|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
Part One: Chapter Thirty Two
Monday, March 21, 1988
My head pounded with deep pressure pain as I laid the phone down. What began as a small discomfort was increasing to a full blown head splitter. I'd just talked to a lawyer about how to make a purchase offer on my house.
"I need your help," I told him. "I know as much about purchase offers as you know about acupuncture." Generous and kind hearted, he reviewed my financial situation. Our conclusion was I still lacked the position to make an offer. I needed a mortgage commitment.
I stretched on the floor by my dining table and tried to ease my headache. From this position, I called Linda to ask her to call DEC Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone, since I lacked long distance phone service. I needed someone to test the sample I had extracted yesterday and I hoped Ward would do it.
After a few minutes being horizontal, I sat up to call Roberta, who'd offered to take a sample to a local chemist for PCB testing. It was time to take her up on her offer. My call found her home. We agreed to meet at 12:30 in a Dewitt parking lot.
My head continued to pound with increasing intensity, so I resumed my prone position and began to call news media to announce a third press conference. This one, however, would be on the steps of Pyramid. My first phone call settled the day. Channel 5's news director told me to forget Thursday. It was former Mayor Lee Alexander's day of sentencing, and all eyes and ears in the city would focus on that. A press conference that day would be lost, so I chose 10am Friday morning
Near 11am, Linda called back. She couldn't raise Ward; his phone was busy and now she had to leave for work. Who else I could ask to call? I called a friend who agreed.
Minutes he called back. He'd contacted Ward, who would call me in five minutes. I explained I had to leave shortly to meet someone who'd agreed to get a sample tested. I waited long impatient minutes for Ward's call, but the phone was silent. But not my head. I sat waiting, occasionally groaning as a stab of pain hammered my head. Fear crept in with the pain. Nagging, sharp questions assaulted my thoughts, filling me with anxiety and dread.
Why did I have this headache? Was it the effect of the sludge I'd gotten on my wrists? Or soaked through the knees of my pants? Could PCBs cause this effect? So quick? Or was there something else in the sludge? Something more deadly? What had I done to myself? And to Rich? Sweat beaded on my palms and armpits and fear gripped my mind.
Time crept to noon and then beyond and still no call from Ward. I had to leave. Roberta was waiting in Dewitt and I dare not miss her. I still had to buy sample bottles and decant the first quart of sludge. And with a splitting headache, doing anything was a challenge. I set the answering machine and left.
I was already late to meet Roberta, so I went straight to Dewitt, taking I-81 south to I-481 which loops east around Syracuse. As I drove my car, fear drove my thoughts wild.
I-481 runs east out of Onondaga Valley through the narrow Rock Cut canyon. A postglacial river once flowed through here, and the mighty rush of melted glacial waters ate a deep cut through Onondaga Limestone all the way to Butternut Valley.
My thoughts turned to dragons. Rock Cut canyon was part of the Salina Dragon. Through this narrow gorge flows a geomantic current of terrestrial energy. I knew the serpent was here but I couldn't yet grasp its entire pattern. Through my pounding pain I tried to sense the presence of this mystery and comprehend tqe significance of this myth becoming reality.
I pondered my own reality. I wrestled with myself, doubting and debating the path I'd taken to this moment in my life. As I rushed along-the valley in the body of the Salina Dragon, I felt a mist engulf me. In a fog of pain and fear, I wondered if I was man or myth. If I died of toxic exposure would I be hero or fool?
Arriving the parking lot I located Roberta. She joined me in my Buick's front seat. I explained my predicament. I pleaded with her to take me to the chemist to discuss physiological effects of PCBs. Roberta began to radiate her own intense fear and declined. She left without a sample.
I sat alone in my car, eyes closed, puzzling. Where to go? Who to test my sample? How to decant the sludge? How long will my headache last? Was there relief for my pain? Where was a path forward? How would this day end?
A plan emerged. Starting my engine, I drove to the Syracuse Real Food Coop to buy spice bottles for my samples. Inside the store was empty except the cashier and a lone shopper. There were only three spice bottles on display so I asked the cashier if there were more in stock. Our search found a case of twelve.
The lone shopper was ahead of me at the checkout—tall and thin with long, straight hair and full beard, blue coveralls, flannel shirt, and leather work boots. In a slow voice with slight southern drawl he asked directions to a vegetarian restaurant. A country boy visiting from south of the Mason-Dixon line.
"New in town?" I asked in a voice tight with pain.
"'Yeeah, been heah four days," he drawled
"Where are you from?" I inquired.
"Wes' Virginie," came his slow response.
"Really! I was born there. What town?"
"Morgantown," came another slow drawl.
Amazed, I momentarily forgot my pain. "My hometown! I was born there in 1950."
He peered down at me, similarly startled. "I'se born in Syracuse same year. I cum back to visit ma dad."
In a flash I made a decision. "If you can wait a few minutes, I'll take you to our only vegetarian restaurant. I need food myself. I've got to do a chore up the street, then we can go."
"Shore," he replied, obviously intrigued by our overlapping identities and curious to learn more.
Handing money to the cashier, I asked, "Did you see the Herald article a week ago about my discovery at Marley's?"
"No," came his deadpan response. "Where's Marley's?"
Disappointed, I said, "By Onondaga Lake. Pyramid wants to build a mall on a scrap metal yard. I found transformers with PCBs buried there. It was in the paper a week ago."
"What are transformers?" he asked.
My headache roared. Wincing, I said wearily, "They step down electric power. They're insulated with a toxic chemical the EPA banned in 1977. Not a smart place to build a mall."
"Oh," came an uncomprehending reply, and he looked away.
"Look for me on the news this Friday." Sadness welled up as I wondered how many people had no idea of my struggle.
We drove four blocks to Wellspring. Cold wind followed us into a cold building. Looking around, I formed a plan to safely decant the hazardous chemical. I was reluctant to perform this nasty chore inside, but cold wind outside and a pounding head inside forced a desperate strategy. In moments, I found tray and funnel, and arranged the jars. Wrapping the jar in plastic I began to pour grey glop into tiny bottles.
As I worked, I explained to my new friend Wellspring was a school for natural healing I'd started years before. The first few bottles filled easily, but the grey goop became progressively thicker. Small stones clogged the narrow neck funnel, so I found a wire and poked the glop into bottles.
The stench from the sludge was acute, noxious and offensive. My face was right next to it as it plopped out. Its smell assaulted my nostrils and brought my headache back with vengeance. Whatever it was, it was undoubtedly toxic. My new friend opened the door for air, and my task was less noxious.
Working carefully, I avoided spilling any on the tray. I explained what I was doing, giving a brief summary of events which led to this moment. He listened with interest.
He had his own tale to tell. "Reminds of a guy in New Hampshire who uncovered a US Army dump in the woods filled with nerve gas canisters from World War II. He tried for months to get someone to investigate, but no one would listen to him. He went to the town, state and feds, but they ignored him. It took him a year to get the stuff removed."
Sniffing glop up close, my headache rose to a tight, throbbing pain but I concentrated on my task. "Sounds incredible, but somehow believable," I said. "I've got a long struggle ahead to get these transformers removed. Pyramid is very powerful, and I don't expect they'll cooperate on their own. Right now, I don't know if I can get this nasty stuff tested, but I'll try."
I finished decanting the noxious goop, sealed the bottles and dropped them in the cardboard case. I wrapped the funnel and wire in plastic, sealed them in a box, buried them in a garbage bag, and put the bag outside in the shed. Then we left for lunch.
As we ordered and ate lunch, we talked about our lives. My friend and I had much in common. Like myself, he attended college three years and dropped out before graduating. He majored in life science, specializing in horticulture; I was in physical and computer science. He, too, traveled west—to Colorado to John Denver's Windstar Foundation, working with organic gardening and solar technology.
He was fulfilling what remains a dream for me, living on a small farm outside Morgantown. Like me, he lacked a warm, healthy relationship with his father. But late in life, he found enough closeness to make peace with his sire.
As we traded life stories, an odd feeling crept over me that I had met myself as I might've become had I made a few different choices. It was an eerie sense, like talking to a ghost or alter-image of my own soul on a slightly different path on Earth.
With warm food in my belly, I felt better, but my headache was relentless. I drove to the College of Environmental Science School of Landscape Architecture. I'd worked there for three years twelve years before and made a reputation for myself. I hoped to find a professor who remembered me, and convince him to get a college lab to run a PCB test.
But no one was in, so I descended the marble spiral stairwell I'd walked every day for three years to Silviculture. But I couldn't find a familiar face. I leaned against the wall, and decided to go to the top. I headed to the administrative offices of the College.
On the second floor, I found the Vice President alone in his office. Stepping in unannounced, I introduced myself, "You may not remember me but nine years ago I held a conference here on regional agriculture the same weekend the reactor at Three Mile Island almost blew. Before that I worked here as a janitor and you sat in on my hearing when I was to be fired. My father worked for 30 years, but retired two years ago."
He looked vaguely at me and said slowly, "'Yes, I remember that conference. And your dad. Of course."
"Listen, I need help. I've got sludge I took from the shore of Onondaga Lake I believe contains PCBs. I need it tested. Is there a lab here to analyze it to tell if it's PCBs?"
"We're a public institution. We aren't authorized to do testing for private citizens. I'm sorry, but we can't help you."
I expected a refusal so I persisted. "I realize this is difficult but I don't know where else to get help. I thought since this is a College of Environmental Science someone might have an interest in this. This is a serious environmental problem."
He stared at me in disbelief. "We don't have equipment to run that test. We would contract that test out to a private lab. Have you contacted any local labs?"
"I don't have the money and this is sort of an emergency. I've had a headache all day and I'm afraid it's because I exposed my skin to this stuff. I'm hoping to get help here today."
"Contact the DEC. This is their responsibility."
Realizing he wouldn't budge off his official position, I slumped against his wood panel wall. My head pounded fiercely. I felt foolish. I peered darkly out from under my cap's bill. From its shadow I said, "I told DEC about this last month and they refused to act so I took this sample myself. You should think hard why the system isn't working to resolve this problem. Something's wrong that I had to do this. Why hasn't DEC done what I had to do myself? It's their job, not a private citizen's."
I left him to ponder my statement and headed for the Chemistry Dept. in Baker Lab. My father had worked 30 years on the floor above. Maybe I'd find a friend there with the courage to aid me.
I found the Chemistry Dept. head in the office with the secretary. I leaned against the doorframe and explained my predicament. I watched their faces stiffen as I told my tale and made my request. I listened with a sinking feeling as he recited the same message as the Vice President. Slumping against the doorpost, I fought against despair, defeat and pain.
"Look, I need help. I've had a headache all day. I got this nasty stuff on myself and I need to find out what it is. Could I use your phone to call the DEC Wildlife Pathologist?"
The Chairman looked at his secretary, who shrugged. She let me in an inner office, and explained how to get an outside line. I called Ward but the line was busy. I scanned the long phone list I'd tabulated in seven weeks looking for someone to help me. I punched in Dick Case at the Herald.
He answered, and I quickly explained my problem. His voice was soft and sympathetic, but he had no solution. I persisted, and at last Dick named an engineer who knew about PCBs. Dick said the engineer could at least explain toxic effects of PCBs and shed light on my physiological distress.
I thanked Dick, hung up, and tried Ward again. This time the phone rang through and Ward answered. I explained I had to leave at noon before he had called. He apologized for his delay in calling me.
He added, "I called DEC's regional office in Liverpool and asked why a guy was running around Syracuse with hazardous waste. They got pretty concerned. As Wildlife Pathologist, I have unlimited jurisdiction. I'm authorized to go anywhere to investigate environmental problems and I've a reputation for using my authority. I think my name struck fear in their hearts. You'll hear from them tomorrow."
I began to feel relief. Ward sounded warm and human—a friend with a good heart and the right power. "I have four quarts of nasty smelling, oily sludge I need tested for PCBs. I called hoping you would help me."
"Where'd you get this stuff?" Ward asked.
"On the south shore of Onondaga Lake next to a scrap metal yard. A company called Pyramid plans to build a shopping mall on the site this spring."
"Oh yes, I've heard of Pyramid. They're in trouble here for disturbing wetlands with their Crossgates shopping mall." I sensed his outrage.
"I talked to one of your staff about this two weeks ago. He was helpful. Right now I'm a little scared. I've had a headache all day and I got some sludge on my skin yesterday. I tried to be careful but it was messy getting a sample from 6' underground."
"How can I help?" Ward sounded sincerely concerned.
I said, "Can you test it? I'm sorry to drag you into this, but I don't trust anyone locally. Seems nearly everyone in town is reluctant to stand up to Pyramid, or in their pocket. I told the local DEC office about the transformers weeks ago and they claimed they couldn't do anything. After waiting weeks, yesterday I went and took my own sample. Now I can't get anyone to test it."
"Send me a sample. I’ll test it." said without hesitation.
His simple statement released a flood of relief. Choking, I said, "I don't think the post office would like that."
"Send it UPS," Ward's replied. "People have done it in the past. UPS doesn't seem to mind."
My emotions surged. "That I can do. I have a friend who works for UPS. She can get it shipped out tomorrow."
We talked about shipping and how long tests would take. Thanking Ward, I hung up and punched the engineer's number. A secretary answered, but couldn't locate the engineer. She promised to find him and have him call back in a minute. I gave her the office number.
The Department secretary came in to say she was closing the office, so I had to leave. I said I was waiting for a call, but she insisted it was the end of her day. I saw an appeal was useless, so I left. As I stood watching her lock the door I heard the phone ring ¬the engineer was calling. I looked at the secretary, but she ignored the ring, intent on leaving. I sensed pleading was futile.
I drove downtown feeling relieved. A path forward had opened, and my emotions lightened. But my head continued to pound and I still felt frustrated. I drove to the Syracuse newspapers on Clinton Square to see a Post reporter.
On my way across the newsroom, I saw Bill Ferguson who wrote the Herald article. I stopped to thank him for his kind and sensitive column. We chatted and I explained recent events. I asked if Dick Case had shared my Geomancy essay with him and presented him with a bottle of sludge. He peered at it as I explained he probably had no use for it, but I felt compelled to give someone a sample before the day ended.
I then talked with the Post reporter, who listened carefully, took notes, and promised to attend my press conference. I remarked I was disappointed her paper hadn't carried further news of my actions. She was apologetic as she explained she kept her editors informed but they chose not to print anything.
I went home to cook dinner. Soon Linda arrived to help cook. As we cut vegetables, I reviewed the day's events. I felt myself begin to relax and my headache eased a little.
I felt an urge and went upstairs to the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet, my bowels burst into the bowl. A rancid odor assaulted my nose and I knew why I had a headache all day.
It was my bowels! They were full of bad food! As natural healer I've had many experiences with headaches. The most common cause was an irritated bowel full of poorly digested food. The greasy beef stew I ate Sunday as we waited for our friend to arrive had upset my digestive tract. Now, the next evening, I had just dumped a load of toxic waste into the toilet.
I laughed out loud and knew my headache would soon be gone. Freed of their noxious load, my guts would soon cease their intense complaint. What an irony! And embarrassing error! I flushed the foul smelling mess and laughed again, realizing this toxic waste was now headed for the sewer treatment plant across the Barge Canal from Marley's. It would soon swirl through sewer pipes right past where we had punctured the transformer. It had a sense of justice.
After dinner I felt myself again, ready to face whatever was next. I began preparing samples for Ward Stone and the Assistant Attorney General. I carefully sealed each bottle tightly with red plastic tape. Selecting the two best samples, I sealed each in a plastic ziplock sandwich bag, rolled them and bound them with a rubber band. Then each was sealed with a warning note in a ziplock freezer bag and rolled and banded.
I talked to Linda about shipping the samples. This became an argument. She was afraid to expose UPS workers to the risk. We argued about the possible and probable danger and how it could be mitigated. I promised to seal and package the samples carefully. Linda insisted anything could happen and, by Murphy's Law, what could go wrong would. Given my last two days, I dared not argue.
|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
144 pages, 8.5 x 11 soft cover
available from Turtle EyeLand
I insisted UPS was the only way to get a sample to Ward for testing and Ward received other packages in similar fashion. In exasperation, I said, "We don't know it's hazardous. That's why we're shipping it."
Linda spurned this thin rationalization. At last she accepted my assurance of extreme care in packing the samples and promised to pick them up in the morning and send them off. After she left I packed each sample in a large box padded with ample styrofoam beads and crushed newspaper.
That done I began to think about the press conference Friday. Sitting at my keyboard I began to compose my press release. The words which formed in my mind were not cautious and restrained this time. I was angry. I had some choice words and a hot message to say now.