#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.

#Bullying and #Football

I like rooting for the home team. I want them to win, but I don’t hate the opposing team and their fans.

We decided to buy last minute tickets to the University of Pittsburgh versus Notre Dame game. Our tickets plucked us right down in the South Bend, Indiana, home base at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. We didn’t care. It would be fun with good-natured ribbing, we thought. We only hoped it was a game, and that Pitt didn’t lose horribly as they did to Florida State at the last game we attended.

In the first quarter, a Notre Dame player ran into the lowered head of a Pitt player, and the Irish guy was thrown out of the game. While the Pitt player lay on the field, a group of five Fighting Irish fans behind us starting yelling, “Get up off the ground; you deserved that hit.” My husband tried to reason by saying any hit on the head was a bad hit. They yelled back that our player put his head down so he should expect to get hit. They continued their tirade every time a Pitt player was tackled or hit.

The ugly remarks continued behind us as Pitt kept one touchdown behind or tied. My husband tried another time to reason with them, and I told him to stop because they weren’t the reasoning kind.

They made fun of our dancers, cheerleaders, and band. They called anyone who lived in Pittsburgh “stupid.” There was more, but all stayed in the same vein until in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter when Pitt scored the winning touchdown. They became quiet, but we moved into empty seats away from them, just in case. They seemed to be the types who might do something more than hurl insensitive and cruel words. I saw bullying firsthand in those fans.

The story about the Miami Dolphins and team bullying reared its ugly head just before that game. I wondered if the claims could be true, and after our experience, I have a feeling some of the charges against Richie Incognito might have some validity. He says he used racial slurs as a form of love. Sorry, but that’s no love I’ve ever heard of and hope I never experience. It’s abusive behavior.

Has it always been this way or are we becoming a less peaceful and more aggressive society? If we can’t be friendly with our rivals over a stupid and meaningless game, how can we ever expect to live in a peaceful world? Take the behavior of these fans as one snippet from the world in which we live. Take the stone walls in our lawmaking bodies for another. When did we stop listening to one another and leap into a world where only one view—our own—is accepted?

It depressed me on so many levels; I’m still attempting to absorb it all. The worst part was the struggle both my husband and I experienced as we fought not to respond. It felt far too easy to shout back about the “stupid Irish” or some other ridiculous epitaph. Sitting and tuning it out required a great deal of deep breathes and closing of our ears.

Right now, I have no desire to return to a game because of five young folks, both male and female, sitting behind us on a cold night in Pittsburgh. I have to remind myself not to let them represent all people from South Bend or Notre Dame. Next to me sat two lovely young women dressed in the green of the fighting Irish. They said little but clapped when their team did well as we did when Pitt did the same. We were polite to one another, and they did not enter into the nastiness of the folks behind us.

As I write this, I’m trying to figure out the point of this post. An editor once told me my columns didn’t always have to have a point. I disagreed, and I still do. What’s the point of me complaining if I don’t have a solution?

I implore all of us to overlook our differences and concentrate on our similarities. Act with kindness toward others. Don’t lower yourself to the baseness in others. And most of all, save your battles for the big ones in life, which will come at some point when least expected. Make sure you have the energy to fight the important stuff rather than on a football game that really doesn’t matter in the first place.

But maybe most of all, enjoy what you’re doing without venom, without spite, without violence. It can’t be enjoyable to yell angry f-bombs at the field and at the people sitting in front of you just because they’re wearing blue and beige with a Pitt Panther logo on the front. If we don’t start with us, there’s little hope that religions, political divides, and countries can ever pull together for the betterment of humanity.

TSA Misconduct – It’s Personal

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

The news this morning about misconduct of TSA screeners at airports brought back my own experience with a Transportation Security Administration screener back in 2011.

Before I relate what happened, I want to be clear. I believe airport security is a necessary part of our world today. I don’t mind going through the security checkpoints when I fly even though some of the rules seem ridiculous. However, my experience went beyond what keeps us safe and what one agent did that embarrassed and humiliated me.

It occurred at the Jacksonville Airport one Sunday morning when I was flying home to Pittsburgh. I wore leggings and a long shirt with a breast pocket. I went through the full body screen and something showed up in the breast pocket. I was asked to remove it, and I did. The dangerous tissue I’d used to blow my nose minutes before was discarded.

A female screener approached me and asked me to stand with my feet apart and my arms raised. I understood I was going to be patted down to discover if I harbored more  snot rags. She did the typical thing, and then while I stood in the middle of security with folks scurrying past me on all sides, she touched both of my breasts and felt around my chest. I jumped back, and she yelled at me to stand still.

“You could have told me you were going to touch my private body parts,” I said.

“If you don’t like it, I can take you in a back room, and I can start it all over again,” she said.

I shut my mouth, but I glanced at her badge.

“The name’s Sherry,” she said. She continued yelling, “That’s Sherry, S-h-e-r-r-y, Sherry,” as I grabbed my laptop and purse and shoes off the belt.

She followed me to the bench where I began putting on my shoes. “Did you get the name? It’s Sherry,” she said.

I was so upset and somewhat scared at this point. When out of sight of the security lines, I called my husband, but I was shaking so badly, I couldn’t talk.

By the time I was home and back into my life, I mostly forgot about the incident. When I did think about it, I was always further upset that I didn’t report the behavior. The news today reminded me once again of this incident.

I fly quite often – too often – so I know this is not the typical behavior, but it is behavior that must stop. I hope public awareness will curtail these folks in important positions of safety from using their power to the detriment of the passengers. And I hope those of us who do fly will remember out of the ten flights – that’s twenty security checks – I made in 2011, only once did I have a bad experience.

 

 

Who’s Accountable for the Environment #grnrev

DSC02403By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Macondo well

spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico

I celebrated Earth Day this year by promoting y my environmentally themed book, Trails in the Sand, and guest posting on other blogs essays about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Some reviewers thanked me for reminding them about the oil spill, but one reviewer wrote that she lived through it and didn’t need to read about it.

I lived through it, too, but I’m of the opinion, we do need to remember, and we do need to hold responsible the parties who break the rules to gain more profit. In Trails, I wrote about two major disasters from April 2010 – the oil spill that killed nine men and did untold damage to wildlife and the habitat and the mine explosion in West Virginia that killed twenty-nine men. In both cases, the companies were found to be negligent for causing the death of the men and harming the environment.

And so it was with a sense of nightmarish déjà vu that I read an article in my local paper, The Beaver County Times this past weekend.

“What Lies Beneath – Officials Worry Company in Ohio Buried Drill Waste,” made me mad and then rather frightened me to realize that we might not have protection from irresponsible companies despite each state having an environmental department and having the national Department of Environmental Protection. I’m beginning to believe the moniker is a misnomer because there are far too many cases where no protection for the environment exists. And far too many of those cases are far too close to my home.

Soil Remediation, Inc., owned by David Gennaro, has been on the radar of Ohio’s DEP for years. Yet that hasn’t fazed the company as they allegedly collected and disposed petroleum-contaminated waste on its property close to the Mahoning River, a waterway that flows into the Beaver River which flows into the Ohio River in southwestern Pennsylvania. A few weeks ago, I wrote about another company in eastern Ohio that had been dumping toxic waste into the same Mahoning River.

Beaver River

Beaver River

Not only is Soil Remediation disposing of the waste illegally according to the article, but it’s also been collecting those waste products without a permit. Several Pennsylvania-based companies have been shipping their waste over to Ohio where Soil Remediation has taken the products illegally. This isn’t the first instance of this company’s flagrant disregard of environmental regulations. Records show they’ve been charged with violating many other regulations over the years. Why is this company still operating?

I’m not in favor of shutting down companies in our country. However, as much as we want to keep those companies open, it’s not in our best interest to allow them to disregard the regulations that are already in place. Those regulations exist for a reason, and that’s to protect our environment from harm. A company that can’t follow safety regulations needs to be shut down until they comply.

We don’t need to lose anymore hardworking men and women just because companies want to show a profit. Their money won’t amount to much of anything if our rivers, lakes, groundwater, and aquifers are destroyed.

The sedge has withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.

John Keats (La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1819)cropped-dsc00860.jpg

Remembering Extinct Humans

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

As the forty-third anniversary of the first Earth Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about endangered species – those species on the brink of becoming extinct. Extinct. Such a final word we apply to the animal kingdom.

But did you know there’s a group of humans who lived in north Florida who became extinct in a mere 200 years? It’s true. The disappearance of an entire nation of people could be a story from the pages of a science fiction book. However, in the case of the Timucua, the story leaps from the pages of history.

When the Spanish landed near St. Augustine, Florida, in the sixteenth century, the Tumucua occupied several hundred villages in one-third of Florida. Most historians agree they lived from St. Augustine to west of Tallahassee, and south to Tampa Bay. Much of what we do know about this group of Native Americans comes from Fr. Francisco Pareja, a Franciscan priest who served at a mission north of Jacksonville. Some estimates put the Timucua population at 100,000 in 1500 A.D., according to Florida’s First People by Robin Brown.

However, by “1800 A.D. all aboriginal Floridians were gone,” Brown states.

The artist, Jacques Le Moyne, left behind his renderings of the physical description of the Timucua, which actually consisted of many different factions, according to Lars Anderson’s book, Paynes Prairie. However, from the paintings and drawings and written descriptions a common picture emerges of a people who no longer exist.

Accounts show the Timucua to be tall and sturdy. The women wore their hair straight, but the men drew their hair up into knots on the top of the head. Anderson writes, “This was considered not only attractive but also a handy place for the warriors to stick their arrows for quick access during battle.”Timucuan

A striking feature of the Timucua comes from the scratches or tattoos etched over the entire body of the male. Le Moyne’s paintings depicted a male warrior’s body covered with pricks in the skin made with a sharp point.

Despite their ability to withstand such a tortuous practice as poking holes in the body, the Timucua could not withstand the onslaught of the European invasion and the disease it brought.

Within 200 years of the Spanish explorations into northeast Florida, the last vestige of the Timucua strain had vanished. Some folks suspect the few remaining by 1763, the year the Spanish turned over Florida to the English, fled the state for Cuba.

Thanks to the writings and artistic renderings, the history books can recount the lives of the original Floridians whose name most likely meant “enemy.” When the Spanish asked about this tribe of tattooed natives, another group of Native Americans used the word Timucua, which may have meant “enemy” to describe the large group of people who spoke the same language but had separate tribes. The Potano and Utina tribes of Timucua were the most prominent ones.

Excavations by archaeologist Brent Weisman in 1989, showed remains of the mission, San Martin de Timucua near the settlement of Aguacaleyquen located near the banks of Mission Springs on the Ichetucknee River in 1608. Historians believe the Timucuans living near there helped build the mission at the spring.

To the Spanish, they may have represented the enemy, but to the Catholic priests who arrived to set up missions, evidence points to a more friendly relationship, which has left at least some form of a legacy of those who live here now.

I’ve always been intrigued to think a whole body of people could simply disappear. In the novel I’m currently writing, I’m dabbling with the possibility they didn’t disappear, but went underground in the Everglades, watching and waiting for the right moment to emerge. Here’s an excerpt from the first draft of Safe Harbors when one of the main characters discovers a familiar tattoo on two teenagers she meets on the beach when she comes to inspect a dead sea turtle (yes, I’m writing about sea turtles again – and panthers, alligators, and pythons – oh my!).

“Barbara, this is Sam McDonald and his sister Lori,” Jack said. “Their stepfather is Eric Dimsdale, another county commissioner.”

“Nice to meet you,” Barbara said as she shook both of their hands. “Daniel spoke of your stepfather several times.”

Barbara walked closer to the nest to inspect its size. She glanced back at the three young people now sitting on a blanket nearby. Sam turned toward her with his swimming trunks hiked up high on his thighs. She noticed the tattoo immediately. Her eyes drifted to Lori who sat facing the ocean, her bare back to Barbara exposing a similar tattoo.

“Are your tattoos identical?” Barbara asked.

“Lori’s has a female protector over the heart. That’s the only difference,” Sam said.

“Our mom has one identical to mine,” Lori said. “She said it was a tradition in her family.”

“What about your father? Does he have one?” Barbara asked.

“He died when we were young,” Sam said. “We don’t remember him.”

Barbara asked no more questions, but as the rest continued talking about protecting the sea turtle nest, Barbara wondered how old Mike’s lost children might be.

Mangrove Mike did not speak of years and dates. He was the age of the seasons that ruled the moments of his life.

He often said life had no beginning; life had no end. It only existed now.

“I’d like to meet your mother,” Barbara said to the tattooed siblings.

trailsbanner3web

Blowing at Windmills

Girl and WindmillBy Patricia Zick @PCZick

Even when I think I’m being reasonable and moderate, I still walk a fine line with some folks.

“What do you want us to do, blow on windmills until we have enough power to fuel all our energy needs?” my brother asked me recently.

The question came after I tried to present a reasonable answer to the question posed to me: What is fracking?

“We shouldn’t jump into any new forms of bringing fossil fuels up out of the ground without investigating first,” I said. “They moved into fracking too quickly as a result of the bad connotations given offshore oil drilling and coal mining.”

That’s when my brother posed his question as if I’d said stop drilling, blasting, pounding, breathing.

Then this morning I received an equally “off the center” email from the other side. It seems there’s a group now demanding corporation and individual divestment from fossil fuels to stop global warming.

Is there no longer a middle ground on which to stand safely without fear of being knocked off?

I hope so, but just in case, I’m going to climb on my little mound in the center of the field safe here in my small office behind an anonymous computer screen to give my spiel in the hopes someone will listen. Neither of the sides quoted here will allow me to do so.

The subject of our energy and its sources are not new to me, but I became quite embroiled in the issue while researching Trails in the Sand. One of my sources, Power Hungry – The myths of ‘green’ energy and the real fuels of the future” by Robert Bryce, addresses what I’ve surmised all along. He writes, “But the reality is that the modern world runs on oil, coal, and natural gas. And while those fuels take a toll on the environment, they are indispensable.”

And as I would explain to either side, except they’re too ready to wield an ax on my head, we must ensure we are wise stewards and bring those forms of energy to us in a safe manner that does the least harm.

We’ve no choice but to rely on regulations and laws that mandate safety for the environment and human life. It’s a sad state of affairs when the government must tell corporations to engage in certain practices so workers aren’t killed.

I’m trying to make this post as uplifting as possible, but today an article I read about natural gas mining in Wyoming discourages me. “Too deep to drink, huh? Too shallow an excuse,”  by Suzie Gilbert with shalereporter.com, writes about a situation between Wyoming’s Oil and Natural Gas Commission and Encana, a fracking company. The government and Encana are tossing around the concept of allowing the company to dump 750,000 gallons of fracking wastewater per day into an aquifer for fifty years. Some agencies say “no,” others say “yes,” the scientists say, “hell no,” and the argument continues.

I’m all for tossing around ideas and discussing them, but for goodness sake, this one does not take a geologist to understand that wastewater has no place in an aquifer. Period. End of discussion. If our drinking water becomes contaminated with wastewater from unsafe practices, then it really will be the end of the discussion – all discussions.

#trailsbanner3webTrails in the SandA Family Saga Filled with Love Triangles, Sea Turtles, and an Oil Spill

Using real-life events as the backdrop, Trails in the Sand explores the fight to restore balance and peace, in nature and in a family, as both spiral toward disaster. Through it all, the ancient sea turtle serves a reminder that life moves forward despite the best efforts to destroy it.

Paying the Price for Oil Spills and Coal Mine Explosions

UBB Miners' Memorial Completed

Upper Big Branch Miners’ Memorial
Whitesville, West Virginia

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

We’re approaching the third anniversary of two major disasters in U.S. history – both claiming undistinguished titles.

First, on April 5, 2010, at a coal mine in West Virginia, twenty-nine miners lost their lives when an explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch mine. The tragedy was the worst coal mine disaster in four decades in the United States. Fifteen days later, another explosion occurred on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven men died in the explosion, which began the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s effect on the environment may take decades to assess.

Forty lives lost and record-making disasters in the same month in 2010 have something else in common.

Both could have been prevented.

It didn’t take long for investigators to determine that policies at both BP – the company running the oil rig – and Massey – the company that owned Upper Big Branch – played at role in the unsafe conditions that caused both disasters.

The Wall Street Journal reported on February 26, 2013, that the Justice Department found “a last-minute conversation between BP engineer on the rig and onshore . . . showed that the oil giant [BP] acted with gross negligence.”

oiled wildlife during BP's oil spill in 2010

oiled wildlife during BP’s oil spill in 2010

BP runs television commercials that encourage tourists to the states impacted by their oil spill. They’ve also agreed to pay $30 billion in fines, settlements, and clean up costs. They’ve paid out $4 billion in criminal suits for charges as high as manslaughter, which gives the oil spill another distinction for paying out the largest settlement in U.S. history.

Deepening the burnish on the behemoth company, the U.S. government has suspended BP from any new federal contracts because of its “lack of business integrity.”

Yet former CEO Tony Hayward walked away with no charges filed against him, and BP’s shareholders barely felt a blimp on investments in a company intent on increasing profits at the cost of human lives. Something tells me BP is hardly unique or record-setting in that department. They were simply the ones who were caught – and the money and advertising are simply the price to pay.

CEO Don Blankenship headed up Massey Energy at the time of the coal mine explosion. His arrogance during the aftermath angered many. He eventually stepped down eight months and many disastrous press conferences later.

Now a former employee of a Massy subsidy has implicated Blankenship. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported recently that many of the families of the victims wanted justice in the form of prosecution of the former CEO who at one time even went so far as to suggest the miners were responsible for their own deaths.

Three years ago, forty men lived their lives and worked grueling jobs miles offshore on a rig or underground and in a mine shaft. By the end of April 2010, forty men paid the price for bringing fossil fuels out of the earth. They did their jobs based on the rules and regulations followed by the company.

They didn’t know they were risking their lives by following orders.

The prosecution of the men sitting at the top of the heap making the big decisions and reeling in the big paychecks and bonuses will never bring justice. Justice means the dead men would be home for Easter dinner.

But it might bring a moment of grace to the families and friends who remain.DSC00870