One Year with SWCC
I am not exactly sure how I ended up in the Kispiox Valley. This place seems to have found me as much as I found this place. My first summer in the area was spent in South Hazelton where I developed a serious crick in my neck from always straining to take in the full height of Roche de Boule looming over me. When I left Hazelton after my first summer working as a forest fire fighter I knew there was something about this place that felt different, something that felt right. While I was well acquainted with the mosquito community of the local foresty rec site and trails I knew very little of the human community. But I knew that you could buy fresh roasted coffee beans and just about everyone seemed to have a garden and that was enough to entice me back for a second summer on the fire crew.
A few weeks before I was set to start work in Hazelton I began scouring the Bulkley Browser for a place to rent. One ad led me down a rabbit hole of people telling me to call so and so who gave me so and so’s number who said to call so and so who had a duplex in New Town that might be up for rent. It was the owner of that duplex who turned me onto the Kispiox Valley. I mentioned a property I had heard was for rent out there to which he responded-“the Kipsiox? Oh, that’s the pudding!” That was all the encouragement I needed so I packed up my belongings and headed for the puddin’ where I had agreed to rent 500 acres for the novel price of a dollar an acre. The house was free!
They say you should know a person, or a place I suppose, in all seasons but it took less than a summer for me to give my heart to the Kispiox Valley. I’ve come full circle here twice now and my connection to the rivers and lakes, forest and meadown and oh! those mountain views, has steadily intensified.
After two summers of firefighting I decided I was ready for a change and once again turned to the Bulkley Browser to reveal my future. Paying no heed to those who warned me about what was in store for me I gleefully accepted a position with the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition. I called my parents gushing about how excited I was to find an organization like this in an out of the way place like Hazelton. (I now realize Hazelton is the center of the universe but I hadn’t quite sorted that out at this point) “Yeah mom, they all seem really cool. I mean, people keep telling me good luck with that Shannon McPhail but I don’t know what they’re getting at…’’
This week it has been a full year since I started working at SWCC and what a year it has been. Those more inclined to ponder the mysteries of the universe than myself might say it has been a year of being reborn. It has certainly been a year with as many ups and downs as the Skeena has tributaries. In many respects my immersion into this community has happened alongside my time at SWCC. It has been challenging getting to know a community while stepping into an ever-evolving role with a vocal community organization. As I have been settling in there has been another new-comer we have all been forced to take note of –the LNG industry.
These rigid steel pipes that are still just a pipe dream have woven themselves into our social fabric, taking over pancake breakfasts, rodeos and music festivals. The barrage of this industry on our community has been a dramatic backdrop as I have gotten to know people over the past year. Many of my connections to people in this community have been forged into wonderful friendships over a common concern about rampant industrial development. Other relationships feel strained due to the underlying tension of the elephant in the room. The elephant in the room with a 48 inch natural gas pipeline for a trunk.
My year with SWCC has taken me to the corners of the earth, or at least that’s how it feels. From riding a mechanical bull at the Sacred Headwaters Celebration, to the Sacred Headwaters themselves, from presentations at the University of Toronto to presentations on living room floors the reoccurring theme has been relationships.
This community, this organization and this work that I am so privileged to call my day job has shown me the immeasurable importance of relationships. I’m a slow learner so sometimes I think I can get away with closing my office door and hunkering down with my to-do list but that only lasts for about 5 minutes before I hit myself over the head, fling the door open and open myself up to the chaos and beauty of the dynamism of the community that spills over into the SWCC office every day.
This year has scared the pants off me, made me laugh until I cried, made me cry until I laughed and I have loved every minute of it. Okay, that’s not even close to true but I am immensely grateful for the generosity of everyone around me, in the office and out, who have allowed me to mess up over and over and over again and have still encouraged me to try again. To all those who warned me-thanks, I probably should have listened to you, but I’m sure glad I didn’t and that I’m still here, a year later, with SWCC.
Written by Dana Hibbard