my hands are full

In April, 2008, I travelled to a number of small communities along the Yellowhead Highway and beyond as part of a book tour for authors shortlisted for B.C. Book Prizes. (My collection of personal essays, Phantom Limb, had been nominated for the Hubert Evans Award.) I particularly remember the drive to Kitimat where Mary Novik and I spent time with high school kids in the afternoon and then, before the evening reading at Book Masters, Bryan Pike (the amazing organizer and driver for the tour) took us out to the Haisla village of Kitamaat for dinner at Sea Masters. The restaurant was right on the edge of Douglas Channel and we sat by a window and ate wonderful food — crab cakes with mango salsa, snapper,  halibut: food taken from the waters we looked out on. Pristine waters, alive with seabirds, mists, and seals near the shore.

It was a sublime experience. I’ve often thought of that channel, particularly now that the news is full of the federal government’s go-ahead to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal which would bring bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat where it would then be taken to offshore markets by supertankers navigating the wild waters of our western coast. I’m not an economist nor a energy expert nor a captain of any kind of industry apart from my home and garden. But I’m a citizen and I don’t believe this project is sound. I recall the terrible days following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989. The giant tanker ran into Bligh Reef, releasing up to 750,000 barrels of crude oil into those pristine waters. This was an accident that “couldn’t happen” — statistically, at least. But it did. I remember the photographs of seabirds, sea and river otters, seals, orcas, all covered in oil and dying. The long-term damage and losses were catastrophic — think of the communities dependent on those resources: the mussel and clam beds, the herring and salmon runs, the eel-grass beds providing nurseries for little organisms.  All these years later, crude oil continues to be a problem in soils and sands.

So the petitions are circulating and I’ve signed one: And I’ll do whatever I can to make sure that this pipeline doesn’t progress any further than it already has.

But I was delighted to learn that the Gitga’at First Nations have come up with a plan. “Made of multicolour yarn and decorated with family keepsakes and mementos including baby pictures and fishing floats with written messages on them, the chain will stretch from Hawkesbury Island to Hartley Bay, a distance of 11,544 feet.”

It doesn’t surprise me that women are protesting with yarn and old skills. I sometimes think we meditate with our hands, we come to solutions by feeling our way through problems, loneliness, grief, hardship, and traumas by immersing our hands in the materials of creation. And while I’ve been listening to news of this yarn blockade, I’ve been meditating myself, knitting a blanket for my first grandchild, due in July. The connection between keeping a newborn baby warm and safe and protecting the place I love so dearly is as clear as anything I know.




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