Long Walk to Freedom

Day 18 from the East Texas Tar Sands Blockade

I’m laying down in an open field in East Texas, staring upwards and reflecting. Small groups of stars peek out from the increasingly puffy clouds, signaling morning rain. My nostrils fill with slight scents of dandelion, horse mint, pennyroyal and cow shit. The only sound is the wind and an occasional cow. Cars only pass once every fifteen minutes on this narrow two-lane country road. It’s one-thirty in the morning.

My entire body is drenched in sweat, from my hat and camo bandana down my post-apoc-style paint-stained olive drab coveralls and into my jungle boots. I’ve already been hiking thirteen miles this way, with three more to go until I reach the nearest town. Even this is no safe haven since half the cops in five counties now know my face, outfit, and demeanor, but it may provide a pay phone to call my activist family 20 miles away, and/or a 24-hour gas station at which I can hydrate.

I’m kicking myself for deciding to travel light by not carrying water, and chill working spigots are hard to come by since every house on the road seems to have guard dogs of some kind. I’ve been barked at by at least fifty already, but luckily humans are all asleep in this part of the world except a couple of paranoid tweakers in a junkyard who almost spotted me with twitchy high-powered flashlights around mile nine or ten. I’ve found a few spigots and half a bottle of soda by the roadside to keep myself going.

Three more miles to go: my shoulders scream at me to stash my backpack and return for it later, and my legs ache from repetitive steps on pavement. I dare not travel through the woods for fear of rattlers and copperheads, with which I’ve had a few close encounters already, so I’m taking my chances on the road and ducking into the woods every time a car passes. My body wants to just sleep in this field awhile, but rain is on its way, and it’s way safer to travel at night. As I heave myself to my weary feet, backpack in hand, I ask for the hundredth time: What the hell am I doing here?

For the past eight days I’ve been totally arboreal, living in the ongoing tree village of the Tar Sands Blockade (TSB). It’s an advanced setup as far as these things go, with multiple tree sits of different kinds connected to other trees and to a long occupied catwalk, protecting an entire grove directly in the path of the pipeline. Plenty of videos about it are online already, as well as some firsthand accounts.

Ever since the monopod was erected, the village has been under 24-hour police surveillance. TransCanada has been stuffing the pockets of multiple local police and sheriffs’ departments to surveil and harass the sitters, and the local thugs have been more than happy to oblige. It’s now such that it’s impossible to really travel anywhere or do anything with climbing gear without being on camera, and impossible to do anything remotely anything without at least one cop, security guy or TransCanada worker offering their snide opinions.

How to relate to Big Brother below us? Ignoring them isn’t really an option because they’re omnipresent, and expressing honest contempt is inadvisable because any animosity could endanger fellow sitters in the future. Therefore I chose a third option: jocularity and friendliness. Since they’re always below me anyway, I’ve been reaching out and engaging them in conversation, being very high- and not bothering to constantly mask up. We’ve been talking about football, the weather, how they wish they could do bad-ass climbing stuff like flying across traverses and swinging from tree to tree, and how I wish I was getting paid (like them) $30+ per hour for what I’m doing. They’ve been rotating a lot of goons in and out, therefore my face and demeanor are now known by law enforcement types across the region.

Recently: fifteen hours of intense dreams/hallucinations about the village, in which we suspended a school bus in midair and occupied an ancient castle, in which I was joined by friends from faraway cities and bioregions and by long-lost friends from high school and before, in which I commenced hot unlikely hookups and inventive feats of rigging. I then awoke under the same old blue tarp, in the same old sleeping bag, to the same old Neanderthalian good-old-boy banter and chuckling of the same old cops. The sinking feeling in my chest and forehead let me know that I needed a break.

During the commotion caused by the negotiated arrest of our embedded media folks (released 12 hours later with charges dropped!), I made my escape. The oblivious cops were none the wiser. I bushwhacked through a half-mile of briar, muscadine vine and beautyberry to get to the pickup spot, but unfortunately missed my potential rides out. Wanting to put distance between myself and the hot zone, I was left with a sixteen-mile hike to the nearest town. It’s a physically taxing endeavor, but it’s given me lots of time to reflect.

The current and future destruction of lives and landscape imposed by TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has been well documented. Everyone should of course read all about it. However…why me? Why here? A few days ago in the tree village, me masked up and pseudonymous eighty feet high with a half dozen cops milling about below, I was asked that exact question by reporters from Austin. It’s never been my instinct to bust right into the typical campaign talking points, so I went right for pure honesty:

“I’m here for excitement. I have a lifelong habit of going where shit’s exciting. Trusted friends who invited me to TSB spoke of fluid strategy, increasingly diverse tactics and advanced canopy living. That’s what drew me here, and I haven’t been disappointed. The awesome community of friends I’ve found here is also excellent, and the fact that ‘the whole world is watching’ us has been the icing on the cake.”

As an afterthought: “Also, Tar Sands is fucked up.”

Seriously though, politically speaking I’m far more into the land defense aspect of this campaign than the “stopping climate change” aspect. Allying ourselves with a broad array of Texans and Oklahomans who are resisting the ruin that TransCanada’s wreaking upon their livelihoods, and ranging across diverse oak-pine-sweetgum-magnolia forests with rattlesnakes, armadillos and pileated woodpeckers is what TSB is really all about.

“Stopping climate change” to me is just feel-good rhetoric to keep the liberal money from 350.org etc. flowing in (donate here!), and I don’t think anyone at the core of TSB is naïve enough to think that climate change is something that can be “stopped.” Honestly I’m not sure the Tar Sands nightmare will be stopped except perhaps by global economic forces, but there remains a chance that the Keystone XL pipeline can be stopped before the bitumen starts to flow.

It’s a long shot, especially because they’re currently tearing up so much land to build the pipeline in so many different places, but I still feel that if our actions here are inspiring to enough people and/or the right people (whoever they may be), then enough force and/or tactical breakthroughs will be generated, legally or illegally or both, to force the bad guys to back down.

Food for thought for the long walk home.

Love and Rage,

Anonymous Blockader #139

P.S. the author made it safely back to their destination and has since been reunited with their activist family.

P.P.S. go to TSB action camp!

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