30 July 2009


29 July 2009

Nothing in the world can be more detestable than a mosquito, and nothing is more annoying as having one buzz in your ear when you are trying to sleep. It’s late at night on the Peace Athabasca Delta, and we are at a fishing camp belonging to the family of our hosts, Joe and George Marcel of the Dene tribe. Outside, the air is thick with mosquitoes; so many in fact, that going out to the bathroom is an act of desperation and means being eaten alive, while inside, there are so many that the buzzing in the ears is unending. They bite through the clothes, they laugh at repellants, they drive one to distraction. Sleep is impossible, as I refuse to use deet repellants, the only thing that they even notice; but as I write, fatigue immediately clouds my mind. The dark hours are few, and soon light fills the cabin, so I contemplate grabbing the camera and going out to try to shoot some of the myriad birds whose songs filter in through the few screens but the thought fo facing the vampires is daunting, even with the body nets NRDC brought.

The Peace Athabasca Delta is one of the world’s most beautiful places, under siege from effluents of the tar sands operations, and deprived of water by a large hydro-electric dam. This part of my trip has been organized by NRDC to show journalists the contrast between this “Bio Gem” and the industrial nightmare upstream (rivers flow north here). Coincidentally, they were coming up at the same time as I, and they invited me to join them on this part of the journey. They also had a tour of one of the tar sands operations, but those companies don’t like photographers and would not allow me to join (can’t understand why.) That’s why Industrial Scars remains an “eye in the sky” project.

Joe and George, a taciturn pair, are guiding us through this spectacular place, an endless wetland teeming with flora and fauna. Most of the day is spent on a motorboat going along the Athabasca River, and getting off in various places: an old family graveyard, the place where the “winter road” runs into Lake Athabasca (this area is only accessible by ground in the winter when everything freezes.) This particular road runs over a lake for this stretch. We also hike along a trail that has been in use since time immemorial through the sand hills which are characteristic of the region. We see eagles, a moose grazing by the river, birds of every description, and, did you say mosquitoes? On the way out, we stopped and Joe fried some walleye that was so fresh and tasty, even I liked it. They navigate the maze of rivers and perform these tasks with a practiced facility that can only come from a lifetime of knowledge. They are besieged with strange cancers and dwindling clean water, all as a result of our thirst for oil.

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