Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)’s
Global Emergency Operation (GEO)’s
Compassion for Animals Road Expedition #6 (CARE-6)’s
Field journal #7
August 19, 2008
Dear HOPE-GEO team and all friends in compassion:
Today (Aug. 19) is the second day of the 4-day Animal Rights National Conference (www.ARConference.org). I gave my first 3 of 12 speeches, signed dozens of books, and collected a jarful of donations, but this journal entry is about West Virginia, and is a story unto itself.
Before I go on to West Virginia, I should relate a little story from a previous state (can’t recall which). When I pulled into one of the toll booths, the big guy in the booth took a look at the magnetic sign on the side of my car and said, “Global warming – what a load of BS.” “Al Gore doesn’t share that opinion,” I said. “Al Gore is a nut job,” he spat. “According to whom?” “George W. Bush.” “I rest my case,” I said as I drove off.
I left the trailer park at Galena, Ohio, in the mid-morning of August 9th, and arrived at the UU Church in Charleston, West Virginia, in the mid-afternoon, slightly ahead of time. I walked around the building, and noticed a large caliber bullet hole in a window and another through its inner pane, with the two holes lined up at the house next door. My host Chris Higgins arrived shortly after, who introduced me to another man from another car named Julian _____, who explained to me that the bullet was fired by a young man next door while in a state of rage with his mother, and who was now serving time. This was something not often heard of in Canada, where almost no one owns a gun.
Julian then whisked me off to view one of West Virginia’s mountain-top-removal open-pit coal mines. After a lengthy gravel road traverse and a steep climb through forest, he parked the vehicle in a parking area with a few uninhabited houses. From there, we walked uphill, until we reached a rise. I topped it, looked down, and promptly exclaimed, “HOLY SHIT!” It was partly surprise and partly disgust. It was in fact a much smaller and drier version of the tar sands. Still, the whole mountain-top had been leveled, and a deep crater had further been dug into the plateau thus created. The general color of the near moonscape was black, and there were thick and opague clouds of brown dust enveloping the huge machinery. I don’t know how the workers could see what they were doing, and just breath, much less maintain health lungs. Surrounding the ex-mountain were so-called reclaimed land, and it was no more than flattened ridges covered thinly with brown-green grass. Julian pointed at the mountains all around (Appalachians) and said that they would all meet the same fate in due course. Painful just to try to imagine it.
As Alberta is the tar sands capital of the world, West Virginia could be the coal capital, or one of them. I hope I’m not misquoting Julian, but there are some 800 of these mines operating in West Virginia. John Denver would weep. The debeautification of beautiful West Virginia. And for what? More lung-wrecking jobs for young men who might otherwise have gone on to university? A stock price rise of $10? 10% higher dividends?
Julian dropped me off at the UU Church and I gave him a copy of my book, writing in it: “To Julian: Thank you for the Holy Shit experience.” He burst out laughing upon seeing it.
After waving Julian good-bye, I drove to a restaurant called A Taste of Asia for some veg noodles, then drove on up to the rural property of Don Gartman with its steep driveway and two artificial ponds complete with large coy fish and a protective net against heron predation. A very hospitable couple, who also led me by car to the UU Church the following day, the 10th.
The UU church event had two components. A 9 – 10:30 a.m. forum to about 50 people, and an 11 a.m. sermon to about 150 people, both with ovations. Many accepted the book with gratitude and volunteered donations. In the forum audience were Capri and Mandy, university students, both going to the AR conference. So, the connection overflows into another state.
After the sermon, I drove on to Rebecca Goth’s home in Wheeling some four hours due north, re-entering Ohio, then re-entering West Virginia and almost entering Pennsylvania. There, you could walk from Ohio through West Virginia into Pennsylvania within an hour or two. The only way to beat this is to walk in a small circle around the 4-Corners – 4 states within minutes.
Rebecca’s home is of a log-cabin-type construction sitting on a fairly steep slope overlooking a forested hillside well away from the city. She received me warmly and treated me like a prince as all other hosts do. When I first met her on myspace, I saw that her cover picture showed her holding a horse. I half-jokingly remarked that what I missed most while touring was horseback riding. Lo and behold, she had booked me a trail-ride the next morning at 10 at a riding academy nearby.
Shortly after my arrival, her husband Helmut came home. Almost immediately after our introduction, he said that thanks to the interference of “environmentalists”, West Virginia’s economic development had been negatively impacted. Then he bluntly said that global warming was non-factual. Ensuing was a bluntness-versus-bluntness verbal collision in which I in all these years and tours had never engaged with a host. While I was telling him about the Alberta tar sands, he was of the opinion that the environmental damage was not important, since northern Alberta was by and large uninhabited. I said, “The native peoples don’t count?” He said nothing. At one point, Rebecca interjected, directed at Helmut, “Difference of opinion is one thing, but you don’t have to be sarcastic about it.” This more or less ended the debate. Some time later in the evening, I opened www.HOPE-CARE.org and showed him a picture of the tar sands. He looked intensely at it for a moment, then said, “This does look bad, but as I’ve said before, it’s in the middle of nowhere. So what does it matter?” I said, “It matters because it poisons the whole water shed as well as the aquifer for hundreds of years and thousands of square miles, toxifies fish and moose alike, besides causing cancer in the native people.” He ambled off, saying nothing. Somewhere along the line, I asked him about his profession. He told me that he was an accountant. This explains a lot of what he was coming from – the world of numbers, numbers of dollars, dollars of corporations. His clients are businessmen and CEOs, not grassroots activists. On the other hand, in all his bluntness and environmental insensitivity, and though he cannot exactly be said to be bursting with warmth, he was not discourteous, and at no point made me feel that I should not accept their hospitality. In the three days of my stay at his home, he had never made me feel unwelcome or intrusive. Whenever he returned from work, he always shook my hand in renewed welcome. I hope to have gotten through to him a little. A note of interest: Along with Rebecca, he is a vegetarian, and has lived in India for several years, yet he says Christian grace before dinner, and talks red neck talk about the environment. One strange combination.
The next day, the 11th was a bit of a rest day, as if I needed one. It was the day of the equestrian outing. It was a gentle ride through a West Virginian forest. Both Rebecca and I are “horse whisperers”, meaning that our relationship with horses are diametrically opposed to that of rodeo riders and horse “breakers”. Still some AR theorists disapprove of any kind of equestrianism, on the ground that however humane it is still human domination over animals. To these I usually ask one question: “How many rats and cockroaches and deer and raccoons live in your house, which has forcibly evicted them from their natural habitat where your house now stands?” I don’t need to ask if they have ever taken care of a horse. And it matters not to them that most private horse guardians, except the real horse exploiters, treat their horses as they would their own children. But to the rest, here is an example of a definitive difference: Rodeo riders ride against their horses, and humane riders ride with them. The former electro-shock their horses and pinch their genitals to start the ride; the latter almost always pet their horses on the neck at the end of each ride, our way of saying thanks.
After the ride, Rebecca drove me to a huge “outdoor sport” store named Cabela’s, which sits on a road named after it – Caleba – basically just to shock me, and succeeding. I must say, even having checked out so many hunting stores, such as Gander Mountain in Ohio near where Lane lives, this one can be described only in superlatives. Bebecca told me that hunters come from all over the country to pay it homage. Would you believe that inside it is a 50’-high artificial mountain all over which stand taxidermy-mounted North American fauna – bears, mountain goats, Dall sheep, cougars, wolves, elks… All over the walls are mounted countless more, including Asian and African animals. The gun department alone is bigger than most sporting goods stores in their entirety. There is a section displaying dioramas of African wildlife, and even a great hall of the Whitetail deer, containing hundreds of magnificent specimens, all lifeless of course. And there were groups of children being led around by docents telling them how the hunting heroes brought down such fleet-footed prey, while the children looked around in awe. The poisoning of a generation at work before my pained eyes.
August 12 was a busy day. We had a 3:15 pm radio interview lined up, and a library lecture to deliver at 6 pm. In the early afternoon, Rebecca drove me to visit the Krishna Palace – easily the biggest Hindu temple complex in North America, covered with black and gold paint in every ornate corner, marble flooring and chandeliers in every hallway, amidst a sea of green covering five private square miles. Wheeling, West Virginia, is a city of contrasts and extremes – the largest hunting store and the biggest Krishna temple in one small city of one small state. How unlikely is that?
While Rebecca was driving me to the radio station, I asked her how long the interview was supposed to last. She said anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on how interested in the subject the host was and how the interview went. 45 minutes was what the host gave to Howard Lyman when he was in town, as organized by Rebecca herself. By this measure, then the host must be enormously interested in our subject matter, and the interview must have gone incredibly well, since it lasted 1 hour 15 minutes. It was an open-line program, so a few phone calls came in, and all said essentially that global warming was a hoax. And while the host was open-minded, his side-kick wasn’t, who interrupted me several times in mid-sentence. At one point, the guy interjected, “West Virginia is having one of its coolest summers for some time. So, talking about global warming is complete and utter nonsense” I’ve about had it with this guy, and fired right back at him, “We’re talking about global average temperature. Every time you name one example of cooling, I can name you ten examples of heating. Are you willing to bet your children’s future on an anecdotal anomaly?” He did not respond. Near the end, he interjected again, this time loudly, “So, you want us all to just stop eating meat and stop using our power lawn-mowers tomorrow?” Without hesitation I found myself saying, “THAT’S RIGHT!” The host wound up by saying that climate change is the most perplexing subject he has encountered by far, add, “So many say that Al Gore is wrong, then carry on business as usual. But what if he’s right?”
The library talk was attended by about 20 people, including a few from the Krishna Palace whom Rebecca had invited (she had been vigorously inviting everyone she came across), and maybe a few who came as a result of the radio talkshow. As with almost every other speech, this one was video recorded. So far, unlike the radio audience, I haven’t had one live lecture audience member who dissented on global warming.
Aug. 13 I drove the 7 hours from Wheeling WV to the place of Charlotte Templeton in St. Michaels, Maryland, arriving in the late afternoon. The most memorable part of the drive was the Bay Bridge, probably the longest bridge I’ve ever driven over.
On the morning of the 14th, Charlotte went to her parents’ place to exchange her small sedan for the a pick-up truck. I GPSed my way to it at an agreed-upon time, and met her there at the Alternative Mini Storage where 1650 copies of [Homo Sapiens! SAVE YOUR EARTH] lay waiting in 45 cartons, 44 copies per carton. We loaded 20 cartons into the truck and I led the way by GPS to the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria VA 1.5 hours away. Upon arrival, I parked my car right next to the rear entrance of the hotel on the lower level of the car park with “FIX GLOBAL WARMING or kiss our children’s future good-bye” catching the eyes of most conference attendees who entered through that entrance. One woman said, “I LOVE this!”