In February of 1995 I moved from northwest Florida to central New York state. I had moved from a “tropical paradise” (at least some people thought of it that way) to a cold and snowy part of the country. I had never lived in snow before. Soon after I arrived in my new home state I happened to befriend a woman named Susan, who told me about a prominent peace activist named Jun Yasuda who would be passing through the area. Susan knew Jun Yasuda personally, and told me that Jun was a Buddhist nun, originally from Japan but now based downstate in Petersburg, who had made a career of doing long peace marches all over the country to try to draw attention to issues of social justice and to protest war and nuclear weapons. Jun’s custom was to invite anyone to join her on these marches, and quite a few people did accompany her along various parts of her long treks, some walking with her just a day’s journey and others walking and camping with her for hundreds of miles. Jun was especially interested in having practitioners of other religions, i.e. other than Buddhism, join her, as she preferred to see her mission as an interfaith effort rather than a particularly Buddhist thing. Sometimes though, especially if she were traveling through particularly difficult territory in very difficult conditions, there was no one to accompany her and she traveled alone. Susan told me that Jun had hiked clear across the state of North Dakota, by herself, in the middle of winter. Damn, I thought, this Yasuda woman is hardcore.

In mid-March Jun was scheduled to do a day’s walk from the town of Greene to the town of Bainbridge, in New York State’s southern tier. This was fairly close to where I was living, and I was intrigued by what I had heard about Jun so I decided to join her on her march. My friend Susan drove me to the meeting place in the morning and I met with Jun and her group of about fifteen people. Some of them were Quaker peace activists and some were just idealistic young people who were inspired by Jun.

Jun immediately impressed me as a remarkable person, though in appearance she was ordinary. She was physically a small person, short and slight of build. She was dressed in white linen clothing under a parka, and wore huge hiking boots. Her head was shaved and she wore glasses. I had a chance to talk with her a bit before the group set out on the walk. She was forthright and direct, apparently devoid of all affectation, but also welcoming and friendly. I felt immediately that she was someone I could put my complete trust in. Solid, I thought. This is a person who is rock solid and totally free of bullshit. She said that her current walk, which spanned the whole country, was to raise awareness of the need for just treatment for Native Americans. She had made many friends among Native American people in the course of her walk. She said they usually referred to her as “Long Walking Woman.”

The group set out on the walk, sticking to the side of highway. Several people in the group struck a steady rhythm on small hand drums as we marched, and chanted “Na mu myo ho ren ge kyo,” a traditional chant of Jun’s Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order. The temperature was pretty cold by the standards I was used to (Florida), probably low 30s, but not terribly cold for central New York. The skies were gray and there were occasional snow flurries. I felt alright though, the walking kept me from feeling too cold. Some of the people we passed along the way waved to us and I waved back. I felt comforted by the company of my fellow marchers in the group. I settled into the rhythm of it and the walking started to feel easy, like I was being carried along on the momentum of the group march. It started snowing more. It didn’t bother me, though I didn’t really have quite the right clothes or shoes for snowy weather.

After some hours of marching the group stopped at a diner for lunch. I had noticed that one young man in the group (I’ll call him Dave) was a little odd. He seemed depressed, unresponsive and withdrawn, though he didn’t have any trouble marching. At lunch we sat at tables in the diner but Dave didn’t join us. One of the people in the group asked Jun, “What do you think is wrong with Dave?”

“He has that American disease,” she said, “ennui.”

I was a little curious about Jun’s philosophy and asked her what her Buddhist teachings had to say about the nature of evil. She said that good and evil are two different aspects of one thing, one life, and that they cannot be separated from each other.

We got back out on the road and resumed the march. The snow came down even more. My clothes were starting to get damp. I didn’t have hiking boots or hiking socks, I just wore ordinary sneakers with wimpy thin socks like a Florida person would wear, and my shoes and socks were getting wet from the snow. But my discomfort was minor, mostly I was enjoying the experience, the delicious strangeness of it, feeling relieved to be out of Florida and among these peaceful and likable people. Not being used to snow it seemed like an interesting, even amusing, novelty to me. By the time we stopped for a rest break the snow was pouring down steadily. We stopped for our break at the home of a friend of Jun’s who had invited the group in. He offered us tea and we got to warm ourselves in front of a wood stove. I happened to mention, mostly in jest, that my socks were wet from the snow and that this is not something a Florida person normally has to worry about. To my dismay Jun insisted on offering me a spare pair of her hiking socks. I couldn’t accept them. This was a woman who was hiking clear across the continent and I was only walking for one day! She was quite insistent but I firmly refused her offer. She needed those WAY more than I did, so obviously it wouldn’t be right for me to take her socks.

We got back out on the road. It was still snowing but I think I had assimilated some of Jun’s stoic attitude and I felt mostly impervious to the weather. It was only snow after all. But it did seem like a strange way for a newly-transplanted former Floridian to be introduced to New York state.

I lost track of time when I was walking with Jun. I fell into the rhythm of the walking, the drumming, the chanting. It felt good to have this simple, direct, clear experience to focus on. We walked for some time more, until it was almost dark, and arrived in Bainbridge. The group had plans to camp out for the night at the home of another of Jun’s friends. The time had come for me to part from the group. My friend Susan came to pick me up, and I thanked Jun and left with Susan.

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