Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
from Helen Crowe
I am not a scientist, although I am fairly knowledgeable about plants and have always been fascinated by biology. Others will speak better than I could about the technical implications of uranium exploitation. I wish to speak simply from my heart.|
When I heard Robert Lovelace offer an Algonquin prayer in the courthouse in Kingston I was shocked into tears of recognition. I had never heard such a simple and compelling expression of thanks for the natural bounty that sustains us and the beauty that enriches our spirits.
I present this in remembrance of the many people I have lost to cancer - Max, Gloria, Almeiria, Maureen, Starr and Hy, my uncle John, and most of all my mother Doris Crowe.
When I was six, my family lived in a small house on the shore of Lake Kingsmere in the Gatineau hills. There were five children so while my mother cared for a baby and a toddler, the three eldest were left to roam relatively unsupervised. I learned to swim, to paddle a canoe, and to marvel at the animals, birds and trees surrounding us. I remember walking home alone at dusk. The last flash of the setting sun blazed around a cross made by a hydro pole, and I thought That Is God.
We moved to Toronto when I was seven. Our new house was just a few blocks from a ravine where I quickly took refuge. There were big trees to climb, fox and raccoon tracks
and birds nesting in the willow scrub by the stream. There was also garbage snagged on branches and patches of yellow white foam like dirty soap suds. This was the Don River I learned, a captive remnant of a stream once famous for salmon and trout.
In 1967 we moved to Ottawa. We lived in the city but spent weekends and summers in the country on an old farm near Portland. My mother began to garden and then raise cattle, using unconventional organic methods long before it was fashionable. She composted and manured and cherished her land for the treasure it was. She and my father planted thousands of trees including a grove of black walnuts which now stand taller than their house. She was a relentless environmentalist and social campaigner who took on many causes, including an attempt to explore for uranium in her area.
It was late winter when my mother underwent chemotherapy. She could only handle one treatment. As she sharply observed to the doctor, it was like burning down a house to deal with the mouse problem. Twenty years from now she said, people will think it’s barbaric to poison someone in the name of medicine. As her beautiful silver hair began to fall out she carefully saved it to put out for the nesting birds.
The last spring of her life I went with her to an organic retreat in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. We stayed at a beautiful old estate, surrounded by woods and with the mountains stretching out of sight to the north. A stream tumbled down the rocks behind us and a river flowed through the village below us. The rhododendrons had already bloomed and faded and the early woodland flowers were done. The trees were beginning to leaf out. I saw many small songbirds and squirrels. A bear came each morning to the compost pile. But in ten days I saw not one single hawk. Not at the estate or over the hills to the north, not on the half hour drive to and from the airport, not on a day long trip through rolling hills and farmland not that different from home. I asked a woman finally
“ why are there no hawks? “
“ The river is dead “ she replied. A chemical company, now closed. “ They killed the river and left “ .
In 1997, my partner and I bought 30 acres on the Tay river, about 20 kilometers south east of here. We began to plan a house, and planted a garden. We soon discovered that many other people knew and loved this spot. They told us about coming here for picnics as children, about hunting in the woods. Everyone knew about the long ridge and the sugar maples. I found the orchids myself, still unidentified. The many species of sedges, the great variety of trees.
We built carefully, transplanting the few trees that had to be moved, and trying to make our house look as though it had been there for a long time. We did everything we could afford to make our new home energy efficient and environmentally friendly. And yet for a year after we moved in I felt a lingering sense of guilt. Somehow we were trespassing, we hadn’t done enough. We had displaced something, killed a bit of the wild in order to make our home.
I wish I had known Bob Lovelace or Harold Perry then. Someone who might have explained to me why I felt the way I did, and perhaps what might be done about it.
This is in essence the dilemma we face as human beings, how to live in the world without destroying it. I believe we will only survive as a species if we can recognize this as more than just a technical problem to be solved. We need to be brought back to the knowledge that Nature is sacred. That land and water have a value far beyond any commodity. We have a duty to protect the land not just for ourselves and our children but for all people and all life.
I look forward to introducing my grandson to the woods and the river. I imagine teaching him the names of plants and insects and teaching him to recognize the songs of birds and frogs. I look forward to taking him swimming and berry picking without worrying if the wind is coming from the northwest, and I hope he never has to face a future without hawks in it.