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, April 26, 2012

Kate Brooks - my children's questions

Good Morning. Thank you for this opportunity to speak.

The dinner table conversation at my house has been challenging in the last months as we have studied the proposed Gateway Pipeline Project and tried to figure out what it would mean to us to have a pipeline constructed so close to where we live.

My children are 13 and 10 and as a family my husband and I spent a lot of time with them reading articles in the press, following blogs, and watching videos and dvd’s on the proposal. We also spent time at the Enbridge website since much of the press has been pretty unfavourable.

As the statistics and reports added up….over 600 pipeline leaks in the past years with a particularly bad one in the Kalamazoo river in Michigan… my children’s questions began to pile up too…questions and statements for which we as parents had no answer…

“Most of the pipeline leaks are old pipes, Mom, so are they going to keep putting in new pipes on this pipeline, or will these ones get old and leak too?”

“Mom, the Queen of the North ferry hit a rock while making a simple turn and it sank and is still leaking oil. If the queen of the north made a mistake, a supertanker can make one too.”

“Yeah Dad, I watched Enbridge’s video on all the safety features they have in place but how much will that help? I bet BP and EXXON promised there would be no accidents when they set out their proposals and look what happened. “

“ But Mom, the Kalamazoo river cleanup is a mess. When the engineer at the Enbridge website says he doesn’t think there is going to be a problem, I think he is wrong. I don’t believe him.”

“So Dad, the bears need the salmon, and the trees need the bears eating the salmon, so what happens if a spill destroys the salmon? People are not the only ones with needs in the world, you know.”

“A leak is just one of the problems Mom…what about the construction? Won’t it have hazards too? What about avalanches and earthquakes? Won’t it create a big mess?

“Dad, if I was in charge, I wouldn’t let this pipeline be built.”

 “Mom, why are they sending the oil to China? We know there is going to be an oil crisis…I think they should save the oil for ME.”

My children are blessed to live surrounded by wild space. There is always something to be aware of here: The oolican are running, the salmon are running, the cranes are moving north, the geese are moving south, the loons are back, there is fresh bear poop on the path to the wild berry patch, the coyotes woke me up---they were so loud I thought they were in the driveway, the moose are in the driveway between us and the car and we need to get to town.

They appreciate the beauty and wildness here, the spaciousness, and the complexity, even while complaining all the way up the trail to the breath- taking view.

But they are now beginning to think that the only way to protect a place is to not let anyone in because as my 13 year old wrote in his school report--“The road to an oil spill is paved with any kind of intentions, good or bad, and while good intentions will certainly prevent a spill for awhile, it won’t forever. How would we feel if we were almost any animal on the pipeline route when a spill happened?….Do we really want the BC coast to become known as the Land of the Black water? Why is this happening?….To make money may be the clear answer, but our ecosystem is one of the most rare and precious on earth. We’re already harming it with fish farms and over fishing….Is money the only thing we need in the world? Do we need nothing to be proud of and protect?”

It became clear after reading this and listening to their discussions with us that the important issue for my children is to protect a landscape and home they love and take pride in.The important issue for me is safety I want my kids and family to be safe and healthy and one of the things I need for that is a clean environment.

We were drawn to looking at the safety record of Enbridge because my kids want to protect the environment for themselves and all creatures. I want them to be safe and healthy and in the end it really amounts to the same thing.

Perhaps because of their naivety and innocence, they see what so many cannot-- that money is not what truly sustains us….Wild land with wild creatures, clean air, soil and water and community….these are what truly keeps us alive. These are what feed us. No amount of money will ever clean up a disaster….that has been shown the world over. Despite the millions of dollars companies keep in the bank for that ‘just in case’ scenario…it never covers the true cost. Never. It takes lifetimes for the earth to heal.

Part of my reason for speaking today was to ask for your help in protecting a place that is worth protecting. It’s a healthy place and the risks of this project seem too great. The other reason is to show my children the importance of standing up, whether nervous or not ( and I am incredibly nervous), to ask for that help. You, as a panel and as individuals, have a huge responsibility, and opportunity and that is the power to weigh all the arguments.

I ask you to please listen to the wildness of this land, and everything and everyone that lives and thrives on it; Please go for a walk here and look at the big picture…. Please weigh our concerns in at least equal measure, if not more, to profit.

If we could, we’d like to pose one question. ”If Enbridge was told that the pipeline would be closed forever if there was even one leak, what would they do differently with their planning?"

Right now, we as a family have no confidence that Enbridge would be able to provide an acceptable answer, and until they can we ask you to please say No to the Enbridge pipeline proposal. 
Thank you.

Paul Glover - landslides

Oral presentation to NEB Joint Review Panel
April 24, 2012

Welcome Sheila, Hans, and Ken.  Thank you for coming here to hear us. We appreciate the opportunity to take part in the review process.

I understand that you’d rather not hear things that you’ve already heard from other presenters, so I will try to tell you some things you haven’t heard yet.

My name is Paul Glover.  I am 57 years old.  I’ve lived in the Bulkley Valley for 37 years, and have raised my three daughters here.  I plan to spend the rest of my life here.  I chose this area for its wild landscapes, its intact ecosystems, and clean water.  I have spent a lot of time in the mountains, forests, and along the streams and rivers throughout this region.  I greatly value that I can safely drink from any mountain stream…and I do. 

I know you’ve heard a lot about the instability of the land along the proposed pipeline’s route.  You’ve surely heard of the dozens of incidents where landslides in this region have cut powerlines, closed roads, blocked rivers, taken out railways (even pushing a freight train into the Skeena in 1978),…and severed pipelines. 

You know that we already have some pipelines in this area, that carry natural gas to the communities and industries across the region. And you’re no doubt aware that, since the time they were built in the late 1960s, these pipelines have fairly routinely been ruptured by landslides.  These include incidents where gas was cut off to communities for days at a time.

You have probably heard that in late November, 2003, the natural gas pipeline to Prince Rupert was washed out by a mudslide.  But I doubt that you’re familiar with the comments that Attorney General Rich Coleman delivered in the BC provincial legislature three days after the slide.

This is what he said:

“The landslide actually took place on Friday. It was about a thousand feet across — about 350 metres. It took out a natural gas pipeline. This is an event that takes place in this particular area of British Columbia about once every two to three years. There's a lot of unstable ground there, and it does cause some difficulties. The gas line was taken out.

“Over the weekend we were unable to actually get in there to repair the line, because the unstable ground was still there, and the weather was too severe for people to get in there. They are working on it now. They expect to try and get in there and finish this to get the gas line operating in the next three to five days.”

(From Hansard, Debates of the Legislative Assembly, MONDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2003, Afternoon Sitting, Volume 19, Number 5)

It turned out that Prince Rupert was actually without natural gas for 10 days.  That’s how difficult it can be to get in and fix a pipeline.

When the gas pipeline was being planned, if someone had said (as someone surely must have), “I am concerned that your gas pipeline will be hit by a landslide and break,” do you think that Pacific Northern Gas would have replied, “Well, yes, that might happen—there ARE a lot of landslides around there.”? 

NO, of course they would not say that.  Any company in that position will assert that the very latest and best technology is being used;  that thorough risk assessments have been done;  that the route has been carefully chosen;  that they can deal with any problems;  that they care about the environment more than anything else…and so on. 

They might even say, “We have lots of pipelines in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and they are NEVER hit by landslides!” 

A company does what it needs to to meet its objectives—which are, primarily, to make profits.  I have no doubt that this is Enbridge’s primary objective, too.  And I believe that Enbridge is overlooking the obvious risks of operating in this terrain, blinded as it is by the pot of gold it sees waiting at the end of the rainbow, in Kitimat. 

For this reason, I am not comforted by Enbridge’s reassurances of how its modern technology will make its pipeline safe through some of the most unstable terrain on earth.

You panel members might know Don Thompson, past president of the Oil Sands Producers Group.  You probably don’t know, though, that he was scheduled to speak to the Smithers Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 21 last fall about the benefits of tar-sands oil production.  We could expect that he would also have put in a few good words for the Northern Gateway pipeline.  But we actually don’t know what he would have said because he didn’t get to make his presentation.  He had to drive from Terrace to Smithers that morning, and the highway was blocked by a landslide.

This landslide was cleaned up within a couple days, but it came down the same path as a much larger one had in 2007, blocking the highway for days and burying two people in their vehicle, killing them.  If you have driven that stretch of road as you carry out your work during this review process, you will have passed the large pile of stones at the side of the road that is their memorial cairn.

There is no warning that one of these slides is about to occur, except that precipitation is often a factor—something we have lots of in the Coast Mountains. And almost all climate models predict increasingly warmer and wetter weather for this area:  More landslides can be expected.

Others have already brought up Enbridge’s pipeline spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, in the context of Enbridge’s record of 804 pipeline spills between 1999 and 2010.  “Most of them very small!” Enbridge hastens to clarify. 

But not the Kalamazoo spill, that the EPA estimates leaked more than a million gallons of Alberta crude into the river. 

But you already know this.  The point I want to make is that the spill occurred in flat country, easy to access, with many resources nearby to draw from.  Yet it has still proved to be much harder to clean up than Enbridge or the EPA anticipated.  By the time it is finally done to the satisfaction of the EPA, work will have been ongoing for more than two years straight. 

EPA on-scene coordinator Ralph Dollhopf says that Enbridge has struggled to locate all of the oil.  "Every time we go back to look, we find more," he is quoted as saying. "The river is causing the oil we are targeting to always move."

Please consider, Ken, Hans and Sheila, that our waterways are quite different than the easily navigable Kalamazoo.  If the river there is moving the oil around, imagine what our whitewater streams and rivers would do with it.

And what else do I take from this?  That Enbridge is quick to say how prepared they are in case there is a spill; how expert they are at cleaning one up.  But really, it’s clear they don’t have much of a handle on what’s involved.  No one does.  It’s a nearly impossible task.  If oil gets into our rivers, it will be there for a long time.  

And finally, you have certainly heard about the Enbridge pipeline outside Chicago that was ruptured, and burst into flames, when it was struck by a force of nature that is perhaps even more unpredictable than landslides:  that is, young men in cars.  In this case they were drag-racing on a closed road.  Most people don’t realize that this pipeline is buried for most of its length except for a 30 or 40-foot stretch that is above-ground.  And this is the part that happened to be hit.

What are the chances of that???  Quite slim, certainly.  Do you think this possibility ever crossed anyone’s mind during the risk assessment?   It is very difficult to factor unpredictable human actions into these assessments, and yet it is often just such actions that cause problems. 

My point here is that I take no comfort in a green-light risk assessment regarding oil pipeline infrastructure in an environment that WE KNOW is unpredictable and unstable.  We CAN confidently predict that there will be floods and landslides.  There may be earthquakes.  What else could possibly occur that we cannot even imagine as we contemplate this project from our homes and offices, our coffee shops and our community halls, our riverbanks and our ocean beaches?

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Carlie Kearns - Houston Tsunamis

Good morning. I’m Carlie Kearns.

I moved to Houston with my husband in August 1974.

Our first outdoor adventures here were fishing trips along the Morice River. It is an amazingly beautiful, pristine, and powerful river! 

We’ve camped, canoed, boated, and fished most of the river from the Morice West Bridge to Barrett Station Bridge. We’ve caught Chinook, Pink, and Coho Salmon; Rainbow Trout, Steelhead, and Dolly Varden. We’ve seen abundant wildlife and birds along the river and picked berries and mushrooms nearby. It is idyllic! More people every year access this area for the fishing and the wilderness experience - locals as well as people from across Canada, the U.S., Asia, and Europe. 

This prime fish & animal habitat is downstream from where the proposed oil pipeline would parallel, then cross, the Morice River and parallel the Gosnel.

In the spring, when the Morice becomes a raging brown torrent, our explorations eventually took us to Babine Lake and Rainbow Alley – a world-renowned fly-fishing paradise. In the spring and summer fishermen congregate in Rainbow Alley and Nilkitkwa Lake to fish for rainbow trout.  As you know, this area is also at risk -- 80% of the Babine rainbow trout spawn in the Sutherland River downstream from the proposed pipeline crossing of that river.

We’ve also enjoyed fishing and boating in the Douglas Channel where I’ve seen whales, halibut, crab, rock cod, salmon, starfish, multitudes of birds, and vast beds of kelp.
The cycles of nature sustained by the rivers, lakes, and ocean are immense – waterways truly are the life blood of this province. 

I am horrified by the thought of an oil pipeline through this area and oil super tankers traversing within the confines of the Douglas Channel.
Oil spills are inevitable.    

Last June I wrote a letter to the Houston Today newspaper expressing my concerns about the risk of spills. The following week Mr. John Carruthers, President of Northern Gateway Pipelines, responded by stating in his letter to the editor: Enbridge delivers almost a billion barrels of hydrocarbons a year through its pipeline system with a safety record of 99.99 percent.

So they do NOT safely deliver almost 100,000 barrels per year at their current volumes? (1,000,000,000 x .01)  

The planned pipeline would carry an average of 525,000 barrels of bitumen per day. Using Mr. Carruthers’ statistics we could then expect total spills or leaks of almost 100,000 barrels somewhere along this line within 6 years. Hopefully his statistics are wrong and his letter was meant to be re-assuring – perhaps not - but at least he’s given us fair warning.

I am aware of two Enbridge crude oil spills in 2011:  28,000 barrels northeast of Peace River Alberta in May and 1,500 barrels from the Norman Wells line in the Northwest Territories in June.

There was also an Exxon Mobile rupture of a 12” pipe under the Yellowstone River spilling 1,000 barrels that resulted in the evacuation of residents, closure of water intakes, and the fouling of the river banks for almost 50 miles downstream.

The Norman Wells pipeline spill was discovered by Dene hunters – a pin-hole leak apparently – that wasn’t noticed by the Enbridge up-to-date monitoring technology. Most of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline traverses a remote wilderness and is under ice and snow for 4 months of the year. How much damage would a pine-hole leak or leaks cause along this line and how far would the oil travel before it was discovered?

At the Hearings here in January, Elsie Tiljoe spoke of her experience of being shaken out of bed when she was a child. She lived in the Houston area. That could have been the magnitude 8.1 earthquake centered in Haida Gwaii in 1949. 

I don’t know if tremors from the 9.2 magnitude March 1964 Alaska earthquake were felt in Houston but tsunamis from that quake caused damage in B.C., Oregon, & California.
The magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Alaska in November 2002 was also felt in the Houston area. An article written by Grace Hols and published in Houston Today states:
Workers at the Equity mine site noticed a strange thing in the Main Zone pit the morning of Monday, November 4.   A boat that is normally tied up about a foot out of the water was adrift among slabs of ice in the pit. The last time they had seen the pit, it was frozen right over with a layer of ice four inches thick...You can see where a surge wave had come through and pushed the ice up, said Mike Aziz, operations manager at the Equity site. ...”

I have a photo of the tailings pond taken by Mike Aziz, Operations Manager, on November 4th 2002, the day after the quake. The shoreline is littered with slabs of ice that were washed up by the mini tsunami.
The proposed pipeline would run within a few kilometers of Equity Mines.

The Natural Resources Canada website states that in an earthquake “The plates can either slide past one another, or they can collide, or they can diverge...The west coast of Canada is one of the few areas in the world where all three of these types of plate movements take place, resulting in significant earthquake activity.”  

I hope you verify this additional hazard.

I’d like to remind you of the Enbridge track record for spill clean-up.
Remember the Kalamazoo River spill of July 2010? 
I have a quote from a news release of October 6th 2011.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a directive today requiring Enbridge to take additional steps to clean up the July 2010 oil spill that damaged over 36 miles of the Kalamazoo River system. The directive requires Enbridge to submit plans by Oct. 20, 2011 for cleanup and monitoring work expected to last through 2012. Failure to comply could result in civil penalties. The EPA directive lays out a performance-based framework for assessing and recovering submerged oil in the river and cleaning up oil-contaminated river banks.” 

The Kalamazoo river spill happened in July 2010. The US Environmental Protection Agency found it necessary to give Enbridge a clean-up directive over a year later and they expect the clean up to carry on throughout 2012 – 2 ½ years from the time of the rupture

Imagine how much irreparable damage has been done by this spill. Despite their up-to-date monitoring technology and clean-up strategies, 36 miles of the Kalamazoo River is damaged, eco-systems destroyed.

I hope you have data about the damage, costs, and clean-up efforts for the Kalamazoo, the Peace River and the Norman Wells spills.

I feel sickened that the Enbridge pipeline proposal is even being considered seriously and that it is being pushed by the Harper Government.

The risks to the B.C. Fisheries; the First Nations territories and culture; the tourist industry; the pristine wilderness; and the ecosystems all along the proposed pipeline route, the Douglas Channel, and the Pacific coastline, are not worth any amount of financial gain. 

The risks are clear. The benefits are not. 

Thank you for listening to the local people all along the line who are speaking out against this project. This is our home.

Letter from John Carruthers in Houston Today (online) June 2011
Montana oil spill fouls Yellowstone River   The Associated Press  (online)
Peace Spill: (online)
Saved Letter about Kalamazoo and online EPA press release
Houston Today newspaper article November 2002 (Houston Public Library)
Natural Resources Canada website (online) (earthquakes data)
Photo of Equity Tailings Pond Taken by Mike Aziz Nov. 4/2002 (included & saved)

Jim Pojar - Bearing Witness

Jim Pojar
April 2012


·        I have lived in Bulkley Valley since 1978
·        terrestrial ecologist; 25 years with BC Forest Service
·        lots of fieldwork throughout nwBC, from Prince George to Haida Gwaii, from Atlin to Bella Coola, usually in the company of earth scientists
·        over the years have noticed that physical scientists (soil scientists, geologists, climatologists) & engineers from east of Rockies initially don’t “get” mountainous BC
·        often takes them several years to re-calibrate their working reality (in terms of topography, rapid changes over short distances, mass movements, peak flows, extreme events, really physically active landscapes / hydrogeomorphological processes)
·        in light of threats to terrestrial and esp freshwater aquatic ecosystems of wc BC, from pipeline construction and subsequent ruptures and leaks along the line:
Recommendation: review photos of severe erosion—of roads, culverts, bridges—caused by last summer’s rainstorms; posted on Flickr site of BC Min. of Transportation & Infrastructure.
·        big rainstorms with surface erosion + mass movements = a potent combination for damage to all linear infrastructure, especially in mountainous terrain
·        Peace Region – late June 2011; along Hwy 97 from Chetwynd to Mackenzie; more than 25 significant blowout sites; said to be a 1-in-40 year event, but frequency will increase as climate warms
·        Coast Mtns – after 12 cm of rain from Sept 7-8, 2011; Hwy 37, especially the spur to Stewart; massive erosion; bridges and roadbed washed away, streams cutting new channels
·        Heckman Pass – in July 2011; bedrock failures along Hwy 20 (road to Bella Coola) after series of rainstorms

Conservation Values of West Central BC

Terrestrial—conservation values in the mountainous portions of wc BC centre on the region’s rivers—especially the larger drainages—and productive valley bottoms, with riparian ecosystems & high fish and wildlife values.

Stepping back for a broad, continental view, the Bulkley Rges & Kitimat Rges (coastal or coast-interior transitional mountain ecosections roughly from Zymoetz River to Whitesail Lake) have some nationally & globally significant ecological attributes.
· unregulated, lake-headed salmon rivers with clean water and high quality aquatic habitat (intact freshwater aquatic habitats one of rarest class of ecosystems in the world)
· +/- intact large-mammal predator-prey systems
· continentally important habitat & populations of g bear, Kermode bear, m goat, wolf, wolverine
· coastal temperate rainforest (aka Great Bear Rainforest)

Marine—but the really “world class” system occurs along the Coast.

·        BC’s globally significant north & central coast, 88,000 km2 of marine ecosystems; archipelago-fiord & continental shelf—and fractally complex land-water interface.
·        Ecosystems like kelp forests, seagrass meadows, fertile estuaries, 9000-yr old glass sponge reefs, seamounts.
·        Species including whales, porpoises, rockfish, sea otters, seabirds, herring, eulachon, nudibranchs, octopus.
·        “Combination of complex oceanographic conditions and seafloor characteristics … with channels, banks, deep troughs, eddies, upwellings, estuaries, and depths from 0 to 2000 m, creates a wide range of ecological niches and in turn supports a diverse array of species.”[1]
Cumulative Effects
Nonetheless much of the landscape along the proposed pipeline route has been industrialised—esp across Interior Plateau. The natural environment has been subjected to: extensive clearcut logging w numerous roads & stream crossings; railroad + major highway; mines & effluents; hydroelectric transmission lines; gas pipelines; agriculture.
·        All effects are ‘cumulative’; accumulate through time and over space; do not represent a special class of impacts.
·        Must assess the aggregate stresses on environmental values.
·        Series of small +/- minor effects can accumulate to result in a significant overall effect (death by a thousand cuts)
·        Total impact greater than simple sum of individual stressors. E.g., access development >> roads and stream crossings; on unstable terrain/erodible soils >> erosion & sedimentation; >>increased hunting & fishing pressure
Homeland vs Hinterland
A few years ago a senior Yukon Government manager (Energy Mines & Resources) assured me that dealing with the oil & gas industry was straightforward because “they’re just looking for a bigger sandbox to play in.”
A remark dismaying but revealing:
·        “manifest destiny” approach of the industry & its servants in government
·        cavalier attitude to natural and human environment of w Canada: tar sands, Mackenzie Valley, Ft. Nelson Lowland, Sacred Headwaters, Bulkley Valley—each is just another piece of bush
·        underlying assumption that collateral damage from O&G exploration, development, & transport will be insignificant because it occurs in a sparsely populated hinterland
·        distinction between homeland & hinterland that Thomas Berger highlighted in Mackenzie Valley pipeline hearings.
Because of threats to the natural environment of west central BC—in particular to the freshwater aquatic and marine systems—from pipeline construction and subsequent ruptures and leaks along the line, and from oil spills and other pollution from tankers along the coast;
Because of the unacceptable attitude of the oil & gas industry and senior governments toward the people who live along the proposed route;
And because of the threats to our homeland, our quality of life, and the stability and health of our communities;
I am strongly opposed to this proposed pipeline.

[1] Lucas, B.S., S. Verrin, R. Brown, eds. 2007. Ecosystem overview: Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA). Can. Tech, Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2667: 104 p.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Congratulations to our community!

It has been the most amazing couple of days in the journey this pipeline project has precipitated. The oral presentations began in Smithers yesterday; as well as giving my own oral testimony, I heard person after person present thoughtful, intelligent, heartfelt, analytical, emotional, and moving presentations. Every person had a unique perspective; some brought in family history, biological research, new impressions, childhood memories, you name it. One presenter, an organic gardener, asked for a moment of silence in memory of the rivers we've already can listen in live at The National Energy Board Site.

Here's what I presented: I'm hoping to have more presentations in the next few days. 

I’m a writer and publisher; working with words has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. So before I go any further, I want to be clear. When asked the question, should Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project be built, my answer is no. Absolutely not. And if you believe in this government’s so-called economic policy that claims building war ships, prisons, and exporting raw bitumen to China is in the national interest, while it suppresses or vilifies the voices of anyone who might actually have some data to refute that claim, well, I have a bridge you might be interested in. No, not the famous one in New York, not even that new Peace bridge just built in Calgary, no, a lovely little footbridge that crosses Driftwood Creek beside our home. A creek our boys fished in, swam in, skated on, and played beside from their earliest days.  A creek that has watered my garden and my creativity with its many voices, a voice that in spring, I like to imagine speaks with the thousand tongues of winter. A creek that is in one of the watersheds this pipeline proposes to cross.

And while you may think water runs only one way, spend enough time beside a creek and you’ll realize your mistake. The salmon and oolichan travelling upstream to spawn are obvious and important examples, but every spring – and I mean that literally – we stand on that bridge and watch two or three harlequin ducks paddling up Driftwood Creek, often while patches of snow still line the banks – usually two males and a female – who have travelled hundreds of km upriver from the coast to build a nest and rear their young in the high alpine.

And every year, from that same bridge, we see dippers managing, even when it’s forty below, to find an opening:

A quiet seepage –
too quiet, really, to be called a spring –
can unlock the earth’s heat.   
The ice exhales and opens
a pool for this dipper
bobbing on a rock.
It dives in and finds a current
that’s warmer than the winter air.
There’s spirit in there somewhere,
and bouncing back, the bird
it dipsy doodles
on the slippery dance floor
tapping out some bebop riff
we all wish that we could follow.
Something in the key of home.

That one small creek and the river it flows into are all part of the watershed that my family calls home.
And home is what I really want to talk about. It was 1976, and I was on my way into the northwest for a newspaper job when I passed a sign planted on a hill somewhere between Burns and Decker lakes. Eternity, it said. Where will you be? Well, I knew it wasn’t going to be here. After one northern winter, I was heading back south, back to school, back to civilization.

But before that, I had a trip to finish. Coming down Six-Mile Hill, the muffler on my car dropped to become a rattling sparking percussive accompaniment to my precipitous descent. Instant comeuppance for my sneer at eternity. A friendly northerner gave me wire to bind the muffler back into place until I reached my destination. Which, like the Enbridge pipeline, was Kitimat. I spent a few days there, and a few months in Terrace before I moved to Smithers in 1977, where I’ve lived pretty much ever since – always within earshot of Driftwood Creek.

So, about the sign. It was located right about where the pipelines would cross Highway 16, the Endako River, the CN track, and continue west across Gerow Creek (still in the Fraser River watershed) to Maxan Creek. A height of land. Maxan Creek flows into Maxan Lake which drains into Bulkley Lake, the headwaters of the Bulkley River and the Skeena watershed. The pipeline would then cross Foxy and Klo and Buck creeks, Owen Creek and Fenton Creek all on its way to the Morice that used to be called Watsonquah. All the history in those names. All flowing into the Bulkley, the Skeena, the Pacific, right out to where those harlequin ducks spend their winters on an intricate coastline that defies measurement.

Just last summer we spent a few days on Porcher Island; one day we paddled over to Oval Beach on the eastern shore of Hecate Strait. This poem, Fractals on Oval Beach came from that day. (Fractals are irregular shapes that can be repeatedly subdivided into increasingly smaller copies of the whole. They are used to model natural structures that, unlike pipelines, do not have simple geometric shapes.)

A fat black raven stands just above the surf line.
Another perches on a nearby log. Something glints
as the water rolls and drops it, stranded on the gravel.
One raven hops down and nabs the wriggling silver streak.
He jumps back before the next wave crashes,
a surf smelt thrashing in his beak.
He gulps, 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
slivers of fish roll and tumble in each wave.

The other raven hops down, head sideways.
It plucks another smelt
from the sand. Both birds eat.
Both watch and wait for more.
The sun lights their feathers
with the iridescence of oil floating on water.

On our way here,
we paddled through a narrow opening
between two outcrops. Inside these waters
it’s hard to tell which rocks are islands
and which are part of something bigger. The tides change
the answer every minute and this week
the tides are over twenty feet. Our boats slipped through,
the hulls skimming hundreds of anemones 
and sea cucumbers, sea squirts, sun stars, bat stars, starfish,
some dangling high above us, waiting for the tide.
Crabs scuttled, as crabs do
and dug trenches in the sand, claws up for battle.

All this seen in one small pause
in one small opening
in the coastline of one small island.

How long, you might ask, is the coastline of Porcher Island?
It all depends on how carefully you measure. The closer you get,
the longer the coast becomes. Much longer
than you might have thought. Infinity, in fact,
contained within this finite space.

This is not just a measurement to amuse mathematicians.
It’s a line drawn by the daily wash of water,
full of invisible life,
filtered to feed the anemone
and the humpback whale,
to feeds the smelts,
the herring,
the oolichan,
that feed the salmon,
that feed the silver-sided dolphins we floated among
as they thrashed back and forth across the bay,
 over a hundred of them jumping, turning, tail slapping the water into a chop.
To feed the wolves that pace the shore.

It’s a line that would become
an oil slick underscored by globules of bitumen
rolling and tumbling onto the same beaches
the surf smelts needs to spawn.
Into each kelp bed, each low tide cranny
where complexity resides.

Where our harlequins return in late summer with their young.

There’s a new sign now that say, Jesus Cares for You. While I’m tickled to have outlasted that sign just this side of Burns Lake, I have come to miss its urgency, urgency we need now. It isn’t the fabricated urgency the oil companies and their political preachers profess from Ottawa’s pulpits. It’s the urgent voice of a river in full flood, a swollen muddy thing that rips out cottonwoods, bridges, roads and even houses if you’re not careful. Not to mention pipelines. I encourage all of you, as the high snows melt, to go down to the water and listen. The water is asking us that same question. Eternity – where will we be?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Enpipe Line and Fish Hats

I re-worked and read some of my blog postings at the Prince George launch of The Enpipe Line: 70,000+ km of poetry written in resistance to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal a week ago today. Contributors to the collection (Rob Budde, Al Rempel, Charlene Wattson, and Weston McGee) read as did PG poets Sarah de Leeuw and Gillian Wigmore. To see the action, you can go to Prince George launch.

We read in ArtSpace, a wonderful venue made available by Books & Company; right next door  is a yarn shop called Top Drawer. If you're a knitter, the lure of the bright colours is pretty much irresistible. I talked to Amanda and Darlene there and proposed a knitting project/fundraisers for those resisting the Northern Gateway project. It's called Fish Hat (Dead or Alive?) and is fun to knit and a great way to use up odds and ends of yarn. The hats can be sold as fundraisers or worn when making your oral presentation to the Joint Review Panel (if they're not too afraid to come to your town). I've signed up to make my presentation April 23 in Smithers...first day. Now it's time to prepare it and start knitting my fish hat. If you want more details, let me know.