Ground in life and destruction

I'm back from another few weeks of travel that has taken me to Nebraska, New Mexico, and Ohio. I've seen ground that supports incredible life, ground that has witnessed horrible destruction, and ground under incredible assault. This morning I stood under the maple tree outside my boyhood bedroom and marveled at the red buds returning for another spring. The new book continues to grow and take shape, and I'm off to Europe again in a week to gather more stories--including visits to Treblinka and Auschwitz in Poland. It's a pleasure to imagine that at least a few of you are out there following my progress through this blog.  Don't hesitate to let me know who you are, and if you have suggestions.

For years I have wanted to be in Nebraska in March/April when some 500,000 sandhill cranes migrate through on their way north. I've seen the cranes in one of their winter homes, the Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico, and the sight of their great Vs drifting in at dusk is something I'll never forget. The grounds these birds rely on are the Platte River's sandbars and surrounding fields. Here's some of what I saw:


From Nebraska I traveled to New Mexico to see the Trinity Site where the world's first atomic bomb exploded in 1945. The Site is open to the public only two days a year, and so I'd planned on being there April 4. It's funny to me now--I imagined I might be there alone or with a handful of others. In fact, there were more than 5,000 visitors that day, and the place had the feel of a county fair. One curious thing about the Site is that there is no mention of Japan.


From New Mexico I traveled to southeastern Ohio where I witnessed an entirely different form of destruction, that caused by fracking for natural gas. I'll have so much more to say in the new book, but for now I can tell you that what I saw and heard (both the words I heard from residents and the noise from the compressing stations) was shocking. I had the distinct feeling of being in a land that had been occupied by a foreign army. I didn't feel like I was in America anymore. Whatever you imagine about fracking I think you have to see the destruction to the land and people to believe it. I've read a lot about fracking, and I thought I had a good idea of its reality for the ground, but I didn't.


This image doesn't do justice to what I saw in Ohio. But try to imagine that until just a couple years ago this ground was forest and farmland. It is now more like a military base, and there are installations like this all over the place. I'm grateful to Ted Auch, my host from FrackTracker, and the many Ohioans who spoke with me.

And now this morning, the new buds of spring 2015. For all the destruction we humans impart on the natural world, it sometimes amazes me that nature continues, comes back, keeps its cycles. And just on a this-is-so-wonderfully-mysterious-that-I-could-say-a-prayer-of-thanksgiving-each-time-I-walk-outside level, the fact leaves emerge from limbs to shade and sing in summer wind and then in autumn turn to flames and fall to ground... It reminds me of my friend the poet Alison Deming writing that it's as if the natural world were a series of questions, and astonishment is the answer.


And one bonus photo: the scene Sunday morning last week in the U of New Mexico library. This is what the new book looks like right now. 

Sifting stories and research, making plans. The writing will begin in earnest come July.