Sunday, November 8, 2009


From the mouth of Rick Moody, mentioned today as he introduced a song called "Willing Sense of Disbelief," which is by the Wingdale Community Singers (of which he is a member). They were playing at the Philoctetes Center. Not only did they sing songs with beautiful colors (I especially liked "Rock of Ages") but RM told the audience that his group traced the Woody Guthrie song "This Land Is My Land" through all its borrowings upon borrowings and learned that it was related to a Pentacostal hymn.

I did not have a pen, and therefore can offer only the fragment:

". . . is a song that went terribly awry"

Awry, as it turns out, is simply a knight's move of (prepositional) a plus wry (so says the OED). To the eye-minded and ear-minded, it's a keeper. It's up there with earnest as a noun (E.B. White: "His elbow patch an earnest of/The fellowship of tweeds.").

Another of the Wingdales used the word stripey, viz., "she was both stripey and spotted" (granted, I have no idea if the singer was using an e before the y) but somehow it brought to mind only Tigger, who bounces, and I suppose awry is more appealing to me in its elegance than stripey is in its cuteness. Awry provides thinking room, whereas stripey is a rather linear affair.

Willing sense of disbelief is just to the left of that Coleridge crib-sheet quote for all sitters of Romanticism exams ("willing suspension of disbelief for the moment"). When I think of Romanticism, I think first and foremost of the Romantic's Credo (ably demonstrated by Cary Grant in "Charade"--see if you can guess which line--and currently being twisted into something profitable by the globe-trotting Landmark Forum and, no doubt, other "human potential movements" whose leaders like to trademark all sorts of seemingly ordinary phrasings in the English language): When you can give a reason, there is no longer a preference.

On Tuesday I plan to attend a rally to protest hydraulic fracturing in the New York City watershed. It is safe to say that I will be attending with neither a willing suspension of disbelief nor a willing sense of disbelief. I will be attending simply with a sense of disbelief. People (read: the DEC) who willingly and willfully (lustily?) and with anything approaching comprehensive baseline monitoring of water quality and ozone? not--but certainly plenty of gobbledly-gook and hurry-up urgings actually welcome the likely end of clean water in this state and the beginning of what will likely be a slow-drip public health disaster, which is to say, they welcome the natural gas companies and their hydraulic fracturing drilling process (propriety chemical cocktail and all) to the Empire State--these people must have some kind of belief in the supernatural.

In the "Saturday Night Live" skit titled, say, "Hark," Wordsworth goes a-walking around Tintern Abbey, and his overflow of emotion is drowned out by the sounds of people cursing dead fish, diesel trucks, chainsaws, and the attendant sounds of mini-earthquakes. It's a short skit and it's all in the delivery.

By the way, Bradley J. Field is the Director of New York State's Division of Mineral Resources (518.402.8076). He and DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis saw fit to snub New York City (well, we're only about eight million people) when holding the first round of public hearings on drilling Upstate in the Marcellus Shale (but they were within the bounds of the law, dontcha know--inviting the city would have counted only for common courtesy). I realize: it strains the bounds of credulity, leaving the city out. I will myself to believe it, because it happens to be true.

I'm sure lots of people would be happy to dust off Woody Guthrie's "a folk song is whats wrong and how to fix it or it could be whose hungry and where their mouth is or whose out of work and where the job is or whose broke and where the money is or whose carrying a gun and where the peace is" and tack on something like "whose sick with a funny sort of mystery cough and where the doctor is."

Natural gas drilling is a nationwide (and worldwide) phenomenon, and so it's no surprise that the drillers have landed here. What is a little bit of a surprise is how politicians who supposedly care about our indoor environments (Bloomberg, Grannis) could give a flying fish about our outdoor environment once this business gets under way.

Again, baseline measurements? Comprehensive soil testing? Does Pete Grannis really know how water (contaminated water, that is) flows underground? Even computer models have shown that fractures can behave differently than predicted. Perhaps Mr Grannis is in close touch with an old Upstate family of worms, lo these many generations, who can report on what kind of soil is where--and perhaps have heard what a royal pain in the water supply this drilling business can be as told to them by other worm families in Arkansas, Montana, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Ohio, Washington, Texas and British Columbia. And Colorado. Perhaps the worms are hydrogeologists or hydrologists. (Or perhaps the worms only discuss such matters as the male fish-turning-somewhat-female, who live in the Seine and Rhône rivers downstream from Paris and Lyon; their exposure to endocrine disrupters is resulting in unwanted sex-change operations.)

It's clear that people concerned about drilling Upstate must prove that such operations are dangerous. It's clear that the burden of proof is not on the drillers, that it is not incumbent on them to prove that their methods and fluids are safe over the span of a generation.

Our Upstate water supply system was secured in part by Myndert Van Schaick, one of the founders of New York University. The idea was to provide fresh, clean water for citizens who were drinking polluted local supplies.

Something is definitely awry.

People receiving large checks from the gas companies are thrilled. They feel fortunate beyond belief. But if they and their descendants have no clean water to drink, they may feel otherwise. If, one day, they find that as U.S. taxpayers that they have to spend money for a, say, 25-year cleanup operation (environmental cost accounting?) in their area, will this have been worth it? Then again, they may feel nothing.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Manus said...

Update: I now see in the liner notes (CD just arrived) that the Wingdale Singer has her word as stripy, which to me looks as if it would be mentally processed as strippy.