"Hotbed in Tranquility" by R. W. White


Natural gas has been produced and used in upstate New York for longer than anywhere on Earth.  Indigenous people knew of “burning springs” for centuries, and it was nearly 200 years ago that William Hart ran the first commercial gas line to brighten lamps in the homes of Fredonia, NY, on the shore of Lake Erie.  The first well to release its gas through fracturing the shale formation was drilled in Fredonia in 1857.  Other parts of the nation and the world may have become better known as sources of natural gas — while the Empire State was enjoying progress and prosperity in such sectors as agriculture and manufacturing — so few New Yorkers paid much attention to our local gas wells. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-946196.mp3

In the past twenty years a surging demand for domestic energy sources drew interest back to the potential abundance of natural gas beneath the beautiful meadows and streams of upstate New York.  A declining farm economy made the exploitation of mineral rights attractive to many landowners, especially with development of the Trenton – Black River formation with its gas under natural pressure, that seemed to cause only temporary disruption to normal activity.  The development of horizontal drilling techniques might mean that even those who lived near a gas well might benefit monetarily.  But beneath the Trenton – Black River play — as deep as 9,000 feet — rests the Marcellus Shale.  Referred to as a “super giant” gas field, this gas can only be released by fracturing the rock with a combination of water, sand and chemicals whose exact composition varies and are often under proprietary control. The prospect of “hydrofracking” with the potential for pollution of water resources and the disruption of rural tranquility has made New York deal cautiously with drilling in the Marcellus Shale.  This activity is presently under state-imposed moratorium.  It remains a topic of debate, the subject of hundreds of reports, letters to the editors and now, a romantic novel.  “Hotbed in Tranquility” was written by R. W. White, who lives, as he describes it, “on a wooded hillside, atop a shale-field of natural gas” in Owego.  Robert White is a retired Presbyterian minister who lived for many years in England.  This is his fourth book, and his second novel. Tranquility is the name of a fictional town in New York’s Southern Tier, in the heart of the Marcellus gaslands.  As the story opens it appears that the exploratory activity has already taken a toll.  Will Ross has returned home to the U.S. after a long stint overseas as a Foreign Service Officer.  He discovers that his own parents are contemplating signing over permission to drill for gas on their land.  Meanwhile, others have begun to sense problems of water pollution and illnesses caused by seepage of gas into their wells.  The gas drillers seem to have the dominant hand with their political connections, but the Town Supervisor of Tranquility, Stephanie Reynolds Hall, has gathered opponents of drilling in support of her campaign for U.S. Congress.  She is a smart, attractive candidate, a divorced mother of two children, including an 11-year old son who may have contracted a pre-cancerous condition from the effects of gas exploration.  Stephanie is also the former high school sweetheart of Will Ross. Will is back in the States after many years posted abroad and his new position at the State Department happens to involve negotiating new international agreements on natural gas.  He sees the possibility of the growth of a worldwide natural gas cartel, which could place both the United States and the Town of Tranquility at a disadvantage.  It is a confidential assignment, but it seems that persons in high places are aware that Will has become involved in Stephanie’s anti-drilling campaign.  Readers also become aware that Will and Stephanie have resumed a passionate affair.  The hotbed of the title doesn’t just refer to politics and hydrofracking.


The Expressions Summer Concert Series rolls on with an energetic performance from Revision. Formed in the music town of Ithaca NY, Revision is a funk/rock band made up of three Ithaca College music grads. Influenced by many modern rock groups such as Soulive and Wilco, their music is both sophisticated and groovy at the same time. This program was filmed before a live audience at the WSKG Studios in the summer of 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTV1yR3b6I4

Writing About Wine with John C. Hartsock and Richard Figiel

The creation and consumption of wine has been part of human experience for at least 6,000 years and wine has been produced in the Finger Lakes region since the early 1800s.  By the mid 19th century the wineries in this section of New York State were gaining world-wide respect and the appreciation of both serious oenophiles and casual drinkers. But it’s only been in the past half-century that the Finger Lakes has established itself as a premier wine-growing region.  Partially this is because it takes so long for the fields to be cultivated and maintained with the proper grapes and for the output to be abundant and consistent.  Winemaking is as much an art as a science, and a labor of love in which the love can often be strained. “The Seasons of a Finger Lakes Winery” by John C. Hartsock is the story of one couple and their struggle to produce truly fine wines.  Gary Barletta remembers growing up in an Italian neighborhood in Syracuse where every family seemed to be making wine.  His wife Rosie is sometimes skeptical of his efforts but supports him effectively with her attention to marketing and record-keeping.  Together they launch Long Point Winery on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake.  John Hartsock is with them at every step and his book reads like a novel of family life and struggle with nature.  It is also a brave excursion by Hartsock himself, who late in the book (and in the Barlettas’ winemaking process) has to try pressing grapes the old-fashioned way, with his bare feet.  John C. Hartsock is a former newspaper reporter and  a professor of communications studies at SUNY-Cortland. If Hartsock views winemaking with an outsider’s amazement and sympathy, Richard Figiel is able to act as the gracious host at the winery, able to answer any question.  His 1995 book “Culture in a Glass: Reflections on the Rich Heritage of Finger Lakes Wine” is now a classic among books on wine and local history.  (It is available from the Finger Lakes Wine Center in Ithaca).  Figiel is proprietor of Silver Thread Winery in Lodi, NY, which John Hartsock describes as “a small, intimate winery tucked away behind vineyards and at the edge of a wood.  They use sustainable farming techniques and green energy sources.”   Richard Figiel’s book covers the history of winemaking from ancient times, the emergence of Finger Lakes wines through the work of the Taylor family and especially Dr. Konstantin Frank, a German-Russian emigre who in the 1950’s successfully transplanted European grapevines and spread the word of European viticulture. Along with Hartsock and Figiel on OFF THE PAGE will be Hank Stark, amateur winemaker, long-time food and wine reviewer for the Ithaca newspapers and writer of a new food and wine blog for public broadcaster WCNY in Syracuse.  They join Bill Jaker in a program recorded at the Finger Lakes Wine Center in Ithaca as the kickoff event of the second annual Finger Lakes Literary Festival.