It’s the places that you go when you’re a child that stay with you for your whole life.
My grandparents lived their entire lives in the Crowsnest Pass. This narrow, sometimes forgotten section of the Rockies emptied itself of its coal to feed the engines of Canada and the world for more than a hundred years.
My grandfathers, and my great-grandfathers, all gave their lives to the dirty work of ripping this black gold from the bowels of the earth. Their bodies showed the scars of a life lived in darkness, straining to pull themselves through another day.
When it got to much, they drank. They fought. They dreamed. Some escaped, some took their own lives, many just survived.
The Alberta side of the Pass — no one who has spent any time in the area ever uses “Crowsnest Pass” — is slowly dying. The generation who mined underground is dying away. The next generation, and the one after them, has taken to tearing the tops off mountains in BC.
Or they just left, like my parents did. They empty carcasses of a life abandoned for economics are still there.
I was back there this summer for the first time since 1999. It has come a long way, but their is an aura, a feeling that the end is near. All the money from Calgary can’t save them. The old, independent life, the hardened bitterness, the brutal economics of coal that bred a people that accepted all into the brotherhood of the black gold, is gone.
There was a bluff outside the Pass community of Coleman, full of what the locals called “black diamonds”. I’m not sure if it was jet (made from extra compression on some of the coal deposits), or obsidian (from the volcanic activity that dominated the area in previous epochs). Sometimes, if the light was right, you could see the light reflecting off the pieces showing through the bluff.
Then, about 15 years ago, in order to straighten the highway and let more huge trailer trucks roar through Coleman on their way to the rest of the world, the bluff was blown away.
Sometimes, in the rush of time, the memories in our blood get blown away, each individual event glistening in the sun one last time, before being scooped up and swept away.