The day before the tar sands

We made a remarkable connection in Brule, part of the grace that seems to accompany us everywhere. Maureen, our fearless coordinator, found the B&B way off the beaten path, down a country road to the lovely hamlet sitting above the Athabasca River. There was access through gates and a barbed wire fence, through woods and across a meadow, over the incredibly busy railroad tracks. We lingered all afternoon along the river, ending with four of us sitting on a log meditating.

The B&B is owned by two musicians, Laura Vinson and her husband Dave. The connection here, without planning it, was not only to some of the history of the Metis people in this region, but to other connections with the state of the river long before the tar sands. As Maureen posted, the fracking alone is changing the waters and the landscape – and not in good ways. But the grace was in meeting these remarkable people, and because of that having a much richer and deeper understanding of the ways in which Alberta has been put to the service of the extraction industries – oil, coal, and gas. It is being served up as a sacrifice to the gods of our industrial culture. If you allow yourself to really take it in, you can hardly believe we humans have become so disconnected from our ecological whole, that in which we live and move and have our being, that we could allow this to continue.

And the grace continues. Where we are now – this was not an easy find. The Little Lodge on the Lake is a little house on someone’s lake property nestled in the woods about 30 kms west of the town of Athabasca. Last night, we slept under brilliant starlight to the cries of loons and the wind in the poplar trees. We all slept deeply.

Tomorrow we drive to Ft. McMurray, some 4 hours from here. There is a little anxiety settling in about what this experience will be. We breathe deeply, because there what we breathe will not be good for us. We will arrive in Mordor, or Dante’s Inferno, and see what it is in our human ingenuity we have devised to wrest more and more ancient goo from Mother Earth for us to burn to fuel our way of life, our expanding global economy.

So, stay tuned. We will have stories to share…

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 –

3 comments… add one
  • Ah, Grace is without price, gratis, free. When people value primarily that which can be sold, marketed, banked, mortgaged, and defrauded we lose what is most valuable. Yet Dhamma sneaks or bursts in freely, no matter how much our confused human world seeks to keep it at bay. Thanks for the reflections. May your hearts be strong.

  • Elizabeth Martorell

    Thinking of you all and looking forward to the “reports.”

  • Jean Ann

    Just saw this and thought you would all appreciate seeing it:
    Published on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 by Common Dreams
    Neil Young: Tar Sands Fields ‘Look Like Hiroshima’
    Singer says tar sands development left Fort McMurray a ‘wasteland’ that is ‘truly a disaster’
    – Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
    Fresh off a trip to Canada’s tar sands oil fields in Alberta, famed singer Neil Young spoke out at a conference in Washington, DC on Monday against the controversial oil extraction and its export through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, calling Fort McMurray, the town nearest Alberta’s vast tar sands, a “wasteland.”
    “This is truly a disaster,” said Young, painting a dire picture in which the people, land and animals of the region are greatly suffering.
    “The fuel’s all over – the fumes everywhere – you can smell it when you get to town,” Young recalled. “The closest place to Fort McMurray that is doing the tar sands work is 25 or 30 miles out of town and you can taste it when you get to Fort McMurray. People are sick. People are dying of cancer because of this. All the First Nations people up there are threatened by this.”
    “Yeah it’s going to put a lot of people to work,” Young said of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which is slated to transport the excavated tar sands to export terminals in Texas and Louisiana. “I’ve heard that, and I’ve seen a lot of people that would dig a hole that’s so deep that they couldn’t get out of it, and that’s a job too, and I think that’s the jobs that we are talking about there with the Keystone pipeline,” he said.
    “The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima,” said Young. “Fort McMurray is a wasteland. … All of the First Nations people up there are threatened by this. Their food supply is wasted. Their treaties are no good. They have a right to live on the land that they always did but there’s no land left that they can live on. All the animals are dying. This is truly a disaster.”
    “Neil Young is speaking for all of us fighting to stop the Keystone XL,” Jane Kleeb, Executive Director of Bold Nebraska, a coalition of landowners and others opposed to the $5.3-billion Keystone XL pipeline, told the Globe and Mail. “When you see the pollution already caused by the reckless expansion of tar sands, you only have one choice and that is to act.”


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