Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mountain Top Removal-A Crime Against More Than Nature

“Every time you turn on a light switch, BOOM, you’re blowing up someone’s back yard.” I was introduced to Ed Wiley, the extraordinary man just quoted, by Kathy Mattea backstage at the Mountain Aid Benefit Concert. She came out to Shakori Hills on her fiftieth birthday to help Ed raise money for his granddaughter and all the children of Marsh Fork Elementary School who are victims of mountain top removal coal mining. Just three hundred feet behind this school, there is a 1,849 acre mountain top removal sight with an unstable slate dam holding 2.8 billion gallons of toxic waste from the coal cleaning process. The community’s water supply is already contaminated, and the children of Marsh Fork Elementary have been going home sick on a regular basis for months. For more go to my latest article at Got2BeGreen.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Finding Grace

Tonight, I stepped out onto my back porch to let my dogs out one last time. The night was still and silent, except for the chirping of insects and the rustle of leaves from the constant warm breeze blowing. The flash of what my family calls heat lightening occasionally lit up the mountain ridges in the distance and the huge round bails of hay still waiting in our fields to be taken as feed for the local cows. All at once, in that moment, quite out of the blue, I found Grace again. She visits me every so often, washing a kind of happy peace over my being. It's the kind of feeling you only get when you aren't seeking it, the kind of feeling that leaves you a little giddy, a little breathless, and most of all a whole lot alive.

Once, a while ago, how long I don't even remember, Grace visited me during a mighty hurricane and allowed me to find peaceful sleep while the winds blew loud and long, making the sound of an oncoming train. One moment, I was close to panic with fear all alone with my dogs in a house with far too many windows, and the next moment, I just had the overwhelming understanding that I was safe and everything was going to be fine. The next morning, I sat down to write the beginnings of the following poem. I thought tonight it was time to share it.

Grace in the Face of Fear

Will you rise up to form the still waters,
turn your head to the oncoming storm,
track the clouds building walls pushing toward you,
know the winds that will blow them along?

When the darkness comes down with a fury,
angry words seem to rasp in your ear, hear
the groaning whipped limbs of the forest
and the roar when rain pelts the parched fields.

When the water runs off raging rivers,
soil eroding where earth seems to drown,
will you stay, stretch your arms to the tempest,
lift your face to the sky, stand your ground?

For the one who accepts what is coming,
calmly gathers her strength, bides her time,
breathes a sigh for the change that’s upon her,
casts off doubts, sets aspersions aside, she

finds Grace where so many will miss it,
in the quiet, cool lake of her mind,
where a voice calmly sings of the wonders
and the peace that the seekers shall find.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mountain Aid at Shakori Hills

Last Saturday, my mom and I met Kathy Mattea at the Mountain Aid benefit concert on Shakori Hills farm in Silk Hope, North Carolina. We went to the show because it was a good cause, and also because my friend, David McCracken was playing with my favorite band Donna the Buffalo at the end of the evening. Mom hadn't met David and his other half, Kimmy, and we wanted to remedy that. What better time than at a benefit concert to stop injustice. Anyway, before last weekend, had you asked if I was a fan of Kathy Mattea, I would have said, "Sure, I liked that song about the Grandparents. What was that again?"

Ask me now, I'll tell you that woman is amazing. What a voice. Her deep, alto sound is one you can't mistake, plus she really puts her heart and soul into it and transfers that onto the crowd. Several grown men stood around the field and cried during a few of the sad songs. But, she also pulled me out of my chair several times, because my feet just wouldn't stay still. Her Americana music is a little bit country, a little bit folk, bluegrass, and let's not forget a touch of the Irish, thanks to her fiddle/mandolin player and her own talent on the piccolo and penny whistles. I had no idea.

What a personality. Kathy is down to earth, very caring, an open and giving person. One might think this is just how she makes herself appear onstage, but behind the scenes she was equally open. She spoke to fans who approached her by name, remembered them and their situations, particularly those she was donating her time to help, and she took the time to chat with them, giving of herself with each conversation. When we approached Kathy, she was perfectly willing to share her own situation about her mother's Alzheimer when mom explained how "Where Have You Been" made her cry. My Gramma suffers from severe dementia and often does not remember us, either.

But, what impressed me most about Kathy was her willingness to donate so much of her time and talent to Mountain Aid, a cause that is not yet well known. It's an attempt to educate people on the effects of mountain top removal and its consequences and raise money to help those struggling to survive life in these mountains. Kathy is from West Virginia, and she very much wants to help people all over her home state and the surrounding states to cope with the destruction created by the coal mining industry, where homes are destroyed, their foundations cracked and crumbled by the blasts, where water is turned black from contamination, and so much more. These mining companies even have the nerve to dump toxic waste directly behind an elementary school. The money from Saturday's concert went towards helping the children of that school. More on this shortly at Got2BeGreen. In the meantime, you should visit here.

On a happier note, the big surprise of the day was Ben Sollee. He walked out on stage, just him and his cello, and I thought, "Oh, boy. Time to sleep." Classical music always does this to me. Not that I don't enjoy it, mind you. But, classical was not what Ben played. Well, he broke out some of it, combined it with his own style, a funky rhythmic sound, sort of like electric guitar. Sounds you had no idea a cello could make. His performance reminded me very much of the first time I saw Xaviar Rudd at Floyd Fest. He, too, walked out on stage alone with his funky didgeridoos, at the time I had no idea what they even were, and literally blew us away with his talent. By the end of the festival, everyone was lined up buying everything he was selling. The same can be said of Ben Sollee. People were even buying his vinyl albums. Yes, I typed that right. The guy likes vinyl. However, if you don't have an old school player, not to worry. He also has a CD for sale on his website. I highly recommend it. As my friend Cheryl kept saying, his music will give you goose bumps. Jessica thinks he's the next Bob Dylan. I don't know if I'd take it that far, since there can be no one equal to Bob in my book, but you get what I'm trying to say.

Last, but so not least, the night ended with my all time favorite band, Donna the Buffalo. Every good concert should close with their funky beat. How great is a band that can make people as varied as the two-year-old toddlers I saw dancing in the field all the way up to people my Mom's age dance together until their feet ache with big sloppy grins on their faces. As usual, the funky mix of zydeco, folk, country, and rock got the people moving. If you have not "herd" them, you really should give them a listen. But, to get the full impact, you must see them live somewhere, preferably at a Grassroots Festival near you.

The evening was topped by Kathy Mattea's return to the stage for an encore with Donna the Buffalo. Apparently, Tara Nevins approached her bus and convinced her to come out in her pjs and sing one more song. Kathy, who had just turned fifty at the stroke of midnight, and let me tell you doesn't look a day over forty, was happy to sing one more impromptu number with the band, even joking about being willing to come onstage without her bra. They sounded amazing together, Tara's distinct higher voice was lovely harmonizing above Kathy's gravelly alto. All in all, it was a night for the scrap books. Thanks to all who came out and played, donated their time and talent to such a great cause, and entertained us for the weekend. Thanks to Shakori Hills for hosting the event. And as usual, thanks to Donna the Buffalo for bringing their music and their wonderful herd of friends into my life.

All photos, blurry as they may be, were provided by Amanda C. Sandos

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Going to Goddard

How should I say this? WOOOOOHOOOOO!!!!!! Yep,that about expresses it. I just found out I was accepted into the graduate program at Goddard College in Vermont. So, I am off to the north east this August to begin an interdisciplinary study in creative writing, visual art, and environmental studies. Needless to say, I am knee-deep in paperwork here. Alas, this means less time to write what I want while I fill out the required forms and sign away my life. Nothing like amassing more debt to make a girl feel good about her future. Since the writing I submitted to the review board has already been slated to be published elsewhere, and I have promised first rights for them, I can only provide you with the link to my latest story here at Got2BeGreen, the very story I was working on in my last post, which features a few new photos not already seen here from my trip to see the Monarch sanctuaries two years ago and an interview with Dr. Lincoln Brower, a well-known expert on the species.

Below are the three of my paintings submitted to the review board. The photos I used are already elsewhere on the blog. Enjoy, while I get back to my dreaded paperwork.

Crabbing, Oil on Canvas Board, NFS

Emerald Boa, Watercolor, Sold, Prints Available

For Whom the Crow Cries, Watercolor, $100 8X10, framed

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Monarchs Return

The fabulous orange and black beauties are back, flitting around our zinnia patch as I type. Although I can't explain why they first fascinated me, since my interest in them well predated my knowledge of their amazing migrations to Mexico, I have always felt a kind of joy at their return each year. Now that joy is mingled with relief each spring, since the year may come in my lifetime when they are gone, extinct due to habitat destruction and the use of chemical pesticides. These little pollinators are in grave danger.

I am hard at work crafting an article on a recent interview with Dr. Lincoln Brower, one of the world's top experts on monarchs and their migration. The article will make an appearance in the Got2BeGreen online journal very soon. I'll be sure to send out the link when it's done, but let me just tell you the news for the monarchs is not good if things both in Mexico and here in the states don't change. I don't want to give too much away before the article is published, so with monarchs on my mind, I thought I would share with you some of the artwork they have inspired. In the meantime, if you want to help the monarch survive, the very best thing you can do right now is to STOP the use of herbicides and pesticides in your yard this year. For more on alternative methods of pest control, those not harmful to butterflies, (and all the other creatures living in your gardens, ditches, and yards) go here. More on monarchs from Dr. Brower very soon, but in the meantime, enjoy some monarch magic.

Mariposas Return

Wafting on the breeze, each puff of wind sends
luminous lantern-thin wings fluttering. Golden-
orange kites patterned with black drift higher,
spiral back, flutter forward in a whirling dance.

Watching from wrought-iron windows over dusty
courtyards, families wait with golden-orange candle
flames flickering. They weave floral wreathes,
harvest the red soil, working to gather gifts
while they wait for the return of the dead.

Winging across summits, millions flit and fly
through aquamarine skies, sip flowers, cover
streams, swarm and swoop, fill the sky, shrouding
deep forests in communal comforters, their woven
warmth against winter’s chill.

Worshipers gather, jubilant, watching the celestial
flights of ancestors returned home. Gifts of warm
remembrance promenade through winding roads,
placed on graves to flash in firelight. Natives walk up
winding paths, showing reverence to these protectors
whose winged beauty cloaks winter and wakens
once more with the wealth of spring.

The following works were either taken during or inspired by my trip to Mexico to see the monarch wintering grounds. We were there just as they began to wake up and prepare for their return to my back yard here in Central Virginia. It was magical, literally, a world shrouded in butterflies. I highly recommend experiencing the magic at least once in your life.

All paintings and photographs provided by me, Amanda C. Sandos. For works for sale, visit The ARTiculates.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Harper's Hawaii

Two of my dearest friends just witnessed their own little miracle last week when their first daughter, Harper, was born. About eight years ago, maybe nine now (I'm terrible with dates), I stood up for them in the most beautiful wedding on Turtle Point, a lovely sea-side area on the Big Island of Hawaii where they live. It seems fitting that the couple who had the loveliest wedding should have given birth to one of the loveliest babies I've ever laid eyes on. I would post her picture, but the happy couple needs time to do this themselves. I'd hate to steal their thunder. Regardless, I wanted to post a little something in Harper and her parent's honors, for they gifted me with the Big Island, one of my favorite places on planet earth. I look forward to my next trip out and the opportunity to hold their sweet little girl for the first time. In the meantime, I must make do with my imagination, which is not too shabby, so I really can't complain.

The following piece was a writing assignment given to me by a visiting writer while I was an undergrad in the creative writing department at Randolph-Macon Woman's College. We had to sketch a place, using some fact and some fiction to create the sketch. In this case, the facts are all of the things about the island and it's people and traditions. The fictions come through the narrator and a couple of the cast of characters who are based loosely on some of the people I met along the way. Photographs or drawings were encouraged as a part of the final product. So, here is what I turned in. I hope you like it, and I hope my friends will some day read it to Harper.

Island of Fire
A Place
I have come home. I live in the only state 2000 miles from any other land. For ten years, I tried living east coast, mainland. I was hoping to return to Maui, where I spent my childhood, but I got a job in Hilo instead, and I think I am going to like living in this little town called Volcano on the Big Island. I am already in love with the dripping, chill of the rain forest that lies here in these sun-drenched clouds.

Every day, I climb up the steep face of Kilauea to my little town, aptly named because it sits on the only volcano that is still active. The ancient Polynesians named this mountain home of Pele, Goddess of Fire. It is the only volcano here that has never gone dormant. I still get excited over the little differences of the island, like soil the color of asphalt made of the lava rock that built these islands up layer by layer out of the ocean.

I look forward each day to the end of work, to leaving the hurry of town for the thirty-mile drive home. About ten miles up the mountain, the traffic disappears, and the fast food restaurants no longer line the road. As the climb grows steeper, the road is swallowed up into the huge palms that reach their leafy, arms over the street. There’s this invisible wall I hit half way home where the temperature drops away at last. The majority of my days at the University of Hilo are sticky and thick, but up in the rainforest, the massive plant growth provides a cool shelter that seems to hug me and welcome me into its mist.

The main road begins to switch and turn not far from my house, as the air continues to grow thinner. I leave my windows down so I can feel the exact moment when I pass through the wall. After my first few weeks here, I noticed the bird songs also change at this point. Where I hear the whistles of cardinals, pekin robins, and chats in town, all species who should not live here, now I only hear the steady twitter of the Puiohi, the Akepa, and the I’iwi. I believe, like me, they have come to this volcano to escape. It is nice to know that others understand the strange reclusive quality that draws me here.


I wrap myself in layers, long-johns, sweats, a jacket over the top, and lots and lots of blankets. This is the only way to get a decent night’s sleep on Kilauea. No one believes me. This is Hawai'i after all, the land of sunshine and hula dancers. I keep extra jackets and blankets for my friends and family who come to visit. It no longer surprises me when they show up with only summer clothes in their bags. I love to watch their faces when they see their first vog up here. Even though I tell them all about this strange mix of fog and volcano sulphur, they have to be surrounded by its thickness at least once to believe. I love to take them outside when it comes rolling through the trees and stand them in the yard just two paces from me. That look of awe that crosses their faces just before I disappear is priceless.

My House

I am smurfette and I am not ashamed to say it. My little hut in the woods is adorable. Some crazy human painted it smurf blue, and I knew the moment I saw it I had to live here. The high vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, large open rooms, huge windows with views of the forest on all four sides, must have been built with me in mind. It's paradise. I tell myself if Pele decides to send a lava flow my way, I will be ready to move on, but the truth is my heart will be buried too. I believe that Pele does not care for the attachment to material possessions, so I try very hard to live simply as an honor to her. The only attachment I cannot seem to set aside is the one for this ridiculous, little house.

The guy who lived here before me planted tons of ginger and bamboo in the yard, and I have spent countless hours digging them up by the roots. The mongooses happen to love bamboo. The nasty little bastards climb the stalks and sneak into the surrounding bushes to eat the birds and their eggs. I set traps to get rid of both the black rats and the mongooses. I used to hate to kill them, but once you understand the destruction they cause, you begin to see them as the enemy.

At times, I feel surrounded by stupid people, from the ones who plant the invasive ornamental crap in their yards, to the ones who let pet parrots from Asia go free, to Captain Cooke who brought the black rats to plague us. Perhaps the fathers of them all are the ones who introduced the mongoose to eat the rats. How do you tell the Mongoose, “Rat’s only, please.”

A Person

Mark Anderson is the strangest man I know. He is my neighbor although, thankfully, it is about a twenty-minute hike from his driveway to mine. I met him for the first time in my backyard while I was checking my traps. He scared the breath out of me when he stepped out of the forest in his camouflage getup, holding a machete in one hand and had a rifle strapped over his other shoulder. Times like this remind me how alone I am up here. Mark is not quite as scary as he first appeared. He is employed by the Hawai'i Volcano National Park that borders our properties. His job is to hunt and kill the pigs and cattle roaming free around the island, another of the wonders introduced here by the fabulous Captain Cooke. Both species have lived here at the expense of a great deal of forest. The soil layer on the islands is thin and delicate and cannot handle their trampling hooves. It makes tracking them fairly easy. You just follow the trails of total annihilation and eventually you catch up with the culprit. So Mark trudges out into the forest day after day and gets paid to do what he loves best. It's not that I mind the hunt when it’s necessary, but I am not sure I am comfortable with a neighbor who gets off on bloodshed. He has started to walk this way regularly now, and all he talks about is the kill. His beady eyes glow when he tells his stories, and it makes me squirm. I’ve started hiding in the house when I am lucky enough to hear the rustling in the woods that signals his coming.


I drive by a huge, ugly, gray and blue monstrosity every day. Tourists come from that store every day with their bag of souvenirs bought at the specialty shop in the front section where the mainland stores usually house their barbers. Who wants to buy something hand- crafted by a native when they can have a plastic hula doll for their dash made in China at half the price. I make a point of buying my groceries from the local farmer's market, paying about double the price, and I smile while I pay it.

The Church

Sometimes, I drive over to Kalapana. It was a small village in the area now called "the wild west," because it’s been covered with lava so many times that only the crazy or very brave, depending on your point of view, rebuild there. The only thing left of the quaint village that used to sit on a lush beach facing the ocean is the steeple of the town's Catholic church. It juts up out of a vast wasteland that is now the 1990 lava field. I park my car and hike a half -mile over the cracked and ragged rocks to sit by the charred steeple and watch the waves crash over the cliff not far in the distance. I find peace and balance here by this ruined church. It reminds me to be thankful for what I have each day.

The People

There is one little, old, native man I chat with on my walk to and from the Kalapana church. He wouldn't agree to a picture because the camera might steal his soul. His house is the only one in the town that survived. The lava rocks covered every living thing within ten feet on all sides of his cabin. He still lives without the amenities of electricity and running water, but he’s determined to stay. He says Pele spared his house for a reason, and he’d be turning his back on her if he left. The greenery is just beginning to poke up through the jumble of black rocks around him, and soon he will be surrounded in lushness once again. For now, he seems content to sit in his rocker on the front porch and enjoy his ocean view. He says he feels privileged to be so favored by the Goddess of Fire.

Bad luck will follow those who remove a lava rock from the islands. To take one home as a souvenir has been the downfall of hundreds of unsuspecting tourists. There used to be letters lining the hallway walls of the Hawai'i Volcano House inside the Volcano National Park. Each one telling a tale of hardships from treachery and deceit to pain and death that were deemed a result of the lava rock someone took home as a keepsake. Most send the rock back with the letter in an attempt to appease Pele. Many were warned by a native during their visit and mistakenly chose to disregard them. You learn not to underestimate the power of an angry Goddess in this place. Like so many others, I’ve taken many of the rituals of the natives to heart. Shoes are not allowed inside the front door of my house to insure the lava remains outdoors where it belongs. I leave offerings of coral and small tokens to the Goddess, things I find on the beach, and place them on the alter near my front door. I hang wind chimes to comfort Pele near the porch. Most of all, I thank her regularly for the blessings she bestows on me.


Driving home from a day at Puna lu'u, the black sand beach that lies over the opposite side of the volcano where I basked on the beach with hundreds of green sea turtles (Perhaps I was a sea turtle in a former life), I noticed a couple of guys up ahead on the side of the road. They were sitting in lawn chairs in the backs of their two trucks and holding cardboard signs while chatting amiably. My knee-jerk response was to begin rolling up my window to avoid the pleading looks of the drunks who say "will work for money". Then I remembered where I was. It occurred to me at that moment that I rarely see anyone begging on a street corner here. Then, I began to wonder what these two men were doing. One man was holding a sign that said Vote Democrat for Governor and the other said the same for the other party. It made me laugh and I honked my horn and waved as I passed, getting a heart-felt wave and smile from each in return. As I continued home, I realized I didn't even know who was running. Strangely, I hadn’t heard any of the back stabbing, lying, propaganda on the television, perhaps because I so rarely even turned it on. When I got home, I Googled the Governors race, and was happily surprised to find that Hawai'i was going to be the first state to have two women running for office.

Vital Data

There is one post office, one gas station, one Hotel (the Volcano House) inside the National Park, two small groceries, one inside and one outside the park, and three restaurants, a sandwich place, a sushi place, and an Indian place with the best Chicken Masala I have ever had. There is a quilting shop, an art museum, and a sizemic research center within a mile of each other, as well as a bird conservation center right across the street from a little winery that serves the sweetest wine I have ever tasted. There are two main roads and about five dirt roads that get you where you need to go. The population is 300 full-time residents and another 200 part-time employees to the Volcano National Park. There is one heliport run by Blue Hawaii Tourist Center that takes helicopter rides over the Pu'u O'o vent that still spews fire down the mountain side. The volcano adds about two thousand new acres onto the island every year. Last night, the island lost 500 acres when a lava shelf split off and crashed into the ocean. A tourist name James Cartwright, ignoring the warning signs and barricades, was allegedly hiking on the shelf when it fell into the sea.