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From the Trees: “Forever Wild, Forever Wild, Let it Stay Forever Wild” (Day 17)

Here is Arlo’s personal account from a day in the tree blockade.
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After fumbling to hike up a steep, muddy easement and tripping through a freshly-clearcut graveyard of tree trunks and wet branches, my new camo-clad friends gave me a silent tour through the unbelievable tree blockade. And then they guided me to my tree, a beautiful 80-foot tall old Water Oak named Falkor.

“This is the one. Justin is just across that line up there in that tree and Mary is two traverses over that way in one of those trees to the south so just holler at them if you need anything, ok? Oh and don’t forget to do your ABC’s.”

“Ok yeah, sweet, thanks. I think I got it from here.”

I turned off my headlamp and started whispering the Climb ABC’s to myself, but as my eyes adjusted to the foggy forest my whispers became increasingly replaced by thoughts of wonder and anger.

  • “A…anchor…I can’t see it… whoa, holy shit, this tree is way taller than I thought… 
  • B…buckles…tightened, doubled back…check. How old is this tree? 60? No, at least 80.
  • C…carabineers… down and out, locked…check.
  • D…devices…prussik knots are dressed….check.
  • E…end of rope…tied to my way-too-overpacked backpack…check.
  • F…friends…are…up there in those trees somewhere? I wonder if they know how to play Euchre…I bet they are sweet… all those kids back at camp were super cool.
  • G…gear… got some extra carabineers, a descending device, some webbing…but no pulley…shit.
  • H…hair…pulled back…check. Wait. Those cut trees that I walked across earlier were at least the size of this one. So they are clear-cutting a 110’-wide tract of 80 year old trees to lay this pipeline? And the boreal forest…jesus, I can’t even imagine what that sort of destruction looks like. I hope some folks are setting up tree sits there too…”

As I trailed off into unsettling thoughts about what the Canadian boreal forest clear-cuts might look like, I realized that I was still standing on the ground about 60 feet below my new bed.  The climb up was terrifying. And slow. And humid and foggy and dark.

And beautiful. Just wildly, wildly beautiful.

Shortly after waking up the next morning I started keeping a play-by-play of TransCanada’s destruction in my journal and I’ve reprinted it here with a few necessary omissions:
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10 AM-ish:  I’m watching the outline of a feller-buncher rip through 40-year-old trees in seconds. I woke up to the sound of shredding bark about an hour ago. It’s a fucking disgusting sound.

The feller is about 250 ft away, which is dangerously close to Justin who is two traverses away from me. There are a few people on the ground in camo.

She just yelled. “You are doing a wonderful job destroying this beautiful forest. You sure look good from up here!” The cutting stopped. “Go ahead and take your pictures…but why don’t you take some over THERE? THAT’s the crime…THAT’s the crime over THERE!”

There are three TransCanada workers 150 ft away from me doing some sort of surveying. No police yet.

10:33 AM: I just found a watch with a broken wristband in the food bucket so I’ll start keeping a record of the time. My friend on the ground just tried to send me up some oatmeal but 5 TC workers and a police officer chased him off. They took an absurd amount of pictures of the oatmeal pot on the ground.

10:39 AM: There are about 10 TC workers around my tree, iPhones out, taking pictures of Justin’s platform and my own. They seem calm and indifferent to us. I guess that’s a good thing legally, but another level I also want to feel like a threat to what they are doing.

10:42 AM: Mary: “You really destroyed that forest, huh? That used to be a forest over there, and thenya took it all down.”

A helicopter has flown over twice. I don’t know if I’m being paranoid or not by noting that.

It’s too beautiful of a day for such a disgusting thing. My sense of direction is fucked but I think I’m peaking out the northeast corner of my platform with the tarp rolled back enough so sunlight can hit this paper and my forearms. My face is hot under this bandana. This coffee is gritty and cold but I’m so ridiculously thankful for the people on the ground who are supplying us.

10:53 AM: The feller-buncher has started again and I can see the tops of trees rustling, violently swinging back and forth, and then being dragged away by a huge yellow machine…only a few seconds between each one. I can’t tell if Mary is screaming at them or the machinery is squealing.

A few minutes ago some TC workers and the police came back by and set some survey stakes and spray-painted them orange. I think they are marking off how close they can cut to our trees without taking us out. We need to fortify this place better tonight.

11:08 AM: Justin just yelled from his platform and asked me why I wasn’t out on my traverse. I’m so unprepared for this… I didn’t know I was supposed to be out there when they were cutting. Justin: “Well, it looks like our lines stopped their cutting, so don’t worry about it now, we’re fine.” Mary’s traverse is moving, I think she’s on it but I can’t see very well from here.

11:14 AM: Yep, she is. And barefoot! Note to self, tell Mary she’s a badass.

11:17 AM: A TC worker is carrying around an expensive-looking camera, taping our structures. He spent way too long filming the oatmeal pot.

11:36 AM: FELLER BUNCHER IS 50 FEET AWAY. GOING ON TRAVERSE!

11:51 AM: I started going out on my traverse, realized I didn’t have a pulley, tried to improvise and then decided to come back because I didn’t feel safe. Justin came to my platform to try and help. Feller got super close to my tree, backed up, cut to the west and then north. I just saw the biggest tree in sight squeezed, crushed, swung back and forth, cut, and then slammed to the ground by its trunk. In under 5 seconds. This is fucking criminal.

During this time, Justin went out onto my traverse to protect my tree and we both started recording them cutting the trees immediately in front of us with cameras.

1:08 PM: They just murdered their way through a huge tract of forest about 50 ft from where we are. Took some videos. Red in the face. Justin told me about how much they love these trees – every time one gets cut they look away and cringe like a kid who doesn’t want to see a flu shot poke their arm.

1:45 PM: They just moved north of us towards the wall and I can’t see where they are cutting anymore. Justin told me that someone on the radio said that they hit the wall with the machinery. I need a radio. I hope everyone is ok.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon staring blankly at a lifeless scar where a dense forest used to be.

6:30 PM: All is calm now. Need to stretch.

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Feeling embarrassed about my mishap earlier in the day, I asked Justin to teach me to traverse across without a pulley. After reaching the midpoint tree between Mary and me, she invited me over to her tree to discuss what we had seen that day. She told me that because I should get ready because TransCanada’s attempts at extraction seemed imminent at this point, that I should seriously consider if staying is worth a potential felony charge that other blockaders have been slapped with in the past. It definitely resonated with me and I felt that I could strategically do far more good from being active in the campaign than in jail, at least at that point in time. I climbed down her rope, grabbed my gear, watched the 40-foot pole being put up as one giant middle finger to TransCanada’s horrifying clear-cuts, then got the hell out of the woods.

Present-tense is 7 days later. As I write this I am sitting around a smoky campfire emanating with the smell of burning potato pancakes, watching some of the sweetest and most devoted people I know laugh, eat, dance, and incessantly scheme about stopping this pipeline in its tracks. What else could we do at this point when the stakes are this high? Untamed love and hope burns inside of us and our resistance will be extinguished by neither floodlights nor felonies. We have stopped this pipeline before and we will do it again. Watch us.

Forever wild,

Arlo

Permanent link to this article: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/day17/