First thing you see just arriving Athabasca is the river. If you´re lucky enough to get in town at night, the vision of its course will carve deep in your memory and it will refuse to leave your wide open pupils, as if turned into a kind of daguerrotype. The water, flowing quietly from south, will glow sparkling silver under the moon and the hill by its side will seem like a domesticated giant wood-beast lying at its left, guarding its meditative pass, protecting its eternal song whispering, listening the rumour of centennial stories.
The night view of the Athabasca River offers a sort of a temporal experience. If midnight is getting close, you will not be able to tell with exactitude where you are in the time sequence. Is this the twenieth century? In a matter of minutes, perhaps, you will surprise your self waiting for a steam ferry to pass, hoping to see its vapor column springing from a shadowed chimney. In that case just the shine of the street lights will broke the spell, reminding that you can bath your self twice in the same river.
Even when time loops get broken at times, there’s something in the air that carries parfumes from the Athabasca past to your lungs, giving you an unknown strenght, a renewed vigour. The wood smell from the forests brings you a blurry image of fur traders going to and fro through the river; some of them looking for Lake Athabasca –tired, but their roughness nesting in their chests like a talismanic tattoo–, others just going south, eager for spend their money, drink and lay with women.
Seen from the senses perspective, you get to understand that, even today, Athabasca is a time post by the river. The town witnessed, with the contemplative eyelides of an old and wise woodcutter and the acuteness of a learned chronicler, histories of turmoil, violence, hope, adventure, life and death. The whole spirit of Athabasca emerged over its challenging relation with nature, and the very town is a kind of proud scar left by human motion, by human ambition, by human desire.
Judging by its nowadays peaceful appearance, you would say Athabasca is just a little town inhabited by elder residents and people looking for the soothe of the north air, but it would not be fair. Nineteenth century railways, steamboats, Chipewyan commerce and twenieth century migration established a population strong and brave enough to bear and embrace change –the most powerful force–, resolute enough to look it to the eye an say ‘we’re nurtured by the river; we´re not afraid; we will persist’.
Juan Carlos Montero Vallejo