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I awoke Christmas morning, turned on the lights, took a shower, and made a cup of coffee, and found myself marveling, and not for the first time in my life, at that fact that I live in a warm house.  I grew up in a house without central heat, so it is not something I take for granted–it truly is a gift.  Most of my childhood, we burned kerosene, but there were a few years where we burned coal, anthracite delivered by dump truck into our cellar, carried up to the kitchen in a bucket.  I remember it as black and dirty, and burned hot with an acrid smoke.

My wife and I own a cabin that still does not have central heat–there is a wood stove.  It  was built in 1927, and was upgraded somewhat in the late 1980s, but is not particularly energy efficient. A precious occupant left a stack of firewood a decade ago, which we have just finished burning.  So this fall I found myself cutting firewood for the stove.  The job involves felling trees, limbing them, cutting the wood into lengths to move and fit into the stove, drying the wood (takes about a year), splitting, and then, on a daily basis, moving the wood into the house by the stove. All if it is hard physical labor–but also satisfying–at the end of the day, I can see what I’ve done.  

On a daily basis, I move firewood from the woodshed into the cabin–a distance of perhaps 200 feet.  We only heat part a few rooms, to limit the amount of wood we burn.  I estimate that we use about 100 pounds of wood a day in the winter.  My wife takes out the ashes every few days–at most a pound of residue left from burning the wood.

Bonfire, Spring Camping, March 2003

Which leads, finally, to the point of this story–where did all the rest of that weight go?   It disappeared into the atmosphere mostly as carbon dioxide and water vapor.   Nearly all of that 100 pounds a day goes into the air.  

Wood disappears, Spring Camping, March 2003

As I sit in my city home, heated by natural gas, I think about the energy I use.  A few years ago, I went onto the Energy Information Agency web site and from that calculated the amount of energy each American uses on a daily basis.  At that time, it was about 845,000 BTU/day–a meaningless number to most people.  To convert that into units that people do understand, that is 7.2 gallons of gasoline, or for the purposes of this story, 84.5 pounds of coal.  Per person.  Per day.  Everyday.

I live in a household of three people, and we have two working fireplaces.  Some years we do hang stockings by the chimney with care–which are supposed to be filled with gifts from Santa if we’ve been good, and lumps of coal if we’ve been bad.

So here’s my thought experiment for this Christmas.  Suppose this year, Santa delivered a single day’s energy supply to us in coal dumped down our chimney.  My family would have received a 250 pound ration of coal, which would fill the fireplace, and spill onto our hardwood floors.  Burning that much coal would release about 930 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere–nearly a half ton per day.  For just our household.

Coal grate, Fairbanks Power Plant, 2008

Of course, except for the firewood we use at our cabin, all the rest of our energy arrives at our house unannounced and unnoticed.  Our natural gas comes in pipes, our electricity in wires, and even the gas for our cars is pumped without physical effort on our part. It’s like magic–our lights go on, our house stays warm, and our hot water flows.   

It is easy to see why most people have a hard time visualizing climate change–we never lift a finger to get our energy, and the gases released into the atmosphere are mostly invisible.  But every once in a while we can see the process at work…

3 ton pile of coal outside home, St Paul Island, Alaska, 2008


Ben beside a 150 ton truck, 2008, Usibelli Coal Mine

On an annual basis, my family’s 930 pounds per day of carbon dioxide gas emission results in a total of 165 tons per year.   if that were a solid, it would fill that truck towering over Ben.  More than enough to bury our house.  So, this Christmas, instead of Santa and his reindeer flying through the air, I think about that 165 ton lump of coal that went up the chimney.



When Williams Corporation proposed building the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline through Lancaster County, the promise they made was that the landscape would be unchanged—that the pipeline would be invisible, once it was completed.  Can this be true?


Pequea Creek, just upstream from pipeline crossing point, summer 2004

As a photographer, one can at least try to answer this question, by photographing the route of the pipeline before and after construction.  My friend and fellow photographer Bob Lowing has been doing precisely this ever since the pipeline project was announced in the spring of 2014.  At that time, surveyor stakes appeared along rural roads weeks  before a public announcement was made of the intention to build the pipeline.   The initial route was mapped only to a precision of a 500 foot corridor—a fat red line on a fuzzy google earth map—the precise route was not given—and of course, a large number of people objected to the route.  Over the next year, the pipeline route was adjusted to avoid the loudest protests, and the exact route of the line remained in doubt until tree cutting began in the fall of 2017.


Pequea Creek, Pipeline Crossing, October 2018

Of course, the ideal photographic evidence of the pipeline’s lack of harm on the route would be from pairs of images, one made of the landscape before the pipeline was built, when the land was ordinary and safe, matched with the same view taken after the pipeline is operational .  Even more convincing would be a photograph made before the pipeline was even proposed, when the only reason to make the photograph was for some reason other than the pipeline, such as, perhaps, the completely pastoral nature of the landscape.    I have been making photographs of landscapes through the windshields of cars for decades now, many in Lancaster county, and have a handful of images of the pipeline route from before the pipeline was proposed in 2014. Once the pipeline route was proposed, I also drove the route looking for the stakes that marked the route.


Bob Lowing at Hilltop crossing, November 2, 2017

I also photographed during the construction of the pipeline, when the landscape was dramatically disrupted.  The construction occurred in phases—marking the route with stakes and ribbons, defining the construction corridor width with plastic pipe and streamer ribbons; tree removal; topsoil removal; placement rock and wood entry points at road crossings; placing sections of pipe along the route;  welding and bending the pipe; digging the trench; placing the pipe in the trench; covering the pipe with soil; replacing the topsoil; seeding with a cover crop;  cleanup;  and final restoration.   The construction began simultaneously at several locations in the county, and driving the route on any given day would show the pipeline construction at various phases of completion.  The first section of pipe to be completed was a short section just south of the Columbia pike—right through the land of the strongest protesters.  It was, and was intended to be, a big fat middle finger to the opposition.


Hilltop Crossing with pipe sections, January 23, 2018

I traveled back to Lancaster County five times during the construction of the pipeline:  in late October and early November 2017 (an extended visit for a family funeral),  late January 2018, May 2018, early September 2018 (a very short, hot visit), and late October early November 2018.  Most of these photographs are from that period.

I think it safe to say that, as of this writing, the pipeline has not yet disappeared into the landscape.  With the exception of a few spots near the southern terminus of the route, no crops were planted on the right of way during 2018 (and those that did go in were planted late).


Hilltop Crossing, welded pipe, January 25, 2018

Williams requested permission to begin flowing gas through the line in September, promising to have the restoration work completed on the line by the end of October.  Gas flow was permitted to begin on October 6, a Saturday.  However, when I traveled back to the county at the end of October, it was apparent that clean-up and restoration along the line was far from complete.

As a farm boy, I recall being amazed by the first major construction project I was involved in—a power plant costing about a billion dollars in the late 1970s.  It blew my mind that anyone would take on a project of that size—thousands of construction workers on site for a decade building a power plant big enough to power  the city of Philadelphia for decades.  Who dreams up these projects?


Hilltop Crossing, May 7, 2018

The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project is a three billion dollar project, which averages out to about $10 million per mile.  All for something that the pipeline company tells us disappears.

But, of course, the pipe is still there.  As is the natural gas that flows through it, and the carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere after it is burned.  And the fugitive methane that escapes before it is burned.   All invisible.  But the damage is done, and continues.


Hilltop Crossing, October 30, 2018

But how much Carbon Dioxide is released from the gas flowing through this pipeline?  The nominal flow rate is 1.7 billion cubic feet per day, which is a big number.  Converting this to a mass flow (1.25 moles per cubic foot, 16 grams per mole, 1,000,000 grams per metric ton) gives a figure of 34,000 tons of methane per day, which wen converted to CO2 results in 93,500 tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere every day.

Now that is a very big number—I have a hard time visualizing that.  What I can visualize is a coal train—they go through Spokane for coal deliveries to Asia.  Each coal train car holds about 100 tons of coal, each train is 100 cars, so a single coal train is hauling 10,000 tons of coal.  So if the CO2 were a solid, it would take 9 coal trains a day to haul that much CO2, or one train every 2 or 3 hours.  I have stood by watching coal trains as they rumble by—the earth shakes from their weight.

Of course, all this plays with our perceptions.  When there is a natural gas leak, we can smell it because of the odorant that is added to the gas—but we never have a perception of weight—the natural gas simply mixes with the atmosphere, which we perceive as weighing nothing (after all, we don’t have to pick it up).   What I do think about is heating our cabin by burning wood—for a cold winter night, I bring about 100 pounds of wood into the house—it’s heavy, it takes me a few trips to move that much fuel.  In the morning, the wood is gone, only a tiny bit of ash remains behind.  Where did the rest of the weight go?  Most of it left the stove in the exhaust stream, as carbon dioxide and water vapor.   Burning natural gas is the same.  At my home in Spokane, gas enters my house in a small steel pipe, and the exhaust leaves by my chimney without me ever touching the gas, let alone carrying it.


Coal Train, near Sprague, Washington, December 2015

The old cliche goes, what you can’t see can’t hurt you.  The new Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is hidden underground.  It makes no sound.  It carries an invisible gas that has no odor, and appears to have no weight.  It enters homes and leaves without any effort on our part.  It all passes unseen and unnoticed.  We stay warm as if by magic.  But it isn’t magic.  And there are consequences.


Ok—the title is perhaps misleading—but not untrue, at least by the standards of the current administration.

The Facts:  The date:  January 18, 2009, Time:  1:56 PM, Place:  The food court at the Crystal City Mall, Arlington, VA.

I was in DC with a group of middle school students, my son included, to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama.  Being a mob, in the middle of a crowd of amazing size, finding a place to eat was a challenge—a problem solved by our tour organizers by giving us food coupons that could be used anywhere in a given food court, up to six bucks.  (Brilliant solution—you give the kids a lot of choices, no money changes hands, and everybody can sit together).

John McCain, January 18, 2009

What I expected was typical mall crap food, and the place met expectations.  What I did not expect was when one of the kids stated that John McCain was eating lunch with his wife a few tables down.   I thought the kid was joking—but no—there he was, only about 30 feet away.  I don’t know what he had for lunch, but he seemed in no mood for additional company, slouched under a Navy ball cap.    And why should he?  The entire city was preparing to celebrate the inauguration of the man who had defeated him in November—I’m pretty sure that Barack Obama was somewhere  planning his new cabinet and the inauguration balls—and probably eating the best catering in town. Much to my embarrassment, one of the middle school  teachers with us insisted on going up to talk to him—I tried to tell her not to—McCain had a reputation for being gruff –and I thought it best to leave the man alone on a day when the world seemed to be celebrating his defeat.  She did it anyway—and he got up and left.  I don’t know if he had finished his lunch or not.

I have to confess that I was glad McCain had been defeated—I, like many people, was tired of pointless wars started for the fun and profit of Halliburton and Blackwater—it was time for that shit to stop.  But now, looking back, I wish he had won the nomination in 2000—maybe that would have prevented the Dick from screwing the world.  The pendulum swings, and McCain got caught on the wrong end of the swing both times—just like Hillary.  Good people, who would have made great presidents , but crushed by the Republican right wing shit machine (fake stories about illegitimate children—but what about real ones?).  By the time the political party comes to its senses and nominates the better candidate, the political will moves away from them.

Well , John McCain is gone, never had his inauguration.  But he did have his moment of glory—when he came back to the Senate, after being diagnosed with brain cancer, to tank the right wing attempt to repeal  “Obamacare”. (God knows, Obamacare is a poor excuse for health care reform—every other civilized nation has nationalized single payer health care—but “Obamacare” sure as hell is better than being robbed by thieves disguising themselves as “health care providers “.   (Going to the doctor should not feel like being mugged—but it does.  Before Obamacare, the only difference between getting mugged and getting  cancer is that the mugger gets what’s in your wallet—the oncologist gets everything—the house, the retirement account, and the college fund for your kid—and after we’ve been trumped, we’re back to getting mugged.))  But when he gave his thumbs down on repealing Obamacare, I had to admit, I get why he deserves the press he is getting now.

So, now, I want to say I had lunch with John McCain.  I think I know what he had.  A shit sandwich, compliments of the right wing Republican machine.  The same as served to the rest of us.


Most days, like today, I sit hunched over my computer screen, sitting in the deep shade, avoiding the heat and sun, slightly bored, not believing in much of anything.  As Dylan said, “it’s easy to see, without looking too far, that not much here is really sacred.”

But, every so often…

Cloudst at the pass, July 28, 2018


Like yesterday, my wife and son and I went to visit our niece, spending the summer on the coast at a marine science center, and decided to drive back to Spokane, even though we would arrive home late.  We also decided to try to avoid the traffic around Seattle, and take the “scenic route” home, through the North Cascades.  The result—we didn’t  arrive home until about 2 AM.

I recall driving through the north Cascades only once before—probably close to 20 years ago—and remembered only two real details from that trip—one was a tight canyon we drove through—the second a mountain with sheer cliffs and  multiple peaks that we passed as darkness approached.

Clouds at the pass, July 28, 2018


This time, we pressed hard to make it over the mountains  in the light, and arrived at the pass as the  sun was setting.  A passing thunderstorm dampened the road,  with clouds swirling overhead.  A sign pointed to an overlook—which I assumed to be the usual slender parking lot on the edge of the road—but this one turned out different—a modest parking area with a trail leading off into a forest—we followed the trail, and found ourselves on a rock outcropping, overlooking a majestic valley, with the clouds dancing overhead in the light of the setting sun.

I do not know what god or gods control our destiny—but sometimes I do feel that some force in the universe puts me in a place and time where something magic and sacred happens—the clouds dance, the thunder rolls, the mountains stand majestic,  and the light blesses it all.  And all I can do is raise my camera in thanks.


At the pass, July 28, 2018

Near Odessa, WA, July 10, 2018


My guess is that it was a new driveway with a kink in it–not a problem for shorter vehicles, but obviously an issue for this load.   The first half the house was already on site…

During the summer of 2017, I tried to photograph every public grain elevator in Whitman County, and on July 17, photographed the crib elevator in the small community of Hay, located about 90 miles from my home in Spokane.

Hay Elevator, July 17, 2017


In the spring of 2018, I learned that this elevator was being torn down in order to salvage the wood, to be converted into flooring.  I visited the site in March 2018, right as the razing of the structure began.

Hay, March 16, 2017

I met some of the workers on the job, and had a tour of the inside of the elevator–discovered that the last occupancy permit on the wall was dated 1999.  Apparently the elevator has not been used since then.  In March, some of the metal sheathing had been removed from the outside of the building, and several cuts had been made in the wood structure through the outside walls.

Hay, April 11, 2018

By April 11th, the covered unloading area had been removed, as well as the wood in the corners.  Progress seemed slow.

Hay, May 20, 2018

By  mid May, the west end and the tower had been removed, but the structure still towered over the landscape.

Hay, June 27, 2018


When I made a visit on June 27, the structure had been razed to the foundation.  I’m not sure what I found most shocking about the scene–the complete disappearance of the structure, or the sudden appearance of the tree behind it.   There is still some site clean up to be done, but the building is gone.

In my own limited time here, I’ve witnessed the razing of grain elevators at Sperry (Franklin County), Belmont, Crabtree (a pile of rubble by the time I arrived), Shreck, Grinnell (a flathouse), and now Hay.

I have mixed feelings about the deconstruction of the grain elevator at Hay.  Obviously, the elevator was no longer being used, and so served no useful function.  Converting the wood into flooring is a way of finding a new use for the materials, and removed a hazard.  On the other hand, it’s removal is evidence of the changes in agriculture–to bigger fields, bigger combines, bigger grain trucks–and bigger grain handling facilities.  Fewer people are needed to produce more grain.

In speaking with the workers at the site, they are scheduled to raze more of the old wooden crib elevators in the area–they estimate that they have at least several years worth of work lined out in front of them.



The Longmen Grottos are located near Luoyang in Henan province, China. They are considered to contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art. They are comprised of approximately 100,000 carvings, ranging in size from less than one inch to 57 feet high. The first carvings date from 493 AD, and most were completed by 1127 AD.



As is readily apparent from the photograph above, many of the carvings completed at this site have been damaged over the years. While there is evidence that some vandalism occurred as early as the 13th century, most of the damage occurred during the 20th century, when carvings were removed for sale to museums and collectors. Some sources also indicate removal of carvings by Japanese occupiers.

I am not a scholar of Buddhist art, and had never heard of this site until the day I visited there. I was traveling in China as part of a group of photographers invited to help celebrate the opening of a new trail in a nearby park, though the exact reason for the invitation was never quite clear to me. Some others in the group knew of the site, and suggested that we use a free day in our schedule to go to Longmen Grottos. The drive to the site was supposed to take two hours from Zhengzhou, but took more than four, as our bus driver kept getting lost. Our time at the site was limited: according to the metadata on my digital photographs, I spent slightly less than an hour on there.

I’m not quite sure what to make of these pictures, with so many damaged figures—missing faces and heads, missing arms. But worth noting is that the newest of these carvings are nearly 900 years old—the oldest more than 1500. Despite the damage done to them, I am still astonished by what remains—outlines, shadows, and mostly empty niches carved into the limestone. Ghost images from the past.

Click the link below for a PDF of a collection of these photographs

Longmen Grotto small


I received a text message this evening about a fire on the “Enola Low Grade Line Trestle”, along with the above image.  I put the title in quotes, because to me, it was always just “the railroad bridge at Martic Forge”.  I grew up about a mile from the bridge, on the Martic Township side, and recall hearing trains pass over it when I was a child.  I must have passed under the bridge thousands of times–on the way to church, or going to visit my grandparents on my mother’s side, and I passed under it every day while commuting to Millersville College.  It was visible from my school bus route every day (twice) for my entire grade school career,    A few times I floated in an inner tube under the bridge on hot summer afternoons.  And a handful of times (at least twice) I walked over the rail bed and looked down at the creek, far below.

As a child, I always believed that steel didn’t burn, but as an engineer, I learned that steel does soften and burn in structural fires.   It seems likely that the fire will make the bridge impassable and most likely damaged beyond repair.  (Although the pictures of the bridge from April 13 don’t look as bad as I feared–there is still enough of the structure left, perhaps it can be repaired–but I’m sure the steel will need reinforcing.)

Over the years, I photographed the bridge several times, most frequently while driving under it, a way of remembering how I most often saw it.

As Joni Mitchel sang, “Don’t it always seem to go/ you don’t know what you got till it’s gone / they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot”–and then she laughs.




Martic Forge Bridge


Martic Forge Bridge

Spokane, March 24, 2018


Spokane March 24, 2018


Spokane March 24, 2018


Spokane March 24, 2018


Spokane March 24, 2018

I traveled back to Lancaster County in January 2018 with the sole purpose of photographing the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline construction project.  

Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, near Mount Joy, Jan 2018

My goal was to photograph the construction project in full swing–and my timing proved fortuitous.  During my first day photographing, I discovered pipe in the trench at the southern end of the line, ready to be buried.  There were sections with welded pipe, sections with unwelded pipe, sections with soil removed but no pipe, and sections with vehicle tracks over farm fields.  During the following two weeks, I watched as tasks were completed, and crews and equipment moved northward.  

Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, Red Hill Road, Martic Township, Jan 2018

Based on my childhood memories of winters, I knew that the weather might be bad–January is the coldest month, the most likely to have snow and freezing temperatures.  But my luck held with the weather–the days were warm and sometimes sunny–and many of the nights were cold enough to freeze the soil.  There was also a rain of about 0.3 inches.   The result was a glorious mud mess.  


Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, Red Hill Road, Jan 2018


My timing was intended to reveal the construction project during its most visible disruption to the landscape.  I know that once the pipe is buried and the grass planted, the pipeline will be largely invisible, except for the markers indicating where the pipe crosses under the road, and in the treeless right-of-ways through forests.  The wounds will heal, but scars will remain.  

Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, Silver Springs Road, Drumore Township, Jan 2018


This project has also made me aware of some of my family history.  In reading about the Conestoga Indian Village, I discovered that  in 1739, my ancestor Jacob Witmer settled nearby, apparently maintaining neighborly relations with the Natives.  In 1763, the Paxton boys massacred the Indians, and threatened to kill anyone who dared identify them.  As a child, my uncle Oliver Hess farmed some land along Indian Marker Road (currently farmed by Donnie Witmer–same name as my dad).  Nearby Witmer Road, Witmer Run, and Witmers Run still carry the family name.  

Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, Drytown Road, Martic Township, Jan 2018

The Paxton Boys justified their killing of the Indians, as they were “not making good use of the land.”   The argument for the pipeline is not that much different:  Williams Pipeline company is hugely profitable, and can offer farmers payments far in excess of what they make farming the land.  

Of course, Williams isn’t killing anybody, at least not directly.  But there are moral and ethical questions that can be asked about this project.  On a global scale, this project will deliver massive amounts of fossil fuels to markets, adding to climate change.  The contracts for the gas to be shipped through the pipeline are mostly for export, and could lead (decades from now) to energy shortages in the US, or to higher prices for natural gas for US consumers.  On a more personal level, what gives a large corporation the right to seize land from individual landowners through eminent domain, when the “public interest” claim is so tenuous?   Do land owners, or Native Americans have a sacred right to keep their lands from being disturbed?  

Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, Pequea Creek Crossing, Jan 2018

But what I found myself thinking about, as I drove the pipeline route, was how much this land has changed already, in my lifetime.  My father had a small farm–57 acres, a herd of 14 dairy cows–and told me that he didn’t think I could make a living on that farm.  Now, all the small farms are gone, except for those farmed by Amish (who are expanding their range).  Most of  the old stone barns have been Martha Stewartized–new roofs, new pointing, clean barnyards, and Christmas wreaths on the barn doors.  The “real” farms have huge new chicken and pig houses with massive ventilation fans, and big new tractors in the steel pole barns.  The Earl Butz “get big or get out” curse has run its course.  There are no more family farms.  

When I left the county in 1980, my fear was that the county would be paved over, becoming one huge housing development.  The changes that have occurred are different than I expected–there are still fields, but almost no farmers.  I’m not quite sure what to make of it.  

My distress about the pipeline through the landscape of my childhood is mixed with the other changes that have occurred.  Change happens.  Of course, in 1739, the change was brought about by a German immigrant named Jacob Witmer.