Category Archives: Love Letters

To Save a Rainforest

CathedralGrove save walbran
“I’m in love. With salmon, with trees outside my window, with baby lampreys living in sandy streambottoms, with slender salamanders crawling through the duff. And if you love, you act to defend your beloved.” — Derrick Jensen

Pacific Coast people have always defended the places we love. Most of British Columbia is unceded indigenous land, because native peoples never abandoned, sold, or traded their land away. Many fought fiercely against the power of the British Empire. Cannonballs are sometimes still found embedded in centuries-old trees along the shore – leftovers from the gunboats that tried to suppress indigenous uprisings in the late 1800s.

Photo: Nuu-chah-nulth war canoes by Edward Curtis, BC Historical Society

Nuu-chah-nulth war canoes (Edward Curtis, BC Historical Society)

A century later, descendants of the settlers have joined forces to battle corporate raiders. In the 1980s and 1990s, a groundswell of eco-organizing brought thousands of people together to stop clearcut logging in the cathedral forests of Vancouver Island’s Pacific coast, where timber companies were busy converting ten-thousand-year-old ecosystems into barren stumpfields and pulp for paper.

During those years, police arrested hundreds in Clayoquot Sound and the Walbran Valley at mass civil disobedience protests. Young and old alike sat in the middle of the logging roads and linked arms. The resistance went far beyond the peaceful and symbolic: unknown individuals spiked thousands of trees to make the timber dangerous to sawmills. Shadowy figures burned logging bridges and vandalized equipment. The skirmishes went on for over a decade.

Clayoquot Sound, 1993

Clayoquot Sound, 1993

We won a few battles. Several coastal valleys are protected as parks. But many of them have been logged. And now the logging companies are coming back for the valleys that remain unprotected.

One of the worst corporate offenders is Teal Jones, the company currently bulldozing the majestic Walbran Valley, two hours west of Victoria, BC. They are laying waste to a vibrant rainforest for short-term profit, without the consent of the Pacheedaht First Nation, the Qwa-ba-diwa people, or anyone else outside of government and industry. Teal Jones does not even own the land; it was taken from indigenous people in the name of the BC government sixty years ago.

Pacheedaht territory

Pacheedaht territory, Vancouver Island BC

This year, the elected leadership of the Pacheedaht First Nation threw its support behind building a longhouse in the contested valley, on the land that has sustained them for countless generations. At the same time, locals are pushing back against the logging by occupying roads and logging sites. This in spite of the company’s court order telling police to arrest anyone who blocks their work. Forest defenders are regrouping, but the destruction continues.

Women for the Walbran and Forest Action Network are ramping up to break the deadlock. We’re hosting direct action trainings to share skills and develop strategies for defending ecosystems. The agenda includes tactics like non-violent civil disobedience, occupying tree-tops, and backcountry stealth. We’ll have info on legal rights, indigenous solidarity, and more.

Tree-sit occupation, Langford BC. (Photo: Ingmar Lee)

Our adversary, Teal Jones, is a relatively small company. Its owners are relying on the police to protect their “right” to strip public forests on Pacheedaht traditional territory. Profit margins are slim, and lawyers are expensive. The forest defenders are poor, but we have community support and a wide array of strategies for beating Teal Jones at its own game. Every tool in the box: we can launch a mass civil disobedience campaign, carry out hit-and-run raids on costly machines, coordinate a knockout legal strategy, or deliver the tried-and-true “death by a thousand cuts” with a combination of tactics.

However it plays out, Teal Jones is on borrowed time in the Walbran. But that’s cold comfort when the machines are mowing down thousand-year-old forests like grass.

Photo: Walbran Central

The forest defenders do have certain advantages. On the practical side, we’re investing in the gear and training that will provide the leverage to win. We have a legal defense fund that’s both a war chest for litigation and a safety net for those who risk their freedom on the front lines. But our best defense is the thousands of people who love this land like life itself. Many live nearby and visit every chance they get, others came once and fell in love, and untold numbers have yet to see the Walbran’s wildlife firsthand, but they hold it in their hearts.

Photo: Stasher BC

Those who love the land are a community. We are the organizers, sponsors, and volunteers who drive this movement forward. Everyone who shares these values can be a part of it; no contribution is too small. We’re going all-out to defend the forests, rivers, bears, cougars, otters, and eagles of the Walbran Valley. They sustain us and we give back by fighting to protect them.

Walbran River, the heart of the Walbran Valley, spring 2016. (Photo: Walbran Central)

Remember: Forest Defenders Are Heroes! 

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Filed under Animals, Derrick Jensen, Environment, Legal Battles, Love Letters, Politics

The Courage to Speak Truth to Power

The more we challenge the status quo, the more those with power attack us. Fortunately, social change is not a popularity contest.

Activism is a path to healing from trauma. It’s taking back our power to protect ourselves and our future.

From a spoken-word presentation in Victoria BC, 2009

Thank you for the opportunity to launch my speaking career. Some of you may know me as a writer and an advocate for social and environmental justice. Others may know me as a cat-sitter, odd-jobber, and temp slave. (Laughter)

I knew when I started out as an activist that I would never be a millionaire and I was right. But I have a certain freedom and flexibility that your average millionaire might envy.

The market demand for social justice advocates is huge right now. It’s a growth industry. And the job security is fantastic – there is no shortage of urgent issues demanding our attention. Experience is not necessary, people come to activism at every age and stage in their lives. It’s that easy!

OK, it’s not actually that easy. (Laughter) But it is a fascinating time to be a “radical.”

There is a great tradition of courage and action here on Vancouver Island. There is potential for even greater future action, so we are doing everything we can to nurture that potential. Building community, linking up networks, teaching, learning, coming together, healing – this is all part of the movement.

For most of my adult life, I suffered from social phobia. I was afraid of authority, filled with self-doubt, paralyzed by anxiety. Getting interviewed live on national TV doesn’t make that go away. But hiding under the covers doesn’t cure it either. So my insecurities and I just have to get out there and do our best.

What compels me is the knowledge that we’re rewriting the script – the one that says, “You don’t make a difference. It is what it is, you can’t fight city hall, the big guys always win.” We can remember that we are not powerless. And when we choose to stand up, it is a huge adrenaline rush – bigger than national TV or swinging from a tree top. That’s the reward – that flood of excitement that comes from taking back our power and using it effectively, for the collective good.

It helps to get love letters from friends and strangers who want to thank me for standing up for what’s important, and who get inspired to take action themselves.

But it’s not all warm fuzzies and celebratory toasts. We face backlash and punishment and threats to our lives and safety.

I led a workshop for new activists this year, and I asked them, “Who are your heroes?”

They named a dozen. Gandhi. Martin Luther King. Tommy Douglas. Rosa Parks. These folks led amazing, heroic movements, but our discussion focused on the ferocious backlash they faced. British media reports on Gandhi when he was challenging the monarchy had the same tone as white Southerners responding to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus. It was vicious. “Uppity and no-good” were some of the polite terms. They were targeted with hate speech and death threats. We hear the same now about whistleblowers. And feminists and environmentalists. It can be terrifying.

The more we challenge the status quo, the more the entrenched powers attack us. The more effective we are, the more they attack us. As Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

The fight for justice and liberation won’t be won by popularity contests.

Every “hero” finds her own way of dealing with the counter-attacks. Some laugh it off. Some pray, some cry on their friends shoulders. Some go on the counter-offensive, some compose songs, some write long academic papers deconstructing their opponents’ logic. The important thing is, they deal with it, and they don’t give up.

We take care of each other as a community. Because we are all so fragile. Because there is so much trauma and despair everywhere and it affects everyone. But inside that despair, in all of us, there is a solid core of love for the earth and the knowledge that we can act in self-defense. That’s where we find strength.

It’s humbling to note that the economic downturn has done more to preserve habitat and stop climate change than all of our conservation efforts of the past years combined. We take responsibility for recycling and turning down the thermostat, but who is responsible for the scale of destruction from the Tar Sands? That project is the equivalent of burning all of Vancouver Island to the ground. It negates everything we could hope to do as individuals to fight climate change.

How do we deal with that horrible reality? I couldn’t, for the first year of the campaign. I didn’t want to look at the pictures and hear the news stories about the water and air pollution and the rates of illness among the Lubicon Cree people. The scale and the horror of it were too great.

I’ve worked on toxics campaigns and I dread them. Old-growth campaigns are inspiring, because where the action is, the forest is still standing – it’s beautiful and magical and we’re defending nature’s cathedral from the bulldozers and chainsaws. The good earth is here, and the evil destructive forces are over there. It’s clearcut, so to speak. But when a toxics campaign is underway, the damage has been done. The landscape is poisoned and people have cancer and spontaneous abortions, and the birds, the fish, the animals, are dead and dying. It is a scene of despair.

If it sounds traumatizing, it is. And we are all traumatized.

Look at this landscape – concrete, pavement, bricks and mortar, toxic chemicals, but underneath, the earth is still there. We have whole ecosystems slashed and burned without so much as a by-your-leave. We’ve lost whole communities of spruce, marmots, murrelets, arbutus, sea otters, and geoducks. These are terrible losses.

And we humans suffer on every level. Is there anyone here who doesn’t know someone who’s had cancer? Who hasn’t seen the damage caused by diseases of civilization? Who here hasn’t been forced to do without for lack of money? Are there any women here who have never been sexually harassed or raped or assaulted?

(Silence)

Something fundamental has been taken from us here. How do we deal with these losses?

I consider myself fortunate because after a lifetime of abuse from my family and male partners, I participated in six months of Trauma Recovery and Empowerment at the Battered Women’s Support Centre in Vancouver.

And I got to know the stages of trauma recovery:
Acknowledge the loss, understand the loss, grieve the loss.

And the stages of grief:
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

These steps are a natural and necessary response to the loss of a loved one, and also to the loss of our humanity and the places we love.

There are people living in national sacrifice zones, people who burn with determination to make change. They are angry, and they have a right to be. I am angry because I’m not dead inside, in spite of all they’ve done to me. Anger is part of the process of grief, and it’s useful. It grabs us by the heart when people are hurting the ones we love.

For me, part of the process is taking action – rejecting helplessness and taking back power. Stopping the bleeding and comforting the wounded.

I fall in love with places and I want to protect them. I fell in love with the Elaho Valley and some of the world’s biggest Douglas Firs in 1997. That forest campaign was a pitched battle, far from the urban centers, against one of the biggest logging companies on the coast at that time.

In the third year of the campaign, I walked into my favourite campsite shaded by majestic cedars. I saw the flagging tape and the clearcut boundaries laid out, and I realized it was all doomed. I could see the end result in my mind’s eye: stumps and slash piles as far as the eye could see, muddy wrecked creeks, a smoldering ruin.

I realized no one was going to come and save this place – not Greenpeace or the Sierra Club, no MP’s private member’s bill, or whatever petition or rally was being planned back in the city. It was as good as gone. All we had to do was stand aside and do nothing, and this incredible, irreplaceable forest would be just a sad memory.

But after that realization, and after the despair that followed, I had a profound sense of liberation. If it is all doomed, then anything we do to resist is positive, right? Anything that stops the logging, even for a minute, or slows it down, or costs the company money, or exposes it to public embarrassment and hurts its market share, is positive – it keeps the future alive for that one more minute, one more hour, one more day. It was a revelation.

Acceptance, for me, meant being able to act to defend the place I loved. It meant standing up to the bullies and refusing to let them take anything more from me.

In the third year of the Elaho campaign, it was just a handful of people rebuilding the blockades, defying the court orders and continuing the resistance. We didn’t quit when the police came, or when we were called “terrorists” and “enemies of BC.” We didn’t quit even after 100 loggers came and burned our camp to the ground and put three people in the hospital.

The attack was a horror show. People were in shock. But a crew was back with a new camp five days later. By then, the raid was national news. And our enemies had nothing left to throw at us. The loggers didn’t know what to do next. Short of killing us, what more could they do?

We had called their bluff.

We didn’t know about the negotiations going on behind the scenes. We didn’t realize that we had already cost the loggers more than they could hope to recoup by logging the entire rest of the valley. (They were operating on very slim profit margins.) We found out when the announcement came that the logging would stop. And it never started again. We won. Now the Elaho Valley is protected by the Squamish Nation — and by provincial legislation — as a Wild Spirit Place.

The violence of the mob showed the level of fear and desperation of the losing side. It was their weapon of last resort and it didn’t work. And they lost.

In the fourth year of the stand for SPAET – the campaign to stop the development and protect the caves, the garry oaks, and the wetlands on Skirt Mountain. We faced the same tactics – we were called “terrorists,” and in 2007, the developers sent 100 goons to rough up people at a small rally. And again, most of our comrades are still in shock. There’s only handful of us still bashing away at the next phase of development.

We are winning. The other side has thrown everything they have at us and they have nothing left.

There are still sacred sites on SPAET. The cave is still there, buried under concrete.

Meanwhile, the developer’s little empire fell apart, either because of our boycott campaign, bad karma, or because it was operating on the slimmest of shady margins. We took the next phase of development to court. Our campaign, and the economic downturn, turned out to be enough to scare off investors and cancel the project, at least for now.

This work is difficult, painful, and traumatic. So the first step to courage is to acknowledge that pain and loss. We need to name what has been taken from us. Then we can cry, and rage, and grieve. We can name the ones who are doing the damage. We can reach down inside and find our core strength and our truth, and use it. That’s where courage comes from.

Martin Luther King said, “Justice shall roll down like waters, righteousness like a mighty stream.” But I’m impatient. I want to see that mighty stream now – what’s the hold-up? What’s holding us back, when there’s so much to do?

We’re not heroes, actually – none of us is smart enough, or tough enough, or connected enough, to take this on alone. We’re don’t have superpowers. We are only human, we struggle and suffer and sometimes, we win.

Some folks assume I have some unique privilege or special power that gives me an edge. Nope. I have material analysis and long-range vision, but sill I’m mostly flailing around on the political landscape, taking potshots when I see an opening. Sometimes it’s intuition, and it pays off. When we are right, it is amazing. When we win, it sets a precedent for the future.

In order for evil to prevail, all that’s required is for good people to do nothing. Don’t be one of those good people.

Activism is part of the healing. It’s taking back our power to protect ourselves and our future.

Thank you for the opportunity to tell these stories today.

(Applause)

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Filed under Environment, Feminism, Hate Mail, Legal Battles, Love Letters, Misogyny, Politics, Zoe Blunt

Outside Voice

Zoe on mike

Something happened this year. I realized my voice is bigger than me. I saw that it has a life beyond me. It’s more than my lips and vocal cords making the sounds. It contains more than my breath. It’s not really mine at all.

Something opened up and let the wind in. It pours in like a mountain stream through my chest. It rushes through my throat and bursts out uncontrolled. It’s a message.

This just happened recently. Growing up, I kept quiet and choked back words. But I also learned to sing. As the years went by, I stayed small and runty, but my voice got bigger and wider.

I first witnessed this voice power last summer when a friend was singing. I saw his voice coming out, and it had a force and a shape of its own. I was amazed. I’m beginning to understand.

This voice of mine compels me to say things that need to be said, whatever the consequences. Because this voice is bigger than me and it won’t back down. It won’t let me back down. I have to deliver the message regardless of the cost or trouble.

Even if I wanted to stop, the voice won’t let me. There’s a physical force pushing me. I can feel it between my shoulder blades. I hear it saying that I’m here to bear witness and say what needs to be said. That’s the promise I made.

So my voice makes me a target. I feel that heat, but I welcome it. It means I’m doing my job. The voice was heard. And I’m grounded like a lightning rod. Every attack on me is an attack deflected from someone who might be more vulnerable. Not that I’m super-sturdy all the time, but the good loving people around keep me rooted and upright.

Knowing my friends, and being with all of you, is a huge burst of positive energy. When we come together for a common purpose, we’re a force of nature. Our voices converge like a mighty river. Thank you for bearing witness.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Zoe Blunt

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Activist Zoe Blunt Defends Canada’s Forests and Urges Us to Join In

Interview by Mickey Z, Planet Green

A self-described “journalism school dropout living in Victoria, British Columbia,” Zoe Blunt lives the eco-activist life and writes about it. For example:

Zoe Blunt. Photo by Tony Bounsall

“I’m standing at the base of the tree leaning back on my harness and peering at the platform sixty feet above. Ingmar is encouraging me to get up there. The press conference is supposed to start in forty-five minutes and we need to get into position. Ingmar’s fully informed about my slightly spastic condition and I can tell he’s not sure if I can still do this. I give him a thumbs up and start up the rope. By the time the camera crews arrive, we’re both up on the platform with our feet dangling down.”

Zoe likes to say she’s no action hero, but I say we could use a few million just like her. That’s why I interviewed her about old-growth forests, tree-spiking, direct action, and more.
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“You’re not crazy and it’s not your fault”

Derrick Jensen on coming to grips with this destructive culture

Deep ecology author Derrick Jensen won fame and notoriety with heavy works of non-fiction like Endgame, which compares western civilization to an abusive family where violence is a constant threat. He argues that we must bring down this culture by any means necessary. Since then, Jensen has published a searing exposé about zoos and captive animals with Karen Tweedy-Holmes called Thought to Exist in the Wild; Resistance to Empire, a collection of incendiary interviews with other activists; and What We Leave Behind, co-authored with Aric McBay – a heartbreaking polemic on the concepts of waste, life, and death.

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Saying Goodbye to Ms. Haywire

A small, sad story
January 6, 2009

Ms. Rosie Haywire, my faithful friend and cat companion for the past seven years, died today after a brief but brave battle with congestive heart failure. She was only nine years old, and she will be fondly remembered for her strong spirit and love of big trees.

In 2007, Ms. Haywire traveled with us to the Wild Earth camp at Hadikin Lake, where she took to living in the rainforest like she was born to it – stalking through the underbrush, scrambling up fallen logs, and patrolling the trails with her tail held high. She easily won the Hide and Seek championship, skillfully eluding a team of increasingly-desperate searchers for six hours after the campsite was packed up.

At the age of six weeks, Rosie the kitten came to live with my grandmother, an evil woman who beat her regularly with a broomstick. Rosie would retaliate by shredding her legs and the furniture. I kept offering to adopt her, until finally the old woman decided she’d had enough and sent Rosie to live with me. Now a large, muscular cat, Rosie remained fierce and wild — she bit and scratched, and I couldn’t pet her at all unless she was in bed under the covers. It took a year of gentle coaxing before she would sit in my lap and purr. When people came to visit, I would joke about her bad behavior, calling her “Post-Traumatic Stress Kitty” as she glared at the newcomers and hid behind the door. It’s only in the last couple years that she got over her shyness and her fear of brooms.

Ms. Haywire earned her adult name from a series of misfortunes. She fell off my third floor balcony in 2003 while having a seizure. Even though she was not badly injured, my mother and aunt urged me to have her put down. I had the luxury of ignoring them, thanks to a small inheritance from Grandma. That money went to fixing the cat’s broken foot and diagnosing the seizures. Once she was fully recovered (minus a front tooth), Ms. Haywire took another dive off the balcony, but this time she landed on the grass and only had a few bruises. Around this time we started calling her “Spazz Kitty.”

A few years later, the seizures returned. Full-blown, grand mal seizures — first daily, then hourly, then every twenty minutes. This went on around the clock while we kept increasing the dosage of her medicine. This time, I couldn’t afford the animal hospital fees, and after day and a half of almost-constant seizures, the vet told me the only thing to do was to put her to sleep. I said no. The next day the medicine finally took effect and the seizures stopped. Ms. Haywire expressed her love and gratitude nearly every waking moment for weeks after, bounding joyfully to the door when I came in, rubbing herself against me, purring loudly, touching my face with her paws, and kneading my lap at every opportunity.

Three months ago, we moved into a small cabin surrounded by big trees, squirrels, deer, and birds of all kinds. Ms. Rosie loved it here – she spent hours birdwatching and prowling the yard, and she adored the peace and privacy of this little hideaway.

Her illness came on suddenly, as often happens. Many cats give no outward side that anything is wrong – they cover up until they can’t any longer. A couple days ago, Ms. Haywire got very quiet. She stayed in bed and wouldn’t eat. Finally I took her to the pet hospital. We were there for most of the day getting tests. An exam and X-rays revealed her chest and abdomen were filled with fluid. The veterinarian said they could take heroic measures, but the best medical care and all the money in the world probably wouldn’t save her. She was in pain, but she pushed her head against my hand one last time as I held her, sobbing, and the vet slid the needle in.

In seven years, Ms. Rosie and I were apart only a handful of times. I keep turning around to see where she is. I want to pick her up in my arms one more time and bury my face in the thick soft plush of her fur. The cabin is empty now — her bright green eyes, her heart-shaped face, and her tiny meow will never greet me again. Tomorrow, she’ll be buried on the hill behind the cabin. I won’t leave a marker, but if I did, it would say, “There will never be another cat like Ms. Rosie Haywire.”

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(Special thanks to Animal Crusaders for helping to cover Ms. Haywire’s vet bill.)

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Earth Day Mini-Riot

Earth walk 2008
Earth Walk 2008, Victoria, BC. Photo: Pete Rockwell

On April 19, 2008, Victoria police attacked the city’s annual Earth Day parade because the parade leaders went “the wrong way” on the parade route. A friend of mine (we’ll call him John) was thrown to the ground, arrested and handcuffed by motorcycle cops when he and two others tried to carry the Earth Walk banner past the BC Legislature Building.

“They didn’t give me any warning at all,” John says. “We were having a great time marching with the samba band, and I wanted to go a little further around the block. I just didn’t want it to end yet.”

The cops had John down and cuffed, but seconds later half a dozen people piled on to un-arrest him. Twenty minutes of confusion followed as five hundred parade spectators crowded around trying to see what was happening. The motorcycle cops did not have a squad car to put John into, and instead of marching him away to a secure location, they stayed put — surrounded by a mob demanding his release.

A standoff ensued. I waded into the middle of the milling crowd. Raccoons were piled on top of each other with arms linked and the officers were telling the crowd to disperse.

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked one. “We have a permit for this march.” The cop just glared at me. “How about trying to de-escalate this? You can end it right now by letting him go.” The cop turned away.

When the cops realized they were not going to be able to take John away, they said, “OK, if he just gives us his name we’ll let him go.” Someone in the crowd yelled “HIS NAME IS JUSTICE!” (He’ll always be Johnny Justice to us!)

I wiggled back out of the crush and ran up the steps of the Legislature Building to the stage. The musicians and welcome speakers were huddled off to the side, peering at the boiling mass of people on the street.

“Let him go! Let him go! Let him go! Let him go!” It was a great sound system. Some in the crowd were chanting along and clapping.

Some weren’t. Back in the street, one woman was yelling at the puppy-pile of eco-anarchists. “I hope you’re happy. You people ruined Earth Day just to make trouble and get in the news, didn’t you?”

Another woman ran up on the stage and tried to grab my arm. “You’re not telling the whole story, here,” she complained. “I’m sure the police have a reason for arresting him.”

“Why don’t you go talk the police and find out?” the sound man growled. He set up a second mike and we kept the chant going.

“Let him go! Let him go! Let him go! Let him go!”

Then a cheer went up from the street. The mass of people came streaming up the walkway toward us, led by our friend John running and leaping across the grass.

More cheers, and the festival began. No one was charged and John was not hurt. The sun came out, the drums came out, the speakers spoke, folks danced to live music, and we all pledged to care for the earth – and each other.

Photos by Pete Rockwell

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Filed under Environment, Legal Battles, Love Letters, Zoe Blunt

The Saddest Pagan in the World

Tue, 25 Dec 2007

Singing the blues in Langford. Photo by Pete Rockwell.

Along with all the other shit that went down this past month, I got hit with the stomach flu, and that triggered fresh spasms of health problems. I’m on drugs now, but they’re not fun drugs. At least I don’t have to worry about getting fat.

The local paper has publicly labeled the Bear Mountain tree sit crew as tree-spikers, vandals, welfare bums, poachers, and outside agitators. The RCMP and city enforcement officers stepped up their harassment this week after the forest defenders dug a trench and built a barricade across the access road at the site of the new highway bypass.

The campers are in high spirits. Six platforms are now occupied by brave souls who are risking their freedom to protect the Langford Lake Cave, Spencer’s Pond, the wetlands, the screech owls, great horned owls, red-legged frogs and arbutus trees. Supporters and volunteers bring food, blankets, and cash donations. The legal defense fund is swollen with contributions as we brace for the inevitable court battle.

Physical and emotional distress have been keeping me away from the camp for long periods. But Saturday night, I was hanging out in the forest, watching low clouds fly across the face of the nearly-full moon, when the shout came from the road. Three RCMP cruisers pulled up at high speed, the lead car braking too late to avoid plunging partway into the trench at the end of the road. The headlights came straight at us, and then dipped down sharply. I thought, “Oh shit, they’re gonna be pissed.”

They were. I ducked behind the welcome tent as the officers stormed into the camp. “You’re all under arrest,” the biggest one boomed out, shining a high-powered light at the four young men in front of him. I hit the dirt, face down in the wet leaves and low brush right behind the tent.

Shouts, running feet pounding down the trail, and the rest of the crew booked it into the woods. “Don’t move!” barked the officer at the four standing their ground. “Everyone’s under arrest.” To another officer: “Take that crap down.” The second officer grabbed the makeshift tent and began to tear its tarp roof from the log beams. A few feet away, I cowered down closer to the ground, barely breathing. The lights shone back and forth, up and down.

Then my cell phone rang. I scrambled to shut it off. All the beams turned in my direction. “What’s that?” barked the officer. “Go check it out.” I melded with the mud and wet leaves at the base of a scrawny dogwood. The lights came closer. Then a shout from the woods pulled them away again.

I was plotting my chances of escape, so I could call the lawyers and bail the tree people out of jail. But there was no need. The cops held the men for half an hour, took their names and gave a lecture. No camping on the roadway. Then everyone was released.

Now I’m back home in the old farmhouse that I share with three other people and assorted visitors camping out on the living room couches. But there is only one bathroom. I keep a bucket with a tight-fitting lid in the bedroom, since my gut rot won’t let me wait around for a vacancy. The room is lovely, with a high ceiling and bay windows, and right now it stinks of shit and incense.

Thanks to the gastritis, the stomach flu, the stress and everything else, my immune system is shot to hell. My sinuses are oozing bright yellow snot and I’m woozy from fever. I’m broke and in debt.

It was obvious that there would be no Christmas for me this year.

But late last night, I heard a commotion on the porch. My friend Rose Henry was knocking on the door. “Merry Christmas,” she said. The man behind her was lugging a hamper filled with mandarin oranges, cranberry sauce, canned veggies, pasta, stuffing mix, candy, and even toilet paper. I almost cried.

One of the roommates got a turkey, and he’s invited a couple friends over for an orphans’ Christmas tonight. I’m making the stuffing.

It makes me think — even the saddest pagan in the world might find happiness at Christmas.

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My Dinner with the Prime Minister

Wed, 11 Oct 2006

As always, it was a last-minute date. The Prime Minister likes to be spontaneous when he shows up in Vancouver. And when he’s here, he’s very shy and prefers to avoid crowds. I got the call only the day before.

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. Oh, those eyes! Those lips!

Nevertheless, I went to meet him. I had the same kind of relationship with former PM Jean Chretien – he would stay at a high-priced hotel downtown, and I would ride the bus in to give him a little message from the heart. But it didn’t work out with Jean, his staff always interfered, and I felt I was never really able to reach him.

With Stephen, I hoped it would be different. Dinner was set for the Floata Restaurant in Chinatown. Stephen was meeting with Chinese businessmen on the subject of freeing up trade restrictions between Canada and the People’s Republic. A lovely, intimate setting – not some huge anonymous ballroom filled with party hacks. Maybe I’ll get to practice my Cantonese, I thought.

I rode the bus down to Chinatown, but when I arrived at the Floata Restaurant, the entrance was blocked by a crew of enthusiastic young folks in white t-shirts and name tags. Security men in black suits and sunglasses lurked in the dim lounge, muttering into radios. I went around to the parking entrance.

That entrance was blocked by the Stephen Harper Welcoming Committee, a rowdy bunch of troublemakers from No One Is Illegal, the Anti-Poverty Committee, and the Association of Chinese-Canadians for Equality and Solidarity.

The crowd of about 75 had flowed out into the street and around a red SUV stopped at the light. The SUV driver immediately flipped out, screaming and honking his horn. A reporter took a picture. The door popped open and the driver lunged out, grabbing the reporter by the neck and trying to take him down. Other folks in the crowd pulled the bellowing driver off the reporter and manhandled him back into the SUV, where he continued to honk and holler. A couple police officers who had witnessed the scuffle strolled over and suggested the crowd let the driver go through, which they did. The reporter – a young man named Eric, writing for the Ming Pao daily newspaper – wasn’t hurt, but his glasses were broken.

A few minutes later, the police were herding people off the street by forming a line and pushing. Some refused to be herded and pushed back. The crowd thronged around the entrance, onto the sidewalk, back onto the street. Things were tense. Stephen isn’t going to like this, I thought.

As it turned out, Stephen arrived in his usual motorcade of black cars with black tinted windows – but he dodged into the alley and ducked into a side entrance to the restaurant. I tried to follow, but the door slammed shut. Heartbroken, I pounded on the glass, calling his name. Calling him names. The activists had a bullhorn and some rousing chants, so I joined in.

Later, nursing my disappointment, I learned that only the day before Stephen had announced sweeping cuts to social programs, many of them already decimated by Jean’s cuts and attrition. Women’s programs, literacy programs and more. If only I could talk to him, I mused out loud.

“Don’t bother,” said a scruffy black-clad anti-poverty activist. “He doesn’t care what you think.”

So true. So sad.

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Filed under Love Letters, Politics

Going Feral in the Backcountry

Wed, 6 Sep 2006

Sun-baked, wind-swept, we’re struggling to the summit, panting and squinting, and suddenly the plateau stretches below us, a line of emerald and sapphire lakes and pools linked by tufts of gnarled firs, shimmering in the merciless heat. Kicking off sweat-soaked shorts and boots, we run down the bank and dive naked into Mist Lake.

Whooping with shock and pleasure, backstroking and dog-paddling in circles, laughing and hollering. Clambering out again, streaming cold water, hot shale crumbling under bare feet, we turn to view the peaks, the icefields, behold the silver spines of mountain ranges marching north and south from the pass and the forbidding glaciers glowering from the east and west. The breathless hush, the blinding sun, the azure sky and the peaks surrounding us echo a silence that rings and rings.


The plateau

Looking down, the valley where we climbed is hidden between the toes of the mountains. The canyon where we camped is a dark thread in the shaggy carpet of old-growth forest. From here, we can see the last clearcuts in the valley. The last, because this is where we stopped them.

Seven days in the backcountry, seven days clearing the tangled trail on this overgrown hiking route. We tramp for miles through the steep, broken terrain of the canyon lands cutting brush, building bridges, bypassing giant cedars fallen across the trail, and sleeping under the stars.

In the darkening violet of dusk I renew the pledge I made years ago in this place. And the spirits in the forest answer: remember, and never give up.

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Filed under Environment, Love Letters, Politics