Along the Pipeline – July 13, 2012

 I drove southwest across the Missouri this afternoon into the prairie lands of South Dakota.  It’s much drier here than in the eastern Dakotas.  There’s more wheat, hay, sorghum, and pasture here, and less corn.  John Harter, a landowner near Colome SD, has several hundred acres of each.  The Keystone XL will cross through the middle of his homestead acreage along the northern edge of the Ogallala aquifer.  “This place has a lot of meaning for me,” John said.  “See that old homestead there?  My brother and I used to fight over who would sleep next to the wall.  It was so cool in the summer time next to that stone wall.”

“My father had this land, and my grandfather before him.  We’ve had it since the thirties.  If that pipeline leaks on my property, it’s done.  It’s junk.  Once that oil gets into this sandy soil and starts moving, I’ve got nothing left.  The land is worth around $1000 and acre, and I have 280,000 acres, and they wonder why I won’t sign off on it for $13,000!  I’ve asked bankers ‘Would you do that?  They said, ‘No, it doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.’  But none of them will stand up for me, either.”

“If the pipeline goes through, the outcome of this is going to get scary.  When it starts spilling and leaking and people start getting sick…  It seems like a dark hole I’m looking from, but we know these pipelines leak, and they’re gonna leak, and they know they’re going to.  We’ve put everything we’ve got into this place and now somebody is coming to take it away from us.  In my mind they might as well be taking it away, because to me, it’s going to be worthless.”

John has a strong sense of preservation for the land and water, and for passing down to the next generation what has been given him.  He wants to keep it in the family, and keep it healthy and beautiful.  He also has a strong sense of living in the heartland of America.  “A big share of our community is built on rural people.  The people in rural America have been a pawn of the government for a long time.  The Keystone people are trying to make this an energy security issue.  But I think it’s a security risk.  They’re running this pipeline down the center of the US.  This is our stronghold area; this is our safety zone.  We’re 1500 miles from every coast.  We’ve got water; we can raise food, and they want to put what I consider a terrorist target out here.  Water and food – those are the two things we need to live, so I think this is a matter of national security.”

John knows the climate has changed, but he’s not ready to blame it on fossil fuel consumption.  “I know how the climate has been just since I was a kid.  We used to have 5,6,10-foot snow banks every winter.  This year we didn’t have any.  I think we are in climate change.  I’m not a hundred percent sure what’s causing it.  I’m kind of skeptical about whether these scientists are honest.  I don’t know if anybody is honest anymore, after what I’ve been through with these TransCanada people.  It takes your faith out of having a decent system.”

I asked him if he gets any support from the community.  “Some people agree with me, but they won’t stand with me.  I kind of understand – if this wasn’t going through my land I wouldn’t be so worked up about it.”  When I asked him what he’s going to do about it he answered,  “They’re taking me through eminent domain court in November.  You can’t go in thinking you’re going to win, but you’ve got to give it your best shot.  What really gets me is, I own this land, I pay taxes on it, and I have to prove that they don’t have the right to it, instead of them having to prove that they do have the right to it.  The burden of proof is on me!”  Then I asked about civil disobedience.  “When you have all your rights taken away from you, you don’t have a lot of power.  They’re going to have to put me in jail.  Civil disobedience is basically what I’m doing now.  I got people that will go out there with me, mostly native Americans.”

John is deeply wounded by this sudden intrusion into his world.  “The worst thing I’ve every had happen to me is watching my mother die from cancer, but this is worse in a way, because there was an ending to that.”  He is an emotional person.  He cares, and does not want too be left alone in defense of what was his from the beginning.  He’s a fighter, and a believer.  We are likely to hear from him again.

“They will be judged for this sin when their judgment day comes.  I truly believe that, because it would drive you nuts if you didn’t have something bigger than yourself to get you through this.  Who knows what God’s plan is, but this paints a blacker picture for me.”

“I think this is a time in human history when we are being tested.”  I said.  “I don’t think there’s a plan to the test.  We’re not going to fit into something preconceived.  We have minds; we have spirit, we have eyes to see.”

“That’s why God gave us free will.”

“Exactly.  The plan is for us to make the plan.  To do that, we have to see clearly what is happening.  Not what anyone says is happening, but what we see happening.  And to do that we have to clear our minds of the distortions money gives to how we think.”

“Yes.  We have to clear our minds to the fact that money is not the issue.  My wife Tammy and I decided that a long time ago.”

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