At 8:45 a.m. CST, as my paddle dips in and out, wind pushes hair into my eyes, droplets of water glide across the surface of the lake. Under layers of neoprene, tucked into warmth and wet, the alarm on my watch goes off. As I pull off gloves, undo the straps on my spray jacket, and unzip my long sleeve neoprene jacket I silently say to myself over and over -- we are going to do it. We are going to stop the pipeline.
On new years day 2013 I resolved to find the belief in myself that we could stop the southern arm of the KXL pipeline. It was, without a doubt, the most ambitious resolution I've ever made. Which, I think, was the point. The point of this lofty, difficult to measure, assess, or tackle resolution was finding belief that a miracle could happen. Unlike a resolution to lose 10 pounds, quit smoking, or find a new job, this resolution does not necessarily come with a linear plan. Whether or not I 'achieve' this resolution is mostly out of my control.
Every day this spring the alarm on my watch has beeped. In California, where I lived for most of the spring, it went off at 6:45 a.m. -- startling me awake on weekends, an early reminder to get myself out of bed during the week. I worked full time this spring as an outdoor educator, on the clock and responsible for the lives of children for upwards of 20 hours a day. I wasn't able to dedicate as much time or energy as I might have liked to stopping KXL. A quick reminder and few moments of thought is mostly what I could muster this spring.
Lake Superior is the largest fresh water lake by surface area in the world. It's water shines brilliant green and blue in the sunlight, shafts of color bouncing off submerged boulders that formed in fiery shifts of volcanic activity in a time that is almost too distant to imagine. There are places on the lake where you can look out and see the curvature of the earth -- the horizon uninterrupted by house, island, tree, or rock. From the cockpit of my teal kayak I survey this lake and contemplate my 'pipeline miracle'. How does the pipeline being built thousands of miles away connect to this awe-inspiring and humbling lake?
In some ways the connections are easy; the tar sands oil that will flow in the pipe comes from the same Canadian soil that borders the north shore of Lake Superior. Currently, however, tar sands extraction is occurring mostly in Alberta hundreds of miles from this body of water. And, although connections and interdependence of water do suggest that a total separation of these two places cannot be made, for now this correlation seems a bit stilted and far-reaching. One could also argue that the decisions that the Canadian government is currently making concerning tar sands extraction and exportation doesn't seem to bode well for future environmental discussions and decisions about Lake Superior. Again, however, this connection feels oversimplified -- connecting lines drawn in vague sketches without a clear reason or motivation.
My muscles aching from several days of travel, eyes peeled back by the sunlight, the sheer scope of this lake leaving me feeling small, as my alarm beeps I am drawn instead to connections of quality. It has been four days since I have seen anyone other than the five people I am traveling with. Moose, loons, otter, ducks, and geese have kept us company along the way but people have not. Today, I cling to belief in my pipeline miracle because it represents uninterrupted spaces like this one, because unless we believe that we can impact decisions being made about wild spaces we will truly lose those spaces. The red East Texas mud where pipe is currently being laid is a world away from the lake on which I sit, but from this lake I take a moment to believe that it can be stopped -- because I want to share this lake with others, because believing in miracles is hard, because I need to believe that I have a say in the future of wild spaces, because it's 8:45 a.m. CST and this is the commitment I've made. To stop. To take a breath. To believe.
We can do it -- we can stop the pipeline.
My paddle dives and dips below the surface of the water, my heart beats, my watch beeps, my throat catches -- I have to believe we can stop the pipeline because if we can't impact decisions about wild places there will be no where to go to see the curve of the earth against the bowl of the sky.