Sunday, July 26, 2015

Let Us All Emulate Water

Photo taken by Lee Sauer at Malice Domestic Convention 2015.
Thank you, Lee, and Rita Owen, for sending me this photo.


GIFTS XXV. January 18, 2015

I see how I am living in
the right place, giving like water
gives, seeking truth, serving
others well, timing my acts to go
through defenses, and when people
fight with me, go around, let it go.
It takes two to fight.  I will not reject
those who reject me.  Bertha used
to tell her sons, “You’ll need me
before I’ll need you.”  They all
came to her funeral.  Let us all emulate 
water.  I know that I know how.  –Gifts XXIV.

I’m still walking my leyline path
without a cane.  Three doctors wanted
me to use a cane.  “I can’t farm with
a cane,” I said.  True, once I fell
against one of my raised beds, but
it cushioned me as if the earth were 
my mother’s breast.  I do remember
my mother’s breast.  It had a certain
smell when she held me close and
rocked me.  She aged well, lived
to be ninety-four and hiked the
Smokies to eighty-six.  Aging
does test us: how to stay healthy
and independent?  I still work a 
sixteen-hour day but rest more
often.  My creative mind works
more effectively and easily than
it ever has.  I learn new things
more slowly; need more aids to
memory, where riches are stored 
and names are elusive.  People
surprise me by saying, “You’re
the lady who walks your dog
on the dam road.”  “Yes.”
I cut firewood until the saw burned
out.  I see the daffodils penetrating
their leaf cover.  I must remove
the dead cosmos and zinnia 
stalks and fertilize the gardens
where crocus and more daffodils
are being stirred awake by winter
rain.  The hens begin laying four
or five eggs instead of only one.
Slowly I’ll learn what I need
to know, cut wood again, receive
and plant new seeds. Order baby
chicks. If I want to flourish many
more years, I must keep doing
what I love when it’s harder.
How do I quiet the worry of
friends and doctors?  I’ll say,
“If I have a crutch, I’ll become
dependent on it, and then I won’t
flourish as I do now.  Let me
demonstrate my independence
and courage, grow my food, saw
my wood, raise chickens, write
my books.  You see this is my
path.  Statistics don’t help me
for I am unique in my being, my
lifestyle, and in the way I walk while
I flourish.  If I defy gravity, so be it.

Observe me, and learn.”


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Saving Our Community Means Work, Work

Judy with new no coal ash sign in downtown Moncure on July 16.



It’s all work, work.  The curse of Adam.  But if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get anything, even love.  He just tumbles about in hell and bashes himself and burns himself and stabs himself.  The fallen man–nobody’s going to look after him.  The poor bastard is free–a free and responsible citizen...”  Gulley Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary

When the soil is rich and friable, 
seeds thrive, but so do weeds.
Crawling down the carrot row
between hardy grass stalks, looking 
for those lacy fronds, I dig around 
their orange tops, pull loose fat 
carrots.  My best carrot crop ever
if I can find it.  Everywhere this 
hot whimsical summer the weeds
have flourished. I work daily to save
the food I need for winter.  There
were raspberries.  There will be figs.
I dig out rampant grass and weed
tangles to make space for okra and
bean seeds.  First heat and drought,
then too much rain.  There will be
tomatoes, though they fell over
in their wire cages.  The coal ash
war goes on.  Farmers fight wars,
too, to keep their plants alive, outwit 
voles and beetles, provide water,
protect ripening fruit.  In the beginning
I never expected everything I planted
to bear fruit or come into flower.
At least in a garden you know what to
do even if you can’t do it fast enough.
Aging slows me, makes me reluctant
to encounter too hot sun.  True, I can’t 
do as much as I did sixteen years ago,
but with work, thought, and care I
can help my vegetables, fruits, and 
flowers come into their own.  Fighting
corporate power and arrogance is 
subtler work, takes ingenuity, humility, 
and confidence in our human power 
to defend and protect what we
cherish, who we are, our lives and
homes, farms, and children.
I must keep my vision clear,

do what my heart says do.


These trees were killed almost entirely during our last two severe winters.  This is how they looked in August, 2011.  Other figs, though, are producing this year.  What a gift is a fig.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Coal Ash Wars and Corporate Snakes

Photo by Martha Girolami


Some omens wake us up.  Still
half-asleep, I enter the coop to feed
the hens and discover a huge black
snake coiled inches from the chicks
under their heat lamp.  I take a rake
and urge the big hens outside, lock 
the chicken door, raise the door to 
the room where the chicks cower 
in the corner and the snake takes 
its ease.  I rake it out and shut that 
door, then open the people door to 
force it outside.  It disappears into
the straw, and I assume it left the way 
it entered. Then i sprinkle lime around
outside of the coop.  It ate two chicks.
I feed and water the fourteen left, and
gradually they resume their normal
cheeping mode.  That night, closing
them up, again under their heat lamp,
I find the snake cozily coiled in a 
nesting box.  I rake it out and it again
slips in with the babies.  Angry now,
I rake it out.  One chick runs out,
and I slip her in my raincoat pocket.
The snake begins climbing, tries all
its tricks, but, frantic now, adrenalin
pumping, heart pounding, I hit the
snake, finally lifting it out of the coop.
Where it lies in the dirt, I stab it again
and again with the rake’s tines.  Finally
it flows into the bamboo grass where
once grew parsley.  I replace the chick
and refresh their water and feed.  The
big hens had fled to the top of the
chick room and watched me fight
their deadly enemy.  The babe lies
still.  Did I smother her? Exhausted,
I return to the house, calm myself.  I’ve
done all I can.  Did I save all fourteen
chicks?  Did the snake die or only get
indigestion?  The coal ash mover
and shaker Charah had rented the
empty building in our village.  How
like the snake coiled among the chicks.
Will I need my rake again for this
corporate snake?  I’ll need my words,
my ingenuity, and my courage.  A 
different war but the goal is the same:
save what is precious and threatened:
our community. Fight. Hope.  
Love each other.

*** On July 6, 2015 our local environmental groups, Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump, EnvironmentaLEE, and Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League began our legal challenge of two permits issued by our N.C. Dept of Environment and Natural resources (DENR).  We go to law to defend ourselves from harm from 12 million tons of coal ash being shipped into our two communities in Brickhaven (southeast Chatham) and Colon Road (northern Lee County).
Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League         4617 Pearl Rd Raleigh NC 27610             (919) 345-3673                                              

July 6, 2015

Groups File Legal Challenge to Duke Energy’s Coal Ash Dumping Plans
Raleigh- Charging that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) acted arbitrarily and capriciously by issuing permits for two proposed coal ash dumps in Lee and Chatham Counties, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump (CCACAD), and EnvironmentaLEE (ELEE) filed a petition for a contested case hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) today.
BREDL community organizer Therese Vick stated “Communities targeted for coal ash disposal deserve a regulatory agency that has their best interests at heart, not what is in the best interest of Duke Energy. DENR had sufficient reason to deny the permits, and they did not.” CCACAD president Judy Hogan commented on the challenge filed today saying, “We are very happy to have filed this appeal to challenge the mining and solid waste permits which DENR released without paying attention to its own rules to protect us.” Debbie Hall, vice-president of ELEE explained why they felt this step was necessary, We chose to join in the complaint because we believe that any citizen who feels an action will significantly impact their lives in a negative way has the right to oppose that action.  We still believe in grassroots efforts, and that those efforts can make a difference in the outcome.                                                                    
Issues raised in the petition include:
·         The actions allowed by the permits would have a significant and adverse impact on the health and well-being of the members of the petitioners, and  on their families, the use and enjoyment of their property, the value of their property and other economic interests. 
·         DENR’s issuance of the Permit has substantially prejudiced the rights of the Petitioners and their members. By issuing the permits, the state agencies exceeded their authority or jurisdiction; acted erroneously; failed to use proper procedure; acted arbitrarily or capriciously; and failed to act as required by law or rule. 
·         The proposed sites are solid waste landfills, rather than mine reclamation projects, and should be regulated as such.
·         The requirements for compliance with other laws for the protection of the environment should be examined for all of corporate partners of Green Meadow, LLC.
·         Environmental Justice: DENR did not investigate, or require the applicants to investigate, the cumulative impacts on the communities.

            According to John Runkle, attorney for the plaintiffs, the petition was filed to “ensure that all regulations are complied with." Filing a petition for a contested case through the Office of Administrative Hearings is the first step in challenging an agency decision.

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League was founded in 1984. The organization has a thirty-year track record of victories over polluting facilities.
Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump was founded in December 2014 in opposition to Duke Energy’s plan to dump coal ash in the county.
EnvironmentaLEE was founded in 2011.  ELEE works to protect the environment of Lee County.



Our NC state government allowed Duke Energy, our only electricity generating power company, to ignore local governments. Ours in Chatham, unfortunately, felt powerless and signed an agreement with Duke, which gives them some leverage after it’s here.  We find that unacceptable and are glad Diana Hales and Karen Howard voted against it. We intend to stop it by all available means, including civil disobedience if need be. We are raising money to pay our wonderful lawyer.  We need help wherever you live, if you imagine our plight here and want to help.  This is genocide, and we won’t stand it.  Stand with us and contribute whatever you can.  No amount is too small.  There’s a web way to give: . On this one you can be a anonymous.   These gifts are tax-deductible as we are a chapter of BREDL and tax-exempt 501-C-3. We’d be very grateful for your help.  We are not a rich community here in Moncure. Thanks, Judy Hogan


Another photo by Martha Girolami, who also made the sign.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Review: Jenny Milchman's As Night Falls

As Night Falls. Jenny Milchman.  Ballantine-Random House, June 30, 2015.  ISBN-978-0-553-39481-8.  Hardcover $26.  367 pp.

Jenny Milchman’s third novel, As Night Falls, adds another play to what could be a dramatic trilogy.  All three of her suspense novels take place in Wedeskyull, in the Adirondacks.  Each one features a woman who comes to be and feel alone in an overwhelmingly terrifying situation.  In each case the woman, who had been relying on others for support and comfort, must go it alone.   She gradually takes on what fate has handed her.  This transformation alone is worth the read.  Like the figure of Antigone in the ancient Greek drama based on the Oedipus myth, she defies the forces marshaled against her.

Milchman is a master at building suspense slowly but surely.  The confrontation with the killer is only part of the story and is deftly woven into the fabric of a family drama.  Milchman explores all the nuances of the emotional states her characters pass through.  In this novel the main action takes place in twenty-four hours, another bow to the Greek playwrights.

Sandy Tremont, her husband Ben, and their fifteen-year-old daughter Ivy are living what passes these days for a normal middle-class life.  Sandy works as a therapist in a hospital clinic.  Ben has his own company that features Off Road Adventures, such as skiing off the trails, free-climbing, or biking.   He seems to need that kind of scary stimulation.  All Sandy wants is family peace, but her daughter Ivy prefers to fight with her and knocks Sandy for a loop by calling her a liar.  Sandy never lied to Ivy, intent on having a close bond with her, but she doesn’t want Ben to know anything bad about Ivy, like the lying accusation or the failing paper Ivy brought home from school to be signed.  She says to Ivy, “We won’t tell Daddy.”

Interwoven with pre-dinner evening rituals with this family, we meet the prisoners Nick and Harlan, who are out this cold day on a road assignment.  Nick is planning their escape though none has been successful since he entered this prison twenty-four years earlier.  They do succeed in jumping into a large SUV driven by a woman who follows the orders to drive to Long Hill Road in Wedeskyull.  When she stops and then jumps from the car and runs into the woods, Nick orders his huge but not intelligent friend Harlan to go after her and kill her.  Harlan doesn’t want to kill anyone, and Nick has to consider that, despite Harlan’s loyalty to him, he might turn against Nick.  Nevertheless he forces Harlan to stab her with a nail file, and they get away and head toward the place where Nick intends to get supplies before going deep into the woods north toward Canada, where he’s sure they’ll never be found.

The cold and the oncoming snowstorm might be a problem, but Nick summons his old confidence and they drive to the home of Sandy, Ben, and Ivy.  While building the suspense, Jenny also flashes back to Nick’s mother Barbara, who was entranced by her beautiful, willful son from birth and fears his tantrums even before age three.

We also visit Ivy, sulking and lonely, in her bedroom with the dog Mac, with whom she has been raised, and whose fur she cries into when she can get none of her friends to come over or text with her.  She is then answering a text from a new friend named Cory, who has asked her to go out with him, and she has said yes, when she hears the front door bang open.

Nightmare enters this mostly peaceful family’s world, its dynamics only a little dysfunctional because of feelings repressed, truths not told, old secrets buried.

Nick’s family, we already know, has been very dysfunctional, as the therapists say.  His mother is obsessed with her beautiful, smart, and tempestuous son.  All his misbehavior, including a streak of cruelty, is whitewashed by this Jocaste figure, who continues to believe he is creative and sensitive.  Her Nicky ends up in prison for murder.  We understand by the time the two escapees arrive at Sandy’s house that little Nicky has become a cold-blooded killer, and his friend Harlan’s brute strength is his chief weapon.

The Oedipus myth, which Sigmund Freud brought into the discipline of psychotherapy, stands behind the three heroines of Jenny’s books, for all resemble Antigone in their lonely fight for justice against huge odds.  Antigone was the daughter of Oedipus by his mother, Jocaste.  When Oedipus put his eyes out upon realizing he’d killed his father and married his mother, Antigone accompanied him when he left Thebes.  When Creon took over the Theban throne, Antigone’s two brothers fought and killed each other. Creon would not allow one of them to be buried, and Antigone buried him despite the king’s order.  Her name means “against the seed,” i.e, the male.  You could say she was an early feminist.    In As Night Falls, the mother-son duo of Nick and his mother Barbara is the original Oedipal story/myth/complex made quite contemporary.  Who hasn’t met grown men obsessed with their mothers who never saw any faults in them. The resulting adults can’t take in the psychic reality of other people and their feelings.

This story is a grand interruption by the gods as a modern, middle class family has to cope with the nightmare of having two killers invade their home.  There are, as well, many flashbacks, in which we learn the story of the original dysfunctional family, that of Nick, his parents, and sister.  Sandy and Ben’s buried secrets and fears emerge when they are fighting to survive any way they can.

Jenny has worked as a therapist, and her vision of the family insists that, for harmony and good feelings, all those fears and secrets need to be out in the open so that healing and forgiveness can take place. Is it possible to go through the nightmare this story is for its main characters and come out a whole, functional family?  Jenny thinks so and knows how to write a compelling story that’s believable both in its terror and in its optimism.



Jenny Milchman is the author of Cover of Snow, which won the Mystery Writers of America’s Mary Higgins Clark Award, Ruin Falls, and As Night Falls.  She is the chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors program, a member of the Mystery Writers of America and New York Writers Workshop, and the creator and organizer of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is celebrated annually in all fifty states.  Milchman lives in the Hudson Valley with her family

takeyourchildtoabookstore, org