Last Friday afternoon (along with concerns about more rain in the Rocky Mountain Foothills) came the news that there had been an oil spill (caused by a ruptured pipeline) along Jackson Creek - a tributary of my beloved Red Deer River. I got home from work and began to look for information in the internet. There were pictures of a huge oil slick on the Gleniffer Lake reservoir and various articles about the size of the spill, which seemed to settle at the 3000 barrel mark. Hour by hour you could see the propaganda machine at work as articles originally entitled "Another Alberta Pipeline Rupture" were spun into "Alberta rushes to Respond to Oil Spill" and "Oil Spill Contained". Alberta Premier Allison Redford made an appearance in Dickson with her new environment Minister in tow.
I decided that I would take a drive out to Jackson Creek and see if I could see anything for myself. I arrived at the Garrington Bridge which is the first bridge across the Red Deer River downstream of the mouth of Jackson Creek. I hadn't expected to see much and I didn't as the muddy waters of the Red Deer were high up on the riverbanks. I continued west and then turned south on Alberta's "Cowboy Trail" (Highway 22) towards Sundre. When I got to what I figured must be Jackson Creek, I looked at the waters and they seemed to be fine where they crossed the highway. I took the next township road east and then the next range road north to intersect the creek once again.
A beautiful great blue heron flew up in right in front of me when I stopped to look at the creek. No matter how jaded I get, I still appreciated the impressive sight and I couldn't help smiling, until I remembered why I was there...
I took the next township road east and it took me parallel to Jackson Creek and into the valley of the Red Deer River. I remembered this place. Nine years ago I canoed along this section of the river. It was a special place. Small creeks and springs flowed into the river. Herons and other wading birds dotted the marshy west bank. There were muskrats and beavers in the waters and on the banks. Swallows and other songbirds were in the air as I hurtled along the river with a huge grin on my face no doubt. It was a wonderful evening and I promised myself that I would come back for further exploration one day.
"...our entire way of life has been lost..."
He also told the interviewer that he himself worked in the oilfield business - for another pipeline company no less. It's Alberta after all and most of us owe at least some of our livelihoods to the oil industry, one way or another.
I scrawled my name and number on a makeshift business card. "Phil French - President Red Deer River Naturalists". I asked to interrupt for just a minute and introduced myself. I looked into the man's face as I handed him the card and I could see a deep sadness in his eyes. His face looked so drawn and tired that I hesitated for a moment, then I told him "I don't know what we can do, but if there's anything please don't hesitate to call us". The man and his wife both gave me an unexpected and appreciative smile and he thanked me. Perhaps he will call...
I spun the Jimmy around and headed for home as the rain began yet again. I thought about the pouring rain and all that oil and I felt a tight feeling in my stomach. Would this special place ever be the same? I thought about the faces of the beleaguered looking couple and my heart sank. Would their lives ever be the same? The rain began to pour harder as I continued east toward my home.