Toward the end of July, I went to visit my parents in Michigan and had a very nice time. They are extremely generous about letting me use their car, so besides enjoying their company, I got to have lunch with Ginny in Ann Arbor, and go out to see Amy’s new house on ten acres in the Irish Hills and meet her new husband, Jim. They’ve been together for several years now, but he has always been at work on the days I’m visiting. Amy made us black bean and sweet potato burritos. The next day, Amy and I got together again for lunch at Café Zola in Ann Arbor. They have a superb salmon burger served with inventive condiments, including pickled ginger. My sister came over that afternoon and we had family togetherness time around the dining room table.
Later in the week, I drove to Grosse Ile, an island near Detroit, to see Uncle Rick and Janet, and my second cousins Ben and Luke, and Ben’s darling girlfriend, Emma. Ben and Luke are 17 and 14, respectively. I’ve only seen them three or four times in their lives, but always remember their birthdays and get nice notes and photos from them in return. They are handsome and personable young men. Ben plans to go into the Marines, followed by college, after finishing high school, and Luke is an aspiring actor.
It’s fun to drive to a certain place to see a certain person, but because I don’t do it often, it’s also fun just to drive, period, in the warm summer sun, with the car windows open and the wind blowing in, lush green for miles in all directions. No drought there. I also like to smell the summer night air, a vivid, particular scent that magically erases 35 years.
During that week, I and one or both parents watched these movies, on TV or from Netflix: 12 Years a Slave, Philomena, Night of the Hunter, The Thomas Crown Affair (the older one), In the Heat of the Night, Gasland Part 2, Bullitt, Selena, King Solomon’s Mines, and Cloud Atlas.
Gasland Part 2 is a rather horrifying examination of fracking: drinking water poisoned, property values erased, children dripping blood from their noses, splendid landscapes uglified, tap and garden water that can be set on fire with the flick of a lighter and then burns steadily, oil companies of course denying any problems and paying people to move somewhere else—once they’ve signed the agreement not to discuss what happened to them. A map was displayed showing where the shale oil deposits are. The entire lower peninsula of Michigan (the hand) is one big shale oil deposit. Another substantial deposit is in California’s Central Valley, where so much of the nation’s produce is grown. If the water there gets poisoned, the results will almost certainly be catastrophic.
Plus, should we really be locating every possible drop of oil so that we can burn it, putting those emissions into the air? Methane, the gas emitted during natural gas operations including fracking, is the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide, and is 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.
After I got home, I heard on the radio that Oklahoma now has more earthquakes than California does, presumed to be the result of fracking, which forces water into the earth. This is just a staggeringly bad idea all around, so it was disheartening to learn, in Gasland Part 2, that President Obama and Hillary Clinton have been encouraging other countries to start fracking, and offering assistance. Are they stupid? Woefully ill informed? Deliberately trying to kill us all? No, I suppose it’s politics—the art of the possible: We can’t get people to stop driving, or over-consuming in every area of life—the best we can do is maybe switch from burning coal to fracking. But after seeing this movie, it was clear that fracking is actually more damaging, given its threats to our food and water supplies and how much worse for the environment methane is than carbon dioxide.
Given the immense amount of bad news in Gasland Part 2, I couldn’t imagine what Gasland had been about—does fracking also cause enormous cream-filled zits? Flatten bike tires? Eat the last of the marinated tofu? Leave empty toilet paper rolls for others to replace? I asked my parents what Gasland was about and they said the same thing as Gasland Part 2. I highly recommend seeing one or the other of these.
Night of the Hunter was the only movie ever directed by the actor Charles Laughton. It is full of poetic, haunting images, particularly while the children drift down the river by night. At the time, it was received very poorly and Laughton vowed never to direct another movie, which was unfortunate, because it is now considered a masterpiece.
On my last morning there, a chipmunk sat on the back deck for quite a time considering, with evident satisfaction, its successful hiding of several peanuts in my mother’s geranium pots, the telltale sign being the little piles of dirt kicked out of the pots. My mother doesn’t mind the peanuts, but isn’t crazy about cleaning up the dirt over and over.
I was driven back to the airport by a friendly Frenchman at the wheel of a black limo. I signed up for a shuttle at Custom Transit, but lately they often send a limo, which must be cheaper to operate than a van, and feasible if there is just one passenger. Sitting at the gate, I was pleased and also alarmed to see a little bird right near me: was it trapped inside forever? I asked at the counter and was informed that there are many birds living in the terminal and that they have a fine life: they are not killed, and they have plenty of scraps from travelers to eat, and a controlled temperature (no freezing winter weather). I was relieved to hear the birds aren’t harmed (though I’ll bet some are), but sorry that once they’re inside, it’s probably for life.
During the boarding instructions, I heard this over the loudspeaker: “If you’ve come to Michigan with an Ohio State shirt, you’ll be boarding last today.”