It’s an autumn evening, so still except for the crickets and the apples dropping nearby. My bees pollinated so many trees this year that there are more apples than I’ve ever seen at my cottage. So many apples that my brother and I pressed them into apple cider, and I made liters of applesauce. Today I started fixing up the three hives, making sure they had enough food for the winter. My parents left for the evening, so I did last one weeding of my garden, watching flocks of Canada geese and blackbirds pass overhead. I harvested the last of the carrots, and admired the dirt under my fingernails.
Satisfied with my TinyHomestead chores complete, I walked down by to river, in my deerskin moccasins, munching on my very fresh little carrots. I noticed deer tracks, scared away a ruffed grouse. Avoiding the poison ivy, I crouched in the grass and peered down to the riverbank. Raccoon tracks covered the mud. Hey, a heron was here yesterday. A beaver weaved close to me and then smashed its tail into the water, trying to scare me away. It took me a while to be able to enjoy the river again, to be able to sit on the bench and watch fish ripple the water without feeling sadness. Or despair.
I realized today that it’s been almost a year since I’ve been involved with tar sands and pipelines issues. I remembered how it felt to realize that a decades old pipeline was lying a few miles up the river that I have loved my whole life. I feverishly researched more and more, and I was devastated to find out that it had a history of spills, and was slated to reverse its direction to take diluted bitumen from the tar sands to Portland, Maine. It was called the Portland-Montreal pipeline- PMPL. To get to my cottage from the city, we have to drive through town, crossing over the shaved strip where the pipeline snakes underground. I try to avoid noticing it sometimes, but the yellow markers where it crosses the road and the sign asking “Mayflower, Kalamazoo...Sutton. For who?” nailed up by citizens, which referenced major oil spills with similar pipelines as the one a few feet away always reminded me of it.
There’s this scene in the documentary Gasland that I feel sometimes. There’s a part where Josh Fox says something about seeing fracking wells everywhere he went, how everywhere felt like Gasland eventually. I felt betrayed, somehow, when I realized that this whole time that I thought that the land that my family had was safe- from pollution, from destruction, from reality I guess, but really there was a pipeline there this whole time. A few months ago, I went to Toronto for a weekend. On a walk on a beautiful summer evening with a person I was quickly falling for, I realized that Line 9 crossed the river close to where we passed. I felt I couldn’t escape – pipelines, or trains carrying oil, or trucks carrying oil - are everywhere. The city was full of noise and people and waste, but coming to the country just made me sad that this place was in danger too.
Last night when I was driving up here on one of the country road, I passed two girls obviously lost in the dark, with their bikes. “Where you guys going?” I asked. “Oh, Glen Sutton, our dad has a place on the river”. “What color is his house? Green?” “Yeah! ...how’d you know?” “I’m headed right by there, I think can see your place from mine. Does your dad go kayaking a lot? He has a beard?” “Yeah! So it’s your place that has the bench by the water?” The bench by the water, where I’ve spent so many hours, watching for beavers, kingfishers, hoping to see the otter. I saw them on the other side of the river drive by with their dad this evening; they rolled down the window and we yelled out some conversation across the water.
When they passed, I was left with myself and the crickets again. I wondered - do I feel hopeful about this river? Will the banks stay clean, the beavers and the otter say oil-free?
The National Energy Board public hearing for the Line 9 project is in two weeks – Line 9 would eventually supply tar sands oil to the pipeline a couple miles upstream from me. How do I feel, a year after working on this pipeline and the two other pipelines that pass through Montreal?
I’m not sure. It’s hard to tell, standing on the banks. The river seems oblivious to danger – from people, from climate change, from oil spills. It’s just doing what it’s doing, as it’s done, and as it will. On this quiet evening when everything is enjoying the last summery days, it seems strange to think that this place could be destroyed, kind of unfathomable to think that one day I could come here to an oil-soaked bank. But maybe. Probably Enbridge’s Line 9b will get reversed in the next few months, and TransCanada is trying to build the Energy East pipeline, even bigger than Keystone XL, across Quebec to New Brunswick to export. Then maybe this pipeline will get reversed too, filling this decrepit pipe with filthy tar sands oil.
I’ve spent so many hours in meetings, reading a bazillion emails, talking to people about – how do we stop this? And not just this, but all of them? Sometimes it feels like we’ll win, and sometimes it feels like it’s pointless. Why do we see destruction as progress? Shouldn’t life for people and all living things be getting better, not worse?
But out of everything, I feel grateful for the people I’ve met through this fight. I felt so alone when I first learned about my river being in danger. Like there was nothing I could do to stop it, that maybe nothing could. Over the months, I’ve made so many good friends, heard so many interesting people’s stories, felt so unified with people.
The oil companies have done more to build a community for me than anything else could have, and I guess I have to thank them for that.
I'm an eco-conscious girl from Montreal, Quebec. I'm currently an adjunct science professor at Champlain College of Vermont (Montreal Campus). I'm interested in any opportunities to expand my experience with grassroots activism, climate change legislation, or environmental education.