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From: Vol.10 N.01 – The Transformative Now

NOLS Western Canada, Night Before Fracking

by T-M Baird
It was a wedding dinner
in a different country
where a person could be employed
by oil and never have known
the ground it was being bled from.

I kept my elbows
on the surface, trying
my best to be polite as he told me
not to worry about walking places,
not to bother keeping
my own small bag and sandals light—
there would always be enough oil.

He might as well have patted my hair,
the patronizing smile. The coal, 
it came from mythical places,
dead, like distant planets. For all he knew,
there might as well be no water there.

                            and when I replied
that the Stickine River pours glacier strength down
from thirteen thousand feet, that this river gave me life
one July for twenty-eight days, and I knew it to nourish
creatures I have seen nowhere else in the world,

I was dismissed in a hush of white lace,
twirled like a mannequin waiting for jewelry.
It went on in endless circles. I could have had
a PhD in biology and a birth certificate from BC, 

and this man with the power to summon 
excavators to dig their teeth into British Columbia, Alberta, 
God knew where else, would still have brushed aside
everything I said. Would have carried on, 
business as usual, bring on the smoke and death.

I couldn’t fly him in from Prince Rupert
and drop him to the ground, where he could feel
the dirt, feel the rest of the world clear away,
feel the forest wrap itself around him, 

human hunger and thirst notwithstanding,
the need for sleep under a dry tarp, a side plot
dwarfed by the cold air off the glaciers,
the rain dumping down whenever,
the sudden need for a hat
and to keep walking. None of this meaning anything
to the silence that would swallow up everything around him,

the delicate little purple columbine,
the crickets with their feather-fine fiddles.
The force of the darkness when it falls,
and the enormity of daylight,
having the final word every time.

“You can’t be thinking of the same place,” he said.
“This place, nobody lives there.”
Nobody, as in, the acres of birches, the willow thickets,
the weeks-long stretches of tundra moss,

hillsides dense with yellow flowers up to my chin,
scree so high we plunge-stepped down it
a whole afternoon at a time;
and the little brown flies, and the marmot who poked his head up
from behind a rock every few mornings,

and the one wolf who followed us
as far as the river went,
tracking our scent. (the one
we never think we have).

When I said out loud where it mattered
that the Sharktooth Mountains had given me life,
and a close brush with hypothermia,
all of which had never left me—
and that I, too, was a living thing—

it fell like snowflakes
snuffed out on stagnant water.

Drowned out by the message 
that more money and a better world
were the same thing. That a good life looked like a table
set with silver, that it had nothing to do 
with waking up in the morning
grateful to be breathing, to be making oatmeal.

Years later, there were protests
where people stood waist-deep in freezing rivers
for weeks, and were heckled at, arrested—and ignored.
The letters, petitions, relentless campaigns.

And still, we are sitting here boiling in the pot
that has been stirred from the beginning
by people who don’t mind sacrificing
the nobody who lives in wild places.

And yet, we live. Even tonight, 
somewhere in the mountains a Kodiak bear
is pawing for blueberries from a bush
that’s scrawny and sour from the tainted soil
I couldn’t stop that guy from tampering with.
Published: June 2023
T-M Baird

has been writing poems since childhood, which took place in the midwest and upstate New York. She has a BA in Classics from Whitman College, an MA in Religious Studies from Lancaster University, and an MFA in poetry from the University of San Francisco. T-M has followed a number of different paths, including a lot of mountain trails, garden furrows, and labyrinths. Staying in motion and contemplating mystery is where she feels at home. She currently lives in Vermont with her husband and dog.

An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.