At ten o’clock tomorrow morning, “I’m going in.” It’s an old expression used by fire watch, or lookout observers, who’ve become seasoned seasonal smoke-spotters from their isolated perches overlooking Alberta’s southern grasslands, foothills, alpine areas, and northern boreal forests. In less than 24-hours now, I’ll join the men and women who have fallen in love with this job of scanning the horizon for smoke, and embark upon a four-month adventure alone in the boreal forest.
In the Peace Country, the clean opening of the river, the faint dots of green that emerge from the aspen branches — darkening and thickening within a few days into blots of virgin green on the landscape — all of these signs of Spring have come weeks early this year. For those who live the fire watch lifestyle, they are signs of another kind of opening.
Tomorrow I’m scheduled to fly to my northern boreal tower to climb up into the sky and “open season.” My tupperware boxes are stacked high, packed with dried food goods, books, gardening tools and seeds, carving knifes, bedding, clothes and all-season, all-weather gear.
Last month I wrapped up my manuscript of “Women Who Dig – Female Farmers Struggling to Feed the World”, stories from 143 women from eight countries on three different continents. Over three years, I traveled to rural communities in the Americas, East Africa, and Southeast Asia, and met with women in their gardens and community gathering spaces. Their narratives were too many to include in just one book.
Rural and indigenous women around the world continue to grow food, raise livestock, and forage for wild foods — feeding their communities — often defending land and lifestyle from visible and invisible forms of oppression. The forms of oppression facing female farmers, worldwide, range from economic injustice to the impingement of large-scale development projects, including dams, mining operations and corporate agriculture, to domestic abuse and gender-based violence in the home, fields and gardens, and wider communities.
“This book has legs. I’m seventy-five percent in,” the literary agent enthused over the phone.
I felt my own legs buckling. In the kitchen of my apartment in downtown Edmonton, like an overjoyed fool, I knelt down on the linoleum, incredulous.
Just maybe, I thought, this seed of a story that’s caught wind and traveled across seven countries and three continents and has been inspired by over a hundred conversations with women (in nine different languages) about what it means to be a woman who ‘digs’ – just maybe – it could take root in the form of a book.
“I’ll send you my manuscript,” I heard myself say, struggling to contain my excitement.