a great scene about dining – yes DINING – in the French schools.

  3. Mark Kuhn

    Walk on, Ed & Steve. You are inspiring all of us to get up and do what needs to be done.
    P.S. Ed, you look more like Pete Seeger every day.

    1. Ed Fallon Post author

      Ha! Just seeing this now. Smarty. Now if I can only perform more and more like Pete . . .