#22 Site C-ing & sightseeing
December 18th, 2014
The provincial government has just announced that they’re going ahead with an eight-point-some-damn-thing billion dollar dam on the Peace River. They’ve been jabbering about this dam for the past thirty-some years. That poor river already has two dams plunked down on it, now they want a third one. They say we’ll need the electricity it will produce.
Eight-point-some-damn-thing billion dollars. At what per cent interest? They didn’t tell us that part but I’ll bet it means my great-grandchildren, poor little jiggers, will still be paying it off so the strings of bright lights around the used car lots of Seattle and Portland can burn brightly at night. That’s if they even have used car lots or even cars by then.
I could tell myself I don’t even know my great-grandchildren. I could say they haven’t become even a gleam in someone’s eye or a wish in someone’s heart, and I’ll be ash-born on the wind long before any of them arrive in this world, so why should I care how high the taxes they’ll have to pay will be? But I don’t say that. I don’t think that. And I don’t feel that.
Mostly I feel angry.
Thank goodness Deb called. She said she was on her way down. I got myself ready. I put on my warm jacket and got my warmest cap, a bright green thing, knit in Peru. My daughter gave it to me as a joke because I am very fond of turtles. This cap is knit in such a way it looks as if I have a big turtle sitting on my head.
This is the only way we can make sense of headlines that tell us the government has just decided to beg, borrow or steal eight-point-some-damn-thing billion dollars to build the Site C dam whether it’s really the right thing to do or not. Walk it off.
I got the leash for my twelve-and-a-half-year-old rescue mutt, Min. She’s stiff now, getting arthriticky, I guess, but she dances when she sees me get the leash. There was a time when Min danced like a snake or the canine version of Veronica Tennant. If there are seven dog years in every human year, and if Min is nearly thirteen, well, do the math. Close to ninety and still dancing, not a bad fate for anyone.
We headed outside, with Lydia bark-bark-barking away. She’s a small dog and she gets nearly hysterical when she sees Min and I heading for the doorway. Lydia is deaf and she’s starting to get that blue haze that means cataracts in her eyes but she is, after all, seventeen years old, and in dog years that has to be damned near a hundred and twenty.
We got to the end of the driveway as Deb and Lox arrived. He’s a little silvery-coloured guy, a real gentleman. His dad was a pure poodle and his mom was a cross between a shih tsu and a bichon frisee. If ever I need another dog I’ll look for one that’s got the same mix in it.
Lox and Min are on leashes and Lydia runs loose. Not because she’s better behaved and more obedient than they are but because she flat-out isn’t. She won’t even accept a collar and the one time I tried to leash her she pitched such a total fit I thought she’d pull a jammer and die. I’m told she’s a cross between a Pomeranian and a Pekingese but I don’t see any sign of either in her. No way I’ll go looking for another like her.
What it was, Lydia was the spoiled darling of my next-door neighbour Mia, who was married to Battista. For ten years we lived side-by-each and you wouldn’t find better neighbours if you went looking. Then Mia’s back started to bother her. She put it down to all those years she’d been a Postie, carrying that damned canvas pack of mail up one street and down another. And it got worse, then even more worse so she finally went to the doctor and by the time the appointments and tests and scans and what-all were done the diagnosis was a cancerous lesion at the base of the spine and it all went too fast and ugly after that.
We have a medical clinic, and we get a doctor comes in over that goat track twice a week, but the specialists said Mia needed more than could be provided here. They wanted Mia in hospital, and they said right out she wouldn’t be coming back here, ever again. Of course Battista was with her, and that meant Lydia and the cat, damned thing that it is, were like that ugly kid, Home Alone. I went over a couple of times a day to check on them, make sure they had food and fresh water, and play with Lydia for a while. The cat I ignored as much as possible because the miserable bitch of a thing had drawn blood, my blood, a couple of times.
So when Battista came back for a brief visit, and to catch up on chores which needed done, I told him Lydia was getting lonely, and depressed, and he should bring her over to my place so she would have company. For a few days she zipped off home every chance she got but I just kept bringing her back. Until the next chance to zot off home.
I watered the house plants, I made sure the gold fish pond had water, I looked after the rose bushes and such, and when it was all over, I had me a bit of a slump. I didn’t weep, I was actually glad the poor woman was finished with the agony, but I did feel something important and nice was gone from my life. Some people have an aura about them, they shine, and when that light is gone, well, you miss it.
And Battista came home again. Lydia refused to move back in with him. Well, I guess from her point of view, he had driven off in the car with Mia and he didn’t bring her home again. So to hell with him! She had her own pack, thank you for nothing you traitor, she had Minnie, and she had my cat, Dustbugger, who is much friendlier than that hissing bitch next door, and while Lydia didn’t exactly snarl or snap, she did a fine job of keeping her distance. She’ll let him pet her, briefly, but she makes sure he knows she lives here, now.
And I can’t find it in me to insist she go back. I never wanted a spoiled little pain in the ass of a dog like her but the poor thing has lost enough for one lifetime. She doesn’t take up much room, and she doesn’t have any nasty habits so why not let her move in with us.
Rather than have a pitched battle about collar and leash I let Lydia bounce along untethered. And she bounces. She loves our Therapeutic Perambulations, she runs ahead, barking, to warn the world we’re coming, she runs back, she goes to this side and that side, the tail wagging, the bark-bark cutting the air into little shards, and she dances. You’d think she was a puppy all over again.
The cat comes with us, as well. The way people behave you’d think there was something novel and almost miraculous in having a cat accompany us when we’re walking the dogs.
Deb and I walk slowly, we aren’t out for our cardio vascular workout, we’re not power walking or trying to set any records for speed or distance. I’m the three-legged woman when we’re walking outside. I don’t need my cane in the house, there’s always a wall or a chair or something to help me when the leg takes a holiday, but you don’t want to be going ass-over-appetite with traffic coming toward you. And Deb’s ankle is like a plumber’s wet dream of staples and bars and this and that and the next thing, she could set off metal detectors with it all, but at least she can walk, and more importantly, she does. There’s too many others would be sitting whining and mingeing about the unfairness of it all but not her, she goes out in her boat, she goes trout fishing at the lake, she rides a bike, she just keeps on keeping on and the sense of humour is glorious.
I’ve known her since she was a little girl. She and my own daughter took one look at each other and started to grin. They were in and out of my kitchen, in and out of Deb’s mom’s kitchen, on and off their bikes, back and forth to the lake, to the beach, to the caves, to wherever they decided they were going to ramble and if you saw one you saw the other. I call her my daughter of another mother and I enjoy our daily walks.
Well, daily depending on the weather. There are days when Deb and Lox go off on their own because winter storms seem almost guaranteed to waken the dragon who lives in my spine and when Draconis Regina is roaring and spewing fire I’m not able to take myself and my dogs out for a stroll.
Just down the road a bit there’s a guy who seems to be in a perpetually good mood. He bought himself a motorcycle recently. I thought it was a Harley but no, it only looks like one, it’s actually a Yamaha but by the time Wayne is through with it that black beauty is going to be a top of the line vanity ride. He’s got it washed, waxed, and polished, and he’s now removing screws or bolts or whatever in hell it is holds things together and replacing them with stainless steel ones because he doesn’t want even the threat of rust. I tease him that he’s really just fussing and pampering his baby, and he laughs and says you’ll see, this beauty will still be a thing of joy when every other in the country is rusted into immobility.
We move on from Wayne’s and we’re all smiling and feeling good about things. Wayne thinks the whole dam project is just some hot air the politicians are talking about because their previous bright idea blew up in their faces when the price of oil started spiralling down and the opposition from First Nations, environmentalists, and everyone with more than four working brain cells started ramping up at the prospect of oil tankers off our coast. Nobody out here has forgotten the ExxonValdez and we know they still don’t have that mess cleaned up.
Hoping Wayne is right about the hot air theory we amble on down the road with Lydia going into overdrive because we’re getting closer with ever limping step to Brenda’s place. Just to ensure Brenda knows we’re coming, and just in case Lydia’s barking doesn’t prove to be enough of an announcement, Min starts warbling.
Min is part hound. Min doesn’t bark. Min howls. So she’s baying her woo woo and Lydia is barking and Lox, dignified gentleman that he is, has started wagging his tail and making happy little uh uh sounds in his throat and out of the place comes Brenda. Well, it’s a love in. Brenda talks to them as if they’re people. Or she’s a dog. They respond with nudges and happy licking of the hands, face, and anything else they can get a tongue on.
When suitable greetings have been exchanged, Brenda chats with Deb and I. Brenda thinks agricultural land is more important than exporting electricity to the excited states, especially when you’re selling the stuff for less than it costs to produce it. What with climate change and drought in California and loss of farmland, we’ll need the Peace River valley as a producer of farm crops a lot more than we need those lights burning all night in empty office towers. She figures they’re out of their fuckin’ minds and we agree.
It’s starting to feel like a good day after all. So far we seem to be four out of four.
We’re almost at the museum building and there, coming toward us, is the big bruiser who is the latest Incomer. There’s probably a mathematical co-relation between semi-isolated villages and certifiable nuts. Most of the flannel brains in this village are harmless, but every now and again we get one drift in who is, like the province of Quebec, pas comme les autres. And this one, for sure, isn’t at all comme any of les autres.
“Out for a walk, eh?” he bellows. What else did he think we’d be doing at ten-thirty of a morning, in a sucker hole with clouds rolling in from the sea.
“Morning,” we answer. Well, it was, after all, morning.
But obviously he wants us to stop and chat. Maybe he knew we had stopped to chat with Wayne, then stopped, again, to chat with Brenda. Maybe he thought that was all the reason we needed to stop and chat with him.
From across the road we could smell him. He’s got this big smile on his whiskery face and it’s easy to see he’s lost quite a few of his stained and dingy teeth. “That was some storm,” he yells.
We nod. It was, indeed, some storm. And there’s another on the way but we don’t share that bit of arcane knowledge, we just keep on keeping on.
“One helluva wind,” he bellows. “Put me in mind of a typhoon I was in some years back when….” We waved and kept on keeping on.
When he realizes we don’t care about his typhoon story he sort of winds down a bit and then he absolutely roars, “Not very friendly, are you ladies?” And there’s something about the emphasis he puts on the word ladies that tells me more than I wanted to know.
“Be sure to lock your doors,” mutters Deb.
“You got ‘er.” I mentally review where I keep my aluminum softball bat, where I have the hammer and three ways to make a fast exit from my house.
We make it to the bridge and lean on the railing and look down at the river. Two days ago this river looked like chocolate milk, so full of mud and debris that it made a person wonder how much mountain had been washed away by the rain. Enough of it that Vancouver Island Health Authority put a boil water advisory on us. They called it “precipitate.” They told us we had to boil the water because of the risk of cryptosporidium parasites.
Deb, Brenda and I figured it was bear shit they were worried about. Bear shit, deer shit, elk shit, cougar shit, squirrel shit and probably some mink, marten, and river otter shit as well.
Now we can see every rock and pebble on the bottom; and we can see the log which has been down there for at least fifteen years. We talk about how wood will last as good as forever in fresh water, talk about how Japan and China are buying up our raw logs as fast as we can cut them down and ship them over to them. Then they store the logs in deep ponds of fresh water, they stand them on end, like pickup sticks before you drop them to the tabletop, just jam ’em in tight, weigh them down somehow (we don’t know how) so they won’t float up and start to rot, and we figure that’s like putting pocket change in a piggy bank, when the day comes, as it inevitably will, that we don’t have a marketable tree left on this Island, China and Japan can start pulling out those preserved raw logs and sell them for far more than it cost them.
Deb says we should take a lesson from that. China is floating on an absolute ocean of the stuff needed to make Liquified Natural Gas and yet China is buying LNG from Russia, from just about any place they can get it. Eventually when everyone else has sucked out, fracked out and shipped out their last whiff of the stuff, China can start tapping her own reserves.
“It’s all like money in the bank,” says Deb.
We head back home, and Lydia is starting to fade. She isn’t barking any more. The tail is still wagging and she’s still having a wonderful time but she’s puffing, and the limp is back. The peripatetic limp. Lydia is senile, you see. Well, it happens to all of us. Lydia can’t remember which leg has the limp. Presently, it’s the right front foot seems to be bothering her but before we get back to the Museum, it’s the right rear leg.
Ten minutes later, as we make the turn up past Shell’s place, it’s the left rear leg, and by the time we come into my house it’s the left front and the right rear, which gives her the look of a semi-ambulatory rocking horse.
My glasses fog up, of course. I get Min’s leash off, and then my jacket, then it’s time for the treats for the dogs, and other treats for the cat, and then, thank Gawd, it’s time to make coffee. If I were to try to make coffee before handing out dog treats there would be rebellion in the ranks.
I get the coffee machine started, and clean the fog off my glasses, grab the roll of toilet paper because my nose is starting to pour hot water. Change of temperature does that to me, my sinuses go into overdrive and sniff-sniff-sniffing doesn’t always do it.
We sit with our coffee and listen to the soothing sounds of dogs crunching their biscuits. Lox wants to hang onto his. He’s like the little kid who hoards her candy until the other kids have eaten all theirs, and then she brings hers out and slowly, slowly and enragingly, she licks, licks, ummm, so good, yum yum, poor you, you pigged all yours and I’ve still got….One of my granddaughters was the queen of that trick, she’d hide her bag of candy and then mooch from the other kids. When theirs was all gone, out would come hers and she wouldn’t share a crumb.
Min didn’t expect there would be more treats for her and Lydia just because Lox was doing his routine. She just very calmly walked over and sniped his treat from under his silvery nose. Crunch. Left him with a few crumbs and went back to her quilt.
I thought Deb was going to choke laughing with a mouthful of coffee.
We’d been gone an hour and a half. I got up, got myself a pain pill and took it because Draconis Regina was starting to slash her tail and sharpen her claws. She’d be snorting before the pill took effect but at least she wouldn’t wind up raging and spewing fire.
“Good coffee.” Deb said, and she sighed that contented sound women make when they take a well deserved rest.
The wind hit the side of the house like a fist and rain splattered on the skylight. “Made ‘er,” she said, and sighed again.
“You’ll get wet on your way home,” I said.
“I won’t melt,” she laughed. “I’m not made of sugar.”
I reached for my tobacco can.
“Roll me one, too, would you?”
“I thought you’d quit.”
“I did. For seven years. And I’ll quit again one of these days.”
We both cackled. If felt good.
But it didn’t make the damn Site C dam plan go away.
Anne Cameron grows pussywillows on the western edge of Vancouver Island. She received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia in 2010. Her 23 books include Daughters of Copper Woman, the bestselling work of fiction ever written about B.C. and published from within B.C. She has banished herself to Tahsis, a small town not far from Friendly Cove where the shenanigans called British Columbia all began.