earthweal weekly challenge: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE


By Sherry Marr

This poem by Louise Erdrich really speaks to me as rivers rage throughout my province.


We watched from the house
as the river grew, helpless
and terrible in its unfamiliar body.
Wrestling everything into it,
the water wrapped around trees
until their life-hold was broken.
They went down, one by one,
and the river dragged off their covering.

Nests of the herons, roots washed to bones,
snags of soaked bark on the shoreline:
a whole forest pulled through the teeth
of the spillway. Trees surfacing
singly, where the river poured off
into arteries for fields below the reservation.

When at last it was over, the long removal,
they had all become the same dry wood.
We walked among them, the branches
whitening in the raw sun.
Above us drifted herons,
alone, hoarse-voiced, broken,
settling their beaks among the hollows.
Grandpa said, These are the ghosts of the tree people
moving among us, unable to take their rest.

Sometimes now, we dream our way back to the heron dance.
Their long wings are bending the air
into circles through which they fall.
They rise again in shifting wheels.
How long must we live in the broken figures
their necks make, narrowing the sky.

In mid-November, almost ten inches of rain from what is termed an atmospheric river hit B.C. – a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours. Major flooding occurred, three towns were evacuated, houses and cars underwater. Infrastructure crumbled: a dam broke, huge areas flooded, and sections of major highways and infrastructure collapsed. Three hundred people were trapped between two landslides and had to be helicoptered out.

The hardest hit area was Abbotsford, where, years ago, a lake was drained to convert the land for agriculture. It became a lake again during the flooding and thousands of livestock drowned in their long metal sheds. Scenes on the news were apocalyptic – water everywhere, people boating along what once were streets, trying to save the stranded. People on skidoos pulling cows who were up to their noses in water, trying to save at least some of the desperate creatures.

Sadly, there were some human deaths – a few people caught in two landslides on the highway. Some are still missing. 300 people were trapped between the two slides for 18 hours and were finally helicoptered out. There is an incalculable number of animal deaths, both domestic and wild. This hurts the worst.

The Sumas Prairie agricultural area in flood

Everyone set to in the rescue effort. Then the army was called in to help sandbag and shore up vulnerable areas. Frantically, repairs were made to the dike, and crews worked around the clock to make temporary repairs to crumbled highways so supply routes could be re-opened.

Time was of the essence, because two more atmospheric rivers were predicted to arrive just one week later. In Tofino, we are feeling it as I type, in extremely heavy rain.

Well, folks, this is us, and climate change just got very real. As I was typing this, my phone rang and Tofino’s emergency alert system warned that some local streets in Tofino have flooded, and the highway through the mountains, dangerous even in dry weather, is flooding and even more perilous.

The frustrating thing is these events have been triggered by decisions made twenty years ago, forty years ago  –  and decisions not made — to address a warming planet. Extraction capitalism, clearcutting and addiction to fossil fuels have gotten us where we are, along with governments’ refusal to make tough decisions, caring more about re-election than being stewards of resources for the people, and for future generations. Yet we kept re-electing them, while the Green party languishes for votes.

Tzeporah Berman of Vancouer has been an activist all her life. Her strong voice emerged during the Clayoquot Summer of 1993, and she has spent the years since working for climate justice. If we were to treat climate change as an actual emergency, Berman says, our response would look like this:

The single most important intervention is the one that so far no government has been willing to touch: cap fossil fuel use and scale it down, on a binding annual schedule, until the industry is mostly dismantled by the middle of the century. That’s it. This is the only fail-safe way to stop climate breakdown. If we want real action, this should be at the very top of our agenda.

But will anyone do it? Words about climate change are finally issuing forth from Ottawa, and from provincial officials. But we need more than words. With efforts focussed on reacting to climate events, when will they ever get around to being pro-active? The cost of cleanup after such devastation will cost far more than addressing climate change would have, especially if they had begun 40 years ago, when the science was clear.

Target dates of 2050 for lowering emissions are ludicrous, given where we are at right now.

I felt I should report this, since I am living in the middle of this new vestige of the climate crisis, following the heat dome we suffered in the summer, and then the wildfires.

But I wasn’t sure where to take it in terms of an earthweal challenge. Brendan suggested we write Verse Letters: a form of address, akin to dramatic monologue, to all parties involved – letters to the lost, perhaps; to those who caused the extinction;  or to those of us who are in the middle. They can be letters to fossil fuels, windmills, dead zones, to new life. I think I know who I want to address!

Let’s give it a whirl. Take it in whatever direction you want. If you prefer to write in a different form, please do. I am not strict.  I look forward to your responses.

7 thoughts on “earthweal weekly challenge: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE

  1. Hello, poet friends. At the moment, (Sunday night), there is a respite between systems. The biggest atmospheric river system is heading our way Monday and Tuesday. At the area that suffered the most, overflowing river water from across the US border is running into the already-flooded Sumas Prairie. Infrastructure on all of the main highways has been devastating, great gouges out of highways and railway tracks, bridges completely gone. Supply routes are completely disrupted; no one can predict how long it will be before reconstruction can be attempted or completed. If I go quiet tomorrow or next day, it will be because the power is out. I am hoping our forests will help absorb enough of the water that we dont have to evacuate. We live on a peninsula, and being stuck in a line of backed-up cars alongside a raging sea doesnt appeal to me. Somehow one always thinks the climate crisis will hit somewhere else. But there IS no somewhere else any more – we are all in the soup together. I look forward to your Verse Letters with anticipation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, Sherry, it sounds horrendous. Stay safe. We had small floods here a few weeks ago – high rainfall and high tide coincided, the Torridge broke its banks – luckily it does it fairly regularly, so there’s no building on the flood plain – but the mess from that relatively small event was massive. I can’t begin to imagine how things are where you are. It all sounds pretty close. Do take care.


  3. Well, the third river will hit here around midnight. There will be flooding and likely we will lose power. I HOPE to not have to evacuate. I will keep you informed as long as I have power. This third wave is disastrous for those in heavily flooded areas. Really terrible. Someone on the news had a brainwave: “Why not work with nature to absorb the rain? Let’s PLANT TREES.” And the architect drawing showed a highrise and TWO TREES, one on each side. Sound of head banging on desk.


  4. Our area weathered the storms well, given we still have forest here. First Nations spoke last night demanding a moratorium on logging old growth. That is good. We have to stop ramming the pipeline through too.


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