Posts from the ‘rant’ Category
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.
Apparently these graphics come from a Bicycle Safety booklet that was distributed to elementary school children back in the 1950’s or 1960’s. It boggles my mind.
While I am typically not an advocate of re-blogging, reposting material from other people, I’ve been captivated, fascinated (?!) by a set of scanned images posted by one of my Flickr contacts (samhDOTnet) and felt the need to share.
The propaganda – the illustrations and accompanying captions – are nothing short of … crazy, terrible, horrific, mind-numbing, innapropriate, and countless other adjectives that I won’t list. As a child of the 60’s, I remember some crazy stuff from back in the day in elementary school (a booklet I had as a school “safety patrol” crossing guard comes to mind) – but nothing quite like this.
Most of all, it makes me contemplate the evolution of attitudes towards cyclists vs. “the rest” (cars, trucks, rights to roadways, even pedestrians), not to mention the image some people continue to have of people on bikes. And the fact that culpability for cycling fatalities and accidents in this country – for as long as we’ve been sharing the road – is often not well investigated and blame still seems to be placed on the cyclist rather than the driver of the motor vehicle more often than not. It’s a little hard to think about, really.
I suppose I should begin with a statement along the lines of, “the views and opinions expressed in this post are mine alone, and do not necessarily represent the views of , well … anybody else – organization, agency or otherwise”.
Today marks six months since our community was devastated by the April 27th tornados. I was invited to attend a community gathering to celebrate one family’s perseverance and hard work on their journey to recovery, as they moved into their new home – built on the very site where they had lost everything six months ago. The rebuilding was a collaborative effort – from the weeks and months of sweat and toil by the homeowners, coupled with help from several local agencies, the long term recovery committee, and the generosity of numerous local contractors and suppliers who provided manpower and materials. I applaud them all, and I am so happy that this family has been able to rebuild and remain in the place they know as home. It exemplifies the good that can be accomplished by a community pulling together, and the strength of a family who never gave up hope.
But as the minutes passed, and the state and local political dignitaries arrived, along with their carloads of security detail, the media, etc., I couldn’t help feeling a little uncomfortable. I know it is “the way of things”, but I personally dislike the whole ribbon-cutting-for-political-photo-ops routine, the talking-head political speech-izing for exposure… the pat-myself-on-the-back “yes, I knew I had to get on the waiting jet to fly home from my duties in the legislature to see what I could do, blah, blah, blah.” (Yes, one of them really said that.)
And as wonderful as it was to see so much rebuilding in this hard-hit neighborhood, there are still many families who are still struggling to recover – houses right across the street that have no roof, people fighting with insurance providers, homes that have been left damaged and even abandoned. Several neighbors (in less fortunate states of rebuilding) were watching all of the hoopla of politicians and the media from across the street – and I couldn’t help wonder how they were feeling?
I was happy that the homeowner was given the chance to say a few words, but at the end of the day it felt a like political showcase. And, in my opinion, Mr. Legislator, the press-worthy heros – or at least the ones I would rather celebrate and hear speak on this day – are the first responders, firefighters and emergency response workers (standing quietly in the background today) who were pulling people from the wreckage of their homes in the dark; the families who ran to help their neighbors and offered them shelter; the local businessmen who donated tens of thousands of dollars in relief supplies; the local community agencies and the long term recovery team who continue to work with struggling families. While I know that politics played a part somewhere in the disaster response equation, it is the reaction, action and perseverance of the local citizens and community that has accomplished the most good.
I confess I left with mixed feelings. Happiness for the family returning home, grateful to the countless community heros who are still hard at work, troubled by the sight of neighbors who continue struggling to recover and rebuild – and sadly, some disdain for the politicians who grabbed this opportunity for press coverage. Just my opinion.
There were some drawings from neighborhood school children that were clipped to a clothesline in the background of all of the ceremonial stuff … and they spoke to me. I’m not even sure if any of the politicians noticed them? When the words “hope” and “joy” are clouds above a piece of heavy equipment moving debris, when the sky is streaked with ink black and crimson, when the sun is bright yellow above a family cat that survived the storm – these are the voices of recovery I hear, and the ones I will never forget.
The heat followed us. The only escape, once again, was in the water. And so it was we spent some beautiful days along the North Carolina coast – at the southern tip of Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks. It’s a place we’ve visited many times before, but this year I was especially delighted that we had the opportunity to stay in an artist’s house – they call her “Sea Rider”, as she had just barely ridden out Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
The house’s owner is a painter and artist, and her beautiful house along an open stretch of Cape oceanfront is definitely a muse – filled with a number of pieces of her modern abstract art, seascapes, and beautiful views of the Atlantic ocean. Ms. W, the artist, had apparently done lettering design for 12 of the well-known Dr. Seuss books, before going on to become an administrator/director at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati. For me, it was just inspiring to be in the house – the light, the views, the solitude on the quiet stretch of beach… and my camera at hand, of course.
We did some biking on most of the mornings – mostly to our favorite little coffee house, The Dancing Turtle – but the heat was just too oppressive past about 10 am to be doing much cycling. So it was to the beach and into the water and reading under the beach umbrellas for the remainder of the day. We didn’t even bring our road bikes or the Xtracycles, as past experience here with the amount of sand, salt and sea spray in the air proved to be horribly corrosive to chains and other bits of bicycle hardware.
We paddled Pamlico Sound at sunset … which was absolutely breathtaking – but not to be outdone by sunrise on the Atlantic side.
While the southern end of the Cape is typically not packed with vacationing tourists, it did seem a bit quieter and less populated than in years past. While I personally feel the dismal economy may be to blame, there is also local war being waged against the National Park Service and several environmental groups, all surrounding habitat preservation and nesting shore birds vs. off road vehicle use (and restrictions) and shoreline closures. Sigh.
In a nutshell, large stretches of coastline along the Hatteras National Seashore have traditionally been open to 4WD vehicle access – which brings large numbers of surf fishermen and vacationers who are water sport enthusiasts (surfers, kiteboarders, etc.). Over recent years, in an attempt to preserve shorebird nesting habitats and sea turtle nesting grounds, legislation was enacted to limit off-road vehicle use as well as pedestrian access in certain areas. The last time (2008) we wanted to walk out to Cape Point, I remember it was closed due to Piping Plover nesting season. Personally, I had no problem with the closure – I was glad to see that the area was being protected, even though it meant I couldn’t get out to the Point.
These closures, however, have infuriated the small local business owners, who are up in arms against continuing ORV legislation. Groups like the Outer Banks Protection Association (OBPA) have sprung up, claiming that the local small business economy is being destroyed by the legislation. Several small businesses have posted signs against the “evil misguided environmentalists”, and some are even selling stickers that “flip the bird” at the Audubon Society. In a rather harsh video on the OBPA website, the narrator states:
… An agenda-driven group of opportunists have drawn a target on this community’s back in the name of the environment.
Can you guess my point of view on this one? Yeah, I suspect that anyone who knows me, will know that I am not in line with OBPA – even if it were to mean that I was never again able to step foot on the beautiful coastline of Cape Hatteras for the sake of some beautiful shorebirds and endangered turtles (and may end up with a bunch of nasty comments from Cape folks telling me to never come back). Sorry, I stand firm in what I believe.
The fact that the Cape Hatteras National Seashore remains one of the few stretches of coastline on the eastern seaboard that remains largely undeveloped and untouched has always been – and will always be – the draw for me. It is why I love the place. The legislation being proposed still allows ample opportunity for recreation and access, albeit perhaps without using your 4WD vehicle to get out there. If you want to surf fish Cape Point – carry your gear and take a walk when the stretch is of shoreline is open for access and leave your ORV at home.
While I am not meaning to entangle myself with another environmental feud (Olin’s mercury dumping has been more than enough for me, thanks), I have send my note to Congress on this one. Whatever is decided, I sincerely hope that the Cape can remain largely in its beautiful and natural state. It is a place for footprints in the sand and artist’s images … not a parking lot for 4WD vehicles.
I may not be the artist the Sea Rider’s owner is, but I was enchanted to stay in this amazing house and take away a few of my own images – by camera. Sea Rider, I hope you will be my muse again next summer.
Let me begin by saying: nobody was seriously injured – nor were there any bicycles involved.
Yesterday afternoon I had one of those moments that every parent dreads beyond description – getting a phone call that your child was in an car accident. My youngest son was on his way to tennis practice after school and was stopped behind a van for a driver making a left-hand turn – and moments later he was rear-ended by a driver who admitted to being “temporarily distracted”/momentarily not paying close enough attention. (I won’t even start on my abhorrence over cell-phones use in cars, texting, etc. – even though we don’t know if this was a contributing factor in this accident).
While I understand that accidents happen, and we are more than willing to forgive and forget, I hope that this will serve as a reminder to both the driver and to my teenage son (who is in that high-risk group, even though he was not at fault here): distracted driving is completely unsafe and irresponsible, and the outcome could have been much, much worse. Sad business all around.
Grant is fine, a little bruised and shaken, but we are SO grateful that the outcome was as good as it was. I can always replace a car … had anything happened to my son, well, I can’t even think about it.
One thing that left me fairly shocked (although the attending police didn’t seem to find it unusual for some reason), was that even though the dash basically popped out, or was pushed out by the impact, the driver’s airbag didn’t deploy. I am a bit mystified. Can someone explain? I may be asking the folks at Honda about this.
As for bikes and cycling … well, I guess this is one way for me to be car-free for a while. Mark will be driving my car, while Grant drives our other car. Distances, along with Grant’s before- and after-school activities and Mark’s business travel make it necessary for them to use cars, while I can fairly easily get by on two wheels. Good thing.
Meanwhile – don’t drink, text, use a phone, apply make-up, shave, read, or do anything else when you’re behind the wheel. Please. Please.
Although I am tempted to rant about our local grocery store choices (or more accurately, lack of choices…), and the disappointing assortment of over-processed, over-packaged convenience foods within our horrid chain stores – we have no Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, EarthFare or anything remotely decent within a 25 mile radius – I will spare you my whining. My family is weary enough of my complaints. But I like to cook – and I like to cook real food. Food “from scratch” as we used to say, rather than out of a box or a freezer case.
And today as I was heading to the grocery store on my bike thinking about all of this, wishing I had a decent grocery store/market within riding distance, I was reminded of a wonderful 3-minute video I had seen earlier in the week by the amazing people at Streetfilms: Moving Beyond the Automobile (Vimeo).
Of course it features the incredible cycling infrastructure improvements of the Big Bicycle Cities (NYC, Portland, SF, etc.), but what really struck a chord with me were some of the statistics about the exponential increases in ridership when safe, protected cycling infrastructure is provided to the public. The old, “if you build it, they will come …” idea. Tenfold. One-hundredfold. Exponentially.
As (my hero) Rep. Earl Blumenauer so perfectly states:
“People shouldn’t have to burn a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk … “
He goes on to talk about the need to give people safe and accessible transportation choices of all types – choices that will reduce the demand for using the automobile, which can ultimately save people time and money, while improving their health and “ultimately enriching their daily experience.” I couldn’t agree more.
So I cycled to my poor-excuse-for-a-grocery-store and got the gallon of milk. And a few other items of “real” food. And I dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have a bike lane, or even a little bit of road shoulder, to easily cycle to some Real Foods store … Maybe someday.
Do you ever have days when a tiny voice inside says something along the lines of … “today is not the day”? The planets are not aligned, there is a feeling of bad karma, an inner hesitation, clouds overhead. And of course I completely ignore that little voice. Serves me right.
Rest assured – nothing truly bad happened. No crash/collision, no flat tire, no mechanical issue. Just a multitude of basic annoyances that began with getting rained on (and having no rain gear, of course), continued with wasting energy (Staples no longer carries the type of photo canvas I went to buy), and included a superabundance of discourteous Friday motorists (the left-hand turn cut-off, the texting-while-driving twenty-something passing too close for comfort, and the barreling log-truck driver apparently late with his delivery to the pulp mill).
There are not many days I am happy to get off of my bike and off of the road, but today was one of them. I should have listened to the little voice.