#8: Faces in Ethiopia
Within minutes of leaving the airport, the images of poverty landed heavy blows on my eternal consciousness. It was late September and therefore the end of rainy season; the roads were a crowded mess of potholes and pedestrians. I was told to avoid raw fruits and vegetables; basically don’t eat it if it ain’t cooked. So the dietary restrictions, the humid weather, the dust and pollution all had me down for the first few days. But the people is really Ethiopia’s main attraction, and soon I began to see that shining through. This first photo is Solomon, the “wise guide” of Harar, as we labeled him.
And this man was one of the gardeners at our Harari hotel.
A lot of people don’t have much , but it seems everyone loves really hard. These people have continually humbled themselves and suffered for one another throughout history, particularly through the political turmoil of the last century. The kindness is refreshing coming from the western world; people want to serve and see one another happy.
Street merchants may not give me a fair price after they hear my voice isn’t that of a local, but I got over my hurt feelings after the first few rip offs. The truth is, I’m usually giving the money to somebody who needs it.
I’ve put together a series of images here of people’s faces. A lot of people, like this group of children, asked me to shoot their picture because they saw a big camera around my neck, which I found surprising. There’s still a bit of novelty or nostalgia with the lens in these places. In the US, people who take pictures of others in public are called paparazzi, and nobody likes them.
On my morning jogs, people opening their shops encouraged me to keep running hard! When we drove by people’s mountain sorghum farms, the children came running and waving toward the car. And as the rain started to pour in Harar, a family called for our group to come inside to get out of the storm. 6 complete strangers sat in the front room and watched the rain fall and talked about homes here, near, and far.
I find this series representative of a certain attitude which is a rarity where I come from, but ironically it made me feel very at home. It’s an attitude of embracing the people that come into your daily life instead of pushing them away until you can no longer ignore them. Looking into these people’s eyes it’s easy to remember we’re all in pursuit of the same happiness; we’re all pretty much the same.
#7: To the Victors…
On March 31, 2012, hundreds of concerned farmers gathered in a sweaty high school cafeteria to hear 6 hours worth of very bad news. Many epic mountain beards were in attendance.
The fate of these people’s watershed and their livelihood was being threatened by the encroaching oil and gas industry. But by evening’s end it had become clear that these people would stand tall and defend their rural mountain lifestyle. The final speaker of the day got to the stage about 40 minutes late; not too bad when you consider the length of the day’s agenda.
Duke Cox is something of a folk hero in the environmental community in Colorado; he’s known for his work with the Western Colorado Congress and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance defending western Colorado communities from oil and gas development. His words today were quite brief and to the point; he closed by saying,
“…and this is the message I want you to send to the people who may be thinking about bidding on these leases, and to the oil and gas attorneys and to the oil and gas executives and to the politicians who may support the oil and gas industry. This is that message: ‘Not here, not now, NOT EVER!”
The room, previously weary and burnt out, erupted with applause. After hearing all day about the bad things that could happen to their homes, gardens, air and water, someone was finally voicing some encouragement.
In a previous blog I said that the peoples’ feathers had been ruffled so to speak, and they have responded in the boldest way. From the very beginning there was no willingness to compromise with these people; they had seen the face of an evil enemy and refused to concede any ground. I find this unwavering dedication to principle very admirable. With the help of two very gracious nonprofit organizations (Western Environmental Law Group and Citizens for a Healthy Community) the people of the valley were able to synthesize an argument, create a plan of attack, and execute flawlessly. And it worked.
On May 2nd, 2012, the BLM caved and removed all 22 parcels in the valley from consideration for the August 2012 leasing sale. When asked why they backpedaled so hard, the BLM cited public input as the reason they’ve decided to reconsider their land management plan. The local field offices were flooded with letters, phone calls, and emails from concerned residents and the tourist communities that pleaded to preserve this mountain paradise.
More analysis will be done and this won’t be the last time these parcels are considered for oil and gas leasing; the rich Piceance Basin is going nowhere anytime soon. But the significance of this victory, no matter how permanent or temporary, cannot be understated. We’ve established a precedent in civic engagement here that can serve as a model for other American communities to follow. It’s a perfect picture of the democratic process working properly in the favor of the citizens, even when the bureaucrats at the top would prefer to steer the other way.
I cannot wait for the 12th annual Mountain Harvest Festival! Always the last weekend in September, the festival offers the chance for farmers in the valley to show off their goods and for the spectacle of the beautiful landscape to be on display. Tourists come from far and wide for musical entertainment, farm-fresh produce, wine and beer tastings and so much more. Harvest is always the best time of year for farmers because it’s when all the hard work comes to fruition. Bounties are being gathered and goals are being met. But this year, coming off such an incredible community victory, I can only assume the energy at the Festival this year will be off the charts! The people of the valley can’t wait to show off the spoils of their victory this year!
Blog 6: Hosted at Organic Farming Blog
Blog 5: Hosted at PlanetSave.com
#4-What’s Mined is Yours
A quick hike up the creek trail from Holy Terror Farm sits Elk Creek mine to the north based in a tiny town called Somerset. In the journeys around the farm in the last year+, the crew was always struck at how the mine seems to really make up the entire town there. The big “Oxbow Mining” sign is twice wrapped around the large concrete silo right atop the main crest the highway makes thru the village. Right across the street, a tiny post office. And then, after a few hundred more yards at 25 mph the speed limit is doubled again as you leave the mine and the town of Somerset in the rearview.
We really had no idea how intertwined the North Fork Valley is already with the American energy industry. But on our last shoot we had some extra time and fresh camera batteries, so we stopped at the mine. And the sign out front revealed that the Somerset cemetery entrance used the road that went through the coalmine! So we proceeded on thru. Under the belt that fed to the main silo, around a couple large rusty chemical tanks and into a small dirt parking lot. It was nearing the end of the day; it seemed a few workers were heading home for the night.
Above us, a giant yellow dozer is pushing the largest pile of rocks I’ve ever seen. Back and forth over the top of a growing mountain of coal, pushing it toward awaiting trucks, and eventually train cars. 100 cars at a time, the coal heads out of the Valley to be washed and eventually used to power and heat our cities.
We followed the road and the signs to Somerset Cemetery; the boundary of which is about 30 feet from the nearest coalmine equipment: a couple tanks and what looks like some sort of air monitor station. Atop the cemetery hill, we can see the entire town before us. It’s just as small as it felt passing through all those times.
But the irony here is striking. I haven’t been able to dig up the history yet, but I think it’s worth speculation that Somerset cemetery was there on that hillside before the mining ever came to town and was left there as a matter of compromise with local folks who didn’t want to move their dead loved ones. Now the mine is thriving as part of a strong North Fork Valley coal industry, and the little graveyard sits dwarfed on the coalmine’s broad shoulder, open to the public every day from ten till four.
That’s really what makes up the North Fork Valley: organic farming and ranching, and coal mining. Between Elk Creek, West Elk, and Bowie #2, the North Fork Valley has an estimated total yearly output of 15+ million tons of coal to heat our nation’s homes. Since amendments to the Clean Air Act made in the early 1990’s, the Valley’s low-sulfur, high energy output coal has been increasingly valuable. So the mining industry is strong in the area and it keeps a lot of families’ rent paid. And while coal mining (all underground, in this case) does pose air pollution and water contamination risks, the local farmers and residents trust the regulations placed on the industry to protect them. They’ve embraced it; they even bury their dead right there in it! These people have been working side-by-side for decades and the community is securely wrapped around that mutual trust.
But the natural gas industry can’t be trusted; not yet. We just don’t know enough, and corporate interests wish we knew less. The suppression of research and information is complex and sneaky. The water and air contamination risks are exceptional and the evidence is beginning to mount in other places like Battlement Mesa and Pavillion, WY: people are getting sick the moment drilling starts. People of the North Fork Valley refuse to ignore this; they see it as a threat and they are prepared to defend against it. In a rugged terrain already bored with coal mine tunnels, the hidden faulting that could show itself in the course of a horizontal gas drilling project could be catastrophic. And beyond the hypothetical, which are the most fearsome, there are the assurities: increased traffic and noise, light and dust pollution. And the worst: we don’t know what besides methane is escaping from these active wells, and nobody is collecting it to find out!
The North Fork Valley residents’ response to the proposed drilling is not simply a statement of “not in my backyard.” But let’s be honest, isn’t this community doing their part for domestic energy production!? Natural gas sits firmly atop the dishonest sentiment that we can “heat America for 100 years”; what people don’t know is that it’s a failing industry in which high proportions of drilling companies are bankrupt or barely staying afloat by drilling new wells that are increasingly deficient in methane output. And the majority of the natural gas cultivated domestically is either used in making plastics or shipped overseas, mostly to Asian markets. We only have so many homes to heat.
This project has most assuredly taken a bit of a turn. A month ago, we were shooting a pretty soft, fluffy inspirational story about a cool farmer in a valley of like-minded organic growers. That group of growers does still exist, but they’ve developed quite a formidable enemy with some new developments. The Federal Bureau of Land Management recently announced the scheduling of a lease sale for 30,000+ acres in the North Fork Valley for the purpose of oil and gas drilling. For a local economy that runs on money from 3 main sources (farming, tourism, coal-mining), the BLM’s announcement poses a direct threat to 2 of those 3 channels. Concerns about drinking water contamination are only the beginning here. Visually, the presence of gas wells, drill pads and evaporation tanks really diminishes all tourist attraction to the region. And 400+ farmers in the valley depend on one single source, the Fire Mountain Ditch, for their irrigation water. That canal flows through multiple proposed drilling parcels, and all it takes is one leak or seep to wreak havoc on the farms of the valley.
The path of the ditch is one of the most unstable land structures I’ve ever documented. Many points on the ditch have failed, one of which flooded Holy Terror farm a little more than two years ago. It’s highly susceptible to landslide activity because of dry, rocky soils and steep grades. And parts of the ditch flow directly over the local Elk Creek coalmine! My first thought when seeing these proposed drill pads was: “wow, that can’t be safe!”
And more importantly, it’s largely unsolicited! Sure, there are some people in the Valley that believe gas drilling will bring jobs and infuse a bit of disposable income into the economy. But people holding that opinion seem to be few and far between; the majority sentiment is that these people want nothing to do with the temporary jobs and migrant employment that comes with pipeline construction and gas extraction. They’ve seen the stories out of communities like Pavillion, WY and Demmock, NJ who have embraced the drilling, felt a slight bump in their GDP, and then watched the trucks leave town in a cloud of dust on a path of environmental destruction.
The growers of the North Fork have had their feathers ruffled, and they are responding. I attended the Paonia town meeting on the topic January 4th, which turned out nearly half of the entire town’s population! Their way of life has been threatened, and it’s clear to me that they will defend it. The gathering was focused on making the drilling personal: where are the closet parcels to you, and what do you need to tell the BLM to force them to consider removing those parcel numbers from the auction list? This project has become a story about property rights, organic food, and defense of home. I came away from that meeting thinking about the facts of the situation, and I can’t help but look fondly on the farmers’ position. If it were a question of right and wrong, the answer is clear! The thriving agricultural economy here is already in place, and largely successful, so replacing it with a petroleum-based whim is the wrong decision. The facts are on the side of the farmers.
These people live a rare, special lifestyle as organic fruit and vegetable farmers and ranchers in a high-plains community. They barter, they work together, they provide for one-another; they deserve to keep this lifestyle! If nothing more, it represents a more primitively peaceful and appropriate way of life that even the city folks can respect!
#2-What’s in a Name: Holy Terror
Let’s clear this up very quickly: the name Holy Terror has nothing to do with the gods or terrorism. Maybe stating that explicitly will keep me off the no-fly list. Here’s what it does mean:
The chilly headwaters of Terror Creek flow eastward from Crater Peak in the Grand Mesa, around the foot of Terror Mountain and into the Gunnison valley watershed providing irrigation water for hundreds of farms in the Paonia area. After it leaves a series of couple of dam-controlled reservoirs around 9,000 feet, it races down the mountainsides, finding a narrow path in the valleys toward the North Fork of the Gunnison, where it dumps its payload. The last 3 miles or so of Terror Creek flows thru the property Alison purchased in April 2010; thus the farm was named the Holy Terror Farm, or the Terror Creek Ranch long ago when the first cherry trees were sprouting.
Even being dam controlled, the erratic flows of Terror Creek are what earned it such a name. A variation of 800% in volume flows is not uncommon when comparing May 15th and January 15th. So the original homesteaders felt the powerful push of water carrying down thousand pound boulders deserved a moniker: they called it Holy Terror.
Here are some pictures we took this year during shooting (photo credits to Addison Hunold and Matt Sloan) at Holy Terror. The first two are stills taken on the creek that runs down the property’s hillside, virtually in the same place. They were taken in April and late September, so you can see the change in volume here; representative of the cycle of life the runoff brings to the valley every four seasons.
Another photo here is the main gate that controls the irrigation siphon on the west end of the farm. To minimize flooding, the irrigation ditch is siphoned underground for about 20 feet and under the main creek bed at the point where they intersect. This way, flows can be monitored and delicately controlled in the ditch to provide consistent water pressure to the town’s farmers.
The last picture is the main sign that greets all visitors to Alison and Jason’s farm; the blue bicycle a creative testament to the adventurous life Alison leads.
#1-Planting the Seeds
It’s only appropriate that my first director’s blog lay some groundwork. 2 things will be foundationalized (if that’s not a word yet, I’ve made it one)by the end:
- Where I came from
- Where the idea for Holy Terror originated
So addressing point 1, the principal person at Halffro is myself, Cameron Terry. I’m a Colorado native with a strong affinity for the natural beauty that surrounds me here. I got my film career start in high school @ Palmer as part of the Terror TV crew (Funny enough, this has nothing to do with the current film we’re working on, Holy Terror. Then, it was just a mascot.).
My formal training, if that’s what we call it, was done at Colorado Film School and CU Denver. During film school, my passion for documentary blossomed into a career path. My affinity for the genre is rooted in the idea that a story that tells itself is a story worth hearing.
And moving to point 2, Holy Terror is indeed a story worth hearing. I read an article by Douglas Brown in the Denver Post in December of 2010 about Alison Gannett, a “skier turned farmer bring[ing] passion for the environment to her new life on the land.” Brown’s article told the inspiring story of a woman who recently became a farmer by committing one action: buying a homestead farm. Alison had never farmed before except for a few experiments @ nearly 9,000 ft in Crested Butte, her previous home.
I’ve been inspired by Alison and her fiancé Jason’s willingness to be guinea pigs for our community with regards to what works and what doesn’t in community sustained agriculture. Decentralization sounds great to all environmental advocates, but Alison is the picture of what it actually looks like.
And the need for adrenaline and adventure also continue to burn within her heart. As the founder of Rippin Chix, Alison conducts workshops and tours which teach women how to bike, ski, and surf! Some of her trail riding and cross-country camps even take place right there at home on the farm!
Check out the attached pictures for some information on the research that led to this point, and stay tuned for more on this compelling story!
Denver Post page 2 December, 2010