Tuesday, November 4, 2014
This is the Ohio River, taken from Little Hocking, Ohio facing the bottomlands of West Virginia. What can't be seen through the morning fog is DuPont's Washington Works plant, which sits directly across the river. Also invisible are the molecules of PFOA--a long-lived, synthetic processing aide used, for example, in the production of water- and grease-repellant consumer goods. For more than fifty years, DuPont released PFOA-laced waste into the river and into the bloodstreams of those living on its watershed.
From the essay, On Confluence. Written for the Science and Environmental Network and the 2014 Minneapolis Women's Congress on the Rights of Future Generations.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
"There are children-of-divorce, and then there are children-who-follow-a-divorce,
who have their own experience of its aftermath…
conceived only after the split and merging of two other families,and born from the fact of their devastation."
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
"Until I had children, I had been out of touch with cycles and seasons, disconnected from the ecological system of which I am a part. But since I’d become a mother, I’d grown into the habit of juxtaposing our lives with the lifecycle of our raspberries. They had become timekeepers, steady and sure during the disordered days of early motherhood."
Monday, April 28, 2014
|Rear rail entrance to Union Carbide's former Bound Brook, NJ plant|
Taken with Dad, May 2013
"Before I was born, before he married my mother, my father made polystyrene plastic.
His plant could manufacturer 8000 pounds of polystryene in an hour, 60 million pounds in a year. Every plastic pellet he or anyone ever made is still with us."
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
On Arlington, Massachusetts
The Place Where You Live | Orion Magazine
February 3, 2014
Our block ends in an access trail to ten acres of hilltop conservation land bounded by densely built neighborhoods. The summit, called Mount Gilboa since the 1700s, marks the edge of the Boston basin—a glacier-carved rim that overlooks the flatlands stretching toward the harbor. It took three attempts to put this land into conservation. The first proposal failed in the 1880s.
From this vantage, one is awed not by the expansiveness of the land, but by the intensity of its use and repurposing, by the possibility of what it once looked like in the days of the Massachusett. To the north, a landfill, once a market farm, is now a playground. To the east, winding through the grid of rooftops, is a defunct rail corridor now bike path. In the distance, the high-rises of Boston, the fanning cables of the 8-laned Zakim Bridge, the aging stacks of the Mystic Generating Station, and everything in between, the landscape through which at least a couple million people pass daily.
But it was in this sequestered patch of urban wild that I first felt my place in the geological and human continuum—even though I am, like many here, a transplant. I walked these rocks regularly, before motherhood, following the meandering stonewalls that marked some once meaningful boundary. And while pregnant, I waded through snow so thick my knees bumped against my belly with each plunging stride. I wandered its rings of networked trails, while one son toddled behind with lichen-covered twigs and sassafras leaves, and another clung to my back. But our favorite spot is a lean-to built on Gilboa Rock from fallen branches—maybe oak, maybe hickory. We rarely encounter others up here, so we imagine its origins and who must have come here before us. My sons dart in and out of the structure, shoring it up with found sticks. The welcomed wind mutes the sirens below on Massachusetts Avenue, and the ancient rocks ground us after a too-rowdy birthday party and a morning wasted on television.
Link here: The Place Where You Live -- Orion Magazine
Sunday, February 9, 2014
From Kathleen Dean Moore, a compelling call for more "broken hearted hallelujahs":
|Arches National Park, Moab, Utah (2013)|
"As the true fury of global warming begins to kick in—forests flash to ashes, storms tear away coastal villages, cities swelter in record-breaking heat, drought singes the Southwest, the Arctic melts—we come face to face with the full meaning of the environmental emergency: If climate change continues unchecked, scientists tell us, the world’s life-support systems will be irretrievably damaged by the time our children reach middle-age. The need for action is urgent and unprecedented.We here issue a call to writers, who have been given the gift of powerful voices that can change the world. For the sake of all the plants and animals on the planet, for the sake of inter-generational justice, for the sake of the children, we call on writers to set aside their ordinary work and step up to do the work of the moment, which is to stop the reckless and profligate fossil fuel economy that is causing climate chaos.Some kinds of writing are morally impossible in a state of emergency: Anything written solely for tenure. Anything written solely for promotion. Any solipsistic project. Anything, in short, that isn’t the most significant use of a writer’s life and talents. Otherwise, how could it ever be forgiven by the ones who follow us, who will expect us finally to have escaped the narrow self-interest of our economy and our age?"
|Arches National Park|
Moab, Utah (2013)
My response: "On What We Bury"
ISLE (Winter 2014)
"We slip behind a sandstone dome, smooth like a church bell, and sit on the edge of the rim, its walls striated, and each striation a chapter in its history. To look down into the canyon is to look back through time. My friends lie with their bodies sinking into the contours of the warm, rust-colored rock. I drop to my knees. We do not speak. The tourists murmur. Two ravens call. The wind chants through the canyon below. I unfold the pamphlet the ranger handed us when we entered the park. It explains how everything we see was once buried beneath an ocean, and how the ocean deposited the sand and salt that surrounds us now as exposed sandstone, as red rock. Is there a more humbling experience—kneeling in a desert where an ocean rose and receded, and where humans have roamed for 10,000 years?"
|Arches National Park, Moab, Utah (2013)|
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Friday, January 13, 2012
My second column went up at Odewire.com last week. On hope. And birds. Among other topics.
By Rebecca Altman
Update (January 2015): Since Odewire.com discontinued its fantastic blog, I have archived a cached version of the essay here."We humans are only beginning to understand that life is more than a sum of its parts, that we are more than the sum of our parts. We are learning that any one part of a complex system connects to every other part, and that the interaction of multiple elements creates complex chains of influence that we may never anticipate.When we reach beyond ourselves, maybe, just maybe, we set in motion something that will resonate through those tied to us in ways we might not foresee."
Reach beyond yourselfScott Russell Sanders, in his book Hunting for Hope: A Father’s Journey (Beacon Press, 1999), writes that wonder and hope are intimately tied. Hunting for Hope is Sanders’ mediation on how he lives in hope. It is a gift he offered to his children, to their generation, and to his students, all of whom have asked him “haltingly, earnestly,” in one way or another, how he confronts despair, how he lives with what he knows, how he would advise them to live, given all they now know, too, through him, about the troubled world they will inherit.
By Rebecca Altman