I’m in the middle of traveling the walk route, checking things out and listening a lot. I started 6 days ago from Hardisty, a community that has lived with pipelines for over 50 years, and found friendly people and probably some welcome for the walk. Driving down through Alberta and Saskatchewan, I learned a few things. There are many long stretches of road – 20-30 miles – with no place to stop and camp, not even a farmhouse. This and the weather are perhaps our two biggest challenges. This will be true throughout the walk; spaces are wide here. (20 miles is a very long day’s walk.)
As I consider logistics in this situation, it becomes very important to estimate how many walkers we will have. A group of 5 will need to stay together, with a single support vehicle, and almost certainly will not be able to do the whole route on foot, given that walking on roads sometimes is twice as far as the direct pipeline route. A group of 50 could break into 3 relays and together cover 30 miles in a day. Of course, lodgings and food will be easier for a smaller group.
In the next week or two, I would like to hear something from you if you are considering walking, even if it’s just a temptation – and even if you’ve already said something. (Of course things change.) This is to help me work out some of the logistics, which will be so very different for a large group or a small group. I will put forth some of my thoughts about the walking itself, hopefully in early September when I’m back home.
The original vision was to walk the whole Keystone pipeline, which looks impossible at this point. That dream has already been shortened to just the northern Keystone XL, about 1700 miles. Perhaps it will need to be shortened more, or it may be best just to walk in certain places and drive from one to the other. The vision also included meditation and prayers morning and evening, which suggests a reasonable physical space each night. And it included dialogue and sometimes service in local communities. This will involve some advance letter writing to identify where there is interest. (We already have an invitation in Fort Peck, Montana).
Weather: July is hot, even in the north. November is cold in Nebraska – night temperatures below 40. If we walk in July, days will have to be shorter. I think October is the limit in Nebraska. (Forgive my careless speech before.)
In addition to a lot of driving, looking at maps, and admiring incredible scenery, this week is about meeting people. Some people didn’t want names used; at this point I’m leaving out all names.
In Hardisty, Alberta, I was welcomed to the morning coffee at the Senior Center. No questions asked. I later bought cherries from a woman who turned out to be a passionate environmentalist, and who referred me to a storekeeper who posted my flyer and had friendly conversation.
In Wolf Point, MT (Fort Peck Tribe), I was hosted by a powerful indigenous activist and environmentalist who introduced me to family and others, offered to bring people to a gathering the walk can hold, and gave excellent suggestions. (All along, listening and learning has been the thing for this trip.) In Billings I talked with two organizers about Montana, the poverty of farmers, the desperation for jobs and money that moves them to support the pipeline, and the deceits of the pipeline owners about safety and spills. One of these organizers had her own ranch and her own health impacted by a spill.
Then there were long conversations with two landowners. One talked vigorously about her work in getting a better contract for their group; the big issue is liability over spills: all the pipeline companies want ranchers to bear part of the liability, which could destroy the ranch and family finances completely. The Northern Plains group clearly placed legal responsibility on TransCanada – the rare case where they will have to pay for their own mistakes.
There’s other oil here – the Bakken field in North Dakota is drawing masses of workers and consequent social problems. This field, which involves fracking oil, also buys up mineral rights for a song without informing the sellers, who may be aging or broke, anything of the consequences they will face. It goes on and on. The agricultural poverty, related to USDA policies which support agribusiness at the expense of families, is an integral part of the whole thing.
One conversation turned philosophical, about what it will take to turn people to another way of life (the complete end of energy, he thought), and that animals too will recklessly waste (skunk in henhouse was one example). Another wound up with rattlesnake stories, and finally to demonstration of a snake bite kit (we’ll carry one).
People here grew up on the land, and the land is bigger than anything I could imagine if I weren’t in it. Way bigger than Minnesota’s wide spaces. The skies are incredible, and miles of grasses are broken by badlands, cows, oil wells, occasional towns.
Thank you all for the support, the donations, and the encouragement. Almost half the expenses for this scouting trip have been covered by donations that reached me before or during the walk. I will repeat donation information: by Paypal to cedar.spring (my former name) or by check to Shodo Spring, 806 Water St S, Northfield MN 55057. Getting a better donation setup will happen after I get home.
And if you have any inclination to walk, to do any kind of help now, or to donate, please get in touch.