Saturday, 28 October 2017

From This Side of the Valley

Into the Goat Range in Southeastern, BC, switch backing up the slope. Land changing color–red, yellow, orange, and lime green as deciduous leaves prepare to release.

Up here, a few glacier fed creeks still flow. This seems miraculous after this year's catastrophic fires (more than any year on record here in British Columbia) and many months of drought. My temperate rain-forest home of cedar, fir, and moist spongy moss has became like a giant tinder bundle ready to ignite. The creek I live on ran out a month ago, and some of the most important salmon spawning beds on the north side of this range are now reduced to dust. So it is good to see that here, at least, there is still some liquid flow. I cup my hand and dip it into a swirling pool, lift it to my mouth and drink. Having been raised in the industrial mid-west, where rivers run with auto factory effluent and Great Lakes fish mutate from toxic chemicals, I am ever grateful to sip unfiltered water straight from the source.

Climbing higher. Just below tree line. The autumn air growing colder. My eyes wide in search of animals. Not out of fear, but in longing. For me the wild ones represent all that remains sane and balanced in a world of crazy domesticity. I have had many exceptional human teachers throughout the course of my life, but the animals remain my supreme guides. I pick a bouquet of dry flowers for them–fire weed, aster, and a cluster of orange mountain ash berries and carry it up the mountain with me. I imagine presenting it to any bear, elk, or coyote that appears and, for a moment, believe they will accept my gesture of good will instead of becoming frightened. I know the chances of this happening are slim–especially with it being hunting season and I've already seen the orange vests and pick up trucks with gun racks down on the forest road. 

Eventually I am above the trees. The north slope of Kokanee Glacier spreads out before me. Thick clouds have bunched above the gray ridge line and the alpine bowls. Soon it will snow and the high country meadows in exceptional Fall color will be a uniform, insulating white. I stare at the mountains across the valley for a few moments, taking them in, mind settling, unconsciously mirroring their stoney repose. Gary Snyder’s granite Buddahs sitting in silent contemplation come to mind as the slopes beneath them are ransacked. With my binoculars I can see three men wielding chainsaws and cutting trees. The sound of a backhoe scraping against rock, the buzz of metal saw teeth biting into living wood, the thud of century’s old bodies falling dead to the ground, and the muffled laughter of men just doing their jobs when the machines go silent for refueling.

I shake my head–one part of me cursing them for what they are doing, another part wanting to understand: what happened to these men? What old, original abuse, passed down through generations, is now being re-enacted on the land? As always, I wonder how to make it stop. What 21st Century action will be most effectivenot so much in stopping the bulldozers, but in healing the collective severance from the living world before there is nothing left? As I wonder over these things, my hands automatically start gathering rocks. I arrange them on the ground in a circle and draw symbols I have no words for on their surfaces with a piece of charred wood I've picked up. Finally, I lay the bouquet of dry flowers upon this make shift altar and hear my voice offering the land an apology. For now it is all I can do from this side of the valley.