Saturday, November 28, 2009

In My Back Yard

For many years I have been searching for some way to bring attention, personal stories, and beauty to ecologically damaged places. In a way, I think this way of approaching life and death, joy and sorrow, and the strange beauty that can be found when we gaze at that which we least want to look at has been pursuing me all my life.

Over the years I've held small gatherings and longer programs in several wounded places, from a clearcut forest in British Columbia to Ground Zero in New York City to a coal-fired power plant for 350: the International Day of Climate Action last month. When I founded Radical Joy for Hard Times, I joined others who shared the vision of finding and creating beauty in wounded places.

And now, by strange fate or synchronicity, this long search is becoming very personal.

The Marcellus shale beneath the earth in Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania, where I live, has been found to have one of the largest reserves of natural gas anywhere in the world. In the past two years, the momentum has been building to tap this source of energy with new technology. Unlike more affluent counties in New York, just north of us, where people are fighting this encroachment, here in rural, low-income Pennsylvania, poor farmers are eagerly leasing their lands... and many are already regretting it.

The problems, not surprisingly, have begun: polluted wells; damage to the hilly, winding, rural roads by heavy trucks; and even the recent discovery that the water that has been used to shatter, or "frack," the shale thousands of feet in the Earth, may be radioactive after it is pumped back out.

Two months ago, to my surprise, my husband and I were offered $5,700 an acre for our five and a half acres, plus 20% royalties for a portion of a larger consolidated leasing area.

For weeks Andy and I were immersed in long, tearful discussions together and with friends about our options. Neither of us has much money, and we have lost much of what we did have in the current recession. If we leased, we would not only get a settlement up front, but a regular income. For me, however, there was never any dilemma. I knew I could not live with myself if I were to condone, and even profit from, the exploitation of the Earth.

We finally have reached a decision. As my husband said, "You founded Radical Joy for Hard Times to bring beauty to wounded places, and now the wounded place is coming to your own backyard." So we will be staying, at least for now, and we will not be signing a lease.

Some people we know, including a good friend, think we have made a very foolish choice. And as I look at the rolling hills, the long expanses of woods and fields near my home, my heart aches for the ugliness and scarring that is probably inevitable. But I also am seeing new opportunities for exercising the principles of Radical Joy for Hard Times—the main goal of which is to reconcile people and wounded places through storytelling, bearing witness, and creating beauty. As seekers have known for millennia, you never have to go far from home to find the revelation you so long for.

On Monday I leave for Melbourne, Australia to attend the Parliament of World Religions. Watch for more blogs from there.