SOMERSET, KY — Maybe because I married in October, and traveled to India in January and to Manila in May to write about environmental heroes. Maybe because I summered in Michigan without any deadlines to meet or editors to impress. Maybe because my mother regained her balance, our friends remain close, and our families and children are making their way so well in the world. Maybe because I joined the Los Angeles Times for a spell and felt the old muscle memory of daily reporting revive so easily.
Maybe because of all of these events, my despair for the nation, and certainly the world, is not nearly as profound as that expressed by so many other people.
I’m 61 now. If I was a blue whale I’d weigh 110 tons. If I was an eastern oak, I’d be 80 feet tall. If I was a bathroom I’d have been renovated three times. I’m old enough, in sum, to understand that every day is a little blessing, and a year is a prayer come true. In other words I’m happy even as I contend with the various bruises that will only mount with every new year.
Andy and Dennis succumbed to cancer, which is the scourge of our Baby Boom generation. As kids we were exposed to the most persistent levels of chemical and radioactive poisons in history. Cancer is the unsparing disease born in industrial mid-century America. It strikes decades later when we are well into middle age. For the Baby Boomers, the fifties and sixties amount to a generational kill zone.
If there is any personal solace it may lie in this conclusion: If you survive your sixties you’re in pretty good shape to enjoy as much of your old age as you’re willing to accept. I’m just starting to navigate that sixties kill zone. So far, so good.
In almost every other way, 2017 unfolded in chapters that were surprising, delightful, and satisfying. After a six-year romance, Gabrielle and I were engaged on April 19 in New York where I purchased a ring in the 47th Street Diamond District, dined with my brother Reed, and were serenaded by bluegrass musician friends Dominick Leslie and Phoebe Hunt at a Greenwich Village club that we closed well after midnight. Six months to the day later, we were joined by Maggie Gray and Samson Grisman in San Francisco and were wed in that city’s magnificent City Hall.
Our wedding coincided with a new assignment with the Los Angeles Times to report from the West on trends in environmental and public lands policies. The assignment came suddenly with a call from Los Angeles to gauge my interest weeks after I applied and heard nothing. Gabrielle was supportive so we drove across the country with our cat Samantha and arrived in our Salt Lake City base in early October.
There’s plenty to report largely due to President Trump’s support of all the radical ideas his aides have about opening public lands to development, and reversing any good idea put into place by President Obama. What’s so interesting for the United States is that the most significant impediment to the White House campaign to encourage more — hard rock and coal mining and liquid fossil fuels — is the market, which has been disinterested in purchasing long-term leases.
The President’s treatment of renewable energy is a different story. It’s not a good one. As in other years I spent a good bit of time in 2017 reporting from overseas. What you learn is that the Asian Century is well underway. A good bit of the new wealth and technology development across China, India, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia has to do with the pivot away from carbon fuels to cleaner energy sources. China and India, for instance, are now the global leaders in renewable energy generation. The U.S. appears to be ready to abandon its global competitiveness and leadership in low and no-carbon energy production — the most significant job and wealth-producing industrial sector of this century.
I’m concerned just like almost everybody else I know — liberals and conservatives — about other facets of Trump’s erratic and distracting presidency. The goading of North Korea’s leadership is the other development that I worry the most about. Should the U.S. do something really stupid and prompt a military crisis, the U.S. television media will spin on a dime, end its opposition stance, promote patriotism, elevate our men and women in uniform, and give the administration way too much room to do what it wants.
Trump, fortunately for me, has ceased to be an hourly diversion the way he was through the first part of the year. I better understand his game, which is entirely focused on 1) disrupting convention, and 2) being front and center in the national and global conversation as often as he can. His critics underestimated how skillful he is in executing both gambits, marshaling media attention, and galvanizing support among his base. I say it’s a good thing he tweets so often and so obnoxiously. It gives the media grist to chew over. It provides evidence for critics to assert how much of a crank he is. It keeps his supporters on the defensive trying to explain their fealty. If he didn’t tweet my clear conviction is that his approval rating would rise.
In my close family, lots of good things are happening. Daughter Maggie Gray graduated from medical school at Vanderbilt. She and husband Samson Grisman headed west for her residency in internal medicine at the University of California San Francisco. Daughter Mara Bates became engaged to Brandon Rushton, an exciting young poet, and both are thriving in their careers in academia and hotel management in South Carolina. Daughter Kayla Bates is gaining traction in a baking career in Tucson. Nephew Taylor Powell graduated from the State University of New York, Albany. Niece Lauren Lipton is a teacher in Massachusetts and is pregnant with the first great-grandchild. Niece Mariel Schneider moved back to New York City. Mother Jo-Anne Schneider is back on her game and is as aware, judgmental, and elegant as ever. Niece and nephew Margot and Graydon Diamond celebrated bat and bar-mitzvahs in Israel. Brother Grant Schneider and husband Larry Diamond moved into an exquisite house in Scarsdale, their second.
Two more memorable events occurred in 2017 that were personally satisfying. The first occurred in May when I received an email message from Bruce West, a Haverford College friend and classmate, and a member of the committee planning our class’s 40th reunion in June. Bruce reported that the committee was inspired (love that little gem) by the work I’ve done reporting on water and energy and climate around the world. They asked me to join Steve Sawyer, a friend and classmate, as a reunion speaker. Steve also devoted his career to environmental safety as an activist, Greenpeace executive, and secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council.
It’s such an honor. I’m thrilled. As a journalist who has specialized for so long in reporting on what I call “the important but obscure” stories around the world, it’s a lovely gesture. It’s gratifying to know that you’re not writing in a box.