by Donna Sinclair
A long long time ago I was a mystic. I remember it well. I was about five years old. We lived on an island in Lake Temagami. My father had placed me in the bow of the rowboat, and I trailed my hand in the water and understood that the lake and the boat, my father and me and the sun’s warmth and the pines on the approaching shore were one.
This was not a very coherent thought. But it was laced with feeling so powerful that, decades later, its memory has returned like a hurricane.
In the intervening years I had lost that connection. It hurt too much to be one with a land that is in pain. I had flown over Labrador and seen the red scars where ore-hunters had bitten into the land. I had driven through endless suburbs built on rich farmland surrounding our cities. I had witnessed clearcuts and tailings ponds and mysteriously dying frogs and sea creatures.
And then we had a grandson. Driven more by instinct than reason, we made sure he hiked in the woods, played by the lake, talked to ducks. We gave him his own paddle and a place in the canoe. And one day we saw him sit down by a pond, turn his back on us, and gaze in silence at the water. “What were you doing,” I asked after a time. “Thinking,” he said. “It is a thinking place.”
He was five.
I hope he can keep his connection with the land.
I am willing now, at seventy, to live with the pain of the land, for his sake and for all the grandchildren, everywhere. We must. Because unless we remember that the land is holy, that it is our mother and loves us deeply, we are lost as a species.
This is not a popular argument. Recently I attempted to make it to the National Energy Board in a comment against the proposed reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9b, an aging pipeline. Repurposing pipelines – from natural gas to oil, from West to East – is not a safe enterprise.
Indeed, as a recent bulletin from the U.S. Department of Transportation points out, it is crucial to consider every possibility when dealing with a pipeline that has been in service for a while:
Flow reversals, product changes and conversions to service may impact various aspects of a pipeline’s operation, maintenance, monitoring, integrity management and emergency response. Pressure gradient, velocity, and the location, magnitude, and frequency of pressure surges and cycles may change.
The argument I wanted to make did not use those terms, although such cautions inform my thinking. Others speak the complicated language of pipeline hazards better than me. I am just a mystic. I simply wanted to inform the Board that the land is precious, that we should not tear it to pieces getting at the fossil fuel it contains. I just wanted to point out that humans have lived on this earth for millennia, changing it, sometimes damaging it, but never destroying it completely. Never quite forgetting that it is our home and that the Divine breathes through it and us.
But now we are close to doing so. Wherever oil spills, the land and water dies. There is no return. When a pipeline ruptures, or a tanker breaks up in stormy seas, or a marine oil rig explodes and sinks, it is an insult to the holy.
I am saying this to you now, because perhaps you are able to hear it. The NEB did not consider this statement relevant, and the Federal Court of Appeal upheld its judgement. Their rationale was clear and reasonable. But the deep transformation First Nations’ spirituality has made in our theology – the radical understanding that the earth is holy – thus goes unsaid to the people currently in power. So they continue to allow the wounding of the land. Perhaps they have lost their own connection to it.
Or perhaps it hurts too much.
But even as I write, the Keystone XL pipeline, held off for six years by groups like BoldNebraska and the Rosebud Sioux, is once more stalled in the Senate. An expensive and offensive public relations campaign that includes “adding layers of difficulty” for those who oppose the Energy East Pipeline it is exposed and highly criticized. And hundreds of people are gathered on Burnaby Mountain in B.C. to stand in the way of the TransMountain Pipeline.
The land to which we belong is speaking. And more and more of us can hear.
A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Long View, The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario. Her most recent book is Tommy’s Angel (2013).