Southern Tier Economy Growing, But Help’s Wanted

Micatu is growing fast, The Horseheads start-up has over 20 employees right now and wants to expand to more than a hundred. “Started in my garage with $75 and, you know, five years later, here we  are," co-founder Mike Oshetski explained.  Oshetski credits state economic development money for helping Micatu grow. The company makes a device that tracks energy usage. It sells the device to utilities.

"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.

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.

"A Sudden Gift of Fate" by Mary Pat Hyland

The Irish are famous for many things -- music and dance, beautiful linen, old castles, whiskey -- but cultivating vineyards and making wine hasn't been one of them.  There is a fine Celtic concoction called Meade, but you wouldn't be likely to find a Chardonnay or Riesling from the Emerald Isle.  So when a newlywed Irish couple receives the keys to a run-down winery in the Finger Lakes Region of New York it does not bode to be the most successful grafting that's been attempted.  The new life of Fergal and Brídgeen Griffin is only one angle in Mary Pat Hyland's new novel "A Sudden Gift of Fate". There is also the powerful relationship between Binghamtonians Maeve Kenny and Andy Krall -- a relationship that was nurtured by Andy's rescue of Maeve after her promising New York City public relations career fell apart.  She hopes to find her way back to personal stability as much as she hopes for new stem cell treatment that will free Andy from his paraplegia.

"A Sudden Gift of Fate" is the sequel to Mary Pat Hyland's 2008 debut novel "The Cyber Miracles". She has again drawn on her own Irish heritage and upstate New York upbringing to write of places and situations she knows well.  The novel is filled with descriptions of procedures for growing grapes and making wine, familiar geography of the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier of New York and expressions in Irish Gaelige, which Mary Pat speaks fluently (there is a glossary at the end of the book). Fergal and Bridgeen rename their winery Lochmare, Irish for "finger lakes".

"Woodstock Revisited" by Susan Reynolds

For three days in mid-August, 1969, the center of the Universe was a dairy farmer's field in New York's Southern Tier that is now a cultural landmark.  It was the scene of an event shared by about 400,000 people (nobody knows for sure) and they all would remember it, maybe with joy and maybe pain, confusion, inspiration and in every case music in their hearts.  In 1969 America was undergoing tremendous change and youth culture was ascendant.  The war in Vietnam, the demand for civil rights and racial equality, the sexual revolution and a nascent environmental movement combined to cause deep schisms in the country.  It seemed at times that everything was political. The Woodstock Festival of Music and Art was both an expression of those trends and a respite from them.

The history of "Woodstock" is as chaotic as the event itself.  Turned aside from the original plan to hold the open-air concert near the Hudson Valley artist colony of Woodstock, NY, organizers looked across the Catskills, into the "borscht belt", and arranged for land in the Town of Bethel, Sullivan County, belonging to dairy farmer Max Yasgur .  There was again local resistance but the event was widely advertised, ticket sales made it seem as if nearly 50,000 people would attend.  In the end, of course, the attendance was in six figures, roads were jammed, facilities strained and the weather refused to cooperate.  It was three days of music and mud. But those who were there will still tell you that it was worth it.  The list of performers is still staggering: Arlo Guthrie , Joan Baez , Santana, Jefferson Airplane (not yet Starship),The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe McDonald and on and on... Michael Wadleigh's documentary won an Oscar.

Southern Tier Authors of Romance

What is the meaning of "romance"?  One of life's great questions, indeed. Searching out the definition of romance may lead us past a style of 16th century song, a group of beautiful languages, a measurement of human passion and a literary genre.  It also promises an escape from the cold and the dullness of daily life.

Romance literature and the realm of fantasy may be the most accessible (and prudent) path away from the mundane, for both the reader and the writer.  Its popularity is enormous, and the care and enthusiasm that romance writers bring to their work is apparent in works that go beyond the heavy-breathing, gaze-penetrating (and, yes, bodice-ripping) that has characterized the genre.  If you go to a conference of the Southern Tier Authors of Romance (STAR) you meet people who are realistic about fantasy and hard-headed about romance. OFF THE PAGE visits the 5th annual conference of STAR -- a chapter of the organization Romance Writers of America -- held in Owego on September 12th.  In addition to the chance to break away from their word processors for a while and hobnob with other writers, the agenda for the day-long event includes panels on science fiction, how to appeal to young adult readers and writing for movies and television.  There was also a session during which the first page of works-in-progress were read (they say those are the lines that have to snag the reader).  Among the invitees was Rhonda Penders, editor-in-chief of The Wild Rose Press, who was at the STAR conference inviting writers to pitch their latest stories for possible publication. Following a report from the STAR Conference, OFF THE PAGE welcomes live three writers of romance, fantasy and science fiction to respond to questions and comments from listeners who are fans of imaginative fiction.  Joining WSKG's Bill Jaker will be:

Doreen Alsen of Lansing, president of Southern Tier Authors of Romance, whose debut novel is "Mike's Best Bet".  She is also conductor of the Finger Lakes Women's Chorale.

"Hard Times in the County" by Timothy Whal

When Timothy Wahl was growing up on a dairy farm in Allegany County , NY, Town of Andover , going to Andover Central School, doing the chores and playing games in Elm Valley, few would have thought that some day his recollections and observations of life would end up in a book.  Tim himself might not have thought that anyone would be interested.  As a youngster he was often unsure of himself, a mediocre student, a skinny kid who didn't excel in sports.  He also suffered from dizzy spells.  By the time his high school years were ending, Tim had an active interest in sports broadcasting.  But his physical and emotional problems were overwhelming and the kid with low self-esteem tried to commit suicide.

Timothy Wahl's "Hard Times in the Country" , subtitled "Ramblings of a Hayseed", is filled with painful experiences.  But it also contains hilarious scenes of rural life in New York's Southern Tier in the 1950's and 60's, and profiles of local people, that make the book a durable chronicle of its time and place. "Getting served illegally at Frank's [Bar and Restaurant] was a rite of passage.  Those who succeeded earned a place of high esteem.  They got asked by others to buy  themsix-packs.  Billy Joe and Johann, who were husky and had mature faces, managed to get served at 14.  Me, I was like one of Mom's platitudes, "He who hesitates is lost."  Inother words, I got a bit shaky when my turn at the cusp of manliness came, at fifteen in my case.  Even then, I let Grandpa do the honors of ordering my drink.  "Give Timmy a Genny," he said." -- from "Hard Times in the Country"
Tim would find his way to maturity.  His father would sell off the dairy herd, but his brother Billy Joe earned an agriculture degree from SUNY Morrisville and renewed the traditional family business.  Tim did go on to college and earned a degree from the University of Iowa.  He now teaches English as a Second Language, is a consultant on distance learning and will be participating in the Beijing International Book Fair in September.  Tim gives much of the credit for his recovery and later success to his vocational rehabilitation teachers and today's VESID program in New York State. Tim Wahl joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to share stories of growing up on the farm, adolescent adjustment and writing about one's life.

"Faun" by Martha Horton

I think my whole life has been leading up to this summer – seeing, sensing, assimilating bits of history and translating them into music. I want my music to transport people to times and places and emotions they never knew before. -- from the Journal of Dr. Hannah Ingram, in “Faun”

August is time for ferragosto in Italy, when Italians traditionally (ever since the days of the Roman Empire) head for the seashore or the mountains.  In the cities shops, museums and theatres shut down and nearly everyone takes a long vacation.  The exception may be foreigners living in Italy.  It’s been observed (again, for many years) that expatriates in Rome especially enjoy having the Eternal City to themselves for a while.  Italy has a tendency to take possession of the stranieri (Italian for both “foreigner” and “stranger”) and they may remain possessed by the Italian spirit and culture even as they share frustration with some social structures.  That was the case with American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne in the 1850s, and it was true forMartha Horton a century later. In 1860 the author of “The Scarlet Letter” published “The Marble Faun”, a novel about three Americans living in Italy and an Italian nobleman named Donatello, who bears a physical resemblance to the mythological Faun – supposedly including pointed ears – as sculpted by the ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles.  “Perhaps it is the very lack of moral severity,” wrote Hawthorne, “of any high and heroic ingredient in the character of the Faun, that makes it so delightful an object to the human eye and to the frailty of the human heart.”

The Americans – Miriam, Hilda and Kenyon – all have artistic ambitions that seem not to be achieved in the classical atmosphere of Rome.  Donatello commits a murder and is observed by Miriam, engendering guilt and fear that are never really cleansed.  Many critics have found the Hawthorne book unsatisfying, although when it was published it enjoyed great success for its detailed descriptions, lending it perennial value as an Italian guidebook. Hawthorne even rewrote the ending to clarify “romantic mysteries” but “The Marble Faun” remains a flawed classic.

The Flood of '35

On Sunday evening, July 7, 1935, the skies north of the Southern Tier of New York State opened up, dumping more than 11 inches of rain in some areas, and inundating the rivers, lakes, and streams throughout the valley. The terrible chain of events that followed would devastate small towns and cities alike, destroying hundreds of home and properties, and claim more than 50 lives. It would become the worst natural disaster in the history of the Southern Tier. Winner of two New York State Emmy Awards, The Flood of '35 utilizes rare film footage, hundreds of photographs and first-person accounts to tell the story of that horrible night and the days that followed, days that changed lives and the Southern Tier forever. Buy the DVD

Southern Tier Memory Store 3

Preserves in word and image an abundance of objects and events. In the third program in the series: "46-Quart Cans and some Passengers" - the milk trains; "The Standard Herbal Remedies" - Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root and other medicinal products; "Hi, Sweety" - Mr. Willoby and Igy; and "Another Side of the Tracks" - Oneonta's Delaware and Hudson Railroad's Susquehanna Division. Buy the DVD