Seven Years Since the Oil Spilled

Florida, BP oil spill, sea turtles

BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded seven years ago on April 20, 2010. I recently did a book signing for Trails in the Sandmy novel that uses the oil spill as the backdrop to the drama unfolding in one family. “The race to save wildlife from tar balls approaching Florida’s beaches runs parallel to a reporter’s quest to save her family from an equally disastrous end,” I explained to a potential customer.

The customer gave me a puzzled look. “What was Deepwater Horizon?” he asked. “I forget.”

Please don’t forget. We must hold behemoths such as BP accountable for their actions. What was Deepwater Horizon? It was a horror where eleven men died and untold damage was done to our wildlife and the environment. Please remember.

To honor the lives lost and the destruction created through neglect of safety procedures, click here to download Trails in the Sand for free on Kindle, April 17-21.

It may be a work of fiction, but the facts of the event are real.

Trails - Deepwater

Excerpt from Trails in the Sand

Caroline – April 20, 2010

Our paddles caressed the water without creating a ripple as we floated by turtles sunning on tree trunks fallen into the river. A great blue heron spread its wings on the banks and lifted its large body into the air, breaking the silence of a warm spring day in north Florida.

The heron led us down the river of our youth stopping to rest when we fell too far behind. The white spider lilies of spring covered the green banks of the Serenity Springs River.

“Do you remember the spot where we always swam?” my husband Simon asked. “Isn’t it around here?”

“I can’t remember back that far.”

Simon pulled his kayak up alongside mine as a mullet jumped out of the water in front of us and slapped its body back into the water.

“Still the dumbest fish in the river,” I said.

The leaves on the trees were fully green and returned to glory after a tough winter of frosts and freezes. Wild low-growing azalea bushes were completing their blooming cycle, and the dogwoods dropped their white blossoms a month ago. The magnolia flower buds would burst into large white blossoms within a month.

Simon and I missed the peak of spring on the river. However, we finally escaped our work on a warm Tuesday morning in late April.

“I hope things settle down. We should spend all summer on the river,” Simon said.

“Maybe we can get Jodi to come with us when she gets home from Auburn,” I said.

“Don’t count on it. Promise me you won’t be disappointed if she refuses.”

“I wish you wouldn’t be such a pessimist. That upsets me more than anything.”

Simon didn’t respond, which usually happened when I tried to talk about his daughter Jodi.

When we were kids, Simon and I spent many days in an old canoe on this river. Those idyllic days ended when he married my sister Amy. I never forgave Amy, even when she died two years ago. I eventually forgave Simon.

Even though I didn’t miss or mourn my sister, Jodi, my niece, did. She lost a mother she loved and believed Simon and I trampled her mother’s grave when we married nearly a year ago.

“At least winter is over,” Simon said. “Let’s hope for a quiet hurricane season.”

A turtle dove from a rock into the river as we approached. Either our voices or the sound of lapping water from our paddles sent it swimming. I was happy to note the freshwater turtles didn’t seem impacted by the atypical cold of the past few months. The sea turtles hadn’t fared so well.

I followed the sea turtle story for three months from the Gulf to the Atlantic coasts of Florida. The supreme effort to rescue cold-stunned turtles and rehabilitate them for release was overwhelming in its sheer numbers of both wildlife and volunteers. As an environmental and wildlife freelance writer, I’d written dozens of stories since January on the rescue and recovery operations. Miraculously, the majority of the stunned sea turtles survived. The past few weeks had seen many of them released back into the warming waters.

When Simon and I married the previous year, I vowed to curtail my traveling. But somehow, I hadn’t been able to keep my promise. Yet Simon never complained when I left our home in St. Augustine over the winter months as freezing temperatures caused iguanas to fall from trees, manatees to congregate near power plants, and sea turtles to become ice sculptures. He kept busy with the opening of his new law office, relocated from his previous home in Calico, sixty miles away. Just when the cold weather disappeared, and as I was finishing writing a series of articles on the cold winter’s impact, Simon left for West Virginia. On April 5, his cousin Jason McDermott was one of the twenty-nine coal miners killed when Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine exploded. Simon went home to West Virginia for the funeral. He stayed for more than a week helping Jason’s parents and his widow, who was pregnant with their third child. Until Simon and his family moved to Florida when he was fourteen, Jason had been his best friend. The two remained close over the years, and I knew Simon mourned his cousin’s death.

“I’m glad we’re playing hooky today,” Simon said. “It’s about time we made it back to the river.”

“Let’s keep floating until we reach the St. Johns River and then the Atlantic,” I said.

“Sounds like a plan as long as you don’t find any sea turtles to rescue along the way.”

“Don’t worry, Simon, I’ve got my hands full with you.”

####

The next morning the whir of the coffee grinder woke me. Simon always woke before me, and now he churned beans into grounds for our daily ritual. I savored that first sip of coffee every morning. Simon used only the darkest roast with an oily sheen. Every morning he brought me a steaming mug of the brew along with the morning papers. If my eyes weren’t open when he came into the room, he bent down and gently kissed me on the forehead.

“Good morning, baby,” he’d say, and I’d look up into his smiling face, his blue eyes twinkling a greeting. His eyes mirrored my own blue eyes. At one time, we both had blonde hair, but now with age, Simon’s had turned white while mine remained the same color of our youth, thanks to L’Oréal.

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 announced 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.

I flipped the channels to find more news. I heard about volcanic ash from a recently erupted volcano in Iceland that was costing airlines $1.7 billion from the loss in flights. The day before the Supreme Court overturned a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty. Another broadcaster announced the death toll from a recent earthquake in China now topped two thousand.

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. I made a mental note to tell Simon, who I was sure would want to learn more.

But nothing about 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. “Or it’s nothing at all. I hope for the latter.”

“Me, too. They also said a former miner decided to do an interview about conditions at Upper Big Branch mine. That could be a very big story.”

“Let’s hope somebody says something. I heard all sorts of stories while I was in West Virginia, but nobody wanted to say anything publicly.”

I kept channel surfing. A couple of programs 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. He sat on the edge of the bed and flipped through the pages of the newspaper.

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

#DeepwaterHorizon-Using Reality in Fiction

 

Deepwater Horizon, BP oil spill

Deepwater Horizon well BP oil spill 2010

They’ve now made a movie about Deepwater Horizon (Click here to see the trailer). I heard an interview with the director, Peter Berg, and he said he didn’t focus the movie on the environmental impact but on the human lives lost. That’s good because the explosion on that oil rig killed eleven men. This tragedy could have been prevented.

I began writing Trails in the Sand in the months after Deepwater Horizon and the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion that killed twenty-nine miners. Forty deaths within two weeks of one another pushed me to write something that might serve as a reminder of two preventable disasters that occurred within two weeks of one another in 2010. Forty men died and countless wildlife and their habitats were injured or destroyed. Both events touched my life in some way and both made their way into the writing of Trails in the Sand.

The first tragedy occurred on April 5 when the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia exploded, killing twenty-nine miners doing their job in the bowels of the earth. Subsequent reports showed the company ignored safety regulations, which played an important role in the explosion. At the time, I was in the process of moving from Florida to western Pennsylvania. The mine is several hours south of where I moved so the local media covered the disaster continually for the next few weeks. The national news also kept its eye turned toward a small town in West Virginia where families mourned their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins. After April 20, the lens of the cameras shifted to the southwest.

The news began as a whimper before erupting into cries of outrage. An oil rig somewhere off the coast of Louisiana caught on fire on April 20, 2010. Soon the whole rig collapsed and eleven men never made it out alive. Oil gushed from a well several miles below the Gulf’s surface.

As I made the transition to Pennsylvania, I still held my job in Florida, although I was in the process of leaving. I was a public relations director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I made the trip back and forth between the two states sixteen times in 2010. I conducted meetings from a cell phone in airports, highway rest areas, and at a dining room table from our small temporary apartment in Pittsburgh.

aptopix-gulf-oil-spill-1fee0422a0df6673Every time I started to give my two-week notice to my supervisors, something happened, and my wildlife biologist bosses pleaded with me to stay. During a crisis, the spokesperson for a company or agency suddenly becomes a very important part of the team. Scientists become speechless when looking in the face of a microphone. And all their scientific facts and figures must be distilled into sound bites for the public.

Nothing much happened in those early days of the oil spill for the wildlife community, although as a communications specialist, I prepared for worst-case scenarios, while hoping for the best. Partnerships between national and state agencies formed to manage information flowing to the media. By May, some of the sea turtle experts began worrying about the nesting turtles on Florida’s Panhandle beaches, right where the still gushing oil might land. In particular, the scientists worried that approximately 50,000 hatchlings might be walking into oil-infested waters if allowed to enter the Gulf of Mexico after hatching from the nests on the Gulf beaches.sargassum-oil-deepwater-horizon

 

 

An extraordinary and unprecedented plan became reality, and as the scientists wrote the protocols, the plan was “in direct response to an unprecedented human-caused disaster.”

When the nests neared the end the incubation period, plans were made to dig up the nests and transport the eggs across the state to Cape Canaveral, where they would be stored until the hatchlings emerged from the eggs. Then they would receive a royal walk to the sea away from the oil-drenched waters of the Gulf.

seaturtle7

The whole project reeked with the scent of drama, ripe for the media to descend on Florida for reports to a public hooked on the images of oiled wildlife. Since I was in transition in my job, they appointed me to handle all media requests that came to the national and state agencies regarding the plan. From my new office in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, I began coordinating media events and setting up interviews with the biologists.

As the project began in June 2010, I began writing Trails in the Sand. At first, I created the characters and their situations. Then slowly I began writing about the oil crisis and made the main character, Caroline, an environmental reporter who covered the sea turtle relocation project. Then suddenly I was writing about her husband, Simon, who mourned the loss of his cousin in the coal mine disaster in West Virginia. I didn’t make a conscious effort to tie together the environmental theme with the family saga unfolding, but before too long, I realized they all dealt with restoration and redemption of things destroyed. As a result, the oil spill and the sea turtles became a metaphor for the destruction caused by Caroline and her family.

I’m a firm believer in the subject choosing the author. When that happens, it’s best to let go and enjoy the gift. Trails in the Sand became a novel sometimes classified as “faction” because it combines real-world events with fictional characters and situations. I have written nearly twenty novels since 1999, and of all of them, Trails in the Sand remains the one closest to my heart. Because the subject chose me, the words came easily and the characters became an extension of my family.

I wish the disasters never occurred. But I can’t wave a wand and erase the past. But with strokes on the keyboard, I can create something lasting that might make a difference. At the very least, I made that attempt. And so did the director of Deepwater Horizon, which releases today. We need all the reminders possible so we never repeat the events of April 2010 again.

Florida, BP oil spill, sea turtles

Excerpt from Trails in the Sand

Chapter One – Caroline

The next morning the whir of the coffee grinder woke me as Simon churned beans into grounds for our daily ritual. I savored that first sip of coffee every morning. Simon used only the darkest roast with an oily sheen. Every morning he brought me a steaming mug of the brew along with the morning papers. If my eyes weren’t open when he came into the room, he bent down and gently kissed me on the forehead.

“Good morning, baby,” he’d say, and I’d look up into his smiling face, his blue eyes twinkling a greeting. His eyes mirrored my own blue eyes. At one time, we both had blonde hair, but now with age, Simon’s had turned white while mine remained the same color of our youth, thanks to L’Oreal.

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.

trails-deepwater

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CELEBRATE THE EARTH BY REMEMBERING THE PAST

Florida Setting 1Sometimes an anniversary involves a celebration of some sort. The events marked today are separate, yet inexplicably connected through virtue of their messages.

Six years ago today, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven men working on the rig and doing untold damage to the environment and wildlife as a result of an uncontrollable spew of petroleum into the fragile and precious habitat off the coast of Louisiana. And just two weeks prior to that, twenty-nine men lost their lives in the Massey coal mine in West Virginia when gases and coal dust ignited.

Deepwater Horizon, BP oil spill

Deepwater Horizon well BP oil spill 2010

These two events have several things in common. The disasters could have been prevented if proper safety standards had been followed by the companies, and if the government who created those standards had actually enforced them. And in both cases, the workers toiling away at bringing fossil fuels to the surface for us and for the profits they garnered for Massey and BP.

As a writer, I felt drawn to both stories because of how they touched my life. But that book, Trails in the Sand, also addresses several personal issues about family and finding a way to heal the wounds that stretch back generations. All the while the oil spills and the West Virginia community deals with the shock of losing so many lives.

Both tragedies continue. BP is being held accountable but that doesn’t help the wildlife that swallowed all the oil. We may see the impacts of that for years to come. The CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, was recently sentenced to one year in prison for his blatant disregard of safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine (New York Times editorial). Some are surprised he received any punishment at all. The families of those killed feel it was merely a slap on the wrist as they believe the blood of their loved ones stains his hands.

BP oil spill, oiled wildlife

Now to the celebration part. It’s Earth Day, which began forty years ago as a way to celebrate the Earth and the start of the environmental movement in this country. Let’s all take a moment to think about how we can be a part of the solution by doing something positive for the environment this year.

To mark all of these books, Trails in the Sand, can be downloaded for free on Amazon. While a work of fiction, the novel follows the real-life tragedies in the Gulf of Mexico and West Virginia. Please grab your copy today and tomorrow (April 20 and 21), if you haven’t done so already.

 

Sand

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Happy #Earth Day – Pay Dirt – #Composting

Happy Earth Day 2015!

Celebrating Earth Day is a little bit like giving canned goods to the homeless at the holidays as if that’s the only time the food is needed. Same with Earth Day. We get all warm and fuzzy inside thinking about doing things to help the environment, but then May comes along, and we forget that the Earth still struggles under the weight of human weight and consumption, just as the homeless need food as much, if not more, once January 1 rolls around.

Here’s something to do year round to help you, the environment, and maybe even those who have less than you do. Food banks welcome fresh produce and making compost surely helps you grow your own.

I’ve been composting kitchen waste ever since I had a small rooftop garden in my efficiency apartment in Ann Arbor in 1979. Since then, I’ve composted on a 20-acre homestead, in an urban backyard, and behind the shed in my current home in Pennsylvania. It’s a simple process and begins with finding a container with a sealable lid to keep in the kitchen for the food scraps.

Not all of your waste from the kitchen makes good compostable material. Avoid the use of meat scraps, fish byproducts, cheese, bones, fats, oils or grease because they all attract wild animals and take a very long time to break down. Egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold.

Once the container is filled, take it to the compost bin and put it inside and cover with either brown or green organic material. Making the rich topsoil requires a balancing act between green materials and brown materials placed on top of the kitchen scraps. Think of the green things as those still close to the live stage: grass clippings, food scraps and manures. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves and woody materials and even shredded paper. We use the ashes from our fireplace. Layering these elements, with the browns taking up the most space, leads to the decomposition of the materials. Air and water are essential in assisting in this process, but usually there is enough liquid in my compost container and in the air to not worry about wetting the materials. If you notice the material in the bin looks dry, go ahead and water it.

There are products you can purchase, from shredders to rotating drums to three-stage bins. You can spend from $50 upwards to several hundreds of dollars. If you live in the extreme north, you may need to invest in the more sophisticated type of equipment to ensure the success of your compost bin. But I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, and now Pennsylvania and managed to do it successfully without expending lots of money.

When I lived in an urban setting in Florida, I did the simplest thing. But it could easily have been expanded. I bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom. I drilled holes all over the lid and sides to allow air flow. A nail and hammer would have accomplished the same thing. I dug a hole about three-inches deep in the soil the diameter of the can and placed the bottom into the ground, filling around the sides to make it secure. I covered the bottom with the dirt I had just removed, making sure it was nice and loose. Then I placed my kitchen scraps on top. I covered those with leaves from my yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time I put new material from the kitchen into the bin, I stirred the whole thing with a shovel.

Here in Pennsylvania, we bought a simple compost bin from Lowes for under $50. It has panels on all four sides that slide off for easy removal of the dirt from the bottom.

I fill my flower pots full of this healthy rich soil where grateful petunias and pansies thrive in the dirt that started in my kitchen. Our vegetables and herbs will receive a healthy dose of the soil when it’s time, and then we start the process all over again.

Earthworms are the essential ingredient for turning the scraps into rich dark soil. If I see a worm in the yard, I’ll pick it up and carry it to the bin, but mostly the earthworms find it all by themselves. If you don’t see any in your pile, buy a small container of earthworms from the local bait shop and let them loose. They eat the organic matter, and quite graciously poop behind nice dirt. Maybe that’s what I love most about composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

When I began pulling together information for my book, From Seed to Table, my copy editor read the part on composted and was amazed that she could very easily start a small pile in her urban backyard. Just be sure to cover all the food scraps and keep a secure lid on the heap or you’ll have wildlife other than earthworms wanting to eat your scraps.

Do you compost? What’s been your experience? Any tips or suggestions to add?

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And in honor of Earth Day and in remembrance of all we lost during Deepwater Horizon, I’m offering an eBook sale (either $.99 cents or free on Smashwords) on my novel Trails in the Sand. This contemporary fiction chronicles BP’s oil spill in 2010 as environmental reporter Caroline Carlisle races to save her family from the destructive forces of their past.

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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.

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

 

 

#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

Natives Lands – Chapter One

TimucuanWhen the Spanish landed near St. Augustine, Florida, in the sixteenth century, the Timucua (Spanish named them; the Timucua near St.Augustine called their village Seloy) 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. (Click here to read previous post on the Timucua.)

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

I’ve never bought it. How does an entire population of people disappear completely? They must have realized at some point, they weren’t going to survive the Spanish invasion into their lands, so I imagine them banding together and escaping to the Everglades. That’s what the Seminoles (Creeks) did when they found the Spanish would not tolerate their presence in north and central Florida in the 1800s. The Seminoles fled to the Everglades. The white man couldn’t survive the harsh conditions nature provided in the Everglades. But the people who lived in balance with nature and respected its power and beauty could. My new novel, Native Lands, explores the possibility that the Timucua didn’t become extinct but simply went into exile.

The novel’s first draft is complete and ready for its first read by my beta pals. Even though the majority of the novel is set in contemporary Florida, there are flashbacks two hundreds years to Locka and the Seloy living near St. Augustine. Here’s a peek at the first chapter (in draft form). I would love to hear your comments and/or suggestions.

Native Lands

By P.C. Zick

Chapter One
1760 – near St. Augustine, Florida

Locka wiped the blood off his spear with his blood-stained fingers.

Their blood is the same color as mine, he thought. A chill descended over him, despite the heat of the morning air from the sun rising over the ocean to the east.

He looked down at the body of the man he’d stabbed through the heart.

“Go back to the village now,” he said to Mali who stood nearby holding the moss the Spanish soldier had ripped from around her neck and from her waist. “Stay to the river banks.”

Only a few minutes earlier, the day held bright promises as Locka left his village tucked into a grove of live oaks dripping in gray moss. He walked through the marsh, careful to step between the sharp reeds, as he headed east to the estuary. Rich with a variety of landscapes, the area was a great provider of food for his tribe, the Seloy. Locka headed for the estuary where the tide would soon be high. Locka wanted to reach the nets he’d laid the night before while it was still low tide. When the water returned, it would empty any of the mullet or snook that had swum into his nets.

He noticed Mali walking parallel to the marsh carrying a large basket. Locka knew that she was probably headed to the blackberry bushes between the tree line and marshes.

Locka watched her graceful movements as she carried the basket on her hip just above the line of her moss skirt. More moss, entwined with small shells and pearls, hung around her neck. It swung from side to side revealing her firm and full breasts not yet turned soft from nursing a child. He knew soon Mali would be married to one of his young warriors although he knew she wasn’t yet promised to anyone.

He wanted to turn away from watching her, but he couldn’t. Her straight black hair swung down her back, and soon, as the summer heat intensified, she’d wear it up in a knot to keep her neck cooler. Her almond-shaped brown eyes and her ample body made him feel the risings of something he hadn’t felt in a very long time. Locka found himself reluctantly and frequently mesmerized by her. She reminded him of his wife Suri before she gave birth to their son Olio. When Mali turned and saw him staring at her, he quickly turned away, missing her wave and smile. Even though his wife vanished five years ago after a raid on their village, he still ached for her and kept himself away from the young maidens of the village who were more than willing to take the handsome and brave Locka as their husband.

When he turned back around, he saw Mali nearing the bushes laden with blackberries. He also saw a white man, wearing boots and a tall metal hat, come out from the woods. Locka recognized him as one of the Spanish soldiers from the fort downriver. The soldier moved toward Mali, and when he stood in front of her, he reached for her breasts as Mali screamed.

“Locka!” Mali’s voice carried across the marsh to the estuary, but it only excited the soldier more as he pulled Mali toward him and pushed his leg between hers. With one hand holding her close, he used the other hand to rip the moss skirt away from her body, and then he reached down between her legs with his free hand.

Locka was on the move at the first sight of the soldier and before her screams rang out across the marsh. When he reached them, Mali was pushing the soldier away, but he held her tightly as he continued to probe her with his hands and mouth. So absorbed was the Spanish soldier in his abuse that he failed to see Locka’s approach.

Locka leaped from a crouching position and landed close to the soldier. Locka shoved him to the ground as Mali escaped to the side. She watched from several feet away as Locka shoved his spear into the man’s chest. He died quickly with the smirk on his face wiped away and replaced by the open-mouthed shock of fear.

Blood dripped from his spear when he pulled it out of the dead man’s chest. Locka reached down and rubbed the soldier’s blood on his hands and then smeared the blood on his face.

“He won’t bother you again,” Locka said without looking at Mali.

“Thank you, Locka,” she said. “I was sure he was going to either kill me or take me back to the fort.”

“Go back to the village now,” Locka said. “I’ll take care of the body.”
Mali reached to touch his arm, but Locka pulled away abruptly as if she’d slapped him. He turned his attention to the dead man as he cleaned the end of his spear.

“I’ll cover him at the base of the burial mound.”

Mali nodded and then headed back to the village.

After wiping the blood off the spear, he put it back in its pouch and slung it over his shoulder. He bent down to grab the boots of the dead man and dragged the body to the line of trees away from the water. When he came to the base of a mound twelve feet high, he dropped the feet and began digging a shallow grave with his spear. If the animals came and dug him up, so be it. He at least made the effort to bury him.

When he finished his work, he stood and looked east to the estuary and the river beyond. The sun was higher in the sky, and the water was returning to the mud flats of the estuary. On the opposite bank of the river, Locka could see the dunes laden with the orange sunflowers and yellow daisies of spring interspersed with the tall and spindly sea oats waving in the wind. He couldn’t see the ocean beyond because the land was so flat and the dunes were taller than his six-foot height, but he could hear the constant motion of waves just beyond the dunes.

Now that the water was coming back into the estuary, he’d have to walk to the beach and spear food from the sea since he’d missed the chance at low tide to find any oysters or conch.

Before going back for his canoe to row across the river to the dunes, he climbed another mound, this one made from the shells thrown there by the Seloy tribe for many centuries. From the mound, he viewed the different landscapes that provided his people with the means to live an abundant life during the warm months. The Seloy had just returned from their wintering site deep in the woods to the west a few weeks before. During the winter months, Locka missed the variety of their coastal home. Despite the violence of his encounter with the soldier, he managed to pull his concentration to the landscapes of the ocean, river, estuary, marshes, woods, and creek that flowed behind their village.

He watched as a few egrets and ibis pecked in the mud for the last bit of food from the flats before water covered the whole area once again. A lone great blue heron stood at attention at the line of water, patiently waiting for a fish to appear. During low tide, the birds were so abundant, they hid the mud. Now, only a dozen or so of the hardiest souls remained. A pelican flew close over his head spying to see if he had any fish he was willing to sacrifice. The sea beat upon the shores as Locka watched from the mound. From his vantage point, he could see in all directions. His village lay to the west in a low-lying canopy of live oak trees weathered by the constant salt breezes. A small creek ran behind their seasonal home. He surveyed the river immediately in front of him and let his gaze head south to the settlement of St. Augustine.

The sound of trees being ripped from their roots like a black bear ripping the meat from the bones of a fawn, tore through Locka’s heart as the Spanish cleared even more land to build houses and churches from the coquina shell weathered and crushed by the tides.

To celebrate Earth Day 2014, my Florida fiction books are only .99 cents on Kindle during April. Click on the covers below to purchase.

Tortoise Stew - Small town Florida gone wild

Tortoise Stew – Small town Florida gone wild

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

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

#Florida Fiction – Celebrate #Earth Day 2014

DSC03075Florida–surrounded on both sides by water–is vulnerable to the changes inherent in the world today. Sea level rises, beach erosion, and increased intensity of hurricanes leave the state open to natural disasters. Add to that the unmitigated sprawl of developers to the Sunshine State for its landscape and warm weather, and all the elements for disaster are in place.

I made Florida my home for thirty years. I hope to return there in a few years. The state is in my blood, which means I’ll be writing about the characters and environment for a long time. I’m working on the first draft of my third book of Florida Environmental Fiction, while my first two books, Trails in the Sand and Tortoise Stew, are available to read at any time.

Click on photo

Click on cover

 

Trails in the Sand –

***Love Triangles, Endangered Sea Turtles, and BP’s Oil Spill

***A Florida Novel by award-winning Florida author, P.C. Zick

When environmental writer Caroline Carlisle sets off to report on endangered sea turtles during the BP’s oil spill, the last thing she expects is to uncover secrets – secrets that threaten to destroy her family, unless she can heal the hurts from a lifetime of lies. To make matters worse, Caroline’s love for her late sister’s husband, Simon, creates an uproar in a southern family already set on a collision course with its past.

From Caroline’s sister: “My sister is nothing more than a common whore,” Amy said when Simon told her he was leaving her. “You just have to face it and get over some childhood notion about her being your soul mate.”

On BP’s oil spill: “Two weeks after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, dead sea turtles began washing up on the beaches near Pass Christian, Mississippi. Beach walkers discovered the stranded animals on sand darkened by the blood seeping from the turtles’ nostrils and underbelly.”

Using BP oil spill timeline and facts 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.

 

TORTpsdTortoise Stew 

Florida Fiction filled with intrigue, corruption, twisted love, and outrageous Florida  characters

A Florida Environmental Novel from Award-winning author, P.C. Zick

Small town politics at its best, worst, and wildest in this novel about the development of Florida at any cost.

“The bomb sat in a bag on Kelly Sands’ desk for an hour before she noticed it.” And so begins the raucous journey through small town Florida politics in Tortoise Stew.

Kelly Sands, a reporter, covers some of the more controversial and contentious issues in a small Florida town. Dead armadillos and gopher tortoise carcasses left as calling cards to those opposing the development of rural Florida show small town politics at its worst.

Commission meetings erupt into all-out warfare. With the murder of one commissioner and the suicide of his wife, Kelly begins an investigation that threatens to topple the carefully laid plans of the developers and politicians to bring a movie studio and landing strip within the city limits of the small town. When a semi-truck from Monster Mart runs over and kills a young girl, the environmentalists become even more vocal against the developers’ plans. All the while, Kelly struggles to overcome and escape her past, which catches up to her as she follows the antics of the politicians, developers, and environmentalists. With the help of her boss, Bart, and her best friend, Molly, she uncovers more than corruption in small town politics.

#Oil Spills Continue

Last December, scientists announced that dolphins in Louisiana were experiencing lung diseases and low birthrates in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that released more than 636 million liters of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Now, researchers have also found evidence of potentially lethal heart defects in two species of tuna and one species of amberjack — all economically important species for commercial fisheries. This news, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today, comes less than a week after the announcement that BP will once again be allowed to explore the Gulf of Mexico for oil. . .

. . .But a BP spokesperson contacted The Verge to state that “the paper provides no evidence to suggest a population-level impact on tuna, amberjack, or other pelagic fish species in the Gulf of Mexico,” as the “oil concentrations used in the lab experiments were rarely seen in the Gulf during or after the Deepwater Horizon accident.”

 

To top off my morning of reading, I read that a tanker has spilled oil into Lake Michigan, which occurred less than two weeks after the United States lifted BP’s ban on seeking new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. (Click here for complete article)

 

Four years ago, I worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a public relations director. I handled all the media and public relations for a bold effort by scientists to save sea turtle hatchlings from the oil encroaching on Florida’s offshore habitats and beaches.

Photo by P.C. Zick

Photo by P.C. Zick

Today, four years later with two more oil spills threatening our environment and innocent wildlife, I ask where will it all end?

The answer is not in giving up petroleum-based projects, but in forcing the industries involved in farming, harvesting, and producing fossil fuels to abide by safety standards and insisting that our enforcement agencies do their job.

Click on cover

Click on cover

 

My book Trails in the Sand follows the disaster of the BP oil spill and sea turtle nest rescue as the main character, an environmental writer, attempts to rescue her family from destruction.