Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
One day, twenty years before, when Heather Sanford was nine, her mother turned to her father and said, "What are we going to do about Heather sucking her thumb?"
Most children give up sucking their thumb at age two or so, but Heather had never quite broken herself of it. It was a matter that caused her mother a lot of concern, but didn't quite bother her father as much, although he agreed with his wife that it wasn't a good habit. However, since this was possibly the thousandth time that his wife had brought up the subject in the last five years or so, he was a little tired of the issue, so he decided to throw a curve ball back. "Look on the bright side," he'd said. "If she keeps in practice, in a few years, she's going to make some young man VERY happy."
It took a few moments for Heather's mother to figure out what he was talking about, but when she did, she was less than pleased. But, she didn't bring the subject up again for almost two weeks, which pleased her husband.
Under constant pressure from her mother, Heather gave up sucking her thumb, at least while she was awake, when she was around twelve. However, her subconscious kept the habit going, and even as she was pushing thirty, she often slept with her thumb in her mouth. The constant exercise, sometimes several hours a night, gave her tongue and jaw muscles as strong as the average politican's.
However, when Heather was twelve, something else entered her life: Henry David Thoreau and Walden Pond.
Living not too far from Concord, Massachusetts, her family sometimes went for a couple of hours at the beach at the state park, up at one end of Walden Pond. Her father once told Heather that it was a very famous place, and when she discovered Thoreau's "Walden" at age twelve, she thought that she might learn why it was famous.
It was a tough read for a twelve-year-old, even one that was a little precocious, but it was clear to her early on that the Walden Pond of the 1840s had little to do with the Walden Pond of 1970. She was sad about it, in a way, but wasn't sure why.
She read the book again when she was fifteen; read it carefully, more comprehending, now. Several times in the summer of her fifteenth year, she rode her bicycle over to Walden Pond, not to go swimming, though that was what she told her mother, but to walk where Thoreau had walked, sit where he sat, and try to feel what he must have felt, but the best she could manage was a sickness at thinking what Thoreau would have thought if he were to rouse from his grave of over a century. Old Henry wouldn't be very happy, she realized; things had changed a lot, and changed for the worse, and from that realization came a determination to try and do something about it.
Her father's prophecy didn't come true until the spring of her twenty-first year, when there also came a chance to do a part in turning back the deterioration of the earth she had promised old Henry's ghost to do something about.
By that spring, Heather had blossomed into a young woman of medium height, with hair that indeterminate shade that's right between redheaded and blonde, and freckles on her face, which she never covered with makeup. She didn't have exactly what you would call a bikini body, but wasn't so heavy that a bikini would have made her body look uninteresting, if she ever wore one, which she only did rarely. Her green eyes blazed with a fierce intensity as she carried a picket sign, day after day, outside the Old Brook Nuclear Power Plant.
There had been protests outside Old Brook for years, while the plant had been under construction. While Heather knew that the reactor would be the devil unchained if anything ever went wrong, her concern was really more with what would go wrong even if everything went right. The coolant water from the plant would raise the temperature of the coastal river by several degrees, and even of the coastal waters by a few, and there was no telling what damage would be caused to an established natural habitat. Since carrying a picket sign was about all she could do, she was out there regularly.
The organizers of the protest were amateurs, and they had made a pain in the butt of themselves, but hadn't done much to slow the fast-approaching date the plant would go on line. They had had help from anti-nuclear organizations around the country, with no great effect, and were approaching despair, when someone managed to interest the president of the Defenders of Gaea.
When Dale McMullen came to town, he came like an avenging angel. All of a sudden, the protests at the plant weren't just a few bored lines buried in the local news; almost before they were aware of it, after years of effort, they were getting national coverage. Not a lot, but enough to give them heart.
One afternoon, there was a rally of the protesters, leading up to a march on the plant to be held the next day. With a warm glow following listening to the heated speech that McMullen had made, Heather and a few others of the locals joined McMullen over coffee for a strategy session.
One thing made her curious, and she went ahead to ask McMullen: "After all the work we've done, without getting anywhere, why'd you come here?"
"That's not easy to answer," McMullen said. "We can't be everywhere at once. We have to pick battles we can win."
"You mean, we really can stop this plant?" she brightened.
"I wish I could promise you that we will," he said. "We may, and we may not. Stopping it would be a victory, of course, but this close to completion, as much money has been put in there, we may not be able to. But, if we can make enough stink here, a dozen, two dozen, a hundred nuclear power plants that are on the drawing board will never get off the ground. That's a real victory."
"But it doesn't stop Old Brook," she said.
"You're right," he said. "There will be a loss if we can't. But think of the big picture. What kind of harm will it do if those hundred nuclear power plants go on line?"
The thought left her dumbfounded for a moment, then perspective crawled in. "I think I see," she said slowly.