THE WAY I heard it, a couple of Gordie Doll’s friends had been playing cards with the old trapper when the wind outside began to bend the trees. Gordie’s acquaintances decided to drink up and head back to Terrace before trees started to fall across their road out. When they returned several days later they found an old hemlock had split the cabin in two and that their friend was pinned underneath it. Gordie survived, but the accident hastened the end of his career, and probably the end of his life.
As we pass the remains, Oona sticks her head inside. I call her away.
Jim wants to have a look at how the construction of the Pacific Trails pipeline is progressing. We drive up the valley past sprawling, greening clear cuts. At the highest part of the road we get an expansive view of the Clore Valley. The far side of the river shows some signs of ancient fires but otherwise it is heavily treed. Directly across from us, surrounded by old forest, is a large slide. There are avalanche chutes but this isn’t one. It’s one of those places in the Copper River drainage where the land has given way for no immediately apparent reason.
When he’s taken a picture of the slide and climbed back into the truck, I ask Jim to picture what might have happened had a pair of pipe lines carrying condensate one way and bitumen the other been built on that side of the valley. The question is rhetorical. I know that it’s not hard for Jim to imagine the devastation, for he and I have seen the effects of the 1978 flood, the disaster that left shards of yellow gas pipe and culverts three feet in diameter strewn about the valley where they still lie today. We also fished the river the day before the top broke off a mountain at the back end of the creek that powers Glenn Falls then sent a rock slide carrying boulders a big as houses down the precipitous, narrow creek ultimately blocking the Zymoetz for months; and, we fished it after that cataclysm, astounded by the wreckage. We have seen the Telkwa and Copper passes – looked down upon them from helicopters and up their jagged walls to their craggy peaks from the valley bottoms. From both perspectives we have seen the treacherous and unstable slopes that, according to scientists, can only become more volatile as the earth warms.
We drive on and up. Sporadic chatter comes from the radio. At what turns out to be the highest part of the road we meet a large work truck. There is room to pass, but not much. As we do, I catch the eye of the driver. Something in our shared glance prompts us to stop and roll down our windows.
Working on the pipeline?
Working for the pipeline people, says the man. He’s maybe 40, maybe a few years younger.
Are they going to build a work camp up here? Jim asks.
Jeez, I don’t know, replies the man.
You from the East Coast? I ask.
Been in Alberta a long time, but from Nova Scotia a long time before that.
You can hear it, I say.
It would be a shame to build a big camp up here, says Jim. Could be hundreds of men here. You’d have to have trailers and infrastructure.
You’d avoid trips on this road though. I blew a tire. Cost me a thousand bucks.
Jim and I commiserate with the guy, wish him all the best, then we drive on until we see an ATCO trailer. We get out to investigate. Oona gets out to sniff. A young woman comes out of the trailer to greet us. I tell her we don’t see many pretty young woman this far in the bush. She smiles then tells us that we need a safety talk and hard hat if we want to go on. We tell her we’re just tourists who’ve come up the valley to count salmon and see how much has been done on the pipeline.
Do you know if they’re going to build a work camp? asks Jim.
The plans seem to change all the time, says the young woman.
I suggest that, in the end, the company will probably just transport their workers to the site in the same way that the forest companies did when they logged the valley.
Some of the men who logged here are back working for the pipeline, comments the young woman.
You live in Terrace? I ask.
Yes, she says.
What’s your name?
Christine, she says, Christine Leclerc.
Any relation to Carol?
That’s my mom.
My wife works for the same outfit as your mom, I say. Small world.
We say goodbye to Christine and drive down the valley toward town. With the sun lower, shadows dapple the hillsides.
We agree that the creek needs to fall six inches before we can count salmon effectively. And, we agree to give it a few days to week then try again.