Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Letter to the Reader....



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Over on the Blogroll of Watergate Summer I posted the Original Introduction "Silent Fallout", that I wrote back in 2005. Many people have asked why I am not published yet, what is holding the Story up. It is simple in a complicated way, I decided to tell my story at the worst time possible under the most Criminal Regime in American History. I can not change that, but I can tell the story with care to Timing.And since the story is not mine alone, but involves people that I love and treasure, it has to be told with care. In the winter of 2005 no one would ever have believed my story of Environmental Crimes and Damage.In many ways my precarious path was painfully affected by this administration. in 2005 People would have said" That is not possible, this is America, Nothing so horrendous, could happen Here."

But Lessons since 2005 came via Katrina and Plamegate and Fairgame , and Fired US Attorneys, and Lies that led to the Iraq War, and Missing WMD, and Ilegal Torture, and Blackwater Nightmares. There are no Illusions that Something is very Wrong In America. I wrote most of my tale as a Refugee in Exile in my own Country, waiting for People to wake up and waiting for my story to end. But even now the Ending is still illusive, yet the story needs to be told, because People have woken up. There are no Happy Endings under this Regime.

Most of us now know better, that in many ways Our Country is more than Broken, it is Undone. It is shattered on so many levels that My Story is merely a ripple in a much bigger pond of Lies and Damage. I call the Bush Regime the Titannical Administration. In 2005 I started Blogging on a Blog called Watergate Summer, because in many ways I felt like I was waiting for Bush Administration to be revealed for the fallacy it was. I was waiting for the Unraveling and Unveiling of Criminals, because that would also illuminate their Corporate Criminal Skills. As a young teen I watched Nixon fall from tarnished self created Grace, and the summer of the Impeachment Hearings I learned about How Unraveling Lies and Crimes requires Hope, Justice and Courage. I also learned that it requires a hungry angry audience. I have waited feverishly , with stretched patience, for a Return of Such an Illuminating Summer.

In my heart I have always known that the Waiting Game was beyond my control, that the Lies would reveal themselves when people had finally taken off the rose colored glasses. In many ways Americans were suffering from the Ostrich Syndrome, and their heads were buried in the protective warmth of the sand. But is is said that even Ostriches when Danger is Near Enough will feel it through the sand, the barriers, and will raise their heads and Look and attempt to decipher the Danger.

This is the Election Year, a year that America needs to pull their head out of the sand and Look. Change won't happen otherwise. If my story helps People, We The People understand the Damage that has been done by this Administration, then that is the path I am choosing.

I can not make the path palatable, or comforting, I can only tell the truth of What Happened. Sometimes the Government will alter Statistics, but the Obituaries never lie. I am the Other Side of the Erin Brockavich Story, what happens when Things Go Wrong. I am also sharing how Everyday People became Extraordinary Courageous heros fighting Corporate Greed , that we as a team were creative and unexpected. Only the names of the innocent will be changed in this story if their protection is required.

We fought the Companies and the Government with their Own Data and Documents, and those lessons must be shared. It was in many ways a dangerous Chess Game, that ended up involving Crimes and Broken Lives and parts of it led straight to this Very Administration.

As you read remember I am just a Nurse, a Mom, I was never a Scientist, or an Activist, or a Special Agent, or a Rabble Rouser....I was just the Neighbor Who Said "There is Something Wrong Here". And ask yourself, "Is that a Crime ? Should Whistleblowers be Hung Out To Dry by their own government ?" Ask yourself , "What would I do ?" For me to tell the Truth, you have to be willing to seek it.

Each Post will have art, photos, links and music. Because to tell this story, I have to tell it in the most sensitive way possible, in a way that heals as the Truth is revealed. I have decided to post the First Chapters in Blog Format, and you may email me offline with comments ( enigma4ever@earthlink.net).

*{The Photo is "Mother" by Dorthea Lange.}*

Chapter One: Displaced by Fate, The Move



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Chapter One: Displaced by Fate: The Move

Most People don't choose to move to a small town with a Toxic Legacy, they find their way through random events and innocent blunders often naive to the plight. We were such a family. My grandmother used to say that the road to Hell is pathed with good intentions and difficult decisions.Insight gained through the rear view mirror is an unexpected gift, often given too late to be fully appreciated.

After living and loving Seattle for many years , when my son was about 8 we decided that it was time to move within the Northwest. Seattle had changed drastically, morphing itself into a Big City, as West Coast transplants arrived in their Dot Com Caravans with bloated checkbook. The Housing Market became steroidal in it's appreciation and rents climbed to California Range, and astronomical Home Prices sent people scurrying. And we became part of the Scurried.

Suddenly Seattle did not feel Homey, it felt strangled with New Money and Dot Com Glitz. It left us scrambling trying to find rental homes that would accomodate our family. And we as nurses were trying to homeschool our son in place that was losing it's midsize town charms.When we first came to Seattle in the late Eighties, we loved that it felt like an Oasis, it was a town that had no illusions about it's size or wealth. We loved the Puget Sound, and that people that lived around the Sound appreciated it.But the cost of living increased inflated so rapidly in the 1990s' due to the surge of New Wealth, it left struggling Nurses like us as financial wallflowers.

The other aspect that happened was that Many of the Newcomers changed the aura of the City, there were now people that measured other people by Chrome and Designer Handbags. And as a homeschooling mom, it was infested in book clubs, play groups and swim classes as Trophy Moms descended. So my husband and I started looking to move to a smaller Environment, a smaller town in the Northwest. We joked that were volvo station wagon people stuck in a Lexusland pileup. So in 1998 there were Road Trips to Many small coastal towns in Oregon and Washington. The relocation research began, and there were notebooks and charts collecting the data for The Move. Desireability was measured in libraries,bookstores, coffee shops, traffic,cozy neighborhoods, trees and parks, and affordable rents.

As a family we were about trips to the beach, Pike Street market, piles of library books, swimming daily, walks to the market, and our pets. Our Family Life was never about Things...it was about Time Spent. But as a homeschooling mom , the other reality that hit by 98 was that we were spending too much time on I5. And I5 had become jammed and choked with people that were less than patient. My son in the backseat was learning to spell and give the finger, and that mommy could cuss in five languages. I even tallied the hours in the car, and realized that we were spending physically more time in the car per week , than hours spent at the actual homeschooling activities.

After a year of charting the Pros and Cons of the inspected road trip towns, we chose to move to a small town just below the Canadian Border. The Uhaul was rented and the Adventure in Moving began even though there had been small Warning Signs clouding our excitement. I ruled it out as Moving Jitters more than substantial evidence of a questionable decision.

Time would tell...and reveal the Truth....The Trouble.

Chapter Two: The Annie Oakley Omen


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Chapter Two: The Annie Oakley Omen

So we had chosen a little house just outside the Town,it was rustic, and wrapped with tall Cedars, overlooking the Lake. It was quiet and peaceful. We had spent many monthes attempting to decide on our new Home. We looked at buying and renting, exploring many houses and neighborhoods.Bellingham was full of special areas and sweet spots. We decided that living by the Lake was the best area.It would be nice to be away from traffic and noise.So on a sunny humid August Morning we moved into our new Home, the Cabin.

We found a little Cabin, a house built in the 70's with cedar shingles and a wrap around porch and many windows and a gas stove. It reminded us of a camp cabin in the Adirondacks.The landlord was a single mom that had moved to another area out of town.We were a bit unclear as to what her plans were with the house. But we moved in the end of August with our little herd of animals and all of our books and homeschool supplies.

My son is always in charge of Exploring, checking the rooms for left over goodies.He ran through the house checking everything.My husband and I began unpacking the Uhaul with some friends. Suddenly my son came and found me, and sure enough he had stumbled onto something that was alarming.

He came and grabbed my arm and dragged me into the Kitchen, and pointed inside the drawer.
" I don't think it is a toy" he whispered.
I tried to reassure him saying that the Landlord was a mom with a teenage son, that I was sure it was Okay.
I opened the drawer and stared at the gun.
I don't know anything about guns, but I knew for sure this was NOT a toy, and was indeed a real gun. I stood breathless and thankful that my son, a boy of eight had not picked up the gun and played with it. He had never seen a gun, although we had discussed guns and gun safety, but it had never ever come to our door.
I picked it up and held it and looked at the loaded gun. I could not imagine WHY a Mom would keep such thing in the Kitchen.
I was stunned.

I explained to my son that we would get it out of the house and give it to the Landlord as soon as possible. He nodded , eyes huge, and very quietly nodded. I told him I was proud of him for not touching it or playing with it. He said he KNEW it was not a toy, that he just knew.

I placed the gun in a bag and put it in my car and made a phone call to the landlord and said I needed to return Something that she left in the kitchen. She called back within hours, said she was at a neighbor's having cocktails ( it was 11 am). I said I would be right over. I walked to the address she gave me. They were indeed having pitchers of cocktails. I asked her to come outside so we could talk. I did not want to make a scene in front of New Neighbors ( I was embarrassed for her mostly). I handed her the McDonalds Bag with the gun inside. And I let her know I was not happy about this turn of events.

" Dodie, I am a mom, and I am not happy that my son found a loaded gun in the Kitchen, as a our landlord- you are very lucky that he did not play with this. This could have turned out very differently".

" Oh Honey, you are making a big deal out of nothing. Guns are a way of life up here. I didn't even know that this puppy was Missing. I got one in my car and one in my purse." She laughed as she casually put it in the front seat of her golden Caddie, next to her purse. She shook her Showgirl Blond hair in the summer breeze and I could smell the Aquanet and Lady Stetson and the Bloody Marys .I realized she did indeed look like a Country Singer, but she was indeed a Pistol Packing Mama.

" So you had a loaded gun in the Kitchen, are there any Problems here that we don't know about or should know about ?"

She laughed again and shook her head.
" Honey , this is the land of Cowboys and Cougars, you don't be so naive. But really nice people and good times. You need to lighten up."

I watched her swagger back to the Pitchers of Bloody Mary's and shook my head as I walked back to our New Home. I was confused and worried.

My son met me at the door, and looked at me.
" Did she even know it was missing? I bet she has more..."
I nodded and told him he was indeed right....I tried to make a joke of it.
" I guess we are renting from a Real Annie Oakley, a reall gun toting mama."

That night when I tucked him in he said " I just hope that Annie Oakley is not a bad Omen, but I am not feeling real good about it." I rubbed his head and told him not to worry, because that is what moms do, even when they are worried.

He sighed and said " you know it isn't the first omen, really."

I sang "This Old Man", which is what I used to do when he was worried....and I thought about what he said, but mostly I pondered the Loaded Gun.....

Chapter Three: The First Omen, The Explosion







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Chapter Three: The First Omen: The Explosion


Sadly the First Omen was not actually a Loaded Gun,the "Annie Oakley " Omen, abandoned in our Kitchen. The first omen was actually a much bigger omen....An Explosion that killed three people, three Children. The Explosion happened at a Park on June 10,1999 on a beautiful sunny afternoon changing the future of a beautiful small Northwest Town Forever.

The Spring of 1999 we had narrowed our Home Search to three Locations, Whitbey Island, Olympia and Bellingham. I had created lists as to what was best for our family and was within our budget. These Three were the top Contenders. Every Thursday was Road Trip Day, my son and the dogs would pile into the car and go exploring these three areas. Lunches were packed, and extra play clothes. Our Favorite Destination became Bellingham. There were great bookstores and libraries and coffee shops. There was a wonderful Lake and a Park not far from the wonderful Lake. There was barely any traffic, and the people seemed very nice. And the Homeshool Opportunities were huge.

We had been looking at homes near the Lake, as it was quiet and peaceful and restful. That spring we noticed that it was lush and green, full of huge trees. My son and I joked it was like going to camp. We did look throughout the County though. We had a few favorite spots, Birch Bay, Fairhaven, Blaine, and Lake Whatcom. We also liked Bellingham. Bellingham Thursdays were special. We would stop and get chowder at one of the local shops or we would go to The Park by the lake and have a packed lunch or we would drive to Birch Bay if it was warm. The Park in Bellingham was our First park that my son ever hiked in , he loved it, and he loved standing on the Bridge and admiring the Falls and listening to them hit the rocks. It was special.

That Thursday morning I got up early and packed lunches and walked dogs and was ready to go. At Noon my son said nope- he did not want to go. I said what ? He said he just did not want to go, he could not explain it, but he did not want to go. Something "Felt Wrong". I was puzzled it was a beautiful sunny day. I tried to persuade him that the Park would be there, and the Ice Cream Lady always came at 3pm. We usually would hop in the car, look at a few houses and then be to the park by 3pm. He shook his head.

I thought it was odd, but I unloaded the car. I knew that he would still want to go swimming at the Complex Pool and watch Arthur C.Clarke, that we would still have a Day. When one Homeschools, everything is in flux, but everything is a learning experience. I called our Realtor that we were supposed to meet and told her my son was not up to the trip and she nicely said that was fine. I told her we would see her next Thursday.

As the afternoon plotted on, we swam, did orgami and fed his animals,and I made cookies, and at 3pm we turned on the TV to get ready to watch Aruthur C.Clarke. At a little after 3:30 PM there was Breaking News, there was aerial footage on news station of a large explosion and Fire.In that instant my son and I both recognized the Area, and took a deep breath. I don't know How we knew, but we knew it was Bellingham and we knew it was Whatcom Falls Park, "our" park. We watched silently as they showed the huge mushroom cloud and all angles showed it was a huge fire. I had chills as I realized that my son had kept us away from Something so awful I was grateful.

And yet at that moment, I did not realize the Explosion for what it was.....I just felt sadness for this lovely little Northwest Town. I called our realtor and checked on her and asked if she was okay. She said the Smoke was bad, and that things were confusing, and that she did not know what was going to happen. I asked her if they were evacuating. She said no, she did not think so. My heart was tugged there to the town on fire, and I realized that I cared about this little town in a way that was inexplicable. This Explosion should have been looked at as an Omen, a Sign, a Warning. Yet I did not see it, I was too worried about the Little Town.

And oddly enough over the next three years my path would be accidentally interwoven to the Tale of the Explosion and the Victims and their families.....and the enormity of the Explosion was to be only fully understood later. Much Later.

Chapter Four: The Mysterious Beautiful Lake


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Chapter Four: The Beautiful Mysterious Lake

So the move was completed that August. We spent time settling in to our new surroundings. We lived near mostly older folks that had early cocktails and went to bed early. There were books to unpack and coffee shops and bookstores to explore. The animals were settling in, the guinea pigs, the hamsters,the dogs, the Parakeet, and the rabbit. There was much to do as a Homeschooler, there was a Shakespearean Youth Theater,there were piano lessons, and art classes, there was a chess club, there were Homeschool groups for his age. And my son was hooked on the XFiles and All Science Shows on Discovery and TLC. We were reading Harry Potter and there was of course school work to do. Once we moved he cut down on swimming and also horseback riding. But Settling in is hard work, and we had spent many years in Seattle so there was much to explore.

We met some of the kids at the Community where we lived, but many of them hung out at the Community Center to wait for piano lessons. I noticed there and at the Bus Stop down the hill from our House that many of these kids were taking ADD and ADHD medicine. The moms would bring the meds with a snack to their children, almost like they were merely handing out gum. They were nonchalent about it, laughing about it. Frankly it worried me a little, mostly that it was just considered so normal. The kids did also definently have ADD, they were very restless, and frantic and frenetic. My son was puzzled by them for the most part, he spent alot of time observing them, and quietly holding back. We also noticed this at Homeschool Meetings.

I worked hard to make the little house homey.There was painting and curtains to hang, and much to unpack.We would take long walks , especially down to the Lake. The Lake was beautiful it was in many ways mysterious. It was pretty clear, and there were no bugs or frogs, which with an 8 year old boy you need. I was puzzled by that. I would also take the dogs to the dog park down by the Lake, and I noticed that the water level would fluctuate, it would actually look higher sometimes. So I asked one of the other dog owners about it, and he said, " Oh, yeah, they fill it , flush it every now and then." I stood confused, I thought for certain he must be joking.

I asked him to explain, he laughed, said he didn't understand it but that he thought there was a big pipe that flushed it. I said, "Oh, did they do that after the Explosion?". He said No, they had always done it. I asked if they had taken any precautions after the Explosion. I did not think they had, as my son and I had been up during the summer, and people swam and played at the Lake as usual, there were NO Signs. He said" I guess they fill it so we have enough to drink". I stopped and looked at him, " You mean this is OUR drinking water ?" He nodded.

I was puzzled, I had never lived near a Drinking Water Lake, that had people swimming in it, Boats, and was even near a Dog park and a golf Course. He tried to reassure me, " It 's been like this for years ." I nodded numbly. "I mean they clean it ya' know". I nodded again.

I also was very puzzled about my Bassatt, she would not go near the Lake or drink from it, and that was not like her at all. In Seattle I noticed that she drank even from muddy puddles. Our Scotty was very sick, with prostate cancer, so I had placed him on a special diet and bottled water. But Abby my lovely old Bassatt even stopped drinking from the Toilet. I was puzzled WHY now she would suddenly have manners.And I started giving her Bottled water like the Scottie, since she kept drinking his water.

Abby clearly knew Something.

Chapter Five: The Cougars Visit


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Chapter Five: The Cougars come to Visit...

My son and I love animals, all animals. As a nurse people seem to think that Nurses can save animals, nurse them back to health. So many interesting animals have been brought to our home by worried neighbors.To name a few, there was a Chicken with a head injury, a skink, a half frozen rabbit in mid winter, a hedgehog with a leg wound, and even a 3 legged turtle. When my son was small for years I helped take care of horses so that he could have horse riding lessons.My son had some coordination issues, and Riding and Swimming really helped with those issues. So I cleaned stalls and learned about horses, even learning Tellington Touch so that the horses could be massaged when they were brushed. And there there were many hours spent at the Zoo studying Primates, my son's favorite.

But there were some Animals that I had not watched enough specials on TLC and Discovery. Mostly the shows with the Predator animals. (You know the kind, the ones with the Big Cats chasing some poor Zebra , always on at bedtime so that we can dream about the Big Feast). So there were things I should have perhaps studied before we moved up beneath the Canadian Border.
Like Maybe I should have read up on Cougars.....Maybe.

Living in the Last County before Canada away from any big Cities there was an opportunity to finally teach my son about some wildlife. I got all kinds of books on Nature and Northwest Wildlife. But I was looking at the pages about Deer and Birds and rabbits and skunks.

Not long after we moved in, witin weeks really we started to find little piles of animal scat around the house's grounds. I could not figure out what kind of animal left us these "Gifts". The Scat had fur and bone bits that looked very unusual, especially under a microscope. I foolishly told my son that I thought we must have an owl. He wisely pointed out that we should hear it call "Who, Who". I laughed and said maybe it was being sneaky...or was mute.

We had seen a few deer, they were slow and gentle, like large lawn ornaments. I was puzzled that they moved so slowly and that they had glazed eyes, and were so still and barely reacted to noises.

I would take the dogs out on the deck in the night, Abby the big old bassatt and the little sick scotty dog Bogie , and sometimes late at night I felt like there was something watching or out there, under the deck. And then a couple of times we found Scratchs on the glass doors on the deck. I remained skeptical about what could cause the scratches.

Throughout the fall my curiousity about the Scratches and the Scat kept me wondering....Again I knew it was not an Owl.

Then one night while I was out on the deck with the dogs I looked down and saw something moving under the deck. And there was a shadow and a funny noise. I immediately took the dogs inside and sat breathless. I knew it was no owl and no skunk.

A few weeks later I was taking out the trash late one night and I saw a small furry thing sitting behind a Fern across from the Trashcan. I was puzzled, it was small, the size of a dog, smaller than my Bassatt and bigger than the Scottie. It had a round face and fuzzy ears, and a flat face. I wondered if it was some kind of stray dog. ( I know now that it sounds pathetic, but it is the truth). Then I watched him get up and walk away, and that is when I saw it, a HUGE long tail. And I realized it was Some Kind of Cat. It was at that moment that I turned and saw sitting on a Huge stump by the trash a Large Cat, a Cougar. staring off at the little cat and still hunched in my direction. I backed away slowly talking quietly.

"Hey , look I think you are just a mom and that is your little one and I think you and I are not that much different . I promise you that I will leave you all alone".

I backed around the corner of the house and quickly got back inside. I explained to my husband and my son that I thought we might have a Mama Cat and baby cat visiting us.They both laughed at me, and then said " Are you serious ?" I said yes.

The next day I called Dodie the landlord and asked were there any wildlife problems. She admitted that there might be, that she used to feed her dog Meat Scraps on the porch. ( And I sat and thought that was not her smartest move). Within weeks we found more and more scratches outside on the house, on the wall and windows. And also prints in the mud....and later in the snow of November. The prints were clearly that of a large cat.

I called the Fish and Wildlife People, and a lovely older Fella " JJ "came and assessed the situation.We will call him JJ, he came out and in a crusty way told me that I had a "Situation" on my hands. He looked like an old Fisherman, with kind of a swagger, and a Clint Eastwood look, except he had a white beard and hair. He had wise blue eyes, and I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I did not know much about wildlife or my "situation". He did look at the deck, but he said that the Deck would not support the weight of a Trap. He also said he suspected that the Cat was a Mama and that she was staying in the area while her cub grew. He also voiced concerns that perhaps that one of them was sick, and that is why they were staying in the area. And the Last option was that perhaps the Cougar had selected the site ( under the Deck) as her home , her den.

JJ gave us lots of pointers, how to make noise when outside and to keep rocks and sticks within reach as protection.He also said not to feed the dogs outside. ( I informed him our landlord had already done that, but I also admitted that I was worried that my two dogs might be viewed as Food on the Deck).He was nice and thoughtful and very helpful. I stood out by his pickup and listened to him as he smoked a cigarette and he drank my pitiful coffee. He finally confronted one issue that I had been avoiding. "You know if we catch her , we might have to kill her , especially if she is sick."

I admitted to him that left me conflicted. He nodded. " Your Porch is too rotted for the Trap, it is too heavy. So for now if you want us to come back ,just let us know. Do you have a gun ? "

I smiled and said no. He asked why I was smiling. I explained about the Annie Oakley Landlord and the gun in the Kitchen, and he chuckled a low gravelly chuckle. " I bet she knew about the Large Kitties ?". We both laughed.

As he pulled away from our little house he leaned out the window, and called, " Hope I don't hear from you....but I bet our pathes cross again."

He would turn out to be right......Our pathes would indeed cross, in a way that would change Life for both of us. Forever.

The Cougars became a known Entity. I made sure to be very careful about taking the dogs out on the deck at night. And I also sang alot of Jingle Bells going to the Trash...and late at night I would see her weaving under the deck making a restless humming noise. My Husband was at work down in Seattle, and I realized I was going to have to cope with this situation. I really did not want to see her or her youngster put down.In my mind I had decided that two struggling moms could share territory. ( and yes, I do know that sounds incredibly naive, but I just could not bear the thought of this other mom being harmed).

A few nights later I was watching a show on the Learning Channel with my son, it was about Bengal Tigers in India, how when their water source is contaminated they get disoriented and restless, but they also get lost and will stay in one area due to their own confusion....and the Toxin Load. My son looked at me and asked " Do you think that is what is wrong with the Mama
Cat ?"

I answered him that I did not know, but that it made sense. Within weeks of That Question we would start to get some answers about the Water.But the Answers would only lead to more Questions....Many More.And in a strange way I would start to undertand a Weaving Cat and a Dog that would not drink Toilet Water made complete sense. They were merely pieces of a very large Puzzle that had been forming for 40 years.

Chapter Six: Midnight Dumping....


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Chapter Six : Midnight Dumping

On a dark and stormy night in September 1999 in our little cabin house I would see Something that I had never seen before. We went to bed after reading Harry Potter and watching the Xfiles. I let my son and the dogs snuggle on my bed with cookies and milk as the winds and rains railed against the House. At around 2am the dogs had to go so I hustled them out to the deck off the back of the house. With the heavy rains I knew that we would not see the Mama Cougar and her baby.

I took them out on the deck to wee, as undignified as that sounds.I felt that they were safer on the Deck, even though we had seen the Mama Cougar below a few times. While they did their duty I would usually stand watch over the Bassatt and the Scotty and I would look over the Creek that wound down the hill towards the Lake. As I stood on the deck watching the Swaying tall Pines and Cedars I could also hear another Sound above the Winds and the Creaking. I realized I heard Trucks Engines running.I also could breathe in a terrible aroma, like Ammonia mixed with skunk. It was so strong it took my breathe away, made my eyes water and made me gag. I pulled my turtleneck above my mouth and wiped my eyes.

As I looked down the Hill, I could make out Two Red Tanker Trucks down by the Creek. ( They were double Tankers). I was puzzled so I went inside and got my Birding Binoculars. ( I had gotten the Binoculars hoping to watch all kinds of new birds at our new home, sadly there had not been as many I hoped). As I looked down the hill I could see the Tankers. They were pulled by the Creek, and One tanker had a hose hanging out the back snaked behind the Truck going to the Creek. And the Other Truck had simply opened a valve in the back and just gushing fluids into the Creek, hoses laying in a messy pile by the truck. The two workers were running back and forth and yelling at each other. I could make out no writing on the Trucks, they were older Tankers and very dirty.

I took the dogs inside and sat on the sofa stunned. Had I just witnessed Midnight Dumping ??? Was there still such a thing ? I sat and listened to the Trucks come and go , over and over until Dawn. By morning the Smell would be overwhelming and nauseating.By the next morning the questions would be rattling in my head. Did the Creek Feed into Our Drinking Water Lake ( I was pretty sure that it did). Was the Creek near a Drinking water Intake ? What the Hell was the Smell ? Were those Dangerous Chemicals they dumped ? WHO were they and where did they come from ? Who do you call when you think you have seen Midnight Dumping ? ( It's not like there is Hotline listed in The Yellow Pages). And How Many people drink water from that Lake ?Should we even be bathing in this Water ? Who else knew ? I sat there stunned and worried and realized that I did not really Know what to do. I also prayed that I would never see the trucks again.

So that day I went and bought bottled water for the animals and the people. And the Rains continued and by late afternoon, the smells had dissipated greatly. I remained worried. I promised myself that if I ever saw The Red Trucks Again, I would call Someone or Do Something. I was not sure What "Something" was, I just knew I needed Answers, for me,for my son, for my dogs. I knew that the smell made me ill, and that it was a Creek that meandered down to the Lake, a Lake that we drank from, so that made it seem more urgent....maybe even Dangerous.

But the Second Night arrived and at 2 am , I awoke when I heard the Trucks, and I knew they were back. Now during the day I had told my son about the Trucks. I had to , as I would not allow him outside due to the smell. ( Not that he wanted to anyways, after smelling the deck). l got the binoculars and looked down the hill, and they were in position again, backed up to the Creek. I sat up and listened to them yelling and running back and forth. It was still raining hard, but I could hear them unloading. I decided that I could follow them and see where they went , and that would give me a clue as to What they Dumped in the Creek. The Men were still rushing about and I could hear them yelling, coughing and gagging. I stood on the back porch bundled in an old coat and with a scarf over my mouth and nose, trying to see them better with the binoculars.

As I stood in the rains for a second night, straining to see with the binoculars, and biting my lip and wiping my eyes, I realized that I was going to have to make a decision about What to do. I had only lived there for 5 weeks, but I needed to Know More. I knew in my heart, my gut I was going to have to do something Drastic. I was going to have to see WHERE the Trucks came from, and there was only one way to do that. On that wet deck and in the Dark I made a Decision that would Change Everything, there was No Turning back from that moment.

So I got dressed, and also got my son dressed with a jacket over his jammies, and then I put supplies in the car. In my knapsack, A Camera, maps, a flashlight, and cookies and juice, and dog treats. I loaded all my sleepy crew in the car as quietly and quickly as I could. There were some groans. I could not leave my son alone and my Husband was working, so there was no other plan.I treated it like an Adventure , another Great Learning Experience.I am just a nurse, a mom, I have limited MacGuyver skills or Magnum PI skills, but I figured that I could atleast get answers to some of these questions, it should not be that hard.

So we drove down the bottem of the hill, and parked off to the side around a Turn, where the Trucks could not see us and waited for them to pass. I had a hunch they came to town, so I made sure to be on the road that headed back to town. Sure enough within minutes the two Double Tankers came zooming by and I decided to follow them. I figured I could atleast trace the trucks, or see where they came from. I did not count on Empty Trucks moving very fast, even in the rain and on the wet roads. So there we were, my son, my dogs and the little hatchback following the Tankers.

My son was sleepily propped in the seat , sharing cookies with the dogs, pointed out that the tankers were going pretty fast. I agreed. He said it was fun being sneaky dressing in black and sneaking out of the house, that it was a real adventure, that were were like Scully and Mulder ( off Xfiles). He also pointed out that the Tankers were pretty sneaky with their dirty license plates and hard to read initials on the back of the truck. It as amazing how Dirt could camaflouge the information we needed. I asked my son that we kind of keep this Adventure our little secret, that others might not appreciate our Mission.( I wondered if this would end up on the Homeschooling Scoresheet as a "Good Idea". ) He giggled at one point and looked at me with his big eyes and the crumbs on his face and said " Maybe this is Our X File". Time would tell how accurate that statement was.

We did our best to follow the Trucks , but they were too fast for us. I was never sure if they saw us, or just drove like that all the time. I did for sure note they were indeed headed into town, but after the fourth turn I lost them, and I refused to drive that fast on wet slick back roads by the Lake. My carsick dogs also contributed to this decision, my son had already fallen back to sleep. So we headed home and everyone was asleep in the car by the time we got there. I put everyone to bed and noted the horrible odor again.

And so Began my quest to track down the Midnight Dumpers.....little did I know that would be just the first time following trucks and making a Bold Decision at 2am, there would be many more. Midnight Dumping was merely just a small piece of a much bigger Puzzle that had been in place for many years. But for some reason I was the First and Only Mom that ever decided to Follow the Trucks.

And that Quest would lead in many directions that I did not expect or could never have perdicted.....Boxes and boxes of data, 40 years of data in 10 different offices, and thousands of letters to all kinds of Officials and Offices....and Heights of Corruption that still make my head hurt. And there would be Names that later would be prominent in headlines of an Administration plagued with Lies...and by then the Red Trucks would make Sense. And the trucks were just a small piece in a very ragged Jagged Dangerous Jig Zaw Puzzle and the question was would the Puzzle be solved in time to help a little town ?

Chapter Seven: Moving Into Town



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Chapter Seven: Moving Into Town

So we saw the Midnight Dumping....My Son and I. He thought it was a marvelous adventure, that we had been Super Snoops, and yet I treated it that way for his sake. But inside I was worried, sick at heart, we had witnessed Dumping in the Water right by our home. And in an attempt to learn more what I really learned was that I did not know Anything or Near Enough to figure out what to do.

We came home and I put my son to bed, and I sat on his bed until he fell asleep. And there I sat looking at his little Zoo, and all of his books. I listened to the snoring of the Bassatt and the Scottie, I watched the Bunny and guinea pig asleep at the end of his bed in their cage.My son at that time wanted to be a Vet,he nurtured and took care of all these little creatures. We called them The Herd, I knew that he would start asking Questions about the Water. Questions that I did not have answers. I watched him sleeping with his stuffed buddies and his Herd, and I wondered had I made a Huge Mistake moving him to this beautiful town in the Northwest.

As I stood there in the Dark, I knew that I would and could make phone calls to try to learn more, but that in the long run, it was not going to change what we saw. At that point I was pretty naive, I had never had to make these kinds of calls or ask these kinds of questions. But Nurses by nature are good at asking Questions, it reminded me of working in the ER, people never quite tell you the Truth or What you need to know. They tell you what they think you want to hear.....they hide behind what they can. It takes Sleuthing and hard questions to get to the truth. Little did I realize that The Lake would turn out to be my most Perplexing "Patient" ever....

Was Midnight Dumping a small matter ? ...or part of a Much Bigger Problem ?...Time would reveal answers to all these questions.
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My first mission was to make calls about the Mdinight Dumping, and I did. I called numerous offices and described what I had seen and asked WHO should I report the sightings to ? I was stunned, most of the offices I called, were basically silent, barely responsive. I joked to my son that I felt like I was calling a Monkey on Valium. I was a little shocked that NO one seemed Concerned that Strange Chemicals out of a truck were dumped in the Lake. And yes, I did indeed learn that the Lake, the Big Beautiful Lake was OUR Drinking Water. It was actually Drinking water for most of the County, for 80-90,000 people. When I learned that, I felt ill.

The Water department nicely sent me a beautiful pamphlet that told ALL about Our Water, with nice photos and slick PR writing and very limited data. I asked weren't they concerned about the Red Trucks, they said Nothing. Said Someone would call me back. No One did.I basically got the same response from the Mayors Office, the Health Department and the Public Utilities office. I sat and stared at the phone, bewildered, and frustated.

The First Phone calls to the Dept that fall, they told me to boil the water if I was concerned, and I said yes, I was "concerned", that the water had a strange Sheen on it, silvery sheen. But the first night I did not have bottled water, so I did stand and boil the water, watching the sheen and worrying as if wafted up into the air....I breathed in trying to sniff What it was ( not a brilliant move). Mostly I was stymied on all fronts.

I did start buying the Bottled water for all of us. And I wondered if that was good enough. The One Water Person from a Government Office had told me if was worried I could start always boil my water. So I stood over the stove, watched the water boil, the water had a film on it and slowly the silvery film vanished out of the steam and I stood and breathed in that steam trying to evaluate WHAT was in it. Those vapors haunted me. And I also knew that we were still showering in the water, and worried was that a problem too ? One official even tried to reassure me that some little trucks were small compared to the Lake, maybe the "contents " were merely "diluted"....It was only the beginning of the Watery Lies.

That fall as my concern hung over me like a Black Storm Cloud as I pondered the Unanswered Calls and Questions, and I reasoned that moving into town might be a better location for us, away from the Lake and mysteries of the Lake. Yet Ironically this Move to town would not only deepen my concern, but widen the mystery. But Moving to town would bring Answers and a Battle that I could have never perdicted that dark and stormy night. And the Red Trucks were a mere droplet in the toxic punch bowl.

So by late fall, Christmas, after much soul searching and dealing with a difficult ditzy landlord and Hungry Wild Animals on the Deck we found a lovely little bungalow in town. There was a picket fence and small trees and rose bushes and garden boxes and a lawn for the dogs, and a street of Victorian homes, a true neighborhood.We knew "Town" through some bookstores, a coffee shop that was our oasis, and a Youth Theater where I took my son. But as a homeschooling mom, I did not really KNOW the town, I only knew what it had to offer our family and my son.

So my son and I watched the Midnight Fireworks on TV , and we held our breath as the Fireworks went off, and waited to see what 2000 had in store. This was the year where Y2K panic had made people panic about power and the computers and stock up on Beans. We laughed, our computer was fine, the power was still on. And the next day we finished packing to move away from the Lake and move into Town. The last box packed my son's Y2K Time Capsule Box....As I packed those boxes I tried to be optimistic and pack away my worries...the Lake Worries.

Chapter Eight: Messages From the Past, and Promises to Keep...


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Chapter 8 : Messages From the Past.

Moving into town , one would think that maybe I would feel reassured, and at best less worried. The town was sweet, and quiet. The homes were older, battered, yet loved. There were even some quirks I noticed that winter, the homes and the trees looked battle weary, battered. Almost all homes were in need of paint. I rationalized maybe it was a town like Maine or Cape Cod, I would not for an instance question the towns shabby qualities.

Over those months in town I would reflect on little oddities about the town and think, Hmm, I wonder Why this is. Like the Limited Birds, and how they tended to fly crooked and how there were so few. But I also noticed they were so quiet, not like other birds I had seen over the years. In town and by the lake they were quiet. I had never been anywhere in the Country where Sea Gulls were quiet and did not squawk and fight over food and territory. I also noticed that the Deer had been quiet lumbering slow moving , they reminded me of cows they were so slow and mellow. ( I realized that maybe I was expecting bounding deer like extras out of Bambi).

But Homeschooling was thriving, there was much to do every day. There was a culture clob to study cultures of the world, and there was a Shakespearean Youth Theater, and much time spent at the Coffee shop that we loved, and new playgrounds and parks to explore. And piano lessons and a wonderful new library. And there was still our obsession with the X Files and much Harry Potter to read. So most of the time were doing normal things like walking the dog or playing Frisbee Golf or looking for fish and toads at the Creek. Bogie my cancer ridden dog had been placed on Morphine in December so I was still caring for him, and we had added a cat to our Herd,and after the move we suffered two losses, Stubby our 3 legged turtle had died quickly, and also Tucker the Rat. The rest of the Herd seemed to be okay and adapting to our new location.

We were meeting alot of other families, many had special needs. There was a significant amount of Learning differences and disabilities and ADD and ADHD, and autism. There were also a fair number of children that we were meeting that suffered a range of health issues, and that is why they were being homeschooled, cancer, asthma, defects, muscle problems, as well as a fair number of boys with irritability and agitation issues. I thought maybe this was the norm, it was just amplified now that I was in a smaller town and smaller county.

But life went on , there were books to read, and Wednesday Night Spaghetti, and Friday Night Pizza and Wednesday coffee shop afternoons and Chess, and Soup on Tuesdays. And my husband was training for a new job and mostly down in Seattle, but his new job as a Flight nurse meant that he would be stationed at Bellingham. And Sunday Afternoons also became a coffee Shop day. Rob had heard that Albert Einstein had spent much of his schooling youth at Coffee shops, it was a message that he took to heart. 2000 was starting out to be a year of interesting adventures and new friends and Learning Spots...all that a Nine year old needs.

At night I was still dreaming occasionally about the Lake and The Red Trucks and yes, sometimes the Mama Cougar. And strangely I started having dreams about New England, Vermont from many years ago as a young newlywed nurse. I rationalized it that was because the town had New England qualities in a quaint familiar kind of way.

In New England I had worked as a PEDS nurse, I had taken care of children from all over Vermont and New England and North New York. There were children there in the early 80's that were from Niagara area,outside of a Place Called Love Canal.In the late 1970's the horrors of Love Canal had just been uncovered. ( I will post a link to the Story in the Back of the book so that people can learn more). But suffice it to say that Love Canal was a Major Environmental Disaster that gained national attention after it started leaking fluids and harming those that lived near it. It's main source was a Ditch that was filled with many years of toxic waste. That the Town bought for a dollar and years later would build a school over it and playground and a neighborhood. The Town and the Neighborhood was the first in the Country that had to be bought out due to the toxins and the damage and the Contamination. But in the early 1980's the mysteries and toxic load were still be revealed.

So I worked as a Nurse on the PEDS floor, and we had been getting some very strange cancer cases from North New York. it was viewed as a mystery and worrisome. There were residents that started asking questions about the Geography of the situation, and had started mapping the areas that the children came from and even tracking their drinking water. Many of the children were rural children, and it was perplexing.

One of my favorite patients during those years was a boy named Sam, he was smart, funny and had a great dry sense of humor. He was ten and battling leukemia, and he was challenging and not always cooperative and for 2 years I would get to know him very well. I used to joke that in many ways with his snide cracks and his sharp questions it was like he was 35. But something about him tugged at my heart and I spent alot of time finding books that he would like and silly jokes. And I also as a primary nurse realized that he needed to be kept busy and boredom was a morale killer for him. His mom still was living in North New York and so his grandmother would come stay with him when she was over in New York working. So I as one of his primary nurses got to know his family. But mostly I knew Sam.

Late at night he could not always sleep, especially after chemo, and he did not always have someone to stay with him. So I would arrange my assignments to be near his end of the hall. And we would talk and he would watch Magnum PI and give me updates or Miami Vice. I played alot of Stratego with him and chess and read comic books. And he would ask probing questions. I learned about Love Canal from him in a Backwards way. Sam late one night said" you know we moved away from a bad zone, a disaster. " Really I said. He said, well, I am not positive, but I saw it on TV and I looked at a map. It was not that far away. I tried to reassure him, because that is what nurses do. And then he said " But I do worry where did I get my cancer, I mean was it from where I lived when I was little , near Niagara ? or was it from playing in the creek behind the house I live in now ? " I said I did not know. I asked him "Why the Creek?" He said " I don't know, it's the quiet of it, and that there are not many birds and I have never seen anything drink back there...but I like playing there, well, because it is quiet, and maybe there is something wrong...ya know ?" I told him it's just quieter in some of the backwoods areas....but on another level I understood his worries. ( And I knew that the residents had already put a pin on their maps where they were trying to track the cancers).

Sam had good months and bad months and he even had some remissions. But in 1987 it all fell apart after battling for almost 3 years. He came to the hospital that fall,and late one night we watched Magnum PI and he looked at me and said, "I got a bad feeling this time, I really do ." Again I tried to reassure him. But I took him seriously, and the next day I called his mom from my home and told her that his spirits were down and we worked on a schedule of WHO could come be with him. And then I did something I have never done as a nurse, I asked her if she could bring Maisie over, his black lab. WHY she asked ? I said because he is really homesick. She wisely pointed out that dogs were not allowed. I said I knew that , but let me work on that issue, not to worry. ( meaning that I knew I might get in trouble or be fired, but it was important).

So that day I met with his residents and I told them that I was having Maisie brought over, his best friend, as an only Child she really was his family. They agreed, and so we came up with an elaborate schedule where were sneak Maisie in and out especially at nights , thinking it might help Sam sleep, but always have her off the floor before the Head Nurse arrived at 7am. We also moved Sam's room right next to the Fire Escape , for the purpose of moving Maisie. It was an elaborate perfect plan.

So the next night his mom arrived and she met Lisa down at the back of the Fire Escape ( also the same spot that residents used to sneak out for cigarettes). Sam and I had been making Ghosts out of napkins and he was in a good mood because he knew his mom was coming. We made the napkin ghosts and hung them up and down the hall, and he hummed the Ghostbusters Song and kept laughing calling himself the Ghostbuster King. In many ways, he seemed like a normal 12 year old laughing and making jokes and other than his pale skin and bald head he seemed like he was feeling better. Even though I had seen his counts that day and knew that things were not good. A Little after midnight, I snuck his Maisie in after his mom had arrived and all of us stood at the bottom of his bed, his mom, Lisa and I and Maisie came in and very gently crawled onto his bed....and laid her head in his lap. She was so gentle and sweet, and knowing. We all cried. And Sam held her and cried too.

But something about how gentle Maisie was, so careful I felt like she knew Something that rest of us didn't know or want to know. And I knew that she belonged there...with Sam. And somehow I knew that she had arrived at the right time.

The next two weeks were very rocky, with good days and bad days. Sam was not getting better and was losing ground by the day. But still we brought Maisie in every night. One night I sat watching Magum PI with Sam, and his mom was asleep on the cot in the room next door. It was the episode where Magnum enters LIMBO after a bad injury, he is not dead or alive, but he can check on his friends, be close even though they don't know it. It was a sensitive moving episode, and Sam wanted to talk. "So what do you think ? Is there Limbo ? I think there is ...that when you die that maybe you get time to stay and check on things and people. Like I could stay and check on my mom.....and Maisie" he as so clear about it, so honest. I sat there amazed and told him that I thought he was right, and that if that was what he wanted to believe, I was sure he was right.

Three days later we saw a mass on his Chest Xray, and two days later he was having trouble breathing and I spent every night with him that week, reading to him singing Christmas Carols, and watching the Napkin Ghosts floating over his bed as I gave him meds and turned up the oxygen. One night near Dawn he looked at his mom as she slept, and whispered to me "Limbo", and I promised that I would tell her about "Limbo". And I promised I would check on her and Maisie and as the sun came up I sat and read him Winnie The Pooh,just like he wanted. And he left all the pain behind with his mom holding him and Maisie by his side.

For many years I had not thought about Sam, but In Bellingham I dreamt about him more than once. And then the one dream I remembered the coversation from the Ghost Napkin Night, " So Allie, if you lived Somewhere where the Water was not Right, you would Do Something Right ? " And I said " Like What , Hire Magnum" I said this jokingly ? And then I saw he was serious and said " No Seriously, like what ? And Sam looked back at me with those I Must be 35 eyes, " I don't know what, But Something, atleast Just promise you won't pretend it 's Alright- that there is Nothing the Matter". And I looked at him and said "...Yes, I promise."

And yes, in restless sleepless nights in Bellingham I remembered That Promise.....especially as I watched my son sleeping with his Herd and dogs and stuffed buddies. It was a Promise I had to keep.
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Love Canal Aerial photo 1980......click the title to learn more or watch the video below,sadly I did not research Love Canal until I lived in Bellingham...

Chapter Nine:My First Environmental Meeting, about the Pipeline Explosion....A Lesson In Corporate Honesty


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Chapter Nine: My first Environmental Meeting : The Pipeline

I mentioned in the earlier chapter about the Pipeline Explosion and how it was puzzling, confusing and yes, worrisome. As we moved into town it occurred to me that I should learn more about the Explosion and how it was handled and how the town was coping with the After Effects. My new neighborhood in town was actually much closer to the area where it happened, and people still were talking about it and trying to figure out HOW it happened, and could it happen again.

So one of the first things I did when I moved to town was I went to a Pipeline Meeting to learn more. It would teach me much.

I arrived late, as I had gotten lost, so I snuck in the back and sat quietly and pulled out a pad and pen and started writing notes. People near me stared at me like I was from Mars. I smiled back.

The meeting was very odd. The family of one of the victims sat on one side, they were surrounded by Police. I thought that was very odd. I found myself wondering, had they been threatened ? or harassed ? I would slowly see that the Police were there as Enforcement, and in no way there to help the family. It was subtle and disturbing.

Now some background, I had been reading for months about the Pipeline explosion as it was in the Newspapers in Seattle daily. I still read Seattle papers even after we moved. I researched Rules and Regs about Pipelines, Safety Rules and also environmental rules and rulings about the Contamination, but also about the dangers of the pipeline running through neighborhoods. ( In Seattle we had even lived near a different part of the same pipeline, so it was research worth pursuing). So yes, I arrived at the meeting with my Concerns and Questions about the Pipeline, it's safety, and Future safety and also about Contamination Risks that still existed after the explosion.

I spent some time listening to presentations by the Fuel Company Execs, and Some Engineers, and also some City Exces. It would be the first time that I would witness the Players in this small town and how Emergencies were handled. At one point the questions started to fly from some Workers and Engineers in the room, about Safety issues. I took notes and listened carefully and realized that some other people had some questions similar to mine, which was oddly reassuring.

The Pipeline Company had sent a PR Lady to the event, she was wearing Talbots and Pearls and dressed like she was going to a Meeting at the Women's Club to plan the Fall Benefit. Most of the people in the room were college kids, Family people in jeans, there were no other pearls. She was flustered and flushing, smiling too much with capped teeth. The questions started to increase. But also details about the event began to emerge. Like that before that Event there had been Shakings and Power Surges that morning. And Someone else asked if it was true that the Pipeline was For Sale and had been shown to a Buyer that Morning of the Explosion . ( That question alone brought the room to a standstill). Mrs. Chippy as we called her in the Back row...was looking less and less Chipper, and more hot and bothered.

The Family asked Questions about HOW could they Think of Opening the Pipeline without properly taking MORE precautions. They were clearly upset, three innocent Children had died due to the Explosion, and others had been injured. It was a personal issue. No One in this Country had ever died due to a Pipeline Explosion near a town before. The Cops stood up and moved to encircle the family, adjusting their pants and standing talller around the grieving family. A City Official near me nodded, and whispered to me " there have been threats ". I whispered back " Against the Family ?". " No, against the Pipeline and the City". I whispered back, " that is too bad, but the poor family should not be treated like that". I bent my head and kept writing, but it bothered me, and you could see the tension building in the room. The Cops were being used to intimidate, it was obvious.

I started asking questions, focusing on safety and Contamination issues, and I even asked some Pipe questions. I was perplexed WHY they were in such a hurry to get the pipeline open and leave the town so confused and worried. There seemed to be No regard for the Town's fears or worries, none. I asked my Questions in a Series of three, clearly and carefully, and if they cut me off I would say , " I am not done yet". Now under pressure I have a slight Southern Accent , just enough that it puzzles people, especially in the NorthWest. I slowly realized that people were really listening and were nodding about my Questions about the Safety of the Town and how the Company was not being Forthcoming enough. People started handing me notes, and asking me to to ask their questions. " They don't know you..they think you are a lawyer, but you are getting results" they whispered. And the City Official that was sitting next to got up and left. ( I knew that I had hit some kind of nerve).

Finally I asked " But I am confused, you want the Pipeline Re-opened, and yet you have offered Nothing here to reassure the People. No New Safety equipment or procedures and no special assessment teams, and no new testing. " ( that got applause, and then we all notived that Mrs.Chippy's lip had started quivering and she was starting to tear up.) A city Official came to the Mike, " This is very Upsetting, and you all have been too harsh on the Representitive, There will be a 10 minute break." ( there was muffled laughter and guffaws).

And during the Break people came to me " Are you a lawyer ? A journalist ? WHO are you ?" I explained I was just a mom, a nurse that had moved there recently. No one believed me. And then the Pipeline sent people over asking for my card, and I explained I was merely a concerned citizen.

The meeting continued and little was resolved or addressed. As I left I stopped and spoke to the families, and ended up talking to them outside.The older brother told me all about the Day of the Explosion and about what happened to his brother. Parts of his story bothered me, and still do. That his brother was burned, but a bright luminous yellow. And that the boys had not been immediately airlifted to Seattle, even though that is where the Burn Unit was. I was also disturbed by what he said about how the water was on fire, and how everyone said it was a mushroom cloud. And then they told me that the Boys were blamed for the fire, that they had been playing with a lighter that supposedly the Chief of Police "found" very far from the actual scene of the explosion. And then I was puzzled by how people could have felt Earth shakes and seen power surges BEFORE the explosion, that made no sense. I listened to them and gave the family a hug and walked home feeling confused and wondering What was Wrong with this town.

I did ask One Water Question that night, I asked if the Safety of the Water had been Checked after the explosion. As the Pipeline explosion happened right next to the Water Treatment Plant and also within close range of the Lake, The Drinking Water for so many. No One Could answer my question, and there was much squirming at the question. And during the break a Man handed me a crumpled note " ask about the pipe, the pipeline pipe is and was mere inches from the Water Pipe". I sat holding that note and wondering What that really meant, and worse, was it True.

I admit that night I did go to sleep not thinking at all about the Red Trucks....

Chapter Ten: In the Spring: Ashes on the Deck, Red Rain, and the Stripping of "The Mystery".....

Chapter 10: Ashes on the Deck, Red Rain, and "Stripping" the Mystery....

So winter dragged on and I spent the winter unpacking and settling us into our new home in town. I was puzzled by a few things....like when it snowed there was no ice or snow on the street out front. We joked that the must be radiant heat in the asphalt out front. We buried a series of pets right in a row, our Turtle Stubby, 3 rodents and we puzzled as to why they all were dying so fast. And another phenomena that we noticed that on weekends there were such strange odors on weekend nights, Burnt Pot Roast and Bagles , or Burnt Rubber....And sometimes we had to sweep our deck of fine grayish ash. The ash was troubling and relentless. I also noticed that our picket fence and deck were stripped of paint,and the landlords told me that the deck had to be painted every year, that all of downtown was "like that". I did notice the houses around us looked the same, the wood was stripped, peeling and weathered like a pile of driftwood.

Our Deck was on the front of the house, and the wood was so stripped I could not even tell what color it had been, and somehow looking at the other stripped discolored houses it did not bother me so much. I bought paint for the spring deciding that I would paint the deck and door, and the front steps, the Rose Box, and the picket fences and planter boxes along the fence. I picked a light sea blue, pale aqua, and over the spring I would paint and tidy the yard and ponder the odd Ash that would fall while I was trying to paint. My son even noticed the ash, and it was the same time we were studying Magnets and as a joke we decided that we would see if the ash was magnetic. And with a magnet out on the porch, we were able to pick up ash off the railing deck. As a Homeschooling mom I had no explanations or answers for that strange phenomena. I was puzzled and mildly disgusted.

I also noticed that no one opened their windows, even when the weather was warm in February. And that people rarely sat outside or visited on their porches.I figured that when Rainey Season subsided later in spring that we would meet more of our neighbors. So I planted bulbs by the steps and fixed up planters by the picket fence and brought my Bird Bath out getting ready for spring. The Bird Bath became a source of angst for me- it kept filling up with rusty scum material and birds would not visit. And yet looking at the water, I could see that the birds would not want to get near that water. So I ended up cleaning the bath alot and yes, buying bottled water for the Bird Bath.

That spring two things would enter our Family life that were special. First while reading a local paper I read that a local was getting rid of a Boat, an old 1920's RumRunner. And so I went to see it, and then I showed it to my husband. And when you reach a certain point in your marriage you start looking at things to DO with your spouse. ( and yes, some people rush off to have Affairs). I came up with the idea that we could fix up this Old Wooden Boat, this RumRunner, and somehow my lovely spouse thought it would be fun too. So we moved the 27 foot boat to the back of our home, to put it in the Driveway, up on barrels so we would fix it up. Ironically, we would need to strip the boat and caulk it and paint it. It had been painted bright blue and bright orange by an Old Canadian and taken north, and then the nice fellow in Whatcom bought it and somehow moved it down to Bellingham Bay. So we moved it out of the Bay and it came to live behind our House.

Ironically by meeting some Old Coast Guard Men while doing Pet Therapy at a Nursing Home, I got to know the History of the Boat, " The Mystery". It turned out that Old Coast Guard Man had photos on his wall " They Got Away" was the name of the wall, and there on the wall was OUR boat from the early 1930's. It turned out that Boats used to go up and down the coast between Bellingham and the Islands, and Fairhaven and Seattle and bring Liguor. The Coast Guard would capture the Fast Boats and then among themselves they would buy the fast ones for themselves ( yes , he admitted doing that). He told me our Boat was part of three , called the Sisters, they were made ( "copied") and used to haul liguor up and down the coast. He said that in Seattle the times were set for deliveries and a Children's Program was used to let people know in code where and when the Illegal Liquor was to delivered.

We bought her for a six pack of beer and 20 dollars, the cheapest present I ever bough my husband.So we put The Mystery up on Barrels out back on the cement slab of a Driveway. And in a matter of monthes the Red Rain fell and the Boat was stripped by the end of six monthes behind our house. Later we would all joke that we never had to strip the Boat, but it was true, and maybe we should not have joked about it. The Boat, The Mystery would become a favorite in the neighborhood, for sitting and having a beer, or for kids to play Pirates. But over that winter and spring the Red Rain would confound me, and even as it would wash away the Ash, it was troubling and like nothing I had ever seen. And by spring I was puzzled what stripped the Boat the Red Rain ? or the Ash ? or Both.

We would also adopt a Cat in late winter. I had seen a photo of her at the coffee shop, and read that the owner was moving away. Xena the Princess needed a home the sign said. Now we had plenty of animals, even some rodents and a little budgie that we had had since my son was a baby, but somehow a Cat, a lovely tortoise shell cat tugged at our hearts. So we went and picked up the Cat. We quickly realized that all of our home critters were safe, as she was practically feral and had never lived inside, so she would be an outside cat. And ironically we got her the same month we got The Boat, so what really happened was that Our Cat, Xena indeed got a Boat. She would stand up on the front of the boat and snarl at anyone that went by, even large dogs. So the Boat had it's own Watch " Cat".

Our other pets were curious about The Cat, and over time she did get to know Abby the Bassatt and Bogie the Scotty. She looked down at both of them. Bogie was our Scotty he was almost 14 and he was also battling cancer, so he did not have time or energy to focus on fighting with her, and for some reason actually liked her. Abby our Bassatt loved all animals, and would even bring home injured animals when out walking. It was not uncommon to look down and realize she was carrying an injured baby bird home. We even took her down to Whatcom Creek and tried to bring home a gasping fish that was laying on the banks....I drew the line.

The Amazing part of the story is that as I write this, it is now 2009 and Xena the Princess is lying next to me, stretched out in the Sunny patch on the bed right by the window......

Chapter 11: The Whale On the Beach and The Troubled Waters....



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Have you ever seen a whale ? Humpback or Orca ? If you live on the West Coast you probably have seen them. They take your breath away, they are majestic and magical. I first saw a whale in my late 20's, it was something that I was determined to share with my children one day. When my son was little his first movie was Free Willy. He was three, he fell in love with Willy, we sent money to the foundation to set up freedom for Willy aka Keiko. I was touched watching his little childlike fingers putting the dollars in the envelope, with such fierce devotion and worry.

That summer we had sat in the cool theater and watched Willy on the big screen. In time Willy.... Keiko was brought to Oregon to the Newport Aquarium where he was rehabilitated after living so many years in the Mexico Aquarium. In 1998 after he had been at the Aquarium for about 2 years it was decided that he was rehabbed and plans were announced to move him so that he could be closer to his pod. My son was seven that summer, so we decided that we would drive to Oregon and say goodbye to Willy. It was our first trip to Oregon. I had never been to Oregon, but I thought that this mission would be good for my son. It would be good for him to see where Willy got better before he was going home to his family.

So my son and I loaded into the car and set off to go see Willy down on the Oregon Coast. We found a cozy Bed & Breakfast in Newport and spent days walking on the beach and exploring the town and the aquarium. And thousands piled into the little town at the end of that summer 1998, all coming to say goodbye to Keiko. Our last afternoon there, we somehow ended up alone next to Keiko's tank. My son was tired and leaned against the glass and said " I don't think we will see him, he would rather be in his outdoor pen then in here with all these people staring this week.Maybe he doesn't want to say goodbye,maybe he is worn out from all the goodbyes". My son was leaning against the glass looking down and talking to me, all of the sudden swiftly and quietly and with such grace Keiko appeared and came up behind by son to the glass....and my son walked by the glass and very slowly Keiko glided next to him.

Keiko had a way of gliding and moving slowly , yet swiftly, it was like watching him dance. And he did appear to be smiling. I had never ever seen a whale so close, just inches away on the other side of the thick pane of cool glass. I will never forget watching my son stand with his hand on that glass, touching such a great gentle creature. We stood alone in the dark cool hallway next to the tank and Keiko glided slowly and then he did three huge sweeps by the glass,and then he turned one last time before heading back out to his outer pen.

It was one of those moments that any parent holds dearly, and it was my favorite road trip to Oregon, driving to the Coast with my son.....to see this great creature and say Goodbye. My son was deeply moved by meeting this great gentle giant, he worried about him for months after the trip. He said Keiko seemed so happy to be around people, that maybe the scientists were wrong, maybe Keiko thought people were HIS family.It would be a debate that we would have for years,especially after the Gentle Giant of a whale was freed and then died 5 years later....
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So in the Spring of 2000 there we were living in Bellingham, and we had just moved into Town, within blocks of the waterfront and Bellingham Bay.The town was full of mysteries and plenty to explore, nooks and crannies, libraries and coffee shops.And we could walk to town and then even walk down to the Beach right on Bellingham Bay. Other days we could drive to Bellingham Bay and visit a small secluded park that was labeled "PaperMakers Park " on the Map. It was at the end of Cornwall Ave.

This small park was sheltered, and easy to miss in a car. One side of the beach there was a road and Railroad Tracks and over to the West one could see the Large Plant with Stacks and creaking machinery and over the water one could piers and large cranes. There was a battered sign that said " Georgia Pacific Chemical Plant". The sign was faded and the paint was peeling. I was puzzled by that sign because the sign implied that the Beach belonged to the plant, yet the Map clearly marked it as *Park*. I was also puzzled because I had been told that GP was a Paper and Pulp Plant , no one said anything about "Chemicals".

That beach really revealed to me how little I knew about the GP Plant within Blocks of my new home. I was unclear how much of the Waterfront did the Plant truly own or occupy. I was even unsure if the entire Waterfront was the actual Plant. The Puget Sound in the Northwest is a beautiful rich ecosystem I was puzzled if there really was a large chemical Plant so close to the waters and fish and birds and such a natural resource. I was also puzzled was GP really built right in the heart of the little town right on the Waterfront. I was also puzzled was it really safe to have a Chemical Plant that close to people and the Waterfront.
The Locals had told me that the "Plant" just processed pulp and wood chips, they also told me that Chlorine had not been produced or made there for 2 years. (That is what they had been told by the Plant and the local Government Leaders). Such Confusion and Ponderings triggered by a Battered Beach sign would lead to more Questions than answers especially that Spring of 2000.

Part of the park was old dryrotted logs laying scattered on white sand and then further down there was piles and piles of glass, that looked like Sea Glass. I was puzzled by that glass. I collect sea glass and make art projects out of it, I had never seen such glass in such quantities. Some of the glass had old labels on the bottom of bottles and some of it was not soda, some were chemical names and abbreviations. For a time I wondered if the "Chemical Plant " had disposed of their bottles there. But in the meantime I kept collecting the glass making projects out of it. My son would have theater classes 2 days a week and during those classes I would walk down 4 blocks to the beach and collect the glass. Other days I drove ,but I was magnetically drawn to that Beach.

The water was murky , a color I did not recognize grayish green, with a yellowish tinge and at dusk or in the eve it had a glow to it. Then as the water would lap the beach the dirty white sand would have reddish stains left in it's wake. A red goo that was slimy in spots and sticky in others. In the curved area at the top of the park there was a pipe that stuck out, and when the tide would go up and down the pipe sometimes was exposed and hidden at others. The pipe also leaked goo at times.

Depending on the tides there was all kinds of debris that would appear on the beach, it would often include rubber shoes and gloves and boots. But there was no wildlife in the tidal pools and very little vegetation or even sea weed. It differed from the other beaches that I had visited up and down the Oregon and Washington Coast. It also was not like any of the Beaches I had seen on the East Coast from Maine to Florida. And yes, I confess the Beach haunted me...It had a hold on me. I only took my son there a few times...but I sadly went too often. I was looking for answers when I really did not even know the Questions...

That first Spring that we lived "In Town" we would go by the water quite a bit and I got to show my son Both Orcas and grey whales....We had never gotten to see whales close to where we lived, so it was a wonderful experience. There was one particular spot up the hill from the Cornwall beach that we could watch all the goings on down at the beach, and piers and docks. It was the perfect spot to watch the Whales as they came thru the Bay. At first I as under the impression that the Whales must come there all the time, but then I quickly learned that they didn't come there as a pattern, they actually never came to that Bay. There was a family of three that came that my son and I went and watched up on the Slope for two days in a row....For us watching a "Family" of three was special. But on the third day, we noticed that one was missing, and that the other two seemed anxious and searching....We went home and pondered the Missing Whale....

So the next day while my son was at Shakespearean Youth Theater I went down to the Beach to collect glass, I parked my car and as I walked to the Beach I could see that there was a small crowd standing at the Beach. Native American Men, "Lummi's " all different ages were standing talking, they looked solemn. There faces were grim. As I got closer to the Beach I saw past them what was causing the concern. There on the Beach was a Whale, a beautiful whale very dead. I walked over and touched it...I apologized to it and I could feel myself starting to cry. I didn't know what had happened to it, but Something had happened to it. It was very large, the largest dead animal I had ever seen up close.

One of the Indians approached. We stood silent for awhile just staring at the Whale. Finally the Indian spoke " You are the Glass Lady ? " I nodded quietly touched that I had been given a names and not known it. " What do you think killed the Whale ? " I stared at him and I could see that he too might have been crying.His eyes were watery and serious. He had to be about the same age as me, yet his eyes looked so much older. I looked at him closely. I was immediately struck that he had said it had been "Killed", he did not think it had just "died". I looked at him , clearly he wanted answers as much as I did. " I am just a nurse, I don't know forensics, but It's sad. He doesn't look old or in bad health...What Happened, do you think ?" He shrugged still staring at the Whale.

Another Older Indian came over, he was clearly the most respected Elder, We all stood staring quietly. I felt like a privileged Observer. They talked quietly. "Has Security come yet ? " "Not yet, but they will be here soon ? " "We should plan a time to come back , plan a ceremony" "Tomorrow at 5PM " I listened, and I knew that they were very aware I was listening. The Older One turned to me, "Will you be back tomorrow ? " I nodded. I then realized I should thank them, I was not sure , but I thought I should. " Thank you " I called. The younger one turned back to me and nodded. And before he walked too far away I asked his name, "Oh , just call me The Carver....And you ? " " Oh, I am Allie. " "Hmm, we will just call you Glass Lady"....

( Inside I chuckled...that they could see me as a "Lady" was humorous...almost silly...there I stood a mom in faded overalls....and a long disorderly braid...and scuffed steal toed work boots on a dirty beach....These Indians puzzled me, worried me...I had been seeing them around town...but this was the first actual Conversation. And somehow they appreciated me glass obsession, or understood it. We both knew it was not real Sea Glass...that remained the unspoken secret. It was why I kept coming back....to the Glass Beach.)


" Don't stay too long. There are cameras, and by tomorrow there will be "Security" maybe even Police here. A man named Jenson, if he comes, do not stay here, Understand ? " The Older One looked Worried and The Carver nodded.

"Whose Security ? "

" GP...The Plant...The Chemical Company..." He gestured, pointing to the battered wooden sign over by the beach entrance. ( It did say all that on the sign, but the map called it "Papermakers Park", so I was confused.)

"Do does GP own the Beach ? Where is the Plant ? "

They all laughed, but softly, and kindly, they clearly were amused not trying to mock me.
"You new in Town eh ?"

I nodded , still filled with a dreading curiosity about this Chemical Plant Issue.

Finally one of them pointed all around the beach and over to the docks, waving his whole arm. "They own ALL of this and have since we were small ". I stood stunned breathing in what he said Silently shocked, stunned.

I nodded back and as I stood staring I was lost in thought, they left quietly. When I turned back around they were gone. And there on the biggest Log there three piles of carefully piled Sea Glass and I knew that it had been left for me... I stood alone staring at the Whale...It was still a beautiful slate color in the late afternoon sun. There was no smell of rotting carcass and no bugs and that puzzled me. And out further in the Bay close to a dock I could see the Other Two Whales still restless and agitated and clearly in Search Mode. It tugged at my heart. I quietly said GoodNight to the Whale and scooped up my glass piles and drove and picked up my son from class and drove home.

The next few days I did return to the Beach, with my son and alone. There were ceremonies for the Whale, my son held one himself. ( All parents know that Pet Funerals do indeed lead to children finding ways to grieve. ) And there were Indian Ceremonies. And yes, there was a security guard by the whale the rest of the week. It was unclear why he was there and who hired him. The Indians puzzled me, they only talked to me when no one was around, otherwise they remained silent and distant. I somehow understood and appreciated their ways.

Three nights later, I stood alone down at the Beach again looking at the Dead Whale. It was my Birthday and I was again gathering glass. Again the Carver appeared, he nodded, I nodded back. I also took photos of the whale, and the beach. I in some ways was trying to document a Crime Scene, but I didn't know it at the time.

"Why do you keep coming ? " He asked quietly.

"It bothers me we don't know why this whale died, he's too young. "

" It will bother you for a long time. Who knows ? Might be the Diffuser"

"The What ?

"The Diffuser, the Big Pipe Out Past the Docks. Look"

I looked where he was pointing and saw it, it was huge. I stood transfixed.
"Yeah, it's kind of shocking isn't it ?"

I nodded.

I stood looking at the Pipe, just visible and fluids gushing out. It was barely noticeable unless you were looking for it.

"Its more visible when tide is low."

On one of the Last Days that the Whale was there, before it was removed, It was decided to cut up the whale and have ceremonies for it on Lummi Island. There were Canadian Marine Groups that came and collected samples and specimens, again in the presence of the armed guard. And one final night after the Guard was gone, I again would be on the Beach with the Indians and there was a worried silence.....As I turned to leave one of the older Indians handed me a thick wedge of flesh on a piece of newspaper.

"You need answers too, Something Killed him." He said. " Don't Bring your son Here anymore, he 's a fine boy". I nodded.

I stood looking at it, wordless, sorrow filled. Nodding my silent Thank You.
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It is years later, I still am haunted by those meetings on the Beach, The beautiful Dead Whale and the piles of Sea Glass. That Beach would again and again draw attention and scrutiny as I poured over documents late at night. When there was an Earthquake in February of 2001, and when we met with the EPA. In some ways it became my compass, it kept me focused and centered. It would lead to many Late Night Quiet Discussions of Mercury . It would lead to The Red Trucks. It would lead to Secret Photos and filming Dumping and Fish Kills. It would lead to driving many miles for documents on that Beach, and many hours reading microfilm at the library. It would lead to many many late nights pouring over books and documents and chemistry books. It would lead to a purchase of a Geiger Counter months later. It would lead to asking questions about How and Why the GP Safety Engineer died at that very beach by the Railroad Tracks. And it would lead to finding bones and ashes with the Sea Glass. It would lead to studying Indian Infant Mortality Statistics and Incineration Reports....and It would lead to brokenhearted sleepless nights....as I would stand staring at the Frozen Hunk of Whale Flesh in my Freezer......

I am not sure which motivated me more The Dead Whale or watching my son cry for the Dead Whale.

Chapter 12: Surveying the Damage....

Chapter 12 : Surveying the Damage

By Winter of 2000, even just attending the Homeschool Meetings and going to Bookshops and Coffee Shops, as a nurse I was becoming rapidly aware that there were more than the usual number of Health Problems. My son and I would go to the Coffee Shops and sit and play chess or read.But we would see people come in and there were many canes, and tremulous hands and people that looked older than they were. There were others that were too thin and people losing hair, and others with yellowed eyes.

As a nurse I have always had keen diagnostic skills,even when I worked ER I had the ability to know when people were going to come back with altered labs, or Renal Trouble or a Neuromuscular disorder or heart disease.But it is not just a skill that was used in an ER or working as a nurse, if I sit in a coffee shop I intuitively do recognize people around me with illness or disease.

My son and I talked about it and I had no explanation that was reasonable or made sense as to why we were seeing so many sick people.And like any child, he moved on with his life, and it became my worry , alone late at night. As a nurse I was struggling to figure out why people looked frail and unhealthy. Many of the people looked like they were struggling with neuromuscular issues, there was faltering coordination and tremors.There were people that walked with a staggering gait, and even foot drop. There people were young, under 50, yet a fair number looked like they were wrestling with Parkinson's or MS. And then there was a sleepy quality, a dazed quality that pervaded downtown. People would come to the coffee shops and leave coats or umbrellas, you would see them stacked by the door. We laughed about it, but it was concerning.

There was a local arts group that held meetings about providing programs for children and I attended and was sitting sipping a Iced Chai Tea, and three of the other organizers sitting at my table kept falling asleep. I sat there puzzled and confused. But mostly puzzled that people that lived there considered this to be normal.

At the one coffee shop I watched the manager move among tables for a couple of months I watched him quietly tending his patrons. He was kind and thoughtful, offering more than coffee and tea. Over time I would talk to him while my son took classes at the Shakespearean Youth Theater down the street.He intrigued me because he seemed concerned about the people at his shop as if he too was worried about the people of the town.I nicknamed him Java and over time we would talk about the people. I also learned that he had been born and raised in the town, so he had a unique perspective.

He admitted the sleepy quality of the town bothered him as well. I asked what he thought was causing it, and ironically it was a Spring Day and we were standing outside the shop and both of us sniffed the air and gagged and coughed at the same time.
I told him that since we moved to town the air was awful, and that we lived mere blocks from the waterfront, but that was not what we smelled. We smelled Strange Chemical Odors and Burnt Odors , sometimes it smelled like burnt Rubber and other times like Burnt Rotting Meat, and other times it smelled like burnt sweetened bagels, and other times like burnt Mustard that would make my eyes water. I also told him about finding ash on my car. Java laughed, and said that was what everyone experienced, that none of what I described was new. He said it must be " The Plant".

Java tilted his head down to The Plant on the Waterfront, and I asked "Where is the Plant on the Waterfront". And he laughed, " IT IS The Waterfront- all of it". I stood stunned, "ALL of it ? ".

I was confused, I said " What Plant". He nodded down towards the Bay, the Water and said " the Plant". He explained that the Waterfront was The Plant, GP. He explained nobody really knew how big the Plant was , but that it was most of the waterfront and that THAT was where the odors and ash were from. I was puzzled by this. I said but GP just makes TP right? He said "That is what people are told." And when he said it I had chills. I my heart I knew that there was something really ominous going on, that the people were being misled. I knew this even though I also knew that I did not know near enough to know the History or the Circumstances.

" So has anyone every asked What they burn down there or are doing that would put ash on the cars or make us cough and our eyes water ? Has anyone every asked if What they are doing could make people sick ?"

He shook his head and went back inside the coffee shop looking worried and tired. It was perhaps the simplest worst question I could have asked a lifelong resident. And his silence was perhaps confirmation of his worst fears and my worst worries. And once the question was put forth it could not be put away or silenced.

" Look people who live here, they stopped asking questions along time ago. It's because you are not from here, that you have these questions. "

"But don't you have Questions ? Aren't you tired of your eyes burning ? I have watched you with people, you too are concerned that so many are sick here "

" Yeah, I am concerned and I know that it is not right. I have been outside of here, I know it is not right, it's why I leave alot, take breaks."

" Well, then why haven't you ever left for good? "

" Because I can't ...I have family here ."

" I am sorry...I can see where that would make you stay."

" No, it's more complicated than that....."

I followed him inside and went and sat back down with my book and my tea. He came to the table and sat down, it was the first time we had tea together. He sat down and looked across and asked nervously, " You really want to know don't you ?" I said "yes". He said " You are going to let this go are you ? " And I looked at him and said " I don't know if I can." And in his own worried way he would ask the next pivotal question , "But why ? You don't know these people, you don't have to ask, you could walk away, leave it alone. You know that right ?"

I sat and thought about what he said, and realized what he said was all true. But in my head and my heart I knew that the Sick People around us, and That Waterfront, and the Ash on my car, and even the Red Trucks and maybe the Explosion were in some way all Connected. And in another way I knew that I for some reason I cared about these people I barely knew. And I knew that I could tell him about the Red Trucks and the Midnight Dumping , that he would understand my concern.

And so a friendship was formed, a bond that was inexplicable and strong, and that would extend to other people, and span miles and years. And it was an alliance that would lead to answers and exploring damage and pain in the County that had been brewing and seething for years.It was the first unexpected alliance, we would laugh about it later, how we choked on our tea and wiped our eyes.

The Obituaries became something we would sit and read on my porch and I could confess to him that I was troubled and worried by them and he didn't laugh or even question it.....and I learned that he had lost his brother and his father growing up. And that weighed on me, that he had lost people he loved. And yet over time I realized that most people I met that first year had lost people they loved to cancers or odd diseases at a young age. It haunted me....as much as the Obituaries.

One of the thing that I did at the coffee shop while my son was at class I would read the Newspaper, and one of the things that bothered me was Obituaries.Many of the photos were of young people, and many were cancer related deaths and others
were Mysterious and empty. This bothered me as I watched the wobbly souls get coffee or drop their keys over and over. I commented on that to Java, and he even pointed out that it was rare to see Elderly out and about. It led us to wonder were there many Elderly to be our and about. We also noticed that many of the people in the town were aging rapidly, and looked older than they were. And as we talked, more and more people would sit in on these conversations and point out their concerns.

Within months I had an extensive list of problems that people were noticing and seeing around them, from neuromuscular to heart problems to tumors to asthma to birth defects and infant mortality rates to cancer rates. The List was staggering and worrisome. But questions about the health issues began to swirl in my head, were the health problems related to The Explosion ? Were they related to living near the Drinking Water Lake ? Near Downtown and the Waterfront Plant ? And what about the "LUMPS" that were being discovered all over the county ? I would go to bed at night after my son was asleep with these questions swirling in my head.

And every morning I would get up and read the Obituaries and the questions haunted me, and yet it was not something I could bring up Everywhere. Most people thought our little Puget Sound Bay Town was so lovely and tranquil and serene, and they wanted nothing to disrupt that image. So I began to be a bit more careful where I brought up these Questions and how I brought them up. My husband just had a new job as an Airlift Nurse, so I also had to be careful not to cause trouble for him in his new job.

But as Questions formed in my head, I also realized that the Questions were useful and would lead to answers. And everyday when I went to the Library with my son I started to realize that the Answers right around us, and that it would not be that difficult to explore and try to get some answers. And I simply rationalized that the people who were sick deserved some answers and maybe some reassurance, it seemed relatively simple and uncomplicated. Sadly toxic buried lies are never simple, Ever. And on another level, I realized that we had a Library and we had a computer so I figured that answers had to be close by.

So the Winter and Spring of 2000 I wrote what would become the Northwest Health Survey and that summer it would become refined thanks to help from good friends who knew how to type better than me and had questions to add. And that Survey would be part of the Journey and Investigation of Bellingham and Whatcom, and document the damage in a way that had never been done before. It was the First County Wide Health Survey in the Country ever written by a nurse and a mom. Many Toxic Areas had been explored with Health Surveys before, but never an Entire County in our Country. And the other difference was that it was designed to allow whole families to participate and track their Health and health Problems, but also explore their environment, from water to soil to animals to work to diet. It also geographically mapped Disease and Illnesses and later we would do overlay of Maps that documented dumping and showed the proximity of Actual Industrial Waste as it related to the health of the Community. It enabled us to actually map Toxic Burden on people, land, and water and correlate the damage.

The Survey was 9 pages that I could ask the family over the phone or in private, their names were witheld and I could code it with their GPS location and give it a name and number they chose.And in that way their identity was protected, and I could study whole neighborhoods. I started with my own neighborhood, but quickly branched out to other areas as relatives and friends found out about The Survey.I was also able to include other data that they felt was relative, including dead and sick pets, and allergies and Health problems that local MD's had been ignoring. ( This included "Non-Alcoholic Hepatitis" which I had never heard of, Babies diagnosed with FAS-Fetal Alcohol Syndrome with Non Drinking Parents, and "Flipper" Syndrome, and Lung Cancer in Non Smokers).

The Native Americans, the Lummi and the Nooksack, young moms and grandmoms sought me out and asked me to look at Birth Defects and infant mortality and also miscarriage rates. They asked because their own experiences taught them that there was a problem. They showed me photos of the their children. They told me how local doctors blamed it on Drinking and FAS, even when the moms did not consume alcohol or drink at all. They asked for help after seeking me out at the coffee shop.

And then there were teachers who came to me worried about the Learning Disabilities, and ADD and ADHD and autism. They also voiced concerns that many of the children that were on ADHD and ADD meds and were agitated and more irritable on these meds.

Over a period of about 4 months the Survey became more than a simple tool , it became a way for people to ask questions and even seek better care, but also was allowing them to talk to each other about their health, which up to this time they had been unable to do. I was giving out the survey in Coffee shops and in homeschool meetings, I carried extras in my car so I could even hand it out in the grocery store. And as that first Spring came I refined it and added questions as I saw Cats brutalize each other in my yard and birds flying crooked into lamp posts and the empty nests in my neighborhood. And I also figured out that The Survey allowed neighbors to talk about the ash on their cars and porches and their dead plants and why they had to leave their windows shut when the Plant was Burning Things. And I began to understand that in a Mill Town with a Big Plant on the waterfront that people did not normally talk about The Plant or the Ash, that was a big change for those that had always lived there. That The Plant had employed over 1200 people for over 40 years, so it was woven into the town. It was not be questioned or disparaged.

By that spring of 2000 I also began to realize that I needed to expand my search for answers, by going to meetings of the County and the City and watching for answers. I also knew that I needed to start asking questions and Submitting FOIA"S and ask for information. I knew that even though I am a quiet private person that my neighbors were sick and that if I wanted to stay, I needed to ask Questions to protect the health of my son and the other children on our street. It seemed so simple. And in a strange way it was the first place I ever lived where I basically became a citizen asking questions of my Government and my Community, because as a nurse and a mom , I cared.

But the Survey also opened my eyes to the Other Big Industries in the little rural Whatcom County, there was a Giant Waste Processor that processed Medical Waste and Industrial Waste, there was an Aluminum Plant, and there was the Pipeline. And yes, down on the Waterfront covering many acres there was the Oldest Plant- the GP Plant that made TP. But I also learned that it was a Chemical Plant. A Chemical Plant that most people knew nothing about.

And by Summer of 2000, when my son slept at night I had investigated most of the Health Statistics of the County, from ADD to ADHD to Autism to Childhood Leukemias to Cancer and Tumor Rates to MS to ALS to Heart Disease. And the Statistics were staggering.And for the next few years my nights would be consumed by studying the Health Stats and the maps, it would anchor my quest, my mission to figure out What was Wrong in Bellingham and Whatcom. I would end up mapping all of it, the Illnesses, the Obituaries and yes, later the Dumping, The Waste.

THE HEALTH FACTS:
(1) Whatcom County had 1000-1400 New Cancers or Tumors per year diagnosed of the 10 years I studied, and this included New Tumors in people already fighting other Cancers. This Rate does NOT include Benign Tumor rates that were inaccessible.
Whatcom County is a county of approximately 148,000 to 160,000. Bellingham is a small town of approximately 48,000- 58,000 People ( depending on what numbers you find). I could not find a County in the entire Country that had comparable rates.

(2) Prostate Cancers, 180- 240 Newly diagnosed per year.( Many in men under 60, and many men with elevated with PSA rates).

(3) MS, one of the Highest County Rates in the COUNTRY.

(4) Breast Cancer; High cancer rates in women under 40, as well as Breast Cancer rates that paralleled LA. There were many women studying the breast cancer rates.

(5) Asthma, especially in children in homes that had no smokers and no other environmental triggers.

(6) Lung Cancer ( equal to that of a large city, and higher than Seattle) and the stats did indeed raise questions about Non Smokers with Lung Cancer.

(7) Autism and ADHD, and ADD rates , some of the highest rates on the West Coast.

But These Numbers are not only what kept me up at night, it was Grandmothers by the Lake doing Cluster Studies and The Moms I met who had "clubs", yes, there were there clubs there that met to honor and remember their dead children. It was their eyes that I would see when I fell asleep pouring over maps. And I could go to a meeting and look and people 's eyes and know their pain and why they wanted to be in The Survey. I was warned that The Plant would try to shut down my Survey, and instead I had widows seek me out at City and County Meetings, they brought me reports and data that I would have never known about. They would come find me in the bathroom and hand me Large Brown Envelopes. I would always wear jeans and a turtleneck and fleecy vest. And as a redhead I am easy to spot. So they would ask, " Are you the Survey Woman ? " and I would say yes. And they would say " I want to help ". I would nod and quietly take the envelopes. I was struck by their concern, their sincerity and that they cared. I was struck that 40 years of watching friends and family get sick and die maybe had reached a tipping point.And it was not just widows, it was also people who worked at government offices that gave me names and phone numbers and information. All of these unknown people, helped me to Know what to ask and What to FOIA.

And when I was not at meetings atleast a few days a month I would sit at the Local Coop and hand out information on the Survey and people would bring me the returned copies there. And one rainey Sunday a thin older woman that I had seen at Meetings and had brought me envelopes stopped by and brought me another envelope, it had Plant Safety Minutes in it,I stared at the Plant Widow, and I asked " Why are you doing this ?" And she looked at me with large watery red rimmed eyes, " It was never about the Toilet Paper.....and they have hurt people for too long, but they had help and you need to know that. You are fighting a bigger battle than you realize. " She walked off in the rain and shook her head.

Later that night I would sit and read the First Safety Minutes from the Plant that I would ever read, they were about Mercury Filtration.It was to be the first memo I would read about The Mercury at the Plant.Mercury was just one toxin that No One Ever Spoke of in public. And over the years I would come to know the names on the memos, they would be like Old Friends showing me the way and answering unspoken questions and divulging long hidden secrets. And later yes, I would see their names in the Obituaries.....It would all become part of Surveying the Damage.