Biodiesel Pride

Tonight, about 10pm, I found myself driving home from Durham, dangerously low on fuel. I knew I could easily fill up on biofuel tomorrow in Pittsboro at my local coop, Piedmont Biofuels, but a few unexpected errands today meant it was 42 miles since the fuel light had come on. That’s cutting it close, and it was now way beyond dark.

I was doing my best at coasting whenever I could, but as I am came into the outskirts of Pittsboro, I took a chance and pulled into the new Cruizers that has opened up at the Hwy 64 Bypass exit, where 64 meets up with Hwy 15-501 that goes north to Chapel Hill, and South to downtown Pittsboro, Sanford, Southern Pines and beyond.

I was relieved to see a bright green Diesel sign above two of the six stands of pumps. I slid into one, planning to buy a gallon or so just to make sure I made it home. Tomorrow I could swing by Piedmont and get a fill. Their fuel might be a few cents more expensive (at least right now – last year it was 25 cents a gallon lower than regular diesel for months…) but the satisfaction of using a fuel made from used cooking oil that might otherwise be wasted, and the joy of a running on a fuel that is made, not extracted at a horrific human cost, as in ‘no war required’ –  easily overshadows the slightly higher cost. Plus my Jetta is extremely gets great “biodiesel’ mileage.

If we vote with every dollar we spend, and of course that is exactly true, a tank full of biodiesel says I vote for sensible, long-term, adequately funded biodiesel production, and a sustainable future for the many generations we hope will follow us on this beautiful and bountiful planet.

B100 at Cruizers? Really?

But as I pulled up to the pump at Cruizers I saw the sign on the pump. Biodiesel.  Wow.  Biodiesel! Just what I wanted. B100 right here at Cruizers!

I love the stuff. My daughters and I now own three Jetta TDI’s, a 2002, a 2003 and a 2004. They have all been running, for years, on as much biodiesel as they can find, and they are very happy cars.

They are especially happy with the B9000 grade B100 that we can fill up on at Piedmont Biofuels in our little town of Pittsboro.

Was that what they were selling here on the edge of town?

I am on the board of the Piedmont coop that runs the “trail” and one of about 400 members. We run on fuel made by a locally owned and operated, community scale biodiesel plant that employs a talented cadre of people skilled in the production and distribution of this liquid gold.

My little red Jetta gets the first fill at the new pumping station in Wilmington, NC

Just by collecting used cooking oil from area restaurants, and adding in other unusable oils headed for the waste stream, Piedmont Biofuels is able to spin this all into a very high quality diesel fuel.

Their plant is not only available to tour on Sundays and occasional Fridays, they have turned a quirky, abandoned chemical plant into a verdant, vibrant eco-park that combines organic farming, industrial evolution, and a non-profit foundation that promotes local food, clean energy, and community building – all in eye and earshot of one another. On Fridays we all come together for a local food lunch.

It’s astounding really.

But why bother driving the extra 4 miles, and having to be a card carrying member of the Piedmont coop, when I could get the very same product right here, just a few miles north of town?

By gosh, I’ll bet it is the very same fuel, I thought to myself. After all…it says it right there on the pump. Biodiesel. Why sure. That makes perfect sense.

Except, sadly, it doesn’t.

Nothing really, about our entire fuel industry makes “sense.” Not if you’re talking about the plain, honest, altruistic, common sense that some of us try to use to make ‘sense’ of the world we live in.

Like if you’re running low on something, and it’s valuable and hard to come by, and there might not be enough to go around – you find ways to get along with less.  That makes sense.

So what’s coming out of those pumps at Cruizers?

In the wine world you can’t say your wine’s a Chardonnay unless it’s at least 50% true. Years ago, pride in their grapes led winemakers to insist on some standards, so the buying public would know what they were getting. It was a matter of principle, and quality, and of honesty.

This Friday there is a big party at our local biodiesel plant. They’ve discovered a way to use enzymes to make the whole production process more renewable, use far less water, and turn nasty gunk that is deeper in the waste stream than used cooking oil into a viable fuel. Very clever.

They are celebrating this success. I heard that the CEO of the National Biodiesel Board is coming to town for the ribbon cutting. I’ll bet he is proud of biodiesel.

Maybe he can help me find out if what’s flowing out of the pumps at Cruizers is the real deal, or if it’s actually just petroleum, with a biodiesel chaser.

The Change

Tonight I underwent the change. Having tossed and turned last night under fleece blankets and quilts that were just too hot, I pulled them all off the bed this morning.

The sheets went into the washing machine and I got on with my day.  At some point I moved them to the dryer, and tonight I made the big change. I remade the bed with only sheets, a cotton blanket and a light quilt that will be the bedspread. I climbed onto a step stool and pushed the fleece blankets and the down quilt far up into the top of the closet.  I hope not to need them for many months.

The newspaper had predicted 79 degrees for today, and though I don’t know if it got that high, it certainly was hot. I opened all the windows in celebration of the warm weather, only to close them later when it got too hot. Which is what I usually do on a summer day in central North Carolina.

At 7:30am when I headed out for a walk it was chilly enough to pile on a sweatshirt, but by the time I got home at 8:30am it was tied around my waist.

Because Winter is gone. And Spring is….?

And there’s the rub.  This past weekend when the temperatures soared into the 70’s out came the Redbud, and the Dogwood will not be far behind.

Bronze dogwood begins to bloom

But I am in no hurry for summer. I want much more Spring.  Warm days and cool nights and great sleeping weather – waking to the sound of the Phoebes who are nesting in the eave outside my bedroom window. There is a swath of tiny wildflowers in the yard and flocks of robins. Like the cuteness of kittens…. can we just freeze this moment? I want at least a few more weeks before those sultry hot days followed by hot nights.

But soon I will wish for that quilt. There will be a cold snap, maybe two. And I will shiver under my silly thin cotton blanket.  I will remember the year we had snow on April seventeenth.

But tonight, in mid-March, there is a most stunning night sky.  I am lucky to live far enough from city lights to still have a fabulous night sky.  The windows are open to the sound of the peepers, and the tree frogs and the gullomp of the bull frogs. Sounds from the Pond might transport you there.

Because there has been a change and we have moved on.

To another spring, another Spring Kiln Opening, and another fabulous Spring Shakori Hills Festival of Music and Dance – the events that mark our lives.

Clean sheets. A night sky.  A spring of events with friends.

Deyanu.  Truly, any one of these would be enough.


The priest is at the door.

I always found this alarming. We were regular churchgoers, attending Saturday morning Catechism and mass with Dad on Sunday, but Mom never went along. She wasn’t Catholic, and it made me uncomfortable whenever she and Father 0’Malley had a conversation – which was rare. But occasionally there was no way to get around it. There he’d be, with his head bobbing, at the front door. Mom would be in the kitchen and I’d answer the door and invite him in.  Usually he just wanted to remind us about the bake sale coming up at the church on Saturday, and ask Mom if she would send up a cake or come cookies.

Having acted impatient and annoyed upon hearing that he was there at the door, she would come out of the kitchen all smiles and promise that she’d certainly make something for the sale. After a few uneasy pleasantries he’d leave.

“Remind me to send you up to the church on Saturday morning with some money,” she’d say.  With five kids there was constant activity at our house, and she’d given up on actually fulfilling her obligation to bake something for these sales. Instead she’d send us up with a $5 contribution (I imagine that would be like $20 in today’s dollars) and another $5 to buy something to bring home.

That was Mom’s general approach to Catholicism, and all churches as far as I could tell. An arm’s length and a $5 bill distance.  Later, in my teens, we all started to attend the Christmas Eve midnight mass and I was surprised that she seemed to enjoy it.  But, like me, she loved the carols, and at midnight mass you could count on getting the chance to sing several of them.

When asked about religion I say I was raised Catholic with a healthy degree of skepticism.  That would be thanks to Mom who didn’t actually speak out against the church, but her actions and her silence spoke for her.  Her religion was something less rigid and more lenient than the dogma that the nuns tried to hammer into me in the basement of St. Joseph’s Church between 9 and 10am each Saturday.

She’d explain, her defense for never coming with us to church on Sunday, “God is here with me in the kitchen while I’m making Sunday lunch for you.” That sounded good enough to me.

When we came home from church we would line up and each give her a kiss. This was “giving her some grace” and it seemed perfectly “right and just.”

I never actually saw my mother pray, but I think she did. I believe she had her own personal religion. One that kept her going, and made her hum as she worked at the kitchen sink, and laugh easily and often. Her religion was one of devotion and service to her family, gratitude everyday, and a contagious, zestful enthusiasm for living a full, meaningful life.  Idleness and selfishness were in her sin column.

She occasionally wrote bits of poetry. This was on the refrigerator in her handwriting, though I never thought to ask if she had written it or copied it from somewhere. I think, in fact, it’s from Norman Vincent Peale.

I have tried several other churches since St. Joseph’s, but it’s Mom’s religion, as well as I can manage it,  that makes the best sense for me.

Winnable Victories

I had an old faded yellow Subaru wagon once that I had to jump start to get going.

I got in the habit of always parking it on level ground.  I would open the driver’s door, lean my shoulder up against the doorframe – and push. With just a good solid effort I could get it to move, and once I had gotten past the inertia, it would begin to roll. Then with even less effort I could get it rolling nicely, jump in, pop the clutch and I was off.

It was a great feeling. Here was a car that looked big and heavy, and yet I could get it rolling all by myself if I just put my weight against it and gave it my all. I did it over and over again, reluctant to have it repaired and lose the satisfaction of this empowering ritual.

Being an activist is like that every day.  The challenges seem big and impossible to shift. And that first shove, to get past the inertia of what often seem like immovable obstacles, is daunting.

I rely on the advice of Saul Alinsky again and again.  “Choose winnable victories,” is the way his words were told to me. They have been a lifeline of optimism and determination, keeping me from drowning in doubt and discouragement.

Growing new, successful, small-scale sustainable farms all over the United States, and helping the ones we have survive and thrive seems a winnable victory if we just take it one old broken Subaru at a time.

Moments like these…

are why I believe in gods and goddesses and leprechauns and squirrels.

Tucked in against the house on the back deck, legs stretched out to capture the tanning power of this late afternoon, early spring, blazing sun –

I am in heaven.

5pm on a mid-March afternoon and it must be 75 degrees out here, maybe more.   Blissful.

I have gleefully abandoned my earlier “courtroom attire” for little more than nothing.

This time of year my defense for idling just to soak up cancer-forming ultraviolets is that I need to be warmed by this sun until my bones are finally warm again after a long, cold winter.  (Thankfully they are heating up nicely.)

But in truth it feels more like a genetic force that pulls me out into the sun.  And a sense of coming home.

And that is only the beginning of how lovely it is out here tonight.

Mark has gone off to enjoy an afternoon of golf with his friends, Seth has gone to pick up his Dad who is here for the weekend, and I have this moment all to myself and even that is an understatement.

In fact as I write I can hear huge bees buzzing nearby (they are probably Carpenter Bees and someday will have eaten away the whole deck.)
Help yourself.

The quacking of the ducks on the pond is broken by the two new geese who must have their noisy say.

And there is the sweetest bluebird perched on the fence railing next to his “house”.

Be still. Close your eyes and just listen. How many sounds can you hear?

I love that game.

Right now? About six different bird calls, the ducks, the geese,  a jet somewhere, and then there is my squirrel.

He has decided I am harmless enough to do his busy work (whatever the hell that is) in spite of me, so he is here, then there….then gone and then back. What’s most fun is when he stops to stare at me, eye to eye.

I have a love/hate relationship with squirrels.

After Hurricane Fran a friend rescued a baby squirrel outside her door, whose mother had died in the storm. We used to go by and play with her. She would run around my shoulders and what I remember most is how sharp even her baby claws were, and how able she was to hang to me on at all angles. Little by little they let her out on her own, and when they finally released her, she came back often to check in with her surrogate parents.

Most winters they move in – to somewhere above the ceiling in my bedroom – and their antics keep me awake at night.  I could figure out where they are coming in, I’ve been told, and block them out once and for all….but that would only reflect the hate part of the equation.  And where would they sleep?  After so many years I hardly hear them, like the now silent newspaper carrier who drives in and out each day to throw a paper on the driveway at about dawn.

So here I bake, binoculars in reach in case this morning’s woodpecker stops by. He was a new one for me and I need another look to know who he was.

Maybe later, after the sun goes down, I will crawl back to my inbox, and to the fight against global warming. And remind myself that for all the good the sun has brought us, there are complications with having had the hottest decade in recorded history.

I had coffee with a friend yesterday who sees the world through a slightly different filter than mine. Her take was that all this ‘climate change’ is predicted in the Bible, and we have no way of changing that.  Which is in some ways a relief, and may mean I can save money on such frivolities as sunscreen, and the tedium of recycling.

But I digress.

From the deep heat of this sun on my arms and legs and face….

And from giving in and giving up.

The new 10K solar array we put out in our field last fall must be slammed with rays this afternoon.

I know I am.

Letting Go

This sturdy, black cardboard box was probably first sold in the 1940’s full of stationery, but when I came upon it, cleaning out Mom’s dresser drawers, it was full of cloth handkerchiefs.

But now we have tissues. As a nurse, Mom had moved on. She did not think cloth handkerchiefs were sanitary, and while Dad seemed to still carry one to the end of his days, for the rest of us she insisted that only the modern tissue would do.

Gone went pretty handkerchiefs. We abandoned carbon paper and moved on to copiers, and we gave up making things ourselves to buying what others made for us. Easier, cleaner, more efficient.  Out with the old, in with the new.

Except that many of these little hankies are trimmed in lovely intricate lace.

When I was about seven or eight Aunt Rosie taught me to crochet and we worked on large ugly shawls. I still have one I made that’s in the children’s dress up box, where it comes out and plays to a good review. I stay quiet. It’s still really ugly, I think.

But that was just the practice run. Grandma took the next step, pressing me with smaller threads and tiny crochet hooks. This is when the pain began, and why these simple little handkerchiefs are so difficult to throw away.  Was this one made by a young girl made to practice over and over trimming handkerchiefs to hone her skill? Or by a seasoned auntie who whipped out a dozen or so that day to be ready for cold season, or to offer to a loved one with consumption?

There is such wisdom and humanity in this lace.

If I tried to teach my daughters how to make this lace would they be willing to take the time to learn how? Can they even begin to fathom the focus to detail and skill it requires…the hours of just sitting looking at one’s hands, following the creation of a tiny intricate pattern that is completely unforgiving, that will allow for not a single missed loop, a single slip from the bigger design?

Life’s lessons are in the making of lace.

Each and every single act matters. Not just the act but the degree of tension. You can’t substitute for concentration. And counting matters. Each stitch, each loop.  And if you need help, there are a crew of women nearby ready to assist you.  Take your time. Care. The result can be exquisite.

I have a button pinned on my pocketbook that reads “IT MATTERS TO ME”.

Occasionally, rarely actually…someone will ask me what it means.

The truth is that for several years I could not bear to wear it, feeling left out by it’s message, too busy with the trivial pursuit of keeping my life boat afloat to do much of anything that really mattered…or so it seemed in those darker days.

But this year, as I moved from the beige summer pocketbook to the winter black one, it seemed right to fasten the button there.  Like that little horse logo on someone’s shirt might do for them, it is my quiet reminder to myself, several times a day that this life matters to me, and that my minute to minute decisions follow from that larger place.

And from lace.

Mom, if only you were here. I think you would have a story for each hankie. “This one was my mother’s, and this one was Gran’s.  Don’t you love these violets? I carried this all through nursing school. I’m surprised it isn’t threadbear.  Your Aunt Anna gave me these two, and I got these when I was a school girl in England, and….oh yes, oh dear….I had this one in my pocket at Nana’s funeral.”

If these sweet smelling hankies from your dresser drawer could only speak, with their fancy lace edges and their flowery soft cotton cloth.

So that I might pass them with their stories on to my daughters, and they to theirs. Without the stories, it is hard to make the umbilical link, and instead they just gather up drawer space, instead of dust.

So I have thinned them out. Badly stained ones to the dust bin.
Uglier ones there as well.

(I cannot bear to use them as rags.)

But the rest remain.  Soon I will show them to my girls. And ask that they make up stories if they must. But somehow, in this time of texting and cloud computing and Twitter, I hope they can find the chord to the women who’s hands flew making the lace, or who covered their cough with a violet.

And I shall place tonight’s dilemma of keeping vs. saving in their hands.

And gently let them go.

Driving with friends

Tonight I sat down with a few people who, like me, run their cars on biodiesel. We met because we share an interest, to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and to encourage more folks to do the same –
to fuel our vehicles with no war required.

Two of the four sitting around the table I had not met before. They each had their story of why they became biofuel junkies. We had much in common.  We are willing to pay a bit more, and be slightly inconvenienced to be able to spew fumes that smell like French fries.  It is far less inconvenient than living in a war zone, just so someone half the world away can leave their car idling in their yard until it gets nice and warm and then drive in cozy comfort twenty miles to the shopping mall.

Instead, tonight we restarted a biofuels coop and we plotted out how to make the membership happier and to add to its ranks. Now at 231, we’d like to take it up to 500-600 households.

Cleaner pump handles, more tanks in the area where we can go and fill up, and the use of Twitter and Facebook to get real-time news out to the coop members.

I’m pumped, pun intended.  Inspired and hopeful to be working with this team with a common mission to get more vehicles burning biodeisel.

I think I just heard the planet whisper  thanks.

Love, Guy

I came upon a musty, slate blue leather binder today, the kind with a zipper around the edge. It has pockets inside with gold letters that say Answered and Unanswered, and a tiny calendar from 1938.

It belonged to my mother and inside was a short, sweet letter from Guy. “I would like very much like to see you again,” he says.

It was 1941 and he was in the army, stationed in England.  As a child I remember looking through the big box of pictures under her bed. There was one of a handsome young soldier with Love, Guy written on the back.

Even after 50 years of marriage she never parted with that photo, or I now realize…this letter.

But I am purging my office, on a mission to get rid of stacks of paper, old teaching materials, junk mail, etc. etc. and I have put the letter and the musty zipper pouch in the trash.

There were also some terrible sentimental poems she had written, and a Western Union telegraph wishing her a Happy Birthday from Daphne.

My mother was not famous.
No one will want to read her old letters from a boy she didn’t marry.
Or her tender poetry.

I wonder if he made it home from those years in Europe.  And did they ever see each other again?
Is he still alive?

And I think now, I will have to retrieve this package from the trash after all to save just a while longer.

And buy a slightly bigger bandana.

(I have a fantasy that someday I will so successfully reduce the clutter in my life that all my belongings will fit neatly in a bandana tied to a stick that fits comfortably on my shoulder.)

Best Sighting Yet

Only a few miles from our house there is a canoe access to the Haw River, or in my case a “kayak access”, and if I’m lucky, an eagle.

This morning I decided to pay him a visit.  Now, of course that is really up to him, not me. By 8:15am I was paddling down the narrow section of river toward the spit, which was largely dirt the last time I was here several weeks ago. Today it is completely covered in vegetation, bright green plants a foot or two high, which obscure the rubbish that also collects there, and that I often take back with me to the empty trash can at the launch site.

The river is also lower today and a large rock protrudes out of the water, one I can usually float over.

Then I see my first Great Blue Heron. He is on the bank at my left. I try to paddle very quietly, evenly, calmly, and he doesn’t move. I am deeply flattered at his decision that I am not a threat, and he lets me float gently by, within about thirty or forty feet of him.

Past the spit the river widens, and though I paddle for thirty minutes or so, I see only a few more herons and some noisy crows. There seem to be fewer birds today.  Too late in the morning?  Too late in the summer?  I hear a woodpecker, but don’t spot him. Where is the osprey, the cormorants, and please, the Bald Eagle?

But it is wonderfully peaceful. There are a couple of low gray fishing boats, but the fishermen are quietly pursuing their prey, and we keep our distance.

After a while I turn around and head back. This is my first paddle here with no eagle, but the bright red trumpet vine along the bank is pretty, and I am filled with gratitude for the beauty of this place.

And then I feel him fly over me, catch sight of his white tail, and watch as he settles on to a high branch in a tall pine tree.

“You’re here!”  The thrill passes through me.  I grab my binoculars, find him, and gently paddle his way.  Cautiously, stopping to take a look every so often, I float almost to the bank, right under his pine tree!  In the nearly dozen times I have seen him, this is the closest I have ever gotten.  He has let me come so near that I can make out the details of his wings, his handsome white head and yellow beak, and see him turn and give me a long stare. I lean back and get comfortable and we spend several minutes together, enjoying this lovely, sunny Sunday morning – me, in abject admiration, while he tolerates my presence. After a while he lifts off, slowly, with such grace, as if to show off his handsome wingspan and flying prowess.

As I paddle back up stream it is as if he has spread the word, and everybody has come out of cover.  A stunning white Egret is at the spit, and a pair of sweet little Killdeers have appeared, running back and forth.

And my Bald Eagle is there as well, high up in another pine tree on the opposite bank.  Is he still watching me?

As I float back toward the launch site, it is hard to leave, to get on with the rest of my day.  But I am thankful that I can come back, again and again to this magical place, to enjoy another visit with these beautiful birds.


I love what singer/songwriter and life-long peace activist, Holly Near, says about the Underground Railroad. At some point in history, she offers, there must have been a moment when the commitment to ending slavery overcame the fear of reprisal, and a voice in the night said,  “Now.  Run.  Go, now!

Because of that moment, countless people found a path to freedom.  Many others surely died along the way, or were sent back. Without sugar coating their struggle, I still get inspiration from those words, especially this one.


Today was a very hot day, even for June, in North Carolina. A clever device on my cell phone tells me the anticipated temperature range for the day was a high of 95 and a low of 70.  As I sit on my back deck, at 8pm, it is still 85, but looking out over the pond tonight there is a lovely breeze and a sunset worth painting and writing love songs about. The ducks are quacking and the bullfrogs are “thrumping” and if there is a more peaceful, lovely place in the world I don’t need to go and find it.

Today is also Sunday, and maybe that gives it a competitive edge, for I am inclined, even as a self-employed workaholic, to get away from my desk and see what the out-of-doors looks like.

For dinner I have brought out here with me a ripe, local, white peach, a Smoked Round of goat cheese from the Goat Lady, a peeled and sliced garden cucumber, and some Virginia roasted, salted peanuts I bought as I passed through there last week on my way home from VT.

Which brings me to what matters here. Local foods, local farmers, local economies. Is there something else that will sustain us as a species other than food? If so, I can stop here and find another way to pass the time. But if our healthy survival, our vibrancy and our enjoyment of life is tied to clean air to breathe, clean drinking water, and access to wholesome (as in organic) foods grown using sustainable practices, [we will leave energy, clothing and shelter to another conversation for now] then I have an irresistible opportunity to look at my own community and see what can be done, right here, right now.

One answer is clear. We need to capitalize, to help fund, local sustainable farmers, farm to fork restaurants, and related sustainable food enterprises that have little chance of getting traditional loans from banks and other lending sources.

Enter the Abundance Slow Money Project.  While this project can’t possibly be all things to all people, we can be a leg up to a few exemplary local food enterprises. And gradually, if and when they show a good payback history, we can find many more investors willing to finance their very own food shed.

The sun is down, and the tree frogs have joined in the cacophony of night pond noises.  The only light now is from the computer screen and a rising half moon.

Will this idea of investing locally appeal to folks? Will I find any brave individuals, who, in spite of a depressed economy, will want to chance throwing their hearts, bodies and minds into starting or expanding local food enterprises?

We shall see.  I can do no worse than to try…

“Now.”  We need to make a run at taking better care of our planet.

Will we make it?  Should we try?  For me, the answer is yes.

But, look for yourself.   Let me know.  How about…