Alberta’s Wiebo Ludwig, with wife Mamie at the family compound in Alberta, is fighting his final battle.
HYTHE, ALTA.Ã¢â‚¬â€Eco-warrior Wiebo Ludwig is fighting his final battle. It’s a question of when, not if. Diagnosed last year with cancer of the esophagus, Ludwig, 70, is in palliative care and preparing for death.
Ludwig was rushed to hospital in nearby Grande Prairie last Monday after food became lodged in his throat. Doctors enlarged the stent they first inserted in his esophagus in late January.
The patriarch of a Christian clan returned to the compound of his roughly 60 followers and family near here at Trickle Creek Farm, the 324-hectare parcel of nearly self-sufficient land in northwest Alberta’s Peace River country. The Dutch-born enemy of the oil industry Ã¢â‚¬â€ eco-terrorist, his many foes would label him Ã¢â‚¬â€ has lost 30 pounds in the past month alone.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It doesn’t bother me,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ludwig said of his impending death, during a Trickle Creek interview last week. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’m quite grateful about my life, in many ways a concentrated series of battles. I enjoyed the battles. They were difficult times, but meaningful. I was seldom bored, put it that way.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Boring is definitely not a word to associate with Wiebo Ludwig.
Ever since he moved here in the mid-1980s, his name has been a lightning rod for deep, bitter controversy over the good and bad things about life in the oilpatch.
For those who espouse green living and turning our collective backs on uncontrolled oil and gas drilling and development, Ludwig is something of a messianic folk hero. For decades he has stood as an outspoken, implacable, media-savvy foe of the oil and gas industry, as evidenced by Toronto filmmaker David York’s 2011 National Film Board-backed documentary, Wiebo’s War.
That history, however, also carries a murky, lawless side that includes a 28-month prison sentence for oilfield equipment destruction and vandalism (he served 19 months, released in 2001), other arrests, most recently in January of 2010, multiple armed RCMP raids of the Trickle Creek compound, and the unproven suspicions of involvement in numerous other bombings and oilpatch vandalism across northern Alberta and B.C.
Most tragic was the still unsolved death of a 16-year-old local girl, Karman Willis, shot while roaring around the Trickle Creek compound with other teens in pickup trucks early one morning in June, 1999.
Instead of battling oil and gas companies, Ludwig will spend his final days with his family. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I feel there’s a time when you have to sign off,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You have to stop at some point.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He plans to die in his log cabin at the farm he founded nearly three decades ago, now a sprawling complex of modern chalet-type homes, industrial shops, barns, a gazebo, greenhouse, power-producing solar panels and a windmill.
Ludwig spends a lot of time resting in bed, lying down on the couch or sitting in a recliner chair near a wood-burning stove. His eyes still penetrate, but he sounds exhausted. When he’s up to it, Ludwig and his wife of 43 years, Mamie, walk hand-in-hand along paths that cut through nearby woods.
He maintains he’s looking forward to Ã¢â‚¬Å“crossing over.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is apparent to everyone there is an afterlife, even though we repress that in our anxieties,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“In some ways, I am eager for redemption, eager to see what’s there. I just hope I die without too much pain.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ludwig, a carpenter, has completed his final construction project: a wooden casket. Last month his daughters finished the lining Ã¢â‚¬â€ a cream-coloured satin that covers a layer of soft foam and straw. The simple casket rests on two metal stands in one of the compound’s main houses.
In months, perhaps weeks or even days Ã¢â‚¬â€ his pain-ridden voice could barely be heard on the phone three days ago Ã¢â‚¬â€ Ludwig will die. That coffin will be placed in a concrete crypt above ground in the family cemetery in the nearby woods. Ludwig at first jokes that the government might go after him if he went underground, but later says the reason for having the crypt above ground is for Ã¢â‚¬Å“possible future restlessness … in case we have to move again.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He expresses no regrets about the infamy of his life at Trickle Creek.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I feel very reconciled,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My life has had some sordid chapters, especially my youthful life. But I feel a peace with the Lord and with man in terms of having dealt with those things in my soul, my spirit.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’m not a person who has had small prayers. I’ve asked for major things to change my life and the lives of those I’m with. I’m not disappointed.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have been somewhat persistent Ã¢â‚¬â€ I guess that’s been my one quality that’s been admired, not to give in and compromise with the BS … not to complain all day long either but to work at something that is commendable, a solution to some of our problems, hopefully.Ã¢â‚¬Â
According to family members, their leader’s funeral will be a private affair, not open to the public or to the news media. Ludwig says he wants the people of Trickle Creek to Ã¢â‚¬Å“retreatÃ¢â‚¬Â for a while after his death.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Not so much to mourn my dying,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“but to give them some time to work their way through it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’m glad this is a bit of a process. I can spend time saying goodbye to the family and give them some direction on different issues. Everybody has a chance to face it … rather than Ã¢â‚¬Ëœboom, he’s gone.’Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We’ve had some beautiful conversations about the reality of us having to give up mortality,Ã¢â‚¬Â he adds. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We’ve worked out some good things together.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ludwig won’t miss much about the broader world outside the compound, the one he led his family away from so many years ago.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It’s gone that wild out there,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our social life is in shambles … family, marital … all these things are just busted up. Individualism has wrecked us terribly, made us lonely and isolated.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In musing about his accomplishments, he doesn’t dwell on his infamous battles with the oil and gas industry, but on what his family and followers have built at Trickle Creek.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’ve seen men and women here really taking hold of this vision. They’ve come through. Many talks, many plans … They’ve come to see the beauty of withdrawing from all the riff-raff the world wants you to chase.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They’ve pursued something quite steadily that has some character, that has some sense again when it comes to practical issues, like raising your own food. That is almost critical.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He can’t resist some perhaps final advice to the oil and gas industry:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Get rid of this stuff and replace it as soon as possible with alternatives, and stop being so stubborn and stupid about it. My advice is, why don’t you just go for it? Do the right thing.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You can tell the oil and gas industry that we knew we were right all along, but I’ve come to see they also knew that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In the end,Ã¢â‚¬Â he predicts, Ã¢â‚¬Å“good will win out over evil.