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After Battling Fracking and Cancer, Lucinda Lost, and Found

Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez with her chickens. (Photo: Howard Nuernberger)

Her joy was in sustaining our farm against the threat of fracking. After Lucinda's ashes become a part of this piece of the good earth, it becomes sacred ground to me, and the company that owns the so-called “rights” to the gas in the shale below our farm is advised to keep their hell away from this place.

I have previously written in these pages about the potential loss of our organic farm in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, from Marcellus Shale gas extraction (“Wagering With Our Lives,” February 17, 2011). The sustainability of our farm has been put “in play,” to use the flippant terminology of the companies who gamble with geological exploration and environmental risk as if they were one and the same. Multinational corporations are looking at the ruination of our farm – this labor of love that my wife Lucinda created – as an acceptable and a barely relevant contingency of their phenomenal drive for profits. As a result of this corporate occupation of our perceptions of home, our sense of well-being took a major blow.

As my wife Lucinda posted on our farm's web site at the time: “At best, it will forever change our idyllic landscape. At worst, we could lose our clean air, our health, our herd, our water, our organic status and our farm. We have already lost our peace of mind.”

On November 14, 2011, at about 2:00 AM while she lay in bed beside me, I lost Lucinda.

She died of cancer – sudden and swift. From what source, nobody knows. Just last June, she was thriving in our goat dairy, sharing her cheese making skills with our dairy intern from Nepal. Then, after a sudden pneumonia, came the dreaded diagnosis. Now, after a brutal season of pain, all that is left of her is ashes in a box, awaiting the spring of 2012 when we will go to that high hill on our farm that she loved so much and return her to earth.

Since she died, I have sat in my upper room going through Lucinda's things, especially her pictures and writing, looking out at the top of our farm, while two lovely interns take care of the goats and chickens and all things farming as I grieve.

Not knowing at the start of 2011 that her time with me would be so short, I am especially angry that she had to spend a single moment of her last year worrying about this farm's destruction. But my Lucinda was not one inclined to anger. This was a woman cut straight out of that same joy God is reported to have expressed upon considering the Creation and proclaiming, “It is good.” Looking through her pictures I see this – always, always that huge smile of hers.

Before she became ill, Lucinda was writing a book about her love for our farm. The chemotherapy foreclosed any possibility of her ever finishing it. If I finish it for her, it must be titled “Lucinda's Book of Joy.” Try as she might, as much as her scientific mind knew about the ravages sure to come with shale gas drilling, as much as she understood the broad dangers posed to our food system and our environment by oil- and natural gas-based fertilizers and genetically modified seeds, Lucinda was just so tickled that she had become an organic farmer that she wrote almost exclusively in the key of joy.

So, yes, I will have a difficult time finishing “Lucinda's Book of Joy” because I am angry.

My anger is not unique. Dr. Simona Perry, an ethnographer at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, recently presented her study of Bradford County, Pennsylvania – the second most heavily drilled county in the state – showing that anger, confusion, a deep sense of loss and bitter divisions between neighbors have seized the people there.

Her study is entitled “It's like we're losing our love,” taken from what one Bradford County resident told her about what was happening in their community. Her presentation can be found by Googling that exact phrase in quotes and it will come right up.

I have lost my love, too, but in my case it is my wife of whom I speak. I have not lost my love for the farm we made together. In fact, between the tears I have found my love of this place growing deeper as I consider the pictures and memories of our time here together. How she loved her silly chickens or labored through difficult births with our goats.

There is not a natural gas company on this planet that will take that away from me.

So, it was with a determination rooted deeply in Lucinda's joy and the strength it gives me that I recently completed a work we started together.

It is a presentation that makes a case for a moratorium on unconventional gas drilling in Pennsylvania (or anywhere) until there is a scientific consensus that it cannot cause irreparable environmental harm to one-half of our state and all its living populations of people and creatures. I do not believe such a consensus is possible because there are too many facts arrayed against this type of drilling ever being safe. But first we have to stop it. (That presentation is here.)

On its last slide, I invoke Lucinda's name, ending with a direct challenge to the gas company that owns the so-called “rights” to the gas in the shale below our farm. After Lucinda's ashes become a part of this piece of the good earth, it becomes sacred ground to me and they are advised to keep their hell away from this place.

I have found my partner Lucinda again in this struggle. And, I am happy to say, some of her joy.

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