Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oil Disasters are Nothing New...

Niger Delta, Nigeria (CNN) -- Nigeria's Niger Delta is one of the most oil-polluted places on the planet with more than 6,800 recorded oil spills, accounting for anywhere from 9 million to 13 million barrels of oil spilled, according to activist groups.

But occurring over the 50 years since oil production began in the Delta, this environmental disaster has never received the attention that is now being paid to the oil-spill catastrophe hitting the U.S. Gulf coast.

"The whole world is trembling and even the president of America had to do a personal visit to the site. The U.S. will have put serious measures in place to stop such situations happening in the future," said Ken Tebe -- a local environmental activist who is visibly shaken by what he regards as a double standard.

"It's funny because we've been dealing with this problem for 50 years. I even heard BP will pay $20 billion in damages (for the U.S. spill). When will such hope come to the Niger Delta?" Tebe asked.



And who is the largest consumer of Nigerian oil?

Or need I ask the question?

Of course, we are.

"When will such hope come to the Niger Delta," indeed.


Check out this website, which gives some personal perspective to the Gulf Oil Disaster.

The Poetry of James Still

Carr Creek
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Whilst on vacation last week, I was faced with the stunning realization that I don't believe I've ever read much of James Still's poetry! James Still was one of Kentucky's poet laureates - our first, in fact - and I have read some of his fiction ("River of Earth" being his most well-known book). But somehow, I've managed not to read much (any??) of his poetry.

I realized this when someone recited one of his poems during the week last week at Cowan Creek Music Week, where we were vacationing. I was awed by the simple beauty of the poem and have promised myself to become more familiar with his poetry. A sampling for you...

Wolfpen Creek

How it was in that place, how light hung in a bright pool
Of air like water, in an eddy of cloud and sky,
I will long remember. I will long recall
The maples blossoming wings, the oaks proud with rule,

The spiders deep in silk, the squirrels fat on mast,
The fields and draws and coves where quail and peewees call.
Earth loved more than any earth, stand firm, hold fast;
Trees burdened with leaf and bird, root deep, grow tall.

Fiddlers' Convention on Troublesome Creek

In the night's dark clover, in the burnt wood shadows
And whitened thrusts of hard long furls of moonlight
The fiddlers have wound the sullened ridges down
To Troublesome's fork, to the cross-hatched mountain valley,
With wind nibbling their sleeves, brushing the stubble
And rattling the martins' gourds and purple feathers.

And the men are lean, and their nags are leaner still
Than the rick-poles in the fields, the high rail fences
Hemming the patches of hoe-turned slanting earth;
And the fiddles are weaned with long silent hunger,
The dull strings slack, and fire of song unstruck
In the wooden throats and hollowed dusty bosoms

O fiddlers, play life's hardscrabble,
Play soot-winged bats in the damp green coves,
Saw with your bow till the strings scratch gravel,
Till glad tongues sing in the beechwood groves.

Foxes scratching in the family graveyard,
Hound dogs baying at the blighted moon,
Bull frogs sharpening their tongues with croaking,
Lonesdome doves moaning the day too soon.

On every fork and trace the willows are shedding
Brief blossoms in downward flight to scattered sand,
To breathing waters quiet against the stone;
And the banjos sleep, the guitars lie unstrung,
The dulcimers rest in ash dust on the mantel's breast,
And their songs are perishing from the shaggy hills.

O fiddle the moon and the star-tails flying,
Fiddle the dead in their earth-long sleep,
Sing the day breaking, the sun-ball dying,
Fiddle me to laughter, fiddle me to weep.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cowan Creek Music Week

Be Merciful Banjo
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
More scenes and music from the Cowan Creek Music Week, which is ending today...

Cowan Creek Music Week

Old Fiddle
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Some scenes from the Cowan Creek Music Week, in beautiful Whitesburg, Kentucky...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

ACORN Vindicated

Sunshine Behind Chair
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Will apologies from the Right Wing Smear Machines be forthcoming?


(CNN) -- A preliminary probe of now-disbanded community organizing group ACORN has found no sign the group or related organizations mishandled the $40 million in federal money they received in recent years, congressional investigators reported Monday.

A review of grants by nine federal agencies, mostly for housing issues, found problems with only one award -- and in that case, the separately administered ACORN Housing Corporation quickly provided a missing piece of documentation, the Government Accountability Office reported.

Nearly two dozen members of Congress requested an investigation after a series of complaints against ACORN and its affiliates, including an accounting scandal, several cases of voter registration fraud and the release of edited videotapes made by conservative activists that appeared to implicate ACORN workers in facilitating prostitution.

Republicans in Congress have blasted the organization as corrupt and led an effort to strip the group of federal funding in 2009, and the negative publicity forced it to disband earlier this year.

ACORN has said it is the victim of a smear campaign by conservatives, and a federal judge ruled in March that the law barring the group's receipt of federal funds was unconstitutional.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Otter Creek Massacree

Family Tombstones bw
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
It's summer time and time for summer camps for the kiddos, which puts me in mind of some of my favorite childhood memories.

One of the great things my childhood church did for many years was to hold a week-long Junior Camp every summer for elementary aged children. Every year for years, many adults of the church would set aside a week's worth of vacation to set up a children's camp at Otter Creek Park, not far from Louisville.

We'd do all the regular things - crafts, hikes, cave exploring, swimming, singing around the campfire, games... it was always a great time for me (with the noted exception of the dreaded and aptly named Kentucky Horsefly, which was as big as a horse and known to carry children away in its toothy maw to a horrifying and bloody death).

One of the favorite yearly hikes was the night-time hike to a nearby cemetery, the Rock Haven Cemetery, I believe. The tombstones at the cemetery were ancient and rough and mostly hand-scribed. As you look around at the dates, you noticed that many were from the same time period, within a year or two in the early 1800s. Most likely, there was some disease that had afflicted the community.

At least, that's what makes sense now. But that's not the story we were told THEN. We'd always make our hike to the cemetery just as dusk was settling upon the creaky old cemetery, giving us time to look around and read the names and dates on the graves just before settling down to a "history story" about the place, often told by my dad, Mr. Bill.

As you look around, he told us somberly, You'll notice that many of these graves are from the same time period. I'm here to tell you why that is.

Back 150 years ago, this area was the wild unexplored West. Settlers were just making their way out into these parts. Some traveled on further west, but many settled in communities, just like this one in Rock Haven, along the banks of Otter Creek.

Now, today, you hardly ever see any otters around here, but back in the days when they were settling this area, there was a multitude of otters, that's how the creek got its name.

And these were not the otters that we might see today, that are cat-sized. These were the Giant Otters, some of which reached lengths of four, six, sometimes seven feet long and weighing as much as a man!

As you all looked around at the graves, did you notice that many of the deaths were from the same year? What year?
, he'd ask, and we'd raise our hands or just shout out, "1822!"

That's right, mostly in the winter of 1822. And the reason for that is the Otter Creek Massacree of 1822. It seems that, 'round about the Spring of 1821, there was a drought in the land. Food became harder to come by. The settlers had been in Rock Haven for several years now, but their gardens had gone dry and they just weren't producing enough produce to make it.

Because of the drought, the deer and other game that the settlers usually hunted were scarce, as well. And so, during that long, dry summer, the settlers turned to hunting the Giant Otters. They made the assumption that Giant Otters were docile, playful critters like their smaller cousins.

They were mistaken.

After shooting a few Giant Otters, the otters retreated into hiding.

That summer was a long and hungry summer. Fall came and what food the settlers had stored was rapidly being eaten away.

The disappearances started that fall. A child disappeared while out playing. A father out hunting never came back. A trip to the outhouse and a brother never returned.

One by one, some of the settlers began turning up missing and eventually, they were assumed dead and a grave was set up for them and the hungry settlers mourned. A few died from hunger and illness, as their food supplies dried up.

Winter came, cold and hard that year.

The once robust community of 30 or so souls had dwindled down to 20 and a decision was made to send two of them men out to buy some supplies to bring back to Rock Haven.

Once they had left, was when things fell apart.

The remaining settlers spent most of their time trying to hunt for food, but they were running low on gunpowder. That was when the otters returned.

The Giant Otters of Otter Creek had been the ones responsible for the missing settlers and they had set upon the community with a vengeance. The settlers were no longer safe being out alone and unarmed. The otters had grown more bold and would even attack the settlers even when they were in groups now.

With each attack, the cold hard ground at the cemetery was broken for another burial.

Soon, the food was all gone and there was only one family left.

When the two men who had left for supplies returned, even that family was gone. Killed, it is assumed, by the Giant Otters.

It's rumored, they say, that the Giant Otters had a leader, the Great White Otter. This Great White Otter had eyes that glowed in the night.

All the Giant Otters are gone now, or so they say. But some say, that late at night, if you look out into the woods hereabouts, you can still see the glowing eyes of the Great White Otter...

And, of course, at this point, some adult hiding out deep in the woods, would have two flashlights turned on, looking around, as if he were the Great White Otter! And the kids would all scream and then we'd return to camp for a night of happy nightmares...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Save Ourselves

Lavender Wildflower
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
As noted in an earlier post, I am especially disgusted with the "Drill, Baby, Drill" crowd. They demand the reduction in size of government, they demand decreasing regulations, they demonize those who'd support reasonable regulations and demonize them as anti-American communists.

BUT, as soon as the inevitable happens, THEN they complain loud and large that "the President is doing enough to make things right."

There is a special debt owed by the "Drill, Baby, Drill" crowd and yet, we're all going to have to pay that debt.

Having said that, I am not of the crowd that is demanding that Obama "do something." I'm not of the crowd that says that I want to see Obama "get mad" and kick ass at BP. There certainly is a time for anger and for action, but that time was long ago.

Yes, yes, we should be doing all we can do to responsibly deal with this leak. BUT, that does not mean we should be just doing anything for the sake of doing something. I've heard some people criticizing Obama for not burning more oil off, for not using more toxic dispersant to spread out the oil, for not more hurriedly building sand berms, for instance.

Each of these are untested "solutions" to this problem. It is irresponsible to drill for oil offshore and it would be adding irresponsibility to irresponsibility to just throw ANY old solution at it, unknown and untested.

The time for working out solutions was BEFORE we started drilling offshore, not after the fact. The time for anger was when we started (well before THIS president) letting oil companies drill offshore in our fragile environment.

What I want to hear from Obama is that this offshore drilling is suspended. That mountaintop removal permits are suspended. That dangerous and untested "solutions" to our energy problems are not allowed without due diligence.

Mostly, I'm angry at myself. At all of us.

It is our lust for cheap fossil fuels made easy for us that has allowed oil and coal companies get rich and be able to influence policy wrongly, that has placed pressure on our leaders to do just what Obama and Bush before him and Clinton before him and Reaganbush before him have done and ease regulations instead of increase oversight reasonably.

We can "generate" more energy than we can find offshore by simply living more responsibly. Drive less. Quit buying plastic stuff. Consume less. Turn down the AC and heat. Dress appropriately for the season. I believe that our largest source of energy is through simple conservation. AND, it has the benefit of not potentially (eventually, inevitably) harming/ruining our oceans and air and millions of lives.

So, the action that I most want to see our president and leaders begin doing is stop caving in to the demand for cheap energy. Coal and oil and nuclear (God forbid) have REAL costs that we've been covering up for too long. I don't want to see Obama get angry, necessarily. I want to hear him speak hard truths and call for us to begin live more responsibly.

That's what I'm wanting to hear.

That's what we need to be clamoring for.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Been Busy

Sarah In Grass
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Our first problem in arriving to the Big Event was that we had trouble confirming where exactly to go to watch. We knew that it was supposed to happen around the Elkmont camping ground near Townsend, TN, but the people at the visitor's center in Elkmont, the people at the hotel, the people at the campground all seemed to either not know where to go or to give unclear messages about where to go.

As it turns out, it's not as complicated as we were making it out to be. If you get to the Elkmont campground, you'll be close enough to see the phenomena, as it is happening all around.

We had arrived early to the Little River Trail trailhead, about an hour before dusk. We were afraid that there would be huge crowds and we'd have trouble finding parking. The "official" start of the Synchronous Firefly season was the next week. Once it was officially underway, they didn't let people just drive up to the campground, you had to take a shuttle bus to get there.

But this night - threatening rain on a week day evening - even up to dusk, there was plenty of parking.

While waiting and wondering if we were in the right place, we hiked up and down the trail a bit. The cloudy evening had whipped up just a little wind and an occasional mist, making the night feel just perfect.

We found a spot that we hoped was the right one, off the trail in a quiet little opening. There was a log on the ground that was just the right size for two.

People began showing up. At first, no one else seemed to know the "right" place to view the firefly show, but eventually people joined us in our little cove and assured us they had been there the night before and it was great.

The sun set.

Fireflies began lighting. Dozens, hundreds flashing in the night. We saw two, maybe three flashing at the same time. Maybe a bit more will happen later, we hoped.

I was picturing the Synchronous Fireflies would have one Great Synchronous Fireflash and then go off. And then all together on again. So far, nothing of the sort had happened.

Then, as it became nearly wholly dark, the fireflies were suddenly out in what seemed like millions and it was breath-taking, just seeing so many all at once. We weren't watching one spot in a field, instead they were just everywhere in the trees all around us.

Still no Great Single Synchronous Fireflash lighting the night, though.

And then, it was happening. Not one great flash, but waves of light flashing in unison rolling towards us and past us on into the forest behind us. It was like we could see a wave or line of fireflies all flashing, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 times rapidly together, off in the distance maybe 100 yards away.

And as they flashed ...3, 4, 5, 6 a second row of fireflies, maybe 80 yards away began joining in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and then again, maybe 60 yards away joining in halfway through the previous rows' flashes.

Waves of light rolling towards us, flashing not as one great flash, but as a wave of light flowing past us and then going dark for a count of ten. And then, 100 yards away, it all began again.

Over and over these waves of fireflies flashing like waves in the ocean sparkling in unison, but in echoing row after row after row. Then the dark again for a count of ten.

It is amazing. If you get a chance be sure to go see it next year (or this year, it may still be going on for a week or so, I'm not sure) if you're in the Smokies this week.

I tried filming the event, but my camera was not up to the task, like trying to catch a photo of a fairy or the Nessie, I guess. It was simply amazing.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

We Now Return...

Donna Scary Santa
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
to Our Regularly Scheduled Blogging...

Thanks everyone for being patient with my half year experiment writing about my anniversary. Now you know more about Dan and his family than you could ever possibly want to know.

I'll now get back to more "normal" blogging, perhaps beginning by another rant about this Gulf Oil spill and our debilitating addiction to oil.