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, October 24, 2011

Drawn Home

by Katherine Bell

This is what it is to be born into the Kitimat. Water that flows through our veins and calls to us. Water that soothes and feeds both our bodies and souls. Water that called to me from thousands of miles away and brought me home. 

After two years of living in Dalian, China, I dreamt, smelt and tasted home. I had become tired of a city of five million being considered small, saddened by the plastic bags adorning the trees on the side of the road, concerned about seeing black on the tissue every time I blew my nose. Going home became a craving that I was determined to feed.

And I fed it.  In July 2001, I returned to my hometown after thirteen years of living away. I returned to clean air, vast mountain ranges and a river that empties into the Douglas Channel. That river is the Kitimat.

The orange bridge over the Kitimat has always signaled home for me. Every time I pass over that bridge and see the water flowing under it, the corners of my mouth lift even before I realize they are doing it and my inhale deepens. Memories are carried in that current; they catch me and I follow them.

My first time river kayaking was below the wooden bridge near the old scout camp. Dave Littler, an experienced paddler and patient teacher, took me. Despite the low water levels and the gentle flow of the river, my heart beat rapidly as we slipped the boats in. The current moved us, the paddle my only brake.  Dave showed me how to turn into eddies where the calm water lies. Here he taught me different techniques like the j-stroke and bracing. I was part of the water as its energy pushed me downstream. Dave was a constant, either beside or just slightly behind me. He tried to show me how to find a line in the rapids and follow it. I managed, just not with the same grace as him. Too soon we exited at the orange bridge. We emerged from the water energized with wide, irrepressible smiles.

Just passed the bridge lies the first wash out which is the spot at which I almost washed out myself. One day while I was in a contemplative, loner mood, I decided to fish on my own (smart like fish).  While crossing the river, my feet slipped out from under me, my waders filled with the icy water of the Kitimat, while I desperately grabbed at the rocks. I did manage to drag myself back onto the highway side, but adrenaline pumped strongly as I berated myself for such foolishness. 

In saner times, I would fish with friends. I’ve gone down in drift boats in which a line is thrown in and dragged as the current carries its load. Although I find this style a bit boring, I did catch my largest fish this way: a 40 lb Chinook. Silver, shiny and thick. However, I much prefer jigging in a pontoon boat, although my method of pontooning is slightly comical. One of my friends would attach a seat to the back of his pontoon boat and we’d float down the river together. He always steered us clear of danger while I, content, sat in the back wearing my wetsuit jane, dangling my feet off the back and jigging. In calm pools on a warm day, I would slip off the seat and join the other fish.  Those were dream moments.    

On any float downstream, we would have to pass by Cablecar. Cablecar triggers older memories for me. Memories of donning scuba suits, fins, masks and snorkels and launching off the sandy banks. An old boyfriend and I would float down feet first, legs bent. Feet first usually allowed us to angle our bodies so that we could steer clear of most log jams. If we did hit one, bent knees allowed us to cushion the impact and push off with a strong kick. In the popular fishing spots, my boyfriend would dive down to the river bottom in search of lost lures decorating underwater snags. Later, he would stroll down the bank selling fishermen back their lost lures. 
Farther down, where the Kitimat meets the ocean there is a maze of high banked channels. Long grasses house water fowl, other birds and many small creatures. In high tide maneuvering a kayak is simple and, if we backtracked, we always found our way out. Sometimes we would come out on the ocean by the narrow channel that leads into Minette Bay. If we didn’t pay attention to the tides, we would have to battle the out flowing tidal current and would wear ourselves out. If we planned well, we would be swept back to Minette Bay by the inflowing tide. Once in the bay, the black heads of seals would often pop up, their beady eyes assessing us, bizarre colourful creatures sitting on the water. No matter what conditions we paddled in—clear, warm, gusty or rainywe have always left those waters knowing that we would return.

The Kitimat River runs through all of us who grew up in this valley. It is part of who we are whether we want it to be or not. Like many others, I am one who wants it to be. No matter how far we travel, we will always be drawn home.
October, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Dog's Grand Passion

by Valerie Laub

Thanks to Valerie for sending in this poem - and if you haven't already heard, she and the cast of Alberta Tarzans: The  Musical are working on another play.

There is a dog, small, black, 

and wet, who loves to chase 

rocks in the river shallows.

(And when I say, “love,” 

believe me, I mean “love.”)

My role in the play of this small, black dog 

is to throw the rocks. Rock after rock after rock. 

I throw rocks until my arm hurts and my shoulder aches. 

I throw rocks until the river is choked with stones, 

the beach bare, night threatens and winter bites the air.

I throw rocks as this small black dog dashes, 

careless of stars and seasons,

through the riotous, rollicking waves. 

Once home, I return to my passion -- 

seeking words that bring my day to life.

The dog, sprawled under the dying sun,

dreams of rocks flying; 

the sheer glory and glint of river spray; 

her sweet, sleek black body plunging 

through the perfect poem of her day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Resistance Art

The latest news about the ship breaking up off the coast of New Zealand and spilling hundreds of tonnes of oil near Tauranga is heartbreaking - people in The Bay of Plenty are heading out to clean up the mess with sand pails and rubber gloves. I remember as a kid, sitting on the veranda as my mother struggled to remove tar from my hands and feet - butter was the chosen remedy but it wasn't very effective. It seemed to take forever, the time lengthened, no doubt, by her irritation. How was I to know the newly-laid asphalt was still sticky? Lucky for both of us, we didn't have to lick each other clean because the toxins would likely have made us very sick.

Meanwhile, in Smithers, geomorphologist Jim Schwab has just released a report assessing the likelihood of pipelines breaking apart in landslides as the unstable landscape of the northwest shifts in winter freezes and thaws, rainstorms, avalanches and the kind of slippages that are a part of day to day life on uneven ground.

So, none of us are alone in our concerns; each of us chooses our way to respond to those concerns. Check out the article I wrote for the latest issue of Northword - "Resistance Art: A Special Beauty." It celebrates all of you who use your creativity to resist...