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A Poem From Northern Alberta

By Thera Breau

Homesteaders in northern Alberta are no wimps! Near Peace River, working hard eking out a living farming, they were delighted when the riches of hydrocarbon extraction came to their doorstep.

Farmers were paid to host, among homes and barns, novel bitumen extraction facilities. Bitumen is augered up out of the ground, and heated in large tanks to separate sand, water and crude. Top hatches were left open in winter, as freezing of vents could cause tanks to burst. Fumes flowed over the landscape, particularly under atmospheric inversions of long, cold winter nights. Sickened families ultimately abandoned homesteads, and public outcries led to the Alberta Energy Regulator Proceeding 1769924.

The Breau-Andersens are one such family. Thera is a wonderful mother of four who wrote the following poem, as emissions from neighbouring “pads” were sickening family, friends and neighbours. Her family ultimately fled Alberta.


The wind stirs me
to question direction:
question the mortar, the teepee.

Four winds
and a crossroad
of black,
red and yellow.


I feel
I’ve been standing
here at the counter
looking north
to our field,
the snow forever
cleaning eggs
for years, maybe longer.

I feel
a familiar aloneness-
maybe the spring field,
maybe the dirty eggs,
maybe me.

I feel
a belonging to it all.
I stand here with these eggs
and a little yellow brush
and clean: one egg
at a time
for years to come.


The coyotes are yipping.
The sun set reflection
into a thunderhead dome
illuminates a strange
violet lightning.

On the corner of a corner
I sit.
The treed outline
is lace on a setting sky.

Will we be too late
for fate?

I heard nothing.
The words were silent
and heard in the naked
heart of the almost
black crow.


The air is poison:
slowly, silently
every day
all the time.

Driving down the road
to visit some venting tanks.
Taking a picture
for a random
media story.
The crow was dead:
1/2 mile from the farm.

Nine months later
A.L. would text me:
1/2 mile from the farm
he got his canary
left-sided headache.

The plume falls…
80m from the tank
in almost all
atmospheric conditions.

The plume falls…
and then rolls on
over the land:
a liquid ghost.

There lies the problem
(next to the dead crow).
Lying all the time
about where
when to draw the line.

Blood doesn’t lie.

And so the line
between sour and sweet
randomly settles
down into the tar sands.

Tomorrow is the full
moon of June.


Bitumen babies
bleeding for oil.
Toddlers muted
by money.

And grown-ups
infected with greed’s
crank up the machine.

Head down
we all walk on.
Until the penny drops.

Can’t ignore blood.
Bitumen burns

Burns a transformation
to change directions,
raise our standards.


I’m living on the corner
of North and Hell
somewhere in Alberta.

The sun is set.
The west wind roars on.
And we are packing.
Self-inflicted exodus:
socio-econo-politico refugees.
Honey – its boom town!
Let’s dig in ’til we
pass out.

I’m living on a corner
of Hell and North
as the tankers roar by.

This is where I was born
of the Peace Country.

The clouds are gray
lace enterprising
their way south.

We will follow
and leave what we know.
to the penny.

By Thera Breau, written in the winter of 2014, following the winter 2013 exodus of their family

Also in the DECEMBER 2015 Issue of An Ounce Newsletter

Published: December 17, 2015


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