Montgomery to Alpharetta, Ga.

We planned to meet Carol’s cousin for dinner; that left us with the rest of the day to spend in Montgomery.

We went to the Rosa Parks Museum and Library, which is part of Troy University in Montgomery. The museum has a well-designed exhibit that tells the story of the Montgomery bus boycott through artifacts and creative audio-visual displays. The audiovisual presentation on Rosa Parks’s refusal to get out of her seat on the bus was especially good: it told and showed enough so you could follow along even if you didn’t know much about Rosa parks, but it left enough not told and not shown so you recreate the story in your imagination, which is what really makes it come alive.

Out in front of the museum is a historical marker that reads:

“At the bus stop on this site on December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to boarding whites. This brought about her arrest, conviction, and fine….”

There isn’t much except the marker to remind you of 1950s Montgomery: there’s no longer a bust stop, the sidewalks are different, all that’s there is that historical marker with some words on it.


I wanted to walk up towards the Capitol building to see the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and Carol was willing to go along. You couldn’t get near the church; the whole city block was closed to pedestrian traffic because Oprah Winfrey was filming her movie “Selma.”


A couple of white guys with cameras were standing there talking. “Last night they let me walk up to the church,” one of them said. He had a fancy-looking digital single lens reflex camera on a monopod. “They changed the name on the church to the original name” — that is, to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church — “and on the sign board it said, ‘Sunday morning, Dr. Martin L. King preaching.’ I got some good shots of that. But now they’re not letting anyone in.”

Small buses rolled in regularly. Extras in 1950s-era clothing walked from each bus into the Dexter Avenue Baptist church. A middle-aged black woman came up and cheerfully asked when Oprah was going to show up. Someone said she was going to be there at 5:30. We hadn’t seen any stars; all we had seen were extras.


I got to talking with the man with camera on the monopod. He pointed out his church, in the next block down, the River City Methodist Church. He said that they had gotten down to four members, when the bishop stepped in and settled a dynamic young pastor there. This pastor, said my friend, got rid of the organ music, brought in a praise band, started a thrift store, reached out to the homeless population in downtown Montgomery, and in less than a year had gotten the membership up to 65 people. My friend with the camera was the drummer in the praise band. “We’re Methodist in name only,” he said. “I was a Baptist, but they chased out the pastor of my church, just when River City Church was looking for a drummer. My sound guy used to be a Pentecostal, and I’ll look out when I’m playing and he’s there with his arms in the air. We’re from all different backgrounds. Our pastor says, ‘Church is not inside this building, church is out there, everywhere.'”

We left Montgomery to visit Catherine Coleman Flowers, someone Carol had met through her work in ecological wastewater management. Catherine was born in Lowndes County, Alabama, one of the poorest counties in the state, and is now the executive director of Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE), a non-profit devoted to environmental justice. Catherine told us about a study recently conducted by ACRE that discovered evidence of hookworm in close to half of the stool samples they tested. This is a remarkable study because hookworm was supposedly eradicated from the United States in the early twentieth century. Yet people who live in poverty in rural areas may not be able to afford to install adequate wastewater management systems.

Plus, because of global climate change, Catherine believes that hookworm may find the South a more congenial place to live these days. Here is a serious issue linked to global climate change that cannot be solved through installing solar panels and purchasing fuel efficient cars — the solution will involve a combination of economic justice, economic development, and ecological justice involving decentralized wastewater management solutions.

If Rosa Parks were alive today, I’ll bet she’d be involved in environmental justice.

Fredonia, New York, to Joliet, Illinois

After breakfast served on the front porch of the White Inn in the village of Freedonia, we got back on Interstate 90 and started driving west. We drove through the hills of western New York state and northwestern Pennsylvania and the Western Reserve of Ohio, the waters of Lake Erie (elevation 570 feet above sea level) invisible somewhere off to our right.

After we got through the sprawl of Cleveland, the land flattened out, and we felt that we were in the true Midwest: a less dramatic landscape than the northeast, one that is best appreciated when seen from close at hand. For when the Midwest is seen close at hand, you can see the details that make it charming: creeks and small rivers at the bottom of gullies and ravines, hedgerows and small patches of woodlands nestling in among fields of corn and soybeans, hundred year old farmhouses turned into residences while the surrounding fields have been bought up by agribusiness, old barns falling into quaint and attractive disrepair. Even the industrial buildings that punctuate the landscape, and the high tension lines that tie industry together, and the mile-long freight trains loaded with containers being shipped across the continent look almost attractive, if not quaint, under the gentle clouds and high-arching blue sky.

Carol had some business that she had to take care of during business hours today, so we stopped at two or three different rest areas in Ohio and Indiana so she could use the free wifi connections. I started eating some blueberries at one rest area in Ohio, and thought about how I had picked those blueberries in Massachusetts two days ago with my friend Will, on the farm where four or five generations of his family have lived. We walked along the neatly mowed paths between the blueberry bushes, which grew six to nine feet high, the branches thick with berries, mostly green berries, but plenty of ripe ones for us to pick, and either put in the plastic containers that hung around our necks or pop in our mouths. We picked two gallons of berries while we caught up with each other’s lives: health problems with our siblings, what his children are doing, how our parents are doing, etc.

Before we started picking, I told Will and his wife about the invasive Asian fly that moved into southern New England last year and decimated the blueberry crops for many growers in New Hampshire. I told them how the flies lay their eggs in the berries, and when the farmers get the berries to market, sometimes they find maggots crawling out of the berries; not an appetizing sight for potential buyers. Their eyes got big — it’s not often that you actually see someone’s eyes get big, but theirs did — as they heard about such a devastating pest. Blueberries have been an easy crop to grow in New England, since they evolved here; as opposed to apple trees, which evolved elsewhere, are troubled by native New England pests, and require lots of care.

I had heard about these invasive flies just a couple of days earlier, on Firday, when Carol and I went up to Apple Annie’s orchard in Brentwood, New Hampshire, so that Carol could look at a composting toilet that was malfunctioning. Carol was fascinated because it was a composting toilet that she had never seen before. I was fascinated to hear Laurie tell about the invasive flies, which she had learned about in a course she took to re-certify for her pesticide certification. She said they prefer red fruits, so rasberries are even more vulnerable — raspberries, which used to be yet another relatively pest-free crop in New England.

So I ate my New England blueberries in a rest area in Ohio, thinking that this might be the last easy crop of blueberries grown in my home town. Who knows why that Asian fly finally chose last year to arrive in New England. There are too many human beings everywhere, prying into niches in ecosystems where they don’t belong, moving species from one ecosystem to another at an alarming rate, and warming up the planet so that certain invasive species suddenly have to potential to disrupt native species. I would not be upset if nine-tenths of all humans died off suddenly, and I’m willing to be one of them — but I’m only willing to be one of them if we really get rid of nine-tenths of human beings; although I guess I could settle for a seven-eighths mortality rate.

We stopped again at a rest area in Indiana, where Carol and I took a long walk out through the employees’ parking lot and down a country road. On our right hand side was a corn field. It was not a field of sweet corn, grown to be sold at roadside stands and eaten as corn-on-the-cob. Carol recalled how we had once had a housemate who talked about “cow corn,” tough corn sold for cattle fodder. I said that there was a good chance this wasn’t even cow corn, but rather industrial corn bred to serve as the raw materials for chemical processes that produce ethanol, high-fructose corn syrup, corn oil, corn steep liquor, polylactic acid used to make corn-based plastics, and other industrial products.


On our left hand side was a patch of woodlands, covering at least twenty acres, that made the air feel twenty degrees cooler. We noticed black splotches on the road, and realized that mulberry trees hung over us. We picked as many ripe mulberries as we could reach reach, and ate them, the sweet elder-y taste a perfect complement to a hot humid afternoon.

Needles to Gallup

We checked out of the motel and went to get gas The service stations were all displaying prices of $4.70 a gallon, but we really needed gas so I filled the tank. A man in a blue uniform shirt and dark blue uniform shorts, like mechanics wear, walked by and looked at my tires. He bent down to look more closely. “Did you notice this tire is all split?” he said to me. I decided he wasn’t one of those mechanics who lie to you to promote their business: he was looking at the tire, not me; and his body language said that he was actually more interested in the car than in the person driving the car.

I drove the car into one of the bays in his neat and well-organized garage. He put the car up on his lift, and we looked at the tires. They were all pretty worn. “Jeez, and before I left, the dealer I go to said the tires were just fine,” I said. “Course I should’ve checked them myself.” He gave me a reasonable price on four new tires, and as long as it was up on the lift, I asked him to change the oil. He pointed that the the oil cap was cracked and though he didn’t have one on hand, I could probably get one in Kingman. And he added, “Are you going to drive that car for a while. Because if you are, when you get back those struts are looking pretty bad.” I asked if he could recharge the air conditioner, but he didn’t have the right fitting for such an old car. As we drove away, Carol and I agreed that he gave us a fair price, when he could have tried to rob us blind, and he seemed to be one of those guys who just like automobiles.

In Kingman, we found an auto parts store and got a new oil cap. They told us we could get the air conditioner recharged at Cobb’s, next to the freeway. “Ask for Adam, and say that Kevin sent you.” We pulled up. There were half a dozen old cars in various states of repair, a man working on the engine of a tow truck, a thirty year old old mobile home, and four guys sitting in the shade talking. They told me to bring the car around, and three of them sprang into action. The first man didn’t say much, just started working on our car; the second man, a young guy, helped the first man as best he could; the third guy started cleaning up. The place was pretty messy, the three guys were not what you’d call neatly dressed, but the man who was working on our car worked with no wasted motion, and radiated calm competence.

The fourth man, neatly dressed and maybe 75, told us about his trips up the Alaska Highway to go mining. “We used to get enough money to live on,” he said, “and that was when gold was 325, 350 an ounce. Now it’s up about fifteen hundred an ounce. I’d love to go back up there.” From the tone of his voice, you knew he didn’t think he’d be going back up. He told us stories about grizzly bears in Alaska until the car was done. The work was done before we knew it, I paid a very reasonable price, and we got ready to go. “See you in Alaska,” I said to the former miner. He grinned and said he guessed so.

From there we drove straight across Arizona, stopping at Seligman for lunch, at Flagstaff for an afternoon break, and then once at some place out in the middle of nowhere to change drivers. Carol pointed out a bag at the side of the exit ramp: some long distance driver had spent the night there, shit in a white plastic bag, and dropped the bag out of the truck. This is the sort of thing you know when you’re an expert in composting toilets and alternative wastewater management, because you know where the conventional wastewater disposal method doesn’t work.

The moral of the story: don’t pick up bags you might see lying on the ground at exit ramps.

Photo: Carol Steinfeld


Carol, my sweetheart, has an article in the latest issue of Mother Earth News on recycling human waste. And before you ask, let me provide some answers: (1) Yes, Carol does use urine to fertilize our vegetable garden. (2) No, we don’t have a composting toilet of our own; we rent, and landlords generally don’t like renters to install a composting toilet. (3) Yes, we do celebrate Pee on Earth Day on June 21. (4) Yes, it’s easy to buy Carol’s books, thank you for asking.

Update: Please note that the phrase “Poo Pioneer” was not something Carol wrote; it was added by an editor. It’s hard for me to believe that anyone would put the phrase “poo pioneer” in print, but Mother Earth News is not the magazine it once was.