Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Across the Country!

Our scheme for this project was to parallel the pipeline route to the New Brunswick Museum's August bioblitz in Gagetown and then to the Canadian Herpetological Society's September meetings in Calgary. 

After a winter of planning, with one winter painting of the crossing at Hoople Creek, and a number of other projects that
unexpectedly blossomed into far more than they'd been anticipated to be, Fred and Aleta visited three pipeline crossings near home in June and July, with a painting at each.

Setting out for the New Brunswick bioblitz at the begining of August, we visited crossings through Quebec, and afterwards the eastern terminus of the route east of Saint John. We proceeded to work northwest from there, exploring and documenting the ecology of the rivers that the proposed East Energy Pipeline would cross. Aleta accomplished several paintings and we were generously hosted by concerned New Brunswickers, and gave a slide presentation and display of paintings in the Library at Plaster Rock.

Coming back across Quebec, we visited several crossings which, since no popeline runs along the route east of Montreal, were just waypoints on the shore, but painted only the major crossing: of the St Lawrence just above Quebec City. Thorough habitat descriptions were written at every crossing we visited, and exciting discoveries of fresh water mussels were made at several locations on this eastern leg of the expedition. Observations were made of invasive plants where earth moving equipment had spread them. Aleta sold a few of the paintings she had finished along the way, to both new supporters of their work, and to followers of this blog, and Fred laid down 867 database records of visits or species observations.

We arrived home in Bishops Mills, the heart of Eastern Ontario, on 2 September, with just enough time to accomplish truck maintenance and trailer repairs, and to re-provision and pack for the western leg of the expedition. After four days at home we said goodbye to the two-year-old grandson and other family members, and headed off to North Bay to be taken on a canoe trip to explore and paint the source of the Mattawa River at the point of the Transcanada Pipeline crossing.

After that planned excursion, time for travel was short, and we quickened our pace across western Ontario where the Transcanada Pipeline parallels Highway 11, to the Manitoba border, stopping only at our long-term amphibian monitoring site along Hwy 11 south of Cochrane, Ontario, where the pipeline crosses  the highway. We realized that Fred's been coming back to check the frogs there for 42 years - his longest-term monitoring site!

Fred's account of the Trans Canada herpetology of this trip was second on the agenda at the meetings of the Canadian Herpetological Society in Calgary on 13 September - so Aleta kept on driving - hurling the expedition across Ontario and the prairie provinces, while Fred kept his thumb on the GPS, taking notes of what we could see from a moving vehicle. We met unseasonal snow northeast of Longlac, and many interminable stretches of the Prairies were driven at night, in order to arrive just in time for the conference. It's when you hurry across Canada by road that you realize how big it is!

After the conference,  and visiting relatives in Calgary and Edmonton, we were freed from fixed engagements, except for the end of the indgogo campaign, which we hadn't had time to properly attend to during its two-month span.

We decided we needed to see what we could of the source of the material to be transported: the exploitation of the Athabasca Tar Sands. So in a final outward rush, we drove 413 km NNE to the banks of the Athabaska River. We'd been spooked by tales of the rough 2-lane road to Fort McMurray, told by folks who hadn't been up there recently, and left our trailer parked in Aleta's brother's driveway in Edmonton, so we're sleeping in half of the back of our truck on the double-stacked cushions from the trailer bed.

It turns out that the highways to and around Fort McMurray are wide and smooth. It's a different world out here - the beautiful Athabasca River, and the hills spiked with dark Spruce and covered with Aspen and Poplar turning gold - but there is never silence - there's always the sounds of heavy machinery, near or far. Sounds of hauling, beeping, scraping, banging, from mining or road-building operations.

The fashion here is the orange reflective vest and hard-hat. And in town, just a few minutes away from where we're camped in our pickup truck on the river flats, the traffic is like Toronto! It's as if there are more people and vehicles than the town can hold - and that's a fact, because a lot of them come down from the massive work camps half an hour to the north, to do their shopping and to obtain their entertainment. In spite of all the crowding and rush and noise, the people are all happy, friendly, and never shout or honk, and there's no littering to speak of, and folks pick up what others leave behind.

The town is truly bursting at the seams! The Tim Hortons in town is double-size, but the lineup is always to the door, and it's hard to find a parking spot. The drive-through line doesn't have a dedicated lane, but must dodge pedestrians and vehicles backing out of parking spots.  The twinned highway north of town is interrupted by construction of a new interchange and highway to a  new suburb just on the outskirts of town, and last night we passed not two or three monster graders, but a whole string of thirteen there – making a new highway right across the existing 4-lane, headed up toward a huge new suburb that isn't there yet! There are well-paying "jobs" for everyone!

The Superstore is crowded too. Their stock sells so fast that folks raid the unshelved palettes in the aisles. Aleta met a very health-conscious young woman in the long checkout line there who was buying vegetables and fruit to juice. She told her that our daughter has a two-year-old and asked her if she has any children - she answered "No, and won't be getting pregnant while we're here!"

It's strange that there are only a couple of access points to the river here, with no posted boat launch signs. It looks like most of the River shore is sequestered off for private industrial operations, and there are only a few hard-to-find rutted tracks down to the river.

Every evening, and all weekend, the shore here, at one of the few informal access points, is lined with the trucks of fishermen and fishing families, with their friendly Dogs. We were told that the fishing is good - they catch nine species of fish, and expect the Walleye run to start any day now. Fishers and visitors have campfires by the water in the evenings, but no-one is rowdy. All the vehicles clear out before midnight and we have the shore and the rustling river sound all to ourselves. Last night there was a wonderfully thick, bright aurora, stretched all across the sky above us.

This is upstream of the tar sands operations, but there are pebbles of bitumen on the beach here, and slick cliffs of bitumen just upstream where, on a warm afternoon, the shore smells like an Ontario road-paving operation. Ringbill and Mew Gulls patrol the shores, and are joined by Bonaparte's when they're fly-catching. The abundant local Ravens speak in short percussive notes, Magpies are all around, Fred's seen one Whiskyjack, and Blackcap and Boreal Chickadees are in the brush.

1 comment:

  1. Good piece. If all this shit comes to pass, it is crucial to have a proper memory and record. Boy that's depressing to write. Thank you for all your work.