Paddling the Nickel Tailings Near Sudbury
-- After Edward Burtynsky's Manufactured Landscapes Photographs
We put in at the edge of the tailings pond,
our canoe loaded with gear and food
to take us on the four-day loop trip,
our nylon tent and stainless steel pots.
The river at first is like any other river
but not, a photo with the colours twisted,
stunning, rich orange fluorescence,
tailing off into the blackened valley bed.
The slurry so thick it takes a dozen strokes
before we learn how to move in it,
but by mid-aft we're paddling well,
elbowing with the river's curves,
the blades of our paddles sizzling
as we dig through the golden slur.
We pass charred river banks,
stunted trees subsumed in industrial after-thought,
the refinery puffing away on the horizon
busy piping out the iron chaff
that ends in the tailings impoundment
we're set on exploring
(I think: iron, ironic, nickel).
We enter a delta and pick our way
through; later, on the only portage
of the day-from Wet Tailings Outflow 3
to Wet Tailings Outflow 7--
the ground gives like fresh bread,
endless salt-and-pepper spongy loam.
The canoe on our shoulders
we sink knee-deep in the gummy effluent.
There are no animal tracks, no
beaver dams to break through
(I think: terrestrial habitat disturbance,
I think: various tailings disposal alternatives
at a conceptual design level,
think: slurry trench cut-off wall).
We put back in at Stony Waste Basin.
The sun, coalish through the haze,
is lowering. We're an hour or so
from the main tailings pond, can
smell the tangy iron-oxide (I think: fact, faction,
factor. I think: Factory).
Stew, my paddling companion, coughs, says:
"I didn't think I'd miss the insects
as much as the potable water,
the blue sky, green." We
haven't used the bathroom
since parking at the quarry.
It's started raining fire, pitch.
Our faces black, our hands glowing.
We need to set up camp.
We need to find someplace
to hang the food barrel.
From the forthcoming Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology (University of Georgia Press). Used with permission.
Aaron Kreuter is a writer of fiction and poetry currently based in Toronto, where he is pursuing a PhDin English literature at York University. He has had work published in numerous journals, magazines, and anthologies, including: Best Canadian Poetry 2014, Parchment, Vallum, Carte Blanche, and PacificREVIEW, among other places. His first poetry collection,Arguments For Lawn Chairs, is forthcoming from Guernica Editions. Learn more at his website aaronkreuter.com.
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