Sunday, March 31, 2013
FRACKING: THOSE NO-CHOICE MOMENTS
Judy holding a hen, winter orchard, 2010.
FRACKING: THOSE NO-CHOICE TIMES
Every once in awhile in my life, I have arrived at a no-choice moment. I do literally have a choice. But, given who I am and what I care about, it feels like a “no-choice” time. Twenty years ago my oldest daughter called to let me know she was having twins. I had not planned on being a babysitting grandmother, but she needed me, and I went to help her for a year.
I’ve never regretted it. Most precious to me over my lifetime has been my writing time. Taking care of two babies almost all the time, since my daughter had a very demanding job, didn’t leave much writing time, but as my Russian teacher told me, “It will be good for your soul, more even than for them.” So it was. The close bond I still have with these twins holds, despite distance and gaps of years when we don’t see each other. As I rocked babies, I realized a veil I had had between me and my writing fell away, another gift.
A few weeks ago another no-choice moment came. A new internet friend had sent me some Chinese proverbs translated by her mother. I especially liked: “Under Heaven nothing is impossible as long as you have a human being with a heart.”
I sent this to a few politicians. Then it hit me. I have a heart. This proverb was for me, first. My biggest worry right now is the drive in our North Carolina Legislature to frack the Triassic Basin for natural gas, and this is where I live, less than a mile from the Deep River, along which the shale is found, under which lies the gas.
Seven years ago, after working on environmental and local political issues and elections since I moved here in late 1998, I pulled back from activism to attend better to my writing and publishing, and I now have three new books o show for it. I worked out a healthy lifestyle for a woman in her seventies: some teaching and editing work, farming, no meetings and less social life. I wanted time. I did my token letters, calls, telling people what I thought, working on Election Day.
By 2012 I knew I personally was in danger from fracking. I also knew I could communicate well on the issues. I had written a novel that took up fracking, but it might be years before it could be published. Then it hit me that I could be the person in the proverb. No proof. It was–is–a faith that I could make a difference. I wrote to the Lee County “Stand Your Ground” organization working against fracking, and within hours got an email from a woman working hard there who said she could give me signs if I’d meet her half-way, which I did.
With twelve signs, my new phase of activism began. Now, besides speaking to my precinct group and sharing a list of reasons why I oppose fracking [See my post for March 17, 2013], and getting those signs up, mostly on my own road, the main one between Pittsboro and Moncure, I began taking two weekend hours to canvass my neighbors. It’s planting season, but even on a good planting day, I’m giving those hours.
I’ve been surprised at how receptive my neighbors are. I’ve spoken now to twenty of them, and they have all signed my petition. I have eight requests for signs and I’m waiting for one of the many organizations working this issue to get me signs. When I moved to this little house on three acres in Moncure in late 1998, I knew no one. Most of my neighbors are African American, and they have been so good to me. We’ve helped each other, but they’ve done more. As I went house to house, I discovered that even the ones I hadn’t met knew about me. Everyone I talked to signed the petition. Most did not yet know about the dangers fracking posed for us.
There were young men and women I had never met. They were all polite and interested, thanked me for letting them know. The elderly especially touched me. Two old men, with their front doors open and the storm door unlocked, called for me to come in. Mr. L. said, “I know you.” He sat on his couch amid possessions he was trying to organize as his house is for sale. I asked if he’d been over to my neighbor’s house, where men of all ages gather to talk and drink beer, as I thought I might have seen him there. He said, “Not lately. I saw you at the Collection Center.”
Then I remembered that he had been on duty the day I took 300 copies of one of my out-of-print books to recycle, to make more room in my small house. He was upset that I was throwing away books. He asked for one and took several. Yesterday he told me he had read and enjoyed it. In the book I talked about the gift-giving circle, the idea that we can’t always give as much as we’d like to people who give to us, but we can give to someone else. He nodded. He liked that.
I said, “This community has been that for me, giving to me.” After we talked, it became clearer to me that I was continuing the gift-giving circle within my neighborhood by alerting people and gathering signatures about the dangers of fracking.
The other old man, Mr. P., was recently home and still recovering from a leg amputation. I met him before I moved into this house. A friend and I were painting. He came to the door, and I invited him to come in. He was perhaps a little drunk but friendly. The house had never been finished, and the shell sat empty for sixteen years. A contractor had finished the inside. I’d had another gift from an architect–a design to keep it as open as possible. Yesterday Mr. P. and I chatted a little. I told him about the fracking, and he told me about his recent problems with his leg, and how he was learning to use a walker. He signed my petition and would give my flyer to his sister, with whom he was staying. I remember that, after he left back in 1998, my friend was worried that I was moving into a dangerous neighborhood. I had laughed off her concerns. Dangerous? It has been the safest place I’ve ever lived.
My last call was on a woman who used to be one of our precinct poll workers. She is retired now, but she chooses to stay home most of the time to be there for her aging father. We sat on her porch and chatted. She knew about the fracking and was very worried. I was tired after my walk and in no hurry to get up. I’d done my two hours. She wanted a sign. She and I haven’t ever talked that much, but we were at ease, like old friends. When I got up, she commented, “You’re getting your exercise.”
I agreed. I was getting far more than that. I, who had been an unknown quantity in this neighborhood in 1998, was now a part of it, known, respected, appreciated. She reminisced about how the Moncure folks, when fighting off a landfill about twelve years ago, had gone to the Commissioners’ meeting, three hundred strong, and stood around the walls and how the Board of Commissioners, as soon as they could get our attention, said, “We aren’t going to have a landfill.”
I’d been home an hour when I found an email from a couple whose home is closer than mine is to the Deep River, up on a bluff near it, where I’d taped a flyer with my name and email to their door. She knew about the fracking, which she called “outrageous.” She wanted signs and bumper stickers. She also immediately wrote to all the addresses I had on the flyer: the Governor, our Commissioners, the Compulsory Pooling Study Group under the Mining and Energy Commission, which is making rules for fracking, those rules, from all I can learn, that the gas and oil companies don’t obey, and they certainly can’t follow environmental protections carefully, given that their process involves millions of gallons of chemically dangerous water and drilling close to the water table, using water we need to live and to grow food.
What can one person do? Everyone has to answer that for himself or herself. Even my six hours a week are having an effect, I see, but my soul is also receiving great gifts. No wonder my soul insisted I had no choice.