If you live in Canada, you probably know about Slave Lake, the northern Alberta town that was ravaged by a forest fire last month. For a too-short time some eight years ago, that town was my home.
I’ve mentioned my work as a park interpreter before. In my second summer working for Alberta Parks, I was stationed at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park. Lesser Slave is the second largest lake in Alberta, and Slave Lake is the town right outside it, population 7,000.
It’s hard to describe how I feel when I think of Slave Lake, and of that summer. Gleeful. Warm. Full of peace. I loved that place more than I ever thought possible. I loved the endless boreal forests. I loved the trees laden with saskatoons. I loved taking my newspaper to the beach every day after work, and learning about the town by reading about what people were selling in the classifieds.
I remember warblers and killdeer, black bears and pine marten. Moose. Western grebes. I remember one evening, just after I arrived in late April, walking down to the shore and suddenly being surrounded by the sound of tiny little tinkling bells. It was everywhere at once. The ice was breaking up on the lake.
In Slave Lake, I made some amazing and lasting friendships. I also learned for the first time how to be alone. Really alone. And like it.
Nearly 400 houses were destroyed in the fire, as were many of the stores and businesses. In a town that small, every single one of them leaves a massive hole.
And let’s not forget the library. Built in 2010, it burned down last month.
But if there’s one glimmer of hope here, it’s that the rest of us can help. The Peace Library System is taking book donations for the library they’ll eventually rebuild. I’ll be donating my own novels, as well as others from my collection. If you’d like to donate, contact the library system. And if you’d like to help the families living in shelters around northern Alberta, contact the Red Cross.