Fred Stenson and the 18 books he's written so far.
Ten thousand years ago human beings turned from hunting/gathering to agriculture. They quickly became powerful enough to invade North America and destroy the hunters and gatherers there, though some of those were also farmers. With metal, horses, special seeds and smallpox, the Euros quickly settled across the high prairie and began to raise their families. But 200 years ago some of the same people discovered fossil fuel and invented the Industrial Revolution.
“Who by Fire” by Fred Stenson is a clear, vivid account of two generations of a high prairie rural family whose lives were controlled and sometimes snuffed by high sulphur oil wells that released not just fuel but also a form of hydrogen that was poisonous, corrosive, and explosive. It turned lungs to wood, ate the iron out of barbed wire and farm machinery, destroyed the stainless steel tubes that were supposed to contain it, and, when uncontained, exploded like a bomb. You can find all this online or in old newspapers.
Maybe the Montana High-Line and the foothills/prairie south of Calgary have reached some kind of balance, partly because of inevitable depletion of the resources and partly because of major changes in the world market due to frakking and Middle Eastern chaos. But up north are the Tar Sands and in the NE corner of Montana is the Bakken formation. They begin as though they were gold strikes, soon become grinding miserable places that push out the previous quiet lives, and then start to suck up money to control murder, “accidental” deaths, illness, and a growing under-culture with global connections.
Billy’s parents fight hard to save their marriage and family and though they take a lot of damage, they manage to hang on. In fact, Billy and his two sisters remain attached enough to that imperiled old homestead to return to it at retirement age, scarred but feisty. I particularly enjoyed the chapter in which one of Bill’s “big sisters” decides to wake him up. She has a smart mouth and clear understanding of what goes on.
But it will make you wary and it ought to. It’s meant to. The writing is clear and apt enough to be understood and appreciated by the people who live in this country, leaning against a hard, cold wind, walking with their dogs, talking in their heads to people who are no longer living. This is not a book for city dwellers, no matter what Western phenomena they wish to hug. It’s meant to help locals dig in heels and fight.
I met Nikiforuk, Richard Manning (a Montana version of this sort of enviro), and Pamela Banting (a poet and professor) who is married to Stenson, at a watershed conference in Waterton Park more than ten years ago. They were working as hard then as they are now. They all have focus, endurance. The Canadians are living in or near Calgary, a three/four hour drive from here. From Valier I can see Chief Mountain at the edge of Glacier National Park and the contiguous Waterton Park which is on the Canadian side. We are a community of place and some of us have eloquent voices indeed. I hope I never have to hug a buffalo but I could hug Fred Stenson.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQTRX23EMNk Leonard Cohen's song of the title.