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How to Write Without Pain

June 19, 2009

Dryness and heat were the themes of the week at the Edmonton Journal.

On Sunday, I went out to an industrial fire near Refinery Row at a paper recycling/shingle plant. Wasn’t much of a story when I went: only giant bales of paper and cardboard were on fire, nowhere near any buildings, and firetrucks were doing the “surround and drown” thing.

It only became a story later because the fire just wouldn’t go out. It smouldered until some time Monday morning. I kind of wished it had been more of a story (at least from a writing perspective). The recycling plant had all these old discarded books on the ground. It was a cool detail. I was surrounded by firetrucks and big flames, and books like “How to Write Without Pain” and “Civil Elegies” were strewn on the ground.

My biggest story of the week was the drought story in Camrose (with Alex Zabjek), which made the front page on Thursday. You’ve got to feel for all the farmers and ranchers in eastern Alberta through to Saskatoon. There are more dandelions than canola out there – the former being resilient invaders while the latter is delicate and dying. Basically, most of what’s growing out there (barley, hay, canola) will end up as feed for the cattle. Everybody kept saying “it’s worse than 2002,” the year which wiped out many ranchers.

I like talking to farmers. Many of them have a sort of pithy way of talking: lots of humour and meaning behind very few words. I really respect that choice of lifestyle – your livelihood is tied so directly to the land, and many years it’s either all or nothing. Other times, the margins are extremely close.

And as one guy pointed out to me, we take food for granted… just go to the store and don’t think twice about what goes into milk or bread.

Thursday, June 18: County declares drought disaster, A1.

Wednesday, June 17: New firefighting recruits make grade, B3.

Tuesday, June 16: Belgravia residents fear traffic boost, B3.

Sunday, June 14: They march to remember their stolen sisters, A6.

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