Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I just watched a CNN web video clip from an interview with Chris Coons, the Delaware senatorial candidate who will run against Christine O'Donnell (posted September 21st).

Jessica Yellin, the CNN person leading the interview, for three minutes baited Mr. Coons, trying to get him to cast negative judgments on Ms. O'Donnell or her abilities to serve as senator.

Mr. Coons never took the bait.

With graceful effort that was visible on his face, he redirected every response so that instead of defaming his opponent, he stood in his own position and beliefs about the senatorial task and his fit for it. The closest he came to assessing his opponent was to say that the Delaware voters would decide who was more fit for the job.

It was a very poor showing for CNN, and an excellent showing for Mr. Coons. If all of our senators could gracefully refrain from pointing fingers at their colleagues (even when prompted by the media) and stand firmly in their own positions, we'd be better off. For that alone I'd vote for Mr. Coons.

But I'm not from Delaware.

~ emrys

Monday, September 20, 2010

Good Foundations

With much of my August vacation I worked on the garden shed. In an earlier entry I described the first steps of the shed's construction. With the first corner post in, the other three holes could be dug. Of course, no workman goes to his job site without an expert supervisor. Gwendolyn volunteered for that job, checking to make sure all was well, even before the second post had been fully tamped in:

I think that red Crocs and yellow fishing hats are now standard issue for construction supervisors.

Here's the super again, checking all the string lines for the third and fourth posts (note she's still in her jammies--a good supervisor gets up early in the morning):

Even with all that measuring, the posts turned out to be one-half inch off square. Sigh. I hope the shed doesn't collapse as a result.

You need more than good supervision--you need good help to put together a garden shed. So David, an ever-present source of help in our village, volunteered to help set the 2x4 beams under the floor. These, by the way, are the true (and rough-cut) 2x4s that I milled last summer from our own hemlock trees.

We went with an 8x8 footprint because we think it will be enough for our needs, and will be cheaper than the pre-packaged 8x12 sheds we were thinking of buying. (Lowe's sells sheds whose components are all pre-cut and wrapped in a pallet that their truck drops in your yard. No sawing, measuring, or cursing when you've cut something too short. Just drill, hammer, and snap, and voila: garden shed. But they cost about $1,000; we're projecting the final cost of this shed to be under $800.)

When it came time to put the floor sheeting on, our supervisor succumbed to the temptation common to all humanity: the power tool. She watched for about ten minutes as Sara and I drove screws through the chipboard, then she had to get in on the action herself. (Supers wear red Crocs and workers purple Crocs, I guess.)

The floor was on, feeling stable, ready to accept four walls and a roof. But the Framing of the Shed turned out to be a whole other story in itself . . .

~ emrys

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Two Minutes

They told us to be at the Binghamton Forum Theater at 10:30am to register, even though the meeting didn't start until 12:00. Perhaps they wanted to be ready for long lines. When I got there at 10:35, I walked through an empty foyer to the registration table and picked up my armbands: a red one for admission and a yellow one with my speaker number on it. They gave me an instruction sheet for speakers and directed me to the theater. With and hour and a half to wait.

I left the theater and walked toward Court Street, past the barricades empty of protesters. Police officers stood in small clumps, dressed up with no one to warn, talking about the weather. I found a favorite coffee shop and did an hour's worth of work before walking back to the Forum at noon.

As I passed through the foyer this time I picked up the three information sheets about this public meeting. I figured I needed something to skim during the forty minutes of opening remarks before the open speaking session.

The US EPA had set today as one of two dates for "stakeholders" (people affected by the potential gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale under our neck of the woods) to offer their opinions and viewpoints to EPA officials. Having a flexible work schedule allowed me to be present for one of these meetings, so I had registered for one of the two-minute speaking slots by which I might personally address the EPA. I had prepared my remarks, rehearsed them until they came to one minute and forty-five seconds (better not to get cut off), and brought them folded neatly in the books I carry with me everywhere. I was ready to offer my thoughts on whether the EPA should allow the harvesting of natural gas by hydrofracturing ("fracking") in New York.

As I stood in the foyer scanning the documents prepared for the speakers, I realized that the EPA had not come to hear our positions on fracking. Their purpose here was not to hear "for" and "against" positions on fracking. Instead, the EPA was soliciting comments, concerns, and suggestions about the methodology of an imminent study on the relationship between fracking and drinking water. The comments I had prepared totally missed the mark. (So did ninety percent of the speakers' comments. Consciously or unconsciously, the vast majority of the two-minute tirades urged the EPA toward or away from hydrofracking, but did not address the question the EPA had asked.)

I stood in the foyer in a crisis. Did I have anything useful to say to the EPA? What did I know about methodologies for studying fracking and drinking water? Why shouldn't I just go home now and get other stuff done?

Having made the thirty-minute drive into town (and found a sweet parking space), I didn't surrender the opportunity immediately. While the opening remarks of the EPA officials and the moderator droned through the theater, I meditated on the EPA info sheets. They sought input on methodology, research design, and testing sites. Testing sites.

We're in the "stewardship season" for most Christian congregations. "Stewardship" to most pew-sitting Christians means "how much money should I give to the Church?" or "how much money do I have to give back to God?" But a broader understanding includes the question of how I can use all the gifts I have been given to serve God and neighbor. Whenever we find something within our "possession," Christians ask, "How can this be used to bless someone else?"

The Spirit gave me a flash of insight as I stood in the back of the Forum. I could not offer scientifically informed input on the design of the fracking and water study. But I could offer them my land.

I sat in the theatre seat and hastily rewrote my two-minute speech. I described our parcel of land, its unique hydrological qualities, and its proximity to likely gas drilling sites. I told this EPA panel that if that sounded like a good place to study, they could come and use our property. I even offered to make them coffee and a strawberry rhubarb pie when they showed up. And I was done with more than thirty seconds left on the clock.

I went to the coat check to pick up my bag (security is everything, now), and before I could step out the door a young lady by the name of Shelley introduced herself to me.

"I'm a science writer from Fortune 500," she said. "I'm interested in what you said back there, can we talk more?"

Her evening would be taken up by these meetings, so we would have to talk the next morning. I remembered that I had agreed to cook breakfast at home the next morning, so scheduling a meeting with a journalist in Binghamton would endanger domestic tranquility. In another fit of Spirit-led insight, I offered Shelley to join us for breakfast.

She accepted, and we set breakfast for nine-thirty, late enough that our household would have a chance to advance its appearance at least a little above our normal pajama-and-slippers late breakfast attire. Thus it was that on Thursday of last week we entertained a Fortune 500 journalist from Manhattan with scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits, bacon, and coffee. It was another chance to offer what we have to others, by food, fellowship, and an opportunity to see the landscape that will be most impacted by whatever gas drilling happens.

All because I stuck around for two minutes and offered what I had.

The EPA hasn't called yet, but it's a federal-level government agency. We need to give them time.


Tough Chick

A week and a half ago Gwendolyn broke her leg. The ropes on her swing frayed and snapped, one then the other, dropping her in such a way as to cause an incomplete fracture of the distal end of her right tibia. I was at work at the time, so only came to know of the accident by cell phone. Since the fracture was not displaced, it was not immediately apparent that any bones were broken. But based on Gwendolyn's level of agitation, we decided to take her to the emergency room.

I met Sara and Gwendolyn at the ER, and examined my daughter's legs. Sara had told me that she couldn't walk on her right leg. No bruising presented itself, and both legs looked the same. As long as she was in my or Sara's arms, Gwendolyn didn't even seem agitated. She spotted the water cooler, decided she wanted to go for it, and took only one step before her right foot buckled under her.

Sure enough, the x-ray revealed the fracture; the ER doc splinted her, and the next day we went to an orthopedist for a cast. Mid-thigh to toes on the right side, Gwendolyn is now wrapped in fiberglass, reminding me of my middle-school injury that kept me in a similar getup from thigh to ankle for six weeks.

"Toddlers can't use crutches," the orthopedist told us, "and this is not a walking cast."

Yeah, right.

Once the bone was immobilized, Gwendolyn seemed unfazed by her injury. The first two days in a cast saw her scooting around on her bum and crawling at full velocity, dragging her fiberglass anchor along. Only at night did she have problems; and I am uncertain whether she woke up at night because of pain or because cuddling up next to a scratchy log is never comfortable. All in all, Gwendolyn adapted to her new millstone with greater speed--and less whining--than most adults, including myself, can manage. I suppose that when life is still a long series of discoveries, with little expectation of permanence, new challenges are just little adjustments along the way.

The doc designed the cast to be a hindrance to walking. The ankle and knee are both bent at thirty degrees, which makes it both in the way and too long for easy ambulation. However, of the many concepts my daughter does not yet grasp, "can't" is on top of the list. So on Day Three she had figured out how to walk in the cast.

She's not as fast as she used to be (though she gets quicker every day), but she manages to balance on her left foot with the cast as a kick-stand or crutch, depending on whether she's still or moving. She doesn't complain about it, doesn't wince when she moves, and shows no sign that she's frustrated at having to move a little more slowly toward her ball.

She is even kicking the soccer ball to me in the kitchen--with her casted foot.

My daughter's a tough chick.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

I Am The Huntress

I am the Huntress. Donned in my ceremonial garb, dressed by my servants, and equipped with my long-reaching spear, I enter the vast wilderness. The trees tower above, their reaching arms grasping at the sky; the earth is soft and dark below, hosting creatures large and small hidden in the folds of her cloak.

Yet all is mine. I march the path into the encircling wilds, weapon held high, until I come to the edge of the great sacred field where the sun breaks through the canopy. There, near the height of the land, from whence the timid animals have fled at my arrival, lies a watering hole. At the spring of life I take my stand, present as the mistress of all that breathes, daring with my primal scream any challenger to come forth. Afraid not of predator nor bird, nor monster of the deep, I step into the clear liquid of life, asserting my dominion over even the denizens of the sea. The water parts before me, rippling away in homage to the prowess of my courage and spear.

I emerge from the water onto land once more, calling to the air for one courageous enough to face me. Who will come to earth and test my strength? Who from the sea will rise up? Who from the land will approach? I am the ruler of all that I see, the joyful mistress of the wilds around me. Hear my cry, stronger and more terrible than the lioness! Know my voice and feel the power of my presence! I am the Huntress.

"Gwendolyn! Time to go back. I know: aren't mud puddles fun? Be careful with that stick--I don't want you to poke your eye out."

From the sacred field I return to my steep-sided fortress. A feast awaits at the hands of my servants, who tend to me with due honor and pride. Yet my presence will be known here in the wilderness, until I come again. For I am the Huntress.