December 9, 2011
Typos can be revealing. A couple days ago a friend and I—she happens to also be my priest—were putting the finishing touches on a grant application, for which the funds will be used to renovate a church building to include a separate rental apartment. One of our points is that affordable housing is desperately needed here because of how the influx of gas workers has caused rents to soar and availability to plummet. We were frantically typing away at different sections (any of you who have written grant apps have guessed that it was due the next day), and later when I put the pieces together and was proofing I noticed she’d written “the distraction of natural gas,” instead of “extraction.” I laughed. Then I stopped to think.
The monster now had a name. I don’t mean to be melodramatic or cute, but naming things is important for reasons other than conquering or claiming. Terry Tempest Williams, a Mormon nature writer, once said that if we didn’t know the names of trees then they’d all just be “trees” and we’d never realize when some species—elms, for instance—were disappearing. She was talking to a bunch of us artsy writers, some who claimed natural history or the science side of things was a hindrance or unnecessary to our task.
I’ve also learned from psychology and counselors I’ve known that naming the thing I fear and making it clearer to see does not make it more powerful, rather it gives me the ability to isolate it, take aim, and gain whatever level of control or power is possible under the circumstances. I had been lumping the psychological effects of natural gas under one label—anxiety. I assumed my stress was all from my worries over what will happen.
Yet even when I’m not actively worrying I am less present in what I am doing and where I am than before Marcellus Shale reared its ominous head. And then I forget things, lose things, miss appointments, and speed by the turn I take every day going home. So I run late, snap at my family, growl at the dogs. Bad mama.
The other day Jimmy and I were in the car heading to his first appointment with an orthopedist since his bike wreck a little more than a week earlier. He was found by strangers blacked out in the middle of the dirt road he rides home, and couldn’t remember anything about what happened. I felt sure he’d been avoiding a gas truck barreling down the road (it was just past the turn off for a well pad), or maybe a deer. Hours later in the ER, having been diagnosed with a concussion (duh), broken collarbone and maybe some broken ribs (turns out three), his memory suddenly returned. “I hit a hole,” he said, his eyes widening as he watched the scene in his head. “Wasn’t paying attention, just hurrying downhill, didn’t have my hands wrapped around the grips. They bounced off and underneath the handlebars. I don’t remember anything after that. Damn rookie mistake.” My first response was to tease him that he couldn’t get a blog post out of that. It’d have been much better if he’d had a hit and run from a residual waste truck.
But in the car he said to me, “No wonder I had a bike crash this semester. I’ve been so distracted.” We’d been talking about how busy we are, how we hate to rush and it feels like that’s all we’re doing. Sure there’re issues at work that contribute, but on top of all the normal aspects of the world that’s too much with us, there’s the dozens of emails, warnings, and queries concerning the natural gas boom here. Which to read? Which to act on immediately? Which are overreactions by others? A friend calls us one morning to say he has information from a watershed meeting about something the PA DEP is considering that could result in brine being spread on roadways. Can we help get the word out? Today? The open comment period (that was never advertised) is almost over. Jimmy’s last post touched on the pressure that comes with committing to stay informed and vigilant
The monster doesn’t take a day off; nevertheless we cannot be fulltime defenders, tossing aside the daily tasks of life (although the dishes can wait a day or two if necessary) for an indefinite amount of time. Say the decade or more that our area is due to be under siege. And it’s these daily tasks that are as important as what we might consider our more “serious pursuits,” according to nature writer, activist, and Buddhist philosopher Gary Snyder.
So on the twilight of the Thanksgiving holiday and the advent of, well, advent, I want to pause and do what my priest and friend advised in a Thanksgiving service years ago when I happened to have post-partum blues. She asked us all to take our anxieties and turn them into statements of thanks. It made me realize that I can choose what to focus on. Like that monster—the distraction of natural gas—which I can turn toward and away from, not giving all my moments to it. The practice of gratitude also energizes me much more than stewing over what I can do nothing about in that moment, ultimately making me a better defender of this place.
My List of Thanks
- For the strangers who found my husband before he was run over, and called an ambulance and then me
- For early morning layers of pink through aspen branches beyond my kitchen window
- For the farmers and food-crafters in the area who help me put healthy, humanely raised food on my table and plates
- For the dirty plates in my sink, and the fact that I have more clean ones in the cabinet
- For our friend who hates public speaking but went to several township meetings to educate officials on the dangers of using waste brine on the roadways
- For my husband who wanted down time and now has it
- For my children who are visibly growing up as they take care of Daddy
- For the old fruit trees in the back acres that call the deer in to glean what’s fallen
- For the suede shapes amongst gray trunks and fallen leaves, subtly monitoring our dogs
- For the remaining places for the deer (and us) to wander
- For the flavor of the 23 pound local turkey Jimmy smoked for nine hours, and the friends that stopped by to share a beer and pass the time with the one-armed cook
- For the smell of my daughter’s hair
- For my son’s infectious laugh
- For the Saturday morning art program my kids love (during which I write)
- For the small town I live in, and the people who jump to our side when the shit hits the fan (or my husband hits the dirt)
- For all the moments. They are exquisite.