On Tour: Erie, PA

23 Feb

February 13, 2015  | REBELS WITH A CAUSE | Erie, PA

Screening 1: 88° day, 86° night
Screening 2: 43° day (feels like 33°), 20° night
Screening 3: 48° day, 30° night
Screening 4: 43° day, 25° night
Screening 5: 43° day, 20° night
Screening 6: 11° day, 2° night (feels like -8°)

A lot of people I met while I was in Erie apologized for the weather, but when the OS/IP tour schedule came together, I was excited about coming here in February. Growing up in Massachusetts, winter was my favorite season. I’ve lived in the beautiful, temperate San Francisco Bay Area for decades, call me crazy, but part of me still misses the big drama of northern seasons. Snow groans underfoot in below-zero temperatures! I love walking out of doors prepared for the cold: coat, hat, boots, and gloves.

The people I met in Erie wanted to introduce me to its natural world—my host Christine Olivier took me on a tour of the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, where I saw a fascinating exhibit about something I didn’t learn when my parents took me and my sister to Niagara Falls: how water flows from one Great Lake to another, to the cliff that becomes Niagara Falls. Christine and I climbed up a tower to look over Lake Erie and Presque Isle, a peninsula that extends into Lake Erie, now a state park. Everyone told me about the ice dunes that form on the lake in winter. Wind-blown waves freeze in mid-motion, then the next waves wash over them and freeze, on and on. They get very high. “They are extremely dangerous,” people told me, “you aren’t supposed to walk on them.” And then, each one admitted doing exactly that! Darn it, I didn’t have time to walk the beaches and see the ice dunes up close…And there were people I wanted to meet—the ice fishermen/women. My hotel room overlooked the frozen, snow-covered bay, where their huts broke the white expanse. There were a lot of them…but I didn’t have time to walk out on the ice and see that world.

Local rebel, Nate Millet, who is an educator at Environment Erie, joined me for the post-screening discussion. More than in any other stops in the OS/IP tour, these people seemed discouraged and powerless. And no wonder: a hotel was being built on the last bit of undeveloped bay front land and one woman described her futile efforts to prevent the city from cutting down some well-established trees in front of her house. But one woman in the audience said, “This is the case I would make for the trees. They create oxygen. They provide shade.” And another woman in the audience described her so far successful defense of the trees in front of her house: “I tell them if they cut down those trees, I’ll sue the city. But they come back every year.” Someone else in the audience had recently attended the first public meeting of a fledgling movement to create a federally protected marine sanctuary in Lake Erie. Then Nate described his environmental program at a school in a low-income neighborhood, whose students are immigrants or children of immigrants. He said last year was very tough—he did not have the support of the principal or teachers, who didn’t want to let the students leave the classroom for out of doors activities, they wanted them to stay indoors to study for state tests. But because the school has very low-test scores, at the end of last year, almost everyone at the school got fired, and a new administration and teachers replaced them. Started. This year, 7 teachers from a variety of disciplines including English and math support him. With 50 students and an $18K grant, this fall, he and a lot of students planted 1500 daffodil and narcissus bulbs at the entrances to the school and fruit trees in a vacant lot across the street from the school. Everyone is eagerly waiting for spring.

2-13_Snowy Road

Traveling to that part of the world turned out to be challenging. The pilot of my plane from Philadelphia to Erie decided it could only fly with 27 rather than 36 people, so although my seat was empty, but I didn’t get on the plane. I knew Christine had things planned for me the next day, so I flew from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, rented a car, and drove a couple hours to Erie in the dark, wind, and near zero, maybe below zero weather. In Philadelphia, I agreed to drive Jim, a fellow unfortunate passenger who didn’t get on the flight to Erie and lived there. The road was dark, not well-traveled, with periods of whiteout from windblown snow. Jim knows that road well, he’s driven it all his life. I told him I felt bad for him, since I was driving kind of slow. In the same calm, supportive voice my father used when he taught me to drive decades ago, Jim said, “Take your time.” My father died 4 years ago and for a few seconds, I felt like he was in the car with me. What a wonderful, if fleeting, moment. As we inched our way through the darkness, we discovered it’s a small world. Jim’s sister lives in San Francisco and was on the California Coastal Commission with rebel Phyllis Faber.


Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Nancy Kelly.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.


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