Ft. McMurray – nothing can prepare…

We began our day at the lake lodge. In the early morning the loons were still crying out, the beavers still splashing about the shore, the mergansers breakfasting among the reeds, and off in the distance coyotes were howling.

It’s a rough transition…

Nothing can prepare. At least not me, and even after all I’ve read about the place. Highway 63 is an experience. This remarkably dangerous two lane highway, loaded with some of the biggest trucks and machines I have ever seen on the road, is being quickly made into an expansive freeway. At the same time, it is dotted with in situ mines, another method of extracting bitumen, and is being gouged out for more pipelines. This is Alberta extraction at its most dramatic, and the landscape is being remade to put it at the service of the global economy, seemingly endless amounts of oil buried in these layers of tar sands, trillions and trillions of barrels worth, potentially.

As much as I could prepare, I was stunned once again. As we drove the many kms along 63 to Ft. McMurray, I had a realization that was most unwelcome but that I had to allow to enter in – that this is way beyond stopping a particular section of pipeline in Nebraska, or beyond most all the protests up to this point. This is an engine fueling something larger than all of us. It is at a scale hard to comprehend, and it feels so inexorable, a momentum it is hard to imagine stopping any time soon. We seem headed down this road, full steam ahead.

Ft. McMurray is one of the strangest places I have ever been. It is congested with all that boom population, mostly male, so male in fact that being women walking down the streets after dinner felt incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. It is a boom town to the nth degree. It is the pioneers tearing through the frontier 21st century style, with enormous machines tearing down everything in their path to tame wild nature and make it into an industrial factory to service the world of extraction, production, and consumption.

We stopped at the industry-touting Oil Sands Discovery Centre, one of the best examples of industry propaganda I have ever experienced. It is sobering and sad and terrifying all at once. As we entered, one sign read: “Making our earth more productive.”

Poor Mother Earth probably didn’t think she needed this assistance.

We are taking this in. And that is a pretty difficult thing to do – to let this sink in. And we haven’t even gotten to the oil sands industrial sites yet. So much to write about in the days to come. So much to ponder, to allow the impact on one’s heart and soul. Earth needs witnesses, and we have chosen to witness here.

Tomorrow we will drive to Ft. McKay to visit the First Nation community there. They will be cooking moose meat for us, and that will be a new experience. We will see all of this from a different vantage point, and I look forward to the grace of that, however hard that grace comes.

So we settle tonight into this reality. It is the world we have made.


About the author: Margaret Swedish believes that we must not only live differently, we must be differently. More about Margaret’s work is available on her website Spirituality and Ecological Hope – http://www.ecologicalhope.org

3 comments… add one
  • Miriam

    Thank you for being a witness.

  • Debra

    Your account makes my heart ache for the earth, the river, and for you who are making this journey.

  • Diane Green

    Your journey is amazing and I am more sorry every day that I couldn’t join you due to my other commitment. I am currently in Iceland – another country with stunning beauty and abundant natural resources. It is going to be interesting to see how they harness their resources in a way that won’t destroy THEIR emvironment.

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