I took this picture today on my walk.  How it brought back an intense memory.


The fading light through the trees was soft owing to the smoke issuing from the line of lake-side cabins and adding to the vigorous smell of cooked pickerel. Sunday suppertime on Sturgeon Lake in North Western Alberta, 1973. My dad and I readied his red and white 1968 Chevrolet truck and headed home. It was Sunday and he had to get home (an hour West in Grande Prairie) to get ready for the week’s work.
My dad, by then 61, bone thin, just starting to stoop; yet, still towering over me. How after the truck was packed he’d take a moment, remove his cap, scratch his balding pate, then get in and off we’d go. Perhaps he was going over a mental checklist to ensure the cabin was locked up for the week.
It was always a quiet ride home, excepting for the radio. He wasn’t a conversationalist and thus, perhaps, is why I have an over-active imagination in having to keep myself occupied.
First stop, always, the garbage dump.
We are approaching the turn-off and suddenly it was like we were dive-bombed by a flying… something. Like an explosion of crazy in front of me. My heart was in my throat as it was on my side, by the tall steel radio antenna.
Dad laughed, “it’s a bat, caught on the aerial.”
My eyes were like saucers! A bat, mere feet from my head! Just waiting to get its chance to taste my blood!
We pulled into the dump and dad got out, gabbed a blanket from behind the truck seat, went around to my side, threw the blanket on the gyrating bat, pulled it up and off the antenna and snapped the blanket, like he was flicking off dust, and the bat, though hard to see in the twilight, screamed and flew off.
Dad folded up the blanket and put it behind the chair. He then threw out the garbage and again, we were on our way.
“The thing you should remember, never panic. Remember, early in the summer and that bear was in the dump? Keep your distance, yell and shout and he’ll go on his way. Never panic, you can’t think straight when you panic.”
He’d always give these, gems of wisdom to me. His favourite, “experience is the best teacher.” Loved that one.
Well, the excitement over, on the way again. We’d just turned off the dusty, noisy gravel and onto the soothing highway as it began to rain. Not much at first, but quickly grew into a monsoon with lightening and thunder.
“We’ll have to pull over, it’s too hard to see.” So we pulled off to the side of the highway.
That musty smell created by hard rain after a few, dusty, and hot days. I’ve never forgotten it; always cherish it as it instantly transports me to my youth.
Then more lightening, “one-thousand and one, one-thousand and…” boom!
That was close. Then. Oh but then.
This, imbued on my memory. I was looking out my window at the thick forest of birch and pine at the side of the road. A jagged bolt of pure white flashed in my vision. Like nothing I’d seen, but just like a kid drew a lightening bolt: sharp angles to a point. It seemed to linger there, a few feet above the ground; and then, it seemed like an eternity after the image, this, voice-of-god-like crash physically shook the truck.
I jumped over the side and grabbed dad. He laughed, “just lightening, we’ll be okay, we have rubber tires, we’re isolated from it.”
Immediately the rain subsided and we were off again. It was a few miles before I was back on my side of the truck.
Never forgot that moment and, I never looked at that blanket the same way again.

Photo and story © by DC Lessoway


Faint are the memories of my childhood. Thankfully there are pictures, as the one above firming up that it was real and not some romantic dream. (Above I’m ice fishing in the dead of winter on Sturgeon Lake in Northern Alberta. I think I was about seven or eight there?)

Romantic, ha! Crazy how we look upon our childhood through fogged memories that often have the emotional and physical content lopped off. “Oh it was so fun to walk in the snow to school!” Again, ha! It was a small northern town where winters were bloody cold. Walking to school was an experience in endurance!

One particular morning (likely in November or December) in grade nine I believe, it was around 35 below with a wind chill I’m sure of minus 50! Bundled up to the eyes for a 25-minute walk. Not sure why I didn’t take the bus, but I do remember times when it was too cold for the busses to run. Found out later that the busses usually couldn’t run below minus 35, good idea right? Except the schools never closed until minus 40! Lovely. At this time I had glasses with a metal bridge and I remember feeling a burning on my nose the hike to school. Ah, arriving to enter the warmth was wonderful, but my glasses would always fog up so I’d take them off right? But this time they didn’t come off so easily and it wasn’t until I looked closely at the metal bridge I found a chunk of frozen skin. I ran to the bathroom and sure enough, a red torn patch of skin at the top of my nose where my glasses sat. No blood, no pain. The rule of thumb (in the era before helicopter parents) being that if there was no pain or blood it didn’t matter. So I didn’t do anything about it.

One of the more ideal illustrations of my wintry childhood. And how long they would last! From first flakes in late September until, until, until, until May when consistently warm winds would defrost us all. Eight months out of twelve! A sure reason why I now live in one of the most southern parts of Canada.

The only kind reprieve from mind and body numbing cold: the Chinook.

Chinook are more frequent in Southern Alberta, but up north, if they came at all, it would usually be towards the end of February and through to May. In a day the temperature could go from minus 9 to plus 15. Melting a significant amount of snow! I am sure during those long cold walks I often prayed for those warm winds.

When they came, it would often be sunny and everyone would be outside joyfully taking in the faux spring day. Ah, here are the kinder, truer romantic memories.


patches of thawing snow
patches of discoloured
matted, waxen grass, happy I imagine
finding sol’s warmth early
softening, springy beneath my feet
then soon reburied
buoyant impermanence
from icy Siberian clutches

© 2012 by DC Lessoway