Home from Alberta – changed

Posted September 20th, 2013 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

text and photos by Margaret Swedish
albertaoilsandsmap

Source: http://oilshalegas.com/oilsands.html

Friends, “changed” barely begins to describe the inner journey that went in tandem with the outer – the pilgrimage along the Athabasca River from its origins in the Columbia Icefields inside Jasper National Park to the tar sands industrial site in the region of Ft. McMurray and Ft. McKay. What Canada and the Province of Alberta are doing to the land, the forests, the waters, in this almost mindless, certainly soulless greed for oil power and wealth, is stunning and breathtaking no matter how much you prepare for it.

It gets into your  skin, your eyes, your heart – first the beauty, then the poison. And what we learned is that it is not only the surface mining, the scraping off of the boreal forest and rich muskeg to extract the sands and squeeze out the bitumen; it is also new versions of bitumen mining – in situ, which is growing like fracking wells in the U.S. (and yes, there is also fracking in Alberta – LOTS of it!!), in situ meaning wells dug deep into the earth using fires and hot steam and solvents to wrest even more bitumen from the place where Earth and time created it.

I have a lot to think about. The land (mountains, rivers, waterfalls, forests, muskeg, mountain goats and bighorn sheep), the people we met, the Cree First Nation elders who welcomed us into their homes, in a land where the river and air are poisoned, where drinking and bathing from what comes out of your tap causes illness and injuries (cancer, sores and rashes), where they served us homemade hamburger soup one day and moose meat stew the next – accompanied by banik bread, fried or baked – whose way of life has been destroyed…

All of this, all of this, changes you. If you open your heart, it breaks it – into little pieces.TRAVEL

I have a lot to think about – about how to proceed here, how to get this project funded so I can do the work I want to do, or else find a place where I can do it; whether it is time to change the project name and emphasis; about a deeply felt need to tell the truth about what fuels our lives, what our resistance to radically changing them right now means to the First Nation and Métis communities in Ft. McKay upriver from Ft. McMurray, how inexorable this whole process is, running full steam ahead, nothing powerful enough to stop it (yet), how we battled with despair, how we rediscovered the meaning of solidarity – and what real solidarity demands of us – how we struggled with emotional resilience, healed over and over again even from the worst of what we witnessed, by the spirits in the mountains and the forests and the river and the waterfalls…

On our last day, the four of us who remained together had a 90-minute session via Skype with Joanna Macy. It was incredibly generous of her to do this on very short notice – to help us “process” our journey together. She took us through a “spiral” process, starting with gratitude, then to the pain (fully, fully), then what we learned, then to “setting intentions.” There is more to this than I can possibly share on a blog post. So below is a first photo meditation. There will be more to come. I hope you will think with me and reflect with me and meditate with me about how to share and live this story – about setting my intentions, vivified now, energized, fierce and focused, as we face the necessity of addressing these challenges to our way of life right now.TRAVEL

Our lives must change. Our culture must change. Our religions and spiritualities must change. We are in big trouble. We are in deep intimate relationship with all that lives and breathes within this planet and we have horribly broken those relations. We must restore them, and restore ourselves to our humble place within them, in order to keep more and worse destruction from overwhelming our communities of sentient and non-sentient beings.

More to come, much more. If you have not yet read the story of our pilgrimage, please visit our blog at: Athabasca River Pilgrimage. And if you are able to donate now to this project, please click on the “donate” tab at the bottom of this page. We are on this journey together – whether we like it or not – we are all in this together.

Sunwapta Falls

Sunwapta Falls – these waters join the Athabasca downstream.

Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

TRAVEL

Athabasca River – beautiful, isn’t it?

TRAVEL

This is what we do to the beauty. This was once boreal forest, hunting grounds for the Cree who live in Ft. McKay downriver from the heart of the tar sands industry.

TRAVEL

A tiny portion of Syncrude’s industrial site. The barracks-like structures are where workers live – right in Mordor, right in the midst of the toxic inferno.

TRAVEL

Making the clean, clear air of the boreal forest unfit for breathing, unfit for any living being. Dust everywhere. Dust settling over everything. Dust full of toxins and death.

TRAVEL

Ft. McKay, First Nation community. You see the air – that is what they breathe. You see the river. Once the people there took buckets to the river for drinking water and to clean. They fished and enjoyed the diverse wildlife. Now the water is so poisoned that they drink bottled water. Bathing in hot water causes skin sores and rashes to break out. Mothers are told to bathe their babies in bottled water only. It is common for babies to have symptoms of asthma after just a few weeks in this air. And cancer is a plague. Said the elder, Celina: “We used to die of old age…”

TRAVEL

We could decide to leave the Athabasca like this. We could decide to say no so that places like this are never ravaged. We could decide to live differently so that what is going on downstream in the oil sands region stops and never happens again.

TRAVEL

Having THIS Earth, having places like these in perpetuity, passing them on to future generations – that’s still up to us. But we are losing them quickly. We are running out of time.

———————–

Finally, many thanks to my fellow pilgrims for sharing the journey. I learned so much from you…

Maureen Wild SC, Heather Hendrie, Lucy Klein-Gebbinck MMS

Maureen Wild SC, Heather Hendrie, Lucy Klein-Gebbinck MMS

Terry Dance-Bennink and Theo Bennink

Terry Dance-Bennink and Theo Bennink

 

 

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

One Response

  1. The river keeps flowing

    […] Home from Alberta – Changed Changed by raw reality – this post includes video Oil and Ecological Hope – do they go together? Can they ever? […]