KAMLOOPS — It happened that we could not easily escape on my husband’s three days off work as most of the clean air destinations were booked. Plus the sky around here got clear on Friday, so we decided to stay and hope for the best.
On Friday night we drove to Greenstone Mountain, away from the still smoky city. We had dreams of sleeping under the sky where our little guy could breathe freely. It turned clearer the higher we got, but the wind picked up as well, blowing grass pollen, dust and everything else in swirls that were not kind to my youngest’s immune system. He braved it for a couple of hours though, during which we ate watermelon, listened to harmonica tunes, chatted, and laughed. The air was windy-dusty but there was no smoke.
It got dark and stars glittered high and jolly. Then the moon rose, a gigantic bright orange slice we could spot through tall pines swaying in the wind. We lay in the grass on our sleeping bags and watched the stars. There were shooting stars, many of them, some so bright they left long-lasting streaks on the dark sky.
We made wishes, we told stories and we snuggled close: us four, the dog, a whole lotta starry sky and the magic that swallowed us all. Beauty that humbles and an unmatched depth of gratefulness: for seeing the stars that we missed so much on so many smoky nights, and for strands of time we managed to separate from the everyday rush and braid with all those stories and harmonica tunes. The stuff that will hang around our hearts forever.
There is so much to see and do here. From wherever you are in Kamloops, you’re but minutes away from a place where magic grows in thick bunches or hangs from a sky seeded with countless stars on a clear night. There is but one caveat: you have to be able to see it all. And you have to be able to be out there without the risk of suffocating like my little guy does on smoky days.
I have no respiratory issues. On a bad smoky day, I stay mostly inside. If I venture outside for a bit, I get the odd shortness of breath which is unsettling. My youngest on the other hand, and many other people with respiratory issues, feels that heaviness all the time, less so when he is in the controlled environment of his room with the air purifier running constantly, but that’s no life.
Truth is, whether you have respiratory issues or not, clean air is a must. It helps us live longer and it keeps us outside, where we feel better, we are less stressed, and healthier. It’s something we’ve been taking for granted or not thought about much, until we have been confronted with the harsh reality of dense air pollution.
Which brings me straight to the latest on the issue of the Ajax mine. For the most part, summer has become an illusion in our beautiful city due to the wildfires. Adding a heap of exhaust and dust to the mix will only worsen the air quality. Many of you reading this would ask, and rightfully so, if ‘worsen’ is the right word. After all, at its worst so far, the readings were at a mind numbing 49 (on a 1 to 10 scale.) Could it get any worse? I don’t want to know the answer; not if we can have a say in it.
Upon reading the conclusions of the BC Environmental Assessment Office and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency regarding the Ajax mine, I shook my head and wondered how anyone could write those things with a straight face. No environmental agency, office, or employee can possibly say that Kamloops will not be affected by the mine.
We can discuss the degree of harm, as we have for years now, we can debate on percentages of mitigation of the ill effects, but we cannot go back to the ‘no significant environmental impact’.
We cannot live in a polluted world. The immediate and long-term effects of pollution are not to be taken lightly. A threat that is not visible is misleading, but its consequences are real, and often deadly.
That everything is a compromise in life is true. But no one should barter with people’s health. As for the assessors, I am ready to say that perhaps spending the last month in Kamloops while writing the conclusions of their study would have given them an accurate picture of what the place is like on a bad summer day without a mine in place yet.
A mine that will affect an entire community for a long time cannot be. We will be left staring at a handful of money wondering what happened to the life we were supposed to buy with it. Let’s not find ourselves there. There is no way back to where we can see a better future for our generation and the ones coming after once we get past the signing of approval papers. The mine shareholders and CEOs that will profit from the mine revenues (not high enough) will not be living here anyway. Disconnection from the consequences of one’s actions is one way of going through life, but a dishonourable one if I may say so.
There should be no ‘us vs. them’ either. A joined effort to find solutions for jobs needed in the community while aiming for a high standard of living, might just get us out of this years-long debate.
I am biased of course, but I simply cannot forgo the look in my son’s eyes as he is struggling for his next breath. That’s where argumentation stops and you start reconsidering the way you look at life and all its wondrous offerings. Nothing matters if you cannot breathe, not even magic.
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