Cross Massachusetts Bike Tour to Change the Flag and Seal

By David Detmold

Pittsfield, MA 4:30 pm – I am having a good first day on the road, as I make my way by bicycle from Grafton (NY) Peace Pagoda to Provincetown by bicycle, passing out leaflets and talking with folks along the way about the need to change the Massachusetts State Flag and Seal.

It is high time to retire this tired image of white supremacy, and take the sword down from above the Native’s head on our state flag and seal. So far this past year, 39 cities and towns in Massachusetts have voted to do just that, and I am carrying some of those town meeting resolutions with me on my bike, to deliver to the Statehouse in Boston.

I am stopping briefly at the Berkshire Antheneum, a fancy name for the local library, after riding about 40 miles from Grafton to the NY border and then south on Route 7 from Williamstown to Lanesboro to Pontoosuc – which is the original name for Pittsfield in the Mohican tongue.

As I have learned, Pontoosuc is now translated variously as the Valley of the Winter Deer or else, perhaps, the Valley of the Beautiful Waterfalls. Surely not the Valley of PCB polluted Crystal Lake and the abandoned GE factory industrial waste.

I departed from the Peace Pagoda in Grafton, just over the NY border and up a long mountain, around 10 o’clock this morning on a beautiful sunswept day.
After a brief ceremony and gifts of rice ball, nuts and sweets, and tobacco from resident monk and long time friend of Native Americans Jun-san, I climbed Peterborough Mountain for an hour getting used to my bike and the saddle. My arms were stiff and my back was sore at first. I stopped to give a pinch of tobacco to the Little Hoosic River in Peterborough where my friends and I, about 40 bicycle activists called the Solar Rollers, stopped in the late 1970s to go skinny dipping on the road west to Rocky Flats 41 summers ago. Just as Jun-San was walking east with the Longest Walk from Sacramento with AIM and Denis Banks. We were all younger and prettier then, and Pam Griffin hadn’t gotten her front bag stolen yet. (That happened later that evening at Grafton State Park).

The Little Hoosic River was polluted with an industrial solvent called PFOA back then, from an upstream factory that made Teflon. Locals discovered that when a resident named Michael Hickey wanted to know why his friends and relatives were dying of cancer so regularly. This morning, young boys like proud kingfishers were darting back and forth on beat up two wheelers, some were fishing, some passing the time. Hot sun, rough tarmac, long steep grades, I tried not to stop til I got to the top but I am not as young as I was the first time I climbed that mountain on a heavily loaded bike 41 years ago. Today my bike is carrying 2250 leaflets and more…..

I stopped a quarter mile from the summit and folded fliers and some of the ambrosial smelling pineapple and watermelon Jun-San had given me. That sweet perfume had been enticing me on up and up the mountain! 

I passed the road crew resting in their truck, trying to ignore the almighty wondrous view across the sundrenched mountainside off to the far green hillocks on the southern horizon. As I passed, one of them let out a loud, profound belch. Without cutting my pace I asked, “Does this thing ever get to the top?” 

“Oh, sooner or later,” he said.

And he was right….Up top I left a leaflet for a passing hiker on the Taconic Trail. Then hit the first mailbox in Massachusetts on the way down. 660. I’d worked hard to deliver that flier on white supremacy and the Massachusetts state flag and seal to that household. I stopped at the next mailbox too.Then at the first house on Bee Hill Lane. That is all the houses I leafletted on Peterborough Mountain.

I never put leaflets inside the mail boxes of course, that is US govt property. We all know that! But on the other hand if we concede that the signal flags or any other aspect of the outside of mailboxes is also US govt property, then we are on a slippery first amendment slope, I think. Could the US govt really own everything on the outside of a mailbox?

As I tuck folded leaflets behind the signal flags or drop them off in newspaper tubes, I look out over the mountain farms, the hills in sun and shadow, and think there are few more lovely places in the known universe than the Berkshires in summertime. I weave in and out of traffic practicing old bicycle activist moves from the Solar Roller rides to Seabrook and Rocky Flats, CO, trying to hit every mailbox. But time is pressing if I am going to make it in time to be at the Thursday afternoon Park Square Peace Vigil (every Thursday for 7 years or more) with Don and Marion Lathrop, (dear friends of Wally and Juanita Nelson) who attended the I Have a Dream Speech and then took their kids to Mississippi during Freedom Summer for the voter education drive) so I better hoof it!

I will try to give a fresh report each day of this week long ride to change the Massachusetts flag and seal!

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