My Night in the Trumpscape

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After the nightmare, a head-clearing snowshoe to the beautiful, actual canyon with the dogs.

I need the talents of an animator. Words alone cannot convey the horror of the dream I awoke from this morning:

I had been at my neighbors’ house, and they stood together outside saying goodnight. They were selling the house and moving, abruptly. I was sad. I had thought they’d never leave. They were moving to Ouray, the Little Switzerland of Colorado, alpine peaks capped with snow year round, hot springs.

But why?

I can’t say, said Sara, not yet. You’ll know later.

Did Pete get a job at the old Cocker ranch?

Yes, said Pete, and Sara shushed him, but it was too late.

I won’t tell, I said. What, are you the foreman?

Yes.

They stood outside under the stilted deck. But what’s there to manage? I pursued, there’s no cattle, it’s just that old oil well at the top.

It dawned on me. The old oil well must be fruitful again. But you’re a coal man, I argued, what do you know about oil?

It’s what he’s known for, Sara said with her slow southern smile.

This was news to me. I knew him for fruit.

The renters came with a question. I walked away. I turned back, and caught up with Pete near the top of the driveway. But why? I asked.

I don’t trust anyone anymore, he said. I shrugged, hurt, and walked away down the road. At the intersection with the dirt road, massive construction was underway. I thought this odd, as it was just dusk. Backhoes were scraping the slopes on either side of the road. Concrete mixers were mixing and pouring a turf-green foam along the west side. Are you making a sidewalk? I asked the foreman. Yes, he said. But on the south side, where I was walking, the shoulder was being scraped away, and the road was all roughed up along the edge, and there was nowhere for me to walk except the middle of the road, and I couldn’t get there anyway, I was too far down the slope to step up to the roadbed. Ron, it was Ron from the phone company years ago, helped me up into his pickup bed, and from there I stepped into another truck bed, and from there was able to access the road.

I walked the middle of the dirt road around the first curve, and was appalled to see that the cliff on the south side had been gouged all the way to the top. There isn’t a cliff on the south side. But there was, and it had been gouged and scraped, a rough roadcut that was even now still dropping loose rocks. Three teenage boys walked around the next curve toward me, dodging rocks. I dashed past them and narrowly escaped a rock crashing down behind me, and turned into my driveway. But it too had been torn up with an earth mover, and I scrambled my way through piles and walls of rough dirt along a narrow path. What the hell?

The walls of dirt rose higher and higher around me, the driveway now a former road filled with a gathering of local ranchers and churchgoers. It was Helen Wakefield’s funeral, and barely a field remained on one side of the mountains of dirt that crowded the lane. The people sat at picnic tables and on pickup tailgates, and milled curiously in the lane. Across the field a cliff rose straight up.

Where is my driveway? I asked someone. It should be here.

I started down a fork that curved sharply to the left and crossed a buried stream. This was not my driveway. I returned to the gathering and asked again. I need to get home, I insisted. Your house is gone, a man said, it fell in on itself while they were working. But my dogs! I thought I had left them in the pen and maybe they were alright. I took off down the straight fork, through a narrow canyon of scraped cliffs and piles of dirt mounded on both sides of what should have been my driveway.

Far ahead I saw my black cat, plumed tail twitching, walking toward me, but he veered out of sight. I caught a glimpse of Raven even farther away, and ran toward her. But I could not get through the piles of dirt, which grew taller and taller, and then found myself amidst cranes, bulldozers, pylons and barriers of concrete, a jumble of excavating equipment and blocks of rock and cement, and slabs of steel and exposed rebar. And hostile workmen who jeered at my efforts to clamber on over and beyond their awful mess of random jagged chunks of destruction.

I climbed down and down deeper into the unwinding pit of their debris, it made no sense, it went on and on, picking my way carefully stepping from one slab or chunk to another always heading down, knowing at the end of this travail would be my home and my dogs. But it would not end. The workmen became sparse, the mass of blocks and spikes and boulders grew up around me as I climbed down and down. Scaffolding emerged, the jumble expanded, opened out before me ever increasing in scope. Anger and anxiety gave way to careless despair, and soon I was swinging under scaffold bars and dropping onto concrete cubes perilously angled and sliding onto more tilted slabs and chunks. As far as I could see out and down just mountains of steel and concrete. No light. Shades of grey, and black, blocks and slabs and scaffolds, rods and stacks and sheets of metal, truck-sized hunks of aggregate, concrete, I-beams, and then some containers, boxes, crates, wood and metal and cardboard.

A man in a red Home Depot shirt waved at me from above to the right where he stood on a shelf. Dust covered me, and sweat. I crawled and leapt and stepped down and down the winding mountain. There had been no daylight for a long time. Hours. Maybe days. I could not bear to look up because when I did all I could see was more of the same chaos. No light at the end, or at the top, or anywhere among the sides.

At one point I spied my two dogs, below and beyond, and veered and called to them, and in the shifting planes of our efforts they came closer. I was able to hold Raven’s head for a moment, look into Stellar’s eyes, and then we were separated again. The air became murkier, dustier, dirtier. Concrete and steel had given way entirely to containers. Huge shipping containers piled akimbo, wooden crates, corrugated cardboard boxes bigger than I was. Small boxes slipping down behind me. I picked my way more carefully. The newness of all the crates and boxes faded as I slipped and slid and fought my way down. Surely, surely this would end eventually.

There were ramps, now, between the dusty piles of cartons, bins, racks, and shelves that towered around me. The angle of my descent decreased. The going was easier but I was exhausted. A menacing figure loomed suddenly and began to chase me. I outran this person, spotted my dogs far ahead, and then a zombie, yes a real live zombie reared up from behind a pile of crates and roared at me. I was fed up and reckless, desperate. I had nothing to lose. I yelled back at the zombie and it paused. I turned and ran on through corridors of containers, crates, now flimsy boxes. I ran and ran, now and then catching a glimpse of the dogs, frequently struggling through obstacles of boxes and walls and tilted floors.

A slant of light pierced the dust. I was almost there! Almost through this nightmare. Then it was gone. I ran on through an endless garage of filthy clutter piled now only twice my height, corrugated doors to nowhere, here and there a glimpse of sunlight filtering through a crack in the oddly angled walls. Each hopeful glance of light I aimed for, and always it was obliterated with more piles, another hostile person threatening me. A wide patch of light at the end of the concrete slab I ran on, and there were my beloved dogs.

We ran together, dodging collapsing piles, all squares and cubes and angles, and finally, finally slipped out through a crack in the wall, onto our old gravel road. I could see my driveway across the field. A man in a pickup truck said he would be right back. He would bring me a piece of paper and a pen. A contract.

It was pre, pre-dawn. Just enough light to know it was no longer the middle of the night. Trembling, I curled from my stomach onto my side, tucked my knees between the sleeping dogs, wrapped the girl dog with my shins and feet, the boy dog with my arms. Breathed. Heaved in the cold air. Shuddered it out. This. This is real. This is water. I inhaled deeply again. And again, slowly. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Squeezed the dogs. Tucked tighter between the two of them, still half asleep, the dream still vivid.

You might steal my nights, you bastard, I thought, but I won’t let you have my days.

Living in a Landscape of Loss

Pavilion, Wyoming will become the new Chernobylgate. A Superfund Site without boundaries. The tip of the iceberg. I have no intention of living in such a landscape of loss.

Not only was Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox evicted from a pubic hearing in the House of Representatives today, but so was ABC News, and first! On the grounds that they had not acquired prior permission to film the hearing. Land of the Free. The meeting was about the EPA’s preliminary report on water contamination from fracking, and Fox was arrested and removed from our halls of government for “not having the proper credentials.” One lawmaker requested they both be allowed to stay and said the room should be filled to capacity with Americans wanting to cover this hearing. Let’s hope some more media shows up tomorrow.

The EPA has begun trucking water to the small farming community of Pavilion, Wyoming, after concluding that its water is not safe for human consumption. John Fenton, a farmer who lives near Pavilion, and other affected residents were not allowed to attend the “public hearing” either, but the Oil and Gas Industry was well-represented. Fenton told Amy Goodman today, “We were assured over and over that these processes were safe. A lot of people around here have a pro-industry point of view… but things changed rapidly. It’s had huge impacts to our way of life… people coming and going over our property night and day, over 50% devaluation on our property, and … people with unexplainable health conditions, neurological problems, losing their sense of taste and smell, arms and legs going numb… family farming is under attack everywhere, and here we have just one more example of that deterioration of the family unit. The water that comes out of our wells is no longer usable for growing our gardens.”

Local energy company Encana, and the State of Wyoming, insisted all along that there was nothing wrong going on in Pavilion. County and State Inspectors were shown Company tests and assured residents that there was nothing wrong with their water, Fenton said, or claimed that “the water’s always been bad up here,” and even suggested that the residents had contaminated their own water.

“We’re farmers,” he said, “We’re in touch with the land, and we can tell when things change…. We knew that we hadn’t done this.”

Only after they contacted the EPA did they realize they were finally dealing with people who believed their concerns.The EPA found a definite connection between contaminated water and fracking chemicals. Finally! Theo Colborn has been arguing for years for full disclosure of all chemicals used in drilling and fracking, her anguished refrain “because if we don’t know what they are we can’t test for them!” A quiet tragedy under this veil of secrecy has been medical professionals’ compromised ability to treat emergency room victims from the Industry, because they have not known the chemical causes of grave illnesses and injuries, including burns.

At last the EPA has been able to document the connection, and now the EPA is in danger. Real danger, of being swept away by a partisan agenda manipulated by an Industry in which one executive admitted that his company was engaged in a “land-grab.” Josh Fox’s eviction on spurious grounds from a public hearing where he was exercising his First Amendment Right to report on the proceedings is a match to gasoline, as far as I’m concerned. Or, to a faucet in Pavilion, Wyoming. In addition to methane making tapwater flammable, contamination from drilling and fracking includes benzene and other carcinogenic chemicals. The EPA found 50 times the safe level of benzene in Pavilion’s water (though there is no safe level.) And Fox (Josh, not Network) reports that flammable water and high benzene concentrations are happening all over the country, even in Australia. Many states, municipalities, and other countries have legislation either passed or pending to outlaw fracking.

Meanwhile, Colorado has legislation on the table now to make it illegal for counties and towns to pass their own legislation regulating or prohibiting oil and gas development! The Industry has mounted a full-on PR campaign just as the tobacco industry did against the first revelations that smoking causes cancer. That battle was a skirmish in comparison to this one. Smokers, deluded or addicted, still had choices. The individuals, communities, watersheds, cities, vast tracts of land both populated and wild, that are being poisoned by the extractive technology of “clean natural gas” have no choice. The long term impact on groundwater is immeasurable, irreversible, unfixable, and the consequences will be paid for by the citizens who suffer, because the Industry is exempt for every applicable federal protection.

There are thousands of cases in America alone of groundwater contaminated by the chemicals used in drilling and fracking. New examples come to light every day, in local newspapers and independent studies. And it seems like nobody in the media is paying attention to the whole. Nobody but Josh Fox. And now he’s censored.

I am appalled. I am beyond terrified, and I am angry. This has been going on under my nose for a decade; suffering and healing from personal losses, I had my head in the sand. Now the Industry is knocking at my front door, ogling the wild land I moved here for. Our valley is becoming part of a global awakening. What do you think will happen in this valley, across all social spectra, if our water becomes tainted? If our children begin to get sick and die? If our own heads ache, our limbs tremor, our lungs fail? Who do these people think they are, and what do they think we will do?

I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We will arise in angry unity, we will erupt with rage, and we will be too late. We must work together now to understand the hazards that could be thrust upon us before we feel their effects ~ understanding too late to prevent is not a viable option: This is where we live. This is our home. I do not want to find myself living in a landscape of loss. But if I do, like Josh Fox, I will have documented it every step of the way.

Climbing Out of the Tower

It’s time to emerge from the hermitage.

A series of synchronicities led me to this land twenty years ago, and here I have planted my roots, in this remarkable western Colorado valley. The Valley of Strong Women, the Valley of Organic and Sustainable Farming, the Valley where Mountains meet the Desert, the Valley of Rolling Rivers. We live here, in a broad sense, in an ecotone, where several kinds of wild landscapes meet several human cultures. We are a valley and a people of edges, a community of action and innovation.

A decade of loss followed a decade of discovery for me, and I withdrew from the swirl of life. My fiancé broke my heart, my good old dog died, 9/11 changed the world in ways we haven’t even yet comprehended, sowing the seeds of World War III; my mother surrendered to a rare brain disease and I moved back east to help her die. Cancer claimed two old friends right after that. I found solace in planning a future with an old lover, who then died; Dia died, Mocha died, Mr. Brick died, Vincent lay down on the back patio one cold winter morning and died. An aunt died, an uncle died. Everybody dies. Most people have some kind of filter that allows them to live their days without the constant, haunting awareness that everyone they love will one day die, slowly or abruptly; that this moment may be the last they see their lover, dog, friend; that this breath may be the last they themselves breathe. And more: that the ways we as a species live on this precious planet are killing it. My filter for these sorrows is but shredded gauze.

So I stole away to this sanctuary in the high desert, absorbing each loss, exploring grief, and finally seeking a new way to live. Chop wood, carry water. Cultivate compassion. Be a good neighbor. Above all, give thanks for the beauty and love that surround me. I celebrate the natural world I am lucky enough to live in, honor the treasures large and small this land reveals, and offer the interpretations and observations of a single small life in a singular place.