Thursday, April 19, 2012

Margaret Maron Guest Post for Earth Day

With Earth Day approaching, I asked Mystery Author Margaret Maron for a guest post. Her Judge Deborah Knott series addresses many Environmental Issues.

Margaret Maron is the author of twenty-six novels and two collections of short stories. Winner of several major American awards for mysteries (Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Macavity), her works are on the reading lists of various courses in contemporary Southern literature and have been translated into 16 languages. She has served as president of Sisters in Crime, the American Crime Writers League, and Mystery Writers of America.


Most of the books in my Judge Deborah Knott series have environmental issues at their heart. Whether it’s overdevelopment in the mountains (High Country Fall) or too many special interests pulling at our coastal waters (Shooting at Loons), these issues reflect her deep ties to the land. Up Jumps the Devil and Hard Row deal specifically with land use as her corner of North Carolina becomes more densely populated and urbanized.

In Up Jumps the Devil, Deborah talks about the lanes that crisscross the family’s farms: “They started out as real shortcuts, but these days my brothers shuttle equipment back and forth even when it might be quicker to use the road. They get a little tired of honking cars and getting the finger from impatient commuters. Urban people move to the country and it’s like, ‘Gee, you mean farmers live here? And they’re going to clutter up my road with hay balers and gang disks? Who the hell do these rednecks think they are?’ Pooling equipment’s the main reason Daddy and the boys are still able to make farming turn a decent living.”

Later, her father tells them that he’s struck a deal with the developer who’s building on the other side of their creek: “In exchange for access to the creek, he’s agreed to a buffer zone, so we don’t have to see and hear everything over there. . . If we agree to lay back a few hundred feet on this side and he lays back the same distance—”
“A greenbelt?” I asked.
“Huh?” said Robert.
“Like a park or a wilderness area,” I said. Instead of building right up to the creek, we’ll leave a wide strip of trees and bushes where people can walk or ride bicycles or have picnics.”
 It was just like down at the coast. I might not like to see our homeplace changing, but Daddy was right. Best we could hope for was to have a say in how it changed.

In Hard Row, the brothers call a family meeting to discuss new crops for the farm now that tobacco is being phased out. They discuss cotton, pick-your-own fruits, and shiitake mushrooms. Industrial hemp would be a great replacement crop had it first been called the paper weed. With a name like hemp though, our legislators are scared to death to permit it.

The grandchildren suggest raising ostriches since the meat has become trendy. Deborah’s sisters-in-law are appalled: “What kind of outlandish foolery is that?”
Emma wrinkled her pretty little nose. “One good thing about them—they don’t stink like hogs.”
“Yeah, but hogs is more natural,” said Isabel. “I’d be plumb embarrassed to tell folks we was raising ostriches.”

One of Deborah’s nephews said, “Don’t y’all think it’d be good if we switched over to something that doesn’t require tons of pesticides on every acre?”
“Everything’s got pests that you gotta poison,” said his father.
“Not if we went organic.”
“You young’uns act like we’re some sort of criminals ’cause we didn’t sit around and let the crops get eat up with worms and bugs and wilts and nematodes,” Haywood huffed. “Every time we find something that works, the government comes and takes it away.”
“Because it doesn’t really work,” said Bobby. “All we’re doing is breeding more resistant pests and endangering our own health.”

In the end, Deborah, Seth and their daddy decide to give the kids 25 acres so that they can start cleansing the land and go all natural. To Kezzie’s amusement, they are delighted to learn that he’s held on to an old manure spreader.

When Deborah asks him what he thinks of their plan to raise florist-quality tuberoses, the wily old ex-bootlegger just smiles. “Tell you what, shug. Flowers or mushrooms or even ostriches—it don’t matter one little bit. Anything that keeps ’em here on the farm another generation’s gonna be just fine with me.”
With responsible stewardship, the land will be fine, too.