Anthony returned to his village with quaint wooden houses lost among Jarrah, Marri, Karri and Blackbutt trees.
He was forty years old and tired living among high rising buildings with endless plastic cups of coffee.
He was tired of having friends only among competitive high sprung specialists who worked for various mining companies all occupying the most important streets in the city. His wife walked out on him to marry his colleague who made more money.
Once back home, every morning he swapped the clean cut suit for overalls and took a walk around post office, museum, library on the main McMurray’s street just like he used to walk around the one hundred and ten’s floor in his mining company’s skyscraper. Some kangaroos grazing nearby popped their heads up and few emus crossed the street in front of him in a hurry but otherwise no living soul approached him. He wondered what is he going to do with his time when a man appeared out of the southern forest carrying big bundles of wildflowers on his back. Anthony recognized the face of his schoolmate from high school years. After few hugs and big shouts of surprise they ended up in a local tavern for a pint and yarn.
It was Sunday next day so Anthony ended up fishing in a McMurray’s creek with his schoolmate
It felt just like good old days he missed so much in the city.
“It used to be tall timber country here and look what has happened?” Wayne smiled sadly at Anthony: “And those bastards still come snooping for precious wood but we do not tell them where the last tall trees are!”
Anthony nodded admiring a big healthy perch his friend just pulled off: “If the mining company I used to work for got a hint of all the minerals this forest hides there would be end of your fishing mate.”
Wayne grimaced at his friend: “Another bastard to worry about, you know my people called the creek McMurray ‘place of crystals.’ Do you remember that boulder?” He pointed at the significant rocky outcrop hiding among tall trees.
“Mount Chudalup yes, we used to race who climbs it first,” Anthony smiled at the childhood memory: “I remember your elders telling us kids it formed when two Australian subcontinents collided 1345 million years ago.”
“It still is very special place for our Bibbulman people,” Wayne smiled at his friend encouragingly: “Tomorrow you can join me for the wildflower’s picking, it makes good money but you have to be prepared to wander the forests in every weather and not to be scared of snakes or bull ants.”
Anthony has become the wildflower picker roaming his beloved forest three times a week.
He collected mostly emu grass they use as fillers in the native Australian bouquets.
He painstakingly repaired his old parents’ cottage and sitting there close to open fire every evening with his native herbal home brew there was no place he would rather be.
His sister living across the ocean has got another idea. Anthony remembered a handsome young Canadian backpacker who many years ago, knocked on their door one stormy night looking for a dry bed. He left with his sister to far away land and his parents never got over it. She raised her family in Canada and promised to come back once her son grew up. She heard about Anthony living back home after loosing everything and sent him a return ticket: ‘Just come and experience another type of McMurray place.’ The letter said and so Anthony did just that.
When Anthony landed in the Fort McMurray on the far north of Alberta the haze was thick.
The cold air filling up his lungs felt different, somewhat sticky and heavy.
The small thin broomstick like trees felt insignificant under the cloudy dark sky. They drove to one of the suburbs that like identical tentacles spread in every direction of this mining boom city. The famous oil sands international mining companies ripping this apart were just behind the hill.
Anthony was invited by his sister’s husband to go fishing to the Athabasca river that snaked around the human invasion. They proudly zoomed off on the new shiny Ford pick up but before they left the oversized garage, his brother in law showed him proudly his new motorbike and a sport car. Anthony looked around the neighborhood where miners of all nationalities and ages stood in their own oversized garages polishing their own new shiny gadgets.
When they reached the muddy dark river, a dozen of polished new pick ups with the most advanced fishing gears were proudly displayed on the oily slopes. Few miners between smokes and bourbons were catching the oil fish flowing on top belly up. “That fish is dead!” Anthony screamed appealed.
“Yes, we know,” they looked at him surprised we just catching it for sport, just pretend you know, it is way too poisonous to digest but natives still eat it apparently.”
“Can I meet any?” Anthony asked thinking about his native friend Wayne back home: “Can I take a walk around?”
“We don’t walk here,” his brother in law said: "We drive our diesel beauties everywhere."
I can take you to any pub you like we have many here with topless girls everywhere."
He said proudly: "You prefer casino or a night club, anywhere you like, we live big here, we like to spend big money.”
On Anthony’s persuasion, his brother in law took him to the other side of the river where an old barge was stuck, on it sat two old shriveled Indians with empty eyes: “We used to live on this river, we used to live from this river and now we are the last ones left from the river tribe.”
The Anthony’s brother in law turned his back to them commenting: “Some of their leaders took good money for the permission for the mines to settle on their land, everyone wants money that is what drives us all, no?”
That evening Anthony ventured out walking around the perimeter of the fenced off plastic properties with nailed on signs warning of bears but in that sorry looking remnants of the wilderness nothing was alive, nothing even moved or breathed. Young kids zoomed around on the miniatures of their parents’ big trucks twirling around the dirty oily sand and dust. There was something unnatural almost unreal about this place so far north of true wilderness that ceased to exist once the smell of oil and greed took over everything.
A boy stood at the end of the suburb where Anthony’s sister lived.
He was alone and his eyes were empty.
Next to his feet thrown in the dust was a newest model of the big motorbike. He looked at Anthony and smiled half sad smile: “Hello uncle, how do you like our Fort McMurray, we are very rich here are we?”
“Rich you are but are you happy?” Anthony asked him suddenly.
“My parents buy me whatever I want, I have a new gun too, we can go to try it tomorrow yes?”
“What are you going to kill in that sorry looking remnants of the dusty boreal forest, there is nothing left alive there for sure.”
“That is the fun of it, to find something still alive there and kill it.” The boy smiled the ruthless smile kicking the fleshy motorbike.
Anthony looked down at the boy and touched his shoulder gently: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I be just like father, go to trades and work in oil sands for big bucks and then buy whatever my heart desire and have lots of booze and whores is there anything better in this world?”
Anthony sat on the dirty pile of the sand nearby and whispered: “There is another McMurray where water is still clear and full of fish that is alive and kids ran around barefoot and just happy to be alive gorging on berries from the forest that is full of greenery and game and life.”
“What do you do for living?” The boy suddenly asked.
“I pick flowers for living for few bucks.” Anthony smiled and I am the richest man in Creek McMurray where I live because those few bucks where I live is just enough.
“I would like to visit.” The boy asked: “Can I buy anything there what I like?”
“No you can’t, but whatever you need you find it for free, I think you would like it there.”
“I might.” The boy mused suddenly: “Nothing here is for free. It must be paradise in your McMurray a true paradise."
On his arrival back in his own Creek McMurray Wayne greeted him with a big smile.
Wayne handed him the recycled bicycle he repaired for him:
“Look mate like new, will be useful to get to your wildflowers.”
When they cycled together along the majestic southern great forests where Karri and Marri and Jarrah and Blackubut giants grew to enormous heights in peace and tranquility, Wayne asked Anthony how was the other McMurray.
“How I describe it,” Anthony sighed: “Like if you take all this greenery and replace it with sticky and oily greed, that is another McMurray.”
“That sounds like hell to me,” Wayne sighed sadly then he cheered up: “Lucky us!”
Anthony winked at him: “Lucky us truly.” They continued their quiet ride among their beloved green giants they loved so much.
TThe forest loved back even more providing shelter, food and air every day for the rest of their lives.
Beata Stasak (author) from Western Australia on April 26, 2019:
yes my dear Shauna, we live on the crossroad of choosing the old or welcoming the new...the old feels so comfortable and indulgent even if it means it will sink us in rubbish and greed and destruction, but we clink to it because it is something we know...change feels uncomfortable especially for those who have too much to loose but change is coming...people like Anthony are ready and be better for it...
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 26, 2019:
What a beautiful story, Beata! I knew Anthony would return to his beloved McMurray once he saw the depravity of greed in "civilization". I was rooting for him all the while!