It took me three years to write the first draft of my novel, Fruit of the Devil. Writing was ecstasy—the story poured out of me as if it were being channeled. The characters came alive. Then I found out the horrible truth—that “writing is rewriting”—and I embarked upon what has now become five years of revising, editing, and rewriting hell. Almost half of my original content has been trashed because, according to my various esteemed editors and critique groups, those scenes, characters, and chapters didn’t “move the plot.” “Keep it moving” is the mantra of genre fiction writers, and rightfully so—it would be nice to write a book that people will read. (Although I will guiltily admit to a secret proclivity toward writing literary fiction.)
Whatever. I’ve found that in any medium—whether it be clay, paint, or words on a page—there comes a critical moment in the creative process when one feels oneself futzing around, putting edited bits back into the work. That’s when the artist is at risk of overworking the piece and needs to stop; must surrender to the fact that works of art are works-in-progress, and are rarely perfect. I believe I’ve come to that moment with Fruit of the Devil.
Today, I sewed four pages, which I had previously savagely chopped off, back into the body of the manuscript. When I finished doing the horrible deed, I actually heard a voice in my head saying, “Thank you.” I think the manuscript is still breathing, and the resurrected piece is more relevant today that when I wrote it five years ago. The scene describes a community’s response to gun violence.
My main character, Aurora Bourne, is in love with a Catholic priest, Father Francis, who works in the community with at-risk youth. Aurora’s fourth grade student Paloma has two brothers—fifteen-year-old Johnny and eighteen-year-old Victor. Johnny has just jumped in with a Norteño cliqué and has been arrested after trying to rob a liquor store. He sustained major injuries from being jumped in and is now in the hospital under police custody. Victor and Father Francis visited him earlier in the day . . .
* * * * *
Valle Verde Plaza
At high noon, the fifth annual Peace and Unity March wound through town toward the Plaza. Leading the march, the Azteca Mexica Ixtatutli—the beautiful White Hawk dancers, all in feathers—blessed the barrios and the pueblo in an indigenous, ceremonial way, with smoky copal incense and the haunting tones of a conch shell horn. The blessing felt like strong medicine. Victor, wearing a brown t-shirt and brown beret, was up at the front of the march with other similarly uniformed young men and women.
The community of Valle Verde had organized and come together today, on el Día de los Muertos to honor those who had died in violence, to listen to the family members of those who had been murdered, and to pray, bless, rally, sing, dance, and support El Pueblo de Valle Verde with peace.
Victor felt very uplifted and salved in his heart to be a part of this gathering. These people, his communidad, had Ganas—they had the will, the spirit, to affirm life and peace, in the face of so much personal tragedy. That’s what he needed today, just to keep it going, to keep on believing.
The marchers wound through the city and returned to the plaza. Victor watched all the familias setting up memorials to loved ones lost to violence, placing mementos, photos, flowers, and even favorite foods and personal effects of the departed on the altars. People were remembering their muertos for all the community to see.
The rally started. A woman up on the stage spoke through a microphone. She was a small woman but her voice sounded like it could shake down mountains.
“This violencia is going to stop,” she said. “I’m here today because I lost my son at the hands of gang members. Too many of you know about the pain I am feeling. We all need to work together to end the violence and bring peace to our community. The cops try, but they can’t do it by themselves. We need the families to get out and show support. The answer isn’t just more law enforcement. It’s about parental involvement and community building, education, and faith at a time when it’s clearly hard to come by. I pray that all this violence will stop. But prayer isn’t enough. This is our community. We need to take it back, for the sake of our children.”
The crowd cheered and applauded. Another speaker took the podium—one of the founders of the Valle Verde Brown Berets, a guy named Vallejo.
“We are proud to be here today. Proud that the Brown Berets could play a part in organizing this Peace and Justice rally. We’re tired of the injustices in our community, and tired of not having a voice or political representation in our own town . . . We’re young and brown, so they don’t want to listen to us. But we will be heard.”
Victor had a lot of respect for Vallejo and his message of courage and self-determination. He’d met Vallejo at Indian Canyon with Father Francis, and had heard him speak at the weekly Brown Beret meetings in the Bike Church downtown, across the alley from the Adult School. The guy was a natural born leader.
Victor ambled around the fountain in the center of the park-like plaza. Art, tradition, and culture surrounded him. The Folklorico dancers were swirling their colorful skirts in beautiful, traditional dances of Mexico. Women and children were giving out treats for free—candies, skulls made of sugar, and pan de muertos, bread of the dead.
On the stage where the woman had spoken earlier, Teatro Campesino was getting ready to put on a performance. Victor sat on the grass to watch and drink his champurrado, a thick and delicious Mexican hot chocolate. The Father of Teatro Campesino, The Farmworkers’ Theater, introduced the play. Luis Valdez was a distinguished looking man with a silver moustache. He related the story of how Teatro Campesino had gotten its start out in the fields on flatbed trucks, among the grape and lettuce pickers, back in Cesar Chavez’s day. It had been born on the strike lines of the Great Grape Strike of 1965—Chicano Comedia Popular, revolutionary guerilla street theater.
“When I produced my film Zoot Suit, I made enough money to purchase a teatro permanente down in San Juan Bautista. If you haven’t already, I hope you will come to see us there. But we don’t forget our roots. We will always show up for the people, right out in the open air, whenever we are needed, like today. We hope you enjoy the show.”
As usual, the actors wore wonderful, crazy costumes and talked in a mixture of Spanish and English, street slang, and even a little bit of barely intelligible Azteca and Mayan. The play was an exciting and surreal story full of regular people getting mixed up with strange, supernatural characters and happenings, surprises for both the living and the dead, and very funny lines with lots of double meanings and satire that made the audience split their sides laughing. Victor’s heart was hurting real bad with worry for his little brother. But still, it felt good to laugh.
After the play, children in skeleton costumes with black and white painted faces gathered in the center of the plaza, next to the fountain. Victor’s little sister, Paloma, was not among the children. He’d insisted that she stay home with Grandpa tonight. She was too upset about Johnny.
As evening’s shadow descended, people began lighting the candles they held in their hands.
Several compañeros from the Brown Berets stepped out of the dark and surrounded Victor. “We’re here for you, hermano. We heard about Johnny,” said Pato. “He’s gonna be alright.”
A large mariachi band assembled. Wearing cleric’s collars and black robes, a couple of priests from St. Patrick’s—the big red church in town—said a blessing. Acolytes passed through the throng with smoking incense censers. Pretty soon, everybody was moving, following the children on a procession to the community arts center a few blocks away. There, they would have a grand fiesta, with elaborate altares made by community groups, more food, music and dancing until midnight, when all of the souls went home to rest.
Victor moved along with the crowd, following the eerily lit skeleton kids and the priests with their thuribles of swirling, ghostly copal smoke. The procession wove along Main Street and up toward the Galleria del Arte. The mariachi band, with its full-blown brass cacophony, sent evil spirits flying off ahead of the revelers into the night.
In the bruised, dark purple twilight, Father Francis suddenly appeared at Victor’s side.
The priest, clothed in jeans and a light nylon jacket, put his arm around Victor’s shoulders and sang to the mariachi musica at the top of his voice.
Victor joined in, lifting his voice and his heart, his spirit, up into the night.
I’ve always loved the ocean. My mother used to tell me that the ocean will “cure anything that ails you.” My older sister taught me to comb the tidepools and to bodysurf in Laguna Beach, not long after I learned to walk.
I rode my first wave at Huntington Beach pier, wearing an inch-thick neoprene wetsuit, when I was 14, and I was given my first surfboard—a longboard custom-shaped by Jim Lyman of Redondo Beach with hot pink stripes running along the center stringer—for my 15th birthday, in 1962.
When I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, I strapped my board on top of my father’s hand-me-down 1954 candy-apple red four-door Buick “bomb” and headed up the L.A. freeways from Pasadena to the coast with my best friend Bonnie. We spent our summers until graduation cruising Highway 1 with the Beach Boys blasting out good vibrations through the radio, reading Gidget while basking in the sun on our beach blankets in our “itsy bitsy teenie weenie” bikinis, and surfing the waves from San Clemente to Malibu.
Hanging out at Pleasure Point where Jack O’Neill’s house is now. Jerry Colfer, Spike Bulls, Johnny Rice, Al Palm and Mike Winterburn, 1957.
When I went away to college I chose UC Irvine partly because of its proximity to the Pacific. After I graduated and started teaching, I settled into a little house a few blocks from the beach in Santa Cruz—one of the two California towns claiming the title “Surf City USA.”
For my 50th birthday, I rode my bike over to Hawaiian surf legend Johnny Rice’s house near Steamer Lane and asked him to shape a long board for me. He took my measure, then handed me a basket full of hand-dyed Hawaiian fabric and told me to chose one for the inlays on my board. That board was magic and could talk to me. Mahalo Nui Loa, Johnny. Aloha and Rest in Peace.
I never tire of being in the water, or of watching the ever-changing ocean, the birds, otters, dolphins and whales, and the world-class surfers who come to ride our famed breaks.
Surfing is more than a hobby for me—it’s a passion, as much a necessity for staying alive as breathing. Isn’t it only natural that the protagonist of my first mystery novel, set in Santa Cruz, is a surfer?
No, it’s not the launch party for my novel Fruit of the Devil, but it’s close. We’re celebrating the publication of a new anthology of short stories, set in Santa Cruz, by Santa Cruz writers.
Each story in the anthology has a bit of a weird twist, so the anthology is aptly named Santa Cruz Weird. And one of the stories in the anthology is by me!
The Game Warden is an excerpt from my novel, Fruit of the Devil. The protagonist of The Game Warden is Fish and Wildlife Warden Kelli Cavanaugh, a secondary character who, I’m told, steals the show in Fruit of the Devil.
If you’re in the area on September 16th, I hope you’ll come by the Santa Cruz Art Center to help us celebrate with book signings, readings, food and libations. 6:30 – 8:30 pm 1001 Center Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Use fresh organic fruit when possible. Clean, cut and freeze fruit for future use.
Put in blender: what you have available in a mixture of frozen and fresh banana, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, pineapple, papaya, mango, acai berry, stone fruits, apple, lemon, orange, etc
Add coconut water and other organic pure fruit juice for consistency. Blend.
Learning to Make the Best Food Choices
I was recently interviewed by an investigative reporter working on a piece about the pesticide Glyphosate (aka RoundUp, manufactured by Monsanto). Glyphosate has been in wide-spread use not only in agriculture, but also in and around homes, schools, hospitals, parks, roadsides, and other public spaces since the ’70’s. It’s been in the news lately because extensive research has shown it to be a potent carcinogen as well as being linked to ADHD, Alzheimer’s Disease, Autism, Birth Defects, Celiac Disease, Colitis, Heart Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, Kidney Disease, Liver Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease.
It became clear to the journalist, after a short time listening to me describe my experiences teaching in a school surrounded by pesticide-intensive ag fields, that glyphosate is just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to pesticide exposure and human health.
The reporter asked me several times if I had contracted any illness as a result of that long-term pesticide exposure. She proded because, of course, that would make a great story. Unfortunately I had to tell her that it’s virtually impossible to attribute definitive cause and effect between long-term pesticide exposure twenty years earlier and whatever ails me now in my “old age”. I was sorry to disappoint her. But it’s complicated. Researchers can look at studies of large population samples over time and may find significant statistical correlation between exposure to certain substances and disease. But in an individual person’s life, there are usually just too many variables to claim with certainty that one event caused a particular condition.
However, with all that said, during my time teaching amidst the Pajaro Valley strawberry fields – breathing the immune system disrupters, respiratory system disruptors, estrogen system disruptors, and neurotoxins, I did get hit with an auto-immune condition, fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis and osteoarthritis. I was pretty healthy until I went to work near the strawberry fields. Now I deal with inflammation and chronic pain.
What to do? Not wanting to become yet another opioid addict statistic, I manage pain through regulated diet, healthy sleep habits, regular exercise, and mindfulness training. Food choices seem to be a big piece of what it takes to feel better. After years of buying into food fads and denying my own inner wisdom, I’ve finally come to some understanding about what I should and shouldn’t be eating.
My Top Worst Food Choices:
Sugar. Processed white sugar (“white death”), any cane sugar, any other processed sugar: brown sugar, rice sugars, corn syrup, all artificial sugar substitutes such as Nutrasweet (aspartame)
– even xylitol, stevia and agave aggravate my inflammation and pain
– Sad. I love sweets. I find I can tolerate small amounts of local raw honey, real maple syrup, coconut sugar, and date sugar
Best Choice: whole food, organic, fresh, primarily plant-based, alkaline-forming diet
Fresh organic fruit
banana, blueberries, strawberries, dark cherries, raspberries, blackberries, pineapple, papaya, mango, acai berry, stone fruits, apple, lemon, orange, pomegranate, fig, guava and passion fruit, watermelon (said to be good for the skin) . . .
Fresh veggies – variety of all colors, especially dark leafy greens,
broccoli & califlower, beets, cabbage, celery, collards, arugula, mustard greens, squashes, carrot, chive & leek, asparagus, peas and green beans, Brussels sprouts, artichokes
organic, cold-pressed olive oil
fish high in omega 3 – sardine, herring, cod, salmon (much better than fish-oil supplement!)
On June 30, 2018, in cities and even very small towns all across the county, tens of thousands of people turned out for Families Belong Together rallies to protest Trump’s sudden order, three months earlier, totear all immigrant children, even breast feeding babies, from their parents’ arms at our southern border.
According to this timeline, “On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces a “zero tolerance” policy at the southwest border. It directs federal prosecutors to criminally prosecute all adult migrants entering the country illegally. The policy change leads to the separation of families because children cannot be held in a detention facility with their parents.”
After Trump claimed that “the Democrats did it”, that he was powerless to stop the separations, and even that it wasn’t really happening and theydidn’t know where the children were being held, on June 20th, with a stroke of his pen, Trump directed Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to stop tearing families apart after they are detained crossing the border “illegally”.The Office of Homeland Security reports 2,342 children were separated at the border from 2,206 adults from May 5 to June 9. By July, estimates of total number of children aged infant to 17 “kidnapped” by the US Government were 3,000 to 4,000.
I Had A Dream
In early April, shortly after the policy of separating children from their parents at the border went into effect, I had one of those “special” dreams – more vivid than usual, charged with an energy and significance beyond the usual subconscious processing of the day. I clearly remembered the dream upon waking.
In my dream I was standing outdoors in a city when suddenly an infant appeared before me, lying on its back on the cement, squalling with an out-of-the-ordinary cry, that of an utterly terrified baby. The baby’s diaper was horribly soiled, its blanket and skin filthy. It waved its hands and feet in the air in a life-or-death grasping for someone to save it. I pushed my hands out in front of my face in a gesture of revulsion. The baby disappeared and a throng of terrified people appeared before me, crowded together as if they’d been herded into a concentration camp. They reached their hands out to me, beseeching me to help them. I turned away, frightened and repulsed.
When I awoke, I felt very disturbed by the dream. I was upset with myself for, in my dream, turning away from the baby and the people in need of help. I felt disturbed that my unconscious dreaming self apparently had no compassion. I tried to go back to sleep, hoping I could find the baby, lift it up, wash, feed, and comfort it, and find a way to help the desperate, frightened people. But I was not able to go back to sleep.
On the night that I dreamed, I was not yet fully aware of the heinous crime against humanity being perpetrated by my government. But the dream, and my great disappointment toward my dreaming self for not having the instinct of compassion has continued to haunt me as this humanitarian crisis has escalated.
What To Do?
I’ve participated in social media initiatives, emailed and phoned government representatives, and attended several local marches, meetings, and rallies to demand that the separation policy be ended and the children returned to their parents.
Massive public outcry has finally resulted in a temporary halt to the government sponsored kidnapping. But not before a billion dollar private, for-profit child prison camp industry sprang up. Most of the over 2,400 taken children, from breast feeding infants to seventeen-year-olds, are still imprisoned in private, secret internment camps all around the country.
On June 30, a federal judge in California ordered that the government return all children to their parents within 30 days. However, the process of taking the children was chaotic and no adequate records exist to facilitate the return of the children. Although some children have been reunited with their families, the government may never achieve complete compliance with the federal order. Mental health experts are in agreementthat all of the children who were victimized by this inhumane and corrupt government, even those who eventually find their way back to their families, will be scarred for life.
I hope we will all wake up soon, and find the instinct for compassion in our hearts for all members of our human family. Families Belong Together, without Violence.
Liberty and Justice for All is the American Dream. Let’s wake up and make that dream real.
A Dreamer Speaks Out!
At the Families Belong Together immigration rally in Santa Cruz on June 30, I heard a speech that moved me. 24 year old Dreamer, Enrique Yarce, currently a student at the University of California, graciously granted me permission to share his words here:
“I am livid at what this country is doing to my undocumented people. Not just the so called DREAMERS like me but all my undocumented people living in the shadows fearing for their safety and that of those they love. Things are really bad right now but let’s never forget that these issues have existed since way before that man was elected. It was always difficult to be undocumented in this country with its nativist politics and addiction to human rights abuse. It’s ridiculous how much control a piece of paper or plastic can have over your entire life and It’s equally astounding to discover how often people are willing to see us as less than human because we lack it.
I’ve heard a lot of folks say that the inhumanity occurring right now during this administration “isn’t American” but that’s absolutely incorrect. The suffering happening right now to people trapped, abused, separated or raped in detention centers is as American as apple pie. This immigration issue is inextricably linked to the race and xenophobia problem that still has not been sufficiently addressed by the people of this nation. This current administration has been able to deeply connect to the racism and ignorant fear felt by many in this country.
Drumming up fear about immigrants is not a new tactic and it’s designed to scapegoat all of a society’s issues on newcomers which are typically people fleeing violence. The families and individuals embarking on the perilous journey to get to the U.S. are doing so because they have no choice. But the language is always that we are “infesting” or somehow taking over. Undocumented immigrants have been called animals by the president and compared to gang members. In all these ideas about us, the victim is always the US, which is ridiculous given the fact that the reason most people are migrating is to escape violence that is often caused by US intervention into their lands.
I think that it’s very easy for people to take for granted their privilege in being born here and not having to fight desperately to prove their humanity. My brothers and sisters from Central America escaping death are treated like foreign invaders instead of being given the compassion they deserve. I feel so awful for the children being traumatized by forced separations and the pain experienced by these families. Every day I wake up there is a new attack on immigrants and the rights of everyone in this country. Make no mistake, it starts with the easiest group to target, which are immigrants, and eventually moves to everyone else. No one is free from the depravity of fascism.
I know things look hopeless and they definitely feel that way for me at times. I’ve been undocumented for 21 out of 23 of my years on this earth and it has always felt like a cage I carry around with me. Dehumanization is a part of my daily life, hearing about what is being done to my people, but it’s imperative that we let these moments radicalize us rather than lead us to despair.
We need to be strong for the people being jailed by the same companies that make money from the mass incarceration of black and brown bodies. We must stand in solidarity with all people in the struggle because together we are stronger. I stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters resisting the disgusting travel ban and all other groups facing oppression at the hands of white supremacy. I stand with the people occupying ICE offices in order to shut them down. I stand with the white people who see the danger building in their country and they use their privilege to do something about it. There’s so much still that needs to be done and so much more that needs to happen before we live in a better world but the first step to creating it is standing up for what’s right and understanding that sometimes laws need to be broken [as American patriots did in the American Revolution that brought a chance of Democracy to the U.S]. ICE MUST be abolished.
Odio lo que este país está haciendo a mi gente indocumentada. No solo los llamados DREAMers como yo, sino todas las personas indocumentadas que viven en las sombras por temor a poner en peligro su seguridad y la de aquellos que aman.EN este momento las cosas son realmente malas, pero nunca olvidemos que estos problemas han existido desde mucho antes de que ese hombre fuera elegido. Siempre fue difícil ser indocumentado en este país con su políticas y su abuso de los derechos humanos. Es ridículo cuánto control puede tener una hoja de papel o plástico a lo largo de toda tu vida. Es igualmente asombroso descubrir con qué frecuencia la gente está dispuesta a vernos menos que humanos porque no la tenemos.
He escuchado a mucha gente decir que la deshumanidad que ocurre ahora mismo durante esta administración “no es estadounidense”, pero eso es absolutamente incorrecto. La tragedia que estan sufriendo las personas atrapadas, maltratadas, separadas o violadas en centros de detención es tan americano como el pay de manzana. Este problema de inmigración está completamente vinculado con el problema de la raza y la xenofobia que aún no han sido abordados lo suficiente por la gente de esta nación. Esta administración actual ha utilizado el racismo y el miedo ignorante que sienten muchos en este país. Utilizar el miedo a los inmigrantes no es una táctica nueva y está diseñada para culpar de todos los problemas del pais a los recién llegados, que generalmente son personas que huyen de la violencia. Las familias y las personas que se embarcan en el peligroso viaje para llegar a los EE. UU. Lo hacen porque no tienen otra opción, pero sin embargo siempre proclaman que nosotros estamos “invadiendo” o de alguna manera asumiendo el control. Los inmigrantes indocumentados han sido llamados animales por el presidente y comparados con miembros de pandillas. En todas estas ideas sobre nosotros, la víctima siempre es Estados Unidos, lo que es ridículo porque la mayoría de la gente está migrando para escapar de la violencia que es causada por la intervención de los Estados Unidos en sus paises. Creo que es muy fácil para las personas dar por hecho su privilegio de nacer aquí y no tener que luchar desesperadamente para demostrar su humanidad. Mis hermanos y hermanas de América Central que escapan de la muerte son tratados como invasores extranjeros en lugar de recibir la compasión que merecen. Me siento muy mal por los niños traumatizados por las separaciones forzadas y el dolor experimentado por estas familias.
Todos los días me despierto y hay un nuevo ataque contra los inmigrantes y los derechos de todos en este país. No se equivoquen, comienzan con el grupo más vulnerable, que son los inmigrantes, y despues se mueven hacia todos los demás. Nadie está libre de la depravación del fascismo. La ciudadanía siempre se ha utilizado como una herramienta para demostrar quién pertenece, o no en este país y debemos detener esto para siempre.
Sé que no parece haber esperanza y para mí a veces se sienten de esa manera. He estado indocumentado durante 21 de mis 23 años en esta tierra y siempre me ha parecido como si llevara una jaula conmigo. La deshumanización es parte de mi vida diaria, sobre todo cuando escucho lo que le están haciendo a mi gente, pero es imperativo que dejemos que estos momentos nos radicalicen en lugar de llevarnos a la desesperación. Necesitamos ser fuertes para las personas encarceladas por las mismas compañías que ganan dinero con la encarcelación masiva de cuerpos negros y morenos. Debemos solidarizarnos con todas las personas en la lucha porque juntos somos más fuertes. Estoy de pie con mis hermanos y hermanas musulmanes que se resisten a prohibición de viajar y a todos los otros grupos que enfrentan la opresión en manos de la supremacía blanca. Estoy de pie con los activistas que ocupan las oficinas de ICE para cerrarlas. Ven el peligro que se está acumulando en su país y usan su privilegio para hacer algo al respecto. Todavía nos queda mucho por hacer antes de que vivamos en un mundo mejor, pero el primer paso para crearlo es defender lo correcto y comprender que a veces es necesario romper las leyes y El ICE debe ser abolido.”
What’s the connection between salmon and pesticides? It’s the water.
Early on in my novel writing journey, an editor I met at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference sent my manuscript back to me with the comment, “You have a tight little thriller here, if only you’d cut out the romance, the pesticide story, and that stuff about the magical salmon god.”
On a recent snowy vacation in December, I took a trip to Manhattan to attend the Algonquin Pitch – four days pitching to top New York agents and to editors from the last of the big New York publishing houses. My ancient magical nature god of the Pacific Northwest was ridiculed. Not a commercial novel concept! I was advised, once again, to just pitch my novel as a straight thriller. I get it. The few big publishing houses remaining can’t afford to risk their ROI by publishing a weird story by an unknown author. Debut authors need to stick to the formula. The business has to be profitable or it will die.
Alas, I did not write a gratuitous and formulaic thriller. I’ve been chosen to tell a stranger tale. But I believe my story will find a way to be born into the world, somehow. “Times they are a’changing.” (Please help if you can, by leaving a comment and letting me know you’re interested in the story and also sharing this post with your friends.)
We need to read and write and share stories that convey the sacredness of our planet. It’s going to take many miracles to save our Earth, and even inspiration from spiritual beings, like ancient nature gods, to help awaken our courage and protect our sacred places. In Fruit of the Devil, Salmon Boy is such an inspiring spiritual being. He has returned to the human world in the form of a Catholic priest of Ohlone heritage to work with at-risk youth in Watsonville, and to help save the salmon and the children from pesticides. An elementary school teacher falls in love with him. If you enjoyed the film The Shape of Water, then Fruit of the Devil might be your kind of story.
I first came across the legend of Salmon Boy in a children’s anthology of Native American stories, when I was teaching fourth grade in the 1980’s. The story stuck with me. Salmon Boy has been attributed to the Haida people, and is associated (at least in my mind) with the remarkable transformational native images of shamanic animals who push back their faces to reveal the human face underneath. I believe versions of the Salmon People legends are known here and there all up and down the Pacific Northwest, in Salmon Nation. I’m no anthropologist; only an artist under the spell of a beautiful, mystical imaginary being. Here’s how the legend of Salmon Boy is re-told in Fruit of the Devil. As always, your comments are welcome.
Chapter 28. Tuesday, September 13, 1998. Prudenciana Elementary
The Legend of Salmon Boy.
“This afternoon, boys and girls, I’m going to play a tape recording of a Native American legend from the Pacific Northwest. As you listen, focus on seeing pictures inside your head of what you hear. When the story ends, you’ll be using watercolors to illustrate your favorite scene.”
Aurora couldn’t remember where this cassette tape had come from. After so many years of teaching, she’d accumulated boxes and boxes of wonderful teaching materials. She especially loved this story and had shared it many times over the years with her students. The hand-written label on the cassette read, “Tape 1. Salmon Boy Story. Narrator: Old Storyteller of the Salmon Clan, Name and Tribe Unknown. Claiming to be from Naadaayi Héen a Tayee, the Village on the River Under the River, an area not locatable on the GPS”. Aurora pressed play.
Long ago in a village on the River near here lived a boy who was taller, stronger, and more handsome than any of the other children. But his heart twisted and hid in the dark. The boy’s mother made him a talisman for healing and protection, a totem powerful in magic. She hung the medicine charm on a leather cord and placed it around his neck.
Other children feared this boy. He played tricks on them and hurt them. The boy was a thief, a liar, and a bully. Instead of honoring the Salmon People with Oma, he poisoned them with bad thoughts.
The Elders taught the villagers that when they took the bodies of the Salmon People from the River to eat, they must return even the smallest bones to the River with Prayer, Ceremony and gratitude. Otherwise, when the Salmon People swam back to their village in Naadaayi Héen a Tayee and changed into their human form, missing their bones, they would be crippled and would suffer terrible pain. The boy never returned Salmon People’s bones to the River.
One day in the Month of First Rain – the season when the River swells and the Salmon People pass by – the village children walked down to the River to swim. Respecting River’s power, all the children swam close to shore.
All except the boy with the twisted heart. He swam out to the middle of the river to show off.
A giant whirlpool caught him and spun him around, around, around, around and pulled him down, down, down, and down into the dark deep. He saw stars, then absolute black, devoid of sound or light. A vortex of gleaming blue swirled toward him through the dark. Inside the swirling blue, a far away point of white light opened and closed like a flower. Out of the flower came forth forms, silver, shimmering, and luminous.
Quicksilver Salmon People circled around the boy.
“You will come with us,” they said. And they took the boy to Naadaayi Héen a Tayee, the Village on the River that Runs Underneath This River, where the Salmon People live.
When they arrived at their village, the People climbed out of their salmon skins and stood shining in their human forms.
They were kind to the boy. They gave him a new heart, and a new name. They called him Salmon Boy.
His new heart beat with beauty, strength, and purity. He wept in sorrow for the pain he’d caused in his village UpRiver.
Salmon Boy learned the correct way to Sing, to Dance, and to Pray. He learned to Listen and learned the way of Ceremony. He became an impeccable Hunter, capable of caring for Mother Earth and her children with Respect and Love. He learned to plant, tend, build and mend. He learned to speak and act with integrity and compassion, to use the power of his Words, and of thought itself, never to wound, but only to move Spirit in the direction of Truth, Peace, and Love. He learned to see Light dancing through the golden threads of the Web of Existence that unite all beings in the eternal Oneness outside of Space and Time.
When the Elders saw that he was ready, they led him to the Healers’ Lodge and initiated him into the most Secret Mysteries of the Ancient Ones. Salmon Boy’s heart cracked open and the Source of All was revealed to him. He became a Shaman, a Formless Warrior-Priest.
Many cycles spun on the Wheel.
One day, the Old Ones let it be known it was time to return UpRiver. Salmon Boy and his People dressed in their fish skins and prepared for the Journey. They were not as many nor as mighty as they once had been because the power of Oma, the spirit flowing to them from the people of the village, no longer ran generous and clear.
As Salmon Boy swam past his old village, his mother stood by the shore holding her net. Salmon Boy swam into it.
His mother recognized the copper totem glinting like stars around the fish’s neck and she knew her son. The villagers helped her carry the heavy fish back to her tule hut. She held the fish in her arms and rocked him and wept, prayed and sang, for eight days.
On the first day his mother held him, the head of a man pushed out of the fish’s mouth. On the second day, the fish skin split and peeled back, revealing Salmon Boy’s warrior shoulders. Salmon Boy’s mother rocked him, and wept, prayed and sang. On the eighth day, Salmon Boy knelt barefoot before his mother and father, in the perfect body of a man. He cried salty tears over their hands, kissed their feet, and begged forgiveness.
The People in the Village by the River celebrated Salmon Boy’s Return. He lived with them, as Teacher and Healer, for many Cycles of Salmon Moon as Mother Earth spun around the Sun. He helped the People remember the Old Ways, how to Pray, Sing, Dance, Give Offerings, and return the Blessings of the Water Oma to the Salmon People, making whole and complete the ebb and flow of the sacred. He was belovéd, respected and honored. He initiated the young into ancient secrets.
In the ripeness of time, Salmon Boy dreamed the Call for him to Return to the Lodge at the Center of the Circle within the Circle, to Naadaayi Héen a Tayee, the Village on The River That Flows Underneath The Rivers of This World.
On a clear day in the season when Ceanothus flowers open and the creeks swell, everyone gathered by the river to say goodbye. With tears in their eyes, Salmon Boy and the villagers sang the Salmon People close to shore. The current was swift. A Shadow thrust its spear into Salmon Boy’s heart. He fell into the River and was swept into the center. A whirlpool formed around him, pulling him down, down, down, and down.
When Salmon Boy returned to Naadaayi Héen a Tayee, he found his soulmate, Ña’ táayaa, waiting for him. He remembered when he looked into her eyes that he had loved her forever.
He has journeyed to many worlds, where he is known and belovéd by many names: Salmon Boy, Tehéatla Sagrado, Nur, Nagual, Pstruh, Qakiidax, Taryaqpak, praNItAcaru, and Brother of the Formless Warriors.
Even now, Salmon Boy lives with the People and his beloved Ña’ táayaa in Naadaayi Héen a Tayee. It is said that every few lifetimes, Salmon Boy returns UpRiver to a village by the River near here.”
So you don’t think there were Grizzly Bears in California in 1999? You might be in for a surprise. To find out more, read this latest excerpt from my novel, Fruit of the Devil. (A short stand-alone thriller with a speculative twist, published in the Santa Cruz Weird anthology, available on Amazon.)
The Fish and Game Warden
Monday morning, May 1, 1999. Corralitos Creek, Santa Cruz County, California
Fish and Game Warden Kelli Cavanaugh drove her truck along the narrow, winding forest road. As the half-ton Dodge 4×4 ascended into the coastal mountains, Warden Cavanaugh kept her eye on the creek that meandered from one side of the road to the other through culverts and under picturesque bridges.
She savored the hint of summer in the warm spring morning, feeling good in spite of the Cal Tip call that had brought her up here.
Someone had allegedly built a dam across the creek and was siphoning off water upstream of the dam during salmon egg hatching season, a critical time for maintaining sufficient water flow for the eggs to hatch and the juveniles to survive the summer. The same individuals were allegedly discharging raw sewage and other effluent downstream.
A disturbing allegation; serious violation of county riparian protection ordinance. Native Coho salmon, keystone species critical to the overall health and biodiversity of the redwood forest ecosystem, were on the verge of extinction. It was Kelli’s job as well as her passion to protect them. Fish and Game Warden wasn’t just a job, but a lifestyle. She put her whole self into being Guardian of Our Wildlife Heritage twenty-four seven, in or out of uniform. She considered it her responsibility to be the voice for all of those creatures who couldn’t speak for themselves, to explain to people how their everyday activities could, even unintentionally, have profound, far reaching, and sometimes extremely adverse effects on wildlife and habitat. She wanted every person she came in contact with to understand that everyone and everything is interconnected, through the ecology of the land, to the heartbeat of Mother Nature.
Kelli had grown up hunting and fishing in wild California with her parents and grandparents. When she was twelve, on a fishing trip in the High Sierra with her family, she’d had an encounter with a Fish and Game Warden. That meeting had been an epiphany. It had been such a positive contact, she’d known right away that she wanted to be a Game Warden herself. From that childhood vision, her resolution had never faltered.
Now she was proud to be one of the 200 game wardens in the state, responsible for protecting more than 1,000 native fish and wildlife species, more than 6,000 native plant species, and approximately 360 endangered species, in one of the most exquisite natural environments in the world – an environment at risk. With 159,000 square miles of land, 36 million people, 1,100 miles of coastline, about 222,000 square miles of ocean waters, 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, 4,800 lakes and reservoirs and 80 major rivers, in addition to deserts, mountains and, of course, urban areas, California Fish and Game Wardens had a lot on their plate, and were understaffed, underappreciated, and underpaid. But hey, who’s counting?
If she transferred to a job in any other branch of law enforcement, she could earn much more, and she wouldn’t be putting her life on the line every day in remote locations without any back-up. But she loved the freedom she had as a game warden, and the immersion in nature, food and balm for the soul, that she couldn’t find in any other line of work.
Kelli checked her watch. 8:30 am. Maneuvering the green Fish and Game Department truck around a bend in the road, she stuck her head out of the open window and sniffed the air. Not a trace of the coastal fog that often clung like ghosts to the trees in the mornings. She could smell the sun-warmed resins of Douglas fir and Redwood needles, smell musty mushrooms nestled in the rich duff of the decomposing forest floor, and taste the cool freshets of the rapidly flowing creek.
All of Warden Cavanaugh’s senses were on high alert, as usual. Kelli wore her duty belt fully equipped today, even though it meant she carried about twenty-three pounds of extra weight. While she steered with one hand, with the other she double checked each item on the utility belt at her hip: her department issue semi-automatic Glock 22, a magazine pouch with two extra clips for her firearm, two sets of cuffs, pepper spray, a Leatherman utility tool, protective gloves, a folding four-inch Buck Knife, and her portable radio.
She’d tucked a small mag light into her pocket. The department issue eight-inch aluminum flashlight and her 24-inch side-handle baton, she’d left off her belt. Not mandatory carry, and too uncomfortable and cumbersome. Both the eight-inch and the thirteen-inch department issue Streamlights were in the truck, if needed. And the shotgun on the rack behind her was clean, oiled and ready for bear, so to speak.
Although not over confident, Kelli did feel competent to defend herself. She was proud of the fact that, of all the law enforcement training academies, the Fish and Game Academy in Napa ran the longest, most rigorous and comprehensive program. Since completing her four-year university degree in Wildlife Biology, Fisheries and Natural Resources Management at Humboldt State and then basic training at the Academy, she’d continued to sharpen her skills in defensive tactics, and had kept in shape through the physical rigors of a job in the wild. She also made a point of regular workouts on her days off. She trained in martial arts, went to a climbing gym, and rowed on the bay, went to target practice, and partner practiced using all of the equipment on her belt.
But today felt like a day she needed assistance. Something about this investigation was putting the hackles up on the back of her neck. Something felt off.
There were often days like today, when the other two field wardens in the county were off duty and, as the only Fish and Game Warden working, she alone was responsible for patrolling not just her own South County beat, but also the entire North County and Marine-Yacht Harbor territories. All three wardens overlapped only three days a week. But even then, she couldn’t count on getting back-up when she requested it. The department was plain understaffed.
I’ve got to at least try to check in. Kelli turned the dial on her Pac system, hoping she could still get a signal from a nearby repeater this far up the mountain. She found the signal from the Loma Prieta repeater and contacted CENCOM, the Fish and Game and State Parks dispatch center. She reported her position and destination, and put in a request for back-up. Then she went on the sheriff’s channel and put in a request for back-up. But she didn’t have much hope that anyone would respond from the sheriff’s office either, with only six Santa Cruz Sheriff’s deputies on duty at any given time to cover the entire county.
Kelli tapped her thumb against the steering wheel. Whatever she was heading into, she had a strong feeling she didn’t want to go in alone.
She lifted her new Nokia cell phone, the first mobile phone she’d ever owned, off its cradle. Reception for these things was spotty, but no harm in giving it a try. She pushed express dial for the number Sheriff Charlie Rosa had given her.
She got his machine. At the beep, please leave a message.
“Sheriff Rosa? This is Warden Cavanaugh. Kelli Cavanaugh. I’m responding to a call about some suspicious activity at 30687 Strider Drive, on Corralitos Creek. The location is close to that meth hooch we found last Fall, where the little girl went missing. Something feels wrong out here today, Charlie. Requesting back-up.”
The cell phone cut out. Reception dead zone this far up the mountain. Surprising she’d gotten any reception at all. As she drove, she continued watching the creek meander from one side of the road to the other.
Kelli slowed as she spotted her destination.
Meth House blinked like a neon sign inside her mind as she cruised by the lot filled with rusted out, wheel-less cars and trucks, broken glass, tangles of barbed wire, overturned metal barrels, discarded decomposing mattresses, a couch with popping springs, and eroding piles of trash. A loosely nailed together shack was falling apart at the waterside.
The warden parked and locked her truck in a narrow pullout a few feet beyond the driveway, then walked back down the road. Kelli hesitated a moment in front a No Trespassing sign nailed to a redwood tree at the head of the dirt driveway, then stepped onto the property. She walked with care, crunching broken glass every few steps. The area felt deserted, almost. She shivered in the sun.
Nauseatingly strong, bitter ammonia-like fumes burned her eyes and nostrils. Her vision blurred as she teared up and stifled a cough. She pulled a kerchief out of her back pocket and held it over her nose and mouth.
At the end of the drive was a black van parked next to a metal shed. The door to the shed stood open. Inside, wire cages, the kind used to transport large dogs, were stacked to the ceiling against one wall. Marijuana plants hanging upside down to dry filled the rest of the shed. The large outer leaves of the plants had been trimmed away, leaving small bright green serrated leaves and two foot long resinous flowering colas, as thick as a man’s arm. Prime sensimilla. Probably more than ten thousand dollars’ worth. The shed reeked with the skunky smell of drying pot.
Warden Cavanaugh pulled a small digital camera out of her shirt pocket, and took pictures of the cages and marijuana.
She walked around back of the shed, disturbing a swarm of black flies and wasps. The sickly sweet smell of blood made her gag. Hanging from a tree were two freshly butchered deer carcasses, blood dripping on the dirt. Poaching. Deer hunting season was six months away. Flies settled back down on a pile of eviscerated deer organs next to an illegal fire pit. Kelli took photos of the mess.
At the very least, on top of drug charges, these poachers were going to be hit with a $1,000 misdemeanor citation, plus penalty assessments and six month’s jail time, not to mention restriction of their hunting privileges for up to three years.
When she reached the stream bank, she photographed the illicit dam, the pump, and the discharge pipe, the empty cans, flasks, plastic tubing, and cooking vessels. Clearly, someone was cooking meth here, and dumping their highly toxic residual chemical waste in the creek. This type of hazard, extremely harmful to humans and the environment, was going to cost as much as $150,000 to clean up.
Kelli inspected the area for any signs of red phosphorous. One sniff of that stuff could kill you. She didn’t see any. But from the way her eyes were tearing, there were obviously Ethyl Ether fumes in the air. Highly flammable.
Meth manufacture had come of age in the last few years. Sometimes, the guys doing the cooking were well-educated chemists, but those meth labs were usually much cleaner than this. The Hells Angels were known to be up to their handlebars in the meth trade. But the tags on the shed didn’t look like the Angels’ handiwork. Kelli turned her head sideways and examined one of the tags closely.
MS-13. AMara Salvatrucha tag! Since when have they been banging in California? What’s going on here? What are these cages all about?
Hair standing up on the back of her neck, Kelli held still, barely breathing, and listened. Water running in the creek, nattering squirrel, squawk of a Steller’s jay.
She knelt to get a better look at the water. Even worse than she’d feared. She leaned over to take close-up shots of dead salmon smolts and fingerlings floating on the water’s surface. A staggering loss.
Excruciating pain. White light
Tuesday, May 2, 1999. Corralitos.
Kelli came to with a stabbing headache, curled in a fetal position on a hard, cold surface. She blinked to make sure her eyes were open. Pitch black. She lifted a hand to her face. No blindfold. But she couldn’t see her hand. Was she actually blind, or just in a completely dark space?
When she moved, even slightly, it hurt everywhere.
The smell of stagnation overwhelmed her. She gagged and wretched, a small amount of stinging bile burning her throat. Need water. She worked some moisture into her mouth with her tongue, spit and swallowed.
Little by little, she moved her arms and legs. Pain. Another wave of nausea.
As she moved, she realized that she was wet where her clothes touched the ground. Blood, or some other liquid?
With her hands, she explored her body for lacerations. The crown of her head was wet; a sticky stream of something ran down the left side of her face. She touched it and winced, then sniffed the sticky liquid on her fingertips. Blood.
Head wound. How bad? Dizzy. Concussion? Need to stay awake. Blood on face is drying, flaking. From the head wound, not cut on the face.This liquid on the ground, then, is not my blood? She touched the liquid beneath her, rubbed her fingers together, smelled it. Somethingslimy and foul.
Where am I? She listened hard for several minutes. A slow water drip.Another sound. Faint. Like a child’s whimper.
Painstakingly, she got onto her hands and knees. Concrete floor. Knees hurt. Head spinning. Carefully, she stood and rolled up through her spine, letting her head come up last. Before she could completely straighten, her shoulders hit the ceiling.
Panic and claustrophobia welled up. She took a slow, deep breath and forced herself to stay calm.
Head and shoulders bent, she lifted her arms and felt overhead. Her fingers ran into a fuzzy sticky mass. Spider web. She shook it off, wiping what clung to her fingers onto her pants.
She raised her hands overhead again. The ceiling curved; a concave shape. Steadying herself with one hand, she took two steps to the right and found a wall. Then she took four steps to the left and found the other wall. She sensed that the walls reached forward and back for a considerable distance. A tunnel. Should I start walking? Which direction?
Suddenly, she remembered her service belt, and her hands flew to her hips. The belt, with all her equipment, gone.
* * * * *
Kelli moaned and rolled onto her side. She opened her eyes, sat up and held her hand in front of her face. Still too dark to see.Or am I blind? Her heart raced. She forced herself to focus on her breathing. Her senses woke to the cold stench in the air, and the wet. Must have passed out again. Did someone hit me again?
She closed her eyes and tried to recall her last conscious thoughts. No. No one’s been here. I just passed out. Still feeling a little dizzy, she inched her way over to the wall and leaned back. Why didn’t the attacker just kill me? With a start, it occurred to her she may have been raped. She felt at her shirt, her pants. Clothes intact, except for this tear on my shoulder. They ripped my radio mic off my shirt. No pain down there.
She had to pee. Cautiously, she stood. Head and shoulders bent under the low ceiling, she braced her hand against the wall, listening intently. The sound of her own breathing rasped loud inside her head. Something else. Water dripping. She held her breath and listened for a long moment. Not another sound.
She had to go, bad. She unfastened her belt, unsnapped and unzipped her pants, pulled down her trousers and panties, squatted, and pissed a long, warm stream. With relief, she noted that it didn’t sting. No one touched me. Thank God for that. She shook herself dry as best she could and pulled her pants back up.
How long have I been down here? Gingerly she explored her head wound. Blood still sticky.Hair matted and stiff. She remembered her camera and searched her pockets. Gone. Must have dropped it when I was hit.
She tried to swallow, but couldn’t. The thirst was suffocating. A jolt of fear ran through her. She had to find drinking water, soon. She had to find a way out. I have to move, or I’ll die down here.
Which direction? She took a small step into the blackness, toward the hollow sound of dripping water. Then another step.
Suddenly, the ground fell out from under her.
Kelli fell into the darkness, banging, clattering, and pounding against metal. By sheer instinct, her hands grasped at something.
Holding onto a metal bar with both hands, her feet swung in nothingness. She dangled over a void. Her arms ached. She struggled to keep her fingers wrapped tightly around the bar.
Stretching out one finger, she touched concrete. This bar seems to be solidly pinned into concrete. She swung, and her feet hit a dirt wall. Below this bar, then, the wall is dirt, not concrete. She kicked against it. Chunks of dirt and rock dislodged and fell. The sound cascaded down a very long way before tinkling, pinging, splashing into water.
Kelli swung like a kid on playground bars, and kicked against the wall again. Again, swinging higher. She got purchase. Her feet wedged and took a little pressure off her arms. She knew she didn’t have much time before her arms and hands gave out and she dropped like that slide of dirt.
Taking a deep breath, she swung her feet up over her head with everything she had. She caught the bar with one heel. Holding on for dear life, she worked her foot over the bar until she had one knee hooked around it. Then she stretched her other leg up and over the bar. Hanging upside down by hands and knees, she rested and caught her breath. She could feel her blood rush to her head. A wave of nausea and dizziness. Head spinning. Don’t black out. She fought to stay conscious. Breathe. Hold on.
Water drops echoed inside the cave of her skull. The wave of vertigo subsided. That sound again, like a child crying.
Carefully, she shifted the tension in her muscles from her hands to her legs. She pried one hand, slick with sweat, off the metal bar and wiped it on her clothes. She switched, wiping the other hand dry, then tightened her grip on the bar with both hands.
For a split second, she imagined herself as a bat hanging upside down in a cave. She almost giggled. Just then, a beam of light flashed on the ceiling overhead.
Light! I’m not blind. Thank you God.
Someone was walking down the tunnel toward her, flashlight beams hitting the cement walls and ceiling. Men’s voices. Kelli froze. She could hear her own heart pounding.
The echoing footfalls stopped. It sounded like they were about ten feet away from her hanging perch.
“Where the fuck is she? Wha’d you do with her, Shithead?” The high-pitched whiney voice made Kelli’s skin crawl.
“We brought her down here like you said, Patron. She was still knocked out when we left her. I put her right over there myself.” English speaker with a Mexican accent.
“Did you touch her?”
“No one fucked her, Patron, I swear. No one touched her. We left her down here just like you said.” A second Mexican accent.
“You stupid bastards.” The one called Patron again. “A fuckin’ game warden. She would’ve just gone away if you hadn’t of wacked her. Now we’ve got a balled-up mess here.”
“Pardon, Señor, but you said your cliente rico wanted a white woman to go with the niña blanca (little white girl).” Speaking Spanish.
“White woman, yeah. But a game warden is like a fuckin’ cop. You don’t kidnap a cop, you stupid son-of-a-bitch.”
“I’m sorry, Señor.” The Spanish speaker, again. “She must of come to and found the way out.”
“In the dark, she could’ve gone that way and fallen over the edge.” English, with a different accent. Salvadoran?
“If she did, all our troubles are over.” The Spanish speaker.
“If she found the way out, she couldn’t of gotten far.” Another Salvadoran.
“Let’s go. We’ve gotta get that bitch.” The whiney voice. Patron. “She’s gonna have to disappear, for good.”
Kelli listened to the echoing footfalls recede. She shivered. Six voices. If she’d decided to go the other way along the tunnel, she would have run right into those men. She dried her sweaty hands on her shirt again, one at time, and counted seconds. Then minutes.
Muscles convulsing. Can’t hold on much longer. A high-pitched squeal, and then a nearby scuffle. Rats!
Move! Go for it. Now or never.
Clinging to the metal bar with hands and knees, she tightened her abs, putting everything she had into a crunching sit-up. Straining, she curled her head to her knees. At the same time, fighting dizziness, she let go of the bar with one hand and reached up, slightly touching with her fingertips the next bar she had gambled would be there. Trembling, she stretched, elongating her torso as much as she could, inching her fingers around the bar. A cramp stabbed her side. Ignore it. Push through the pain. Grasping the bar with one hand so hard it hurt, she lunged.
Once she was holding onto the higher bar with both hands and sitting on the lower bar, she carefully worked her right heel up under herself. She wiggled it until her whole foot wedged onto the metal. Then she shifted all her weight onto that foot, and painfully straightened her knee. Leg muscles cramping and spasming, she pulled up with her hands and pushed up with her right leg until she could place her left foot onto the bar.
Pieces of dried mud from the soles of her boots broke loose and clattered into the water below. It sounded like a long way down.
Kelli took a deep breath and stabilized herself. She was standing on a vertical ladder made of rebar rods cemented into the side of the drop. Her hands firmly grasped the rung above her feet. From here, it was practically a cakewalk to climb back up to the ledge she’d fallen from.
Thankful for the hours spent lifting weights, rock climbing, and rowing on the bay, Kelli pulled herself up over the ledge and rolled onto the wet cement of the tunnel floor. Lying on her back, she caught her breath, and listened. Water dripping.
That other faint sound again, like a child crying. It stopped. Water dripped in black silence.
Something was poking her in the hip. She put her hand in her pocket. The little mag light!
Kelli stood up and switched on the flashlight. She swept its strong beam around the concrete tunnel. She’d seen places like this before. A World War II bunker. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government, convinced that Japan was going to bomb California, built underground bunkers in the mountains all over the west coast. This had to be one of those old military installations.
From where Kelli stood, the cement floor sloped gradually upward, a slimy green trickle running down its center. She started walking.
* * * * *
When Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Detective Sargent Charlie Rosa got the alert, it hadn’t taken him long to assemble a tactical team to assist. He wasn’t going to let those two tattooed Salvatrucha demons slip through his fingers again.
Another child gone missing. This time it was the five-year-old daughter of a Corralitos apple rancher. He had a pretty good idea what would happen to this child if they didn’t find her soon.
While Deputy Jim Jamison drove the curving road along the creek, Detective Rosa, riding shotgun, studied this new missing child’s photo again. Blonde curls framed an innocent, cherub-like face. He put the photograph back in the file.
“We’re not going to lose this one, Jim.”
The young deputy nodded grimly, and checked his rearview mirror. Two vans followed, carrying the tactical swat team and dogs.
“I hope Warden Cavanaugh doesn’t scare them off,” the deputy said.
“Cavanaugh’s a competent law enforcement officer. She knows how to handle herself. But I doubt she has any idea what she’s walking into. Hell, we don’t even know if our perps are really there, or what else is going on.”
“So yeah, Warden Cavanaugh’s definitely an extra wild card in play?”
“Yes. I just wish I’d gotten her cell phone message earlier,” said Detective Rosa. “I’m not used to these damn things. Didn’t think about checking for messages until after we got the missing child alert from dispatch.”
“Can’t beat yourself up about it, Sir. That’s what you always tell me.”
Detective Rosa drummed his fingers on the case file in his lap. “Judging from the time of Cavanaugh’s call, she must have reached the suspects’ hidey-hole hours ago.”
“Anything could have happened by now.”
“Right. Worst case, everyone’s gone, and they took Cavanaugh with them, or left her for dead.”
“I sure hope we get there in time. From what I understand about the way these Mara Salvatruchas work, Sir, if they’ve killed her, she won’t be in one piece when we find her.”
* * * * *
Crying. The sound grew louder as Kelli cautiously made her way up the tunnel. She kept her flashlight off and edged along the wall.
Her hand touched cold metal. Feels like prison bars. The crying is coming from inside.Is there a guard?
Kelli froze, and listened. All her senses strained to detect breathing, any kind of pulse or motion, other than the sound of crying.
Can’t be a hundred percent sure.
Tucking into a defensive position, she flicked on her light and swept the area. No goons.
Inside the cell, a child, hardly more than a toddler, was curled up on a cot. She hugged a teddy bear and stared into Kelli’s light with huge eyes. Tears streaked and blotched her chubby cheeks. She had a snotty nose. Otherwise, the child appeared unharmed.
Kelli moved the light out of the child’s eyes and shined it on herself. She put a finger up to her lips.
“Shusssssh. My name is Kelli. I’m going to get you out of here, sweetie. I’m going to take you home to your mommy. You just need to wait here a little bit longer. Don’t be scared. Stay quiet. I’ll be right back.”
The child hugged her teddy bear tighter, but said nothing. Kelli turned off the flashlight and moved away, up the tunnel.
In the dark, she could feel the slope getting steeper. The ceiling was higher here. After a few minutes, the toe of her boot hit a ledge. She froze, and backed up against the wall. Listen.
Ahead, she could see a thin rectangle of light. A door,with daylight seeping around the edges?
Kelli clicked on her flashlight. Concrete stairs led up to a doorway. Her toe had kicked the bottom step.
Heart racing, she hurried up the stairs.
She stood in front of an old heavy metal door, with a vertical bar handle. What if they locked it? What if a guard was posted right outside? Panic rose in her throat. She took a calming breath.
A piercing squeal.
A rat scuttled over her foot.
Her body jerked. She pushed on the door.
It swung open easily. Crouching just inside the bunker, she blinked, momentarily blinded by bright afternoon sun. As soon as her vision cleared, she did a visual check of the area. No one.
Something rattled in the brush. She froze.
A bird hopped out.
Kelli smiled to herself, and continued to scan her surroundings. Shoe tracks in the dirt led toward the creek.
The bunker was built into the side of a hill, close to the top of the driveway. She quietly closed the heavy door behind her. It was well camouflaged. If you weren’t looking for it, you’d never notice it.
Voices came from down by the creek. Kelli reached for the Glock on her hip, and remembered it was gone.
She tucked and ran out of the driveway. Her truck was still there.
She grabbed the hide-a-key from under the back bumper, threw open the door, and released her shotgun from the rack.
The short barrel 12-gauge semi-automatic, when loaded with double aught Buck Shot, kicked back hard against her hundred and fifteen pounds, so she didn’t fire it unless she had to.
Now, without hesitation, she loaded and racked the gun.
Cradling it in the crook of her arm, staying close to the dense huckleberry and madrone brush that lined the drive, she hustled back toward the voices.
A scream. Then another.
Men were screaming! Blood curdling sounds filled the woods.
A growling roar like a hurricane, like thunder.
A roar like an avalanche. Shouts and screams of primal, animal terror, like nothing she’d ever heard before, shook the trees.
The screaming and roaring was coming from down by that black van and the shed with the cages, where the deer carcasses had been hanging.
Kelli stalked toward the disturbance, shotgun in the crook of her elbow.
As she moved through the woods, fog swirled, rapidly engulfing the trees like a rising tide. Ethyl ether fumes floated on the fog, stinging her eyes. If she did have to discharge her weapon, it would probably blow up the whole camp, including herself.
Chilling fingers of fog wrapped around saplings, vines, fallen logs, and Kelli. The fog quickly grew so thick that everything around her took on a misty, otherworldly quality.
Just as she got to the edge of the clearing where the deer carcasses hung, a human head went flying by her. Blood from the ragged severed neck sprayed her face and clothes.
A deafening roar shook her to the core.
She crouched behind a tree and peered into the clearing.
Standing on its hind legs, mist swirling around him, was the most enormous grizzly bear Kelli had ever seen. Shaggy fur and muzzle were clotted with blood. A cord of intestine dangled from his mouth. Behind the monstrous behemoth, one of the deer carcasses lay on the ground, partially eaten.
In front of the grizzly was the torso of a man, its head and both arms missing. One leg lay some distance away, and the other was twisted behind at an impossible angle. The beast had opened the man’s gut with its sharp, powerful claws and had scooped out a mass of intestines. The stench of the grizzly overwhelmed the smell of blood and spilled bowels.
With the heightened perception that comes from shock, Kelli studied an arm near her feet. It was covered with blue ink tattoos of spiders, skeletons, and skulls. A broken rifle lay in the dirt near the arm.
Other bodies bled out in the dirt. Kelli tried to sort out which ones belonged to the voices she’d heard in the tunnel. Two corpses were eviscerated, dismembered and decapitated. One body still had a head, but was missing an arm and part of a leg. The dead men’s blood pooled and mingled with the drying blood of the hanging deer carcass. Broken weapons were scattered near the bodies. Kelli recognized her own Glock.
Another blood curdling scream. Kelli settled the butt of her shotgun snugly against her shoulder, the weapon pressed against her cheek. She clicked off the safety and, sighting down the barrel, took aim.
The grizzly, on its hind feet, stood at least fifteen feet tall. It held a tattooed man in its front paws. The man was bleeding profusely. One tattooed arm dangled from a torn shoulder by tendons. The beast roared again, an inch from the man’s face.
Kelli could feel the wind of the monster’s breath. The trees around her shook.
Through thick, dreamlike fog, the scene unfolded in slow motion. The grizzly opened its mouth wide, exposing huge, carnivorous teeth and a vivid red tongue.
The bear roared again, shaking the ground.
Kelli felt the man’s screams inside her own body. His face was contorted in a mask of such horror it didn’t look human.
As if viewing the strobing frames of an old time picture show, Kelli watched the bear’s mouth envelope the tattooed man’s entire face. Muffled screams. Crunch of bone and tendon. Spurt of bright red blood.
The bear’s jaw pulled away with a juicy sucking sound, taking the man’s whole face with it.
The grizzly released the limp body from its claws. The body dropped to the ground in a heap of blue ink and crimson blood.
Roaring again, the behemoth turned around. It sniffed the air, then looked straight at Warden Cavanaugh. Its eyes shone with an ancient, eerie intelligence.
Suddenly, it turned its shaggy back on the game warden and, with one swipe of its great paw, knocked the second deer carcass to the ground. Dropping on all fours, the grizzly seized the deer meat in its mouth and disappeared into the mist-shrouded forest.
Kelli stood frozen in place for what seemed like an eternity.
Gradually, she became aware of sirens, of men shouting, lights flashing and dogs barking. She clicked the safety back on her shotgun and lowered it to the ground. Then she vomited, trembling uncontrollably.
The swat team swarmed the area.
“Over here, Captain!”
“Jesus Christ! This one’s still alive.”
“Get a medic over here. Don’t let him bleed out. Keep him breathing. We’ve gotta find out what he knows.”
“Call an ambulance. Hurry!”
“The dogs are going nuts! What the hell was that? Did you see it?”
“Hold the dogs! Don’t let them go after that thing.”
“Don’t fire your weapons, for God’s sake, or we’ll have an explosion!”
“Find the girl. Search the premises.”
“Kelli! Warden Cavanaugh! Are you hurt? Talk to me. Kelli!”
The smell of blood was so overwhelming, Kelli felt like she was drowning in it. She threw up again. A strong arm held her shoulders.
Someone gently wiped her face with a cool damp cloth. It smelled like fresh laundry.
“It’s not her blood, Sergeant Rosa. No cuts on the face or neck. She appears to be uninjured, just in shock. Oh, wait. There’s a nasty wound on the top of her head. It’s stopped bleeding, though.”
Someone held a water bottle up to her mouth. She took the bottle and, with help, filled her mouth with cold fresh water. She swirled it and spit blood. Blood that had sprayed her from the severed head. Don’t look at it. Again, and again, she swished fresh, clean water, gargled, spit. Finally, she drank.
She met Detective Rosa’s eyes.
“Charlie, I know where the little girl is. I can show you.”
The child was rescued from her cell and taken down the mountain to her parents.
The ambulance drove away, sirens blaring, with the lone survivor of the mauling, unconscious and barely holding on to life, minus an arm and leg.
The fog cleared.
The team secured the area. They photographed body parts from various angles, and made plaster casts of tracks. With professional precision, they collected fingerprints and DNA samples from the wire dog cages and the van, and scoured the grounds for other evidence.
Once the forensics team had completed their work and the human remains had been bagged and removed, the county Hazmat team would begin cleaning up the meth kitchen and restoring the creek habitat. Back at the crime lab, they were going to have a hell of a job putting all the pieces together again.
Kelli sat in her truck with Detective Rosa. He’d finished taking her formal statement.
“We won’t be getting a statement out of our two tattooed shooting suspects now,” said Charlie, “but I think a forensics investigation of their remains will prove we found our perps for the Salvador Luna murder. We don’t have to worry about those killers getting the justice they deserve.”
Kelli squeezed an emergency cold pack to activate it, and held it to her forehead. “With any luck that scum bag who’s still alive will hang on long enough to fill us in on all the other abductions.”
“Sorry, Kelli, but sex traffic is a black hole. Those other kids could be anywhere in the world by now, if they’re still alive, which is unlikely. At least we saved one child today, thanks to you.”
“Plus we cleared out a nest of vermin,” said Kelli.
“Think we ‘ve accounted for all the voices you heard in the bunker? Did we just cut the whole cancer out?”
Kelli closed her eyes. “There were six men. Two were Salvadorans.”
“Salvadorans? You sure?”
“Distinctive accent. Those tatted Salvadorans are definitely dead. Yes. It seems like there’s a body to go with each of the other voices I heard, except . . . Wait. One’s missing. I think the one they called Patron, with a whiney voice.” Kelli opened her eyes and stared into the forest. “Earlier, during all the screaming, I thought I saw a man in a striped suit running into the woods.
“None of the bodies we found were dressed in a suit.”
Kelli moved the cold pack to the back of her neck. “I think we’ll find human tracks leading away from camp, running in the opposite direction from that – that beast. Maybe Patron got away.”
“And the ‘beast’? What the hell was that thing?” Detective Sargent Rosa’s eyebrows pulled together. “Did you get a good look at it?”
“I’ve been trying to make sense of what I saw, Charlie. I was close enough to see everything. Too close. But what I think I saw just doesn’t compute.”
“It was a bear, right?”
“It was the biggest bear I’ve ever seen.”
“But… we don’t have bears here, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Do we?”
“As a matter of fact, although sightings are still rare, the core population of black bears in the state has been expanding over the last few years. Most of them are in the High Sierra but we know there are also a few in the Southern Coast Mountain Ranges. They’ve been expanding into habitat that, a hundred years ago, was traditional grizzly range. To date, I haven’t heard of any bears in the Santa Cruz Mountains but of course, anything is possible.”
“So, it really could have been a bear, then.”
“Well, yes, and no.” Kelli’s forehead furrowed. “It’s possible a black bear could be in this area. Bears have a keen sense of smell. A bear in the area would certainly have been drawn to the camp by the scent of those deer carcasses. But… Charlie, that was no black bear.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I saw, …” Kelli answered, “The bear I think I saw was, well . . . It had that distinctive hump on its back. Charlie, that was a California Grizzly Bear. Ursus arctos californicus. The California Golden Bear. A subspecies of the North American brown bear. That beast was definitely a grizzly. But it was far larger than any other grizzly I’ve ever heard of, except for maybe Monarch.”
“The mythical ‘Big Bear of Tallac’, the captive grizzly whose picture is on the California Bear Republic Flag.”
Sargent Rosa shook his head.
“California Grizzlies were systematically extirpated in the 19th century. William Randolph Hearst hired a journalist, Allen Kelley, to capture one of the last known wild grizzlies in the 1880’s, as a publicity stunt. Kelley caught the famous Monarch Bear on Samhain, Halloween, 1889, and brought him to San Francisco. They kept Monarch on exhibit at Woodwards Gardens, and he lived in captivity for twenty-two years. Thousands of people from all over the world came to see him. Monarch was the model for the bear on the California state flag. He became the poster bear for the rejuvenation of San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake, and the totem animal of the state of California. Then, one day, he just disappeared. Without a trace. It’s said he embodies the heart, soul, and spirit of California.”
“So, you’re saying that monster who mauled our suspects was a California Grizzly Bear?”
“Um, well. What I’m saying is, it looked like a grizzly. It couldn’t have been a black bear. The adult American black bear, Ursus americanus, can grow to weigh about 600 pounds. Males average around three hundred to four hundred fifty pounds. The creature I saw was far bigger than that. The largest grizzly ever known weighed 2,200 pounds. I’d say our beast weighed a good deal more than that. But, um, our beast couldn’t possibly have been a grizzly, Charlie.”
“Well, ah, grizzlies used to come down to this very creek from the high mountains every year during spawning season to feast on the salmon. But the last California Grizzly was shot and killed in Tulare County, near what is now Sequoia National Park, in the summer of 1924. Ursus arctos californicus has been extinct for nearly a hundred years.”
The Fish and Game Warden and the County Sheriff’s Detective sat in the green truck in silence, pondering.
Finally, Kelli spoke.
“Charlie, do you know how to tell a black bear from a grizzly?”
“Well, I … no. Tell me.”
“Well, if you see a bear, run like hell and climb up a tree. If it’s a black bear, it’ll climb up after you. If it’s a grizzly, it’ll just knock your tree down.”
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“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”
Six years ago, in my first draft of Fruit of the Devil, I described my protagonist’s research into the multinational corporate persons who control global chemical-intensive agriculture. The passage is obviously too long to include in my novel, but a friend recently encouraged me to resurrect this buried limb of Fruit of the Devil, and to call it “The Devil’s Family Tree”.
The information seems important, even if it’s too much to stuff into a novel. So here, to the best of my research ability, is how I believe that methyl bromide, brilliantly marketed as an “essential” agricultural pesticide, is really a nothing but a toxic waste product of the petrochemical industry. How did they get us to buy that, and Eat it on our food?????? Methyl Bromide hasn’t gone away yet. And the strategies these corporations use to dupe the public are well-honed and still being used. I think we need to know how they’re playing us.
“The soil is, as a matter of fact, full of live organisms. It is essential to conceive of it as something pulsating with life, not as a dead or inert mass.” Albert Howard, The Soil and Health, 1947
The Devil’s Family Tree: Who are the Multinational Corporate Persons that control our world?
Chapter 55. Monday, April 18, 1999. Passover Begins at Sundown.
Aurora sat propped up in her big bed, with several fat pillows stuffed behind her back. It was raining hard. It had been raining all weekend, without any breaks in the storm. Aurora leaned back against her pillows and enjoyed the sound of the rain on the roof. Suddenly, the sound shifted, like gravel falling from the sky. Hail!
Blue jumped off the bed and went to the glass door. As he watched the falling hail, the tip of his tail twitched. Aurora stood next to the large black cat, looking out. The hail subsided, turning into a pounding rain. The frozen beads on the ground and on the hot tub cover quickly melted. Aurora crawled back into bed, snuggled the comforter up around her, pulled her knees up to her chest and settled back against her pillows to resume her research.
Like following a thread through a labyrinth, she read over the material again. It was complicated. Bit-by-bit, the muddied waters were beginning to clear. She was beginning to understand who, hidden in the tangled web of interlocking corporate directorates, was responsible for methyl bromides’ persistence as an agricultural pesticide, in blatant disregard of all the legislation requiring its phase-out. She was starting to see how the system was being manipulated, and who was pulling the strings.
Who Are the Bromide Barons? Just three corporations account for most of the world’s methyl bromide production. The Great Lakes Chemical Corporation and Albemarle in the US, and a Tel Aviv-based subsidiary called the Dead Sea Bromine Group control over seventy-five percent of global production of the pesticide. Their affiliated corporations in France and Japan, together with North Sea Bromine, Alumina Belgique, and Dubai Potash are responsible for the remaining production. The global bromine industry is an oligopoly, Aurora read, controlled by Albemal and the Dead Sea Bromine Group.
Another downpour of hail battered the roof like machine gun fire. Through the glass door Aurora watched frozen white beads beat up the ragged daffodils. The hail turned into sheeting rain again, and she went back to her reading.
These three companies are joined by Trical Corporation in California, which, together with its affiliated companies, dominates methyl bromide fumigation in the United States. A number of large agribusiness corporations, such as Sun Diamond Growers Cooperative, as well as the large California strawberry shipper-cooler conglomerates also play a central role in the political-economic battle over methyl bromide.
These key players have worked together on local, national and global initiatives, including propaganda, intimidation, and outright buy-outs of politicians, to fight the phase-out of this acutely toxic, ozone-depleting chemical. The Barons of Bromide strive to perpetuate methyl bromide use through industry associations, such as the Methyl Bromide Working Group, the Methyl Bromide Global Coalition, the Crop Protection Coalition, and the Agricultural Workers Committee.
Aurora had been over this material before, but she still felt like she was missing something. She sensed there was something more, something bigger driving all of this. Albemarle and affiliates controlled most of the world’s methyl bromide production. But who, she wondered, was the wizard in the closet behind Albemarle?
She climbed out of bed, wrapped herself in a warm fleece bathrobe decorated with polar bears and penguins, snuggled her feet into fleece slippers, and headed for the kitchen. Blue padded next to her, apparently hoping that, if he stayed tight on her heels, she would remember to feed him. She looked down at the fat cat and laughed.
“OK. Breakfast time. Here you go.” The sound of the cat kibble pouring into the bowl made a counterpoint to the rain on the roof, now a gentle, steady patter.
Aurora topped off her mug with hot Earl Grey tea, toasted an English muffin, spread with butter and olallieberry jam, sat down at her kitchen desk and turned on the computer. She typed in “Albemarle”, and clicked on “Search”.
Albemal began in 1887 as a US paper manufacturing company. Paper manufacturing, Aurora knew, was a dirty, highly polluting industry. She and her students had recently read a book by Lynne Cherry, A River Ran Wild,telling the story of a paper mill’s destruction of the Nashua River in Massachusetts. How it had come to light that the river was so polluted it was spontaneously catching on fire, and this had led, after a protracted struggle by the public, to the passage of the US Clean Water Act in 1965. Growing public awareness and concerns about the environment had ultimately led to the formation of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.
“In 1921, a team of chemists performing research forGeneral Motors discovered tetraethyllead(TEL) had antiknock properties as a gasoline additive. As a result, the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation in Richmond, Virginia began production of tetraethyllead in 1937. TEL remained the primary product of the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation through the next four decades. When the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation expanded its product line (particularly to include MMT), its name was changed to the Ethyl Corporation. The Albemarle Paper Manufacturing Company borrowed $200 million in 1962 and purchased Ethyl Corporation, a company more than thirteen times its size.”
So Albemal, a little Arkansas paper company, merged with the Ethyl Corporation in 1962. Ethyl? Gasoline? Paper and petrochemicals? Aurora read on. In ’68, the Ethyl/Albemal company acquired a bromide chemical plant in Arkansas from Dow Chemical. Dow Chem, the ozone eating chlorofluorocarbon manufacturer?
Albemarle continued to expand and diversify into chemicals, plastics, aluminum and energy, netting millions in profit. In the ‘90’s the company sharpened its focus on its core chemical businesses, forming an alliance with a Japanese chemical company, Dead Sea Bromine, and Dubai Potash. It also acquired an oil fields chemicals plant, giving Albemarle access to customers in the North Sea. Oil fields chemicals? In 1997, Albemarle restructured into two business units: Polymer Chemicals and Fine Chemicals.
So Albemarle Paper merged with Ethyl Gasoline? Aurora remembered hearing something about Ethyl gasoline when she was a child. She Goggled “Ethyl”, and read:
“In 1920, the DuPont family consolidated its grip over General Motors. During this period, a team of scientists perfected an anti-knock gasoline additive that boosted octane content. After first marketing the “no knock” tetraethyl lead (TEL) in 1922, GM- DuPont formed a 50-50 joint venture with one of the most powerful petroleum corporations on the planet – Standard Oil – and its New Jersey subsidiary, which later became known as Exxon, to produce and market the chemical. The new company was called the Ethyl Corporation.”
So, Albemarle Paper Company became the world’s largest producer of methyl bromide, after a merger with Ethyl no knock gasoline, which was created by General Motors, DuPont, and Standard Oil. Bells and whistles started going off. Standard Oil!? Oh, my God. One of the most powerful petroleum corporations on the planet was somehow behind methyl bromide. The wizard, the puppeteer pulling the strings of the TriCal King of Poisoners, was now standing just behind the curtain, and his face was covered in oil.
Aurora kept reading.
“Almost immediately, Ethyl ran into trouble. Scientists raised concerns that automobiles running on leaded gasoline were ‘a serious menace to the public health.’ In 1924, the story broke that 80% of the workers who produced tetraethyl lead had either been killed or were suffering acute poisoning. Employees suffered such severe nerve damage and extensive hallucinations at one refinery that it was dubbed ‘the House of Butterflies.’ Ethyl, supported by its owners – DuPont, General Motors, and Exxon/Standard Oil – fought back against concerns of scientists and the public.”
“Corporate publicists contradicted a growing body of scientific evidence with a bold public relations and lobbying campaign, hiring a journalism professor from Columbia University to place favorable articles in newspapers, and run full page ads touting the product in Life Magazine and other popular journals. General Motors’ director of research told the American Medical Association that, ‘there is absolutely no danger of acquiring lead poisoning, even through prolonged exposure to exhaust gases of cars using Ethyl gas.’ ”
“There’s absolutely no danger… Our product is perfectly safe. Don’t worry about a thing. We’re the experts. Trust us. We’ll keep you safe.” Where had she heard that before? “Noooooo problem. Don’t worry your little head about the pesticides. We’ll take care of you.”
Aurora addressed Blue, who was meticulously cleaning his paws and whiskers. “Can you believe this, Blue? Way back in 1924, Standard and Ethyl Big Oil were already colluding with General Motors and DuPont Chemical, creator, along with Dow, of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, to spin junk science and propaganda. Way back then, they were already successfully manipulating the public into believing that their poisonous concoctions were safe. They’ve had decades to perfect their propaganda. No wonder they’ve been able to trick the public into believing that growing food with poisons is good for us.” Blue blinked his big yellow eyes, said Meow, then sauntered off to the window seat to watch the rain. Aurora turned back to the computer screen.
“The campaign to promote Ethyl and protect its market share was highly successful. A Surgeon General’s panel of scientists called for further study, but the required studies were never conducted. General Motors produced high-compression engines that ran only on leaded gasoline, further assuring Ethyl’s successful capture of the market share. By 1940, 70% of all US gasoline contained deadly Ethyl. Competitor’s products were driven out of the market – the same fate that befell the refrigerants that were rivals of GM-DuPont’s chlorinated fluorocarbon ‘Freon’. ”
“Hum,” thought Aurora. “Required studies were never conducted. Well, that’s familiar. Just like the way they’ve never bothered to complete the tests on methyl bromide that were required by the California Birth Defects Prevention Act. How do they get away with that?”
The rain got louder. Aurora stretched, and gazed through the sliding glass door. Rain was coming down in solid sheets, blowing nearly sideways. The patio and the garden paths were flooding. All the trees were blowing wildly. She shuffled into her living room and watched through the bay window. The water had risen almost to curb level. Something orange bobbed on the water flooding toward the storm drain.
Continuing her house inspection, she opened the door from the laundry room off the kitchen into her garage, which she used as an art studio. The floor was still dry. She checked the whole house, looking for signs of moisture on the ceilings, and along seals around doors and windows. Everything looked dry and snug. She turned on the gas wall heater that warmed her cottage. The gas ignited and the heater made a comforting purring sound. Aurora suppressed her misgivings about the environmental impact of heating her house with gas and sat back down at the computer. She continued reading, wondering how long she had before the power went out.
So Ethyl, Albemale, and methyl bromide. Ethyl/Albemarle’s involvement in the methyl bromide business had its roots in Ethyl’s leaded gasoline business. When tetraethyl lead was invented back in the 1920’s, it turned out that the product left a corrosive byproduct in the engine. The solution that Ethyl’s scientists found was to add a chemical called ethylene dibromide (EDB) to the mix. Ethyl first produced “no knock” EDB in 1934 by extracting bromine from sea water in a joint venture with Dow Chemical. This process was replaced in 1969 by a joint venture between Ethyl and an Albemarle subsidiary located near an Arkansas salt marsh. The new process used concentrated brine drilled from deep beneath the salt marsh to make bromine.
In 1972, the same year it banned DDT, the US government finally ordered the phase out of leaded gasoline in the US. Since the House of Butterfliesstory had first been suppressed, it had been a run of almost fifty years that deadly ethyl gasoline was successfully marketed in almost every tank.
Ethyl/Albemarle quickly responded to the government-mandated phase out of Ethyl with a three track strategy. First, they continued to aggressively claim that leaded gasoline emissions posed absolutely no human health hazards. Although studies found that, after elimination of TEL leaded gasoline, the level of lead in American’s blood fell as much as 75%, Ethyl/Albemarle continued to dismiss all evidence of the hazards of tetraethyl lead.
Second, they globalized production and distribution, developing international markets for leaded “anti-knock” gasoline. To compensate for the decline in the domestic consumption of tetraethyl lead, Ethyl globalized leaded gasoline. Consequently, TEL is responsible for nearly 90% of airborne lead pollution in Third World cities today.
Finally, Ethyl/Albemarle diversified their US production. Faced with a steadily diminishing market for leaded gasoline, they sought to find other uses for the vast salt brine reserves they had been using to produce the ethylene dibromide (EDB) additive to TEL. They marketed EDB as an agricultural chemical, encouraging its use in grain storage silos and as a pesticide applied directly to crops. In 1983, the US Environmental Protection Agency banned EDB as a pesticide, finding that it posed an unacceptable cancer risk. Cakes, breads and cereals containing EDB were recalled from supermarket shelves.
Despite the setback, Ethyl/Albemal rapidly expanded their bromine production, ultimately cornering all of the US bromide production and one-third of the bromide production world-wide. They developed a bromide product line that included flame retardants, drilling fluids, water treatment chemicals, cleaning solvents, glass making, detergents, pesticides, photographic chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.
To the rhythm of the falling rain, Aurora heard inside her head that song from the Dr. Seuss movie, The Lorax, that she showed to her students every year. The song about all of the many, many uses that could be made out of Thneeds, those things that the Onceler made out of chopped down trees. …drilling fluids, water treatment chemicals, cleaning solvents, glass making, detergents, pesticides, photographic chemicals, pharmaceuticals “And thneeds are what everyone, everyone needs!” The Lorax
She went over the material again in her mind, wondering why she’d never heard this story before. Everyone should know about this, she thought. People should know how our lives and our world are being manipulated. So, it took from 1924 to 1972 for the government to finally ban leaded gasoline, even though the science proving that leaded gas was a deadly toxin had been available from the beginning. And, once it was finally banned in the US, the companies just sold it overseas, plus they remixed the same chemicals and re-marketed them under a different name for different uses, including as agricultural pesticides. The people that do these things must be so cynical, thought Aurora.
A bolt of lightening lit the sky, followed by a satisfying crack of thunder. Thunderstorms were fairly rare on the Central California coast. Aurora hurried to the window to watch for another lightening flash. Another bolt forked across the dark sky. Aurora counted the seconds. … one thousand five. Caboom! went the thunder, followed by a downpour. Aurora returned to the computer.
One of their products, a highly profitable brominated fire retardant called tetrabromobisophenol-A (TBBA), they sold to the electronics industry for use in the manufacture of fire-resistant epoxy circuit boards and personal computer housing. A by-product of TBBA is methyl bromide.
OK, thought Aurora. So, here comes the methyl bromide.
In a brilliant marketing move, Ethyl/Albemarle promoted methyl bromide, the toxic waste from the manufacture of TBBA, as a substitute for the carcinogenic pesticide EDB, which the government had mandated to be phased out. Methyl bromide quickly became a strategic product for Ethyl/Albemarle.
“Oh, perfect. So, methyl bromide is toxic waste that they figured out how to sell us as a substitute for a banned carcinogenic pesticide. Cute. These people are clever as hell, Blue.” The cat was still watching the rain. He didn’t bother to turn around and look at her, but simply flicked the tip of his tail in response.
Albemarle produced methyl bromide under a licensing agreement with Dow Chemical. Monsanto, the giant corporate arm that controls a large share of the powerful berry cooler-shipper business, assured the ongoing demand for methyl bromide in the California berry industry, which accounts for 80% of all US strawberry production.
“Monsanto? The entire Devil’s Family is in the room now. Of course. You could have guessed that, right, Blue? ” Blue flicked his tail and batted at Aurora’s hand, then left the room. Aurora squinted at the computer screen.
Today, with the rapid growth of the computer industry, demand for TBBA is increasing world-wide. In response, Albemarle is increasing its TBBA production, and with it, the amount of methyl bromide byproduct generated. If ever the International Montreal Protocol’s ban on methyl bromide is actually enforced in the US, methyl bromide will cease to be a highly profitable pesticide, and instead will become, for the Ethyl/Standard Oil/General Motors/DuPont/Exxon/Dow/Monsanto/Albemarle cartel a toxic waste disposal liability.
Holy shit., Batman. Monsanto, General Motors, Dow Chemical and Standard Oil. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Aurora stood before the screen as the curtain lifted. She could finally see who was pushing the buttons, pulling the levers and dancing the puppets on the strings. The wizard had a face. But not a human face. It was the face of one of the oldest and most powerful petrochemical corporations on the planet. Standard Oil, with the tentacles of an ancient and evil octopus.
Lightening and thunder cracked the sky. The surge protector clicked off. The computer monitor flickered, and went black. Aurora tried a light switch. The electricity was down. She groped her way into her garage and flipped the switches on the circuit breaker. No power. But the gas heater continued to purr. Aurora unrolled her yoga mat. She kicked off her slippers, pulled off her robe and nightgown, tossing them on the nearest chair, and began a naked sun salutation. She spent an hour practicing yoga, as the thunder and lightening continued. Then she took a hot shower, grateful for her gas water heater, but thinking she should look into solar water heating. Somehow, she had to get off her fossil fuel gas and oil dependency.
Dressing in comfortable sweats, she sat cross-legged on floor pillows and meditated in the gloamy light, focusing on her breathing while she chanted her Mata Amritanandamayi mantra. By the time she finished meditating, the squall had passed. She checked the lights. On. She felt grateful to whomever the heroes were who were out there in the deluge doing the difficult and dangerous work of restoring electricity to neighborhoods with downed power lines. What a wonderful thing, electricity. Living in the age of fossil fuel. An age ushered in, to a large extent, by the big oil companies…
There were so many contradictions to come to terms with, living in these times. Where did her electricity come from? Every year, she asked her students that, and together, they discovered the answer for their locality. Moss Landing. The Moss Landing Power Plant, across the highway from the Moss Landing Harbor. It had generated electricity for Pacific Gas and Electric customers by burning oil up until the 1970’s, and then had converted to natural gas.
Thank God there were no longer dirty oil tankers coming into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to refuel the power plant, with their ever-looming threat of oil spills. But still, gas was a fossil fuel, too. A non-renewable resource. It was becoming more and more clear, Aurora thought, that any process involving the extraction of materials from the earth – coal, oil, gas, blood diamonds . . . all of it, when you scratched the surface, turned out to be dirty, destructive, and toxic, and controlled by people willing to do anything – lie, steal, cheat, destabilize countries, ruin watersheds, and even knowingly let people die – just so they could make their obscenely huge profits. Why? Was it the amassing of more and more wealth that these people were addicted to? Or was there something else driving the insatiable desire of these hungry ghosts? Power, lust?
Standard Oil and methyl bromide. Well, that was certainly interesting. So, the petrochemical industry, the oil companies, actually owned the pesticide industry. The Methyl Bromide Barons essentially worked for the Frankenstein ghost of Standard Oil. Maybe the CEO’s of all the corporations were one and the same people. Interlocking corporate boards of directors.
It was time to figure out another way. To get free of pesticides, and clear of as many petrochemicals as possible. Although they seemed to be everywhere, in everything she touched, from food, to clothing, furniture, plastics, and gasoline. Aurora resolved once and for all that she was going to find out how to at least get her energy – her light, heat, transportation – through sustainable, renewable means, as much as she could. For starters, she was going to look into putting solar hot water and electricity on her house, as soon as possible. Eventually, maybe should could get an all electric car to plug into her home solar system. She didn’t want to be a participant or an enabler of this country’s fossil fuel addiction any longer.
The phone rang.
Aurora didn’t pick it up. She let the machine take it and listened to the auto dialer’s message. The fire department was letting everyone know that, due to the unusual El Niño conditions, severe storms were expected to continue for the next three days. Flooding was expected in most areas. Residents who needed sandbags could pick them up at the nearest fire station. And there were flood evacuation centers at the following locations…..
Aurora made herself a tuna sandwich. Blue circled her ankles like a shark. Taking her sandwich plate to her desk, she googled Standard Oil.
The first hit was a link to an article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “The Dismantling of the Standard Oil Trust”.
Aurora clicked on the link, and read: “The saga of Standard Oil ranks as one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the U.S. economy. It occurred at a time when the country was undergoing its rapid transformation from a mainly agricultural society to the greatest industrial powerhouse the world has ever known. The effects of Standard Oil on the U.S., as well as on much of the rest of the world, were immense, and the lessons that can be learned from this amazing story are possibly as relevant today as they were a century ago.
Standard Oil Company was founded by John D. Rockefeller in Cleveland, Ohio in 1870. In just a little over a decade, through a variety of cutthroat and often violent strategies, it had attained control of nearly all the oil refineries in the U.S.
During this period, a brilliant inventor, Rudolf Diesel, was promoting his diesel engine, which ran on clean peanut oil. Diesel was mysteriously murdered, and his plant seized and burned. Immediately after Diesel’s murder, Standard Oil rolled out a petroleum distillate called diesel gasoline to take the place of clean bio-diesel. The mysterious death of Rudolf Diesel cleared away one of Standard Oil’s most serious competitors.
By 1878 Rockefeller had attained control of nearly 90 percent of the oil refined in the U.S., and shortly thereafter he had gained control of most of the oil marketing facilities in the U.S.
Standard Oil initially focused on horizontal integration (i.e., at the same stage of production) by gaining control of other oil refineries. But gradually the integration also became vertical (i.e., extended to other stages of production and distribution), mainly by acquiring pipelines, railroad tank cars, terminal facilities and barrel manufacturing factories. It was the first of the great corporate trusts.
A trust was an arrangement whereby the stockholders in a group of companies transferred their shares to a single set of trustees who controlled all of the companies. In exchange, the stockholders received certificates entitling them to a specified share of the consolidated earnings of the jointly managed companies. The trustees elected the directors and officers of each of the component companies, and all of the profits of those companies were sent to the trustees, who decided the dividends. This arrangement allowed all of the companies to function in unison as a highly disciplined monopoly. The unified organization of the trust finally made the disciplined regulation of production levels possible, thereby giving its owners complete control over prices. Massive and unprecedented profits of Standard Oil were made possible by this control over prices, the huge economies of scale attained from the control of almost all oil refined in the U.S. and the ability to pressure railroads and other suppliers of goods and services into giving them bargain rates.
Rockefeller became the first billionaire in the U.S. However, even this unprecedented wealth and power was not enough. Rockefeller and Standard Oil needed ever more. The company thus expanded into the overseas markets, particularly Western Europe and Asia, and after a while it was selling even more oil abroad than in the U.S. Moreover, Rockefeller, in addition to his role as the head of Standard Oil, also invested in numerous companies in manufacturing, transportation and other industries and owned major iron mines and extensive tracts of timberland.
The astonishing success of Standard Oil encouraged others to follow the Rockefeller business model, particularly in the booming final decades of the 19th century. Trusts were established in close to 200 industries, although most never came close to Standard Oil in size or profitability. Among the largest were railroads, coal, steel, sugar, tobacco and meatpacking.
This dominance of oil, together with its tentacles entwined deep into the railroads, other industries, influential private foundations, and even various levels of government, persisted and intensified, despite a growing public outcry and repeated attempts to break it up. There was widespread disgust and revulsion, not only among the many people who had their businesses or jobs wiped out by the ruthless predatory tactics of the trusts, but also by countless others who were affected by the increased costs and reduced levels of service that often resulted from the elimination of competition.
The monopolization of the economy became a major topic for the independent print media, which helped to create a widespread awareness not only of the effects of this consolidation but also of the techniques that were being used to attain it, including the extensive use of fraud, political corruption and physical violence.
The media attack on monopolies and corruption reached a peak from 1902 to 1912, which is often referred to as the muckraking decade. The muckrakers helped bring about an unprecedented era of reform. The U.S. Supreme Court was finally able to act decisively in 1911. Pioneering legislation was passed, aimed at restoring free competition to the economy and at protecting the food supply along with other measures designed to stop the excesses and abuses of corporate greed.
1911 was also a pivotal year for the petroleum industry in another respect. It was the year in which the U.S. market for kerosene (until then the main product from oil refining) was surpassed by that for a formerly discarded byproduct of the refining process — gasoline.
Wind rattled the windows. Rain hammered on the roof. Another squall was hitting the coast. Aurora got up and put her sandwich plate in the sink. She clicked on the gas under the teakettle. While she waited for the water to boil, she watched the storm through the window. A large branch broke off a cedar tree across the street and fell onto the neighbor’s yard, barely missing the car in their driveway. A tall palm tree down the block was bending sideways. Huge palm fronds flew through the air. Rain lashed against the front of Aurora’s house, blowing off the bay at nearly gale force. The street was a muddy, turbulent river. Water was rising up over the sidewalk. This has to be a hundred year storm, Aurora thought. She couldn’t remember anything like it.
The Muckrakers. Aurora remembered having learned about muckrakers when she was in high school. The conditions today seemed so similar to back then. Globalization of the economy was leading to monopolization and control by big corporations, job loss, exploitation of workers, fraud, political corruption, predatory lending all over the world. Just like Standard Oil took over the U.S. economy a hundred years ago, the World Trade Organization was becoming even more powerful than sovereign nations today, in its control of the global economy. And the US Supreme Court had given corporations the legal status and constitutional rights of “personhood”. Where was the independent media? Where were the muckrakers? Why wasn’t the public being made aware of what was happening?
The teakettle whistled. Aurora made herself a cup of instant Miso soup with seaweed and shitake mushrooms. Stirring the savory soup, she took her cup back to the desk, woke up the computer, and continued reading.
In spite of the outraged public sentiment awakened by the muckrakers, it took the government a long time to take effective measures to deal with the abusive tactics by Standard Oil and other monopolies. The strong desire on the part of the monopolies for preventing government intervention undoubtedly played a major role in this delay.
But the vehement public opposition to the trusts, especially among farmers who protested the high charges for transporting their products to the cities by railroad, finally resulted in the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890. This was the first measure enacted by the U.S. Congress to prohibit trusts. The Sherman Antitrust Act, based on the constitutional power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce, authorized the Federal Government to dissolve the trusts. It was passed by an overwhelming vote of 51-1 in the Senate and a unanimous vote of 242-0 in the House, and it was signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison.
Roosevelt, who became president in 1901, preferred regulation to dismantling. He attempted to steer a middle course between the socialism favored by some reformers and the laissez faire approach advocated by the Republicans. His hand was strengthened by an increasingly outraged public, which, although leery of government intervention in the past, had become far more supportive of it because of the seemingly endless growth in the numbers and power of the monopolies.
Several steps were taken by Roosevelt during his first term that proved highly successful despite intensive efforts by big business to block them. They included: (1) Convincing Congress to establish a Department of Commerce and Labor, the first new executive department since the Civil War, in order to increase the federal government’s oversight of the interstate actions of big business and to monitor labor relations. (2) Setting up the Bureau of Corporations in the new department in order to find violations of existing antitrust legislation. The Bureau soon began investigations into the oil, steel, meatpacking and other industries. (3) Instructing his attorney general to launch a total of 44 lawsuits against what were determined to be harmful business combinations, among which was the Standard Oil Trust.
The Court ordered the Standard Oil Trust to dismantle 33 of its most important affiliates and to distribute the stock to its own shareholders and not to a new trust. The result was the creation of a number of completely independent (although eight of them retained the phrase Standard Oil in their names) and vertically integrated oil companies, each of which ranked among the most powerful in the world. This decision also paved the way for new entrants into the industry, such as Gulf and Texaco, which discovered and exploited vast new petroleum deposits in Texas. The consequent vigorous competition gave a big impetus to innovation and expansion of the oil industry as a whole.
Historians of the future will likely continue to view the dissolution of the Standard Oil Trust as an important milestone in the unending struggle to restore and preserve free competition in the U.S. economy. Yet, they will no doubt note developments in the second half of the 20th Century turning the tide again in favor of transnational corporate control of the U.S. and global economy and a new era of monopoly creation on a global scale. And they might also be far more concerned than their predecessors about the failure of the market mechanism, and of society as a whole, to address an issue of at least equally great importance: namely, the inexorable rush to consume and deplete what increasingly appears to be the very finite resources of planet earth, virtually regardless of the consequences.”
Aurora’s eyes grew heavy. She shut off the computer, moved the sleeping cat over and flopped down on the couch, pulling a blanket over herself and Blue. She picked up her new book from the coffee table, opened it, and began reading. The Heat is On: the Climate Crisis, the Cover-Up, the Prescription by Ross Gelbspan. The rain fell softly. In a few minutes, Aurora was asleep.
She was underwater, wrestling a giant octopus. It sprayed black, oily, toxic ink into the water. Through the shadowy muck she could make out many other writhing figures – humans, penguins, polar bears, enormous salmon with human faces, strangling and struggling in the tentacles of the monster. She was drowning.
“Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son? And where have you been my darling young one? I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’, I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world. And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, It’s a hard rain a-gonna fall.” Bob Dylan
I am an American Citizen. A Patriot. My family has lived, worked (mostly as coal miners, farmers, and teachers), loved and died on American soil for over 400 years. I love my country. I’m also a well-educated researcher, trained in scientific method, the daughter of an electrical/chemical engineer and wedded to a physicist. I rely on Truth, not “alt-facts” to navigate reality. Therefore . . .
Early in the morning on Earth Day, we gathered at the downtown offices of the Union of Concerned Scientists, where we had coffee and donuts, got our tee shirts, talked, and made signs. Then we marched. In spite of bitter driving rain on Earth Day, at least 300,000 people marched in the nation’s capitol (and many more participated in cities around the country) to support scientists, scientific rigor, funding for scientific research, science-based governmental and non-governmental institutions, and respect for the scientific process as a means of understanding reality and verifying facts.
The following weekend, more than 100,000 people turned out despite ironic record-breaking heat. We marched all the way from the Capitol Building to the White House to demand that our governmental representatives honor commitments we made, with the signing of the Paris Climate Accord, to reduce carbon emissions.
Lately I often feel like I’m standing on the sidewalk watching my house burn down. Paralyzed. Hypnotized. Slack jawed. In shock.
Since the November inauguration, we’ve witnessed a violent assault against all the institutions that Make America Great: our national Environmental Protection Agency, our Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Protection Acts, our National Parks and National Monuments, our National Security System, our Courts, our Health Care, Social Security, and Medicare, old age pensions, labor unions, Food Safety, Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, our Middle Class, our Public Educational System, freedom from the threat of nuclear holocaust, national infrastructure providing good roads, hospitals, sustainable energy and healthy water systems and our respect for honesty, civility and truth. In fact every aspect of government that makes Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness possible for We the People is now under threat of being dismantled.
Every day on the news I hear new revelations about high Treason, Lies, Theft and Corruption. I, like you, try to stay balanced and positive, try to juggle day-to-day survival in an economy where it seems increasingly difficult to make ends meet. I try to eat healthy, exercise, maintain my home and garden, do creative work, read and write, meaningfully connect with family and friends, sustain a spiritual practice. I try to devote time to uniting with others in our life-or-death struggle to resuscitate the greatest democracy human civilization has yet known, to unite with others to keep those things we’ve worked so hard to protect from unraveling, to unite with the people of the world to peacefully usher in the Great Turning . . .
But often, the best I can do is lay on the couch twittering and facebooking the latest shockwave on my smart phone while the timber that scaffolds my earth household collapses and falls around me in flames.
In case you too have been feeling that we’ve lost our collective soul, I offer you these photos, which I took at the Climate and Science Marches. Look in the faces of these people, our fellow Americans. And know that at the marches I found that which Makes America Great: The best of America. Our Character and Values are alive and well in our People: Hope. Perseverance. Creativity. Intelligence. Humor. Ethics. Compassion. Strength. Care. Craftsmanship. Rigor. Fortitude. Innovation. Scholarship. Genius. Diversity. Union. Justice. Honesty. Respect. Faith. Courage. Love.
After the Women’s March, Women are Still Marching On
Some say the WOMEN’S MARCH, which took place world-wide the day after Trump’s inauguration, marked a global transition in the consciousness of women and in the men who love and respect women. The Spirit of Standing Rock woke many to this new consciousness, to the realization that love, peace, and compassion are more powerful revolutionary forces than hatred, fear, and violence.
On the day of the march, women donned their pink pussy hats and owned those disparagingly sexist labels of “pussy” and “nasty woman” with pride. Our march was remarkable not only because of its historic numbers, but also because everyone that day, even the police, honored the Divine Feminine with beauty, grace, humor, peace and love.
But the Divine Feminine is not only a spirit of love, peace and beauty. She is Great Destroyer as well as Mother Creator. Sisters, now is the time to get in touch with all the power of our Divine Feminine. Wipe that pink juicy pussy couture off your face, slip on your warrior armor and rise. Treasonous Trump and his cronies must be stopped before they destroy all that is good, beautiful, innocent and sacred of Mother Earth and her children. Beyoncé said it, right?
We cannot be emancipated by someone else. We must emancipate ourselves, to be truly free and equal.
Are you WOKE yet? Can you hear me now? Connect the dots: The Women’s Movement, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, Sustainability, Climate Change, Banking and Capitalism, Marketing, . . . It’s all connected.
I think women-hating misogyny in America runs even deeper, and is older, and more virulent than racism. Around a hundred years ago Edward Bernays, Father of Modern Marketing, figured out how to promote the TOBACCO industry by using the Suffragettes (Yes, R.J. Reynolds used those women who risked their very lives to win women’s right to vote, after they’d already helped to win the Black vote – big tobacco used those women’s equal rights campaign to sell cigarettes. )
These marketing corporations have been sticking it to us ever since Bernays figured out how to manipulate us through fear, lust and greed. But not a lot of people paid attention.
Check it out: Have you noticed the way the big department stores are currently selling torn blue jeans for over $100 a pair? Yes, you and your daughter can join the proletariat and sacrifice and struggle to make the world a better place, so poor you can’t afford new blue jeans, or you can pay a lot of $$$ to just look cool – like a radical protestor – in your ripped designer jeans.
How did this happen? Watch the amazing four-part documentary The Century of Self to understand how corporate capitalism is co-opting our authentic grass-roots movements and manipulating We the Consumers. Wait. We are NOT Consumers. WE are Citizens, and PEOPLE. We are Human. Not slaves born to lift the machine’s GDP. The Century of Self :https://youtu.be/eJ3RzGoQC4s
So who’s #45 GOT BY THE PUSSY now? Besides poor zombie Stepford Wife Melania, he’s got Congressional Representatives Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming and Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina selling out to SERVE the Master. These token women were photo op’ed at the signing of a Trump executive order rolling back hard-fought victories for women in the workplace.
How did #45 get Liz and Gini to go along with screwing the women of this country? Maybe we should grab him by the balls and ask him. Snip snip.
And now, Arch-misogynist #periods-for-PENCE and the Republicans have forced the HobbyLobby anti-contraception Supreme Court nominee Mr. Gorsuch through, with Mitch McConnell’s democracy-destroying “nuclear option” clearing the way for repeal of Roe v. Wade and a future for American women resembling the cultural/socio/political-economic landscape of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Slay, Chick (Pussy), Slay. or you gonna get eliminated.
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
―George Orwell, 1984
RESIST! “Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
―George Orwell, 1984
Shortly after the election, gasping for air, feeling as if I were turning to stone like the woman at Standing Rock, I flew to the Yucatan. In the air, I wrote a blog post on my iPad, which I never posted. Events over the last two months have paralyzed my writing muscles. I’ve spent hours emailing and phoning senators, going to meetings to defend our tenuous anti-fracking victory from Chevron /Exxon, and meeting with newly-formed resistance groups like Indivisible; tweeting, facebooking, watching Democracy Now and Thom Hartmann, and staying up ’til 2 and 3 in the morning, sifting through fake news in search of the truth.
Last week, on that day that Betsy deVos’ nomination for Secretary of Education was confirmed despite massive protests, on the same day that the Army Corps of Engineers announced it was going ahead and building the pipeline under the river, in defiance of orders to wait until a proper Environmental Assessment could be completed, on that day – I hit bottom. Something broke inside me. Hope still wakes me each morning, but it’s a dim light.
Here’s what I wrote in the air, raw, rambling, unedited. Forgive me. I’m still in shock ~
November 11, 2016. I’m in the air, flying to Mexico in the hope of gaining a fresh perspective. It’s been three days since the coup d’état in the USA. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for President of the United States, but Trump stole the election with gerrymandered electoral votes, rigged voting machines, suppression of voters, hate, fear, and lies.
On election night, my partner Joe went without me to a celebration of our Measure Z fracking ban victory in Monterey County – an initiative we worked hard to help win. I couldn’t bear the thought of being out with a crowd, so I stayed home alone to watch election returns on TV. When Hillary phoned Trump at about 2 am to concede, I couldn’t believe it. Numbness. Disbelief. Anger. Rage. Grief. Fear. Exhaustion. Depression. The impulse to run. To leave. To save myself, distance myself from the apocalypse that I fear Trump is going to bring on.
For the first two days after the Trump election announcement, I spent toxic hours on Facebook and Twitter, my mind running in circles like the little hamster on the treadmill in its cage. I vented my growing outrage by writing inflammatory posts with bad words. I tweeted attacks on Trump’s stupider-than-a-slug, slutty nude girly mag illegal immigrant plagiarist wife, and on the dumber-than-red-bricks voters who chose an “it’s-okay-to-‘grab-my-pussy’-if-you-buy-me-lots-of-things” virtual illiterate as our national role model for girls and women, instead of the highly intelligent, professional, qualified and capable, gracious Hillary Clinton. I felt sick as I watched the announcement of Hillary’s concession on TV and then watched the mainstream news pundits and so-called leaders of the democratic party begin to spin the theft of my country with sugar coated assurances that it is “such a surprise” but “we’ll just have to make the best of it. Everything will be alright.” “No!” I shouted out loud, startling my sleeping dogs. “This is a mistake! Stop this!”
Since election night, scenes from the movie, The Pianist have been playing over and over in my mind. If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend that you watch it now. In the film, Hitler has just seized power, and nice middle class families try to sugarcoat it, to continue with business as usual, try to “make the best of things” because “it can’t get that bad”. But it does. It gets worse and worse, and nice people continue to make compromises with their ideals, make excuses and look the other way. Until it’s too late. Until what is left of the family is sitting on crates in front of the train ready to take them to the gas chambers. They could have saved themselves by getting out of the country when the first signals sounded. (Or by organizing and mounting a strong resistance?)
I’m thinking that things in the US may get that bad, that it may be time to leave my country, while borders are still open and American citizens are not yet in concentration camps. My family immigrated to what is now Maryland in the late 1500’s, before Maryland was designated a colony. My people have been here ever since. Over 400 years. I am a patriot. (and I am an Immigrant) The men in my family served America as soldiers in every war since the Revolution. I have Native American blood in my veins. THIS IS MY COUNTRY. But I keep thinking about how so many Jews didn’t try to save themselves when Hitler moved in. Trump is going to be worse than Hitler, I’m pretty sure. I love my country. What if I have to leave?
He has said he thinks it would be fine to use nuclear weapons against other countries. I remember the Cold War. Now nuclear holocaust has suddenly become a very real possibility, again. The Russians, recently our arch enemies, may have actually helped to get Trump elected.
He doesn’t think climate change is real so he plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and go full steam ahead developing coal, oil, gas, fracking and pipelines. He has said he plans to close down the EPA and the National Parks and overturn the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. And he plans to encourage all manner of “pussy grabbing” while taking full control over women’s bodies. And he wants to start rounding up all his enemies, including Muslims, African and Mexican Americans, gays, immigrants (except for his law-breaking immigrant wife), and dissidents (teachers, scholars, artists, scientists). He intends to greatly increase funding for the military and use the military against American citizens, and he’s promised to authorize forms of torture worse than water boarding. “I can’t breathe.”
Inspired by their leader, Trump neo-fascist thugs around the country have already started perpetrating acts of violence against everyone they perceive as different.Heil Hitler.
Where can I go? Somewhere the people are still relatively civilized. Somewhere I may be able to survive financially after the US currency collapses. Someplace where the effects of a nuclear holocaust will be less. Someplace where it may still be possible to find potable water and grow food after the final climate apocalypse. Tasmania? Chile? Norway? Apparently I’m not the only one thinking these things.The Canadian government’s Immigration website crashed the night of the election and has crashed several times since. Sales of Orwell’s 1984 are soaring.
Today, day three since the death sentence of my country, the tone of the social media chatter has shifted. Courageous leaders are stepping into the light on social media. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, 350.org’s Bill McKibben, and the Sierra Club have openly defied Trump.Put him on notice that this will be a battle of epic magnitude, a struggle the likes of which has never been seen before – a war for the very survival of life on Earth. Progressive leaders are calling for people to take courage, resist, and mobilize. I feel heartened that there will be an active resistance. But I’m afraid, too. Afraid for the beautiful Native Americans trying to protect our nation’s water at Standing Rock and afraid for the crowds of citizens demonstrating in the streets against a Trump presidency. Afraid for all my beautiful fellow humans with different colors of skin, different ways of worshiping, different ways of speaking.
Trump is a pathological abuser. Abusers don’t stop; they always escalate. ABUSERS ALWAYS ESCALATE. Thinking, hoping, praying that it will get better never makes it better when an abuser is in control of your life. The only thing that will stop an abuser from hurting you is when someone more powerful than him makes him stop.
I still think I might run away, before the borders close and it’s too late. But hopefully someone with the power to stop Trump from ending the world will stay and fight. I’ll do all I can to help, from a distance.
Boxes of sugar cubes bearing the image of US President-elect Donald Trump on sale at a supermarket in Tula, Russia. (Photo by Sergei StarikovTASS via Getty Image
“On the Day of Trump’s Election, spontaneous protests broke out across the United States. People saw the danger represented in Trump’s politics and refused to comply with business as usual. Out of those protests, a nationwide call has gone out for a General Strike on the day of the Presidential Inauguration, January 20th.” the following article was posted by the Santa Cruz General Strike Organizing Committee.
What is a General Strike? Why a General Strike?
A General Strike is a political action in which the general population refuses to engage in work, they close the doors to their workplaces and their schools. Born out of early 20th century labor movements, we can thank General Strikes for the 8 hour workday, minimum wage, and the weekend, among other accomplishments.
The General Strike is one of the strongest political tools that the people have at our disposal. General Strikes have the power to force governments to their knees. Just in these past few months: a General Strike forced the South Korean President to resign, a General Strike forced the Polish government to roll back restrictive anti-choice legislation.
Our political system only offers limited input for ordinary people in the form of voting and lobbying our “elected representatives.” When it fails the people, we have little recourse to act within the system. A General Strike has the power to bring the system to a halt, to force those in power to hear the people.
In addition to the disruptive power of the General Strike, it is also a demonstration of solidarity. Trump won an election based on hate and fear. We seek to overcome that hate and fear with mutual respect and love. With Solidarity. By joining together in the General Strike we show that we are able to overcome a politics based on individualistic difference. We will stand together and defend each other in the face of misogynistic and racist attacks, cuts to social services, environmental catastrophe, and impoverishment.
Instead of being forced to rely on a broken system that only offers false choices between hatred and corruption, by striking we show that we are ready and able to build a new order. One that is not based on hate, fear, and profit, one that is built on solidarity, mutual-aid, and respect. When we do not work, when we do not go to school, when we do not allow business as usual, we show that we will not allow politics as usual to rule us. We will not allow a racist, misogynistic billionaire to rule us.
It is important to not normalize Donald Trump’s governance. A first step to building a meaningful opposition to his rule is to make sure the day is not a normal work day. We have no illusions that not going to work on January 20th is going to bring down the Trump administration and systems of oppression in a single day. But striking together is the first step towards building the meaningful solidarities and organization that will allow us to actually oppose and survive his administration.
The election of Trump was a Coup D’Etat by the Russians. Sufficient evidence is available to the public to support this. Why? The Russians have far greater oil reserves than any other country, and they can’t sell it because of US sanctions. The Russian Trump puppet will lift those sanctions and set a course for massive exploitation, production and profit-taking by the billionaires’ multinational fossil fuel industry.
In late August I responded to an utterly compelling, impossible-to-refuse Call from Spirit to go to Standing Rock, North Dakota. Since I’ve returned home, everyone I’ve met has expressed a deep hunger to better understand the current situation at Standing Rock and to know how they can help. There is a mainstream media black out. What little information is broadcast on mainstream media is often unreliable. Below, I pass on the following insider information from friends at Standing Rock – urgent calls for help which I KNOW will make a difference for the good right now: 1. Donations to the Standing Rock legal support efforts may be made to:
The Water Protector Legal Collective is the National Lawyers Guild legal support team for those engaged in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. It maintains a 24/7 presence on-site at the Oceti Sakowin camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
The National Lawyers Guild is dedicated to the need for basic and progressive change in the structure of our political and economic system. Through its members–lawyers, law students, jailhouse lawyers and legal workers united in chapters and committees–the Guild works locally, nationally and internationally as an effective political and social force in the service of the people.
“The Morton County Sheriff’s Department’s illegal use of force against the Water Protectors has been escalating (throughout the Fall). It is only a matter of luck that no one has been killed. This must stop.”
Theclass action suit, filed on behalf of persons who were injured on the night of November 20 and early morning of November 21, seeks an immediate injunction preventing the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement from using impact munitions such as rubber bullets and lead-filled “beanbags,” water cannons and hoses, explosive teargas grenades and other chemical agents against protesters.
2. Those concerned are urged to CALL NOW local and federal agencies below to demand (1) immediate end to construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, (2) the immediate cessation and a full investigation into law enforcement abuses, (3) dropping felony charges against water protectors from the October 27 police raid, and (4) permitting the Water Protectors to stay at their current encampment until the DAPL’s application to drill under Lake Oahe and the Missouri River is permanently denied.
White House: 202-456-1111 (ask for “hot line to President”) or 202-456-1414 and/ or sign the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s White House petitionstandwithstandingrock.net/take-action • White House Situation Room, 202-456-9431 • North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple’s Office: 701-328-2200 • Morton County Sheriff’s Office: 701-667-3330 • Morton County State’s Attorney’s Office: 701-667-3330 • Army Corps of Engineers-Bismarck 701-255-0015 or D.C. office 202-761-5903
• Energy Transfer Partners: the pipeline owner ― Lee Hanse, executive vice president, 210-403-6455; Glenn Emery, vice president, 210-403-6762; Michael (Cliff) Waters, lead analyst, 713-989-2404.
3. U.S.veterans for peace are raising donations on Go Fund Me <https://www.gofundme.com/veterans-for-standing-rock-nodapl> to help our veterans get to Standing Rock to protect protesters in the threatened “December sweep”. I’m worried the military could get really really violent in attempt to remove people so they can complete the pipe under the water. The water protectors WILL NOT LEAVE unless they are dead or forcibly dragged away, until they are sure the fracked oil pipleline is no longer a threat to the drinking water of millions of people.
4. Medical support for the camp is desperately needed. The official tribal funding page for this is https://medichealercouncil.com/volunteer/ To get a better idea of current conditions at the camp, especially if you are considering going there, read the healer’s page and the FAQ. If you’re not sure you are prepared physically and emotionally to withstand extremely severe winter conditions (6 degrees, 26 mile/hr winds, completely exposed living plus under siege by a military force) don’t go and become a liability on an already stressed community. But if you have the food, arctic clothing, camping equipment, physical stamina and temperament to care for yourself and others, and you feel you should go, Do Not Hesitate! They need you NOW! (no drugs, alcohol, weapons – only strong, peaceful, prayerful hearts)
*FIRE racist, unqualified U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Commander and District Engineer of the Omaha District Colonel John W. Henderson Read more atCheyenne River Sioux Chair Calls for Resignation of US Army Corps’ Henderson Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier demands ouster of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ district commander John W. Henderson after “racist” conversation. indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com
YES! online magazine has been doing excellent ongoing work of covering Standing Rock with timely, in-depth articles http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/why-the-assaults-on-standing-rock-require-police-from-seven-different-states-and-other-questions-20161031
Thank you relatives and friends. The media is not covering this situation. It’s up to us!
Please share this information as widely as you can. We MUST stop this pipeline, with strictest legal bindings, Before inauguration day!
Thursday, September 22, 2016.“Water,” as the Indians say, “is Life”. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Sioux City, Iowa looking out of my window at the wide Missouri River. Today the river is agitated and grey-green under storm clouds. I left the encampment at Standing Rock, North Dakota yesterday, and followed the Missouri here. From Standing Rock to Sioux City, the river was beautiful, calm and clear-blue, sparkling with sun diamonds and reflections of autumn-gold Cottonwood trees, and reflections of acre-upon-acre of golden GMO corn, wheat, soy, and sunflower fields. It worried me, driving through all that monoculture, that I did not see any birds.
The Wide Missouri River
The Missouri River brings Life as it meanders through five states, joining with the great Mississippi and flowing into the gulf. These two rivers form the artery of our heartland.
Vast and priceless, this watershed is now threatened with the possibility of complete and irrevocable destruction. What will it mean not only for ourselves but also for our children and grandchildren, “for the next seven generations” as the Indians say, if we allow one of the most significant watersheds in the Continental US to be destroyed?
It’s that question that by mid-September, 2016, had brought together more than 350 Native American tribes and over 7,000 non-indigenous people from all over the world, with more arriving every day. The people have gathered by the river to protect the Mississippi-Missouri artery running through America’s heart from destruction by the Energy Transfer Partnership Company.
Standing Rock Camp, North Dakota 9/2016
Young warrior at Standing Rock 9/2016
How could one nice little energy company threaten such devastation? ETP is the mythical gyre-wolf in sheep’s clothing; a monstrous many-headed hydra; the giant Black Snake, foretold thousands of years ago in Native prophesy, that will bring the end of the world if it’s not stopped. ETP – parent of the North Dakota pipeline project – is (wait for it): an amorphous and opaque partnership of the largest US banks and financial institutions (the same guys who brought us the global financial crisis of 2007-2009), plus major world banks, and multinational petrochemical extraction-processing-distribution corporations, all wrapped up into one mullti-billion dollar tangled writhing vipers’ nest of financial/legal/oligarchy.http://www.democracynow.org/2016/9/6/new_investigation_names_wall_street_banks
Solar Energy at Standing Rock 9/2016
Now that the Keystone XL pipeline has been defeated, the Energy Transfer Partners’ new game is to construct a pipeline through Native American lands, and in-and-out under the river two times, so they can transport their fracked oil from the Bakken shale fields (a Canada -Montana- North Dakota wasteland) to the gulf as fast as possible, and ship it overseas for enormous profits. (Nope, that oil is not for us Americans. Sorry, Charlie.) http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/news/who%27s-banking-dakota-access-pipeline
But if we stop the pipeline and keep the oil in the ground, how will we make everything go? And What About the Union, Jobs, and all that?
Re: Pitting protectors of the water against pipeline workers
“The Bakken is the most dangerous oil field to work in the U.S. The energy producers never pay for their mistakes.” — Justin Williams, Wegner attorney
Pipeline workers, your jobs are hurting you and are really terrible. Terrible for you, horrible for your families, for your neighbors, for the world. You can have MUCH MUCH BETTER JOBS if you’ll get on board and help us build a clean, socially and environmentally just, loving, joyful, sustainable New Earth. Lots of jobs. New technologies are here! Wind. Solar, Geothermal, Tidal, . . .
A Haida Man Stands with the Lakota at Standing Rock to Protect the Water 9/2016
The stand-off at Standing Rock is historic: never before have so many Indigenous Peoples and representatives of so many tribes gathered together for a common cause. Over 350 tribes counted, as of the end of August, including not only a large percentage of tribes from the continental U.S. but also indigenous groups from Hawaii, Mexico, Ecuador, and even Palestine. In my opinion, the Standing Rock gathering is biblical in its nature and import. While I was there, I witnessed the miracle of Loaves and Fishes happening 24/7. People arrive day and night, many having traveled enormous distances under great hardship, and they are all lovingly welcomed, hugged, and fed. Thousands of people (an estimated 7,000 as of October 1st) are being fed well with donated food, cooked by volunteers on outdoor fires, without electricity or running water. Tribal groups bring their most sacred foods to share – such as wild Alaskan salmon from the Haida People. A lesson in nurturing and love.
Loaves and Fishes, Salmon and Buffalo: sacred food given and received with prayer 9/2016
Many people I spoke with at the camp told me they had felt Called to come help Protect the Water. I myself received the Call to journey to Standing Rock while I was watching Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now on TV in my California living room. When I saw the video of the dogs, I knew I had to go – video of unarmed, prayerful Native Americans being attacked with pepper spray; private mercenary military personnel on the payroll of ETP going after men, women, children, and babies with attack dogs. Watching blood drip from the mouth of one of the dogs, with the memory of the 1960’s Birmingham Civil Rights movement playing in my head, I knew I had to immediately unharness myself from the business-as-usual of my life and join the people at Standing Rock. Going was one of the most meaningful acts of my life.
Did you see that attack dog video? If you did, you’re in a minority. Because of an oligarcy-imposed media blackout, most Americans have no idea what’s going on in Standing Rock North Dakota. See it here and then Share: https://youtu.be/kuZcx2zEo4k
Gathering at Standing Rock to Defend our Water: a Movement By and For the YOUTH
Lakota Lance K. in his Buffalo Robe 9/2016
A Lakota Teen Prepares to Overwinter by the River in her Tent. 9/2016
Young Lakota Warrior on horseback. Defender of the Water. 9/2016
In early August, 2016, thirty Native youth from the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) completed a 2,000-mile relay run from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to deliver a letter to President Obama reminding him to “Rezpect Our Water”. This visit was a follow-up to a massive “Our Generation, Our Choice”youth mobilization and rally last November, 2015 in D.C. for Racial and Climate Justice . After delivering their letter asking the President to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, the thirty Lakota youth returned to Standing Rock to hold a continuous prayer vigil for the water.
To date, few mainstream newspapers or television have reported this historic stand-off. Many lies populate the internet, promulgated by the denizens of Energy Transfer Company. In fact, right after the dog attack incident, ETP’s PR people flooded Twitter with fake accounts that made false statements about Standing Rock. Those fake accounts were outed and removed, but not before they had done their dirty work spreading confusion, fear and hatred.
Even though mainstream papers and television aren’t reporting on Standing Rock, many grass-roots participant-observers are working to keep the public informed via social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, blogs. Some of the Indy reporters have access to fairly sophisticated communications devices, but many, myself included, have been recording and sharing what we can, just using our smart phones. Please help spread the word.
Preparing Buffalo, a sacred food, in Outdoor Kitchen 9/2016
Standing Rock camp is “primitive” – tents, and open fires for cooking, heating, and prayer; no running water or electricity except for a little solar.
Fry Bread cooked on open fires at Standing Rock Main Camp Kitchen 9/2016
I’m told Cellular service on the land used to be decent until the protest started, but now it’s only available on one hilltop above the camp and even that service is “spotty”.
The legal tent is up on “2 Bar Hill”, where there is some cell service. A team of attorneys from all over the US provide pro-Bono legal assistance to the Water Protectors . Arrests and violent assaults on peaceful demonstrators and even on journalists are escalating. Help solarize the legal tent for the winter: https://fundrazr.com/links/StandingRockSolar?ref=sh_35y699
The casino, about 10 minutes down the road by car, is the only place with WiFi. Everyone using media goes to the casino to tweet and post to their Facebook pages and blogs. People fill the lobby at all hours, sitting on chairs and on the floors, trying to get the message out about the pipeline. But someone or something is CENSORING much of the material people try to post. I wouldn’t believe it if it hadn’t happened to me.
Volunteers Bringing Solar into Camp
Fancy Dancing – Navajo. Standing Rock Main Camp 9/2016
One afternoon at the casino, I re-tweeted a benign post – no bad or hateful language, only a factual report on the conditions at Standing Rock. A little while later, I noticed that the post had been BLACKED OUT, and in white block letters across the black rectangle were the words CENSORED. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Have you ever heard of anything like that happening in the United States of America? I mentioned it later to someone else uploading posts at the casino. He asked if I’d taken a screen shot. No. When I went back to Twitter to look for the censored post, it had completely vanished.
A woman working on a GoFundMe project for warm winter clothes for the camp told me that when she posts information about her project on Facebook, within an hour her posts have disappeared. Everyone I’ve talked to has a different theory about who is doing this censoring. No one really knows why our internet is showing signs of repression in the United States of America. My attorney friends who volunteer at the camp say they believe it’s the work of Homeland Security or the National Security Agency. Are we being censored because NSA thinks we’re terrorists. Yikes. That’s scary.
I am not the kind of person typically profiled as a terrorist. I am a middle-class white woman from an affluent suburb, a law-abiding, highly-educated professional. A paragon of responsibility. Pretty much the epitome of “respectability”. I am a patriot. I love my country. I am NOT a terrorist. But guess what? Being a member of a privileged class won’t protect you if you cross that line to stand with your oppressed brothers and sisters. Surprised?
No wait. My country does not Censor my First Amendment Rights to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press, right? WeIl . . . I’ve been hearing many troubling stories of censorship on Facebook and Twitter. How abut you? The Independent media group Unicorn Riot has a report documenting journalists being repeatedly threatened and arrested. http://www.unicornriot.ninja/?p=9147
Honestly, how did these poor people who work for our public agencies – the police, highway patrol and military – get so twisted that they perceive nice old grandmas and beautiful young teenagers, doctors, lawyers, priests, artists and college students as evil enemies to be hated, feared, attacked and locked up? The Black Snake has been slithering around for a long time. Remember Kent State, when young, innocent National Guardsmen massacred young, innocent college students?
The Black Snake is Poisoning our Mother Earth. It’s twisting our Peoples’ hearts and minds, so they don’t recognize their own family and friends anymore. The Black Snake needs to be stopped.
Seven Nation Council Tent
The thing is, Standing Rock is a Women’s Issue.
Standing Rock is at the epicenter of a shift taking place within each of us, and within every family, community, and nation around the world. The obscene assaults on the feminine, Mother Earth and her children, which we are witnessing this presidential election, are public displays of a world view that is no longer sustainable.
According to a Standing Rock legend, long ago a woman was so humiliated and abused by her husband that she turned to stone, a stone which can still be seen on a hill above camp. Now this woman is coming back to life. Her heart beats again. She is rising to protect Mother Earth and her children from the Black Snake.
Today, a new generation of teachers has awakened to the pesticide issue, and the embers of Farm without Harm have caught fire again. The new group, which meets once a month in Salinas and once a month in Watsonville, has named itself Safe Ag Safe Schools – SASS. And this growing group does have plenty of Sass, energy, and intelligence to move our cause forward.
A bit of history: In 1988 when I started teaching at Amesti Elementary in the Pajaro River Valley of South Santa Cruz County, California, my colleagues and I were only vaguely aware of the fact that pesticides were being used on the vast agricultural lands of the valley. The beauty of the valley and the excitement of having a good teaching job made it easy for me to repress my uneasiness about pesticides exposure.
But by the mid nineties, I could no longer hide from myself the fact that something was wrong at my school. Cancer, asthma, rashes, dizziness, miscarriages . . . I came to understand that two highly volatile toxic gases – methyl bromide and chloropicrin – were being injected into the soil of the strawberry fields just on the other side of the chain link fence from our school.
With growing concern, I participated in a forum on environmental health at the Louden Nelson Community Center in Santa Cruz where I met Gary Karnes, a pesticide activist from Monterey. Soon, I was attending meetings at the UFW offices in Watsonville with a group of teachers, parents, scientists, and concerned citizens. We formed a group, which we named “Farm without Harm”, to educate about pesticides and advocate for reform. Someone in the group reached out to Pesticide Action Network,an international organization based in San Francisco. PAN sent a full-time activist to the Monterey Bay to work with us. It was around this time that Californians for Pesticide Reform was also created.
By 2000, the struggle over pesticide use near the schools had become so fierce and vicious that I, and many of the other teachers who were engaged in the struggle, left our jobs in the school district. In retrospect, I realize that our early work did help kick the door open for acceptance of organic agriculture in the Pajaro Valley. Today, the most successful organic vegetable grower in the valley is the uncle of one of my former third grade students from that era. Dick Peixoto of Lakeside Farms has personally acknowledged to me that it was we teachers who first got him thinking about going organic.
In 2010, under pressure to comply with the Montreal Protocol’s mandated phase-out of methyl bromide, the pesticide industry tried to roll out a chemical substitute that was even worse than the banned ozone-depleting chemical methyl bromide: methyl iodide. Activists from the “early days” came out of the woodwork and helped to soundly quash the roll-out of the carcinogenic methyl iodide .
Farm without Harm no longer exists, but over the years since the founding of Farm without Harm, coalition building has been quietly moving forward. The Californians for Pesticide Reformis now a statewide coalition of more than 185 organizations.
Founded in 1996 to fundamentally shift the way pesticides are used in California, CPR’s mission is to protect public health, improve environmental quality and expand a sustainable and just agriculture system by building a diverse movement across California to change statewide and local pesticide policies and practices. CPR has built a diverse, multi-interest coalition to challenge the powerful political and economic forces opposing change. Member organizations include public health, children’s health, educational and environmental advocates, clean air and water organizations, health practitioners, environmental justice groups, labor, organizations, farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates. Members are actively engaged through a unifying four point platform: 1) eliminate use of the most dangerous pesticides 2) reduce use of and reliance on all pesticides 3) support safer, ecologically sound and more socially just forms of pest management 4) expand and protect the public’s right to know about pesticide use, exposure, and impacts.
On July 12, 2016, the Californians for Pesticide Reform 20th Anniversary “Day of Action” Rally for pesticide reform took place in Sacramento. Farmworkers, teachers, citizens, doctors, legislators, scientists, seniors, and children made their way to the California Environmental Protection Agency building in the state capitol, with boxes to present to the Department of Pesticide Regulation full of thousands of signatures on petitions and letters signed by over 200 organizations. Many people got up at 3 am and traveled hours on buses to attend the rally.
During the rally, I had the opportunity to make some meaningful and hopefully lasting connections with some very inspiring people, including a young doctor, and a group of amazing young women and future leaders who will start college in the fall.
The goal of the rally was to demand that the people who work for theCalifornia Department of Pesticide Regulationdo the job they are paid for: to protect the people, and our children, from harmful pesticide exposure. We want the DPR to draft new regulations requiring a one mile pesticide-free buffer zone around all ag fields that are near schools. Please send them your comments!
Following are some scenes and video clips from the rally and the luncheon at St. John Lutheran Church.