Thursday, March 31, 2016

Again, the dazzling Question

     We're poised to turn the calendar from March to April, now eleven days past the Vernal Equinox. Sap rising is bringing on the soft red blush of maple bud, a gauzy veil over-laying the wooded hillsides, soon to be accented by pastels of gold and sea-green. Robins, song sparrows, red-wings, grackles, starlings, and phoebes are newly-returned. This morning a cheery mob of goldfinches swarmed the two feeders, good-naturedly jostling each other for the sun-flower seeds. Their subdued winter colors are rapidly brightening to yellow-gold, a transformation that never fails to amaze. Soon the fiddlehead ferns will be poking tightly-curled heads up through the leaves. Just beyond the barn there's a fairy-circle of them that I'm eager to step inside of once more and feel the tingly buzz standing quietly and happily among them. A few days ago a pair of wood ducks visited Hemlock Pond here near the house, perhaps sizing up the prospects of a nesting opportunity. The two previous Springs they've enchanted me in the same way, gliding about the dark water, the male resplendent in his handsome white- and black-outlined harlequin plumage of cinnamon, gold, and dark-green. Maybe this year they'll settle in! Though today's breezy 60s make me want to find my sandals, three to five inches of snow are forecast for a few days from now. Nothing to be discouraged about. After all, many will tell you that the Spring Peepers (who I heard for the first time last week!) need to "freeze in" three times before full Spring can arrive. And when it melts it will set the streams and waterfalls to singing all the more, songs that have echoed in these hills since long before any house stood here. It is the perennial do-si-do of Winter giving way to Spring.

I am a much-blessed resident of these seven acres, as enchanted with this third Vernal shift as I was three years ago. It was that first Spring when I discovered Mary Oliver's poem about this tender time, these emergent wonders. It's become part of my Spring ritual to read it aloud, savoring its delights. Her black bear enthralls me once more, and when I come to these lines, I ponder them anew.... 
"There is only one question: how to love this world."
The answer is often elusive though I've felt I've come close to it at time or two. What I can say for sure though is that it awaits me through the open back door.


a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence 
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is    
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness 
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her --
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cut Down ... Multiplying

Felled maples of the Holleran Family Farm, New Milford, PA

The mild El Nino-influenced winter brought on the maple syrup season early this year. About the time I was starting to see tap lines strung through woods, news of what was happening near New Milford, PA reached me. For the Holleran family whose sugar bush had been in annual use since the 1950s, it was a race with the chain saw crews at work along the proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline. If it ever clears legal obstacles in New York, it would pass within two miles of me here in Lightspring Glen, carrying gas from Pennsylvania's fracking pads through five counties of Upstate New York to a terminus near Albany. While New York frack-tavists succeeded in bringing about a fracking ban in December, 2014, the build-out of fracking infrastructure, primarily pipelines, is still a very serious threat...and a threat not just for New Yorkers. This insidious octopus of pipelines is reaching out its tentacles all over the Northeast.

A bit of background:  In order for the Constitution Pipeline to be built, it needs the NY Department of Environmental Conservation to issue water quality permits. As can be imagined, there's been a heated campaign to oppose this and to date these permits have been stalled. With this go-ahead far from guaranteed, Constitution went ahead anyway (essentially illegally) and began clearing trees in Pennsylvania, much of the land of its 25-mile route there taken by eminent domain. To give the devil its due...minimal though this may be...they were doing so in compliance with the regulation of felling trees before March 31st so as to not impact Spring bird migration. A few landowners had opposed the seizure of their land including the Hollerans whose livelihood was threatened.

[An article that covers all of this in excellent detail is here: ]

The story of the Hollerans' plight and that of their endangered maples began to spread and dozens of people came to hold daily vigils through most of February. I so wanted to go but was recovering from a fractured tailbone, and so could only send supportive thoughts and prayers and keep up with news via social media. One night I left a note for Megan Holleran, the family's eloquent spokeswoman, thanking her for her valiant actions on behalf of her trees and told her she was an Earth Warrior. The story garnered national and international attention. Ultimately all legal appeals were exhausted and the chain saw crews were given the green light. The wholesale carnage of the family's maple trees took place on March 2nd and 4th. Megan requested that only a few chosen people come to hold witness with her. Hundreds if not more of us held our own distant witness on that mild late-winter day. I took my drum and went out among the hemlocks and hardwoods of my own small woods giving voice to our shared sadness and grief. 

The destruction was horrible enough as the five acres of maples, 90% of the sugar bush, were brought down. But as Megan posted that evening, as much as she had steeled herself for it, it was nearly impossible to bear the sight and sound of the chain saws and the maples crashing to the ground one after the other. Adding to this excruciating grimness was the presence of three armed security men toting rifles, fingers on the triggers. Given the several weeks of peaceful protest and the Hollerans' always-civil and cordial interactions with authorities and Pipeline personnel, this militant presence was both an outrage and insult. I sat looking at all these images coming through Facebook deeply shocked and almost sickened. In all my years of environmental advocacy, I had never seen anything close to this.

How I wish this was the only story to tell here.
In the early hours of March 3rd far to the south in Honduras, the internationally applauded environmental and human rights advocate, Berta Carceres, was assassinated in her home. Just last year she received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her thirty-plus years work on behalf of the native Lenca communities fighting for their territorial rights and combating environmental assaults to their land including illegal logging. One of the reports described her death as her having been "cut down".

While we here were still reeling from the news out of northern Pennsylvania, on March 7th, the day before International Women's Day, Berta Carceres' funeral was held in La Esperanza east of the Honduran capital. A Facebook post showing her family bearing her coffin on their shoulders included this caption:
The Honduran people in the thousands celebrated her life and protested her death. They shouted: "Berta Carceres Vive- la Lucha Sigue sigue, Berta is alive, the struggle continúes. Berta Carceres no morrió, se multiplicó. Berta is not dead - she multiplied."

Berta Carceres is an Earth Warrior who is no longer among us. To be an Earth Warrior requires fortitude, persistence, bravery...and hope. Megan Holleran exhibited all of these and more during the weeks of struggle to save her trees. The end result perhaps was inevitable, but the story of this valiant effort by her, her family, and hundreds more of us, continues to ripple out. 

Let us not lose heart. Let us multiply.

Berta Carceres, Earth Warrior