Western Pennsylvania


[By Kai Sanburn]
We move into rolling hills through an impressionist’s fall with pointillist forests – burnished cooper, quivering gold, blushing reds and last-gasp greens.

For days, we walked through Ohio’s mono-culture flatlands.. Soy, soy, corn. Corn, corn, soy..where late summer corn counted for what there was of elevation, just about as high as an elephant’s eye. GMO crops mile after mile until Youngstown when the land began to fold into these low rolling hills. Now, creeks and streams thread silver through the woods and fall is fully upon us. This morning, frost glazed the inside and outside of my rainfly and curled in round the corners. Numb toes and numb hands clutching a cuppa coffee as dawn broke slow.

What we’ve come to know as we walk through this landscape is that dark secrets hide in the hills. That dirt road there might lead to a frack well site or a wastewater pit. The creek water, or that pond, may have malignancy in it. We’ve heard the story of Maggies’ farm from her and now, have to wonder about the other farms we see. Five generations farmed there and she’s leaving, a refugee of the frack wars. A pipe line transects the corn field just across the field and she’s giving up the fight.
Terry Greenwood’s farm had an old oil lease, from back in 1922, two owners ago. The oil company, Dominion, claimed their right and drilled 2 wells on his dairy farm in 2007. A spill of frack fluid followed and bled into his pond. That spring, he had 10 still born calves, two with white eyes. The bull became sterile. In 2008, he was told that he shouldn’t drink his water. In 2009, the company was done with his wells and left. Terry developed brain cancer and died. Neighbors are sick.

Stephanie Matteo was approached to lease her land for drilling. She refused and has fought for several years. Relief, when the pressure let up, turned to anger when she learned that two neighbors had sold out. “It’s a small piece of land. It’s where we wanted to raise our kids” she says, her trembling hands steady on her daughters shoulders. People have thrown trash on her land. “They think I’m crazy, but I feel sick and I’m worried about my kids.”

At an anti-fracking rally in Butler, money is collected for families who’ve had to buy water for the past 4 years, both for drinking and bathing. A school board is offered a huge sum for rights to drill under the school property and comes close to believing it’d be a good deal.

What we’ve also come to know is that there are amazing people, big, bold characters and steady quiet souls, seasoned activists and fierce loving moms that have banded together to stand against hard odds, to relentlessly follow what’s going on in city council chambers, to go down those dirt roads to investigate and to not stop when small defeats come round. As someone said, “We don’t lose until we give up.”

They greet us and feed us and make much of the March but what they are doing is the hard work. Integrating activism into busy lives, standing alone or together, again and again, takes amazing heart and commitment…. and clearly, a resilient sense of humor. It’s been an honor to hear their stories, feel their resolve and to sit at their tables.