Lessons we learn

The Road Less Travelled

By Terri Windover, Connect Columnist

5. Lessons - Birchwood

Wild roses in bloom on the Birchwood Trails last summer. Photo by DAWN BOOTH, Connect Weekly

I am on my way home from a wonderful 17 day fishing road trip throughput BC, from the mainland to the island back. Kevin and I spent our days fishing, listening to the ocean and exploring the many unique and beautiful areas BC is home to. We decided to spend one last day fishing for pickerel in Lesser Slave Lake, one of our favourite spots to fish in Alberta. We pack up our camper and boat the next morning and my thoughts turn to my home, to Fort McMurray.

We barely had a month to take care of our home and set things as right as possible before we left on July 1st. We had been planning this trip for months before the fire and we were damned if we weren’t going. There were salmon, snapper and sturgeon waiting for us and we were going to oblige them. FYI, travelling in Canada Day weekend without reserving camping spots is a crap shoot at best, but my Irish luck held out and we landed a spot each night.


Now, 17 days later as I drive down highway 2 from Slave Lake I am surrounded by the remnants of the fire that decimated the area in 2011. As far as the eye can see the blackened husks of burnt trees tower above their greener siblings below them. They are a reminder of mothers natures power and also of her resilience. The town of Slave Lake is a reminder of ours. Our power to recover and to rebuild. It is a pretty little town. Clean and filled with businesses and landscaping. The people are polite and smiling and the sun is shining. If you stood in the centre of town you’d never know there was a fire. But step outside that circle and the reminders are everywhere.

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Highway 2 by Slave Lake in July. Photo by TERRI WINDOVER, Connect Weekly

It’s good to be reminded. We cannot simply go back to our lives as they were, nestled up right to the boreal forest with trees towering over our homes. While some are talking about planting a million trees to get back to the way we were pre-fire I’m of another thought. Perhaps we should leave the 100 foot firebreak around the Birchwood Trails.

Lay sod, plant flowers, place remembrance plaques telling our story. Perhaps when rebuilding the hardest hit areas we should ensure they have a similar space. Leaving that buffer could prevent future generations from reliving our story.

Fire is necessary for a healthy forest. So if we wish to live in the embrace of the Boreal forest we must learn to live with it. Fires are particularly important to the cycle of regeneration and regrowth in boreal forests. Fires often happen on a much larger scale here, more so than in Canada’s temperate forests. There are many ways that these work to renew boreal forests.

Fire, the primary agent of change in our boreal zone, is as crucial to forest renewal as the rain and sunshine. Forest fires release valuable nutrients stored in the undergrowth and deadfall on the forest floor. They open the forest to sunlight. They allow some tree species, like lodgepole and jack pine, to reproduce, opening their cones and freeing their seeds.

So if we want to live here we must understand that fires will happen. Big ones. So we need to take steps to find a balance between our love for living close to nature and our safety while doing so.

– Connect Weekly –