Review: Bending the Arch in Franklin Nebraska Chronicle

Bending the Arch is an epic poem about settling the West from the view of native peoples. Several pages are devoted to Rose Marie Berger’s Sullivan/Gingrich ancestors who settled near Riverton, Neb. Many individuals are familiar with the Gingrich and Sullivan names around the Riverton area. Some of the Gingrich family members homesteaded in Smith County, Kan., while others settled in the Riverton area, farming south of Riverton for approximately 60 years. …

She enjoys writing, which she says helps her organize her thoughts. “I want to live intentionally. To do that I need to reflect on my life–and for me that means writing about it What’s happening in my neighborhood? Who are the people involved? Why do they do what they do? What are the larger social or economic forces at play? Or in the case of writing the poetry in Bending the Arch, the questions were: Who were my immigrant pioneer ancestors? how did they arrive in Riverton, Neb.? What was the land like when they first laid eyes on it? Who was already living there? Did they displace anyone to farm the land? What did they suffer? … These kinds of questions help me think more deeply about who I am today, what traits I’ve inherited, and how am I using those traits and my heritage to build strong communities?”

She wants readers to explore more on their own with the hope that the [book’s] end notes will encourage readers to dig into the suppressed historical narratives in their own families and regions. …”–Evone Naden, Editor, Franklin County (NE) Chronicle (20 March 2019)

“Flood Stage” in American Midwest

Nebraska flooding, Spring 2019

An excerpt from “Confessions of a Westward Expansionist” in Bending the Arch (Wipf & Stock, 2019) by Rose Marie Berger


From the plane I see
acres green with corn
hay rolls full of foam
soy swirling and swaying
the tassels poke skyward
from an ancient interior sea

Before the last glacial maximum
when people were thin on the ground

The planet was in drought
and sea levels fell to expose the plains

The great ice sheets
began to melt

are the people

who came after
the ice

Can you hear
the American Midwest
inhaling, exhaling?

Do you desire to enter into life
the baptismal question
to have life in all its abundance?

Earth lodge to sod house to condominium
in less than a hundred years
less than the span
of three generations

–Rose Marie Berger

An excerpt from “Confessions of a Westward Expansionist” in Bending the Arch (Wipf & Stock, 2019) by Rose Marie Berger

Cornhuskers and the Keystone XL: Next Steps?

Cornhuskers and the Keystone XL: Next Steps? by Rose Marie Berger

Wednesday afternoon the Nebraska state legislature approved a bill (LB1161) that will allow Nebraska to proceed with a $2 million study to find a route for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline through the state. Gov. Dave Heineman is expected to sign the measure into law. It’s a case of Big Red going for the black by jeopardizing the green. But what does this mean?

First, it means that the global “people power” movement against the Keystone XL pipeline beat back the energy and oil industry in January when President Obama and the State Department denied TransCanada’s pipeline permit. Our “united we stand” organizing strategy was effective. It forced TransCanada to switch tactics.

Now the oil industry is pushing a “divide and conquer” tactic. The plan is to break the pipeline up into state-sized parts and negotiate on each section.  But defensive wars are won more often than offensive ones. And Americans against the pipeline are fighting a defensive war to protect our land against a self-serving foreign oil company. Our forces are more agile in fighting state-based regional battles than TransCanada’s blunt money-shoving weapon. While proposed route changes away from the environmentally sensitive Sandhills are very laudable and should be supported, one doesn’t want to spend too much time praising the alignment of the Titanic’s deck chairs when the sirens are sounding.

Second, it means that Nebraska needs cash and the proud Cornhuskers in the lege will do what’s necessary to get it. Since the oil industry lobbyists have convinced the Obama administration to allow new routes to be proposed, Nebraska is leaping into the new maneuvering space – in part to keep filling the state’s depleted coffers with funds from the TransCanada cash cow. The bill approved today will re-start the pipeline “review” process on the state level. And, the bill requires TransCanada to reimburse the state for the route study. Ka-ching!

Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman (Republican) has been walking a fine line between the pressure for “jobs” in his depressed Midwestern state and environmental concerns about running an oil pipeline through “America’s well,” the Oglala aquifer. Earlier this year Heineman was strongly against the pipeline because of the effects of an oil spill could have in the Sandhills, where water tables — including those of the massive Ogallala Aquifer – are high. A spill would be devastating for drinking water and for agricultural water needed to keep Nebraska steers watered for producing those fine Omaha steaks. In 2011, TransCanada had 12 oil spills in the U.S. Fears are well-founded.

Third, it means it’s time for Nebraskans  to turn up the heat on their governor and legislators. The re-ignited Keystone review will likely fast-track eminent domain powers by the state. Anyone along the new proposed route will be offered pretty money up front by TransCanada to sell their inheritance for pottage. If that doesn’t work, then the state will start exercising its right to take land and homes and pay bottom dollar for the property.

Finally, a reminder. It’s misleading for news reports to call the Keystone XL a “crude-oil pipeline.” It’s not—at least not in any common understanding of the phrase. It is a “synthetic oil and bitumen” or “tar sands oil” pipeline. This is a non-standard petroleum product that cannot be transported safely through traditional pipelines. It’s even more toxic than traditional crude oil.

The political shenanigans around the Keystone XL pipeline will continue through the election season. President Obama is fearful of alienating his Big Oil funders. States desperately need money and will look to private industry to get it – even if it means cutting off your nose to spite their face.

But let’s keep the big picture in mind. The Canadian tar sands are the second largest carbon reserve in the world. Mining these reserves already involves clear-cutting boreal forests, breaking indigenous treaties, irreversibly damaging water quality, and introducing toxic waste into the food chain affecting human health, especially the health of pregnant women and their developing babies. And it takes 8,800 pounds of earth and tar sands, plus an average of 155 gallons of fresh water, to produce one barrel of tar sands oil, which will fill half a tank of a Chevy Suburban. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out that Canadian tar sands carbon emissions are “82 percent greater than the average crude refined in the U.S., on a well-to-tank basis.”

This pipeline is a climate killer – no matter what route it takes.

Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners associate editor, was an organizer for the Tar Sands religious witness.

Keystone XL Pipeline: Debunking Some Myths by Jack Palmer

Six Reasons Why The Keystone XL Was a Bad Idea All Along by Sally Kohn

Nebraska Farmer: No Pipeline On My Land

I’m risking arrest on Aug. 29 as part of a movement to stop a dirty oil pipeline from ripping through the American heartland and our national water aquifer. Friends of the Earth has interviewed folks along the pipeline route who are fighting back.

“Ernie Fellows is a 65-year-old retired rancher living in Mills, Nebraska, a remote community that sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer along the South Dakota border. Fellows has spent his entire adult life raising livestock and tending to the land he inherited from his family. His grandfather bought the ranch in 1937, and when Ernie came of age, he was charged with taking over. “I took that to mean that I need to be a good steward of the land,” Ernie reflects, recounting the years of careful work he put into improving the ranch. However, the fruits of Fellows’ labor are under threat.

TransCanada, a Canadian oil corporation, is planning to route the Keystone XL pipeline through his property. The pipeline would carry the dirtiest oil available to the U.S. from Canada’s tar sands and bring with it the threat of contaminated water supplies and damage to property and nearby livestock. Complications have also arisen with insurance companies and lenders due to the risks the pipeline poses, making it more difficult for landowners to make ends meet.”

Read an interview with Ernie Fellows.

Sign a petition to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
Find out more about the Tar Sands Action sit-ins and resistance.