Sunday, August 23, 2009

Personal stories about global warming

Melissa MacDonald, the former motorcycle-riding Left Bank correspondent for the Newburyport Daily News, said goodbye to her Lake Attitash idyll several years ago, leaving her ink-stained colleagues behind for college. She married, earned a doctorate in Language and Literature in Education, landed a teaching gig at Northern Essex Community College and lives in a historic 1812 farmhouse in Chester, N.H., where she goes by the name Melissa Juchniewicz.

But this weekend she'll return to Newburyport to read from "Thoreau's Legacy: Stories of Global Warming" at The Book Rack.
No, she didn't write the book, an online/print collaboration between Penguin Classics and the Union of Concerned Scientists, as the initial press release seemed to indicate. Her story "Skinny Dipping at Walden" is one of 67 pieces in the collection, which uses Henry David Thoreau, the country's first environmental writer, as the starting point for a national discussion about global warming and the future of the planet. Drawn from over 1,000 submissions, the stories are personal reminiscences about favorite places displaced, now out of context and at-risk because of climate change. A forward by Barbara Kingsolver ties the whole package together.

“I think it’s a good way to personalize the issue," says Juchniewicz, a contributing editor for New England Reading Association Journal. "People get bleary-eyed with scientific jargon, as important as it is. This puts the issues out there in everyday language, in a way that very, very human.”

Juchniewicz, who grew up "on the wrong side of the tracks" in Concord, not far from arguably the most famous pond in the world, writes about ditching school and skinny-dipping and sunbathing at Walden, abut the sights, sounds and smells of the place the famously cranky Thoreau put on the literary map and into the national consciousness, a place that has been under threat for decades — from the glib attitudes of a throw-away society ("Everyone was making a mess in those days," she says) to the build-to-oblivion mindset of the go-go '80s, to the current threat from climate change and lingering problems caused by pesticides pollution, which has silenced the bullfrogs whose constant croaking Thoreau mentions in "Walden" and whose call punctuated Juchniewicz's nights as a girl.
"It's just a very personal story about changes that everyone experiences in one way or another," she says. And it's not especially different from what's happening now, and what was happening 15 years ago on Lake Attitash, when she was covering Carriagetown and Merrimac for the Daily News and the Eagle-Tribune.

Last week, state officials warned everyone on the Left Bank that they should avoid any contact with Lake Attitash water, because it contained dangerous levels of toxic cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. But she remembers going out on the water with state officials years ago, during her reporter days, and having them tell her then that it was all over, that run-off from lush lakeside properties was promoting algae growth that would contaminate the entire ecosystem.
"They told me then that it was for all practical purposes a dead lake," she says. "That was maybe 15 years ago. I remember writing about it. I guess people still haven't gotten the message."

Melissa Juchniewicz, will read from "Thoreau's Legacy: Stories of Global Warming" and talk about global warming at 7 p.m. Aug. 29 at The Book Rack, 52 State St. For more information about the event, call 978-462-8615. To check out the ebook, click here.

1 comment:

  1. John Lockwood is an elegant writer. Come on, Obama, where's the WPI writers project for THIS economy. Brilliant writers like John should be financially comfortable to nurture the muse. So should his family. Hey, just refuse to drop one bomb in another land and the Lockwood family could keep contributing to our local culture. More than a fair trade-off, eh?