Many areas in Western Canada are experiencing devastating wild fires. Hundreds of hectares of land have been consumed with fire. People's homes and livelihoods have all but disappeared. For us, we are one small part of it. We had a cabin at a northern lake. The cabin, surrounded by pine and birch trees burned last month. We have had time to view the pictures and a few members of the family have travelled to the cabin to see the devastation and the remains. People have expressed their sympathy in losing the cabin. But it was more than a cabin.
The forest fire started with well placed lightning strikes, igniting the dry trees, the too dry ground cover and the endless acres of paradise. The fire jumped around and picked which cabins, which areas and which lives would be altered this time. For us, it was our time.
The cabin was a joint project between three brothers and their families. It was found and bought and celebrated. It wasn't much to look at when purchased from a retired fisherman who was too old to continue travelling to the cabin. The windows were covered in old brown painted shutters holding back the possibility of bears breaking through the window and holding in the gang of bats hanging safely between the outside shutters and the windows. The kids were ecstatic with the possibility of the bats being a part of decor. I remember the darkness and the dank smell of the cabin as we walked in. There was an old fire box in the corner that held molded paper, dried wood and many kinds of insects. The cabin had an out house that smelled like nothing we had ever experienced....the strong smell of ammonia almost choked the bravest. It was truly a 'man shack' that would be for us a place to go to for the next 12 years.
The years brought three families closer together as we all went to the cabin and begin the many, many years of renovations. The kids always thought they were the main workers carrying up countless loads of lumber up the hill, or holding down the tin needed to fix the roof as it was ferried across the lake or pounding nails to create the much needed 8 bunk beds. The brothers, along side of friends and relatives worked on improving the cabin every trip they made to the lake. The cabin transformed with everyone's help into a beautiful 'man' shack that even non-males enjoyed. The old stove was replaced, a fridge was brought in, hot water on demand along with a shower large enough to hold a party was installed and a sun room surrounded on three sides with screening to allowing the air and the smell of the woods to gather was created. The cabin, which started out tiny, and dark ended its days as a majestic piece of workmanship. Ok majestic is a strong word, but the discussions, the planning, the moving supplies in the winter, the work bees changed a retired fisherman's cabin into a retreat house for three families, relatives and friends.
What burned into ashes was more than wood, and furniture, and playing cards. What burned were the possibilities of more summers spent together laughing, fishing, cooking and just being. What burned were the possibilities of yet more winter'man' trips that gathered together old friends for a few days of ice fishing, a few days of drinking and story telling and a few days of more laughter. What burned were the possibilities.
The fire destroyed everything but the memories. The fire cannot destroy the times we all worked together building the addition, taking apart an old deck, moving supplies by boat across a lake, and playing cards until we couldn't see. We can replace a cabin, maybe start anew somewhere but we can never replace the possibilities that could have been in the old cabin. Maybe it is a fitting departure, the ashes contain all of our possessions, scattered around the area, laying dormant until the trees, the moss and the green come back. The ashes mark the end of an era for three families, but the good times and the memories will never be gone.
For the hundreds of displaced families, we express our heartfelt condolences. Each home. each cabin, each lodge needs to be mourned and then celebrated for what it gave. The giving is now gone. All that is left is waiting for the rebirth, the regrowth and the reuniting of communities.