The New Killing Season

First they took the rabbits and squirrels.  That was easy.  Then they went after the deer with rifle shot and bow and arrow which was just plain fun.  And they even took their sons into the quiet, dense, dark forest to teach them how to stalk and kill using just the right amount of “Kentucky windage” on muzzle and scope.

Next they set about ravaging woodland and forest.  There was much money to be made in the timber from out of state loggers who brutally cut and culled the tall trees which grew up from the rich soil underfoot through hundreds of bleak, lonely winters across Upstate New York.

And now in 2012 yet another predator beckons and threatens once more to violate the earth as the desperate stewards of the burdened land succumb and yield to the blandishments and enticements of surrogates of these new speculators who sing the  siren song of the natural gas industry in the name of Hydraulic Fracturing.

Their allurements are considerable and irresistible to landowners and farmers who, when dining in the entire Southern Tier, really need make only two decisions at their favorite local restaurant.  Just two, as the bored waitress inquires:  “Do you want ‘veal parm’ … or ‘chicken parm’?”   And one more:  “‘Sprinkled blue’ … or ‘plain’?”  Salad, that is.

Then they ride the dusty backroads with their beer bellies stuffed into Ram pickup trucks outfitted with gun racks and powerful spotlights with which to stun deer before shooting them dumb and done as they forage for food in the sparse, mean winter landscape.  Opening Day of Hunting Season is a most sacred stop on the calendar of their lonely days and drab existence as the killing season begins.

In once verdant fields where fleet, sleek Quarterhorses and stout, elegant Morgans grazed in the summer sun, ugly drilling contraptions now penetrate and violate the land and pump their  deadly cocktail into the earth almost a mile below.  The horses, most of them, disappeared when it was realized that they were worth more at the local rendering station than competing for a ribbon at a horse show in Elmira.

But they are not stupid, these people who exist north of Poughkeepsie and west of Binghamton.  And in their back country wisdom they know they’d best grab on to the fragile lifeline dangled by the energy companies from Oklahoma and Texas to further pillage the weary and exhausted land by injecting vulgar and dangerous chemicals hundreds of feet down into the earth.  This latest obscenity carries a glib, but ugly nickname:  “Fracking.”  It is something akin to raping or pillaging the neighborhood.

It has already begun, these backcountry folks know, just over the line in Pennsylvania where towns like Sayre, Towanda and Mansfield sit near the border astride the Marcellus Shale.  The area is known, on the other side of the line, for purposes of tourism, as “The EndlessMountains.”  They are anything but.

But our poor hardscrabble New Yorkers can smell the beguiling scent of money just over that state line.  It is altogether more  powerful and alluring than the smell of sulfurous, toxic chemicals fouling the water supply and causing flames to leap out of kitchen faucets and toilets in those Endless Mountains where once the Pooles and Talada clans raised their inbred families in house trailers and ramshackle hovels.  My grandfather was a Talada so I can tell of these things.

Andrew Mark Cuomo, our brilliant, dynamic and stunningly effective new governor has pledged to restore some prosperity – and hope – to this troubled area of our State.  The Governor has always had an exquisite feel for the region and if anybody can pull a Lazarus up there – Andrew can.

We just hope “Fracking” isn’t part and parcel of the State’s effort to renew the sad, beleaguered land of my birth.

This is a Whitney Media commentary.  This is William O’Shaughnessy.