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.
From: Vol.10 N.01 – Private: The Transformative Now
NOLS Western Canada, Night Before Fracking
by T-M Baird