Muskeg Fire

A stop on the highway in northwestern Ontario.

The highway was the kind of light where it’s starting to get dark but your eyes haven’t quite realized it yet. My sister and I were driving northwest beside Wabigoon Lake on Highway 17, about 200 kilometres left to the Manitoba border. The forest beside the highway was a blur of dark trees and the dim blue of twilight snow.

Then we saw a glow to the south.

All throughout the summer, loggers harvest the forests of Canada, from the headlands of New Brunswick to the muskeg of Ontario to the mountain passes of British Columbia. Brush that’s too thin to have value is left in piles to be burned in the winter.

As soon as we pulled to the side of the highway, I knew that’s what we were seeing. For hundreds of metres on the dark blue snow, smouldering fires were burning the remnants of the past season. Purple-tinted smoke drifted across the open expanse; glimmering embers flared orange in the wind. The air was cold, but grew warmer as we stepped closer to the soft smell of smoke.

We were only a couple hundred metres away, but the sound of the highway felt utterly distant.

We didn’t spend long. The hazard lights had run down our battery, so we spent more time flagging down a jump for the car than we had among the fires. Nevertheless, we were back on the road as the sky became the dark indigo of early night.

So this isn’t an adventure as much as it is a moment, just a brief stop on Highway 17 in northwestern Ontario. A good story isn’t always a distant horizon or a long-planned trip—sometimes it’s as simple as firelight on twilight snow.

Published: November 13, 2017

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Jonathon ReedExplorer


Adventure-based photographer and videographer. Sunriser.