Sunday, July 8, 2012

Climate Change, Fracking, and Aging

The sign for my figs in Chatham Marketplace, July 5, 2012


Several reassuring and reinforcing things have happened to me this week, and yet I find myself giving priority attention to the negative things.  This isn’t like me.  I like to focus on the positive.  Hence, this blog.  What exactly is disturbing me so much that the good things are not buoying me up as they usually do?

This week these good things:

1) Sasscer Hill and I sent in our guest blog to Kaye Barley for its appearance on July 18 on Parental Wings and Fowl Play.

2) I watched the DVD film the Farmhand students from Duke’s School of the Environment made last spring when they visited local farms, including mine in February, to help with fence work (keep out those possums that eat chickens and fruit).

3) I made and canned applesauce from the bounty of my cooking apple tree (Gravenstein).

4) I moved the three-week-old chicks out to their “room” in the coop, and despite the 100+ degrees temperatures we’ve had, they and the eight big hens are still alive.

5) I took my local co-op, Chatham Marketplace, the first figs of the season, and they featured me and my figs in their weekly newsletter (check it out with this link:  

The figs are selling faster than my nine trees can produce them, but the summer looks good for figs, since they like hot weather, and the trees are loaded with green figs.

6) My friend Doug took me out for a birthday dinner (too much happening in late May, when I turned seventy-five).

7) My younger daughter and her teenagers came over to celebrate her July birthday.


Doug's photo of figs in Chatham Marketplace, July 5, 2012.


So what’s my problem?  I’m feeling dread because of two major events–also this week.  The N.C. Legislature passed a bill to legalize fracking as early as 2014.  The Governor (bless her!) vetoed it, but it was overidden, even though the deciding vote to override was a mistake.  

I’m learning that there may be ways still to protect our environment and landowner boundaries (fracking uses horizontal drilling and can go under land where permission has not been given), but I also know that fracking has yet to be done safely, without harm to the environment and human beings.  The little town in West Virginia (Cameron) where I lived from ages four to six, was ruined by fracking.  There is gas under my land.  What this signifies to me is that I will lose my home and farm, my ecosystem of a life that I designed and love, that enhances my aging and keeps me well and happy.

The other sense of dread comes from our heat wave (this is day ten of it–temperatures 100-105 F (103 F predicted for today) and higher heat indices (up to109 F because of the humidity).  N.C. WARN sent out an email this week with these facts:

1.  Spring 2012 in the contiguous U.S. demolished the old records for hottest spring and most extreme season of any kind.

2.  The last 12 months were also the hottest on record in the lower 48 states.

3.  This temperature change is strongly correlated with the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  “The bottom line is that atmospheric carbon dioxide acts as a thermostat in regulating the temperature of Earth.”

4.  Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. is in drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map.  “The parched conditions have been aggravated by a dry mild winter and above-normal temperatures.

5.  Carbon accumulations in air and water from emissions to date mean droughts, torrential storms, heat waves (in all seasons) and wildfires in the west and southeast are likely to keep increasing for at least several decades–even if humanity quickly begins reducing global warming pollution from fossil fuels.
If fracking doesn’t drive me out, the heat and storms that are in our future may.  Agriculture is threatened by both these realities.  We need water and fairly predictable temperatures to grow food.

I do tell myself that I will cope.  I can still write.  I’m ingenious.  Even if I lose everything here, I will be okay in my spirit.  I will live and write.  But I already grieve the loss of what I have now, which is clearly at risk.

That little ecosystem I’ve created?  What is it exactly?  What is at stake?  I am in close touch on a daily, even hourly basis with the world of growing things.  I feel how the plants struggle to survive the heat.  I fight weeds and bugs and wild animals that like to eat fruit and chickens.  Yet I’m providing half my food: vegetables, fruits, eggs, some meat from the hens.  

Farming is a lynch pin in my lifestyle now, giving me exercise, motivation to stay healthy, eat healthy food, and do the work that provides my food.  I sell some crops (figs, leeks, eggs) to keep the farm going as a viable business (I can subtract farm expenses from income on my income tax).  I can live simply on social security and not have to work as much for money at teaching. 

Even more importantly and part of all this is that farming is good for my morale and challenges me constantly to keep solving problems.  More droughts led to my putting in drip irrigation.  A possum killing a chicken led to my reinforcing the chainlink fence by getting volunteers to help put down ratwire along the bottom.  Razor wire at the top is the next project when I have extra money.  When I go outside to work in the garden or shut up the hens, I feel replenished and refreshed in my spirit.  My main work is my writing, and the farming provides ballast and balance for that.  I sit a lot, to read, write, work at the computer.  But all day I’m in and out, using myself, mind and body, every day, and refreshing my spirit both ways through writing and communicating as well as taking in the peaceful hens as they settle in the evening or a new moon as I got out to shut them up for night.  

There is also a community of people, friends, neighbors, even strangers around me who help me.  They also lift me up and make my life feel good and meaningful.  Aging brings more fears and doubts, so people and good healthy work combat such feelings.  

Here’s the poem I wrote last Sunday.  I do believe in transformation, but this is a hard one–this fracking, climate change future.  What can we human beings do?


The Telling that Changes Everything XX.
July 1, 2012

How do I describe the equilibrium I feel now?
It’s a form of sanity, a balance it took me
a lifetime to achieve.  I used to let my passions
rush me to extremes.  It doesn’t mean I can’t
still be enthusiastic or feel deep grief.
Ecstasy comes and goes, an intermittent wind.
Because we have days of dangerously high heat,
I spend more time indoors.  Outside it feels
like a Finnish sauna but with bad air.  I go
out early and late, to water, pick fruit, and 
at intervals to check on the hens.  The weeds
take advantage of my being sensible.  Then
even they begin to wilt.  This, too, will pass,
but I know we’ll have more and more
weather that is dangerous for human beings,
that make it harder to grow food and raise
chickens.  That knowledge weighs on my
spirt.  Yet I have two bushels of cooking
apples and the time to make and can
applesauce.  I’ve written “The End” on
my new novel.  The co-op produce man is
eager to buy my beautiful fat figs.  People
read my poems at the farmers’ market.
They buy my book before it’s published.
The two-week-old chicks are lively and
funny.  They perch on my hand when I
reach into their tub.  The big hens settle
into the shade under the fig trees.  Their
bodies know a wisdom I have to remember:
do what you can.  Adapt as needed.
Don’t despair.


  1. Usually our worse fears never come to pass. I worried for a long time that when my son and daughter-in-law moved in next to me, my son would build trails through the woods for the boys' four-wheelers and quiet woods with wildflowers and animals would be destroyed. Never happened. So many of our worries about the future never happen.

    That being said, I also worry about global warming and am quite amazed how many people don't believe in it, especially after the year we've just had. Of course, last year we had more rain than anyone could imagine. It was actually much harder on my veggetables than the dry weather we're having this year. We need to let go of worries about the future if we we're unable to change what's happening and enjoy what we have right now. Enjoy your blessings, Judy, for they are many. Read the news of the World and be grateful you live where you do and not in Afghanistan or Syria or somewhere like that. Even New York City with our love of the small farm life would be horrid in the summer.

  2. I think you’ll be glad to hear that there are people from the drilling industry that push for more responsible fracking. Well, fracking is still being developed today, so I it would only be a matter of time before it turns into a completely environmentally friendly practice. Maybe, someday, with the help of technology, the so-called negative effect of fracking would be eliminated.

    @Queenie Regner