Taking a stand

Jessica Miller Anna and Lily at the school. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

At five foot two, 41-year-old Woodstock Resident, Jessica Miller Anna, stood tall in the auditorium of the Sullivan County Community College last month. “I feel like I am in a bad science fiction movie right now that I am standing here in front of the Department of Environmental Conservation to protect our water and our air.” The hearings, which were recorded for consideration by the Commissioner of the DEC, were presided over by Administrative Law Judge, Molly McBride, who sat through several hours of citizen concerns that evening. With steady and earnest composure, Jessica gave a compelling speech, addressing aspects of the environmental impact of such drilling practices. “I asked a four year old this morning…If you had underground lakes (aquifers) that fed springs and wells that give us water, what do you think would happen if somebody were to pump lots and lots of chemicals into the ground that would then get into that water?” The child’s response was, “we would get sick, and the animals would get sick.” Calling upon the power that only a mother can wield, Jessica then sternly asked the question so many of us still want the answer to, “So, if a four year old can figure this out, then what the hell are we standing here talking about?!”

Jessica, becoming a community organizer without even realizing it, is proving to be an inspiration to not only her peers but also to the pre-school children that she teaches; it is a beautiful fold of teacher-teaching-child-teaching-teacher. We could all use to be in that loop. Standing for the preservation of the simple necessities that so many take for granted, she recognizes a reinvigorated commitment to the bigger picture. “I have never been much of an activist but it is just pure insanity to me that anyone could even think of doing something so disastrous to our water.” Her Facebook wall is a bulletin board for community awareness, her car full on the way to every anti-fracking rally within five hours from here. She is certainly active these days.

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Jessica holds a strong desire to sustain the community that gave so generously to her throughout her life. She grew up on Tinker Street with her two sisters and her mother Kathy Evers, a local painter, who was widowed when Jess was just seven years old. Jessica came up on the kind of magic that comes natural to us Woodstock natives who lived on the edge of poverty, but never really felt like that was the case. “My mom being a single parent, raising three daughters, had to work two or three jobs, and so we as a community helped raise each other. If it wasn’t my friends’ parents, it was older kids. It really does take a village.” Woodstock’s community spirit has never left her heart. Working with abused preschool children while attaining her degree in Psychology at the University of Rochester, and The Brendon Montessori School in Lagrangeville after that, Jess took the heart of the village with her, sharing what she had learned growing up Woodstock style.

 

One year after her marriage to long time partner Ian Rodgers, and just two weeks after returning from their honeymoon in September of 1999, their plan for a return to Woodstock from West Lake, New York, was abruptly changed by a fatal work related accident leaving the newly wed Jessica a widow. Sooner than she expected Jessica was living in the area again with Ian’s mother Linda and his sister Jenna, healing together from their tragic loss. True to form, the community wrapped around her and her family holding them close while she grieved and made plans to have another go at Los Angeles.

We never know what is going to shape our decisions, or change the course of our lives, but again, her plans were cut short by circumstances beyond her control; the 911 attacks curbed her plans to move farther away. Jess accepted a job teaching pre-school at the School of the New Moon where she and many of her lifelong friends went as children; a very special place where philosophies she was given helped to shape her own world-view. The early education school on Abbey Road, in Mount Tremper, takes a microcosmic nature based approach to understanding the big picture through forming an intimate relationship with the surrounding forest and the animals on their campus. Jess will have been there on and off for ten years this coming January. “It’s about being aware of the environment,” she said. “The kids spend a lot of time outside. The motto being respect for all living things, which includes the earth.”

The Native American traditions, with their simple and yet meaningful way of looking at life and our roles within a community, are at the root of Jessica’s spiritual leaning. She feels strongly about the Seventh Generation concept of sustainable accountability, sighting the Native proverb: “The Earth is not a gift from our parents, it is on loan to us from our children.”

 

Being home and working at the New Moon has been a healing experience, shedding light on a whole new chapter of her life. She met her now husband and sweetheart, Christopher Anna, a New York City contractor, in 2003. Together they have a daughter Lily, who is almost five. Jessica is Lily’s teacher at the New Moon, and has a very close bond with Chris’ other daughter Tulsi who Jess taught in her younger years as well. Tulsi’s mother and her new husband are close to Chris and Jessica, and in true Woodstock fashion, the familial lines sketch a rather enlightened family portrait.

Both are champions of creative arts; Chris is a photographer and Jessica paints. She also enjoys acting and has done several community theater productions with local companies Performing Arts of Woodstock, and the Shandaken Theatrical Society and remains connected to both.

Jessica is a valuable example of a growing awareness of the need for contribution. When Hurricane Irene devastated our neighboring towns, Jessica was one of those who donated and drove supplies to people in need. Many of her friends and neighbors did the same, driving supplies, working at shelters and helping to clear flood damaged homes. It is this kind of community mind that keeps her here. “We have a great community. There are a lot of liberal minded people who are thinking of the bigger picture not just of them selves, and raising their children to do the same. Hopefully people will keep stepping up, and that valuable mindset will continue to grow.”

Since seeing Josh Fox’s film Gasland two years ago, highlighting what it saw to be very unsafe drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, Jessica has been to and spoken at several rallies and DEC hearings in an effort to raise awareness about this highly controversial and dangerous natural gas extraction practice that is gaining momentum as both a dangerous environmental no-no and a hot ticket governmental/corporate option for both the energy and jobs markets.

Though these experiences have called her to look closer to home, her concern doesn’t stop there. When asked about the recent passing protective laws against fracking in the Woodstock area, her response challenged the “not in my back yard” theory. “Of course I am relieved!…It is great that we are taking the steps that we can in Woodstock, but it is not enough to just protect ourselves. Neighboring towns are affected by drilling sites. We need to widen our effort. Once we are protected here, we need to go and help the people who were not, and are now dealing with the devastating aftermath.”

Jess could talk on this subject for hours. She has returned to this area, for fresh air and clean water. She is on a mission to sustain the resources for future generations and protect not just the environment, but also the community that has given so much to her.

“Don’t forget your local businesses. Give the gift of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share with your local farm for the summer season. I really like knowing the people and the families that I am supporting when I go into the shops the banks and the markets here. I have lived in other places and to me it feels like it’s family when I know the people who I shop with. It matters what we do for each other and it all comes back. It’s important that people help one another out. Donate to local charities, and give your time if you don’t have money. The Christmas effort is in full swing at Family of Woodstock right now.”

There are old superstitions about these hills. In the most common local lore, it is said that ‘If you sleep under the shadow of Overlook Mountain for more than three nights you can leave — but you will always come back. Some believe it, some wave it off as silly superstition but the fact is, one need not subscribe to the lore to be caught in the grasp of these hills. And many who leave, bring fresh perspective when they return, appreciative of what they missed while away. ++

 

 

For more information on topics discussed in this article, see:

The School Of The New Moon:www.schoolofthenewmoon.com

Community Supported Agriculture: www.localharvest.org

Christmas donations are still being accepted at Family: www.familyofwoodstock.org

To learn more about the dangers of Hydraulic Fracturing go to:

www.frackaction.com; www.gaslandmovie.com; www.catskillmountainkeeper.org

To watch the video of Jess speaking to the DEC go to: https://youtu.be/tCgF_TffREY

Comments regarding High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in New York State can only be made on the DEC website until January 11 at https://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/76838.html.

 

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