One year ago today, I left Canmore for Haida Gwaii and a life-changing artist’s residency at Gwaii Haanas National Park. In a month’s time, I learned more than I could absorb, met new family and friends, saw, touched, smelled and heard things that were literally Super-Natural and was inspired and welcomed with open arms by the Haida Nation and the islanders.
I yearn to return there – more than anything in my life that I’ve wished for. I need to show my family everything there that I experienced. I’d move in a heartbeat. The inspiration has taken me a whole year of thinking, battling and painting to begin to work out. Haa’wa to all my friends and family on HG. I think of you every day.
In this short year, Harper’s government has slashed funding to Parks Canada and as a result, the same program that inspired me so, is no longer in place. No mind. I’m more determined than ever to express the beauty and mystery that just one oil tanker spill could destroy. All this time spent sick has given me time to think, and once I am on my feet….well, let’s just say I’m making it my life’s work.
Pledge to something or someone important in your life. As an artist, this is your duty.
Tonight, in a turn of events involving a different type of oil, as “crude” as margarine when first introduced to Mother Nature, it’s pretty clear that she’s spoken loudly regarding her opinion on a western sea shipment and pipeline of oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to Kitimat, BC and into the waters surrounding that powerful island of Haida Gwaii to markets in China and beyond. At 3:04:10 UTC, at 52.769°N / 131.927°W an earthquake of 7.7 hit Haida Gwaii, followed by 14 aftershocks and counting at 2:52 am.
Haida Gwaii sits at the juncture of three tectonic plates, with a total of 10 fault lines. A bit like Mother Nature’s weak and ticklish spot, if you will. In discussions tonight with friends from Haida Gwaii and across the planet, I believe someone said something like this;
“This is a seismologist’s wet dream. They’ll be years looking at the data from this.”
In short, this area is as unstable as the San Andreas fault, with a powerful oblique thrust that will put some kick in your behind. In fact, in Terrace BC, near where the pipeline would run, friends there said that it was the biggest @#$)(* shakeup they had ever felt. Friends in Queen Charlotte City (Haida Gwaii) said it felt like running through a speeding train.
The first earthquake measuring 7.7 eminated from the heart of Gwaii Haanas National Park as you can see from this map. I was right there this past June – should be able to find a photo of it in the morning when I’m a little less adrenalin-charged.
We’re kidding ourselves if we think that it’s just Enbridge that is spurring this western pipeline route. Think hard…the government of Alberta – nay….the government of Canada… needs to get it’s oil to markets, and those markets are big and powerful and carry a lot of pressure (China, USA) ….but none of them are as powerful as Mother Nature who affects all of us, all of the time.
Let’s take a wild trip and figure out what might have happened if an oil tanker was caught in the tsunami. No…let’s not. That’s easy to imagine and it’s way too close to Halloween to be drawing analogies of disaster, death and doom in 2012. The signs are everywhere. Open your eyes. Have a look at where dirty crude could land…and think about the land route from Alberta, across mountainous regions of BC in a steel pipeline.
Tsunami Propogation Chart – October 28, 2012. Earthquakes from Haida Gwaii.
What’s not easy to imagine is a solution to this issue. How do we think through logical, sensible, safe routes? How do we have sensible, authentic dialogues around solutions? How do we start thinking together with some form of honesty about this issue…together. I challenge Alberta and BC, and the government of Canada AND the rest of the planet to start thinking a bit more sensibly and listening to what is going on. Drop your thoughts about what party, corporation or not-for-profit that you’re aligned with, and spend that energy and time on solutions. I’m confident there’s a way….just not this one.
I’m signing off for the night – as folks in Hawaii evacuate their shorelines, I pray that the waters will calm. I pray that we’ll find a better way.
And I don’t ever want to have to say, “I told you so….but I did.”, said Mother Nature.
You have to understand the remoteness of this place. It’s a 20 hour, two day FULL drive from Canmore, AB – first on the Icefields Parkway to Jasper and then through the winding Yellowhead Highway country, though Prince George, along the banks of the Fraser and Skeena River systems, through the Pacific Coastal Mountains to the Port of Prince Rupert.
From there, it’s a 7 hour ferry ride, just to get to the island of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) and just in view of the shores of Alaska from it’s northern coast. And that’s just the first part of the journey! Epic in itself, just to get to Haida Gwaii.
From there, our group of five departed from Skidegate, another ferry ride from Skidegate to Alliford Bay and then through an hour and a half of potholed logging roads that you could swallow your truck, and humping gear over an “outed” bridge to the marine departure point at Deer Bay, Moresby Camp. Not a journey for the faint of heart!
Departing Moresby Camp, it was an hour long trip by boat on the trusty BC forestry services boat, the “Adelita” to our floating camp at the Bischof Islands in Gwaii Haanas. These waters are the fourth most dangerous in the world. Enough said, I suppose…
Using the Bischof Islands as our base, we headed out to many different locations in Gwaii Haanas. I created several works onsite where time and equipment landing would permit. I also worked on the boat, in watercolour creating sketches as we travelled the long distances between points. I’ll share those in a later posting with you.
The only communications in this area is by marine radio or satellite phone, both of which are sketchy at the best of times. When not sketching or painting, I spent a great deal of time in visual observation and in photography. There is never enough lifetimes to begin to paint what I have seen or experienced, but here is a short “bite” for those who are so eager to see what I did when I was there.
This painting was done onsite at Sedgwick Bay, Athlii Gwaii (Lyell Island) where in the autumn of 1985, a group of Haida elders travelled by helicopter to engage in one of the first direct action efforts of first nations across the land. Conflicting interests that pit first nations against industrial development reached a boiling point. The Haida Elders created a line between the ancient rainforests and old growth cedar and spruce and the forestry companies that held timber licenses. Four Elders stood on the line at Lyell. Please see the clip below of excerpts from Urban Rez’s production of “Athlii Gwaii – The Line at Lyell”, exclusive footage from that time features touching interviews with elders; Ada Yovanovich and Adolphus Marks. Contemporary interviews were conducted with the Elders Ethel Jones and Watson Pryce in 2002. They shared their memories of that trying time. Sadly all four Elders have passed on but their act of selfless devotion to their beloved Haida Gwaii should be an inspiration to us all.
Visiting this place was a great inspiration for me. I would say it was one of the most stirring and inspiring moments of my visit. It was pouring down buckets that day, but I could hear the Elders and the protestors, firm in their convictions and in their hearts. Their spirits were all around me. There was even an old Chinese Checkers game still left in the main cabin. I sat in the doorway for a very long time, imagining what it might have been like for them all, to make a stand, bind together and speak out for what was right, not just for themselves, but for everyone.
I am grateful that the Haida Nation, these Elders and young warrior members stood so firmly to protect this place. We should do the same now, as the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project by Enbridge threatens once again, this magnificent culture and ecosystem in which we are all so interconnected. Stand up and speak out about the effects that this pipeline will have on habitat, culture and the ecology of our planet. Write your MP and the official opposition. If you are international, write your own governments and let them know that this is an issue for all people.
Make yourself heard…and be part of the new “Line”. Do the right thing.
The Icefields Parkway starts to get well-travelled at this time of the year. It’s still a barren stretch of road, devoid of the average “touristy” stops, cell connectivity and roadside gas stations. You’re bound to see some form of wildlife almost any time of the year in this high country. More often than not, you’ll see Rocky Mountain Sheep vs. the Bighorn Sheep that you see above, but nonetheless….both will cause a jam on the highway as tourists from all over the world stop to catch their fill of a bit of wild “Canadian” through the lens of the glaciers, the mountains and the Columbia Icefield. Hell…as taxpayers, we’ve sure marketed it! I’ve always said it’s the most beautiful road in all of Canada and drank that Koolaid…until today.
Today, I found a less-travelled path by the common North American, Japanese, Chinese and European tourists that so often are now found along the stretch from Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. The Icefields Parkway seems but a cheap touristy trinket version of “Canadian Wild”, eh?
Today…I found the road from Smithers to Terrace, and THIS is the most amazing piece of road that I have yet seen in all of my life. Wide areas of timber, rivers that flow with strength and purity one into another – of every colour and size, culminating in the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena River. Wow. And until yesterday, I thought the Bow River was something to behold, but the Skeena has a power and life-force beyond comprehension and words. My friend, Rob Buffler talked about the Skeena over coffee last week. His eyes lit up with fever and wonder…and I would not have understood it until I saw it for myself.
The verdant valleys that lay at the bottom of majestic snow-capped peaks that line the sides of the Yellowhead highway #16 westward towards Prince Rupert…have taken my breath away today. The smell of the air is different here. It’s newer – fresher, filled with spirit and the life-breath of the trees. The life-breath of this planet.
I get it. I get why we need to look at this land with different eyes, and protect it. I’ve never seen anything like it. Pristine…beautiful. There are no words for this place…and there are fewer people to see it.
I travelled for hours today, only sighting a few logging and industry trucks and a camper or two amongst them. The tour companies don’t come here…it’s too far, too remote, but it’s important. We need to see this place. This is the place that the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline (and a warning- that’s the link to Enbridge’s point of view of this) will pass through. It is almost as though this remote place doesn’t matter because the majority of folks never see it. This is just not true. It matters. Oh…how incredibly vibrant and alive this place is. I do not think we can afford to even take a small chance to ruin such a thing. It disrespects the Creator. It disrespects us. It disrespects everyone that came before us and everyone that will come after us. We really need to rethink this.
Speak up. Spread the word. This land is important.
I despair that my children, and their grandchildren may never see such things as I’ve seen today, and I am not a sheep, content to lick at the side of the road while the tour companies plan the stops and the tourists jump from their busses, cameras in hand to catch a sheep licking the road. I don’t want to see that type of “managed” wild. It’s just not real…not living…not “us”.
I will not be that sheep. There is something much more powerful stirring within me.
This is the time for us all to become more like the bear – to travel far and wide and see what our territory is, beyond our comfort zones, beyond our daily lives and into the life we are all so deeply connected within.
We cannot lose this….or can we? Get involved. Find out what the issues are for yourself. Question and understand every viewpoint, and then voice an educated opinion.