*Photo of Allegany River in fall a few years ago–note the graffiti on the wall if you can see it.
After waiting several weeks for weather to clear enough to continue work on the Aluminum Falcon, our terribly missed Airstream home, Michael finally had to take work out of state in New Hampshire. He’s back at the hospital where we started our first travel assignment in September of 2016, and I am stuck in Olean for a while to try desperately to get our home cleaned out, sell our excess furniture and tchotchkes, and throw some paint at the walls to make them pretty again. This is not what we wanted, but we need money in order to continue the work on the Airstream. Patiently it waits for us in the parking lot while Michael works a crazy schedule in New Hampshire, a schedule which does not look promising in terms of breaks to return home anytime soon. Frankly, it stinks like a skunk in a rancid garbage can, but this is where we are for the moment. Meanwhile, I also have to continue working on my fiction, and I find myself drawn to visiting people I have missed for the long stretch of time away from our old home town. And now, I shall issue a warning. If you read on, please know I am about to spout passionately about Things That Matter To Me.
Coming home has meant I can do a little more on the front of helping bolster efforts to care for our natural world. On my list of Things To Do is to join forces with other people who care about our planet, people who understand how very concerning it is that things are changing much faster than expected in reference to climate change, and how desperately the planet needs us to stop using it like a giant latrine. It’s serious, and when you add to that problems with corporations STILL foisting their baloney about how safe fracking is, how beneficial oil products are, etc. ad nauseum, I absolutely want to ralph. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. (See? I wasn’t kidding about the spouting.) So I found myself at a meeting Monday night in Salamanca, NY, which is home to the Seneca Nation of Indians. The subject of the meeting? To protect the Allegany River.
I went into this meeting without much knowledge of the current situation. What I did know is that the Allegany River is under threat from a fracking operation near Coudersport, PA, a village about an hour south of where I live in Olean, NY. Some folks might remember the company named Adelphia, which was owned by John Rigas, and who in 2005 was convicted of multiple counts of fraud. He lived in Coudersport, PA, which is probably one of its biggest claims to fame. Anyway, the latest fiasco coming out of the village has to do with a very troubling concern which I believe anyone south of Coudersport or along the Allegany River should know: a company near Coudersport wants to dump the fracking waste water from their mining operation into the Allegany River. The company who shall remain nameless here has apparently stated (according to what I heard at Monday night’s meeting) that the fracking waste water will be treated before dumping, and the company claims the water will be safe. Except that no method for safely removing radioactive particles and several other dangerous chemicals from the waste water has been proven to be effective. This is the point where I always ask myself why it’s so hard for corporations to just do the right damn thing. Is the money really worth it? Do any of these corporate scumbags have trouble sleeping when they know what they’re doing to damage the planet, people’s lives, and the entire ecology of a region when they use our land like a garbage dump? I mean, when are we going to stop being so incredibly horrible as a species? Ugh.
Anyway, I listened to a lot of people talk about what they had already been doing to get active in their communities to raise awareness of the issue, like going to their town councils and insisting on action, and what can be done for the future. We met in smaller groups after that to try to get people organized to work on specific tasks in an effort to fight this idiotic desire of yet another creepy corporation from hurting anyone else. In case it isn’t evident, I am entirely against fracking, and am glad New York State has banned it. I wish all states would ban it, as it’s dangerous. I read an article last night that said scientists had recommended a full stop on any further fracking efforts across the country, as so many problems—serious problems—have presented themselves with the process, from earthquakes to waste water management. It’s in general a foolish choice to mine for natural gas as a filthy bandaid on a problem we should be solving by just ditching the use of oil and gas altogether. But why would we do anything that makes sense? Regardless, I cannot sit back and watch while a small group of people makes a decision which will affect countless lives. Not just the ecology of the region around Coudersport is at stake. Oh, no. It’s much worse than that.
This morning I read an article which described the various places where water is stored in Pennsylvania, from waterways and lakes to below-ground aquifers. The entire water ecosystem is referred to as the watershed, and when you look at the whole state of Pennsylvania, it’s got A LOT of water. Privately-owned wells for homes are a massive dot-to-dot coverage of the map, and then you have three large rivers running down the state, along with several large aquifers which supply drinking water to the state’s residents. If that corporation dumps fracking waste water into the Allegany River, and it isn’t perfectly clean of all contaminants (and we know it won’t be), that waste will leach into the bed of the river, into the plants and animals in the river, into the soil surrounding the river, into the sediment carried down the river to where it meets the Ohio River, and any people or animals which eat anything out of that water (or even go into the water) will also be ingesting those contaminants. Once those contaminants get into the ground, they will leach into the watershed and can easily be carried down into the water table, where anyone downstream may find these contaminants in their wells. If any radioactive waste is in the water, its potential for lethal consequences is astounding. I am reeling as I think about the vast effects of such an outcome. So many animals, plants, and people will get sick, and even die. Why would anyone want to be responsible for such a horrible scenario? Smh.
I feel as though I have reached a point in my life where I am completely done with excuses, ignoring science, and small groups of people trying to tell everyone else how to live their lives. Most of us want clean water, safe food, a secure place to live, and adequate clothing. Is this really too hard to achieve? We have one of the biggest populations in the world here in the US. Can we not save our rivers and lakes from being polluted? Do we not see the importance of clean air yet? Have we not the ability to understand the necessity of safe farming in soil that has proper nutrients to grow tasty vegetables? And what about treating animals with kindness? Is that out of our reach, too? I think not. Really, I feel as though all this boils down to two issues: equality and education. If we respect others as equals, and we are all adequately educated so we can make informed decisions to govern ourselves, none of these issues would be a problem. Unfortunately, people still don’t really understand how serious it is to have fracking waste water full of scary chemicals and radiation running all over the place. Frogs hopping around with extra legs are the least of our worries.
Folks, I know this blog post probably comes off as preachy or maybe I sound like I’m frothing at the mouth while I type (I actually might be), but I love this earth. We don’t have another home, and we can’t just hop in a spaceship to another planet. This is it. If we don’t protect what we have, it won’t be there for anyone else to enjoy. After all the beautiful places I’ve seen in my lifetime, I choke up just thinking about how maddening it is that anyone believes they have the right to destroy it for anyone else. What I hope to see in my lifetime is a shift of consciousness world-wide. I hope we can get the pollution under control. Maybe we can start listening to the desperate pleas of scientists who have been saying for decades that we must change our ways. If every single American made the choice to do even one thing to take an oil product out of their lives, it would make an incredible dent in the problem of how much oil we consume daily. I know not everyone can afford to make such changes in lifestyle, but some of us can. If even one person reads this and decides to avoid even one oil or gas product, I will have made progress. I say that, but I secretly hope everyone will do something.
I have no idea what will happen as the months stretch onward toward what will most likely be an ugly clash over the river. My heart wants it to work out in favor of the people, the ecology, and protecting the water. I know the Seneca Nation has the strength of will to stand strong against the corporate structure which wants to unleash its poison on the natural world. Many concerned citizens have come together to support the effort already under way, and we lend ourselves to the strength of the Seneca Nation while they act in staunch honor for the earth, as water protectors, just as Standing Rock did, just as countless other nations and tribes have done over many years. We must count our lucky stars that at least the Native Americans are willing to go to bat for our water, even if many of the rest of us don’t even bother to open the yearly report of what’s in our water supply. At this point, I hope we are all becoming aware of the fact that we mustn’t leave such important tasks to the government, nor should we trust that corporations are doing due diligence to monitor pollutants. All of us have a duty to speak up to protect the fragility of our ecosystems, to tread carefully when we go into the wild spaces left in the world, and to remember these ecosystems support our own lives in ways we cannot begin to imagine. Our very health depends on the stable ecology of where we live. We must all be aware of who is dumping what in our soil, water, and air. It matters.
Now I hope to leave you with a small happy story which I will tie back into my original thread. Last week Michael and I took a long trip across New York State to Woodstock. Yes, that Woodstock. I have never been there, despite living in New York my whole life. It is a delightful little town in the wooded hills upstate, and we had a wonderful experience taking in the stories of a book panel of incredibly talented and intelligent women. Four women who had written memoirs were featured, but I went to hear one woman in particular: Amanda Palmer. For those who are not familiar with her, she wrote The Art of Asking, a book about how she learned to be comfortable asking for help as an artist, and how she created a network of loving community members and supporters who eventually helped her in raising an astonishing million dollars on Kickstarter so she could create an indie music album. Her incredible story actually inspired me to become an indie author before I published my book, Violet, and I am so glad for the continued wonder that is her online community. If you have never heard of her writing or music, I suggest you visit her website at amandapalmer.net. You can download much of her music for donation (or free), and the vast amount of work she has created to date is absolutely mind-blowing. You can probably also find a link to her book, which has been back on the best-seller list for the last few weeks.
After the book panel was finished, I got to meet her briefly, thank her for her positive influence, and stumble all over myself in fangirlish foolishness. She was patient and kind, and even gave me a warm hug after I gave her some art for her home. This kind of care for others, this kind of genuine interaction really has changed the way I see a lot of things about the world, and it gives me hope that we can stop being distant and uncaring. Though she was attacked ferociously for earning the highest amount of money on Kickstarter to date because people thought she was asking for charity to create art (most people didn’t get how her community actually works), she still loves others genuinely, and is generously open and authentic with her fans. She also donates a lot of money she earns from her supporters, giving to families in need around the globe. This gives me hope for the planet. Please do me a favor and reflect on your footsteps from here. Think about your place in this big, beautiful world. Be the shining star you deserve to be, and rightfully shine your light on the rest of us. The world deserves your inner light, and I hope whatever you do with the rest of your day it involves something powerfully good, like kissing and hugging a baby, making your family a gorgeous and planet-friendly meal, or smiling at someone who is clearly struggling with their day. Be kind. Be gentle. Especially with yourself. My dears, I could go on forever wishing you love and happiness, but my backside is aching from sitting so long. Go out and be beautiful.