Thoughts After a Recent Trip to the Tar Sands
by Sarah Stock
I feel powerless. I feel beaten down. I hear heavy machinery in my sleep. I see torn up earth when I close my eyes. Piles of mangled trees, still green from the life they just had, pulled up and pushed down into heaps at the bottom of a strip mine by the force of mindless greed that fuels the destruction of this earth. I see a tunnel bore into the side of the earth, oozing out a slow stream of black sticky tar, the remnants of ancient life that when burned unleash toxins and greenhouse gases that are dooming the world that I know now. Migratory birds that mark the seasons slowly stop coming back. I see a buck in the aspens and then notice that he has a large circular hairless growth on his side. When I swim in my river, the water that’s always brought me a deep calm, awe, and connection to the life force, I now wonder what is in it. I think of the fracking upstream. I think of the tailings ponds and impoundments of “waste water.” As if water isn’t essential for life, sacred.
I want my innocence back. But it is gone because I chose to open my eyes and my mind. It is gone because I was raised to ask questions. It is gone because my love of nature led me to study ecology and I learned that every single ecosystem on Earth is gasping for life in a rapidly changing and poisonous world. It is gone because I listen to my friends on the reservation when they talk about what colonization has done to their home and to their culture. It is gone because my parents taught me to look into the face of grief and acknowledge it. And now I want to look away, but I can’t because for some reason, through my tears, I still dream of a day when everyone cares enough to step out of the rushing stream that is the American Dream and stop working, so they can start feeling, so they can start daring to work together to make some deep changes, changes at every level. I can’t do it alone. It’s the same rugged individualism, the self sufficiency, the fear of others that drove my ancestors to the far reaches of civilization that stands in our way. It’s extraction, mindless consumption, single people in big houses, industrial agriculture, the endless search for profit and “growth,” the blind faith in an economy that only grows because it devours diversity, whether we’re talking about human cultures or species.
The hurdle I come up against again and again is our unwillingness to do the hard work of working together, of depending on one another. We have a tough job ahead. We must create something that doesn’t yet exist, we must find a new way of doing things that teases out the good from the past and uses imagination to transform the bad into a future that is better than the one being written by the fossil fuel empire. This won’t be done by a handful of non-profits, the president, or by new market mechanisms to curb green house gases. It will be done by people, using their strengths and their work to transform our relationship to the earth and to each other everyday. It will be done by regular people, getting in the way, disrupting business as usual, loosing their fear and reclaiming their power. These things are possible. Read some books, stay involved, change your life, grieve with me, and find strength in the power that we have when we organize.