September 7, 2012
It’s over a week since I came home. So much has come in – information, places, people, ideas, kindnesses, concerns – that it’s hard to decide what to write. And I’ve needed to settle in a bit at home after 6800 miles, and to reconnect with my ordinary Zen practice that consists of sitting zazen every morning. Finally I gave up and did that: sitting, sleeping, eating better, gardening, painting the fence. Still need to pump up the bicycle tire and reconnect with cycling. On Tuesday I head to southern Indiana to see my Zen teacher. By bus: sick of driving.
So this is a personal post, with impressions and feelings. I hope for your patience.
Impression: mile after mile of dried-out fields. In Montana, mid-August, I asked about the brown grasslands and learned this is normal. In Nebraska, I didn’t have to ask about the skeletons of corn. We were lucky in Minnesota to get that rain; our flood losses have to be less than their drought losses.
Yesterday I heard that this was the worst drought in 50 years. BBC, I think, and world food prices will go up. To me, this summer is proof of global warming and the ultimatum for change. Yet most Americans go on as usual.
Impressions: vast skies, humans are tiny. People who work hard and harder, and take time out to defend their home – the place to which they belong.
They are blockading the pipeline in Texas. Sitting-in to prevent mountain-top removal in West Virginia. Marching against fracking in Pennsylvania and New York. Often I think I should be there – all of them. Trust that I will know when it is my time, that my own clinging won’t stop that awareness.
There’s a background to the pipeline story. First, this is Keystone XL; Keystone 1 already runs down the eastern edge of the Dakotas. XL is bigger and cuts through the Ogalalla Aquifer – pure drinking water source for the entire Midwest. (I have a jar of it in my refrigerator, for a special occasion.) Keystone 1 had, if my memory serves, 14 leaks in the first year of construction, and is now aging. They moved the route twice, but it still goes through the aquifer.
Second, oil drilling is already big news in half the area. The Bakken oil fields are busy, using fracking technology to retrieve oil formerly too expensive; the whole area is retooling around oil. Housing is short; workers often live in “man camps” and commute to see their families on weekends. “Social problems” abound.
If you’re familiar with the issues, you know that fracking seems to cause earthquakes. Now, various groups of landowners have signed various leases. A rancher/activist told me that their group had the best contract; the important thing was no liability (unless the rancher deliberately damaged the pipeline). A different group had accepted this: in case of a natural disaster, the rancher is responsible for half the damages. Consider the damages caused by a spill of toxic oil getting into your fields and all your neighbors’ fields, ruining them for decades. Or consider the damages from poisoning the aquifer. One spill on your land, and you are financially ruined. Then, imagine the spill is a result of an earthquake, and imagine trying to sue the Bakken oil companies for their part in this not-so-natural disaster.
Some people signed and wished they hadn’t; some signed and felt guilty; one refused to sign, lost in court, and doesn’t yet know the full consequences. Some of the activists are landowners, but not all. Some of the landowners are ranchers/farmers, not all. They already work hard, and they are spending a lot of time testifying and fighting to stop this. “I was born and raised here. I’m a little attached.” “My great-grandfather homesteaded this land.” “I’ll walk with you through my county.” “I’ll have a pig roast for you.” “I’ll bring you food.” “If I were on the route, you could stay with me.” Faces of honest, hardworking people, who never asked for anything (they thought) but now what they thought they owned is strongly threatened. Republicans, surprised that the Republican Party is not supporting them – what about individual liberty and property rights? I remembered when that’s what Republican meant, too.
In British Columbia, I listened to First Nations activists, and lived for a week in the forests they might lose. (I have a quart of the water we drank from that river.) Though fiercely under attack, they are still close to a gathering/hunting way of life. They can still see that which the rest of us have lost – colonized thousands of years ago instead of hundreds. In Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, I listened to white settlers who lived with the land in a different way, who still have enormous amounts to lose.
And I started this because of global warming, because I see my grandchildren (all our grandchildren) threatened and we need to voluntarily return to the way even the farmers no longer live. Most of us, when we think about losses, think about losing central heating, cars, airplanes, conveniences. Most of us no longer mourn the loss of rising daily in the forest or on the plains, spending the day outdoors, bathing in the river. (When asked if he could get by without fossil fuels, one replied, “It would be harder, but I know how to farm with horses.” I said, “You might have to teach.”)
What else? I looked up a newspaper editor who’d written some terrific editorials, and was surprised to find myself being interviewed. York News-Times. I now have material data safety sheets – which Transcanada refuses to provide, claiming trade secrets – from another company, in 2002, that describe the issues with the chemicals used to dilute bitumen (from tar sands) so it can be sent through pipelines. (Summary: really, really dangerous. “Trade secret” sometimes seems to mean “If you knew about this, you would stop us, so it’s a secret.”) I learned from an organizer how they can claim high safety records: if the spill happens at a pumping station, it doesn’t count. Most spills happen at pumping stations.) They have a gadget that checks the insides of the pipes. It doesn’t check at joints, and doesn’t identify cracks. The report from the spill at Kalamazoo, Michigan is, briefly, “don’t do it again until a lot more safety is in place.” Ignored of course.
Little scandals: oil companies buy the mineral rights from a retired person for $5000; worth 100 times that much. Transcanada paying less than other pipeline companies, threatening people into signing, and of course lying. All hearsay.
And I took 2 days off from the pipeline to support an action at Pine Ridge, the Women’s Day of Peace, about illegal alcohol sales at White Clay.
The walk is not actually about the pipeline. It is about coming back to being part of the earth. About giving up dominion. About recognizing our relatives everywhere. It’s just under a year away; way too late, but 5 years ago was also too late. The walk is also a ceremony, a prayer, of putting one foot in front of the other on the earth, walking through the heart of the continent, calling on every possible helper (ancestors, bodhisattvas, saints, earth spirits, God…) to change all our hearts. The people who just go on with their personal lives, trusting that it won’t happen to them. The owners, rulers, bosses who don’t care about the future.
The ceremonial aspect makes it hard to shorten it, hard to give in to a need for shuttles instead of walking every step – but to walk every step will mean sleeping by the side of the road more often than not. The resolution is not yet clear, but it will be. A few people have contacted me about walking, and there will be more. Maybe there will be a way for the original dream – the whole way from the Fort McMurray tar sands to the refineries in Texas – and maybe another form will be offered. Having waited my whole life to be given instructions, I’m willing to wait a few more months for the details.
Donations have covered maybe half the cost of the August trip. If you want to help support that, here’s a repeat of instructions: You can use Paypal to send money to Cedar Spring – my Paypal account (former name). If you don’t have Paypal, I can send you an email request for a specific amount (unchangeable). Or you can mail a check to Shodo Spring, 806 Water St S, Northfield MN 55057. On the off chance that more money arrives than was actually spent for the trip (not personal donations etc), it will be saved for things like the real website and other walk expenses.