Sunday, July 6, 2008

Anthony Marr's CARE-6 tour field journal #1


Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)’s

Global Emergency Operation (GEO)’s

Compassion for Animals Road Expedition #6 (CARE-6)

Field Journal #1


Anthony Marr

founder of HOPE

lead campaigner of GEO

“road warrior” of CARE-1, CARE-2, CARE-3, CARE-4, CARE-5 & CARE-6

On July 1, 2008, Tuesday, I set out from Vancouver on the first leg of my Compassion for Animals Road Expedition #6. With me for this leg was HOPE-GEO team member Taina Ketola who volunteered to serve as a second camera-person especially for the fly-over of the tar sands scheduled for July 3.

The last thing I did in Vancouver was to bid farewell to my 89-years-old mother whom I’m not sure I will see again. And I’m sure she thinks likewise about seeing me again. She put on a brave face and blessed my journey, and promised me to pray for my safety and success every chance she gets. She and I held in our tears, but Taina said that she was on the point of losing hers.

The drive through the constant magnificence of the British Columbian scenic vista ended on this day at the foot of the spectacular Mount Robson in a village called Valemont near the British Columbia/Alberta border, where we over-nighted at a “cheap” motel ($90 – lowest among the three I saw). I was there while conducting my anti-hunting campaign back in 1996, and it is one of the most beautiful inland places I’ve ever seen.

After a heavy thunderstorm in the night, we started at 8, but within half an hour, we encountered a highway closure due to a landslide some miles ahead. Quite considerate of them to block the highway at a roadside rest stop with an info centre and a restaurant. The flip side is that we were trapped there from before 9 a.m. to after 4 p.m., by which time it was too late to for us to reach Fort McMurray (almost 1000 km/600 miles) by a reasonable hour. Thankfully, my Vancouver friend Judy McMillan’s sister Glenda lives in Edmonton, and we’ve met in years past, so Judy called Glenda, and Glenda, who had invited us to stay at her place on the night of July 4, extended her hospitality to also this night of July 2. We arrived at Glenda’s place well after 10 pm.

Due to the delay, I also called to cancel on Super8, the cheapest motel I could find at Fort McMurray ($150), for that night and changed the flight over the tar sands from 9 a.m. to 4 pm.

On the morning of July 3, Thursday, we started driving the 435 km from Edmonton to Fort McMurray due north at about 9 a.m. The highway was a 2-laner, i.e. one lane in each direction, and reputed to have an inordinately high accident rate, though, having been to India three times, and saw my fair share of the accidents there, this was nothing. It was paved, but bumpy and dusty. We arrived at this most expensive city (of about 60,000 and rapidly growing) in the middle of nowhere by about 2:30. We checked into the Super8 and I did a little catching up on email with the hour I had before going to McMurray Aviation at the Fort McMurray airport.

While the weather was at least dry on our drive, it turned overcast by 3. Our pilot Jonathan told us that we could expect some turbulence and thunderstorms on our 1.5 hour fly-over of some half a dozen mines, starting with those of Suncor and Syncrude. The first half went fairly smoothly, but then we began to be enveloped in rain and we saw numerous lightning flashes all around. At one point, the turbulence got so bad that if not for the seat belt, my head would have hit the roof. Jonathan decided to do an emergency land at the Albion Mine airport to wait till the storm had passed, and the landing was the roughest in a light plane (a Cessna 172) I’ve ever witnessed (I’ve been in bush planes aplenty in my younger days). Jonathan informed us that a cross draft of 10 kph at the landing strip was about the max in which a light plane could be landed safely, and after the landing, the airport personnel told us that the cross draft at our time of landing was fluctuating between 15-25 kph.

The wait lasted about 2 hours, during which time a 727 landed and disgorged a plane load of Albion workers, and took on an out-going load which was crowding the waiting room. Now I saw the faces of tar sands evil up close. Jonathan made repeated calls to check on the weather condition, and each time, it was not good. Finally, he decided to take a round-about route back, and the return trip was uneventful. Back at the counter of McMurray Aviation, the young woman at the counter, asked the pilot how long the plane was airborne. He said 1.4 hours in total, or about $300. She thought about it and said that it was not fair to charge me the full fair because I did not receive the “experience” I had reserved the plane for. The pilot called his boss Renee, who told them to charge me for 0.7 hours, or about $150. So, we saved on both one night of moteling, and on the flight. And what we saw and filmed was priceless. We’re going to make it pay.

On July 4, we went on our bus tour (10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.) of the Suncor and the Syncrude mines. What we saw on the ground was no better than what we saw from the air, plus a olfactory assault of unsavory odours which made Taina momentarily ill.

After the tour, I called the Fort McMurray Today newspaper. I did not precede the call with a media release several days before, because I did not want to alert the mines and the locals of my intent to prevent any unnecessary disruption. The chief editor was not in, and a reporter named Carol came on the phone. Initially, she sounded tired and lukewarm, but when I told her about the tour and the time capsule, she brightened up a little. At the spur of the moment, I added that I was there in Fort McMurray to choose a place for burial of the time capsule, and she brightened up even more. She asked if we were burying the time capsule on that day, I said no, and she cooled off slightly, and said that I should call back on the day of the burial. Too late to change my tune then. She asked me about the location of the burial, and I said that it was to be kept a secret anyway, so it wouldn’t make any difference when the burial would be. While still on the phone, I walked her through to show her the car magnetic signs and the brass plaques. Without further ado she asked me to come down to her office for an interview and photography. She took photos of me holding up the two plaques while crouching next to the car-side magnetic sign that said “Fix Global Warming or kiss our children’s future goodbye”. She also recorded the interview with an MP3, and took down copious notes, and said that if the main editor approves, the article should come out by Wednesday next week.

After the interview, I asked Taina for her impression, and she said that Carol understood and agreed with over 95% of what I said, and that she was not uninformed, but was in a state of semi-despair and resignation about the whole climate change situation.

After the interview, we drove back to Edmonton (435 km) and arrived back in Glenda’s place in the late evening. Her son Andrew and daughter Jennifer were both there, and I had a good chat with the family, and with Jennifer after the others had gone to bed.

One thing I learned from this experience is that the time capsule is indeed a media draw, capable of exciting jaded journalists and changing their mind from a no or maybe to a yes. Further, what they want to know is that the capsule would be buried on that very day.

July 4, I called the Edmonton newspapers the Journal and the Sun. I used the story of us burying a time capsule at a secret location somewhere in or near Edmonton that very night under the cover of darkness, and had no trouble securing an interview with the Sun. The Journal was also interested, but by the time I had to leave, could not find a reporter to interview me, and asked me to call after I had arrived in Calgary.

Arrived in Calgary by about 5:30 pm. I had a talk to give at the Cardel Theatre at 7:30. I just parked there and went in to set up. The talk was attended by only about 15 people, but the energy was excellent. I spoke for 1.5 hours and had all in the audience commit by a show of hands to sign and comment on the UN Global Green Fund petition, and to pass it on to at least 10 people.

In the audience was a journalist from the Fast Forward magazine, and she asked me several more question after my speech. It seems that I will have an article there as well.

My host for the coming two nights is Karen Orr, who was the first person to call me in 2005. She was with her daughter Brittany at the talk. They gave me Brittany’s room and Brittany slept in Karen’s bed. This is the kind of warm hospitality I’ve been shown everywhere I go in my tours, bless their hearts.

More later.

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