In case you ever wondered who controls the weather, I will tell you. I do.
While touring over the course of the last two summers, I have experienced floods, fires, record-breaking heat, record-breaking cold, mudslides, torrential rains…. the list goes on. You may be thinking: “oh yeah sure. YOU control the weather. I thought that it was the wind and the tides and the moon and the sun.” Well, you’re wrong. I know that it’s me because at 3/4s of the venues I play, a manager stops me on my way in to apologize for the turn out: “We were expecting a lot more folks but because of this damn [insert weather anomaly here] it’s a pretty small crowd. We can still buy you a beer, if you want.” So doubters, let me ask you: Can anyone else boast numbers like that?
I didn’t think so.
I booked a show in Calgary, Alberta as part of this year’s summer tour. While I always enjoy visiting my home and native land, I was especially looking forward to this show. See, my Alberta connections run deep. When I was a kid, my dad worked away from home in Pincher Creek, Alberta, laying rebar for the Old Man River Dam. As a child I used to spend weeks away from home at summer camp near Pine Lake, Alberta, a place 2 hours north of Calgary, 2 hours south of Edmonton and exactly nowhere.
Those summers. I remember that after the sun set ’round 9:00, Aurora Borealis would dance most nights, a brilliant green. I remember that sometimes after lunch, the dining hall would erupt into a rapid fire exchange of “Let’s Go Oilers” countered by “Go Flames Go!” The Edmonton kids versus the Calgary kids. Sporks flying. I remember us rebels sneaking out for a smoke while the counselors were distracted by the chaos.
I remember the summer I brought my guitar. There was a tornado, almost one mile wide, that touched down near the camp. All of us were in the dining hall that evening, confused by what we could see and hear outside of the high, tall windows. No one knew what it was. Goodness knows there was no storm shelter. The tornado was on the ground for 30 minutes and killed 12 people at a trailer park nearby.
Eventually I moved to Calgary and attended college there. I did 2 semesters, I burned my bridges, I never looked back.
But the show! Yes the show was to be my triumphant return!
Then word came that on June 19, 2013 Alberta experienced torrential rains that resulted in the quick rise of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. These rivers converge in downtown Calgary. By June 20th, nearly 75,000 Calgarians were evacuated from their homes, the downtown core was gutted, sections of the Trans-Canada Highway were washed away and south of Calgary, the town of High River was, in essence, abandoned by those lucky enough to get out. (150 of the unlucky ones were rescued from the roofs of their homes.)
The Saddledome, home of the Calgary Flames (“Go Flames Go”) was flooded through the 14th row of seats.
And all this because I booked a show in town.
I grew up in the remote countryside of rural British Columbia. The Slocan Valley. My grandmother once wrote a poem called “The Beauty of the Valley,” her gorgeous protagonist the curvaceous Slocan River. This summer I booked us a show at the cafe where my parents met 35 years ago. Between the fiasco in Calgary and the show in the Slocan Valley, we aimed to swim and brown at the river’s edge. The air in the valley is the sweetest thing in this world, second only to the cool, green waters.
There are no cell towers polluting the airspace there, no wifi, no high-speed. There are no street lights, no traffic lights, no traffic, strip malls, no strips. Everything is where I left it 15 years ago when I moved away. Everything is where my parents found it 35 years ago. The place is pristine by it’s very nature.
But then Melissa Ruth came back to town and they were having this long, hot summer with those dry electrical storms. There was a lightening strike, a forest fire. Then there were the helicopters and water bombers and fire fighters. There was no rain and only high, tall wind.
There was a fueling station for the choppers back up in the woods. And then there was a tanker with a driver who was lost. And then the tanker went into the creek and the 32000 litres of jet fuel leaked from the overturned tanker, the tanker that slid off of the mountain road, and drained into Lemon Creek and rushed through the white water into the arching curve of the sweet, and slow, green Slocan.
We didn’t know about the spill because we had a gig up river when it happened. “Hottest day of the year,” said the manager as we were setting up. “Can’t expect people to come out to a show on such a hot day.” Crossing the lake and driving down river after the show, we smelled the burning stench of kerosine. As we came to find out, there was this slick, see, moving down river, see, killing everything on the surface and emitting fumes for miles around.
We crawled into bed around 1:00am tasting the chemical in our nose. We were evacuated at 3:30am.
We were booked to play the cafe, that cafe where my parents met, that day, the day of the evacuation. It was to be the last stop on our tour. By 10:00am, we were already south of Spokane, 250 miles south of the cafe, driving 80 miles per hour, in 100 degree heat, listening to Lucinda singing. “Little bit of dirt mixed with tears.”
We were parched when we got back to Oregon. No sleep. The heat. Canceled and half-canceled shows throughout the tour. No music. No money. I crawled into bed and I slept.
When I awoke I read the paper: fires in California. I listened to the radio: record heat in Alaska. I watch the TV: floods in Colorado.
But I didn’t go to California. Or Alaska. Or Colorado this summer. How could this be? I was too busy destroying parts of British Columbia and Alberta to bother with bits of California and Alaska, too. Wait. Could this mean…?
Of course I know, you guys. I know that I don’t control much, really, let alone the weather. But I have a feeling that this ain’t going away anytime soon, these plagues of locusts and frogs. And who experiences them more head-on than folks on the road? It wasn’t only money we lost along the way this summer. We lost a bit of pride too. Who else but the human can consider so much beauty and yet create so much destruction? Who but the human travels vast distances in ugly gas-guzzlers to share with other humans humbleness, art, and emotion? Who but we are capable of such complexity?
No one else can boast numbers like that.
But just in case, just on the off chance that I am somehow, in some way, cosmically aligned with great and rare and tragic weather events, I am telling you now: We’re headed east next summer. Heads up.
Photos by Melissa Ruth, Leah Nansel, Lorne Weiner