The Souring of the Good Reverend’s Nature

In the beginning was the family compound, and it was fine. Then came the oil companies with their wells, and they were foul. And lately have come the shootings, the wrenchings, the bombings—and what's to come of all that, only the prophet knows.

Mark Levine

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

When battle lines began to be drawn across the frozen stubble fields of northwestern Alberta, they appeared as faint scribbles, too inconspicuous to attract alarm. Windshields were shattered and tires slashed on construction equipment at a few of the thousands of unmanned oil and gas well sites that hover over the farmland like blackened scarecrows. Sledgehammers were taken to Caterpillars. Nails were strewn like spilled grain on remote roads leased to oil companies. Residents of Alberta’s sparsely populated Peace Country, a vast block of windswept prairie drained by the Peace River, were slow to register the signs of insurrection in their midst. Some attributed the mischief to disgruntled employees of the oil companies that had descended on the region from distant Calgary in recent years, transforming the landscape into a pallid grid of smokestacks and strip malls and strip bars, and infusing the local culture with tolerable amounts of cash and mayhem. Others saw in the vandalism the eternal imprint of teenagers roaming dirt roads with their headlights dimmed, staving off the boredom of long winters; still others saw the imprint of eternally malcontent local Indians.

The vandalism escalated. Acid was poured over monitoring equipment at pump sites. Sharpened spikes were hammered into access roads to gas installations. Soon the attacks branched out to include the region’s forestry industry; railcars packed with bales of pulp were set ablaze, causing millions of dollars in damage. No arrests were made. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confessed an inability to patrol the vacant terrain. “I would compare it to graffiti,” said Sergeant Dave MacKay, head of the eight-person Beaverlodge detachment of the RCMP, which has investigated many of the more than 130 attacks against industry over the past two-and-a-half years. “Unless you actually see someone do it, it’s very hard to make a case against a culprit.” A year ago, a sniper took aim at gas-company offices with a high-power rifle. Six months ago, a bomb blast ruptured a gas pipeline, and two other explosive devices were defused before they detonated.

Then, at the beginning of August, during a holiday weekend in Canada, a pair of gas wells was destroyed by explosives. High-pressure pipes were severed and “sour gas” — the stuff that smells like rotten eggs and can cripple the central nervous system in a whiff — was discharged into the air in sufficient volume to warrant evacuations and highway closures. The attacks created a nuisance for drivers returning to their farms from bingo halls in the boomtown of Grande Prairie, and panic among energy firms involved in Alberta’s $2.5-billion-a-year sour gas industry. Alberta Energy Company Ltd., a major industrial presence in the region, hosted a rare news conference in Calgary to issue a report entitled “Terrorism and a Fractured Community.” Gwyn Morgan, the company president and C.E.O., spoke of residents “living and working under a state of siege” and bemoaned his helplessness in the face of “life-threatening fallout of the industrial terrorism.”

In clapboard farming towns such as Sexsmith and Goodfare and La Glace and Hythe, residents have reluctantly come to believe that the particularly hateful, urban, elitist creatures known as ecoterrorists are huddling in their midst. Rumor has it that environmental groups from the United States have been fanning the flames by offering moral and economic support to the perpetrators. Local environmentalists, though, point out that the practices of the energy industry — whose airborne pollutants have been linked to cancers, birth defects, and crop destruction — are quite enough to have incited a grassroots insurgency without outside assistance. “I don’t condone acts of vandalism,” says Mike Sawyer of Calgary’s Rocky Mountain Ecosystem Coalition, “but I can understand how people would feel driven to conduct such attacks.”

The community waits uneasily for a break in the case. Security detachments can be spotted parked in overgrown fields, and the breathless debate in roadside coffee shops concerns the wisdom of taking up arms against terrorists. “God knows where the next bomb is going to go off,” a spokesperson for Alberta Energy Company tells me. “I’m scared to death.” The patterns of everyday life in the oilpatch remain seemingly intact: Granaries are well-stocked, and tottering orange buses are delivering rural children to school each morning by the standard icy routes, and the dreary sod continues to yield its sticky flow to the furnaces of North America. But make no mistake: Peace Country is at war.

The gravel road down which I’ve turned, about 25 miles east of Alberta’s border with British Columbia, is lined with orderly stands of bare white poplars. Beyond the trees, tractors sit like ornaments in fields of rime-covered black dirt. A few horses gather in a tight circle against the wheezing horizontal winds, and a cluster of abandoned farmhouses sags toward the ground, disrupting the unrelenting flatness of the yellow-brown vista.

This is a road reserved for martyrs and pariahs and — if one is to heed local sentiment — home-grown subversives. I pass a bullet-riddled Dead End sign with the words “Ludwigs Are” scratched into the paint. A bit farther down the road, a black flag decorated with a white skull-and-crossbones flutters at the entrance to the Trickle Creek farm, home to Reverend Wiebo Ludwig and his 34 family members and disciples. “Beware of the Mounting Anger of the Local Residents,” warns a hand-painted sign erected by the Ludwigs; a torn Canadian flag marks the entrance to the 320-acre compound. Wiebo, 57, awaits my arrival on the porch of his log house, where a “potato gun,” fashioned from a four-foot length of plumber’s pipe and designed to be ignited by a nearby can of Final Net aerosol hair spray, leans against a window like a comic sentinel.

It’s cocktail hour, and Wiebo pours me a glass of homemade wine, alcohol content 15 percent, made from high-bush cranberries plucked from the surrounding woods. It goes to my head quickly. A band of tow-headed children stares at me, speechless, as if I broke away from a herd of alien livestock. “So you’ve come all this way to see the saboteur, have you,” Wiebo says, sizing me up. “You’d best be careful.”

Wiebo moved his brood to Trickle Creek in 1985, hoping to settle down after an unruly past. Born in Holland, he immigrated to Canada at age 10, ran away from home at 15, traveled the world with the “immoral and despairing” Canadian navy, and was deposed from the pulpit of two congregations of the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church in small-town Ontario. Despite the leavening effect of a master’s degree in divinity, he speaks in language dusted with traces of counterculture ebullience. “We had to leave the system before it destroyed us,” he tells me cheerfully, moments after we shake hands. He wears a leather vest over an open-necked white shirt, and a small silver cross on a necklace seems tangled in his snowy chest hair. His bearing, which is often described by acquaintances as “intense” and “in your face,” is part homespun revolutionary, part self-appointed mystical visionary. As such, he is not afraid of wielding the broad brush of generalization or of claiming to have spied the very nature of things worldly and otherworldly. “The system,” Wiebo says, speaking in the calm murmur of a late-night talk-radio announcer, “has its own momentum. It catches you. We had to break with it, get off the treadmill. It was soul rot.” He and the family escaped to Peace Country, he says, on the run from the debilitating influences of materialism, capitalism, the banking system, property taxes, public education, egoism, the dilutions of organized religion and the savagery of ecological destruction and, not least of all, the seductions of “secular humanism.”

Mamie Lou, Wiebo’s 51-year-old wife and the mother of their 11 children, saunters over from the open kitchen, where an assembly line of women clad in peasant dresses and sneakers is dealing with mashed potatoes and applesauce, and confirms her husband’s narrative. The Iowa-bred daughter of a minister, Mamie Lou has a squared-off jaw and washed-out, somewhat ravaged features. She and Wiebo could pass for an aging country-and-western duo who have gone through tough times and lived to sing about their trials. Her red corduroy shirt is cinched with a red vinyl belt, and her head is covered with a red scarf in deference to her husband’s authority. Indeed, all the sturdy, big-boned women of Trickle Creek farm — I count nine who are either at or beyond childbearing age — wear scarves over their blond hair, decline to shave their legs, and carry out their homely chores unsupported by what they consider to be cancer-causing bras. Meanwhile, all the ruddy, bandy-legged men of the household are aswarm in facial hair — seven flickering beards that blend into the burnished landscape and frustrate the task of distinguishing Fritz from Bo from Benjamin. Wiebo engineered the marriages of three of his sons to the three daughters of another middle-age couple living at Trickle Creek, and the dizzying roster at the compound is rounded out by 18 home-schooled, blue-eyed children who can be seen placidly drawing with crayons in Bible coloring books or tugging at the ears of whinnying goats. “Public education is an abomination,” Wiebo reports. “I would rather see my children dead than be taken to school.” None of the cheerful tykes raises a pale eyebrow.

“People know that we’ve devoted ourselves to wholesome family life,” Wiebo says. When Wiebo came to Trickle Creek, only one small cabin, without running water, stood on the property. The family was broke, had no furniture, and ate its meals sitting on the floor. Mamie Lou remembers bringing in frozen laundry from the clothesline and thawing it out in front of the cookstove. “We were living like pioneers,” says Wiebo. Harmony, the couple’s eldest child, who has trained herself as an herbalist and who spins wool sheared from the family’s sheep, passes through the room with a harmonious nod of her scarved head.

Trickle Creek now has three houses; a barn heated in part by solar panels; several outbuildings; a machine shop and a wood shop; cellars stocked with mason jars of pickled vegetables and sacks of carrots, beets, and potatoes; and a wind turbine mounted on a 40-foot platform, spinning like a dervish against the weak northern sun. The Ludwigs have built all of it themselves, from trees in their woods, as part of their mission to achieve “self-sufficiency” from the world at large and to walk in step with nature. One of Wiebo’s sons has learned to butcher the family’s sheep, cattle, and poultry. Another has taught himself beekeeping. Everything that sprouts from Trickle Creek soil is Wiebo-certified organic. The Ludwigs bake bread from their own milled grain, wash with homemade soap, drink “coffee” brewed from roots and dried grains, and treat everything from diaper rash to whooping cough with extracts from their herb garden. One of the daughters is receiving rudimentary instruction in dental work from a nearby dentist, though by the look of the stained teeth and inflamed gums flashed by many of the Ludwig kin, the family has a way to go before it achieves self-sufficiency in oral hygiene.

I sit down with my three dozen new friends to a heaping meal of old-fashioned farm cooking, but not before a little thanks is offered to God for the presence of the dark-haired visitor. I’m touched. The Ludwigs are friendly Christians. They strike me as smart and self-confident and passionate about politics and ecology, and I’m almost hoping they’ll lead me to their stone-ringed campfire in the yard after dinner and sing hymns or folk songs while Wiebo plays the trumpet. It’s clear that Wiebo’s experiment in withdrawal from the vulgarities of consumer culture is in many respects an estimable success. The children seem aglow with contentment, and none of them claims to miss the opportunity to roam shopping malls or swap lipsticks with friends from the Godless world beyond Trickle Creek, or to mind performing their daily chores. Nobody watches television, though tapes of John Denver and the sound track from Titanic rest next to an old stereo. The mess-hall style dinners are lively and relaxed, and each morning’s breakfast is followed by a lengthy session of Bible study and prayer. All the constant activity is presided over by Wiebo, who has been called the “patriarch” of the family but who prefers the title “undershepherd of the Word,” and whose authority at Trickle Creek is final and absolute.

Around 1991, after six years of rugged homesteading and several Ludwig home births, the Trickle Creek idyll began to show cracks. “The system” from which the Ludwigs had sought refuge seemed to track the family down like a malevolent gas cloud. In the early ’90s, the Alberta energy industry recognized the potential for full-scale development of the province’s natural gas reserves; the sedimentary basin of the northwestern plains is so rich in gas that the ground is said to tremble when freshly drilled wells begin to flow. In the last ten years, the number of producing gas wells in the vicinity of the Ludwigs’ property has doubled, to around 2,400, and the preponderance of those produce sour gas, which contains lethal amounts of hydrogen sulfide. To measure the volume of an underground deposit, gas companies will oxidize the contents of a new well into the atmosphere for about a week, burning off some 250 chemicals through 40-foot stacks to dissipate the toxic load. The process is called flaring. On a clear night in Peace Country the flames of flaring gas wells rise from the earth like barbaric matchsticks.

In Alberta, gas wells are allowed to be drilled as close as 100 meters from residences, and Trickle Creek lies at the center of a dainty industrial solar system whose unmoving stars are 10 gas wells, each linked to a pipeline that rings the property. “During the time the Ludwigs have been there,” says RCMP Sergeant MacKay, “this area has turned into the major gas field in North America.” The family says that three leaks have been confirmed at wells within shouting distance from their home, and has prepared an anecdotal record several hundred pages long to support its claim that ill health — three miscarriages, birth defects, chronic respiratory ailments, skin problems, throat infections, eye infections, and memory loss — has been caused by what they bitterly call “fumigation”: exposure to toxins released through leaks and flaring. Wiebo says that 60 of his livestock — cows and lambs and goats — have died and that the trees in his woods are sick at the core and that his soil, while still productive, is laced with ungodly chemicals. “This place used to be full of frogs,” he recalls. “Then we started finding deformed frogs. Now even those are gone.” The family’s prayer meetings are held against the sounds of a chirping choir of caged blue and yellow canaries that are kept for the purpose of detecting vagrant fumes. Twice the Ludwigs have heeded the warnings of the canaries to flee their house in a red-and-white school bus that stands ready in a nearby field.

Wiebo has filed complaints with energy companies, police, and government bodies, but says that his efforts — which have cost him $45,000 and have become a full-time pursuit — have been unavailing. A few years back, he was arrested after he entered the offices of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, the regulatory agency that environmentalists charge with being a rubber-stamping friend to polluters, and spilled a few ounces of crude oil on their rug. In early 1997, his eldest son, Ben, was convicted for vandalizing a gas company shed, a charge to which he refused to respond. “You know what happens when you corner a dog,” Wiebo tells me, speaking in analogies, as is his wont. “He might be a friendly dog, normally speaking. But when you come for him enough, he’s got nothing left. So he bites you.”

One day late last August, the Ludwigs proceeded to the woods behind their houses, where they gathered to dig the first grave on Trickle Creek farm. They said some prayers and read some poems and set into the ground an unfinished spruce box bearing the grotesquely deformed remains of Abel Ryan Ludwig, who had been born dead to Wiebo’s son Bo and daughter-in-law Renee. In a nearly unbearable five-minute video that the family has produced to document its misfortune and publicize its cause, Bo and Renee are seen cradling the dead infant and stroking his soft, unformed skull, accompanied by a sound track of mournful Celtic-sounding music. The baby’s flesh is loose and peeling; his mouth is agape. The family believes that the stillbirth resulted from Renee’s exposure, during the early weeks of her pregnancy, to a toxic load of chemicals released from gas wells adjacent to Trickle Creek. “Abel Ryan was killed by the polluters,” Wiebo says, definitively. “Sometimes I think we should take the president of Alberta Energy Company hostage, tie him up, make him watch the video of Abel Ryan, and then slit his throat.”

Forty-eight hours after the funeral, a bomb exploded at an oil well a few hundred miles south of Trickle Creek. Roadblocks were set up in the area. Wiebo, Bo, and Renee’s father, Richard Boonstra, who also lives at Trickle Creek, were arrested at a roadblock set-up in the area of the bombing. Mamie Lou was arrested the following morning at the family’s house.

The night of the arrests, 30 RCMP officers converged on Trickle Creek and stayed until dawn, scouring the property for evidence of the family’s involvement in the bombing. Wiebo says they left the house with a smattering of innocuous materials, including some fishing line, a bag of powder used to tan hides, a book called The Dying of the Trees, and Earth First! founder Dave Foreman’s notorious volume, Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. The four suspects also surrendered their clothes, which were sent to crime labs in Vancouver for analysis. A few weeks later, prosecutors withdrew charges.

Wiebo will neither admit to nor deny involvement in any ecoterrorist action. Nor will he explain what he and the others were doing near the blast site. He claims to know who committed many of the recent attacks and says he finds himself “in spiritual sympathy” with their motives. “If a man is going to slaughter your family,” says Wiebo, exercising his flair for propositional speech, “and you just stand by and lift your hands in prayer — that kind of passivity I condemn as amoral cowardice. Somehow people believe that Christians have become so weak-kneed that they can be pushed into that corner. Well, you have to love your enemy enough to win him over through persuasion rather than kill him. But if he needs to be killed to restrain his madness, then you kill him. That’s not murder. It’s executing judgment.”

Hythe, population 800, lies five miles east of Trickle Creek and calls itself “Town of Flowing Wells,” in honor of its once crystalline water supply. At the Hythe Motor Inn, though, the tap water in my cinder-block room stank of sulfur. I recalled a moment in another of the Ludwigs’ videos, Home Sour Home, in which a lit match held to a stream of tap water bloomed into a globe of flame. The Ludwigs had distributed the story of their opposition to polluters to media and environmentalists across Canada, and their principled rejection of creature comforts had struck a responsive guilty chord among urbane liberals. The family enjoyed a few moments as media darlings in the Canadian press. Back home, their neighbors were considerably less enamored of the Ludwigs.

One morning in the diner at the Hythe Inn, I found a group of flannel-shirted men nursing their coffee cups and trading banter over the community’s most prominent suspected villain. “What do you want to know about that Ludwig bastard?” one called over to me. They told me what they knew, what they suspected, and what they guessed. Frank Webb, the three-term mayor of Hythe and the owner of a business that operates water tankers, played point man. “Ludwig knows how to get inside people’s heads,” he said. “He’s a clever, educated man, not a hick like the rest of us around here. He loves to read about himself in the media, and the media loves to lap up his BS.” Cam Hastie, a retired building contractor, killed a fly with his pack of cigarettes and pointed out, “It’s impossible to know what’s going on with their health when Wiebo is over there playing doctor, veterinarian, and mortician all by himself.” Some of those present proposed that inbreeding could account for the Trickle Creek miscarriages and birth defects. Abuses were hurled on the Ludwigs’ ability as farmers, and Wiebo’s charge that his livestock had been exterminated by toxic fumes was dismissed as a hoax. It was well known, the men said, that Wiebo had bought lamb carcasses from farmers in the area in order to produce a dramatic shot of a heap of dead animals for his home video. Mayor Webb advised me, “Why don’t you ask other people around here if they’ve had miscarriages and aborted livestock?”

I had, I told the Mayor. I had, for instance, sat in the living room of the Ludwig’s nearest neighbors, Rob and Gisela Everton, grain farmers who live about a mile-and-a-half south of Trickle Creek. The Evertons circulated a petition in which 42 of the Ludwigs’ neighbors — the people who pass Wiebo on the road and raise a hand in automatic greeting — joined in dissociating themselves from the Ludwigs’ complaints against the oil and gas industry. It was a distinctly unneighborly gesture. “He’s not the kind of neighbor you want,” said Gisela. “He’s scary. You’re not welcome there. The only time you see them is when they need some help, like being dug out of a ditch or having their grain dried.”

I had also spoken with Laureen Campbell, the leathery 40-ish bartender at the Hythe Tavern — behind the coffee shop, below the motel. Laureen didn’t have much to say about ecoterrorism or alternative lifestyles. Her boyfriend is a driller in the oil patch, and she has lived around Hythe most of her life, despite repeated efforts to get away. Laureen couldn’t recall having had any health problems she would attribute to industrial pollution. Then she paused. Well, she said in a gravelly voice, come to think of it, her father did die of cancer. So did one of her sisters. Two other sisters had had cancer. So, come to think of it, had she — a weird, rare cancer at that. And of course her daughter had just recovered from cancer. According to environmentalists, Peace Country has an unusually high incidence of cancer — and asthma, and blood disorders. But Laureen has no firm opinion. “We can’t live with the gas companies,” she told me, “and we can’t live without them.”

Peace Country hasn’t determined how it will live with the Ludwigs. At the coffee shop, Mayor Webb groused about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Canadian constitution. “The man on the street,” he said, “would think that the laws are made for criminals.” Then, in a surprisingly Wiebo-like statement, he said, “We’ve gotten so liberal that we’ve rotted from the middle.” As the mayor spoke, Wiebo and Mamie Lou entered the diner and sat in a corner with a pile of newspapers. The room grew quiet. Some tables cleared out. “People around here are talking about how this will end,” Webb whispered. “This is still the Wild West, and we haven’t forgotten the old remedies.” He glanced over at Wiebo, who was scanning the Edmonton Sun through his bifocals. “He struts in here pretty cocky, but God help him — if one person gets hurt, there’s likely to be a lynching.”

It was a lazy afternoon on the farm. The bearded boys took a break from pouring cement at an earth-covered structure that looked like a bunker but was described to me as “the root cellar.” A few of the women interrupted their mopping and bread-baking and swished over to the dining table in their flowing skirts. Allan Johnstone and Carl Bryzgorni, two stalwart members of Wiebo’s ragtag band of neighborhood supporters, had dropped by Trickle Creek unannounced to eat cake and exchange incendiary slogans. The lives of the revolutionaries seemed momentarily tranquil. Everyone was buoyed by the publicity the recent bombings had brought to Peace Country and by what was regarded as the RCMP’s humiliation when the charges against the Ludwigs were dropped. “They’re not eager to mess with us right now,” boasted Wiebo. “They’re afraid we’re going to blow up this part of Alberta.”

“The reason they dropped the charges,” announced Johnstone, a white-haired obsessive from Beaverlodge, “is that the government doesn’t want to settle this thing in court. They want it to flare up like in Montana and Waco so they can eliminate us.”

I was enjoying my cake, which was made with organic eggs and flour and freshly churned butter. Mamie Lou fetched me a cup of herbal tea and joined the conversation. “Just think of the thousands who have already been killed by the energy industry,” she announced. Mamie Lou was surprisingly up-to-date on the crass imperialism of multinational oil companies and was fond of equating the situation of the Ludwigs of Trickle Creek with that of Ken Saro-Wiwa of Nigeria, the plight of northwestern Alberta with that of East Timor. The Ludwigs’ movement of “resistance” had come to resemble a historical and ecclesiastical calling to its participants. Bryzgorni, an awkward gap-toothed farmer from nearby Sexsmith, spoke in affecting tones about how his wheat crop turned yellowish-green and died some years back after flaring from an adjacent sour gas well. “The industry treats us like wild animals,” he said, haltingly. “I’d compare it to Hitler with his gassing.” To which Wiebo replied, “It’s no better than Hitler. It’s just a free country — they gas us free of charge.”

I felt as though drafts of disorienting vapors had been released into the sun-drenched room. At one moment I thought I was sitting among a group of likable, harmless eccentrics who were giddy with the notion of naughty play; at the next moment I thought that this band of freshly minted green warriors was just desperate and disheveled enough to maim someone. “Blood has already been shed by the industry,” said Wiebo, with well-received bluster. “More blood is going to be shed sooner or later. It’s entirely justifiable.” Bryzgorni gazed at the crumbs on his cake plate and said, “We’ve got no choice. They’re choking us.”

Wiebo thrives under a siege mentality, and his family can be seen walking in lockstep directly behind him, straight into the heart of impending crisis. That is Wiebo’s way. “Will we risk being hated by men for the sake of the gospel?” he asks me, as if I’d know. “Do we fear men or God?”

Wiebo fears no men, least of all oilmen. Last summer, shortly before the Hythe-area gas well bombings, Wiebo rejected Alberta Energy Company’s bid to buy his property for $520,000, a sum that local residents figure is three or four times the property’s market value. Wiebo had considered moving the family to Nova Scotia or northern Idaho or remote British Columbia, but was furious when the company’s lawyers added conditions at the last moment that would effectively have banished the family from Alberta and enforced its silence on the company’s environmental practices. For the moment, Peace Country is going to have to learn to cope with the Ludwigs’ emboldened presence. Wiebo knows the authorities are terrified of the prospect of violent confrontation at child-friendly Trickle Creek, and this lends him the aura of invulnerability.

“You’ll be running back here when the days of trouble come,” Wiebo assures me, “trying to steal our food and envying our self-sufficiency.” The family views its poison gas affliction as only one symptom of a world that is spinning toward the fulfillment of its self-destructive promise. In this way, Wiebo’s doomsaying converges nicely with the predictions of those radical environmentalists who support ecoterrorism — even as Wiebo criticizes some environmentalists as “grandstanders” given to “strange pagan rituals.” Wiebo takes me on a whirlwind tour of the not-so-distant future. “It’s clear,” he says, “that this is like the time of Noah. We’re going toward an ultimate collapse.”

Richard Secord, an environmental lawyer who represents the family in its struggle, tells me, “I can’t think of a more remarkable group of people than the Ludwigs. I like what they’re doing as a community. I admire their lifestyle. This is obviously not a family of criminals. But when people feel they’ve been unable to get the attention of industry or regulators, what are they left with but militant forms of action?” The Ludwigs’ militancy is unlikely to be dampened by the family’s unified sense of a coming “conflagration.” What are a few bombs, anyway, when in short order, as Wiebo says, “Everything will convulse, and the elements themselves will melt, and the earth will be renewed”?

One night after dinner at Trickle Creek, Wiebo and his family led me outside to listen to the sound of the low-flying plane that they believe has been spying on them, with its lights off, for the past few months. Indeed, I heard the plane and heard its engines fade away and heard the rumbling return a few moments later. It was exciting to feel observed. The venal world was out there, just beyond the horse corral and the potato patch, lying in wait with its surveillance equipment and incinerated oil field toxins, preying on the slumbering pacified masses of Peace Country. But the Ludwigs could not be bought, and they could not be tricked. The children sat on the porch railing swinging their legs. Dessert could wait. Wiebo ran to the house and retrieved a gas flare pistol, and when the plane circled overhead again, he took aim like a movie cowboy and discharged a taunting flare into the darkened sky. A red streak flashed across the night and dissolved, like a brief, intimate glimpse of the fiery days to come.

Contributing Editor Mark Levine wrote about Bangladesh in the November issue of Outside.

promo logo