An apology for the ship that I was in command of
(for the Captain of the ship that will be involved in the first spill of diluted bitumen off the coast of British Columbia)
of disrupting their lives
wreaking havoc on it that
I hope that their lives have achieved some
When 11 million gallons
or maybe a lot more
spilled in the Prince William Sound
my dad said that it didn’t really matter
because in the second world war they
they spilled oil every day
so I looked it up on the anniversary
6 billion or maybe only
one and a half billion
my seventh grade teacher told me that I couldn’t count to a million
but I’ve proved him wrong
over and over
my grandfather would tell me stories of
oil slicks the U-boats left when they died
or when they just wanted you to think that they were dead
and of more oil slicks alive with fire and dying men
some sort of normalcy now
I mean, that’s all I can say
I can’t offer any more
But an Aframax tanker can only clear the Lions’ Gate Bridge
at low tide during the daytime
and they carry three quarters of a million barrels
a barrel is 42 gallons
and that makes an obscene amount
of something that we can not clean
that we can not
this little boy watched a barnacle feeding on the tiny plankton
brought to it by the waves and the tide in its pool
I’m pretty much old news
once in a while someone will make the connection, there’s my name
but the change visually
you know, it’s 25 years
They renamed her the a lot of things, before she ran into something else
and the scrap merchants traded her
until someone with a nineteenth-century sensibility
renamed her Oriental Nicety
before they beached her on the Gujarat coast
Thirty one and a half million gallons
you don’t want to see anything suffer like that
there is no other way to describe it
through no fault to their own they were impacted
The forest on Burnaby Mountain is a funny place.
I mean, I think that any forest is a kind of beautiful that we as humans have the genetic heritage to appreciate, but there’s a history here that challenges my enjoyment of this space.
A few years ago, I took a class of mine from SFU out into this forest to replicate an experiment that I had first performed with students in Richmond Park in London, England. In both cases, these were students thinking about philosophy, aesthetics, art and the environment, and I asked them to consider how concepts of beauty worked with their experience of nature.
When I first performed this experiment, as a British Columbian teaching in the UK, I knew that Richmond Park—with its faux-wildness of a hunting park—was not exactly ‘wild’, but it was down the street from Roehampton University where I taught, and the best that the city had to offer in green spaces, so we went.
It was also next to Manresa House, where Gerard Manley Hopkins had done his noviciate as a Jesuit, so, when I walked here, I thought a lot about the central part of his poem ‘That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire’—a piece that had exercised a huge effect on my understanding of the world when I first read it:
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle in long lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, nature’s bonfire burns on.
That experiment was a profound experience for me as a teacher, and student response to it was remarkable. Discussion afterwards and throughout the rest of the course was deepened by our immersion in our natural environment—even one as managed over the centuries as this royal hunting enclosure in southwest London had been.
A few years later, when running a similar course at Simon Fraser, we traipsed out into the forest on the mountain that surrounds our campus, in this edge-of-the-new-world city, and, well, things went wrong. Standing on a steep path in the forests that I had grown up without questioning as ‘forest’, I saw it suddenly for what it was: a landscape in recovery. Around us were the mouldering remains of giant stumps—the evidence of the first large-scale colonial resource extraction from this mountain. The trees that have grown here in the meantime are simply the after-effects of clear-cutting the mountain’s lumber by some forgotten company, exported to who-knows-where.
The alders and maples that grow here are lovely in the autumn, as we watch the leaves turn and fall, but there’s only an echo now of the ancient forest that grew on these slopes before colonization.
An after-image of giants whose roots still lie beneath the surface of the new forest floor.
An imagination of what another thousand years might bring, in an area set aside by the citizens of this city to conserve.
On the water side of the mountain are the few remains of a sawmill that has left little more than its name for the area—the Barnet Sawmill. Its old locale is now known as Barnet Marine Park.
The foundations of the mill’s scrap burner sit like a ruined sea castle at the end of a short causeway. We have come here as a family many times, pretending to storm the castle, playing tag and hide-and-go-seek, watching the fishers and the birds and the dogs being walked.
When we came here on Wednesday, 29 October, my littlest boy and I discovered that the bricks in that old burner came from at least three locations—from Clayburn out in nearby Abbotsford (bricks one can regularly find in the buildings and streets of Vancouver’s Gastown), a brickyard on Vancouver Island, and, to our amazement, a brickyard in Scotland. Suddenly, like the forest on the mountain above us, this place of enjoyment and play became evidence of international trade, resource extraction and colonization.
On that same Wednesday, the Texan pipeline giant Kinder Morgan—a company started by the former President and COO of Enron—re-appeared on Burnaby Mountain, and in Barnet Marine Park at its foot, intent on carrying on its preparations for geotechnical survey on the Mountain, including boring deep holes into which explosives will be placed and detonated, and clearing substantial amounts of trees in the forest to do so.
If successful, this company—or rather its subsidiary Trans Mountain Pipeline—intends to bore a tunnel for the last stages of a new, triple-sized pipeline that vaguely follows the right-of-way of a pipeline built in 1956. Except, this new pipeline will carry diluted bitumen from the tarsands in northern Alberta to the company’s terminal on the Burrard Inlet, where something in the region of 400 tankers a year will enter the Inlet to be filled with this substance, for export to be refined in Asia.
That Wednesday, a group of residents and concerned citizens gathered in the park—as they had been since early September, and have continued to do so since—at makeshift shelters at the sites both of intended borehole 1 and of 2, and waited for Kinder Morgan’s contractors to arrive, so that we could tell them to leave this public park alone. People brought coffee, doughnuts, goretex, and cheer. I was there before the sun came up, hitching a ride with a friend on the back of his motorcycle, and watched the sun rise on the shelter at borehole 2. We sat in the light of the media trucks and cameras that had gathered for the expected drama when Kinder Morgan arrived, and then I hiked down into the forest to borehole 1 to take two filmmakers to see and film it.
I had to leave before Kinder Morgan’s contractors arrived that day, and my boy and I only came back to Barnet Marine Park just as a confrontation between my friends and acquaintances and Kinder Morgan’s contractors had finished there.
When my friends, colleagues and comrades Steve Collis, Lynne Quarmby, Alan Dutton, Mia Nissen and Adam Gold were served with legal papers the next day in excess of 1000 pages each, naming them and ‘Jane and John Doe’ as defendants, I felt an enormous amount of fear.
I felt fear because I knew that any and all of us who were on that mountain and down at the park that day were Jane and John Doe. I knew that the enormous financial power of this powerful corporation—and all of the forms into which that power can be translated—was now being brought to bear against us, because we are in its way.
In the nineteenth century, the forces of colonialism ran roughshod over the people of this region, in naked lust for the land and its resources. We cut down the trees, planted houses and crops and laid roads and concrete. We covered the land and its people with our laws and colonial culture, and then, as generations of colonial occupation carried on, we distanced ourselves from how we got here.
‘Not us’, we say. And, to an extent, we’re right—the colonial process was and is a part of the world-wide spread of capitalism, which is a system that turns groups against each other for the benefits of those who own the capital. It depends on a kind of identification with the oppressor that allows the oppression to carry on, and to be passed on by those who can to those who can’t do anything about it. It is a cycle of abuse.
What so many communities are learning, and so many around the world are coming to realize, is that this temporary balance of oppression has been in a process of shifting, and now the colonizing generations are coming under the same oppression that we have passed on to those weaker than us (though even now we are insulated from its worst effects).
Sam Ginden’s recent suggestion that the neoliberalism of the past several decades is just ‘capitalism getting its groove back‘ after the events of the early-to-mid twentieth century, is a point that keeps haunting me. The nostalgia that many of us feel for the ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalism of yesteryear—a capitalism that returned part of its profits in public services, whose governments regulated industry and protected the environment (at least in theory, though we now recognize that even those protections were nowhere near enough)—is indicative of the slow reaction that those of us not in control of capital are having to the realities of an inherently unequal global socio-economic system.
Pipelines come in many forms. Railways, roads, shipping lanes, pipelines—all of these have developed in a web of the extraction and flow of resources in an increasingly globalized system that has assembled at an ever-increasing pace over the past two or three centuries.
For most of this time, those of us Stockholm Syndrome sufferers who have been able to avoid identification with those we oppress because we deeply want to be like those who oppress us have been blissfuly unaware of the cost of this process. It is true that some of us have paid a lot of attention to the human cost of inequality—and much local, regional and global struggle has revolved around this series of recognitions. For the last half-century or so, there have indeed been many who also recognize the impending disaster inherent in our rampant use of the environment with no regard for the effects of doing so, but, as the world slowly wakes up to the realities that ‘environmentalists’ have talked about for years, the effects are too enormous quickly to undo.
What’s happening now in our communities, our cities, our wildernesses and our waters is just the creeping reality of a system off of whose surplus ‘we’ have lived for generations.
Standing here in the forest of Burnaby Mountain, my feet sinking into the deep red of old, rotting wood felled in the first wave of resource extraction, the stark reality of our situation both locally and globally is difficult to ignore. This is a forest in a process of recovery that will take a thousand years even to approach the rainforest that once grew here. And, in all reality, there is no way that we can even imagine such a recovery, because we paved most of it over. These tiny pockets that we keep are museum-pieces to the ecosystems that our cities have replaced.
And now that we have reached the point where it seems like it is too late to halt and undo the damage that we have done to our environment, it is perhaps unsurprising that the concentration of power against those of us willing to face up to our colonial heritage is unrelenting, vicious and devious in its attempts to silence us. We were on their side! We helped keep the others in line! We were trusties in this prison system, and now we are the worst enemies both of powers-that-be, and of those who desperately seek to hold on to their trusty status.
As I sat in court this week with my friends—to show support, to listen carefully, to try to understand and see behind the lines of what was happening in this legal process—I understood quite clearly that there is no way for us to ‘win’ at a game that is controlled by the other side. There is no fairness in our system—there can’t be. This legal process—in adjournment until the 17th of November, or until the Justice reaches his decision—may go this way or that, but the bitumen will most likely continue to be extracted and it will reach our ports somehow (because pipelines take many shapes). The carbon in it is being released into an atmosphere that can’t take it (at least if we want to sustain life as we know it), and we will feel the effects of this across our planet. Maybe we will survive.
If we do survive, and if we can raise ourselves from the ruins of this system built to fail, then the work we do now in re-orienting ourselves from oppressor to defender—of both people and of the land—will pay dividends when our descendants work out how to live in their new reality.
I am a John Doe. I will get in your way, and I will talk to anyone who will listen about how we can change our way of being, our way of thinking, our way of treating each other and the land that gives us life.
Million-fuelèd, nature’s bonfire burns on.
Please consider coming out to the People’s Climate March on 21 September, in whatever city you want to keep calling home… The Vancouver event is at 1 pm at the CBC Plaza.
It’s kept from us except where no ship can dock
And there we get stairways of rough-hewn stone making a pretence of age
Port security cuts off tracing any part of where the water meets land
where the clams can be dug
where the driftwood rolls back and forth in the tide
where feet can sink into sand and seaweed
alongside surf birds hunting for dinner
A rail line and a road were once permeable boundaries
and the old industry still held on
with pilings covered in mussels and seaweed
But now we must worry about congestion and terrorists so these areas are no longer open to us
Unless we have Official Business
The Port becomes an intensification, a condensation
So the useable area
is divided and demarcated and extended and hardened with concrete and aluminum
until there is no more room
for the sand to meet the water
The exchange of land and water
covered in brown
and waste from the ships
and the motors
and the goods that transpire there
When the climate changes cause the ices to melt into the ocean
And the sea levels rise
We’ll simply build it higher, stronger, better to withstand the mess
Perhaps with a sweep-it-into-the-floorboards fixture
for our central vacuum system
prepared for the little messes we make so that they can get pumped
because oil makes it hard to dock our ships
The houses along Wall Street (an irony that emerged by accident) worth a million a pop
Despite the diesel trains and the semi fumes and sulphur and noise and the lack of access, they perch there at the faux shore looking for dinner
I can’t touch it and god knows I don’t want to taste it
So I let my other three take over and
I see colours
The grey-green of K 64 patrolling the North Shore
The purplish blue in the crow’s plumage
Bright green of seaweed on the wall
Hot pink of the runner I’ve seen twice
The colour of the swagger in the business tourist
The delicate greys of the sand cliff mimicked by the woman sitting on the bench next to the seawall
The spot of red-orange on the gulls’ beaks
Incandescent orange-yellow of sparks as they cut down a sign and replace it with a new one, darker green, with new landmarks
The bright yellow of warning against the backdrop of the idea of the natural
The writer’s purple chair
The bleached tan of grass on cliff with nowhere to hide from the sun
The dull red line between us
The red and blue of someone’s abandoned sleeping bag in the many greens and browns of this weird hunting ground forestry block turned park
The deep green of the tree on top of Siwash Rock and
The weathered concrete of the searchlight now welded up and used as a viewpoint for points closer to shore
Yesterday it was scents
The chicken factory
Then fried things and
Briefly the sea
Sawdust at the co-op
Then the movie set on Victoria Street (but movies have no scent)
Tonight I’m overwhelmed by characters
Just too many to write record fully see
Not believing a Christian man asked the native elder healer about the problem of evil when he’d just told us he survived a decade of residential school
Not believing in the transvestite’s smirk when a woman yells at a big man to take his garbage with him
Not believing that any of us fit anymore
And then the sounds, but only three matter
the whistle at the rendering plant
the ringing of the bell at St Francis Assisi
and the first four notes of O! Canada played on air chimes atop a building downtown
I play the notes backwards in my head
I move along this hardened shore and see it as a map
this square and
to unceded land
that I acknowledge I am writing on
I move along this hardened shore and wait for an apocalypse to reorder, and wonder if my house will be okay
and if my family will survive
knowing that this idiot building his million-dollar house above
the train line will be the first to go
A report from the front lines of the search for “truth” in Truth and Reconciliation, and a look at the people trying to make history accessible to aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike.
WINNIPEG—There are two sacred boxes in the offices of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
One is a bentwood box sculpted from a single piece of cedar by an indigenous artist. Its panels are adorned with the mournful carved faces representing First Nations and Métis who suffered through the residential schools era, when government-sanctioned institutions systemically tried to eradicate indigenous culture, tore apart families and operated havens for child abuse.
View original post 2,977 more words
in straight lines
into the ground
and filled with
broadcasts to the
skin on the
the bones of
dial home and
tell the violence
in the Earth
my dad told me
would keep a pea
a dried hard
of gold dust
for a shot
maybe in the Chilkoot
at Dyea or Canyon City)
a Farley Mowat
cast on the
edge of society
tent city of
or forty dollars
a day in hot shot
while hotels take
and the locals
the violence is
in brawling men
is a patchwork
of the effects
along straight lines
(we rest on
shoulders along with
the seventy pounds
of gear they
carry along the
ley lines that
points of interest
for the society
that pushes them
out into this
we rest there
and we protest there
and we know nothing
of their lives or
of our guilt
and our society
is a patchwork of
and our desires)
addictions and desires
a patchwork of
ley lines of
flight into the New
to show that
ley lines are
three or more
those lines and
for the earthquake
Two days after Robin Williams died, I don’t know how to use verbs any more, and adjectives fail me.
The day that Robin Williams hung himself in his home I watched Andy Goldsworthy for the first time and the next day I got bitten by three wasps after I stitched three leaves together with a Ponderosa Pine needle like Andy Goldsworthy and threw them into the chasm of Trout Creek, thinking about Robin Williams and every moment in my life that he touched from the distance of the screen and the projection booth.
One week before Robin Williams died, the Mount Polley mine tailing pond breached and sent chemical slurry into the waterways and now the skin is coming off the salmon and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans tells the Secwepemc band that they can’t fish in the offered Musqueam waters to support themselves, unless the Musqueam wish to divide their allotment with them, so they should take the fish from their own traditional waters because the water is drinkable. They won’t even have to skin the fish.
Two days after Robin Williams died, the civilian death toll in Gaza stands at 1443, and there are 236 374 displaced people, including those in whose dinner table the occupiers carved ‘good Arab = dead Arab’ before they retreated behind their Iron Dome.
Ten days before Robin Williams died, I studied the ball of amber forming on the tree behind her head as a green grasshopper made his way directly over it without getting stuck, and I listened to the trio of crows on the sea wall as they discussed their next move.
The day after Robin Williams died, so did Lauren Bacall, and I remember her as ‘Sailor’ in her radio show with Bogart and I lie in bed thinking about them marching on the capitol protesting HUAC.
Two days after Robin Williams died, only nouns seem secure.