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

Monday, September 5, 2011


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.

1 comment:

  1. We are so fortunate to have this. Let's keep it safe!