The Onceler comes to town

| 01 Mar 2016 | 01:45

I wasn’t looking for more to do. With a one-month-old and a three-year-old and a magazine to put out and a farmstead to keep running, it felt like a hearty portion of enough.

But when I got home at 9:30 the other night and instead of getting ready for bed I found my toddler in the bath, having had an accident (probably her own form of protest against my absence), I shut the toilet lid and settled in for a chat.

“How was your meeting?” she asked, an adult in a 25-pound body.

How to explain where it was that her little sister and I had been? How to convey this thing that I was just barely grasping? That a power plant was coming to a nearby town that would spew pollution into the air where we lived? That it would turn fracked gas — which New York had banned the production of because the process was grisly — into power we didn’t need? That this land of small farms like ours, which feed not only us but also our friends in the city, was allowing itself to be dirtied for a quick fix of cash and 25 new full-time jobs?

Got it. “The Onceler is trying to come to town,” I said, invoking the antihero from Dr. Seuss’ piece de resistance. It was all there, in The Lorax, written in 1971. This was not a new tale. “He’s going to make smogulous smoke and gluppity glupp. People are trying to stop him.”

Kai squirted water out of her crab bath toy.

“Should we try to stop him?” I asked. “Do you want to go with me tomorrow to try to stop the Onceler?”

This was not a patronizing question. The answer was not preordained. I’d been moved by the forum that night, no question. The fiery Dennis Kucinich, whose name had been vaguely familiar to me from his presidential bids, had flown in to pump us up. The actor James Cromwell, the tall farmer from “Babe,” had been arrested for blocking the construction site weeks earlier. We had the voices, including the requisite actor; the maybe 300 people overflowing the auditorium suggested we had the numbers. I was late to this party, and much of the infrastructure had been laid, but maybe this plant was not a done deal after all.

On the way out of the forum, Cromwell was speaking loudly in the lobby, getting people to sign a petition and thundering about how we didn’t need fracked gas; we could meet our needs with renewables. I just stood there, near Cromwell with his rough white whiskers, in a way that might have been awkward but you can get away with when you’ve got a baby in tow. Here was a man unsullied by compromise. I agreed, silently, with the guy who shook Cromwell’s hand and said: I love you.

But I often find myself excited by things I’m covering. My constitution is as impressionable as Play-Doh. It was a shame husband Joe hadn’t been there, because he’s just the opposite: a decent sized boulder, tough to pry out of position. I had to ask Kai – really, I put way too much stock in her opinions, and needed to know what she thought. Was it worth taking yet another thing on?

Kai shook her head no.

I clarified: “No, you don’t want to go tomorrow? Or no, you don’t want the Onceler to come?”

“I don’t want the Onceler.” Another squirt. “Is he mean?”

I thought about that. “Not mean, no. Just shortsighted.”

Okay then. We’d go to Cromwell’s arraignment, wearing orange or red to show solidarity. Suddenly I felt optimistic — a novel sentiment. This tack was a lot more uplifting than snarling sarcasm at the radio.

It meant an extra something, too, to have a one-month-old in attendance: the future incarnate. An old man at the forum had thanked me for bringing the baby, as he held her so I could wrestle my coat on. I felt like thanking him: we’ve got more time to breathe whatever’s suspended in the air, to drink what’s dissolved in the water. Old folks at environmental demonstrations — where they’re often the majority — strike me as the most generous of spirits.

The next evening I wrenched everyone from a nap and ran around pulling red clothes out of the laundry. Into the car we tumbled as a light snow fell almost imperceptibly. I hoped I had the address right. We walked through the metal detector and into a courthouse overflowing with red scarves and sweaters, red plaid shirts and hats, most on gray heads.

“Honestly,” Joe said later, “I was ready to be choked up a little bit.”

That night, drifting off after a midnight baby feeding, an image from a nature documentary came to me. I saw elephants circling their young to protect them from a pack of hungry lions.