I cover the waterfront

This morning’s New York Times article, “Accidents Surge as Oil Industry Takes the Train,” by Clifford Krauss and Jad Mouawad, is a tardy but welcome look at one more dangerous and irresponsible aspect of the shale oil industry and the need for common sense and regulation to prevent further destruction of our environment, cities, and homes, and avoidable loss of lives.

Last night I watched the first half of Harlan County, USA, an Oscar-winning documentary about the 1973 coal miners’ strike.  Working and living conditions were deplorable.  The action of the police and the lack of concern by the government was expected but nonetheless depressing.  The courage and unity of the coalminers, both as workers and as strikers, and their wives were perhaps naive but definitely inspiring.  The double-speak of the mine-owners was nauseating.

Granted working conditions have improved since then, but definitely not enough to convince me that we are living in a land of opportunity and equality and respect for the working man.  The American ideals taught in grammar school (or which at least used to be taught in grammar school) and which are touted as making our country exceptional, are lost somewhere in the daily voracious onslaught of stupid and ugly politicking, the distracting hype and expensive investigation of non-existent conspiracies, the hate mongering media establishment, and the distortion that evil money brings to the interpretation and presentation of reality and to our government.  I still believe that good money, decent bosses, and politicians and government officials with integrity and honor exist, so don’t get on me that I am anti-money or anti-capitalism or anti-government.  These honest hard-working capitalists and politicians are just not having their day right now.

Some big industries still look upon workers as replaceable parts to be thrown away when they are too damaged to keep functioning.  Innocent bystanders are also just part of the cost of doing business.  Somewhere priorities are lost.  What is more important:  industry? or the people that industry is to serve?

2012-11-29 11.06.11This December I gathered together information from my personal research on what I see from my window overlooking the Hudson to share with the people of my town.  Included were pesticide spraying by the railroads and electric companies, new electric lines from Canada to Manhattan, effects of the rising sea level, and the transport of crude oil from the Bakken fields through Albany to east coast refineries.  With just a few updates, the section on the transport of oil along the river follows.

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Global Partners and Buckeye terminals in Albany are hubs for the passage of shale oil from the Bakken, North Dakota fields to refineries north and south along the east coast.  The oil comes in by train and goes out by barge or rail.

Surete du Quebec photo of the Lac Megantic derailment

Surete du Quebec photo of the Lac Megantic derailment

Roger Downs, conservation director of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic chapter in Albany is quoted in a July 2013 article in the Albany Times Union:  “People in the Capital District are horrified by the catastrophic train derailment and the subsequent loss of life in Quebec – but have no idea that the same Bakken crude oil shipments rumble through the heart of the city of Albany every day – presenting even greater risks to the lives of our own citizens. .  . If we are truly serious about facilitating a renewable energy future and protecting public health from these man-made disasters, Albany lawmakers can and should act to ban crude oil shipments through all our urban corridors.”

Downs was referring to the tanker train collision, fire, and death of 47 people in Lac-Megantic in Canada, just 10 miles out from Maine, a few days earlier.

Area agencies and residents are also concerned about the possibility of other accidents, such as the one in December of 2012, when a double-hulled tanker, the Stena Primorsk carrying crude ran aground 10 miles south of Albany.  No oil spilled from the tanker although the outer hull was breached.

Training of first responders as well as purchasing of emergency equipment in the Port of Albany and surrounding areas has been ongoing.  In November, officials from Orange, Dutchess and Ulster counties, the U.S. Coast Guard and New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation enacted a simulation of an oil spill from a Global Partners subsidiary’s terminal in New Windsor. Over 100 people, including representatives from NOAA, observed.  The results showed that if floating booms were not used, the oil could spread as far north as Wappingers Creek and south to Storm King Park, a total of 15 miles.

Financial reporters are emphasizing that the less expensive shale oil will boost the east coast refineries that have been suffering from the high costs of imported oil.  Shipping crude oil by rail to and through Albany is only going to grow.

Schumer in Kingston, photo by Paul Kirby, Daily Freeman

Schumer in Kingston, photo by Paul Kirby, Daily Freeman

Railroad companies are asking for more regulation on the construction of railroad cars so that new cars, which are in demand, will be safer than the currently used DOT-111.  The DOT-111s are the tankers that derailed and burnt in Lac-Magantic and again in Alberta this October.  New York’s Senator Schumer called on the Federal Department of Transportation to phase out the DOT-111 in July, and this January he reiterated his appeal after the North Dakota derailment.

Sen. Schumer reported that between 100 and 200 DOT-111s pass through Kingston daily.  Most freight trains travel the western bank of the Hudson.  The tracks on the eastern shore are being restructured to make commuter travel more efficient.  However, the difference in how a railroad disaster would affect us if it is on our side or the other side of the river is only a matter of degree.

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Nothing in today’s New York Times article today mentions that oil trains are running across and down New York state, nor am I able to find any mention of Schumer’s concerns on the issue in the Times.  I’d like to think that our Senator’s second round of concern was sparked in part by the letter I wrote to his office – but that is a bit presumptuous.  Why don’t you write him one?

I’m not a rabble-rouser..  I don’t want to start a revolution.  I’m not a Joe Hill.  I just want to be safe and healthy and leave a good place for my children and their children.

It’s 1:30 and there are only 15 comments on the article.  There are however 400 on Ross Douthat’s contribution on marriage, sexuality, morality and poverty.  There are 212 comments on Maureen Dowd’s coverage of the emerging marijuana tourist business in Colorado.

Come on, people.  Come out of the clouds and think a little.

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Call to action issued after North Dakota oil train wreck, 01/07/2014  http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2014/01/07/Call-to-action-issued-after-North-Dakota-oil-train-wreck/UPI-75251389095711/

CP Rail oil shipment deal signals rail transport no longer stopgap measure, by Jeff Lewis, 09/01/2013  http://business.financialpost.com/2013/01/09/cp-rail-oil-shipment-deal-signals-rail-transport-no-longer-stopgap-measure/?__lsa=c6f7-eda2

Global Partners boosts Bakken shipments to eastern refiners, by Aaron Clark  Bradley Olson, 04/18/2012  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-18/global-partners-boosts-bakken-shipments-to-eastern-refiners-1-.html

How an oil spill could spread in the Hudson River, by Brian Nearing, 11/13/2013  http://blog.timesunion.com/green/how-an-oil-spill-could-spread-in-the-hudson-river/4485/

Hudson spill drill will test skill:  many agencies plan for first river exercises since tanker accident, by Brian Nearing, 11/08/2013   http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Hudson-spill-drill-will-test-skill-4968951.php

New York turns into hub for shale boom, by Gregory Meyer, 02/14/2014  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5afe2abe-7564-11e2-b8ad-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2mMKhLZNS

Oil by rail:  are we safe?  Quebec disaster puts focus on busy Albany oil corridor, by Eric Anderson, 07/10/2013  http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Oil-by-rail-Are-we-safe-4656040.php

Schumer calls on FEDS to require phase-out plan of DOT-111 cars carrying oil through Western New York. . ., press release, 08/13/2013  http://www.schumer.senate.gov/Newsroom/record.cfm?id=345541&&year=2013&

Tanker carrying Bakken crude to Canadian refinery runs aground, by Eliot Caroom & Dan Murtaugh, 12/20/2012  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-20/tanker-carrying-bakken-crude-to-canadian-refinery-runs-aground.html

Unsettling echoes of Canada rail disaster, by Chris Churchill, The Advocate, 08/03/2013  http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Unsettling-echoes-of-Canada-rail-disaster-4705390.php

Fourteen joys and a will to be merry

IMG_0067Tuesday morning the flag that flies in the park outside my kitchen window was flying at half-mast. It was important to know why.

Two of my friends had died quietly the day before: one was more like family. Although they lived next door to each other, near the park, neither of them had any clout in town. The flag wasn’t lowered for them. It was eerie.

My friends were in many ways similar.

Both spent a lot of time by themselves. It seemed by choice. They did enjoy socializing, and each of them could be great company.

Both loved the Hudson. One kayaked on it, the other swam in it.

IMG_0062They both spent a lot of time gazing at it from their back porches, and they knew that it was forever changing, and that it would always be revealing more but not all of its secrets.

DucksThey loved the birds – the birds in the air and on the water. They watched each other watch a duck family that crossed through our contingent yards several days in a row on their way to the water. We never did find out where the ducks were coming from. Perhaps they nested at the pond down the road. It seemed a long walk for little ducklings, but one theory is as good as another for the story.

foxBefore&AfterTuckThey both observed the animals that darted out from the lilacs and sumac that bordered the tracks – mostly bunnies, but there were others. One took a picture of the sickly fox that roamed the shore, the other took the fox out of its misery.

They both were survivors. She fought breast cancer and was determined to beat it. She reminded me of my husband Clark who fought until he didn’t have the strength to sit on the tractor and mow the orchard anymore.

My other friend’s body was full of buckshot. We knew it was in his ear, but not until the xrays the day he died did we know that his body was riddled with shot, especially in one leg. He started gagging and gasping for breath on Thursday, and by the weekend Lee and I knew that he deserved a better life than the one he would have if he started the regimen to cure himself.

IMG_0055They both were creative. She maintained beautiful gardens, mostly in large planters. I like to look down on them from my top deck. We talked plants a lot, and also animals, and neighbors, and always the river. Her husband gave me one of her pottery pieces for our “tower toasting” just a few days before she died. It is next to me on my desk. Lee and I knew when she went into the hospital the last time she might not make it to our celebration.

Tuck 2 062013 LeeMy other friend, whom if you haven’t guessed was my dog Tuck, was creative too. He could find a way to get out of anything – almost. She called him Houdini. I think she would have loved to find a way out of her body and run with him.

What does one do when two friends die on the same day? I got into the car and drove to see my mother. She has had to depend upon someone for help in her daily life for the past ten years. She acknowledged me and smiled and I told her the news of the family, and in five – ten minutes she dozed off again. I held her hand drawing in whatever motherly comfort I could.

When in transit, I’m nowhere, a good place to be when you don’t want to be anywhere else. I sing with favorite music or listen to books. This four-hour round trip the book was A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of my Father by Augusten Burroughs. I hurt for the little boy who longed for his father’s love and had created a reality where he and his father shared a special relationship complete with little rituals. Finally Augusten discovered how wrong he was.

The tape kept running. I was no longer listening, but had had my own breakthrough. Life, death, love, loss, yesterday, tomorrow had all come together and I was happy to be alive. The memories of these two friends, whose times were up, were now part of me, along with the memories of others who had touched me in one way or another.

At home I read the blurb on the audiobook cover: “. . .Though harrowing and brutal, [the book] will ultimately leave you buoyed with the profound joy of simply being alive.” Come on, I thought, this is ridiculous.

It’s now Thursday and I’m somehow picking away at this feeling of joy by wondering if I should feel guilty for loving life while others are struggling just to live another day. Every now and then this pesky theme of mine surfaces and Lee, bless his heart, tells me it is good to enjoy life. I always come up with qualifications.

But here’s to a great neighbor and my dog Tuck, and here’s to my neighbor’s husband who shall grieve as long as he needs, and here’s to Lee, my constant companion and our lost spouses, and here’s to my mother, my sons, my friends, my extended family, Tuck’s vet, and here’s to you.

Love,

Spoonbeam

Deer on the Road

IMG_0147There are a lot of deer in the Hudson Valley.  They are beautiful to see in the fields and troublesome to see five feet in front of your windshield.   I have been in four collisions with deer, the worst of which was an $8000 front-on with one that dropped out of the sky. The policeman who came to my aid asked if I wanted him — the deer that is.    

Watch the deer.  They appear to be gaining street smarts.  Some deer stop at the side of the road.  I like to think that they are looking both ways, or maybe they are listening, and if they see or hear, or maybe they feel it in their bodies, that nothing big and fast is coming, they will cross.  My theory is that in six generations the deer will evolve to the point that they can live in harmony with automobiles.  This may sound ridiculous, but the findings of University of Minnesota biologist, Emilie C. Snell-Rood, reported on in today’s NY Times by Carl Zimmer, back me up.

Dr. Snell-Rood’s research shows that mice, moles, shrews and bats living in areas where humans have changed their environments, cities for example, have larger brains than those in rural areas.   

My inspiration came from New Normal, a RadioLab program on evolution, which I chanced on while driving around the deer-rich back roads of Columbia and Dutchess County last year.  (I love RadioLab. Thank you Alan Chartock and WAMC.)  I’ve also spent time observing my dog Tuck, a mixed breed Border Collie/Shepherd/Akita.  Lately he seems to look down the tracks behind the house before we cross them   Not Jaxon, Lee’s rolling English lab.  He’ll stop to scratch right between the rails.   No contest on which bloodline will survive here.

Just making sure my theory gets into print before someone else beats me to it. 

 

Sandy at Cheviot

Something woke me from my sleep at 2:30 last night and I went to my window. I could see the glimmer of water where it shouldn’t be, but where I expected it to be. Tuck and I went down to the porch to look.  The Hudson had risen to the tracks but did not go over them, and the puddle in my lower yard was even higher than during Irene.   The electricity was still out.

The basement was dry.  Water in the basement has been an obsession with me since the year waterfalls of the Las Vegas ilk poured through the bulkhead at the street and down the front yard, and again formed waterfalls through the stone foundation into the basement.  I lost so much of my life and family history in that four-foot flood.   But having my sons at the house to go through their damp possessions filled me with bittersweet pride and joy.

Relieved about the basement I dressed and walked down to the crossing to see if I could get a few photos.  I’d never seen the river this high and hope never to again.  Sorry.  I don’t use the settings that often on my camera, and in the dark getting a picture was impossible — even tho the flash kept going off.  I should go back to my rangefinder.

I went online for any other information I could find, but finally went back to sleep.

In the morning, the Hudson had receded, but the backyard duck pond was still at high tide.  When it went down I checked the shed.  It had flooded during Irene and so we had raised it by two cinder blocks, and the day before Sandy I put boards under the snowblower.  Still when I looked inside, water was sitting in the open ash catcher on my charcoal Weber grill.  The water was at least a foot deep in the shed.  I wonder if it will come back up during this afternoon’s high tide.  It’s like living on the Nile.

The electricity is back on and the generator has been tucked away. I heard from my boys that the streets they live in on Brooklyn didn’t flood, no trees hit the car, one spent yesterday making pickles and today has been commandeered by the city to help with the relief effort, the other is on tour with his band JP & the Gilberts and missed the storm completely.  My mom’s assisted living in Jersey has water and gas and is getting a temporary generator for power.  My sister in Jersey has a tree in her driveway but is happy that that is her only worry.  Lee received no calls from tenants.

The sun came out and my dentist called to make sure I went to my appointment this afternoon.

Sunset after the Storm

We in Cheviot did pretty well.  We missed the big winds and heavy rains.  My heart goes out to NYC and the Jersey Shore and to all who suffered losses.

 

 

Neighbors and Fences — a Second Subtler Approach

       My old New Hampshire home, painting by Marguerite Tanner, 2004
 

Perhaps it is because I lived for four years by myself in a 5000 square foot 1790 house on 12 acres in rural New Hampshire, but whatever the reason, I have come to believe that neighbors are there for you when you need them, and you are there for them in return. You may not socialize together, you may have totally different philosophies of life, vote for the other man, have more or less money, and pray to a different god or not at all. In most circumstances you stay out of each other’s lives, you do no harm, and you are there when four hands are needed when there are only two.

Like when your tractor breaks down and the fellow who lives behind you sees you struggling to start it walks over and says let me look at that. Or when some pipe in your basement cracks and it’s nine o’clock on Friday night.  The woman down the street from whom you buy your eggs calls you up to tell you that she just bought some new hens, hears of you dilemma and then starts calling her friends who might be able to help. A great guy appears at your door tools in hand and fixes everything and asks for nothing. Or when your husband is in hospice and the underground spring that forms a duck pond every year in your orchard during snow melt changes its course and you’ve got two feet of water in your basement.

Neighborliness comes in many forms.   Robert Frost, who lived many years in the state, wrote how he and a neighbor “beyond the hill” would meet one day every spring ‘to walk the line and set the wall between us once again.”

Stone Walls at my old New Hampshire home

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Like Frost, I now have a neighbor beyond the hill.

He is all pine, and I am apple-orchard.                                              My apple trees will never get across                                                 And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.                                    He only says “Good fences make good neighbors.”

. . . Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall

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Fence erected by my neighbor next to the addition going up

Title Track

Spoon Cottage is my home – named by the previous owners, who discovered spoons when they tore down the walls to the posts and beams.  They left me one of the spoons tucked in a mortise.  The earlier owners repointed the bricks that made up the interior walls of the first floor.  The house was built in 1860 or thereabouts and was one of four fishing cottages in Cheviot.    Mine may be the only one still standing.  Two that were further down the lane from mine have been torn down, and the woman who lives on the other side of me is researching the history of her cottage – which does not reflect the style that was common to the time mine was constructed.

I was sitting on the back deck one afternoon looking across the tracks and the river and the sun came up over the roof of the cottage and shone down on me.  That’s when I discovered the spoonbeams.

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For more on spoonbeams, please see my Poetry page –