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They're Drilling My Forest

Thursday, October 27, 2016

There's a lot of stuff going on in Washington County Ohio, home of the much-vaunted Marcellus Shale, that upsets me right now. Every morning I wake up to the sound of huge industrial chainsaws ripping into a big patch of timber just two miles from our house. Two miles might sound like a long way, far enough, but I assure you it's not. Fifty miles might do it. But not two. For a woman who thinks nothing of running seven miles, two miles is right next door. I hear the saws snarling all day long, through the windows. I can't get away from it. But it won't last long. They'll be done soon, when the forest is completely gone.

That forest had yellow-throated warblers, American redstarts, hooded warblers, common turtles, red foxes, and once even a bobcat, that I saw eating on a road-hit deer. It had a newt pond, where the kids and I went a lot in the spring to see the newts floating, mating, swimming. It had everything. And I loved it, as I love all good forest.

Chet's so young he still needs a leash! And the kids...oh my. 

The newt pond. Going soon.

Sorry about that, newts. 

There was an old farmhouse there, with a porchlight that was always on, and of course I loved it too, out of all reason. I shouldn't have loved it so, because it wasn't mine, but that never stops a true old-house romantic.

I loved all the different coverings, real and faux, that covered its old log-cabin bones. I knew there was a log cabin under there. And there was. I'm told somebody dismantled it and took the logs for his house. Well, that's good. It didn't go completely to waste.

I loved all the greens on the porch. June 22, 2014. Wasn't Chet so beautiful then? 9 1/2 years old, before I gave him Nexgard, thinking I was protecting him from ticks. But that's another story. God, he was beautiful. And so was that house.

So were the outbuildings, with their ragged skirts hanging. That place was never so lovely as it was in a light rain.

The sweet old guy who owned the house, kept it up as best he could, mowed the lawn better than we mow ours, well, he died, as sweet old guys will, and his brothers up and sold the place and in came the oilmen.

Now there's a stoplight on our road. A stoplight!

A temporary one, but still.

There are hundreds of feet of pipe, and bulldozers.

They've torn down the house, 

and they're tearing down the outbuildings. They've left this one. I don't know why. Certainly not because it's beautiful. What do they know of beauty?

Beauty's just in their way.

They walk around in their neon shirts and hardhats and I snarl as I roll slowly by.

Here's what the same lot looked like this evening--only three days later. Oil companies work fast.

All that useless beauty--it's just in their way. They've got to put in the drilling rig, get to that oil. Gonna be some cement poured where there once were warblers and box turtles. Gonna be kleig lights on 24 hours a day, and drilling, drilling, drilling. This, the snarling chainsaws, is the good part. This is the quiet part. They'll drill hard and long, around the clock; they'll pump brine with God knows what chemicals in it between the layers of shale (but none of that is going to get in our groundwater, nossir, it's perfectly safe!!) they'll put up a huge stack, and the natural gas they release will shoot up that stack, and it'll burn for months with a ferocious crackling roar that one oilman I spoke with told me that he loved. Because, he cackled, rubbing his fingers together under my nose, "That's the sound of money!!" Well, it's more the sound of profligate waste. They burn off that gas, and it doesn't heat anyone's house or cook anyone's food, because it's under such pressure that it's dangerous, so they just burn it away. They're after the oil, not the gas, though God knows a lot of people could use that gas to heat their homes in winter. Just haven't bothered to figure out how to harvest that wealth from the too big a rush to suck up that oil. 

The flame of utter profligacy will light up the sky all night long, and it will light up my bedroom, two miles away. And I will hear it all night long, two miles away. I'm lucky it's not right next door. Maybe that's coming too. They keep us all on a need-to-know basis. Like, "Hello. We're leveling this forest, and we'll be putting up a drilling rig here, so you might want to move. Or you could stay, and listen to the sound of money. Our money." 

My friend in this house right next door to what was once forest knew when to get the hell out of Dodge. I saw him loading the last things from his garage into the back of his truck yesterday. I wanted to stop but he looked so stricken I honestly didn't know what I would say to him, so I kept driving. Now I know I probably won't see him again, and that hurts. They just ran him out. And who's going to buy that nice house? Nobody, that's who.

They've slapped a NO TRESPASSING sign on the little shed. Like they need to tell me to keep away from their moonscape. There's nothing left to trespass for. LONGVIEW ACRES, it says, with a sweet little Christmas tree drawn on the door.  View just got a lot longer. No trees in the way now. The newt pond's right below that shed. I pretty much know what's going to happen to it.

I sat down to write a post about the places that heal me, but I had to wade through all the photos I took as I drove out to get there. Being a photojournalist, albeit a bloggy one, I felt compelled to record this, too.  Devastation is what's going on in my life right now, so this post is what came out. I know you come here to get your dose of nature and peace, and no matter what has gone on in my personal life, I have provided little else but that for 11 years now. It pains me greatly to have to show you this. If there were something I could do about it, I would have. The greed is too powerful to stop. Everyone around us fell all over themselves to sign away their deep mineral rights to fly-by-night "companies" that blossomed like honeysuckle all over Ohio, promising riches to people who could sure use the money. We didn't sign, but that doesn't matter now. We're surrounded on all sides for miles around by those who did. The ever-changing companies move like amoebas, splitting and coalescing; the person you speak with, or even the company he worked for won't even be there a month later; they don't have to pay us anything now to take the oil right out from under us. They've achieved critical mass, and we're screwed, without the money to compensate us for our sorrow and pain.

I came home tonight in the gloaming, had to come through the fire, and emerge proofed by the flames. And on the other side were the Three Graces, waiting, their fall colors shivering in the last light, one mile from home, and one mile from the moonscape. A fragile bulwark indeed.

Not yet cut down, and may they never be...but one never knows. Sometimes it seems to me that being something Zick loves slates you for destruction.

I came up the sidewalk and looked at this little tableau of maroons and purples and greens that I'd created by our front door

and I thought, well, that sure is beautiful, those 34-year-old bonsai trees putting on a show for me, with the recalcitrant morning glory just beginning to bloom at the end of October, the Thunbergia vine gone wild and throwing little yellow flowers all over the boxwood hedge

and I pressed my nose against the warm lit kitchen window and saw Liam, just home from rowing crew, sticking his nose in a carton of Goldfish, taking a sniff, and deeming them still OK. He tipped the carton to his mouth and caught a glimpse of me standing there, staring in at him with a slightly clownish look on my face
and that scared the bejesus out of him, and he held his hand to his heart and gave me the finger, then started to laugh

and I laughed and laughed. Life goes on, and it is beautiful, but Lord, some of the stuff that happens in between is hard. 

UPDATE: There's a move to put parcels within Wayne National Forest, Ohio's only national forest, up for auction to private oil and gas drilling/fracking companies. Now's your time to get on the phone. I just called Regional Forester Kathleen Atkinson, who has full power to take this land off the auction block, and Sen. Sherrod Brown to register my objection to the rape of national forest. In the current maelstrom of dismantling and destruction, cries for sanity must be louder and longer. This link: gives you all you need to know to make two phone calls. Thank you.


This is one of the saddest posts I've read here, Julie. I've been reading your beautiful blog for years. Such a sad statement of the times we're living in. I'm so sorry.

Last sentence=life mantra for me. My Jenny was in West Virginia all summer, sad to see such beauty leveled.

Blah. Just blah.

Posted by Marianna Sadowski October 27, 2016 at 6:57 PM

hugs, hugs and shared tears. I hate it so much, and I am so sorry for you, the birds, the newts, all the community that is being torn apart

I m so sorry...
I'm so angry...
It's just not right.
I will think peaceful thoughts.
I will wish for less stress...
I will close my eyes
And remember your slice of heaven.
I'm so sorry...
I'm so angry...
It's just not right.

Oil and gas is a curse to this earth. But, how we use it could be a blessing.
How about say, hydrogen fuel cell. Its works in space. Can work here too. We need to get on to the next thing.

Jesus, Zick. This made my heart hurt.

I can't even.
Tears stream down my face.
Not just for you, for me, but for all the creatures
Murdered for greed, short term riches for the short sighted.
There's nowhere to run, no place safe from the rapists and destroyers.
Grief and rage swirl and seethe, color my dreams.
She will prevail, Our Mother Earth, if not in our lifetimes.

So much ugly comes from "the sound of money". Reading your blog entry in bed, and when I read how stricken you were and felt the same sense of strickeness, I wanted to roll right over because I don't know what I can say, because I can't make it better. But I will echo what everyone else here says, all that they say and feel. I have seen this happen to the fields and woods and barns and ponds and meadows where I grew up. It is a foreign land now of ugly. Ugly subdivisions and strip malls and black tarmac. So I stopped just to say what everyone else here has and will say. xoxoxo

Posted by Gail Spratley October 27, 2016 at 8:25 PM

Heartbreaking scenes all over this country, all over this world. We cling to the shreds of beauty, the shreds of decency remaining, but it is hard, so hard. I don't know how you can stand it; I would be spiraling madly into depression. I'm fighting it as it is. The five acres on our north property line was clear-cut and left a patch of weeds, the vineyard that was to be planted there apparently better sited elsewhere. We've been hearing a lot more air traffic overhead all year, and other sounds of heavy equipment I can't place, and not being able to escape the noise in what was once a quiet environment can make you lose your mind. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, with justice for Your creation and a cleansing fire!

I live in the Ozarks, Missouri, and I thank God there's nothing in most of the Ozarks, that anybody wants. No shale oil, shale gas, etc. On the far west end, and far east end there are lead mines, some worked for over 200 years. But in most of the Ozarks, just limestone, dolomite and and forest. They cut all the great old shortleaf yellow pines down most of a century ago. The forest grew back. Problem here, is mostly potential for aquifer pollution. Ive come to loathe development. I feel really bad for you. All that beauty around you, and its going to be marred for a few years of gas, and profit.

Oh.My.God. I am so sorry this has come close enough to your Eden that you will see it, hear it, smell it, sense it, all the time. I almost bought a house like the old man's log-cabin-with-additions-and-patches-farmhouse when I bought this one 30 years ago, on five acres of peaceful land with wind and birds an insects and no planes overhead, maybe a dozen cars a day, right now in the thick of it in Greene County here in PA. I moved to an old town right out side of Pittsburgh instead, deciding I'd move out there later, and started painting the still active farmland to the west and south of me. I also started to feel like the grim reaper of the land as the next time I'd go back, in the next season, there would be a "for sale" sign there, and soon it would be "made ready" for development, all the green and wild and overgrown fields plowed under, even if no one bought it for a decade, those wonderful old farmhouses knocked down. Now there's no place farther out to move to that doesn't stand a chance of being torn up. I hope it doesn't hurt your spirit.

Have you had your water tested? I assume you are on a well? Keep testing...

I am so sad. This news breaks my heart. I'm so sorry Julie. Good luck....

Posted by Elise, Fangirl October 27, 2016 at 9:23 PM

I'm so sorry Julie. The shortsighted nature of corporate America and the greed and recklessness on the Earth...our poor children. Our ill-fated grandchildren. And all those creatures that we are connected to. Where will it all end up?
I find myself thinking "where will I go?"

Posted by Lauren Vickerman October 28, 2016 at 3:25 AM

It's not oil here in FL, it's subdivisions, but the effect and feeling of loss is similar.
Well done Zick.

It's not oil here in FL, it's subdivisions, but the effect and feeling of loss is similar.
Well done Zick.

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Reading this, and with you living in a place called Whipple, suddenly reminded me of an old Twilight Zone episode, “Willoughby,” about a nostalgic time and place, that unfortunately we can’t go back to (well, in the episode the main character does).
Anyway, in the (lengthy) time I’ve been reading you, the places I’m most familiar with have all changed pretty dramatically, and without realizing it, Whipple, Ohio, and your life/posts, had become a respite and changeless peace from it all. But of course no place remains so idyllic… thanks for keeping up the illusion as long as you could!, and may the future still bring much joy and beauty, beasts and birds and bonsai... (but as I and my friends also always warn, getting older sure ain’t for wimps ;-).

I cannot begin to express the depth of my sadness for you and for all those poor, innocent creatures that live there. This is exactly why I am on my way to becoming a misanthrope. Although individual people can be wonderful, as a whole, people are greedy bastards who care only about money. Fat lot of good that money will do them as life on this planet is snugged out. Mankind is a cancer on this planet, and we deserve the "chemo" that the Earth will throw at us. I only hope that some of the creatures on this world will survive us.

Hard to move far enough away from (progress)
My parents moved us 3 times in MD. Finally in the field behind our quaint Batchellors Forest Rd a cemetery was laid out (rumored to be a subdivision)
at least these are quiet neighbors / to which my parents have now joined...

omg, this devastates me. Somehow I believed you and Indigo Hill would be spared from this horrible scourge. I pray your water is safe. I am so sorry Julie. The closest new pipeline to me is still 75 miles away across the Suwannee, The Suwannee abby

I am so, so sorry to hear this. Healing energy your way, but what can it do? Stay strong!!

Here I am mourning new housing this year!

The turkey vulture roosting trees came down
The eastern kingbird singing tree & nesting tree came down
The lightening bug meadow was built on
& the Wilson snipe winter hangout will soon be sodded for a new home.

Oh dear God. I'm so sorry. We've been looking to move the past year or so, and while I'd love to move to northern Michigan, there's a lot of drilling up there. It's not fracking on the scale that you have down there, no giant drill pads with Klieg lights, just run-of-the-mill derricks and natural gas pumping stations, but I'm staying away from it nonetheless. But I know that no place is safe, that our insatiable need to keep building and cutting and drilling means that anywhere you settle is in jeopardy. The worst part, I think, is being powerless to stop it. I hope you can find peace in your beautiful home.

Our kids seem to light the way out of darkness, no? Crying then laughing along with you here in Wayne, PA

I wrote a comment this morning when I first read this...then deleted it. Too teary (as I was when I read your post.)
Now, dry eyed, but mad as hell, I write--greed is destroying us all slowly bit by bit. But you know that.
It is hard for me to not get totally depressed at times. And as I write this, I am listening to the sound of a chain saw! In my suburban division. No forest, of course, but lovely mature trees from 40 years growth. The new neighbors (across my backyard) decided they don't want the shade the tree provides (?!). Well, yes, I know they want to put in a garden (the new neighbors are Nepalese, and growing vegetables is important). But I feel like saying--rip up the front lawn--no shade there, and the lawn is like a desert.
I heard the chain saw a few days ago for the first time. So I walked out to see what was happening. A couple of quite young men were whacking away with the little bitty chain saw. I asked if they were trimming or taking the tree down. They answered--
"taking it down."
Whereupon I burst out--oh, sh*t.
They look startled and said--why?
I said--because trees provide oxygen and we need oxygen to live. Then I strode away.
And that's just my little corner of the world.
What to do, what to do!

This makes my heart hurt, my stomach hurt, my head hurt. I am so sorry! this is so incredibly wrong. It's no wonder the WWF is saying that 2/3rds of our wildlife will be gone by 2020. develop, destroy, and plunder. Seems to be the Big Business way, consequences be damned. So incredibly short-sighted.
I feel for you. I live in rural southwestern, New Hampshire, home of Mount Monadnock, and it took a good two years for people in our region to fight off a major pipeline that would have destroyed our ponds and lakes and forests, not to mention peoples homes and livelihoods. My childhood home was in the crosshairs. They simply wanted to use our area as a conduit to transport gas to the Boston area. No thanks! But it was a long hard, depressing slog, and they are still trying to plunder other regions in our state, but people continue to fight.
I'm so sorry. :(

Just downright sad. Moved from Athens, Ohio to Englewood Florida and so far we have kept the Gov ( a real moron, not unlike Ohio's Gov) from fracking the state, but he won't be happy until every inch is developed and covered over in concrete. Big money rules us all I'm afraid, but you have to keep on keeping on.

Oh, that's so heartbreaking. I so enjoy living in your little wilderness vicariously. It's so awful to see it torn down like that. If I had the funds I'd buy the biggest piece of land I could manage and squat in the middle of it just to keep it out of the hands of developers.

What a sad day. Your post, that I can relate to so much, the Bundy gang's acquittal for terrorism to public lands, Standing Rock protectors being arrested and hurt. My heart is breaking.

Julie and her readers: 3 years ago, the neighbor along the eastern property line of our farm decided to eliminate about 7 acres of streambed woods and all the trees along our shared boundary. An entire world lived there, and I was intimately acquainted with its residents and with the magnificent hackberry trees that lined the lane. Gone. All for maybe two more rows of corn or soybeans. 'Heartbreaking' seems a feeble word for how it felt to see the devastation the first time, and the next time, and the next. It still hurts. Sending love and light your way, dear Julie, with my condolences.

Such a sad post but it really does speak to the times that we live in now. Those with money want more of it. There are many more people that need the resources of our Earth. I have been watching the process of the people at Standing Rock. They are fighting for thier and our parks. The people with money want to send oil under and across the Earth. That will tear up the land and displace much wildlife, plants and animals. It makes me so angry and sad. But what can be done? There is no good answer for any of it.

This's just makes me want to cry!

Heartsick for you. It's an ugly thing. It may lighten your heart ever so slightly to hear about my little brother. He is 23 and about to graduate from OSU in geology. He went into school thinking he might work in oil for a little while, with some moral objections but he could stomach a little of that for the handsome pay. Now with education, many hours literally bonding with the sun, moon, stars, and treasured pockets of deep forest, he absolutely refuses. He's more interested in starting a geothermal energy installation company now. Not all greed can be eclipsed by good but as we learn more and more about what this process really does, I think and hope there will be more people like him.

"The flame of utter profligacy." You do have a way with words. Beautiful writing about such a sad, yet all too common subject. Well done, Julie.

Julie, I turned 60 this month, and sometimes when I reflect on all that has gone from this world since I've been in it, I feel a weighty grief. But I have come to see that the best we can do is love what remains, with all the fierce joy we can muster, and be profoundly grateful for what we had. "It's the having, not the keeping, that is the treasure..."
Thank you for this difficult post - you clearly struck a chord with many, and that's a good thing.

Posted by Another Heidi October 29, 2016 at 12:38 PM

heard Dr Richard Alley, the geosciences/climate scientist speak at the New England Aquarium about how they parse big ice to better understand climate. Great speaker. Clearly an inspired teacher, and here's my point: he concluded by enumerating projects that his students were working on and said: "They will be the first generation to figure out how to power our economy without fossil fuels" It is well nigh impossible to retain optimism when hearing chainsaws and power equipment, and seeing the destruction you are seeing. But I do think there are reasons to hope that can keep the disgust & heartbreak at such scenes of greed from causing a person to give up. (This is meant to be consolation, not a mini lecture)

Posted by claire silvers October 29, 2016 at 3:51 PM

Oh no. Oh how grievous. Oh i am so sorry. I felt horror struck reading this. ... Your beutiful corner of the world ... I am so sorry this modern evil has come there too. How devastating.

So devastating. My heart goes out to you in grief.

Honors to you and Bill for NOT allowing the frackers onto YOUR property! Such devastation 2 miles away and in the neighborhood is horrible, but how infinitely worse would be seeing it invited into one's own woods. Taking such a stance makes the statement for all to see for all time to come that an intact, diverse, beautiful natural habitat is something of immense enduring worth - of greater value even than the prices paid for the consumable fossil fuels beneath that will eventually be used up and gone. Perhaps the selling landowners will realize (too late) that for the seemingly high compensation received they, in fact, gave away something priceless. And for the oil field people who would deny that, just let them try (if only they would!) replacing that which they ruined. Confronted with the unfathomable amount of expense, labor, and most of all TIME (the repeated procession of seasons through multiple generations) necessary to grow a diverse, mature forest from scratch, perhaps then they would at last understand why such natural areas are indeed "priceless".

Posted by Larry Smith November 1, 2016 at 2:36 PM

Sad and wonderfully expressed

I was hoping against hope that your love for the land and everything on it would somehow weave a spell that would keep oil lust at bay. But if anything can save us, it is the words and art of people like you who weave your love spell on us and spur us all to do what we can in our democratic form of government. I have called and I will also write a paper letter. Thank you.

reading this blog backwards and it is getting worse. Can you imagine the "mark up" if the cost of all the cutting (uses power), and the lighting (uses power) and the salaries, and the wasted gas, is a lot less than what they charge for what they recover?

I thought where you lived was so obscure that this would not happen, but North Dakota was obscure too and that did not last.

Not sure what to say because in the past, farmers did not really value "nature," but at least they had a connection to the soil and to weather and to the seasons. Now "nature" is meaningless to most people and they really see no value in it at all. That is viewed as progress. Urbanization. Self-driving cars. Climate control. More machines. But supposed we all have no jobs, hate 12 lane highways, and only have those "engineered" tomatoes and lab-grown meat served up by vending machines? Suppose the world we make is one we do not want to live in? We are supposed to believe that the world is getting more modern, more convenient, better all the time. Is it?

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