Place Where You Live:

Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Dear Orion, 

This story is about growing up and being very attached to this place I no longer live in. I love it, hate it, I am torn by it, and consider it one of the most special places to me. I know this seems to fall somewhat outside the criteria, but to me it is the place that affected me the most. It is the ultimate in the nature/industry dichotomy that we ‘environmentalists’ struggle with so often in our lives. I spent 16 years there and still consider it home in many ways. Thank you for your time. 


The town you tried hard to deny. It sits in your bones, rigid as winter. Coming through bush, second and third growth stands shield the view until you hit up-town. Then that snaking slope of hill and trucker speed past the overpass those kids died hitting. Clearwater on your right, past the trailers, the middle-class and lawns, the company housing, and the still out of place golf course, this once great river sinks into its own silt and little island sand bars. The old barges pushed high on the banks haunt like some alien ships – now it’s just the impossibility of how they churned the waters, pushing all 500 kilometers of river from down south. Today they just sit witness to the new Wal-Mart, traded like some dieing relative for the new bright screaming children.

            The Fort is a backwater dump. First ruined by isolation and the vote for ‘most boring highway’, now by drugs, money, and the sharpening of international demand. Mining is ugly work, and the buffalo standing on so-called re-claimed land, that rolling hillside where thick boreal once stood, don’t fool anybody, least of all the echo that shatters their animal silence.  Beneath their hooves and the grass they grind away the days with, is an emptied land. Scrubbed clean with god’s brilo pad, the bitumen that once held oil is now a soft hallow cry of its forsaken glory.

            I haven’t been back in years. Heard they built a new bridge over the Athabasca. Knotted road of ice, enough to take a truck hurtling in winter, or some ski-do kids.  Placing bets on the ice break-up, the spring thaw burning relief into our chilled lungs, I could never predict that first creak when pressure gave way to the hidden force of naked water. The desire to feel the sun on our bodies, some things we still have in common with the river. Some human grace present in the tides of the earth. Afterwards, with the patterns and colors running swift again, we would walk the thick slabs yielded to spring, the bank heavy with winters loss, and measure them with out-stretched arms. To walk and touch where only water caressed for months was like seeing some exploded cave. Crevices of ice and chasms sliced by spring Chinooks, that arctic miniature held in my hands.