Thursday, November 27, 2014

The 2014 Thanksgiving Blog

Our lives are an accumulation of accidents. Powerful momentums naturally exist, but seemingly miniscule events: a web search for Eastern Shore real estate, a chance graduation announcement in the Dundalk Eagle, can conspire to have an incredibly powerful impact on our lives. Today, on this the annual day formalized for marking our thanks, lets take a moment to be thankful for all those turns, all the lefts and the rights, the u-turns and the dead-ends, that we have taken in our lives that have gotten us where we are today. Some perhaps seem accidental, little more than a moment's consideration, but some of them have had a monumental impact on our lives.

I struggle sometimes to think about where my powerful conservation ethic comes from. I was not one of those young hunters subject to fatherly harangues about taking care of the land, but for some reason an idea took root in those youthful days afield, that this great American outdoor legacy, this earliest and perhaps most important classroom of young boys, deserved the dedication of a lifetime's effort. Seared into my subconscious, unknowingly as I walked the logging roads of Green Ridge State Forest, was the idea that my kids ought to be able to do this, too.   

I'll give thanks for the last minute acceptance to St. Mary's College, when a commuter existence at Towson State was growing ever more inevitable; the admissions office envelope that did it's part to put me in Dorchester 3rd Right, with Niall O'Dougherty freshmen year. To the envelope that saw me in a townhouse senior year with Kent Wilson, a man I am proud to still call a great friend, and one of the 'good guys' in Washington D.C.  I am thankful for giving up on the English major, the switch to Political Science, and the gears that decision got rolling; it seemed inconsequential at the time, it has proven to be anything but.

Thanks to job offers from mortgage companies and investment brokerages that I didn't take, opting instead for an (much less lucrative) internship with Ducks Unlimited's Government Affairs office in Washington, that set the stage for a career that I am incredibly passionate about. At the time it seemed an incredible gamble, but now the choice seems obvious. Instead of cold calling folks to sell mutual funds, I get to work the halls of Congress advocating for waterfowl habitat and sportsmen's access. I get to work with guys like Joel Webster, Ed Arnett, Geoff Mullins, Tim Kizer, and Chris Macaluso, whose collective affection for fine bourbon whiskeys is eclipsed only by their love of wild places, where a man can still come face to face with God and a bull Pintail.

Thanks to Tom Sadler, who gave me my first full-time job in Washington. Just a year and a half later, when he told me he was moving on in his career, to the Trust for Public Land, I thought I was coming to my own personal crossroads; but what I thought was a disaster in the making, provided me with the opportunity to work with Tom Franklin, a legendary sportsmen-conservationist in his own right. I consider both Toms my mentors in this business, veritable lodestars in my career.     

To a simple real estate listing on the web, that led to a visit with an agent, that has since led to five years on the Eastern Shore, and making connections with some of my favorite people on earth, like David Dunmyer and Austin Reed. "Why don't we go take a look at this house?" has become a place to raise a family, to follow the rhythm of the seasons, to welcome back the Canada geese.

To the neighborhood newspaper of my youth, who put my college graduation announcement right next to the graduation announcement of Kimberly Fales, my high school sweetheart. Today, she is my wife, the mother of my children, the light of my life. I cannot but think that the stars had aligned to bring us back together, after years apart and out of touch.

To Thompson Steel's Sparrows Point Plant shutting down in 2000, which at the time was deeply unsettling to the fabric of my being. But ultimately, it allowed my dad to get away from 33 years of swing shifts and to embark on a career that has given him the freedom to move to the Eastern Shore himself, to be closer to his grandchildren. If you would have told me this 15 years ago, I would have called you crazy. 

Like me, you are the sum of similar accidents and spur of the moment choices. Lay your plans carefully, but know that you cannot begin for a moment to plan the surprises and good things that your life has in store for you. Be thankful for not knowing the full course of things. We can all laugh about yesterday's mistakes, shake our heads at what might have been, but know without a doubt that it is those things that have not happened, as much as those that have, that shape us, that comprise the core of our lives. It can be overwhelming to think of how accidental our lives are, but a deep reflection isn't entirely necessary; rather, just smile at the knowing.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.     



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Keystone Pipeline explained, in less than 400 words.

Imagine that you own a 300 acre farm, bordered on the south by a railroad track, and on the north by a large fertilizer plant. Your little paradise lies smack in between these two necessities of rural life: nothing grows without fertilizer, and nothing moves grain more efficiently than the rails. Your farm inevitably benefits from the existence of both the factory and the railroad, as do dozens of other farms across the region.

Then one day, the fertilizer company approaches you about building a fertilizer pipeline across your farm and to the railroad. They want to create a fertilizer rail head to make it easier for them to send their products over the rails, reduce transportation costs, and expand the market for their product. Right now, they happen to be producing more fertilizer than the local market will bear, so they really need to get this stuff out of here, why there is practically a fertilizer glut! The railroad sends you a letter saying they'd like to have the fertilizer pipeline, because more freight means more business. It would be unpatriotic to stand in the way of the pipeline. 

The fertilizer factory promises to use your brother-in-law's construction company to build the pipe, but once it's done being built, they can't promise much. You'll still have to buy your fertilizer on the market, subject to all the same variables as every other farmer; there isn't going to be a fertilizer spigot extending from the pipeline to service your needs. And because the fertilizer that is made right next door to your place is now being shipped further and further away, you are competing with farmers from much further away than ever before for access to that supply. Indeed, instead of a glut of fertilizer at the local place, there might now be a local shortage, as the fertilizer plant has entered into guaranteed minimum freight contracts with the railroad, so the railroad, and not the local retail customer base, is the preferred outlet for the fertilizer. And because traffic has increased on the railroad, freight rates are up as empty cars become harder to find, making it more costly to move your harvest. 

Canada is the fertilizer plant. The Gulf of Mexico is the railroad. The midsection of the United States is your 300 acre farm. The Keystone XL pipeline, explained.

Photo courtesy of NPR

For a very good summation of the salient points of the Keystone XL pipeline issue, please visit this NPR News article.