TALES OF OUR TIMES: Round Stories Glisten Anew

Tales of Our Times
By JOHN BARTLIT
New Mexico Citizens
for Clean Air & Water
 
Round Stories Glisten Anew
 
A special joy at Christmastime is to bring out the family’s old ornaments and enjoy each tale again, as we choose ones to place carefully on this year’s tree.
 
For this happy season, I choose three rich classics from my boxes full of air pollution hearings and hang the bright memories in this evergreen piece. Look for a chuckle, a twinkle and a glow. Enjoy.
■ A chuckle: As was often the case, we clean-air buffs got our testimony together only at the 11th hour. We had the usual last-minute scramble, with the final touches added in the car driving up to the federal hearing in Denver.
 
A ragged way to do business. But we got the job done and had our say.
 
The next witness after us on the list to testify was a spokesman for the western utility companies, whose vast and dirty coal-fired plants were the arch foes.
 
The hearing official called the name once … and twice. Up to the podium came the gray suit. The ample briefcase. No minor leaguer is this: “Uhhm … I was supposed to meet someone in the lobby to get our statement, but no one showed up. I don’t know what I am supposed to say. I guess that’s all I have. Thank you.”
■ A twinkle: The white-haired gentleman from tiny Alcalde, New Mexico, had spoken at length at the Santa Fe hearing, describing the virtues of clean air in general and the damage done to his bee business by sawmill smoke in particular.
When he finished, the industry lawyers descended to set about crumpling yet another citizen witness with a withering cross-exam, as was their wont.   
 
First came the lawyer for the sawmill: “Now, sir, you say smoke bothers your bees. Yet, even if our sawmill smoke were stopped tomorrow, there would still be smoke to disturb your bees. We have forest fires, heating stoves and fireplaces and smoke from other states. Stopping our sawmill smoke won’t stop pollution. Isn’t this true?”     
 
The lawyer did not hear what he expected. There was no “… (gulp) … Yes sir. I guess you’re right. I never thought. I’m sorry, sir.”
 
Instead the white-haired gentleman from Alcalde calmly launched the Tale of the Troubled Freighter: “No, I see it this way,” the old lion began.
 
“A cargo ship sets out from port, laden with wheat in its hold and tractors crowded atop its deck. In its course, the vessel comes to be thrashed and battered in a great storm that threatens the ship and crew.”
 
He summoned up the dangers, as would pages of Joseph Conrad’s “Typhoon.” The dignity and grace of speech resisted interruption.
 
“Now what must be done?” continued the old man. “Cargo must be jettisoned or the ship is lost. There is no way to dump the wheat, but the tractors can be hoisted overboard.
 
“Sir, we do what we can to save the ship. We cast off the tractors.    
 
“So it is with this burden of sawmill smoke. We get it over and done with, before we look around for things we can’t help. This is just common sense.”
 
The sawmill attorney muttered to himself. The rest of us twinkled inside.
■ A glow: When his time came before the state air pollution board in Farmington, a young Native American man strode to the auditorium stage to make his statement – splendid in his turquoise velvet blouse, leather leggings, and hand-wrought silver belt.
 
He spoke of the lands and the skies as they had existed since the beginning of time. He spoke of his ancestors keeping these lands and skies for us. He spoke of how we must keep them for those who follow.
Almost unnoticed in the scene, a small Indian boy, perhaps five years old, made his way onto the stage, oblivious of the audience. He took hold of his father’s leggings, looked up … and listened.
A rightful glow began to fill the space.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. 
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