The place we live is one of freshets and conifer, orcas and eagles, islands and volcanoes. We call salmon by its first name: Sockeye, King, Coho, Humpy, Dog. Gardens grow easily in our generous soil. But when I hear coal trains rumbling through, I wonder: how might we hold fast to our scrap of Eden?
Heres what our backyard would look like if North Americas largest coal port were to be built within hollering distance: mile-and-a-half-long trains would clatter continuously along the rails. A bicyclist was smashed on the tracks not long ago; engineers now blow their horns long and hard. Locomotives and ships emit a cruel pollution that causes cancers, heart disease and asthma. Coal trains would stall traffic at crossings; the overpasses that might mitigate such problems change the nature of a place by imposing upon it a concrete exoskeleton, costing taxpayers billions. Immense, unwieldy coal ships would ply waters ever more crowded with tankers.
Although coal export presents neither the scraped sadness of mining nor the slow-burn apocalypse of combustion, hauling coal damages communities, economies and the environment. The proposed coal corridor would smudge a line from mines to port, then across our waters, before smutting Asia.
Coal transport exists only to link coal mines to power plants, maw to spewing backend: it is the spine of an unholy beast. What happens to the vertebra upon which I stand if I put on sensible heels and stamp? What happens if many of us jump up and down together? Because we are many, and the backyards dont really stop, once you start counting.
I often think about a woman I have never met, and her backyard. She lives in Asia and is mother to a young boy, born at the moment my own was. When my son claps his hands to his ears, shutting out the blast of a coal train, I think of that other mother, of where shes raising her son, a place of endless cities with endless smokestacks endlessly smoking.
The place we live is a hold-out for wilderness and a refuge for beauty, but even were it not, it would still be worth defending, as homes everywhere are and always have been. Coal transport would sully this region; coal use is hurting our world. We need to act. Together. Here and now. Our children will hold us accountable.
Julie Trimingham lives on Lummi Islander and is a fourth-generation Whatcom County resident, writer and mom.