Sunday, January 26, 2014

Page two

Assuming we've swept SWEPCO's proposal off the rug, and we can get back to normal life around here, (There will be appeals going on, possibly for years, until AEP finally cries "Uncle" and pulls the plug), there will likely be those who wonder how we did what no one believed possible... A small group of citizen's stopping a huge multi-billion dollar corporation in its tracks. (Our fingers are still crossed.)

SWEPCO coming to Northwest Arkansas with its huge power transmission plans was a the perfect storm... On the one hand we had a utility company that had been allowed in the past to do whatever it wanted, with only marginal supervision from the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Then we have a small community of folks who came here for the beauty and thence stayed for the loving support of a nurturing group of folks who had also made tremendous sacrifices to be here for the beauty and found therefore, a great deal in common with each other. With hands held and arms locked against the SWEPCO invasion, we presented a united front.

Last night I attended the awards ceremony for the new first annual Eureka Springs Indy Film Festival. I sat behind students from school. To my left were friends. On the stage were people I've known for years. Many of the films were created by people I know. And so you can see that when it comes to community, we are woven together like linsey woolsey, a peasant cloth made from linen and wool.

When someone asks how you can stop a power company from damaging your community, there are certain procedures to follow, in a certain order, but there are other things that must be done first in order to be in a cohesive community in which common folk give full support to each other.

Last night at the Indy Film Fest, the staff presented a film trailer for a feature length film that will be released in May, called Eureka, The Art of Being. It is about my small town of 2000, with well over 300 artists. You'll notice that I'm in it.
EUREKA! The Art of Being (Trailer) from Quiet Center Films on Vimeo.
Please click to see widescreen on the Vimeo site. This short trailer may help to explain how and why a small community rose up against AEP/SWEPCO and mobilized in a united fashion to stop a power line from being built, but it also may help some to imagine the kinds of communities that can be built in the most unexpected places.

So what does it take to become a member of a close-knit or closely woven community? A friend Virginia, had told me many years ago about homesteading in Gilbert, Arkansas. Virginia had grown up in the south from a fine family, and moved to Gilbert, Arkansas, a town on the Buffalo River of less than 100 folks. They bought a small cabin and 40 acres of land.

After they got settled, Virginia and her husband began noticing that things were missing. So she asked one of her neighbors about it. The neighbor carefully explained the community rules. When someone new came to town everything they brought with them belonged to their new neighbors. Everything they did and earned while there would be their own.

I was shocked at what seemed to be a strange story, but later in reflection on it, realized that the cost of really belonging to a community is steep. You have to give yourself fully to it, not holding back from your engagement in it if you want to fit in.

Linsey-woolsey is a coarse pioneer cloth woven with linen and wool, the linen forming the warp and the wool the weft or woof. The linen makes the cloth strong and lasting, the wool makes it warm, but because it was usually made from local fibers and dyed with available vegetable dyes, it was looked down upon by those engaged only in new stuff. Now however, a cloth object of linsey-woolsey may have immense historic value. One unique aspect of linsey-wooley is that it can be repaired through felting. In case you don't know what felting it, it is the process through which felt is made, by intertwining wool fibers by poking with short barbed needles.

I have given some thought to the meaning of living in a small town. Linsey-woolsey is a term that applies. When first arriving in a new place you rest upon the surface of community like a patch. After some long years, you become woven in, felted into the warp and weft, the whole of you, with the linen giving strength of community to the warmth of wool. Your integration in to community may take a bit of poking with sharp needles.

Time if you give it and let it has a way of poking your coarse edges into the depth of the cloth.

As a culture, we are buzzing like electrons, skipping from one orbit to the next, and I would like to offer to my readers a strange notion. We live in a facebook, blogger age in which we can befriend or be befriended by others who will always remain unknown to us. It demands nothing of us but high speed internet and a device of some kind. But there is a real world out there where encounters can run deep.

Rock County is a linsey-woolsey kind of place. And my wish is that we may each find it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

first post...

I have set up this blog as a place to store my ruminations concerning the ongoing power struggle between local citizenry and the powerful multi billion dollar electric transmission company, AEP/SWEPCO.

In our local power line debacle it appears that at least for now we have AEP/SWEPCO on the run. The Judge approved only the portion of the power line that would be in Arkansas, and the power company would have to run through regulatory hurdles in Missouri that they are admittedly unprepared for. They are not licensed to do business in Missouri. They cannot possibly catch Missouri residents unprepared for battle, and due to the work of our small environmental organization Save the Ozarks, we managed to make certain that residents of Missouri are well informed. We are preparing for appeal of the ruling anyway because the judge would let stand the slip-shod way in which such issues are addressed in Arkansas. The cozy relationship between the power companies and the regulatory agency spells possible disaster for citizenry and the environment.

With some citizens finally being confident that we can really achieve what everyone told us we could not... stop a power company hungry for power transmission profits from destroying our homes and properties... we have been asked if we will write a basic guide so that others can do what we appear to have done.

Note to readers: The game isn't over. AEP/SWEPCO is one of those profitable companies that is not dependent on the good will of customers for its success. SWEPCO may appeal the judge's ruling and may end up using one of the routes that the judge denied, or the commission itself may overrule the judge, choose its own solution and allow the power company to go with its original plans. We are not happy dancing down Spring St. That would be premature.
So, I am beginning to call this guide, Rock County Almanac, in homage to Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac, 1949, that had such a profound effect on the environmental movement. Whether or not this leads to something more, and whether or not AEP/SWEPCO is actually defeated, or just quietly engineering its next monstrous case of malfeasance, the Rock County Almanac is rooted in the karst terrane and limestone rocks of the Ozarks. Here, the underlying rock layers are pitted and scoured like Swiss cheese. The soil is thin over the chert and limestone. Water that can rarely be depended on is forced out from between rock layers as springs, some large and some scarcely a trickle. And hard scrabble farmers having given up on corn and cows simply farm the rocks that keep springing up in their pastures and sell them for building walls and patios for the rich and near famous.

An early Arkansas writer, John Gould Fletcher, had written to my artist friends Louis and Elsie Freund in the 1950s that there was wasn't much happening in Eureka Springs, but it sure was laid out pretty, and so with tourism, pretty became our only cash crop. As one local had said in our public hearing over the SWEPCO debacle, "You can't eat pretty, but here, without pretty, we don't eat."

And so there is something remarkable and poetic about the beauty of place, and those that gather for the sake of that beauty. When we are connected with each other out of concern for beauty, and unleash our own powers of poetry, we are far stronger than some would expect. Not being the idiot locals AEP/SWEPCO seem to have been prepared for, folks read the environmental impact statement, sorted through it with their fine toothed combs, adopted a tone of moral outrage and nailed SWEPCO on very real charges of attempting to simply crank their massive power line though what they thought were defenseless hill folks.

As I say, it is an interesting case... One first built upon the Swiss cheese of our rugged karst terrane, and the challenges folks found in crafting successful lives in rock county. We've become hard as the rocks ourselves when someone wants to mess with the beauty of this place.