The Road Of Ashes

Michael Nabert
8 min readAug 27, 2023

It’s a good thing we’re not equipped to feel the grief all at once.

photograph taken somewhere in a mind bogglingly huge area of NWT wildfire aftermath

All the trees have been reduced to charred cores of trunks with occasional twigs like burned matches. They stick up from a vast expanse of blackened ground, heaped with ash, where stubborn embers still creep and smoke still billows up to form a thick cloying miasma. It’s like fog I can profoundly taste even through my N95 mask, and makes my eyes water. It’s like that for as far as the eye can see in every direction.

After we race through it at highway speeds for more than an hour, it’s still the same everywhere we look. A photograph may capture a glimpse, but can never convey that immensity. It seems to go on forever.

Finally we reach the town of Enterprise, the gateway to the Northwest Territories, or more precisely, the place where Enterprise used to be. For each of the few still recognizable buildings, nine or ten others have been utterly reduced to ash. The place where Winnie’s stood, the first restaurant north of the Alberta border, is only identifiable by a singed scrap of sign and a concrete footing. You could rebuild the buildings, but the land is just an enormous scar now, and will be for years to come. Some structures remain, but the town is still gone.

My beloved partner Moira is behind the wheel of our tiny Smart Car fortwo, and we are one of more than 5000 vehicles evacuating the Capital city of Yellowknife. Behind me, our cat Hestia, who is mostly Lynx Point Siamese, vocalizes her displeasure. With the seats pushed forward as far as they go, four cat carriers just barely fit back there atop a single suitcase. At least it simplified the rest of our packing decisions.

Between vehicles on the road and planes in the sky, 19,000 people, roughly 95% of Yellowknife’s population, leaves the city in only two days. Roughly 1000 firefighters and other essential service personnel remain behind to battle a blaze that’s bigger than the city of Houston Texas, which hot dry winds have been pushing towards the city outskirts for more than a month as it consumes.

1500 or so residents stay as well, flouting the evacuation order. Many volunteer to help, but at least one of them is apparently an arsonist, setting new fires inside the city’s defensive line…

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Michael Nabert

Researching a road map from our imperilled world into one with a livable future with as much good humour as I can muster along the way.