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.
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.
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.
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.