After an incredibly enlightening, exciting and frozen trip to Standing Rock, Turtle and I headed southeast to find some suitable spots for new White Pine seedlings in the Dakotas. At first the going was pretty rough—the sunshine was blazing for the first time in days, despite the near-zero temperatures, throwing a blinding glare off of the fields of white snow. This made it nearly impossible to see the huge spans of black ice covering the asphalt, as I was made sickeningly aware of when Turtle caught a strong crosswind and proceeded to slide forward perpendicular with the road. After what seemed like twenty minutes (but was actually less than 3 seconds) I rocked gently to a stop, straddling both empty lanes of traffic, heart hammering so hard I thought it was going to crack my sternum. The road stretched out, completely empty from horizon to horizon on this wide-open prairie; I had been incredibly lucky. I shifted into first gear and crawled out of the black-iced section, which seemed to stretch forever. I probably would have been faster to walk. Or ice skate.
Eventually the icy highways and snowy expanses gave way to drier, greener scenery. The temperature difference between the east and west ends of the Dakotas was mind-blowing; nearly forty degrees warmer! I dug my shovel into the soil amidst a stand of fellow adult White Pines in South Dakota, turning up wet, pliable soil full of earthworms. A far cry from the packed snow I had hiked across from the teepee to the van that morning! Similar conditions presented themselves as I passed through the southeast portion of North Dakota and made my way back towards Minnesota.
The following day as I logged on and set up to do a bit of work, I noticed Standing Rock was once again plastered all over media websites and news coverage. I was curious how I would view the stories now that I had been there myself, and couldn’t resist tuning in, if just for a second. What I saw blew me away; the easement had not been renewed for the pipeline, and drilling underneath the river had been halted for the time being. I was floored! Although I realized this was temporary—any number of things could happen (or not happen) to kick off progress of the pipeline once again—this was still a huge, unprecedented victory. The people at Standing Rock had shown that people could stand up to enormous, well-funded fossil fuel companies with nonviolent protests—and actually make a difference. The feedback I had been seeing on both Rob Greenfield’s and my own social media covered the whole spectrum, from kind and encouraging to vindictive and hateful. I had heard citation of the hundreds of other pipelines and how none of those were being paid attention to, or how it was hypocritical to consume fossil fuels to travel from all over the country to this spot to protest fossil fuels. I don’t detract from the validity of some of these criticisms, but I think that they are missing the point. The events at Standing Rock are not about being people asserting that they are perfect, blameless environmentalists, or about stirring up trouble, or about eliminating ‘all forms of nonrenewable energy effective immediately’. No. The way that I see it, Standing Rock represents two important things: one, that everyone has a right to a clean, unpolluted environment, despite the interests of big business; and two, that ordinary people can stand up to these big businesses and make their voices heard. So rather than looking at Standing Rock as a single fight against a single pipeline, look at it as a precedent-setting movement. It has shown that by actively and non-violently opposing projects that threaten the health of our planet, even when they are enormously funded, we can make a difference. Especially with the political situation in our country for the next few years, this is an important lesson we must remember and come back to.
I made my way back to Minneapolis to rendezvous with Rob Greenfield a few days later. It turned out that by leaving a couple days early from Standing Rock, I had just missed a storm that rolled through and dumped tons of snow on the area and plunged temperatures to -25 wind chill. With Turtle struggling at temperatures in the teens and single digits, I wouldn’t have stood a chance at getting out of those conditions. Even so, the ominous little red battery light had sprung to life on my dashboard the previous night, and was still stubbornly glaring even after the car started and idled. After going through a few diagnostics, my worst fears were confirmed; the alternator was shot. I was able to get ahold of one the very next day, and spent the day in a borrowed garage extracting and replacing the spinning metal cylinder. After reassembling everything, I cranked up the van and ta-da! No light! I happily rolled away, headed for Madison, WI—but only 30 miles later, my spirits plummeted back to earth as the light dimly flickered back on. AHG!
The next two days were spent tinkering, splicing and searching for bad connections; I had confirmed that my alternator and regulator were good, but the messy wiring courtesy of the previous owner left an almost insurmountable challenge to sort through. Well, insurmountable when you had to be careful to leave everything in more or less working order if you didn’t want to strand yourself wherever you were working (big thanks to the heated parking garage under Whole Foods in Minneapolis for not kicking me out). Eventually, reality hit me: fall was beginning to expire, along with my window to plant the trees I had left so that they could establish their roots before the cold winter months. I had also planned my route to pass through North Carolina to see my family for the holidays, and I was still nearly 1500 miles away. So, I put everything back in working order and set it up to easily extract my battery, which I would need to lug out every evening to an auto parts store to charge manually, and set off heading east.
For everyone who is reading and still looking for last minute Christmas gifts—give the gift of TREES! Every $1 you donate to Green Footprints plants a tree! Go here to donate! Feel free to comment below with the state that you are donating towards—every state will get 50 trees of its own from Green Footprints! Have a Merry Christmas!