Say the Names...

Al Purdy wrote a wonderful poem called "Say the names say the names" which celebrates the names of Canadian rivers - Tulameen, Kleena Kleene, Similkameen, Nahanni, Kluane and on and on in a celebratory song.

Enbridge is planning to build a dual pipeline that will carry bitumen and condensate across hundreds of waterways between Edmonton and Kitimat. Some of these waterways are rivers like the Parsnip (or what's left of it), the Nechako, the Morice and others are smaller creeks whose names are often known only to the folks who live along their banks or who fish in their shadows or who bend to wash or drink as they cross paths.

I want to collect the names of these rivers and creeks, to collect your stories, your poems, your songs so we can collectively give voice to the land living under the line Enbridge plans to draw.

People have also sent me copies of their presentations to the community oral presentations. If you'd like to add your voice, email me ( your stories and I'll post them for you. The copyright remains with you.

All the best.
Sheila Peters

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A River Mouth Caught Many Nations

by Betty Geier

 Rhythms and Cycles

Plants wait for the return of high water
Need sustenance from
Rich waters of spring and summer

Sea roaming salmon
Consumed by urgent longing
Return to the river mouth

Out roaming green hills, bears eating berries
Long for the taste of fish at the river mouth
Compelled to return

High soaring eagles seeking eulichan
Eulichan compelled to spawn
Strong force driving them upriver

People waiting at the river mouth
Starving all winter
Desperate with longing for the first eulichan

Hunting people seeking fish oil
Living too long on lean dried meat
Return to the river mouth

Seafaring traders
Consumed by longing or greed
Return to the river mouth

Infinite rhythmic pulsing

Many nations
Caught in a river mouth

All of us, all of them
Caught in a circle
Spun by a river

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Crooked River revisited

On Sept. 22, we travelled to Summit Lake once again to pick up our canoe, Buttercup - miraculously unharmed after three months in the willows beside the Crooked River  (see June 15 posting for that story). Thanks to Hilary and Floyd Crowley and their friends who brought Buttercup out and also found Hilary's kayak. Subsequently, Hilary wrote these two pieces for the blog. 

Crooked River

by Hilary Crowley

The Crooked River runs north out of Summit Lake, which is situated on the Arctic Divide. Prior to the 50s, it was the main transportation route north to the Parsnip, Finlay and Peace Rivers as the road ended at Summit Lake. There is also a twelve km portage from the Fraser River connecting the Pacific and Arctic watersheds. These routes were important for carrying supplies up to northern communities and Hudson Bay posts and for shipping furs back south. Dick Corless made the river boats at Summit Lake and many brave and experienced boatmen plied these loaded boats down the river. 

The long riffle was a notorious section as here the river narrows and speeds up as it wends its way through the willows and around the gravel beds. Previously the trappers kept the beavers in check but now there are numerous beaver dams to negotiate. The pine beetle epidemic has caused many log jams to develop which also hinders navigation. It was into this situation, in the long riffle, that my kayak and I happily paddled but soon came to grief. 
Sheila Peters and her husband Lynn had phoned me a few days earlier to say that she’d heard the Crooked River was in flood and could be dangerous. My reply had been, “Oh no, you don’t need to worry about the Crooked River. It’s a piece of cake!” It was the end of May and rivers were in flood all over the region but the Crooked isn’t fed by any high mountain freshets. I know the upper section well, as we paddle it frequently. In fact, the day before, 30 of us paddled this upper section. I am much less familiar with the next section but have done it previously and didn’t remember any hazards. The sun was shining. A moose swam across in front of us and an osprey accompanied us for a while. It was so peaceful just having the two boats. Sheila and Lynn in their canoe, Buttercup, and me in my camouflage kayak. There were several faster sections but I had a big smile on my face revelling in it. 

Suddenly, around the next bend, appeared a log jam which had developed on a small island in the middle of the river with a fast narrow channel on either side of it. I opted for the left channel but the kayak was swept into the log jam and all I could do was hold on to a small willow growing up through it. The next thing I knew the kayak skirt was around my waist but the kayak was no longer with me. Luckily Sheila and Lynn managed to grab a willow and pull to shore. I struggled for some time to try and pull myself out of the water onto the logs but every time I got a knee or a foot-hold, the supporting log would float away under the pressure. By the time I managed to pull myself on top of the logs, I was exhausted and light-headed. Without Sheila and Lynn, I would never have made it. I was on a tiny island in the middle of this fast river and the only way to reach shore was to get back into that swirling water and wade or swim across to where Sheila and Lynn coaxed and encouraged me and threw me a rope to pull me to safety.

They had already determined that further navigation was impossible as further downstream, a giant log was right across the river. They pulled their canoe up into the willows. We still had to wade waist deep through numerous willow channels but eventually reached solid ground. Luckily my dry bag had been in their canoe so I was able to change out of my soaked clothes but I still shivered for a long time. It took us a while to find a logging road. Each of us walked a whistle-sound length from each other and after three attempts, we were thrilled to find ourselves on the logging road. We decided to walk north. A bear greeted us early on but was only interested in grazing at the edge of the road. Sheila and Lynn only had their neoprene footwear so Sheila soon developed blisters. It was Spring break-up so we travelled 4kms before a truck came along and picked us up. We were relieved to reach Bear Lake and aborted our plan to paddle to McLeod Lake. Instead we headed back to the comfort and safety of Summit Lake. The early settlers must have been a tougher breed!

There is much history all along the river as Hudson Bay posts developed. Family sawmills sprouted up and settlements with schools and post-office flourished. The proposed Enbridge pipeline is due to travel east from Alberta through pristine wilderness to Tumbler Ridge and from there across rivers and through forest to Bear Lake and beyond. Bear Lake is renowned for its pure water. Summit Lake residents collect their drinking water from the Crystal Lake spring. Livingstone Springs, on the Crooked River, stays open all winter and together with other warm springs enables Trumpeter Swans to winter on the Crooked. This is the southern point of their migration. The pipeline is due to cross the Crooked River just south of Davie Lake, close to Bear Lake, where there would be a pumping station. Grayling, which used to be in the Crooked River and are still present in the Peace, are now red-listed. How can we consider a pipeline through our region? Do we want to pollute our drinking water, cause grayling to go extinct and cover our magnificent trumpeter swans in oil? Even a miniscule leak would threaten their habitat.

The river is named Crooked but isn’t it the corporations and government who push forward these developments that are crooked? 

We are the stewards of this area of our province and it is our duty to stand up and protect our heritage for wildlife and future generations – both of which are threatened.

Crooked an apt name for the river
Home to trumpeter swans, loons and moose
Threat of oil spills make us shiver
We cannot let machines get loose

Enbridge wants to build a pipeline
It would carry Tarsands oil
From Earth’s most destructive mine
To Asia, beneficiary of our spoil

We need to stand up and stop this line
Protect our land and watershed
Such pollution is a crime
Too late when all the swans are dead

Monday, September 5, 2011

Naming the Rivers: Hirsch Creek

Joan Conway

In August when summer has not let go
of dappled green sunlight,
liquid reflections capture red bodies like ruby jewels
slipping through speckled gravel beds rubbed smooth
by their return.

We witness salmon's quiet determination,
bring our visitors awestruck
by this turbulent journey
from the ocean.

One visitor, a monk in exile from Tibet
stops at the river bank to rest from his teachings,
steps into Hirsch Creek,
his sandaled feet brush the ever moving bodies
a mirror to his own journey
where stories anchored
in another place in time
too search for their birth place.

His crimson robes are gathered in folds
above the moving water
as though these sockeye have exploded
in waves about his shoulders,
for a moment free to travel
unencumbered in a current of wind
a flag warning us
of this ever fragile landscape.


Sheila Peters

A fat black raven stands just above the surf line on Oval Beach. Another perches on a nearby log. Something glints in the receding water, something left stranded on the gravel as the water rolls and drops it. The raven hops down and nabs the wriggling silver streak. He hops back as the next wave crashes, a surf smelt thrashing in his beak. He gulps it, gagging as it struggles in his throat.

We walk into the waves, looking. And there they are. As numerous as the shards of fractured light themselves, slivers of fish roll and tumble in each wave, fish that seem beyond counting. (A dangerous thought, that one.)

The other raven hops down, head sideways, watching for light. The waves roll and suck at the gravel. The gravel hisses a long response as the wave retreats around the curve of the bay. The other raven plucks another smelt from the beach. Both birds eat. Both watch and wait for more. The sun lights their feathers with the iridescence of an oil slick floating on water.

As we walk the trail back through the hemlock and cedar, red huckleberries glow brightly in the gloom, their branches reaching out toward the light. It is what most plants do, each in their own way, but there is something about the way red huckleberry bushes inhabit the forest, the way their berries become light itself, their branches floating green even, sometimes, through the winter. They don’t fill up the space they are given. They inhabit it the way young girls inhabit summer dresses (I remember this feeling from summer dances outdoors, the band playing in the pavilion at the beach), their bodies giving the clothes shape and form and the joy of movement. But they inhabit them lightly. The air filters into these places and the berries and the girls shiver.

We are walking back to our boats, pulled up on the inside of Welcome Harbour, a sheltered inlet on the northwest tip of Porcher Island, about 40 km southwest of Prince Rupert. At low tide, on our way here, we paddled through a narrow opening between two rocky outcrops. Inside these waters it’s hard to tell which clumps of rock are their own islands and which are part of Porcher – the tides change the answer every few minutes and right now the tides are over twenty feet. Our boats slipped through, the hulls mere inches above the hundreds of anemones – white frills, orange feelers, succulent green openings, squat brown sausages – and sea cucumbers, sea squirts, sun stars, bat stars and starfish, some dangling high above us, waiting for the tide to rise, other rocks dripping with dangling tunicates, each its own tiny watershed of cascading molecular systems, alive in its own intricate way. Crabs scuttle, as crabs do, some through the complex forests of kelp, others digging trenches in sand, claws up for battle.

This tiny opening where we pause is changed minute by minute as the water rises, slacks and falls not quite twice each day. In how many places and how many times is this duplicated? How long, you might ask, is the coastline of British Columbia? BenoĆ®t Mandelbrot wrote a paper which asked, how long is the coastline of England? It all depends, he argues, on how you measure it. The shorter your measuring stick, the longer the coast becomes. If you measure each tiny outcrop and then in between each stone, each pebble, each grain of sand and deeper in between smaller and smaller increments, each molecule, each atom, well, you can see it’s longer than you thought. And is it the high or low tide coastline you’re measuring? This fractal geometry becomes an illustration of how infinity can be contained within a finite space.

This is not just a measurement for mathematicians to take. It’s a line that is drawn by the wash of water every day, water that is full of invisible life, water that is filtered to feed millions of small intertidal creatures and humpback whales alike. That feeds the smelts, the herring, the oolichan, the salmon, that feeds the Pacific white-sided dolphins we floated among as they thrashed up the bay offshore of our campsite, over a hundred of them jumping, turning, tail slapping the calm water into a one-foot chop.

The wolves that pace the shore.

It’s a line that can be drawn by the iridescent skim of oil floating on water, underscored by the globules of crude oil that would roll and tumble in the same waves and onto the same beaches the surf smelts find to spawn. Into each tidal pool, each kelp bed, each low tide cranny where complexity resides. Drawn by the ancient call and response of the ocean upon the shore.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Buttercup has been found

I got some wonderful news last week from Hilary - after several heroic attempts, Buttercup, our canoe, and Hilary's kayak have been found and brought back from the Crooked River (see Crooked River Hindsight, June 15).  Here's Hilary's description:

The canoe was totally full of water and hidden in the vegetation so we could only see the water and white ends! No, we didn’t get my camera or paddle but got well-fermented lunch bag! The kayak was upside down on the bottom, a fair bit downstream of that tree which was across the river. We found it with probes and were walking waist deep in the river. It was a very successful afternoon. We went with 1 canoe and 2 kayaks then one guy paddled your canoe down from there and we towed my kayak. We took out at the 200 rd which still took us over 1 hour of paddling from the capsize.

We are planning a trip back to Summit Lake to celebrate and bring Buttercup home - maybe even in time to travel up the Fulton River to see returning sockeye...thanks, Hilary.