Thursday, August 20, 2009

Life in a Northern Town

This post is a whopper of a doozy. It didn't start out this way, it actually started out as me being tagged by harmzie (who is the peanut butter to my jam, and who shares a disdain for our dirty lyin' parents). So grab the popcorn, put your feet up, and settle in. You're going to be here for a while. Unless you get tired of my longwindedness and go watch House instead. Which I would totally do, because House is the sheezy.

I grew up in a small, northern town in B.C. My hometown had about 10,000 people living there.The isolation of living 8+ hours from the nearest "big" city (over 100,000 people) was almost tangible. It really felt like living on the edge of the earth. Somehow, I managed to make it through to 18 years old, then I blew that popsicle stand as fast as I could.

I spent some years in Vancouver, BC, then quit my job and left my big city life to move to Pretty Big Town, AB to be with Hot Stuff. Live in sin, as we say. Worth it? It was.

Then, Hot Stuff and I moved to the Actual Edge Of The Earth. Also known as Rainbow Lake, AB. 10 hours north of Edmonton, then 1 hour west - if you are driving like a crazy f*cking Albertan. (Also, that is how you know you're from the Prairies: distance is measured in time.)

Rainbow Lake is a very small town. It is a small area of old single-wide trailers cramped together amongst industrial shops all sitting on dirt roads. Oh yes, there are paved roads, but only on the high side of the main road. And the bugs, oh the bugs. Rainbow Lake is surrounded by muskeg. The air is thick with bugs in spring. Literally, it is impossible to be outside after 10am in the spring. Every kind of flying bug you can imagine; all kinds of flies (black, blue, bottle), dragonflies, mosquitoes, horseflies (ever been bit by a horsefly? They take a chunk of meat), june-bugs (some people call them chiggers, I think? They make a clicking sound when they fly), other unknown disgusting fliers. You know how I feel about creepers and fliers.

Let me digress. Northern Alberta is mainly oil and gas (known as the "Oilpatch" or just "the patch"); anywhere there is liquid dinosaur bones that can be dredged up and sold, a town will sprout up to support the workers who are doing the actual sucking of oil or gas. My husband is an oilpatch worker. And I am fiercely proud of the job he does. It is difficult, long hours, sometimes dangerous, physically demanding, and he doesn't complain.

Tangentally: These days the news is lousy with stories about finding alternative fuels and being green and environmentally friendly. Also, how damaging the oil and gas industry can be to the environment. I do not disagree with most of it. I do believe that Big Oil needs to be accountable to the rest of the world with it's environmental protection practices. Here's my question: to pump oil from the ground, the machines come in and clear about an acre, maybe two, of forest. They get thousands of barrels of oil out of one well. How much forest would have to be cleared to grow corn to get the same amount of ethanol?

Also, to those people who complain incessantly about how "bad" the oilpatch is and how it's going to be the downfall of the environment (although I'm not sure there is anyone out there, other than a guy I used to work with who actually did complain about how bad the patch is but I couldn't say this to him at the time because he was kind of my boss and I was new and he had no idea that my husband is an oilpatch worker so I'm going to say it now and here even though he'll never read it but it's one of those, "Dammit I wish I had said that," type of things): Everything you buy, everything, is brought to a store near you by the transportation industry. Mainly the trucking industry. Which, presently, relies on fossil fuels. Been to the grocery store lately? Because the last time I was there, nobody rolled up in a Prius, popped the hatch, and started unloading potatoes from Ontario.

So, aaaaannyyyways, Rainbow Lake: single-wide trailers and industrial stuff on the low side of the main road. Worker bees. On the high side of the main road? Real houses for the muckety-mucks to live in. Paved roads. A neighborhood, if you will. Nary a welding shop or wellsite service company's yard in sight. This is not sour grapes, because even though there were real houses, there were some real rednecks living in them. High side or low side, most of these guys put in an honest day's work and all ended up at either of the town's two bars. Getting shitfaced together. More than once Hot Stuff staggered home, and more than once I staggered home with him.

Rainbow Lake is so small that there was no police detachment, or even a town constable. The nearest RCMP is in Assumption Reserve, about an hour away. Which means if you wanted to get pissed up in the bar and then drive your vehicle in donuts all over your yard, by all means. Go for it. True story. And NO, I don't agree with driving drunk, even if it is to trash your own yard. That is just to illustrate how little adult supervision (in the form of cops) there was up there.

I managed to last about two years, maybe a year and a half. Life was definitely more challenging, but also less complicated. Once I got knocked up with the Hurricane, I wanted to move to a bigger city where I would not have to drive an hour (at least) to see a doctor or get groceries (there is a grocery store in RL, but who wants to pay $9 for a case of pepsi, honestly?).

So here's my picture, which has nothing to do with any of the above except that it is of my husbands rig crew, and it was taken in Rainbow Lake. Faces and any identifying flags are purposely blurred and/or artfully disguised with the help of Bitmap. Who needs Photoshop when you can roll with Bitmap?


  1. I totally agree with you about oil vs. ethanol. Plus, it's just not as efficient as oil. I'm gonna be one unhappy woman if I am forced to purchase a car that doesn't require oil. Yup, I will!

    And, what is muskeg?

    We call chiggers little bugs kinda like ticks. And June bugs are June bugs except we get 'em in April.

  2. I LOVED that story. LOVED. I can't believe I held on for that long because I have a *really* short attention span. And I've had a glass of gin (with some other shit in it, have you smelled gin? It's like paint remover. You can't drink that straight)

    Your "EVERYTHING comes to you on a truck" rant was meaningful to me in a way that would take WAY to long to explain. Except to recount that Tide commercial where they tout the fact that their formula is condensed so it takes fewer trucks to get it to you - on the one hand I think that's grasping at green straws, but on the other, more "professional" hand, they got right to me. Except I already use that shit, so, sorry Tide.

    Also, I've been bitten by a horsefly. Enough to know enough to avoid it happening again at all costs.

  3. Did I say 'rant'? I meant diatribe.

    I mean, I meant lecture. No. No. I meant enlightenment. Yes.

    Also, I had orange juice and Sprite with my gin. The Sprite was made by pixies in the back lane of Safeway, so no truck was used to get it there. I'm pretty sure the gin was made in a similar fashion.

  4. foursons: muskeg is like swampy forest.

    harmzie: i am swept off my feet and carried along into the peaceful world of the tide commercial. except its hella expensive and gives me a rash.

  5. Ok, I'm with ya...if I had to pay $9 for a case of Diet Coke I'd be heading out of town, too!

    Loved the rant!

    And good job on the non-smoking! I was afraid I'd get arrested for committing murder the first month I went without smokes. It got slightly easier until now I only feel like killing someone with my bare hands when I'm REALLY upset.

  6. I'm depressed that I couldn't have a drink while reading that. It was very relaxing to read, which yeah, I need to WAKE UP. Damn kids.

    And your rant? SPOT FREAKING ON. I have a couple people I'd like you to rant towards about this. Please.

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