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October 20, 2012

Rhode Island – Wednesday, October 17

The first thing I wanted to do today was visit the Roger Williams National Memorial – Rhode Island’s only national park site. I had seen the signs for it (or so I thought), and was happy it wasn’t right downtown because I was hoping to avoid downtown Providence, which looked like a big confusing tangle of highways, traffic, buildings and people. When I got there I saw a huge park with lakes and lots of walking paths, and then realized it was the Roger Williams State Park, not the National Memorial. But no matter – it was pretty and green and we quickly finished off 2.7 miles of walking to start the day. Then I had to find the national memorial, which was right downtown (unusual for a National Park site, but there are a few), and Providence ended up being a very good place to go. (I wanted to be sure to visit the national park site because for the last 9 years, we have randomly picked a state to explore for our summer trip, and I have a whole list of things to do in each state and a couple of them are visiting all the national parks, the state capitol, and the high point and low point of each state. Since Rhode Island is so small, I am combining it as my official “state-of-the-year” for 2012 with my current journey. And that is also why my daughter Taryn will be joining me for a few days in Rhode Island – she hasn’t missed a state trip yet.)

I found the Roger Williams National Memorial (I didn’t actually remember who he was from the history classes of my youth!) and the memorial consisted of a small visitor center with some displays and a video and a pretty park in the heart of town across from where he once lived. In a nutshell, Roger Williams fled England in the 1600s like so many people because of religious persecution. But he found Massachusetts to be a place where religion was still tied to state matters, and he believed strongly that religion and state should be separate. He was banned from Massachusetts and wandered south a bit and became acquainted with the local Native American tribes and learned to speak their languages, and peacefully negotiated the purchase of land to form his own colony, which he called Providence, and declared it would be a place that anyone could be free to practice whatever religious beliefs they wanted to without the threat of persecution. For people who shared his beliefs, he re-baptized them (forming the first Baptist church), and the oldest Baptist church in the nation is in Providence; still standing, and still thriving. For the same reasons, Providence also became the home of the first Quaker meetinghouse, and the first Jewish synagogue. All were “safe” in Providence. And there’s a lesson in tolerance and common sense in all of that, which hasn’t yet been learned by all of our current world leaders. I thought about all of this as Tula and I walked more about than 5 miles through all of historic Providence, and Brown University, and the river walk by the canal that runs though town. I thought about it again when I walked by a museum that had both entrance drives blocked off, guarded by police officers, and when I asked one of them why the museum was blocked off, he said the Dalai Lama was there – and I thought what an appropriate city for him to visit since he’s a symbol of religious persecution today. Anyway, after I finished my long walk, I returned to the Visitor Center and gave them my donation-for-the-day. It was educational for me, and given in the hopes that more and more people can think the way Roger Williams did…to be tolerant and fair.

The state capitol building was only about a 10 minute walk away, so I put Tula in the car and walked over a bridge to the State Capitol, and wandered around inside – there were no guided tours and I just picked up a pamphlet for a self-guided tour. There was hardly anyone around in the whole building. It was a very pretty building with murals and a huge dome, and big beautiful grounds. That added another mile on to a full day, and I was happy to get back to the car and sit for a while on the short drive across the state to see Jerimoth Hill – the high point of the state at 812 feet. I had done my homework and knew where to park the car and take a short walk into the woods to see the rocks at the actual high point – and sign the visitor book! On the way back I detoured into Woonsocket again, and walked another .8 mile – the city wasn’t quite as pretty and walkable as I thought it would be, and I had walked nearly 10 1/2 miles altogether today (stockpiling a few miles since the forecast for Friday is very rainy). I stopped at Panera on the way back to the motel which was a wonderful treat after a very full day!

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One Comment
  1. Nancy, I just loved this post. It is amazing how so many things are working together for your trip. What “providence” the Dalai Lama was visiting the same time you were. It gives real balance to your journey.

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