It is hard to take in the scope of destruction that has occurred in the tar sands.
The mind can't connect this toxic wasteland to the boreal forest that used to be alive here.
My mind did not make that connection until nearly a week after the Healing Walk when I wrote that line and had to stop writing for a while. This was, I think, what a friend was looking for when she looked at me shortly after the walk and asked "So?" I didn't have much to say at the time.
You can look at the tar sands if you don't think too much. The tailings lakes look like water. The white sand around them looks like nice beach. The floating orange scare-crows are kind of amusing. The boom of propane cannons is familiar from Fraser Valley farms. Don't think about the smell and what you might be breathing that a dust mask does not filter. Be thankful for the rain that keeps the dust down.
Think about statistics. Like in 2010 per day;
1,460,000 barrels of tar sands oil produced
465,753,000 litres of water used
241,370 tonnes of greenhouse gases
Per day. Those are big numbers. Nearly half a billion litres of water per day contaminated and dumped into these deadly tailings lakes. Nearly a quarter million tonnes, that's nearly a quarter billion kilograms, of greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere per day. I can look at numbers like that and discuss how the atmosphere surpassed 400ppm CO2 recently or how river flows are declining in Alberta as the glaciers recede and climate change brings us the new boom and bust water cycle that smacked down Calgary and Toronto recently. I can talk about these things and then go have supper and enjoy the drumming in the Healing Walk camp and look forward to a swim in a real lake the next morning.
Just don't think of life and the fact that this grey, stinking devastation used to be a living place with soil and plants and trees, animals and birds and people. Don't think of complicity in the loss of life, the utter disregard for life that has occurred here. Don't think of the radius of harm that reaches out with the weather and the water flowing past this place, taking cancer to the fish and the animals and the people who live many kilometres down river. Don't think of how federal and provincial authorities continue to promote this foul death as the future for Canada while practising denial and obfuscation in the face of growing proof that this development is killing people in places like Fort Chipewyan. Don't think about how this is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, contributing to species loss occurring now at a rate unprecedented even by the mass extinction that ended the age of dinosaurs. Don't think about how this devastation is spreading back to our home towns, pushing pipelines and oil trains close to our schools, our local businesses and our home waters.
To think of those things -- to really connect the disgusting landscape of the tar sands to the life that was once there and to the threat to life that it poses -- is to wrestle with rage and despair that wastes time and saps energy.
Instead have faith in the ceremony performed by the elders to the four directions as we walked the 14 km loop of Highway 63 in the heart of the tar sands. Think of the rain that cleanses the earth. Think of the capacity of nature to restore itself if given half a chance. Think of the positive energy and the sharing of stories, culture and knowledge among the hundreds who came to witness the tar sands first hand and to raise the call to "Stop the Destruction. Start the Healing".
Think most of all of the baby born in the camp at midnight on the fourth of July, on the eve of the fourth annual Healing Walk, in a teepee on a buffalo robe.
Some said it was the fulfilment of a prophesy. I don't know, it was not my prophesy to look for fulfilment of. I do know that this baby, born at that place at that time, represented to me renewal and the resilience of life. This baby represented the obligation that all of us share to find better ways of being and to make a better place for him and all the babies of today and for generations to come.
This baby will never know me. But I will remember him and how his birth made my heart glad even in that awful place. I will remember him and my obligation to stop the destruction and start the healing so that one day the Athabasca River will run clean again. Stop the destruction and start the healing so that one day ... maybe in this baby's lifetime ... people will be able to eat the fish again without fear. Stop the destruction and start the healing so that the wealth that was in these waters and sustained people in this part of the world for millennia, now stolen to pad the accounts of global corporations already wealthier than nations, can be restored to sustain people again. Stop the destruction and start the healing so that this baby -and all of our children- don't have to.
Stop the Destruction - Start the Healing