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Posts from the ‘community’ Category

not plain or black and white

We just returned from spending several days in Pennsylvania, visiting family.  I love riding there – quiet empty roads, rolling hills, Amish farms, horse-drawn buggies sharing the road, and cooler temperatures.  And at the end of the ride, a slice of my mother in-law’s wonderful pie – usually apple or “Shoo-Fly”.

While I promised certain persons I would not go on some blog-based rant, I can’t help but feeling concerned about the explosion of natural gas wells that are mushrooming up across the landscape – including one that  sits in a corner of my in-laws’ property, a beautiful 20-acre wooded and pastured piece of land in NW Pennsylvania where they have lived most of their lives in their circa 1800’s farmhouse.

It feels like a new century Great Gold Rush is taking place.  If you own any property, an enticing lease will come in the mail with the offer of thousands of dollars per acre to lease the land and then provide an additional flow of royalty checks for coming years.

In an area that has seen the loss of industry and jobs over the past several decades, where unemployment is high and new industry is scarce, where the tax base has eroded, where municipal services struggle and schools have been closed and consolidated – players in the gas and oil companies are positioned to move in and bring jobs and an alluring cash infusion to struggling townships and boroughs.

Lucrative gas leases are the talk of the town and everyone seems to want to jump on board and cash in.  Landowner groups have formed to negotiate for the best possible price.  Shell and Chevron, among others, are ready to invest billions in petrochemical facilities.  The local papers are full of stories of not only the Marcellus Shale, but the Utica Shale, the Medina Sands … we’re sitting on a gold mine!

If you’ve spent the last twenty years struggling to make ends meet on your old family homestead, finding a check for tens of thousands of dollars in your mailbox can certainly feel like you just won the lottery.

I understand the needs, the draw.  And I support the prospect of clean domestically-sourced energy – if we can come by it safely and sustainably.  But the issues, as always, are not so black and white.  I know that everything comes with a cost … And looking at the construction of the well on my in-law’s land, and wells on nearly every property along their road and beyond,  I ask myself:  at what cost, this?

The immediate and contentious issue  is “fracking”, or hydraulic fracturing – the process of drilling and injecting massive quantities of water combined with a toxic chemical “cocktail” (a proprietary recipe) deep into the ground to fracture the substrate along in order to release the trapped gas.  I won’t bother to  go into detail here, as the controversial issues – especially in regards to the eastern Marcellus Shale fracking – are all over the news and internet.  NPR recently did an excellent multi-part series about the issues at hand, called The Fracking Boom: Missing Anwers.  And of course there is the incredible award-winning documentary by Josh Fox called Gasland.

While I didn’t experiment and see if my inlaws’ water could be ignited and burst into flame coming out of their tap, I do know that their experience has not been without issues.  Recently, for instance, while they were out of town for several days, it was discovered that one of the pipes or fittings at the well had corroded to the point of failure, and that gas (and methane and probably heavy metals and proprietary chemicals) had been spewing into the air for an unknown amount of time.  My father-inlaw complained that “they must have used some really cheap pipe”.  I was thinking: you have no idea how corrosive the stuff coming out of that pipe really is –  (and you are probably breathing it, and possibly drinking it).

It bothers me – the possible (probable?) risks, borne from contaminated water and or air.  Multiply this by thousands – tens of thousands –  of virtually unmonitored well sites across huge swaths of land and cracked open beneath public water sources for millions, the unknown cumulative effect of widespread fracturing of the grounds below…  what will the cost be to public health and to the environment?

Extensive research on the effects has yet to be completed, the fracking cocktail recipes remain undisclosed to the public, and the big oil and gas players are moving as fast as they can with fists full of cash before time runs out and they face more stringent regulation.  Play now, pay later.  Only you know who will ultimately have to pay…

On the farms belonging to the Plain People, the Amish, I didn’t see a single gas well.  I saw their vegetable gardens, their windmills, their cabinet-making workshops.  We rode our bikes, they passed by us in their buggies.  I contemplate our progress.  And I don’t drink the water from my in-laws’ faucet.

red crossings

Lucy is proving to be a perfect commuter bike for me – functional, comfortable, versatile.  And appropriately red enough for my trips into the Red Cross office (I swear this never even crossed my mind when I was choosing her paint color).

On a national level, the Red Cross is making preparations for the possible landfall of Isaac.  It’s fascinating to see the process unfold, the planning, the deployment of material and human resources – and the ways that numerous local Chapters contribute to the response.   While I have chosen not to be available for deployment at this time due to some personal scheduling conflicts, I continue to stay busy locally with our DAT team and working with new volunteers – work that I enjoy very much.

The continuing reorganizational changes surrounding our local Chapter can be frustrating at times.  While many of the changes to our service model make sense, and should ultimately provide more efficient delivery, the plan for implementation (internally) has not always been so well thought out – and this can be very difficult for a workforce of volunteers.

At the end of the day, I often have to step back and ask myself:  are we helping to the people who need our assistance?  The answer, thankfully, is yes.  Ultimately, this is all that really matters – whether it involves responding to house and apartment fires here at home, or providing relief to our clients after a hurricane.  At the end of the day, I know we have helped.

I get on my bike and ride home, thankful for the chance to unwind and mentally re-evaluate the day to the soothing rhythm of my pedals strokes … and hope that storms, near and far, change course.

stealing second

Riding home, I stopped to poke around the local ball field up the road.  Little League season is in full swing this time of year, but the park was empty and quiet when I arrived – an hour or so before the after-school practices would begin.  One of these nights, I’m going to go to watch a game.  It’s always entertaining to watch the really little kids play – cute, earnest, and usually with a sprinkling of comedy.

I let the Xtracycle steal second base… and I am wishing my beloved a very happy fifty-second birthday today, and many more wonderful miles ahead!

utilitaire 9: history lesson

Another day in town of trip-chaining by bike.  Stop for coffee, pop into the bike shop, visit our local history museum, drop by the library (and more coffee), hit the grocery store for dinner-to-go, and home again; a bit of a list, and I again apologize for a rather lengthy post.  Despite multiple destinations,  I will log today’s Utilitaire checkpoint as #9 – museum visit.

In the section of town known as Five Points, we have a very nice regional history museum – the Museum Center at Five Points (and I am sorry to say that the above photo is not the museum, just an old building on the Five Points Corner ).  The museum is one of those places I don’t make time to visit often enough, so I am grateful for the Utilitaire challenge and the reminder to make the visit.  In addition to the permanent collection of local history and artifacts, the current temporary exhibit features an impressive collection of vintage and modern quilts.  As much as I loved viewing the quilts, I was really more interested in taking some time to explore the permanent collection more thoroughly than I have had time to in the past.  I learned a few things – including (according to the docent I spoke with) the fact that the industry responsible for “growing” and placing our little town on the TN map was kitchen stove manufacturing.   Not only was there a Hardwick Woolen Mill, but also a Hardwick Stove Company, among others.

Since my time was my own today, I was able to read, look and explore a little more.  Other things that caught my eye (in addition to the quilts, of course) were a vintage camera and an old grocery bike, along with a interesting collection of daily household items.

Coming to the museum in late March will be a new photograph exhibit that I am definitely looking forward to – a collection of black and white photographs from Knoxville photographer Don Dudenbostel on aspects of Appalachian culture that are fading from existence.  From roadside culture to moonshine distilleries to snake handling (yeah, snake handling) … this should be exceptional.  I’ve admired some of his other work (x-ray imaging) in the Bluff View Art District in Chattanooga, and it is pretty incredible.

As I was leaving the museum, I discovered I had just missed seeing my friend Jenn, who is an education director for the museum and had been there for a meeting.  Sorry Jenn.  But I definitely need to ask her for a favor — any chance we can get  the museum facilities people to install a bike rack??  (hint, hint)  😉

I left the museum and stopped at the library where I ran into one of my “other” sons, Tim, who had finished his college classes for the day and spotted me parking my bike.   We had a cup of coffee and did some catching up  in the library coffee shop before he headed off.  With all of the boys at schools here, there and everywhere, I don’t get to see these guys as often as I used to – and I was so touched that he was kind enough to take some time to re-connect.  My boys have the most amazing friends.

library bike rack

Winding through neighborhoods, with spring colors reminding me of the some of the quilts from earlier in the day.  On to the grocery store for a assorted salads for a simple supper, and then home.  A very good day.

 pansies, reminding me of quilts …

homeward

utilitaire 8.12: caffeinated

Everyone is going separate ways today, but my beloved and I managed to take a little time out to ride for coffee before he heads out of town later today.  Utilitaire checkpoint #2: coffeeneuring.  Once again a traverse through town on the Greenway, and for whatever reason, I am always compelled to stop on this bridge.  I want to start keeping a tally.  There are other bridges, other underpasses, other places I ride through and across as often, or more frequently, than this bridge… but I always consciously think about this location, this bridge, whenever I cross it.  I have no idea why.

As for coffee – I know that Starbucks often gets a bad rap.  Yeah, it’s not some trendy local roaster, I can’t get a latte with a picture created in the froth, but it’s really about the only game in town.  I tend to avoid the Inman Street Coffee House run by the Salvation Army, because I have a personal aversion to the big screen tv’s they have hanging on the walls playing Fox News, and I take issue with some of the national organization’s position statements.  Sorry, Tim (and the other kids who work there).  At Starbucks, I am always greeted with a smile and treated very well by the barristas I have come to know,  I’d rather listen to music than blaring tv’s,  I’ve made a few friends here (both cyclists and non-) and truthfully, they manage to make the best skinny vanilla latte in the neighborhood.  Not to mention, it’s a convenient ride off of the Greenway.

Rode back, no time for trip-chaining today unfortunately.  Time to get on with the other stuff.  Sigh.

coffee on the go

utilitaire and a little more

Trailhead Bicycle shop

Utilitaire 6.12: it began as a trip to the bike shop, #8 on the control card (for the second time).  And then transformed into a fun family-friendly community ride on the Greenway, and finally a quick stop for dinner – along with picking up a few boxes of girl scout cookies. Mmmm.  🙂

Dillon is home from school for a quick weekend visit, and we took a ride to the bike shop.  Our shop owner, Charles, had also gotten a small group of us together at the end of the day for what is hopefully the first of many more family fun rides on our local Greenway.  The idea is to bring families together for some easy and kid-friendly rides, promoting a little more bike friendliness within our community, and working on building/strengthening an advocacy network.  I think there is also a leaning toward trying to fill the rides with “bicycle variety” – fixies, cargo bikes, and other non-typical bicycle”oddities”.    As the weather warms up and the days grow longer, we hope to include other activities like themed rides, bike picnics, frozen yoghurt stops, maybe even a wine-and-cheese type of stop for the adults.  Who knows?  We’ve also talked about incorporating some of the Utilitaire-type destinations and goals into the mix, but ultimately to appeal to a wide range of cycling abilities and interests, and get more people out on their bikes.

ready for fun

soon-to-be-new-dad Jeff test driving & planning ahead

We left from the shop, rode the Greenway from end to end, and stopped to a few minutes of discussion and planning within our fledgling start-up group.  I think we all had fun; I know I did.  Mostly, I hope we can grow the group and the idea … I would love to see more of my local friends join in the fun.  I took a lot of photos and am posting a few – hope these friends don’t mind, as I didn’t really get permission.

After the group ride, Mark, Dillon and I headed back, stopping for a quick bite on the way.  I didn’t manage to get a full-fledged night ride in as I had hoped … but we did get home before it started to rain.  Night rides will have to wait for another day.

gathering

Dillon tries out Jeff's fixie

Charles, owner of Trailhead Bicycle

under mud-struction

paving the way for the Greenway extension

This post probably won’t mean much to anyone but a few of my local friends – Jenn, Jeff, Sarah, et al.  But it’s kind of a big deal for me.  We’re getting closer to seeing the completion of a big extension of our local Greenway/walking/bike path.  Once finished, it is going to be a more convenient way for me to get into and around town, avoiding some of the most congested roadways.  The current section under construction is at least a mile or two closer to me (on the north), and I really look forward to avoiding some traffic-hassle in getting to points south, including downtown.

long stretches through Tinsley Park, currently a mud bath

Over the weekend, we ran into Jeff and he mentioned that we all need to take an “inaugural ride” once the new section is completed (yay!).  I am looking forward to the day, although the current state of muck-ness through Tinsley Park appears to be a long way from being in rideable shape, even with some knobby tires.  Hopefully things will dry out, and they can re-grade at the very least … maybe drop some gravel?  I’m not sure if there is a plan to pave this section?

 Mostly, I’m just waiting for the thing to be somewhat contiguous; I’ve never quite understood the method to their expansion plans – very piecemeal and disjointed.  There are short sections on the north end that have been completed and paved for several years, but never connected to the rest of the path, making them virtually useless.  The same thing occurred on the south end at one point.  But I suspect it has something to do with obtaining right-of-ways or permits or funding.

Anyway, it’s exciting stuff – seeing the bridge completed and the heavy equipment in use … I really do look forward to the maiden voyage from north to south.

almost at the point of joining the existing path

the far north end (completed) ... and more rain on the way