It is the end of August. Up here the first trees are showing the colours of a new fall arriving soon.
I have been on this road for more than 2 hours. Highway 44 in Alberta runs north for a long time until it turns west running along Lesser Slave Lake. When we have passed the turn-off to Hondo the road disappears from sight for a second as it dips down to the mighty Athabasca River. Originating from the area of 11874ft. high Mt.Alberta and 12293ft. high Mt.Columbia on the border to British Columbia, the river is northbound, and as part of the largest Canadian river system, after first merging into the Slave River which again merges with the McKenzie River, finally ending up at the Arctic Sea. Down here it is still a clean northern river. First after passing through the Canadian Oil Sands at Ft.McMurray it is being contaminated with chemicals. We are crossing the bridge and I want to stop to take in the grand view along this river. Big rivers have always fascinated me, partly because I used to kayak when I was much younger.
But my attention must stay on the road. I have passengers on the bus and the large vehicle could easily hit the curb, as the bridge is quite narrow. The pavement is broken and bumpy. Just 10 minutes ago we were driving through relatively lush northern forest, interspersed with grazing grounds for cattle, but now, north of the Athabasca, the road climbs in elevation until it reaches the high plateau of the northern outskirts of the Swan Hills.
And the landscape has changed. Instead of at lush forest I am now looking at miles and miles of burnt boreal forest. I get the feel of being much father north than I really am. It must be the loneliness of this landscape, the seemingly endless perspective. The power of a serious of lightning strikes that caused this landscape to change. Between millions of burnt trees new growth is striving up, eager to hide the results of the biggest wild fire this area has seen in decades. It is now 3 years ago that major parts of the town of Slave Lake fell victim to these fires.
The people of Slave Lake have rebuilt their town. New houses have come up everywhere. And as humans rebound so does nature up here on the plateau, just east of the town of Slave Lake. As we descend off the hills the deep blue outline of Lesser Slave Lake comes into view. The name deceives a lot. It is a lot lesser than the Great Slave Lake much, much farther north in the North-West Territories, but it is still a huge water body. My colleague driver Gordon thinks Lesser Slave Lake is just a minor puddle. His statement must be part of a northern attitude where the grandness of nature has caused people to use special terms when they talk. And they don’t talk easily. You are a stranger to them, so they have the right to be suspicious. As a bus driver though I find easier access to them. They need to talk to me, tell me where they want to go and when they want to return – if they return.
A Black Bear is crossing the road about a 1000ft. ahead of the bus. Reaching the left side he dives head first into the new growth of brush. Wildlife has returned after the big fire.
20-30 years from now the burnt forest will be hidden between the new growth – until the next fire restarts the circle of life.