Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Another Heart Land, Another Pipeline

(Map from my nightmares, and
I didn’t know.

Which is no excuse, really. But until this morning, I didn’t know that a tar sands pipeline is intended to wend from Montreal to Portland, Maine. More information is available here: 

Part of the route comes across northern New Hampshire, through Lancaster and Randolph and Gorham, along the Androscoggin River, across the Appalachian Trail where the Presidential Range and the Carter-Moriah Range cede to the Mahoosucs.

This places are not, at present, my own backyard. All the same, I would not know myself without those hills and their forests. It's not as distant as a backyard, more like my backbone or heart.

I spent a summer working at Carter Notch Hut. Two lakes, a stone cabin, and two bunkhouses fill the dip between the Wildcat Ridge and Carter Dome. Many of the places I have known and loved and lived in are beautiful, but in that so much of my time at Carter was solitary, I have a solidarity with that particular geography that is unmatched by anywhere else on earth.
Dear AMC--Thank you! I did find my unforgettable memories at this place.
Their beautiful, stubborn unforgettability is precisely the root of all of this. (photo from
The water in the hut doesn’t come from the lakes. Instead, as I discovered when the faucets stopped one morning, there is a well drilled deep into the rock of an uphill spring. Yards and yards of black plastic hosing connects the spring to the hut. There was no need to filter the water because it came from the source of the spring, not the stream that flowed alongside the pipe.

But, when the water stopped running, I didn’t know that. I radioed the construction crew, who told me where to find the spring and to check the well. To save time, I ran up the stream and found the well was secure in the rock. My next task, then, was to follow the entire line down and check for leaks and disconnections. Eventually, and with Johnny Cash on repeat in my brain, I found the spot where the hose had been knocked down and disconnected by wind or a rotting branch or an animal or the Carter ghosts.

Regardless, the water was gushing out into a patch of sphagnum moss.

Although it took a full morning of scrambling through dense, pokey fir trees and uneven terrain to walk the line, tt took less than five minutes to reattach the pipe. And it was only water—and clean, spring water at that—pouring out of the leak.

Yet, to have worked even on such a small scale with the fragility of infrastructure, it leaves me cold to imagine what damages can and will be wrought by pipelines of crude oil criss-crossing each of our heartlands.

I’ve seen little cairns of stones built by hikers where the Rattle Rive flows under Route 2 and into the Androscoggin River Reservoir. I’ve looked down from the tops of mountains countless times on the river and the towns. For many summers, there was nothing like escaping the mountains for pizza and ice cream in those towns, and that post office has processed more of my mail than any address but my parents’ home, I think. I’ve sat through interminable hours of school board and town meetings in Gorham—in some ways, I think I know and love it more than places I have lived. I’ve left and come home to myself so many times at the sight of the Northern Presidentials along Route 2. To imagine that all of that, humans and mountains and forests and gardens and little kids playing in the river, continuing in the shadow of a pipeline…I don’t think I’ll sleep well tonight.

TransCanada says these pipelines are safe. I don’t trust them. But, even without the dire specter of oil leaks and spills from similar pipelines, I am skeptical of claims of safety. When even simple systems of pulling water downhill fail so easily, I have little faith in the infallibility of big systems. The more complex and the bigger, the more can go wrong.

I do not mean to be unhopeful and unhelpful. I am merely humbled to find how little I knew about someplace I love so dearly, to find that all my adoration for this thin strip of New Hampshire was not enough to protect it from threats.

But, now I know. And I’m telling you. And there are still things to be done. If you love these mountains, write letters to the New Hampshire Congressional delegation about how this pipeline is morally impossible. Write to the State Department, urge everyone with any sort of power to think about the ramifications, the costs and benefits of endangering this landscape.

Though, it is not just this landscape. I am particularly up in arms about this because I don’t want water flowing off mountains I love to mingle with oil spills in the boreal forest. But, it is everywhere. Our special places are as varied as our hearts, and no place should be threatened with this sort of activity.

Why do companies force and bully their way though, dragging out the bitumen, liquefying it for transport, fueling our everything, then? Simply this: they believe that if they build it, we will buy it. Let’s not. We truly do not need it to live well. If there is anything I know, it is this truth.

Aside from rock-based plumbing techniques, the most important thing I learned in the mountains was to make a good life with less. Stepping aside from the somnambulism of consumptive normal, I learned that I don’t need to own a whole lot of superfluous stuff—I learned to make do and fix and adapt and improvise and wear the same few clothes and get along with the people around me and to drive a car very little and to have more fun without than with. More and more, I find that to be the route I wish people to go. Get away from it all, whatever that means to you. Not only are the wild places beautiful, too beautiful to ever allow a pipeline to trespass in, but you’ll find yourself—hopefully—incapable of living in ways that foment a “need” for the pipeline. Don’t stay away forever—Thoreau only spent two years at his cabin—and bring all that you find out there back to the rest of us. Live out of the wilds as best you can in concert with what truth you find there.

Before you go, though, please do write to the State Department.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the heads up Beth, I didn't know a thing about this either until now!