Amity and Prosperity – Book Review

No one should be sacrificed in the name of energy.

Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America could be anyone’s story and that is why you should read this book by Eliza Griswold.

Not long ago, I was scrolling down the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018 list, when I spotted Amity and Prosperity. I instantly knew I wanted to read the book and the holiday season seemed the perfect occasion to do it.

At this time of year, our hearts are filled generosity and goodwill towards other people. Juxtaposed against this are rampant consumerism and a significant boost in fossil fuel use as people crank up their heaters, cook and bake holiday foods, light up homes and neighborhoods, ship packages overnight, and fly across the country to enjoy festivities with family and friends.

The thing is that mining for coal, drilling for oil, and fracking for natural gas are industrial activities with terrible side effects especially for the people who live where it occurs. This is not okay. We need to get off fossil fuels and protect everyone’s right to clean air, water, and a habitable planet to live on.

In Amity and Prosperity, Griswold brings to life the stories of real people struggling to live their lives in the shadow of the ever-expanding natural gas fracking industry in Appalachia. It is easy to look away or say you do not want to read or hear about it, but I believe we all have a responsibility to find out what is really going on in our country and then try to change it.

Book Review

Appalachia is a place of natural beauty with warm-hearted patriotic people living on land abundant in energy resources like coal, oil, and natural gas. Many families have lived in the same area and even on the same land for generations. Over 150 years of mining and drilling for fossil fuels has taken a heavy toll on the people and the land.

As you read Amity and Prosperity you will meet Stacey Haney, a nurse, and single mother, and her two children Harley and Paige as well as their neighbors, other family members, and people in and around the community of Amity in Washington County, Pennsylvania (yes, it is a real town). Attorneys, state and federal agency employees, and fracking industry representatives will also make appearances.

Amity and Prosperity Book CoverEliza Griswold and Stacey Haney met on March 23, 2011, at the Morgantown Airport at a West Virginia/Pennsylvania Monongahela Area Watersheds Compact meeting, where Stacey had spoken about living near a Marcellus shale natural gas fracking operation.

After the meeting, her daughter Paige said, “You did good, Mom. You only cried twice.”

The next day, Griswold visited the Haney’s for the first time. Over the course of seven years, she would make 37 trips and follow the stories of 45 people.

All Stacey Haney was asking for was to be able to get safe clean drinking water from her well so she and her kids could be healthy and live happily on their farm.

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all people.”

—Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27 Natural resources and the public estate (1967 amendment)

The Bottom Line

When poet, journalist, and author Eliza Griswold rode across a river in Nigeria on an empty oil drum in 2007, she did not know it would lead to writing Amity and Prosperity.

After visiting and writing about places like Nigeria, where extremely poor people live on land that is rich in energy resources, Griswold decided, she wanted to return home and tell the stories of the people who live where energy extraction takes place in the United States.

One thing that struck me while reading the book is that Griswold herself is inconspicuous, present but not seen. She allowed the people living in Washington County, Pennsylvania to tell their stories, often in their own words with seemingly very little interference from her. I like that.

Imagine the courage it would take to open up your life to public scrutiny.

Stacey Haney would probably have been satisfied to live her entire life without becoming the heroine of a book and chances are her children would have preferred that, too. Yet, courageously and honestly, they and others did share their daily lives and struggles with readers everywhere.

Somehow, I get the feeling that Stacey Haney would not care about being an inspiration to anyone, but she is to me.

Featured Image at Top: Part of an American Flag Reflected in Waterdrops – Photo Credit iStock/perkijl

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Native Plants are Good for the Environment

Offer native plants a place in your yard.

Native plants give you beauty, a sense of place, and an environmentally friendly yard that does not need fertilizers, pesticides, or intensive watering.

Unfortunately, it took me many years to gain an appreciation for native plants (which includes trees and grasses). Now, it just makes sense to me that native plants should be our go-to plants, not the thirsty turfgrass lawns brought to the United States by wealthy European landowners or the exotic plants that colonists and immigrants brought with them from their far-flung homelands.

Trying to force plants to live in areas that they are unsuited for is not good for the plants or the environment. Why not reimagine your yard and try native plants? If you give them a chance, native plants will find their way into your heart.

Reimagine Your Yard

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, my family and I lived in a new subdivision of ranch-style homes near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Landscaping varied from house to house but every front yard and most backyards had a swath of lawn, a few trees, and whatever ornamental plants the homeowners fancied (which might have included native plants).

A few streets away, rebels must have been living in the white house with black trim because their yard did not comply with the neighborhood norms. It looked weird, out of place. Small speckled rocks covered the front yard interspersed with groupings of hardy-looking yet attractive plants. Years later, I realized that these rebels had chosen an easy-care drought-resistant yard well suited for the low rainfall and warm climate of Southern California.

Later as an adult still living in Southern California, my spouse and I maintained landscaping that fit in with our neighborhood including two turfgrass lawns, two dozen rosebushes, several hydrangeas, a handful of azaleas, and an array of pots that we rotated with seasonal flowers. Possibly the only native plant on the property was a lovely old oak tree that had taken up residence in a corner of the backyard long before we arrived.

Sprinklers Water Turfgrass Lawn and Sidewalk
Sprinklers Watering a Turfgrass Lawn and the Sidewalk – Photo Credit iStock/marcutti

Moving to the Central California Coast, eleven years ago, during a drought, caused me to reimagine what makes a yard beautiful and stirred my interest in learning about native plants. Instead of green lawns and flowering ornamental shrubs, our yard here is mostly wild and is frequented by mule deer, wild turkeys, and a variety of birds searching for water, food (plants and bugs) and a place to hang out.

I began observing the plants and trees noticing that some seemed to do well even during our dry summers and others died without irrigation. Some plants coexisted with a variety of different plants and some like ice plant and Italian thistle seemed intent on taking over the yard meaning they are invasive. I got an idea into my head that we could restore our land to a happier and more environmentally sound state appropriate for our location.

Mule Deer Bucks Napping in Our Yard
Three Mule Deer Bucks Napping in Our Yard among Native Monterey Pine Trees in June 2013 (see the patch of invasive ice plant in the background).

Armed with a pair of clippers and a shovel, beginning with ice plant and thistle removal, I embarked on an amateur yard restoration project that is still in progress. I knew that to be a good steward of our yard I would need to learn about both native and invasive plants. If you want to, you can read about some of my experiences as a native plant novice in various posts including Wood Chip Mulch Mountain, Weed Whacking – Do it Yourself, Adopt a Native Plant, Arbor Day 2018 – Join Millions of Tree Enthusiasts, and Making Water Conservation a Way of Life – Outdoors.

Pause and take a moment to reimagine your own yard as a place where native plants, bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife can thrive and so can you.  If your yard is already full of flourishing native plants, please share your story.

What is a Native Plant?

While I was working on this post, I found myself returning to a question I have often pondered, “What constitutes a native plant?” I wanted to find out and I thought you might want to know, too.

The answers I found on the Internet varied quite a bit and left me wondering, “How am I supposed to plant native plants if no one seems to know what defines a native plant?” I discussed it with my family over dinner. They did not seem to understand why I was having a dilemma or why I felt the need to ask the question. Undaunted, I plucked up my courage and posted my question on the Facebook group page for the California Native Plant Society.

California Native Plant Garden with Bench
California Native Plant Garden with a Bench – Photo Credit Jeff Silva (click the photo to open it on Flickr).

Apparently, I was not the first person to have asked for a native plant definition and it created a small flurry of responses including “Not this again!” and “We are sworn to not be crabby towards newbies, remember?”

I did receive some useful responses but not a definitive answer. Some people suggested that a native plant (at least in the U.S.) is one that was growing here before European colonists brought plants from home and other distant lands. Others said that a native plant is a plant that evolved in a particular area or region over thousands of years. Several people said that a native plant is able to survive on its own without human intervention.

Okay, I accept that science is not black and white. I came away with the general understanding that a native plant is one that has evolved over a long, but indeterminate amount of time, adapting to the climate, terrain, soil, wildlife, and other plants in a particular place and requires little or no care from humans.

Botanists and other plant scientists use historical records, field observations, and scientific testing to determine whether a plant is native to a certain location.

The next section will cover why native plants are good for the environment.

Native Plants and the Environment

Native plants are good at their jobs. With no need for micro-managing bosses, native plants routinely perform their job responsibilities including using water wisely, running on renewable energy, recycling materials, storing carbon, providing food and habitat for others, keeping toxins and diseases out of their workplaces, and reproducing new generations. Each year, they take a vacation, well, actually a staycation going dormant in preparation for the next growing season.

California Yard with Native Plants and Palo Verde Tree
California Yard with Native Plants and Palo Verde Trees – Photo Credit Steve Hartman (click the photo to read the California Native Plant Society blog post).

Moving away during environmental downturns is not an option for native plants. It is in their best interest to adapt to the conditions where they find themselves not relying on humans to apply fertilizers, pesticides, or extra water. This also makes native plants good for the environment.

Synthetic fertilizers are made from fossil fuels that are dangerous to extract, disastrous when spilled or leaked, and emit greenhouse gases when burned. Fertilizers running off from yards and agricultural fields cause dead zones in water bodies where nothing can live so not using them in your own yard reduces this problem.

Pesticides are poisons created from fossil fuels to kill specific living things that humans consider pests, but their use results in collateral damage to humans and nonhumans. By not using pesticides in your yard, you are eliminating a hazard to bees, butterflies, birds, pets, and you and your family.

Using water sparingly protects groundwater basins that provide drinking water for tens of millions of people and irrigation water for hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. Overdrawing your account at the bank is not a good idea and neither is overdrawing a groundwater basin. A groundwater basin is overdrawn when it cannot be refilled on an annual basis by rainfall, snowmelt, or a combination of both.

California Yard with Native Plant Landscaping
California Yard with Native Plant Landscaping in Bloom – Photo Credit Pete Veilleux (click the photo to read the California Native Plant Society blog post).

Maintaining biodiversity is another beneficial trait of native plants. In the wild, nature encourages a wide variety of plants and animals to live together keeping the overall ecosystem in balance. Of course, sometimes things get out of balance but native plants are better equipped to handle it than non-native plants. Evolving over a long time, native plants have experienced adversity many times and adapted to it so they have a long history of making comebacks, sort of a plant version of “Been there, done that.”

The environmental benefits of native plants motivate me to grow them in my yard. Having fun is why I grow some of my native plants from seeds. We will continue this conversation in the next post.

Featured Image at Top: California State Flower California Poppy– Citation Smith, C. 2010. Plant guide for California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Plant Materials Center. Lockeford, CA 95237. I found this photo on the California Native Grasslands Association website.

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