Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sing of Your Poisoned River

A few months ago I was diagnosed with restrictive lung disease.

This was actually a relief, after a year of doctor and ER visits, prescriptions, inhalers, steroids, nebulizers, breathing treatments, sleeplessness, questions, and worry.  Short term, this diagnosis just means I carry an emergency inhaler with me; sometimes, I have shortness of breath.  Long term, it may mean, as my mom said, I can’t “live anywhere with bad pollution.”

But I contracted this disease—me, a healthy 30 year-old woman who never smoked a day in her life—I contracted this disease caused by the inhalation of particles, this illness which has an environmental origin, in small-town, rural Ohio—an area known for organic farming and sustainability, a place I thought was safe.

No place is safe, I am learning.

I wasn’t at the People’s Climate March in NYC today.  

The short answer as to why is: I couldn’t afford a plane or bus ticket, not with these med bills.  The long answer is: Here is where I am needed.  

Here is where I fell ill.  Here is where the wind sometimes smells like bleach, sometimes like burning plastic. Here is where my friends have suffered headaches, dizziness, trembling.  Here, just up the road, down a very short, unmarked gravel driveway, in a residential neighborhood (with children), is a pit, sometimes covered by a vinyl tarp, sometimes not.  The pit holds up to 700 cancerous, hormone-disrupting chemicals, including formaldehyde.

This is the waste from fracking.

The company that owns this pit calls it a well, an injection well, not built for but presently full of chemicals. This pit is a toxic waste dump. A year ago, I suggested to my local friends and colleagues a march here to show people what the well looks like. They turned the idea down, because they thought no one would come.

But you are coming. 

From all over the country, from small towns and big ones, from colleges and schools, retirement communities and apartment complexes and farms, by the busload, you are coming to New York to be counted, to be heard, because you believe this life and the lives of your children matter.  They needed you in New York.

You are also needed here, back in the beautiful, poisoned small towns.

Sometimes when you get out of the car by the neighborhood toxic waste dump, your eyes water.  Sometimes you will have headaches for days.  I don’t recommend getting out of the car without a ventilator or gas mask.

You should see it, though.  You should feel your eyes water, your skin prickle and burn, your stomach heave.  Take a look at it.  Learn what it looks like.  Learn what an “injection well” IS, because one might be coming to your neighborhood. 

Or might already be there.

Now, you are also needed where you are, wherever you came to New York from and where you will return.  At home, you are needed to research and elect officials who know climate change is real and deadly and are proposing sustainable solutions—and if you don’t have any of those people running for office in your town, YOU need to run.  

You need to pass laws protecting your community from such poisons as fracking waste. 

You need to educate yourself and your parents and your children on workable, renewable energy options, which are easier than they might first think.  You need to install solar panels, carpool, grow a garden, move to a smaller house (I did; my son and I love it). You need to take the first step, which might be a step inward to learn and write and then to share.

Writers and artists: This the time to use your pulpit. This is the call to teach with music.  Use your gift.  This is why it was given: to tell your truth.  You need to write about what a mountain looks like with its top gouged off, what children sound like when they cough hollowly for six months straight.  You need to paint your hometown.  You need to sing of your poisoned river.

You need to raise the shield at home.  You need to steady the arrows. Come home, come back from the march, or come away from your computer, come here now, come ready to fight for the world you love, the fields you grew up in, the woods in which you played.

Come home.  And come ready to save a vanishing world before it vanishes completely.