Posts from the ‘water’ 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.
bike the boat
Yesterday I worked; today I played.
Even though it is the first official day of spring, it felt more like summer. Eighty-plus degrees and sunny. The heat makes me want to ride to the river, and I figured I may as well try to do a little paddling. I have a nice set-up to tow my boat with my Xtracycle, and it’s a happy combination to be able to ride and paddle on a beautiful day.
My put-in is just up the road from our house, about 4 miles. Getting there was a breeze, literally. Gently rolling with an overall downhill grade, and I had a nice tailwind. It was definitely the easy part. Arrived and locked the bike along the guardrail by the bridge, and was reminded again of the mess that has been made of this river by Olin and their mercury dumping – which thankfully will be ending soon, with their commitment to converting the plant to mercury-free processing.
Meanwhile, I still cannot comprehend how people are still willing to fish – and keep their catch – despite the clearly posted warnings of high levels of carcinogens in the fish. Completely baffles me. I’ve discussed it with several fishermen before, but I have learned to just keep my mouth shut. There is no changing their minds; they perceive the risk as negligible. (And I secretly shudder and shake my head).
I paddled away most of the afternoon, exploring and trying to navigate the very shallow water. In places, I was paddling in only inches. The Hiwassee River levels are regulated and controlled by TVA, and at this time of year they don’t typically release water upstream for recreational use in this inlet. Hence, the lake that is filled and sparkling blue in late spring through summer, is filled with stumps and shoals and islands over the winter and into early spring. The locals call this inlet Stump Lake. A fitting name.
Dozens of Great Blue Herons were my company; I love to just sit and watch them fishing in the shallows. Turtles were out sunning on stumps and logs, but would quietly slip into the water as I raised my camera lens. One of the fishermen said he had seen a Bald Eagle near the bridge. Sadly I missed it. It was peaceful, quiet, and a beautiful afternoon to be on the water … and “pedaling” my arms rather than my legs for a change.
Having had enough sun and with fatigue setting in on my shoulders, I headed for home in the late afternoon – this time against a headwind, with a more uphill grade, requiring a bit more muscle to tow the boat. I will confess my wimpy-ness by saying it felt good to get home. Dinner was salad and veggie pizza. Not fish. Definitely not fish.
riding through puddles
The weather continues to mystify me. Heavy rains and severe storms have rolled through the area, and to see tornado destruction in AL and AR in January is mind boggling. I cannot bear the thought of a repeat of last spring – and we’re still in the middle of what is supposed to be winter.
Rain or not, I needed to get out today. It was gusty but warm, and I revisited a road I hadn’t ridden in quite a while. Cows, barns, creeks (overflowing) and plenty of mud. But I still have fun riding through puddles…
the artist’s house
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.
Despite the fact that I keep listening to Florence + The Machine sing “…the dog days are over, the dog days are done”, the reality of venturing out into the great outdoors is more like stepping into the blowing heat of a convection oven. Near-record high temperatures combined with high humidity have prompted the posting of “heat warnings” throughout the region. As daily heat indexes climb toward 110’F, there are only brief windows of opportunity to be out riding – early morning or evening. Ugghhh.
If I could manage to swim faster, I’d probably be getting more mileage in the pool than by bicycle. 😉
The rhythm of July hums along … early morning swimming, early morning or dusk/evening rides, and retreating into air conditioning during the heat of the day to our annual “dog days” television-watching addiction: the Tour de France.
While I confess that I’m not a devoted follower of professional bicycle racing, there is so much about the Tour that simply fascinates me. I’m probably drawn to the visual beauty more than anything else – the undulating movement of the peloton, synchronized like a school of fish. The winding narrow roads through French villages. The mountains, the sunflowers, the fields of lavender … and the mind-boggling speed, endurance and athleticism of the riders (which I can only hope is not drug-enhanced), as well as the fascinating tactics of the racing. And yes – the drama of the crashes – of which there have sadly been too many of this year. It’s impossible to watch without wanting to hop on your bicycle and ride (although not as far, or as fast … for me, anyway).
Dillon has been riding with me recently – and he is ten times the cyclist that I will ever be. He is built (and rides) like a “climber” – that stick-insect-like build; all legs, virtually no body fat, light and fast. Up and out of the saddle, scaling hills almost effortlessly. Quite unlike his mother. Sigh.
I guess it’s a “parent thing”, but I enjoy just watching him ride ahead of me … and I’m glad he always waits for me to catch up.
drawn to water
I am still here …
The temperatures have just been unseasonably (and unreasonably) hot, and I have been like some seminocturnal creature – out on my bike in the early morning or into the evening, in search of water to slide into, and avoiding the blinding heat of mid-day. Some of you may love to see the mercury rise into the upper 90’s (F) each day. Not me. I’ll take riding in a snowstorm any day.
I’ve been drawn to the water. A little paddling, early morning swimming at the Y, riding to the river. It’s all a necessary alternative to riding through the rippling, shimmering heat rising from the pavement. Simply looking at water cools me off.
Ironically, Mark and I are about to set off on another bike touring adventure – nothing as exciting as Italy, but we are really looking forward to it, just the same. Except for the heat forecasted heat, of course. Along with possible flooding along the route (that may be a story for another post). Our timing is obviously not the greatest. If nothing else, it will be some fresh scenery for my camera lens, as well as a chance to really put some mileage on the Xtracycles. So stay tuned.
Meanwhile, summer is here in full bloom – and full heat. Remember to drink plenty of water. (Or swim in it, or bike alongside it 😉 )
the day after
So what do you do the day after #330daysofbiking? C’mon … did you really think there was any other option? 😉
Two of the boys were home for a brief weekend visit, with the local Battle of the Bands being the driver. The boys’ band The Night Shines took the win this year (YAY!) – and they have a free download of their song Forest Fire on their bandcamp site, for anyone interested).
Ross and I had a perfect day to take a great ride up to and along the river. After all of the grey and rain of the past days, it felt so good to have the sun shining.
While I don’t intend to keep a running tally of how many days I ride over the next year or so, I may just keep a personal log of the days I don’t – which hopefully will be kept to a bare minimum.
The perfect cycling life lesson appeared in my friend Jim’s (@bikerly) blog today; it can’t be said any better than this:
Yesterday, something compelled me to ride along the river – the Hiwassee River, up the road from our house. I can’t begin to count how many times I have crossed this bridge and have been reminded by the TDEC warning sign of the mercury contamination in this beautiful body of water. Or how many times I have watched (with disbelief) the people fishing, despite the warnings. Yesterday was no different. It always bothers me … and I’m sure you might be tired of me posting about it by now.
Last week, I attended a public hearing at our local Chamber of Commerce regarding a $41 million bond proposal for Olin Corporation through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. My friend Suzanne Wisdom from Oceana, along with several concerned residents (including myself) made comment for the record – if Olin was to receive this funding, it should be imperative that they commit to converting their plant to mercury-free technology.
The Chamber’s Industrial Development Board kindly told us that environmental issues did not factor into the issuance (or non-issuance) of this type of bond. Of course. But, as always, all we could continue to do was to speak out for the record.
Earlier today I received a phone-call from Suzanne … and it left me speechless. As of mid-day today, here is an excerpt from the official Press Release from Oceana:
Olin Corporation’s Two Dinosaur Mercury Plants Will End Mercury Use and Releases
in Tennessee and Georgia
Oceana Celebrates Olin’s Response to Community and Customer Demands
The Olin Corporation announced today it will convert its mercury-based chlor-alkali manufacturing plant in Charleston, TN to modern, mercury free technology and eliminate mercury from its plant operation in Augusta, GA. Oceana has been pushing for these actions since 2005. Olin’s plant in Tennessee is the largest remaining mercury-based chlorine plant of the four plants in the U.S. that had refused to make the switch to safer, more efficient technology.
In response, Oceana offers the following statement from Senior Campaign Director Jacqueline Savitz:
“This toxic, unnecessary practice was putting communities’ health at risk, and contaminating fish that could end up on dinner plates far from the plants themselves. Olin’s Tennessee plant was the largest and released the most pollutants of the remaining mercury-based chlorine plants. This shift will mean less mercury in the Hiwassee River, as well as in Charleston and the state of Tennessee,” added Savitz.
Olin’s announcement shows that even a large facility can shift to mercury-free technology in the time frame described in pending Senate legislation, which would require plants to shift to mercury-free production by 2015. Olin will easily meet that timeframe, committing to shift to cleaner production technology by 2012 in Charleston, TN. For that decision, we applaud them.
Finally, we are grateful that the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will help to make the Tennessee conversion possible.
Oceana Tennessee Field Organizer Suzanne Wisdom, who has worked long and hard to exert community pressure on Olin to switch, offers the following reaction:
“I am excited to hear that Olin’s plant will ‘Go Mercury Free,’ just as Oceana and thousands of Tennessee residents have urged them to do. I’m especially happy for the wonderful community of people who live near the plant. They have been the heart of this campaign and I know they are celebrating today,” said Wisdom.
And from the AP/Bloomberg this afternoon: “Olin plant will eliminate mercury in $160M upgrade”.
What can I possibly say???? Cause for celebration? Are you kidding?! ABSOLUTELY!
Most of all, I cannot begin to express my heartfelt gratitude to Suzanne Wisdom from Oceana – who has worked tirelessly for so many years on this issue … who has been an inspiration and provided much-needed encouragement and support to the concerned citizens throughout our community … and who I feel most privileged to consider my friend. Suzanne, you are my heroine! It’s definitely time to celebrate!!! 😀
days of summer, days of bikes
The days follow a pattern – a pleasant pattern. Cycling, paddling, taking pictures, conversations, laughter, rest. Watching the sun go down. And come up again. The summer is passing so quickly, sometimes I feel like I can’t quite get it all in.
Riding into town on Thursday, a trip on the Greenway. It’s always heartening, inspiring, to see others on bikes – and their willingness and enthusiasm to stop and strike up a conversation. (And yes – their agreeing to let me take their photos :). When we’re not boxed up in cars, I believe we’re much more inclined to interact, to converse. It makes us more approachable, more a part of the community. Stopping to talk with two other cyclists (and one of the Greenway police officers) and talking about the merits of the Greenway for getting across town, observing the increase in ride-share around town, and just enjoying the simple pleasure of having a “commons” – a place to walk, to ride, to just stop and sit.
The heat continues, and the evening continues to be one of the nicest times to get out. A time to stow the camera in the Xtracycle and just take a leisurely spin on roads close to home. Enjoying the “golden hour”, the hum of the cicadas.
Lazy Saturday mornings spent exploring the river by kayak. Flat grey skies, calm still water – like glass. Different than cycling, yet oddly similar, moving through the landscape. A lesson in patience this morning – spending close to an hour slowly approaching a Little Green Heron, who graciously let me get incredibly close.
Ending the weekend riding with “my boys”. Another summer day, another ride. The sun comes up and goes down. It passes so quickly. I feel like I can’t quite get it all in.
#330daysofbiking Day 112: bikayaking
Solo trip to the river today. Just me, the bike, the boat, the camera … and a few of the things I saw on the water.
For the record, the scupper hole trailer + Xtracycle is the perfect combination for me; infinitely easier than trying to lift a boat onto a roof rack, or into a vehicle. And truthfully, I could never fit the boat into/onto my tiny car anyway … so this is the ultimate freedom. I can head out to the river any time, easy to load, easy to haul, everything fits, I get to ride my bike and paddle. I am a happy camper. (Or paddler, as it were.)