Wednesday, May 25, 2022

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Letters to the EditorWe Are Not A-Muse-d – Part 2

We Are Not A-Muse-d – Part 2

by C. H. Wells

Downtown Waterway w Muses

“Part 2” of this article has been started and almost finished, and re-started and almost finished, several times, as I have watched the daily destruction and construction on the river, and read the comments, pro and con, through various articles on The Millstone‘s site. I debated leaving these words unsaid, especially after our host’s own article hinting that it was time to end this topic – at least on The Millstone‘s pages.

However, as there has been another article since, with more comments; as few people with strong feelings on this issue seem prepared to stop feeling those feelings any time soon; and as there are still issues as yet unresolved, it seems to me this topic is still “fair ball.” So here goes:

Sci-fi fans, like myself, are probably already familiar with Chaos Theory – a metaphysical concept which suggests that even the smallest of events can precipitate the greatest of consequences – and will have no difficulty imagining the following hypothetical scenario:

A microscopic organism feeds on another organism that is a potential host to a deadly bacterium. This feeding process keeps the possibility of a deadly plague to a minimum, until the first organism begins to be killed off – in greater and greater numbers – because the tiny insect that feeds on it, starts to proliferate wildly. Eventually, the plague can no longer be contained, and, in a plot worthy of a natural disaster movie, it decimates life on the planet. Why? Because the tiny insect that has been allowed to proliferate was once kept in check by the Rapids Clubtail Dragonfly, its sole predator … [ahem] … ‘The End’

We, frankly, have no idea what the potential consequences are to the ecosystem –  including to ourselves – if we allow or precipitate the extinction of yet another species. Is it really worth taking the chance? At risk of sounding like an inspirational wall-hanging –  today is the yesterday of our future. What we do now has an impact on innumerable generations. We have no ‘time travel’ by means of which we can come back and correct our past mistakes. The only thing we can do, is to try not to make them in the first place.

The Clubtail issue is not merely one of maudlin sentimentality, in which “a bunch of tree-huggers” bewail the deaths of a few insects. It’s a potential catastrophe, and, at the very least, an instance of shameful hubris in which humanity, once again, plays God, and decides which species are worthy of life and which are not.

And no, those researching Gomphus quadricolor did not decide the Clubtail doesn’t breed in this location – they simply couldn’t find the evidence. Nor, apparently, could they even find the dragonfly itself(!), when they came looking, though it has been seen by many [including myself] and photographed in the downtown area.

It’s been implied that all appropriate regulatory  government bodies have given this project the “green” light, so to speak, so it must be safe. This may come as a shock to those who are as naive as I once was on this topic, but here’s the skinny:  Most of these government departments only give a hoot about whether the environment is going to be spoiled for human use.

That’s right, they only examine the work being done to make sure that after the project is completed, it can still be used for fishing, swimming, motorboating, or any other activities humans generally employ for their … [heh] … a-Muse-ment. [Yes, it does come from the same root word. So does Mus(e)-eum!] To suggest that these bodies have certified this project as non-destructive to the environment, is like calling Ducks Unlimited an environmentalist group.

It’s also been suggested that this project must be perfectly right and good because all of the required and appropriate “laws” have been followed. May I remind the reader that the law once supported slavery. And the law once said it was legal for a man to beat his wife. Not only that, but if she was too ill, too distraught, or just not in the mood for sex, he had a right to force her – violently, if “necessary” – because he had a right to her services. And when a man did do this, it could not legally be termed rape, because his wife was his property and he could use her as he wished. Ah, yes, “the law.” No wonder Charles Dickens’ character, Mr Bumble, once observed: “… the law is a ass – a idiot …”

Of course, the law, since then, has changed; though, importantly, not because right and wrong themselves have changed, but because our attitudes toward them have changed. We have changed. We must not forget, however, that when those laws were on the books, there were many who supported them and considered them not only right, but righteous. So just because the laws of today support what’s being done here, that doesn’t necessarily make it “right.” Perhaps tomorrow we will shake our heads and ask:  “What were we thinking?!”

I’ve heard supporters talk about how much money has been spent by Enerdu already, in trying to make this project happen, as if that in itself were justification for its existence. But perhaps if something less ambitious had been attempted, it would not have represented the same level of financial ‘hardship’ for the developers – not to mention that it might have faced far less opposition. The money was willingly spent – some would suggest, willfully spent – and must surely garner no sympathy, let alone justify the project proceeding. If someone were trying to push the development of a motocross track across the middle of town, would we stop objecting and let them go ahead, once their financial investment in their own project reached a certain threshold?: “Oh, well, they’ve spent all that money, now, so we can’t very well expect them to stop …”

Another ad hominem argument, obviously intended to make the listener feel obligated, begins: “The Cavanaughs have given a lot to this community …” But, to paraphrase Khalil Gibran’s Prophet, as he spoke ‘Of Giving’:  “… to be overmindful of your debt is to doubt the generosity of [the giver] …”

Indeed, if these gifts were given for “future considerations,” then they surely don’t deserve to be labeled gifts:  retainers, perhaps, or down-payments. Let’s face it, any ‘gift’ that expects something in return is not a gift, but a barter. So the question then must be asked:  Are we for sale? Are we prepared to allow our best parts to be used for someone else’s profit, in exchange for a few ‘trinkets’? If so, what does that make us?

I personally prefer to believe that when the Cavanaughs made their past gifts to this town, they did so with open-handedness; with a genuine spirit of warm-hearted generosity; and with no strings attached. Do they not deserve the benefit of the doubt, that they were merely acting as good and responsible corporate citizens and expect no special treatment in return? Otherwise we sully their past generosity and insult their intent by marrying it to this project.

Some folks have observed that:  “This has always been a working river.” My first thought, at my age, is:  “Well, shucks, haven’t you ever heard of retirement? May the Ol’ Miss never have the privilege of just putting her fins up and … er … going with the flow?”

Besides, she’s been a working river – a draft horse for us – because we’ve made her a working river. We conscripted her:  she didn’t volunteer. The early mills here, except for their effluvium, had a minimal impact on the river or its denizens. Mill owners, for the most part, “threw a halter on her” and used the river’s strength to turn their wheels. In those early days, our ancestors generally worked with nature – using, not abusing, it.

But a hydro dam – for anyone who may have read Black Beauty as a child – is the equivalent of a bearing rein. It constrains, deforms, and may even cripple a river. Until now, the hydro plant here was fairly small, and had a limited impact. We may have challenged the river, but we didn’t bring it to it knees.

Why change that now? Why blast away rock formed, through the geological history of this planet, almost a billion years ago? Yes, that’s billion. Why? For profit.

Ah, you say – but people will benefit! There’ll be enough extra hydro to supply another 150 homes!

No, there may indeed be enough additional hydro generated to supply the equivalent of 150 homes, but there are not, now, 150 homes without power, eagerly awaiting the day when they too can have light and heat for their residences. The truth is, that no one would go without power if this plant and weir were not built. The power would simply come from somewhere else – somewhere not owned by Jeff Cavanaugh.

We don’t need this power. We have a surplus of hydro power already – that’s why we’re selling it off on a regular basis. And by all accounts, what Enerdu will gain, the Appleton plant will lose [and more], for an overall net drop in the amount of hydro power over the region. What we need, hydro-wise, are fair and affordable prices. And for anyone who thinks that those will be forthcoming along with the new Enerdu plant and weir, well … er … I have a bridge I’d like to sell you …

This project will not lower your hydro bill. If anything, you may, eventually, end up paying more, to cover the cost of the work. Frankly, the amount of additional power this project will generate is minuscule, compared to the overall power needs and usage in the province, and that additional power may well be excess, sold off by the Province to power homes out of the area, out-of-province, or even out of the country. It’s entirely possible that not one kilowatt of that power will be used here in Almonte, the place of its origin, and the place that will bear all of the losses required for its creation.

There’s no question the old weir needed to be repaired or replaced, and the plant needed to be updated. But there’s a heck of a difference, as anyone who’s ever downloaded software from the internet can attest, between an update and an upgrade. Enerdu is performing the latter, when they claimed a need for the former. If developers wanted a brand new plant, then perhaps they should have chosen a brand new location – one further away from a population centre, and most certainly further away from the home of an endangered species.

Am I suggesting that we should never alter anything for our own use?  That we have no right to build homes for ourselves, or factories, or hospitals, or the roads to reach those places? Of course not. But does a beaver consciously and willfully destroy, by flooding, lands being used by other species for their homes or livelihood, when it builds its dam? No. Because a beaver isn’t capable of understanding the consequences of its acts. We are. And to us, then, goes the greater responsibility.

Surely now, in the 21st Century, we have evolved enough – and we have had enough experience – to know that we must take very great care to reduce our “footprint” to the absolute minimum required. Only in the most obdurate of camps is there still any disagreement about the existence of global warming or our part in it. Our past eagerness to provide for our every need – more, our every want – has produced these results. This alone should suffice to ring the alarum bells of caution in any project that affects the environment.

This new hydro plant will have a much larger footprint, projecting far out into the river. Its weir is more massive and intrusive and requires the destruction of a set of ancient rocky steps formed by lava hundreds of millions of years ago, covered over by land masses and glaciers, and scraped clean and worn back down again by nature’s slow processes, to provide us the riverbed we see today. Puny little species that we are, with our clever use of tools and materials, it will take us a fraction of a second to destroy them forever.

And what will the entirety of the upriver view from the Riverwalk be in that place – from left to right, and right to left – once Enerdu has completed its work?

Dam!

Yup. Nothing but dam. Man-made. Concrete. Unnatural. A monument to the “triumph of man over nature.”

I have no doubt that Mr Cavanaugh and his most passionate supporters will enjoy that view. I have never doubted that they truly believe that those of us who oppose this project “will see,” once it’s finished, how silly we’ve been. That once we see the “beautiful” new building, and the finished and functioning weir – complete with flowing water – acting as a prosthesis to cover the gaping wounds, we, like they, will be “proud” of this project.

But we will never forget that before the advent of the new weir, that Riverwalk view was a natural vista of broad stone stairs, with the river beyond them gradually pushing its clear, shallow waters downstream, in a romantic and magical aqueous cascade. It is not difficult to imagine that there, in that one place, our Mississippi was surely possessed by the spirit of the immortal Muse of Dance, Terpsichore [turp-sik-oh-ree], who would walk, with exaggerated grace – like a poised young debutante at the ball – down each studied step in its turn, with the frothy flounce of her skirts cloaking each broad tier as she came.

Beyond those steps, of course, she would abandon all dignity, she would pick up her pace and rush pell-mell – slippers flashing now and then above the ripples – to finally end in a glorious leap over the falls and into the welcoming arms of her ebullient and indulgent sisters. [Really! – Anyone who hasn’t seen or heard the Muses at play in those falls, just isn’t paying attention!  😉 ]

In the spray, in the noise, in the turbulent movement – in that wildly abandoned and tumultuous upheaval at the base of the falls – can there be any doubt that the joys of nature reign? This place – our place – is a celebration of life [… and a Naiad’s dream!]. A liquid hymn – ablution and oblation in one – that honours the ‘water-planet’ … Earth … our home.

Here, at this spot in the river, from one end of its run to the other, Nature’s effusion feeds the spirit. And in this place, the responsibility for its survival is ours.

When examined carefully, in my estimation, there isn’t a single valid justification for the Enerdu project in its current form. It is pure ego. And the potential losses – were they solely esthetic – far outweigh any benefit.

Call it Muses, or the beauty and bounty of nature, it can never be replaced. There can surely be no pride or joy in that.

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