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October 19, 2010

So what if Mother Earth has a little gas?

COLUMBUS _ Uncle Chet came to the back door, but I opened it before he could knock. He was in his worn-out Carhartt coat, jeans and Jets cap.

"Come in; you're letting all the heat out," I said.

He stepped into the kitchen and observed, "I don't see any fire."

"We're burning gas this week; I've been too busy to deal with wood," I said as Buddy rolled off the couch where he'd been reading "Hank, the Cowdog."

"Hi, Uncle Chet."

"How's my favorite fourth-grader?"

"OK. You want to go fishing?"

"I do," Uncle Chet said. "But I want to make a few signs this morning, so I've come to help your dad dispose of his extra plywood."

"Thirty bucks a sheet," I said and poured him a coffee.

"I did see a stack of scrap out there last week," he said as he took off his coat and sat down at the kitchen table. "Where are the womenfolk?"

"On their way to SUNY Geneseo," I said.

"Good school," he said before taking a sip of coffee. Then he sat up straight before swallowing hard.

"Geese; that stuff's wicked!" he choked. "How long has that been perking?"

"Couple hours; I forgot about it," I said and sat down across from him. "You want something to drink, Buddy?"

"Cider," the boy said, waiting for me to move, but I just nodded toward the fridge, and he moseyed over there.

"Well, it's not ready yet," Uncle Chet said as he poured more milk into his cup. "I think it needs another couple hours."

"What kind of signs are you going to make?"

"I thought I'd paint one that says, `No fracking way!"'

"Right to the point," I said.

"And one: `Fracking? What would the Iroquois think?"'

"What do the Iroquois think?"

"They oppose it, of course," he said. "The way they look at it, we have to look at it from the Earth's point of view."


"You know: `Does Mother Earth really want a gigantic poisonous enema splitting her insides just because she has a little gas?"' he said. "There, that could be another sign."

"Ouch. You'll need a big piece of scrap for that one."

"The Iroquois try to look seven generations ahead, base policy on what will work out best for most people more than a century from now," he said. "When you're looking that far ahead, it's harder to be selfish. You have to ask yourself, `What would my grandchildren five times removed want me to do? Exploit this resource now, or later, or never?"'

"Later, technology will have evolved," I said.

"Beyond toluene and xylene being shot into the ground, then hoping it doesn't come back up to bite you; sure," he said. "As the industry learns from its mistakes, it's bound to get better. You know, I've heard it's 99 percent safe now. But can you imagine a driver who's 99 percent, only crashes once every 100 trips?"

"I don't want to," I said.

"It's nowhere near good enough. Think about it: they don't need to frack with water; they can use propane. But they're still using water, proposing to use millions, maybe billions of gallons of fresh water and turn it into stuff worse than this coffee," he said as he raised the cup and poured it into the sink.

"That stuff's deadly," he said as he shook his head.

"Sorry about that."

"All I'm saying is we're sitting on a gold mine, and we don't have to let the first wave of prospectors in. All those people in co-ops and sustainable groups are learning more all the time. They've got to start talking to each other, putting it all together."

"I already know more than I ever wanted to," I said.

"It's always like that when you have a problem."

"I say let's go fishing," Buddy said.

"First, let's go out to the garage," Uncle Chet said. "I've got a can of paint, and I'm going to make at least one sign. Now who can paint a picture of Mother Earth?"

Cooperstown Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit

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