The Fly Over

“My heart is moved by all I cannot save, so much has been destroyed. I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”           Adrienne Rich

On Saturday we flew over the oil sands mines. The scope and breadth of the entire operation of two companies were in our view. There are 40 companies with permits to dig and drill in situ if the oil is too deep, not all are yet in operation.

Athabasca River flows through the Boreal forest as she has for countless generations blessing all life with water. First we see the Clearwater River winding through the beautiful Boreal and then the place where Clearwater and Athabasca meet…and then the industry.

It takes ten barrels of Athabasca water to make one barrel of oil.  The industry very swiftly tells you how they recycle eight barrels of that water.  The used water, filled with the chemical naptha (the only chemical they would tell us) and oil sheen floating on top is held in many different tailings ponds, some the size of lakes!

The birds have to be kept from landing on a tailings pond so little cannons boom all day and all night. The diminishment is downplayed while protecting ducks from certain death and reclaiming used water to process again is highlighted.

The industry falls over itself with congratulations.

The actual fly over the mines was at 1,000 feet and we could see well.  The site is what I might imagine as a war zone with crater size holes in the Earth.  Sickening orange and yellow green pools of water fill smaller craters while two story size loaders fill up with large clumps of sand that will then need crushing, coking and separating.

It is so labor intensive with such an infrastructure that I wonder how it can be so profitable.

Maureen and I both shake our heads at the vastness.  A slight headache and sinking feeling arises within, but it is not air sickness. It is  dread. It looks like Mars in the middle of the Boreal forest.

We have created a lunar landscape to prop up our modern “wonder world.”  But I don’t want you to worry your little heads about it because in 20-30 years the industry can “reclaim” the land, put the overburden (top growth and muskeg back,)  plant a diverse little forest that will take another 70 years to grow…Heck, Syncrude just received an award for reclaiming a piece of land and now a small herd of bison roams the make believe prairie.

I am sorry to be so cynical, but it is the arrogance that is just killing me.  The thought “Forgive them (us) for they (we) do not know what they (we) do” passes through my thoughts  more than once. We have bought into the story of separation and have forgotten we were born from this Earth along with everything else.

When we look for the long time story, it goes something like this.

Once there was an ancient river flowing into a great sea.  The river died and its sand deposits were covered by the Western Interior Seaway, an ancient ocean which covered Alberta millions of years ago.

The remains of tiny marine plankton that lived in the ocean formed organic matter in the depressions of the sea bed. Over time bacteria and  heat and pressure caused by layering rock and silt cooked the organic material and transformed it into oil.

When the Rocky Mountains formed some 300 million years ago, the oil was forced north into the existing sand deposits left by ancient rivers. The oil is the life energy of  billions of beings from the past.

May we, here for so short a time ourselves, come to know and honor the Earth story. ..the story of life and beauty and transformation.  May we wake up to our role in the story as celebrators of all that is and work to “reconstitute the world.”

About the author: I am the ecology director of the Sisters of Mercy, Northeast Community. I worked with young children in Montessori and public school for many years and learned the cosmic story along the way from Virginia Barta, OSF at the Christine Center for Meditation in WI, Miriam MacGillis,OP at Genesis Farm, Chris Loughlin,OP at Crystal Spring in Plainville, MA and Carolyn McDade in the long journey of singing.

5 comments… add one
  • Nancy Audette

    Mary, how can one’s heart hold the experience of such destruction of creation? This violence is what the human specIes is practicing against Earth and what we do to the Earth we do to ourselves! How much longer?

    • What we do to Earth we do to women, to children (the weak) to anyone we call “other” (the different from me and mine). We have forgotten our roots in the same source… exploding star! We are one being here vibrating in beauty and diversity, but somehow we think we are a notch “above” it all. Unrestrained violence is a natural occurrence of this misguided worldview.

  • Beverly MacInnis

    It’s one thing to read about and/or see photos of what’s taking place in the oil sands mines . It’s quite another to be flying over and in the area, and seeing, hearing and smelling the full extent of the devastation. I’ll continue to pray for those involved (and for all of us) that we make healthier choices for our planet/ universes.

  • Pat Oliver

    Mary and Maureen, your passionate narrative of your pilgrimage certainly moved my heart and spirit. At this time in my life, all I can do is offer my prayerful support. Continue to witness on behalf of the Earth community.

  • Jackie Moreau

    I appreciate your going on this journey and narrating in a way we can be there with you. May earth through many of us change this story of destruction and restore all to balanced shared life.

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