Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power Blues

Steve Coll

PRIVATE EMPIRE EXXONMOBIL AND AMERICAN POWER

The Penguin Press New York 2012

685 pp. $36 US  $38 Canada

ISBN  978 1 59420 335 0

“-the corporation does more to shape our energy economy than our democratically elected government-” Steve Coll

I didn’t want to read this book and try to understand its meaning because I thought it would be too depressing but like SELF SERVE: HOW PETROCANADA DRAINED CANADIANS DRY by Peter Foster and SEVERE CONDITIONS: BIG OIL AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF ALASKA by John Strohmeyer, it’s irresistIble to me.

I’m interested in the oil business because I worked in the upstream (the exploration and production of raw oil) as a roughneck in Alberta and on the North Sea and in the downstream  of the business (the manufacturing and selling of oil and gas on the wholesale and retail markets) as a yardman in the pipeline terminals of Esso (Exxon through Imperial Oil) and PetroCanada in Ottawa.

Steve Coll wrote the Pulitzer prize winning GHOST WARS, an account of the CIA’s activities in pre2001 Afghanistan. He has written six others including one called, THE BIN LADENS. He is a serious writer with a talent for telling a story from facts and events stretching over many years.

He has written about important historical events in  present day America. When you read this book, you realize that he’s doing it again by documenting history as we live it.

In 1904 Ida Tarbell published The History of the Standard Oil Company. It was one of the first pieces of investigative journalism and described the ruthlessness of John D Rockefeller’s monopoly. It eventually led to the trust busting laws of 1911 which broke up Standard Oil.

One of the pieces of the Standard Oil breakup was Exxon. In PRIVATE EMPIRE Steve Coll has written a meticulously researched book of investigative journalism about it.

Exxon had always been shrouded in secrecy but, bit by bit, through the use of over four hundred interviews, more than one thousand pages of previously classified US documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and unexamined court records, the curtain is pulled back by Coll.

Exxon and Mobil were both originally parts of Standard Oil. They completed their merger in 2000.

Canada’s taken for granted. That was the feeling I got when I read the book. A kind of impotent outrage at being snubbed and the old realization that we in Canada aren’t that important even though Canada is by far the single biggest supplier of imported oil to the US, 1.9 million barrels per day in 2008.

It’s pretty clear that if the CEO of ExxonMobil can ignore, consult with or demand attention from the US government at any time, he isn’t too worried about what Canada’s government thinks.

PRIVATE EMPIRE is a book  of 624 pages, with 61 pages of acknowledgements, notes, a bibliography,a complete Index and a Table of Contents into which the twenty eight chapters are divided into Part One: The End of Easy Oil and Part Two: The Risk Cycle. There are maps of Exxon’s and Mobil’s upstream investments before the merger, of the countries of Indonesia, Equatorial Guineau, Chad, and Venezuela and of the Exxon spill in Jacksonville, Maryland, where a gas station leaked 25,000 gallons of gasoline into a community’s water supply. It also contains a Cast of Characters listed by country; dictators, despots and enemies of the American government among them.

Canada and Alberta are dealt with in four pages. As Coll puts it, “Canada’s politics concerning the oil sands were complicated, but as a practical matter, there was virtually no chance that Alberta’s provincial politicians or the country’s national leaders in Ottawa would seriously limit Canada’s production in the years ahead.”

At the time of the writing and publishing of this book, ExxonMobil was trading places with Walmart as the biggest company in the US and with PetroChina as the company which was most valuable in the stock market. It was the most profitable corporation headquartered in the US.

The corporation’s K Street lobbyists in Washington DC spent more millions than everyone else except GE and Pactfic Gas and Electric shaping, influencing, and stalling regulatory legislation after 1998.

ExxonMobil, whose income dwarfed that of most countries, used the USA’s military and diplomatic channels to ensure smooth operations and ignored the politicians when they they wanted to.  Rex Tillerson, who replaced Lee Raymond as the Chairman and Chief Executive of ExxonMobil in 2005, told the State Department, ” I had to do what was best for my shareholders.” after a $3.1 billion deal was announced between Vladimir Putin and ExxonMobil to develop oil beneath the Kara Sea in Russia. The deal could grow to $500 billion. The State Department was usually told first.

Steve Coll catalogues, in exhaustive detail , ExxonMobil’s refusal to take responsibility for the social and physical damage it caused in places like Aceh, Indonesia, the Niger Delta and Nigeria, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea. Places far away and unlikely to interest the American population. But, to be fair, as Coll is ,painstakingly, through this book, they were the only places on earth where the oil  and gas supply was vast and available.

Lee Raymond, the CEO of ExxonMobil until he retired on January 1, 2006 with a four hundred milllion dollar package, was a midwest product, an engineer for 30 years at Exxon, an old time oil man. He was Machiavellian in that he didn’t hesitate to manipulate governments, politicians and their military power, regulators and environmentalists to his advantage. He was stubborn and short sighted in that he never believed in the science which claimed that climate change was due to the burning of fossil fuels. He employed many ethical scientists whose non disclosure contracts were tied up with pensions and retirement bonuses. No one really questions the character of the scientists but Coll and others  point out that the management of the science is dubious.

Raymond’s tough style kicked in with the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 when the company’s reputation was in shreds and the regime of safety he instituted included how employees parked and required reporting of paper cuts. He personified the arrogance of ExxonMobil and was disliked by many but was an undeniable success in the business world.

ExxonMobil, extracting oil from tar sands in Alberta at Syncrude since 1978 through its Canadian affiliate, Imperial Oil,has Canadian contracts there reaching into 2035 and other interests in the tar sands.

ExxonMobil would never use the American miiItary, the consular services or the Washington lobbyists to force Canada to be the oil spigot for the American consumer, would it? It’s a question that needs to be asked. As unlikely as it seems, history shows otherwise.

The author is scrupulous in presenting both sides of the arguments, explaining ExxonMobil’s activities, good or bad, from their point of view, through their eyes.

Coll says, “Oil from Alberta, barrel for barrel, contributed  one of the highest gas emissions of any source in the world” but the message Canada was getting from the American government under Bush was “ Produce as much of this oil as you can-we’ll buy all of it” There was never a problem with the environment and global warming when Bush and Cheney were in power. Cheney and Lee Raymond were close personal friends, both, like Bush, from an oil background, who met frequently in Cheney’s office.

When Obama took over, the oil industry was angry with his attitude and at the new California emission standards. They rallied some of the population with patriotic fervour, saying that if Canadian oil wasn’t sold to the US, it would be sold to the latest threat, China.

ExxonMobil was so confident in Canada as a friend and risk free oil source that it thought the many efforts of oil company lobbyists when Obama returned to Washington from his traditional first visit to Ottawa were a waste of time and money.

Their attitude was that if the US government cut itself off from Canadian oil, they would sell it elsewhere.

The problem is that exploiting the tar sands is more like strip mining than drilling with even higher costs to the environment and local people.

The time horizons of ExxonMobil’s investments far outlive the politicians who hold power for a few years and are gone. In some countries there might be war for years and changes of unstable governments or no governments at all.

It is no wonder that ExxonMobil had more influence in Chad than the US government. Where the American government gave $3 million to the country, ExxonMobil invested $4.1 billion.

ExxonMobil has been compared to the East India Company, and the Dutch East India Company who set out four centuries ago to colonize the New World. The irony is that four hundred years later, these gigantic multinational oil companies may be responsible for raising the very seas upon which the early explorers sailed, through global warming.

The corporation is compared to a Frankenstein monster in the statesman.com  where Bruce Watson states, “Nowhere has ExxonMobil bullied the world more than in the global warming debate”

The Exxon Valdez disaster happened in 1989 and dumped 257,000 barrels of oil into Prince William Sound, more than had ever been spilled in American waters before. Lee Raymond instituted reform and Exxon produced an admirable safety record and record profits.

One would think a huge company investing gigantic sums in oil and gas plays all around the world would be vulnerable to the resource nationalism, partisan movements and blackmail which is commonplace in many countries but through an uncompromising array of legal action, shifting responsibility  for human rights violations to militaries or to the World Bank and outright influence peddling, ExxonMobil has managed to avoid any Exxon Valdez type disasters so far. In 2005 Dick Cheney personally called the UAE government to enable ExxonMobil to win a contract to develop a field which held ten percent of the world’s oil and the fifth largest gas reserve.

Whether using the Indonesian military in Aceh (whose methods included torture, summary executions and burying insurgents’ bodies in mass graves with company equipment),the military torture chambers of Equatorial Guinea or the security forces in the craziness and piracy of the Niger Delta, ExxonMobil built its own foreign policy without the US government’s concern for human rights. It was there on the surface, they said all the right things and did their best to protect the corporation legally, but they knew about the human rights abuses and, for the most part, carried on anyway.

ExxonMobil Chemical is also dealt with in PRIVATE EMPIRE. About a quarter of American oil imports are used to manufacture commercial chemicals annually. A chapter of this book outlines the fight ExxonMobil and their spokesman-congressman, Joe Barton from Texas, waged to avoid having DINP (phthalates- See Ottawa Sun Aug 27, 2012 page 8) banned from children’s toys. It is a softener which makes vinyl more pliable but is suspected of being carcinogenic. Consumer advocates got some DINP banned but not all thanks to ExxonMobil’s lawyers and politicians.

The premise of it all, of course, is George Bush’s long awaited pronouncement that the US was “addicted” to oil. There has been no doubt about that for a long time and as unpalatable as it is to the oil industry to hear put that way, they can rest assured that they are safe in the short term and, judging from the performances of the governments of North America, equally unthreatened by long term solutions.

To understand the power of ExxonMobil, another George Bush quote is helpful. When the Indian prime minister asked why he didn’t just tell ExxonMobil to buy into an oil play in India, Bush replied,

“Nobody tells those guys what to do.”

The debate about climate change is something which Tillerson mulled over and investigated through ExxonMobil’s specially hired astrophysicists for three years. ExxonMobil finally admitted that global warming, at least in part, was caused by human activity, probably the burning of fossil fuels, when, for the first time in the company’s hundred year history, Tillerson supported a carbon tax in 2009.

When the Deepwater Horizon blowout happened to competitor, British Petroleum, in 2010, it was estimated that five million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico.

Rex Tillerson commented, with a typical ExxonMobil attitude, “We would not have drilled the well the way they did”

The “energy independence” drum is being beaten as it is in every election and the “Drill, baby, drill” proponents are searching for a congressman or senator like Joe Barton.

ExxonMobil has unprecedented power in governments world wide.

Canadians who are happy that we’re in such a helpless position, can take comfort in knowing that ExxonMobil is in our oilpatch. They were ten, if not twenty years ahead of PetroCanada in the Ottawa pipeline terminals when I was there in 2000. It means that we have someone technologically brilliant and wildly successful businesswise, exporting our oil.

On the other hand, it is depressing.

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The Bingo

 

We didn’t see it as a line drawn in the sand at first.

Roy hired Eldon, Ruth’s nephew, just before the bingo started. Aunt Ruth saved him from returning to a life of petty crime and jail with a kitchen helper job.

If Roy hadn’t fought with Ruth, his wife, who worked at his diner that night, things might have stayed quiet for a while longer. It was bound to explode, but maybe it could have been a little less volatile. And deadly.

No one could ever figure out why Roy and Ruth were together. It wasn’t physical attraction. They fought constantly and enjoyed showing the other up in front of everyone. None of us at the counter could imagine them making love without grimacing.

Roy had let himself go, sampled too many fries, drank too much beer. The diner had taken over his life. He even smelled greasy outside of the diner.

Ruth was putting on the beef as well. She had a shrill voice that grated on everyone’s nerves.

We only heard it peak when they were busy.

Eldon hung around the back, chain smoking, when he wasn’t scurrying around the kitchen following orders. He had a shaved head and some jailhouse tattoos on skinny, big veined arms. Geordie and I sat at the counter one morning and witnessed the birth of the bingo. We were waiting for Ruth to check the last of her lottery tickets. When she had counted up her losses, to hear her tell it, she served us our second coffees.

 

There was a gathering of women at the table in the corner. It was unusual to see the female diner regulars sitting anywhere but at the counter next to us. They talked to each other and ignored us. It was the first meeting of their bingo committee. The women must have talked about it before, somewhere else.

Roy brought the morning paper to the counter open at the picture of that day’s beauty. She was beautiful all right. Not wearing much either. Neither Geordie nor I had attempted relations with a woman for so long, it was as if we’d forgotten about sex.

Roy had a way of leering at the pictures, every morning, which was probably similar to ours in our younger days. These days, when he did his little act, it was hard for us to watch.

We didn’t think he was so attracted to the pictures, he was just doing it to get under Ruth’s skin. Geordie rolled his eyes at me and smiled at Roy. The licking of his chops and the quick glance down at his greasy apron were too much for customers who didn’t know Roy.

One man, standing at the cash to pay, watched Roy ogle the picture and dirty dance to the kitchen, his big, old belly undulating beneath his apron. The man observed him as if he was watching a lunatic. He was wondering if Roy had cooked his ham and eggs.

Gladys, Caroline and Linda were the three regulars sitting at the table. They had a pile of papers and looked like they knew what they were doing.

Linda had already done most of the paperwork about licences and permits.

Gladys was an old farm wife with a brood of kids, grown up and settled elsewhere. We heard one got into trouble and ended up in jail, but we kept our noses out of other peoples’ business. Gladys’ husband, Hubert, died a few years ago. She figured she did her part, putting up with him and his farmer ways and the kids were on their own. She was enjoying her freedom, doing her thing.

 

Caroline’s driven the school bus ever since her husband died. She sounded like a rough, old trucker and drank everyone under the table on special occasions at the Legion. We suspected that there was a female part to her, aside from the obvious ones. She hadn’t lost a kid from the bus yet though.

Geordie’s son, Cliff, a cop, told us that she was really a sweet old thing. He said the kids trusted her more than their parents and teachers.

Linda had retired and moved here from out west. Nobody knew much about her. We couldn’t figure out her age.

Roy took a long look at her rear end and legs when she wore shorts in the summer, licked his lips, rolled his eyes and attempted some pelvic thrusts beneath his big, round apron.

We saw Ruth catch Roy in his act. She got that angry glare on her face and wouldn’t speak to him for the rest of the morning.

It wasn’t as if Ruth was jealous, every sign pointed to her not caring what Roy did. She laughed at him when he made a mistake with the orders and enjoyed telling everyone at the counter, especially Linda, about her husband’s latest screw up. It was more like she didn’t want competition from Linda. If she only knew: there was no competition, Linda was much better looking and younger.

Some mornings, Linda watched, with a steady stare, Roy do his act with the morning paper. While Geordie and I were cringing with embarrassment, Gladys and Caroline chatted. They had seen Roy do his thing so often, they didn’t even notice.

Roy took Linda’s stare as a sign of interest.

Ruth saw how foolish Roy looked.

 

Linda, Gladys and Caroline were like peas in a pod when you gave them a coffee and a place to sit. The bingo really fired them up. They were gung ho to get started.

Ruth got involved in the bingo, too. Anything Linda did, she criticized or tried to do one better. Even though the others had done all the work, she insisted on being consulted about everything. Ruth had been at the diner for years and here was this newcomer organizing a bingo. Everyone knew bingos didn’t work around here, there was no support. Ruth figured that everyone around her was poor. But she had no trouble sleeping at night when she took their tips. She thought that the world was doomed.

We couldn’t argue with her, there, but she didn’t have to be so gloomy about everything, every time she opened her mouth. We had to survive, somehow. Laughter seemed better than complaints nobody listened to.

The regulars at the diner found Linda to be someone new and interesting. She had strong opinions but she was happy just to fit in with the others.

Ruth knew that she, herself, wasn’t interesting enough to hold the attention of the regulars without the coffee pot in her hand. She repeated each new piece of gossip so that it was old by the end of the day.

It drove Roy and the regulars crazy.

Geordie and I sensed Ruth’s smouldering jealousy over Linda’s popularity, but it was none of our business.

We played cards, euchre, on Tuesday nights, at the Legion. There were four tables of four, sometimes five. It was an excuse to drink while we played.

They showed up on a Tuesday night when we were just getting started.

 

Linda led them straight into the Legion with the bingo machine, sheets of cards, change box and everything.

Geordie and I were about to protest, when Jack appeared. Jack Lawson was the president of the Legion. He approved of the bingo, a potential money maker and told us so. We had to move our card game to the other room.

We were upset by this interruption of our routine and did our share of grousing when we went to pick up our next rounds at the bar. The euchre games lost a little charm when speakers droned,

“Under the B, fifteen” or “under the N, thirty five”, in the background.

At first, there were a lot of sudden attacks of deafness at our tables. The players raised their voices to speak over the bingo noise. Gradually, it calmed down. There was less interference once we got used to it.

Jack came to sit down at our table later. He told us that he had refused to cover the bingo losses if they didn’t have a good turnout. He’d back them, once they showed a profit. It was business, pure and simple.

We realized, after talking with Jack, that having a money maker around was a good thing.

Ruth was there from the start. From the sound of it, the next morning at the diner, she did everything she could to disrupt the proceedings. Relations were frosty between Ruth and Linda. The bingo had been a modest success in spite of Ruth’s interference. She was mad, Linda quietly triumphant.

Roy loved it.

 

Geordie and I ate our usual breakfasts listening to the women at the counter. They were attacking Ruth that day. She had crossed the line at the bingo. We had an extra cup of coffee and read the paper twice so we could listen to them tear down Ruth. I don’t think that there’s much doubt anymore, about the notion that women are more vicious than men. After we heard what they had to say about Ruth, there was no doubt for us.

They’d smile and change the subject when Ruth approached with the coffee pot. They made small talk with her while she topped up their cups. When she was out of earshot, they resumed the attack. Sounded to us like Ruth had ruffled a few feathers by being a little too bossy at the bingo.

It was the second Tuesday night bingo at the Legion. There were five tables  for our euchre game. The bingo organizers, led by Linda, all carrying sheets of cards, got there early. Ruth was still working with Roy back at the diner.

The games went well for us. Geordie and I were cleaning up.

There was a good crowd for the bingo in the other room. The buzz of their chatter subsided as Linda, the caller, started each new game. When there was a winner, Gladys called back the numbers to Linda and Caroline paid.

We heard the first disturbance after a lot of cheering from the bingo side, figured somebody had won the jackpot. Geordie was returning to our table with the quarts when a loud bang froze everyone. It was the sound of a gun.

The Legion is full of old soldiers and hunters. The old soldiers hit the deck, the hunters jumped to see what was going on.

“Hey, stop right there”

We heard the female voice clearly.

I peeked around Geordie, who was also hiding under the table soaked in beer and saw Linda fire the gun.

 

We heard the body drop and screams. I saw Linda stand up, put the revolver down on the table and walk toward the body.

Silence at the euchre tables broke into excited whispers.

“Holdup. Robbery”

The words bounced around the room.

“Mask”

Ruth arrived at this point, glanced at us rising from the wet floor and kept going into the bingo room, a worried expression on her face.

There were more than a few legionnaires regurgitating their beer when they saw the mess that Linda had made. She must have hit a blood vessel when she shot him. There was blood on the hysterical women sitting at the table beside the body, a mess on the floor. The guy was still masked.

Jack Lawson pulled the sticky balaclava up far enough on the guy’s head to reveal Eldon’s face. There was no breath left in him. They tried to revive him while we waited for the ambulance but there was no hope.

Eldon had tried to rob the bingo at gun point. He fired his weapon once into the air. He was leaving with the cash when Linda stood up and told him to stop. She pointed her gun at him, he pointed his at her, and that was it, she fired. It didn’t make Linda feel any better when it was discovered that he was using a harmless starter pistol. It looked real enough, one cop who knew Geordie confided.

Ruth blanched when she saw Eldon’s face. She stared at Linda, looked at the body on the floor and sat down.

 

The next morning, the diner was buzzing about the happenings at the Legion.

Linda arrived late. She had been talking to police, reporters and her lawyer. There would be an autopsy and a trial. With so many witnesses to the attempted robbery, she would be cleared of the charges.

Linda entered the diner like a conquering hero. We applauded her.

Eldon didn’t have any family, except for Ruth, in the east. She shipped the body to Vancouver. It only took a day of her time. She was back at work that week.

It came out later, through the press, that Linda was a retired cop. She had worked undercover for years and carried a licenced weapon all the time. Nobody knew it, but she went to target practice at the shooting range on the weekends.

She had seen all of their hard work go for naught when that boy scooped up their bingo money. When he pointed his gun at her, it was instinctive to shoot. She didn’t think about killing him. It was cut and dried with Linda. She regretted Eldon’s death, but he was the bad guy.

Geordie and I were treated to a visit, by Cliff, one night at the Legion. He let it slip, as we watched the hockey game, that Ruth was being investigated. None of the cops thought that even Eldon was dumb enough to risk everything for the small amount of money at the bingo. They figured he was put up to it by his aunt. They didn’t know why, what her motivation was, but they thought she was behind it. One thing for sure, Cliff told us, without Ruth’s confession, they couldn’t prove it.

Ruth paid particular attention to Linda after that bingo. She served her first among the counter people, her coffee cup was always full.

It was impossible for Linda not to know that Ruth was suspected by the cops.

 

Roy wore a hunted look, like he was confused, not sure where he stood. He checked out the morning paper in the kitchen.

We heard that Ruth had left the diner on the night of the bingo, in a huff, after a big fight with Roy. Maybe it was enough to push her over the line. Maybe her jealousy and anger caused her to put the kid up to it, to make Linda look bad.

Unfortunate for young Eldon, her dead nephew.

Geordie and I watched and listened. We knew that Ruth knew that Linda knew.

Ruth attended the bingos but she didn’t boss anyone around any more.

Linda watched Ruth fill our cups at the counter and listened to her repeat tidbits of gossip.

We saw their eyes, Linda’s steady gaze, Ruth’s furtive glances, meet.

That was when we saw it as a line drawn in the sand.

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The Canadian View

 

We were snowed in as usual. The cabin fever began to grow. There was barely room for all of us and the animals. Nothing could be left out in this cold.

The wind shrieked and howled while the snow buried our houses with us in them.

The digging started right away, of course. Those of us who were nearest the door were given shovels and plows whether we wanted them or not.

Granny sat by the wood stove. She was blind but she was knitting. There would be a long scarf for the children by the time we tunnelled to daylight.

Children howled and shrieked with joy as they buzzed through the crowded residence. Families and extended families with their neighbours and their extended families sheltered in the humble abode.

Gramps saw it once. One time, so they say, before he passed away, Gramps emerged from the snow tunnel the day before the winter snows descended again. He looked upon the homestead that day, without snow on it and never spoke another word.

Caribou jerky hung from the ceiling. Wood stoves kept the stew stewing.

 

We took it in shifts. We hoped, in our modest way, to make it out before the snows came again. We aimed to see what Gramps saw.

Farmyard beasts mated in the back, among the hanging furs. Birds sat in the rafters and dropped droppings as we dug for many days.

Once, it became lighter and we thought we had reached the end in record time. We were wrong, of course. A cave-in deprived many of consciousness. Lively Irish fiddle music replaced lively Scottish fiddle music which replaced lively French fiddle music. Then they reversed.

Stew and beer awaited those who participated in the digging. It wasn’t an occupation which promoted good health, but as our neighbour, Mr Clark said,

“Up, up and away! ”

Children were born, old ones passed along, the population’s size expanded and shrunk. The digging went on, but it was slow work.

We were sure to reach the end by the return of the snowstorms, but what then? Did we always have to do this? Is this what life was about?

It was in this frame of mind that I’d become separated from the main group. I don’t know how it happened.

I wandered through a shiny crystal tunnel. I was lost.

The temperature was all right but I had no food or water. A mysterious tugging kept me walking on without fear.

Then it was over as soon as it had begun. I emerged into a warm field full of sunshine and trees and grass and birds.

 

A small man dressed in green sat with his back up against a towering oak tree. He was fingering a flute, trying out different notes by covering different holes.

I sat down in front of him and watched.

His bushy grey eyebrows flickered as he stared at his fingers in concentration.

He blew a few notes, wrinkled his nose and placed the flute in an inside jacket pocket. From this he withdrew a deerstalker pipe and tobacco.

When he had lit up and enjoyed the smoke, he smiled and looked at me.

”Well now, how are you and the Canadians you know?”

I wasn’t sure what to say. I felt good right then, at that moment.

But how was I really? And the Canadians I knew?

This flashed through my mind in a nanosecond, but the little man’s eyes showed that he was waiting for me to catch up.

It seemed that he was reading my mind. I only had to think something and he would chuckle to himself. It made me examine every thought.

“Fine” I said.

“Fine? Fine?” he chuckled, drew a good draught on his pipe.

When I looked into his eyes I could only think of the digging. Stew, beer and digging.

It wasn’t a happy fate that awaited Canadians. The reality of it struck me in the face like a cold mackerel.

“Well, you seem to have caught me unawares, so I’ll grant you the wish you desire” said the little man dressed in green. He produced a wand and stood at the ready. He rolled his eyes, checked a pocket watch in his vest, tapped his toe, sighed and looked impatient.

I could think only of the digging as I made my wish.

 

The little man doffed his green fedora, pocketed his pipe and disappeared with a smile and a twinkle of the eye.

I found myself walking along the crystal corridors again, pulled onward by an unknown force.

Sounds of the digging greeted me as I joined the digging assembly line to the envious oohs and ahhs of my coworkers.

They were admiring my brand new shovel.

More stew, beer and digging.

It began to look dubious that we would reach the end of the snow tunnel before the snows returned.

We dug harder and faster to make it through.

Then,  just when things were darkest, we began to see a little light.

As we dug toward the surface, there were hoots of jubilation among the grunts of work.

The sun appeared as we emerged a year after the last snowstorm, but a snow cloud quickly hid its warmth and light.

We realized, as we looked upon the homestead, that big lump of snow, that the snowstorms had returned. We were late by a few days.

We resolved to beat the snowstorms next year as we filed back into the tunnel.

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