What follows is a tale of two worlds. And it says something about the world we, and all children, live in.

A few weeks ago the phone rang at home and it was a lady from our main library in Santa Maria. I had returned a book, dropping it into the large metal collection box in front of our local branch in Los Alamos. She called to say that the book contained something of mine. The backstory is that I had earlier intended to make a bank deposit, but the bank was closed when we arrived and the cash remained in the car, tucked between pages of the book.

The book was a new, wonderfully written biography of John Wesley Powell, an American who lived a remarkable, accomplished, and constructive life. A Civil War veteran, with one arm, he became the first person to lead an exploration by raft of the Colorado River as it raged wildly through the Grand Canyon. Powell went on to become a world-renowned scientist and leading expert on the management of our nation’s vital water resources.

The small wad of money inside the book dropped off at my library consisted of 13 crisp $100 dollar bills. While processing the returned book, this cash was found by a librarian, named Susan. It was returned to me within a few days. I believe this says something about the world of books and about the good people who have chosen to make an honest living in a field that makes it easy for all of us to explore the world while sitting in a comfortable chair at home.

The second event happened yesterday when I met an employee of AERA, a company seeking permits to drill hundreds of oil wells near my town. His badge said he was an “ambassador” for his company. He was a personable gentleman, had many years of experience in the oil business, and was eager to convince me of his company’s modern, responsible, and clean practices. And then he went on to tell some whoppers.

The ambassador said that AERA’s drilling and extraction methods used no poisonous or cancer-causing chemicals with its high-pressure steam process. Not true. He told me that oil drilling operations have never caused contamination of underground drinking and ag water resources. Again, not true. And he steadfastly insisted that our nation’s largest oil company, which happens to own half of AERA, did not recently and quite publicly admit that, for decades, it had been intentionally lying to cover-up and mislead us all about its role in greenhouse gas emissions and its threat to the planet through global warming.

Anyway, that’s it. My tale of two worlds we all now inhabit. One is a story of the realm of companies primarily motivated by short-term profit above all else, including our clean water, our clean air and a livable planet full of healthy and diverse life. And the other is the domain of libraries, with their relatively inexpensive, yet magical and life-expanding contents and of the honest people who work in them, enriching our lives in more ways than the size of their paychecks might suggest.

One is a world of large companies that come to Santa Barbara County and pollute the air and risk the water we and all the children breathe and drink. After these companies spill and leak, they sometimes declare bankruptcy and leave us taxpayers with the clean-up bill. The other world is the one of small town Central Coast, that we all want to continue to enjoy and preserve.

Don’t forget to vote. This is what it’s about.


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