Hearts at Work
A Column by James Tipton
“This is the way of peace.”
Lately I have been busy discarding papers no longer necessary, and most of which never were necessary. But in the process, I rediscovered and did not discard a tiny blue pamphlet given to me years ago by a hiking companion, Steps Toward Inner Peace, a little repository of wisdom, of truth reduced to its essentials.
It was written years ago by Peace Pilgrim and still available at no cost on the Friends of Peace Pilgrim website: www.peacepilgrim.org. Peace Pilgrim began life as Mildred Lisette Norman. She was born July 18, 1908 on a small poultry farm in Egg Harbour City, New Jersey into a large family of free-thinkers that practiced no particular religion but that stressed reason and logic and that encouraged a strong peace ethic in their children as well as moral and social responsibility.
By 1938 Mildred had “discovered that making money and spending it foolishly was completely meaningless.” Mildred, realizing she did not “know exactly what I was here for,” found herself walking all night through the woods, and by morning she had determined, “without any reservations, to give my life, to dedicate my life to service.” It was a point of no return.
Throughout the 40s, she did service work, with senior citizens, with Quaker organizations, with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and she even met and worked with the pacifist and radical economist Scott Nearing. Also during this time she began to eliminate all clutter in her life, all unnecessary possessions and frivolous activities. She reduced her clothing to two dresses, became a vegetarian, and disciplined herself to live on $10 a week. She joined the Endurance Hiking Club and began to practice putting material things in their proper place. She wanted to “experience and learn to appreciate the great freedom of simplicity.”
By 1952 she had achieved complete inner peace and was ready for her life’s work. On April 26, 1952, she began a 2,050 mile hike of the Appalachian Trail, beginning at Mt. Oglethorpe in Georgia and ending at Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine. She completed her trek in October 1952, the first woman to hike the entire trail in one season. Furthermore, she knew now what she was supposed to do.
Marta Daniels, in her fine short biography (at www.peacepilgrim.org) writes that “She had been hiking for five months, living outdoors entirely, equipped with only a pair of slacks, one shirt and sweater, a blanket and two plastic sheets. Her menu, morning and evening, was two cups of uncooked oatmeal soaked in water and flavored with brown sugar; at noon, two cups of double strength dried milk, plus any berries, nuts or greens that she found in the woods.
“Life on the trail agreed with her. Hiking reinforced her belief in simplicity and confirmed her ability to live in harmony at need level, for long periods of time, in all weather conditions. She felt her faith in God—as perceived through nature—strengthen and solidify as a clear and omnipotent source of divine inspiration. She became convinced that material possessions were simply a burden, and that to achieve a daily state of grace, she would need to maintain that simplicity once she got off the trail. The idea to become a pilgrim, walking cross-country for peace, came at this time in a vision.”
For the next 26 years she walked back and forth across the country, crossing it seven times, and she made side trips to Alaska, Canada, and Mexico. Ultimately she walked well over 40,000 miles.
More next month about this remarkable woman.