“Every Artist was first an amateur.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I first saw Athabasca years ago with my husband. He took me there a few months after our wedding to meet his parents. Of course, his parents didn’t live in town. Like most retirees, they lived in a year round cabin outside of the city. But is Athabasca a city? I have no idea. All I know is it isn’t large enough to have a Wal-mart.
The Athabasca Railway building is situated on 50th Ave, the main drag through Athabasca right by the river front park. I don’t actually know if it’s a railway building. The sign outside says Visitor Centre so I’m pretty sure people visit there. But the building looks alike a railway station so that’s what I’m calling it. You can see the sketch for yourself and decide.
Athabasca is a small town settled on the Athabasca river. It was a trading port and the river used to be instrumental in the trade routes. Imagine large wooden boats sitting low in the water and large, unwashed viking sized men rowing on either side. That’s what it used to be like in the early days in Athabasca. Or at least it might have been like that. I just made that all up. But it seems likely.
The river is pretty massive and, in winter, ice creeps over the edges until it meets in the middle and the river is frozen solid. All around, rolling hills covered in shrubs wash over the landscape like an ocean. Hard working people live there, people willing to eek out a subsistence living from the stony earth.
I loved it the moment I saw it with my young husband. He took me on a tour of the town. And whenever we visited there, we took the same route that became familiar to me. Every friendly home and building sat still, frozen in time, as if waiting for me to come back. We drove around all the same places, the rooming house where his mother grew up, the old brick school house, and the Burger Bar before we drove out to Island Lake where his parents lived. And we always passed the house that had the mechanical moose standing out front.
Writing about Athabasca is hard for me because I drove there about a year ago to put some of my husband’s ashes in the lake. We had spent so much time driving around the dirt roads on quads and swimming in the cool water. Fires by the shore, fireworks reflected in the glassy surface on Canada Day. I think the main reason I don’t like to go back there is because I see remnants of those memories everywhere and I’m reminded that they meant more to me than to him. I’m reminded of times when we were loving and times when we were not. I’m reminded of arguments and embraces and despair and anger and passion. But those things are over now. And every time I feel the ghostly fingers pulling me back, my heart is broken all over again. Holding on to them does no good. So I have to let them go and let him go. And now I realize that when I visit a place that holds onto echoes of his short life, it pricks a hole in the bottom of my happiness and washes it away.
I drove there that last time with our son in the car. We walked down to the lake front with a few friends and family in attendance and put pieces of him in the edge of the water. And I had to smile so they didn’t see how the burden of facing his memories weighed me down. I wanted to go on that tour of town again, the one we used to take every visit but I couldn’t. We left Athabasca and my son fell asleep on the way home. I’m happy he fell asleep because I didn’t want him to see me cry.
So many lovely scenes sit just waiting for my hand to put them on paper. “Make us immortal,” they whisper to me. I truly love the place. But I’ve never been back since that last visit and I’ll never go there again. I have pointed my life elsewhere and this drawing is one of a thousand memories I carry with me.
This is a time lapse video of the drawing
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