›› Garth Martens
Forget where you were going. The Whitemud, the Yellowhead, air warping from the cranked-down window through the truck, lead you out the tourist district, past tall townhouses, their vinyl yellows, greens, blues, stacked as if to keep you out. Through the overpass these give way to the concrete silo, a rail station, canola, wheat. Turn right onto a road that doesn’t quite exist. It aims someplace, but won’t make it through the mud. Scrapers and bulldozers, straining on caterpillar tread, carve hills at either side, mounds of soil stinking and black. Semi-trucks flank the route, drivers rushing to relieve their freight. Snagged in branches of black poplar and tamarack fronting the road, bag after bag is blown tight, the plastic wrinkled or stretched, mask-like. Cresting wooded slopes, you approach the site and the sun burns, foiling behind black thundercloud, molten like the light of a welder’s tool. Nylon camping tents, hundreds along the ditches and clearings, streaked with scum, flare in the gusts. Men who have sailed every fjord or hunted every animal for a little pay have come here now with their many languages. They pack tylenol, meat, razors, coffee, news, migrating from trailers to their tents. Women wait for them, backs to the corrugated siding, smoke trailing from their nostrils. Think ahead to the bonfire at night. The sky that fills with a monument of flies, embered leaves, voices lit with whiskey. It is dark when you reach the excavation and you don’t know if the road starts or ends here. If it’s abutment, chimera, hole.
This is an excerpt from Garth Martens’ debut book, Prologue for the Age of Consequence, about the tar sands and industrial projects of Alberta, and the men who work in them. Garth, a Fernwood resident, worked on this book in our very own Cornerstone Cafe for hundreds of hours. Congratulations Garth!