Five Year Anniversary of #Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Florida Setting 6Five years ago today I sat in bed reading the morning papers and listening to Good Morning America. A little passing news story took up less than a minute of air time to let us know that an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico had caught on fire. No big deal.

Until it was. Eleven men died in that fire. The environmental effects aren’t over just because the cap was sealed on the gushing fire. Click here for some comprehensive articles from the Wall Street Journal  on what is being done and what has been done in the past five years.

We know for sure that we lost lives, both human and wildlife. We know that habitats were disturbed. And we know that if full safety procedures had been followed, this disaster might never have happened.

Today, please remember what we lost.

I wrote my novel Trails in the Sand as an appeal to make sure we never let anything like this happen again. At the time it happened, I worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a public relations director. One of my jobs during the spill and subsequent threat to Florida beaches was to head up the media portion of the effort to move sea turtle nests from the Panhandle beaches to the east coast where once hatched, the hatchlings would march to sea in safer waters. I hope they remained safe.

3-D1webFor the month of April, Trails in the Sand eBook is only $.99 cents. Click below to grab your copy.

Amazon

Nook

Apple iBook

Kobo

Or download for free at Smashwords, using coupon code FR84H.

 

 

#AmericanSniper verdict brings back old memories

Candice and Kimberly

Candice and Kimberly

My great nieces were murdered almost fourteen years ago. Their murderer entered a plea of guilty, by reason of insanity. This plea meant we all had to face the murderer in court and sit through two weeks of testimony, not to determine the murderer’s guilt, but the sanity level of that person.

Fortunately, the murderer’s attempts to manipulate psychiatrists into believing the deaths came as a result of momentary insanity failed, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty of first degree murder, no chance for parole. They deliberated for many hours, while my family and I paced the hallways of the courthouse. When we stepped back into the courtroom, my nephew–the father of the girls–shook from the tension, the grief, the fear of what might come. When the verdict was read, his knees buckled, and my brother and I grabbed him on either side to hold him upright.

I’ve listened to the trial peripherally because everything said about the insanity plea, the excuses, the reasons, and now the verdict brought back the horror of that time. This morning I hear everyone talking about “justice” and the peace the verdict will bring.

They’re wrong.

Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is gone, never to return. What is justice for that?

My great nieces, Candice and Kimberly, died at ages ten and five, respectively. They remained dead after the verdict.

There was no justice, no relief, no peace.

In our case, the verdict came with the knowledge that the person who murdered Candice and Kimberly was a cold-hearted “insane” person who gave birth to them, raised them for a few years, and then decided they shouldn’t live any longer, while she stood living and breathing trying to cover up what she’d done.

Yes, their murderer was their mother, a woman who was once a part of our family.

The only justice would be if Candice and Kimberly were here with us so we could celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings, and life. That sadly will never happen.

Today my heart goes to the family of Chris Kyle. To them I say, the grief will remain, but the memories of good times will prevail and time will ease the intensity of the pain and the grief that comes from the loss of a loved one.

I’m a writer, but this story is one I do not want to write. This morning the emotions and memories of that time spent in a courtroom in Grand Haven, Michigan, came flooding back, and I know in my heart the peace and justice that others seeks will not come from the jury doing the right thing. It will come from within, and forgiveness, as difficult as it may come, will help fight the anger and frustration.

Hug those close to you. Create memories each and every day. And don’t let a day go by where you don’t tell those closest to you that you love them.

Some Things Never Change

snow

View from my office window

As I prepared to start my day with frigid temperatures and snow falling outside, I thought about my great grandfather, Harmon Camburn, and what life must have been like for him and the other soldiers fighting in the Civil War during the winter. I went to his journal (Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier), and found this passage from the last few days of 1862. Despite all of our growth as a nation and people, some things never change.

Yes, they were miserable living out in the elements, but how much worse it must have been to realize that those snug and warm in their homes had no idea how life was on the battlefield for these young men. 

As Congress begins a new session, I implore them to look beyond their own political agendas and into the hearts and minds of those they serve. It would warm the heart and souls all veterans, living and dead, who have fought for our causes.

From Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier

The last week of 1862, Burnside’s army lay in camp inactive.

The winter rains had set in, and it was almost impossible to get supplies for the army over the miry roads from Aquia Creek and Belle Plain Landing. With the whole surface of the country one vast mortar bed, active operations were not thought of in the army. Yet every newspaper that reached us was full of condemnations for the idleness of the troops in the field. Any attempt to move large bodies of men was inexpedient and to move artillery and supply trains was next to impossible.

Between the clamor of northern papers, the quarrels among general officers, and the interference of Congress with artillery movements, the rank and file of the army of the Potomac was becoming discouraged and demoralized. The men were beginning to feel that they were enduring hardships and that lives were being sacrificed without adequate results, because of petty jealousies among the leaders. Idleness and discontent go hand in hand with soldiers, and the gloomy outlook of our winter camp was not cheering. The fences had all disappeared for fuel and green wood for cooking and heating purposes had to be hauled long distances with the mules floundering knee deep in the mire and the wagons cutting almost to the hubs.

Find out more about my great grandfather’s journal by clicking here to view the video trailer. His insights are astounding and universal.

"Camburn's words paint a rich tapestry often shadowed with the bleak aspects of war." Amazon review

“Camburn’s words paint a rich tapestry often shadowed with the bleak aspects of war.” Amazon review

#BP Oil Spill Four Years Ago – Let Us Not Forget

oiled wildlife during BP's oil spill in 2010

oiled wildlife during BP’s oil spill in 2010

BP’s oil spill in 2010 still haunts us today as scientists study the lingering effects of the millions of barrels of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. At the time of the spill, I worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a public relations director. Immediately, our agency became watchdogs for oil headed toward Florida’s waters and beaches. I wrote about the oil spill in my novel, Trails in the Sand, using it as the backdrop for a family racing to save itself from destruction.

April 20, 2014 represents the forty-fourth anniversary of the first Earth Day, and it’s also sadly, the fourth anniversary of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

Click here to grab your #.99 cent Kindle copy

Click here to grab your #.99 cent Kindle copy

Trails in the Sand is on sale during April for .99 cents on Kindle. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of Trails in the Sand:

As I sipped the aromatic brew, I glanced at the morning’s headlines before the television and George Stephanopoulos diverted my attention.

It was only a blip on the charts of the day’s news stories. I would have missed mention of it if I’d gone to the bathroom when George said an oil rig had caught on fire in the Gulf of Mexico the night before. On the morning of April 21, 2010, other news took precedence over this minor incident occurring miles off the coast of Louisiana.

As I flipped the channels to find more news, I learned that volcanic ash from a recently erupted volcano in Iceland was costing airlines $1.7 billion to combat the loss in flights. The day before the Supreme Court overturned a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty. Matt Laurer announced the death toll after the April 14 earthquake in China now topped 2,000.

CNN reported that a former coal miner at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia decided to give an interview detailing the unsafe conditions at the mine prior to the explosion two weeks earlier.

But nothing more on a little oil rig burning in the middle of the ocean. Since the fire occurred the night before, the morning newspapers contained no reports.

I took another sip of coffee, trying to determine the level of my reporter’s barometric pressure climbing up the back of my neck.

“Were you listening to NPR in the kitchen?” I asked Simon as he came back to bed with his cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice.

“No. Why?”

“Just a curious little footnote to the news this morning, but I’ve only heard it on ABC so far,” I said. “It seems an oil rig caught on fire out in the Gulf last night. The report said eleven men are missing, but officials are confident the men are on lifeboats that haven’t been found yet because of the smoke on the water.”

“It sounds like it has the potential for a real disaster,” Simon said.

“They also said a former miner decided to talk about conditions at Upper Big Branch mine,” I said. “Sure wish I could have gotten that interview.”

A couple of the channels gave a brief account of the oil rig fire, but all agreed everything was under control. I hoped that was the case, but it bothered me when all the reports said the fire still burned. How did they have any idea what lay below the surface of that fire?

“Yesterday, April 20, was the eleventh anniversary of Columbine,” I said. “And the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day is tomorrow.”

“And the West Virginia explosion occurred on your mother’s birthday, April 5,” my husband said.

He knew very well I kept track of dates and wondered at the curiosity of so many significant occurrences in history coinciding with other dates important to those closest to me. In my family, birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths more often than not occurred on important historical dates. Two of my aunts had been born on December 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor – a day of infamy. My best friend Holly was born on Christmas Day, and my sister died on the Fourth of July just two years earlier.

“I guess I better make some calls,” I said. “I’m a little skeptical that all is well in the Gulf.”

“Getting one of those hunches?” Simon asked.

“My ears are starting to tingle, so I better listen.”

I wouldn’t say I was clairvoyant or possessed powers of prescience, but I had a journalist’s instinct for news whether I was dealing with my job as a freelance environmental writer or as a woman assessing a person’s intentions. I learned over the years to follow those instincts. First, I felt something akin to hair rising on my neck. However, when I felt the tingling in my ears that sent a shiver down my spine, I began to pay attention to every little detail. The skeptic in me was still simmering beneath the surface even though my marriage to Simon the year before took some of the sharper edges off the knife of my cynicism. Love works miracles, but my transformation was still a work in progress. For the sake of my career, that was probably a good thing. I needed to question everything, or I’d never have a story.

I wondered where to start finding out about the fire. For nearly three decades, I made my living by writing about the environment and wildlife, with human interest thrown in the mix. One of the most recent stories took me to the Panhandle of Florida where a bear wandered into a residential neighborhood only to be darted with a tranquilizer by a wildlife biologist with the state wildlife agency. The drugged bear stumbled into the Gulf of Mexico before collapsing from the tranquilizer. The biologist wanted to knock the bear out temporarily, not drown him. He swam out to rescue the unconscious animal, dragging it back to shore. Photos of the rescue taken by a resident went around the world.

I wrote investigative pieces about illegal dumping of hazardous waste in rivers in far too many places in the United States. I wrote about environmental disasters and crimes whenever I received a tip from my sources that I’d cultivated and coddled over decades of trying to find the perfect quote. I wrote a story a few years back about a wildlife CSI lab in Oregon. I traveled across the country for stories filled with dramatic flourishes that somehow touched lives. I waded through the swamps of the Everglades hunting the invasive Burmese python, and I followed a group of camel traders in the deserts of Morocco, all in pursuit of the story.

When Simon came back into my life, I made the decision to give our marriage my full attention. I curtailed the scope of my writing, concentrating on stories from the southeastern Atlantic coast.

“Just when I thought our lives might settle down,” Simon said as he sat on the edge of the bed, flipping through the newspapers.

“You and I will never settle down. It’s our karma to be perpetually stirred up,” I said as I leaned forward to give him a kiss on the cheek.

 

Here’s to remembering the past lest we repeat our same mistakes.

 

#BP Oil Spill Four Years Later

Deepwater Horizon well BP oil spill 2010

Deepwater Horizon well BP oil spill 2010

Almost four years after Deepwater Horizon caught on fire and opened up the well that gushed millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, some of the long term effects are being felt. BP’s oil spill may be with us for many decades to come. Let us not forget the lessons learned. Safety standards must be followed and enforced.

oiled wildlife during BP's oil spill in 2010

oiled wildlife during BP’s oil spill in 2010

NWF Gulf Wildlife Report EMBARGO 2014-04-08

In 2013, I published the novel Trails in the Sand, which begins on April 20, 2010, the day of the BP oil spill. The novel chronicles the race to save sea turtle hatchlings as the oil approaches Florida’s beaches and lands in the sea grasses that serve as home to the infants for months before they venture further into the sea.

Loggerhead hatchling 2006 Photo by P.C. Zick

Loggerhead hatchling 2006
Photo by P.C. Zick

I ended the environmental part of the novel with hope that perhaps the barrels of oil dumped into the Gulf of Mexico dispersed enough to save wildlife. It’s disheartening to read what I probably have known all along in my heart.

To celebrate Earth Day 2014, which ironically shares the same anniversary date with the BP oil spill, Trails in the Sand is only .99 cents for the #Kindle version during the month of April. I hope you enjoy reading this novel of love and redemption.

 

 

Click on the cover below to go to the Amazon purchase page.

Trails in the Sand - Oil spill, sea turtles, and love

Trails in the Sand – Oil spill, sea turtles, and love

#Civil War on New Years Day 1863

free-happy-new-year-2014-clipartHappy New Year 2014. As we enjoy the parties and celebrations and resolutions, I wanted to share another New Years Day. The new year is 1863 and soldiers from both sides of the Civil War enjoyed fireworks of a different nature as the fight between the north and south factions continued their pursuit of victory. President Abraham Lincoln began the new year by signing an important document known as the Emancipation Proclamation.

Here’s an excerpt from my great grandfather’s journal chronicling his days as a Union soldier.

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

From Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier

January 1, 1863

The disagreeable inclement weather of a southern winter was upon us. Wet, slushy snow was falling, making outdoor life very unpleasant. The two armies lay watching each other across the Rappahannock. Batteries of light artillery were stationed at intervals along the picket line. Captain Thompson’s battery of the regular artillery occupied a position opposite the eastern outskirt of Fredericksburgh. Thompson notified the general, commanding that he never omitted the custom of allowing his men unlimited whiskey on New Year’s Eve and requested to be withdrawn from the front for that occasion. Being denied, he asked that a strong infantry guard be posted around his camp, as none of his men would be asked to do duty on that evening.

The 2nd Infantry was detailed for this duty, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, while the men of the battery indulged in the free use of commissary whiskey. The relief on duty splashed their dreary round through the slush of snow and mud, while those off duty huddled close to a big campfire to keep warm. While we toasted one side and chilled the other, the bacchanalian revels waxed strong, and the sounds of ribald songs and boisterous mirth floated out to us on the heavy night air. On duty or off, the wet and cold prevented us from sleeping. During the night the “Grand Officer of the Day,” Colonel Fenton, tarried awhile at our campfire. He told us the officers were having a “high old time” in camp and that considerable of the “creature” was afloat. The private soldiers had nothing to celebrate the advent of the New Year with, nothing to jubilate for, and no spirit for merry making. Discontent was very general. The men were dispirited and gloomy. There was a feeling that we had endured privations and hardships, fought hard battles, and squandered the blood of our bravest to gain ground, that had been lost and yielded to the enemy, through the incapacity of generals and the jealous disagreements of politicians, both in Congress and in the field. The private soldiers felt that they were being used as tools for personal aggrandizement and were unwilling to be sacrificed for such causes.

This feeling, inactivity, and the discomforts of a winter camp began to tell on the discipline of the troops. Three weeks of inactivity dragged away. The absolutely necessary camp duties being all the men were called upon to do.

The view from our camp presented a dreary succession of camps planted in the mud. Fences and outbuildings had all been pulled down for fuel. The very few inhabitants that remained in their houses with intent to save their property were in a strait for provisions. They looked pinched with cold and hunger. Desolation and misery were theirs to the full. Respectable women became wantons from the direst necessity. Virtue was sacrificed for bread. History can never record the woes the private citizens of Virginia suffered. The “sacred soil” reaped a terrible crop from her secession seed.

[On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in territories held by Confederates and emphasized the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union Army.]

Two Scores and a Decade Ago – JFK

Third grade with Mrs. Waterstradt – November 22, 1963File:John F Kennedy Official Portrait.jpg

She entered the room of twenty third-grade students looking even sterner than usual. She scared me as did our principal Mrs. Price.

“Gather up your coats, children,” Mrs. Waterstradt instructed on a dreary Friday afternoon the week before Thanksgiving. “School is closing early today.”

Our excitement at being released from school three hours early was subdued by the serious face of our teacher. Somehow we knew to leave as quickly as possible.

As I walked by the principal’s office I could see a black and white television on a tall cart so it could be wheeled into the classrooms for special presentations. On this day, it was broadcasting a news program. I saw the mean Mrs. Price standing with her secretary and the music teacher. Mrs. Price dabbed her eyes often with a white handkerchief.

I was immediately frightened. There had been many dire moments in the past few years, none of which I didn’t understand. No one took the time to explain it to a nine-year-old girl still playing with dolls. A year earlier, President Kennedy was making a speech about something to do with Cuba and missiles. I was bored so I took my doll that wet herself and held her naked butt up to the television screen and the President’s face. My mother slapped at the doll and my hands, telling me I was disrespectful, which I didn’t understand. Now nearly a year later, I walk into my house and my mother is crying in front of the television screen and just like Mrs. Price she’s holding a white hankie to her eyes.

“Those poor, poor children,” she said.

I don’t remember anything else, except all weekend we were all glued to the television. One of my brothers came home from college at Western Michigan University. Another one came home with his wife, and we all stayed in front of that black and white screen during a dreary dark weekend. The only time I left the house was Sunday morning with my parents. I was particularly resentful because all of my brothers were allowed to stay home.

When we came back from church and walked into the living room, my brothers were all on their feet and screaming.

“They shot Oswald,” was all I remember. I saw it replayed many times, but my brothers saw it live.

The world changed for me with the only bright moments occurring in early 1964 when the Beatles came to our country. I boasted the largest collection of Beatles’ bubblegum cards until I gave them to Alvin, a new boy in our class. He was tall and cute and I guess as I turned ten years old and the Beatles came into our lives, I turned my attention from dolls to boys.

It might have been better if I’d stayed with the dolls for a little while longer. By the time, I turned fourteen, the world once again changed never to return to those halcyon days of my youth shattered forever on the first day of summer vacation in 1968 when my mother woke me from a luxurious sleep.

“They shot Bobby,” she yelled up the stairs.

And this time I knew exactly what she meant. Unfortunately.