Where does the road start? One might easily assume that the road starts at the town square where building addresses have only one digit. Or perhaps the road starts at Main Street and branches either to the East or West. Maybe the road starts as a new fork off of a rural route and crosses through what used to be a wheat field.
Those might be safe answers at the beginning of the twentieth century. But four hundred years ago it would be better to say that the road started on the shore of a sheltered bay where a ship’s dinghy first touched land.
Four or five decades into the twentieth century, we could have imagined a new scenario. The road might now begin where a bush plane descended from the blue sky and touched frozen wilderness for the first time. Later, while the air was still cold enough to freeze your spit before it hit the ground, a helicopter might drill down through crisp clouds to gently drop a small earthmover on that wilderness. A bearded man with gloves too thick would sit in the stuffy cab of the earthmover and scrape deceptively timeless snow off frozen muskeg… He would push through scrawny tamarack and spruce and call it a road. With few vehicles except those used for resource exploration, these roads were destined to fade as soon as they were made. The roads grow into a grid, a meter at a time. The frozen muskeg thaws when the red summer sun stays in the sky all night. And the sogginess swallows the road a tire track at a time.
Season after season, the roads rise and sink and push straight through stunted boreal forest. Another truck loaded with thumpers and seismic sensors follows the muskeg road cautiously, pounding the ground and listening for an echo; an earthy heartbeat. It pounds, listens and moves on. It has little else to do but wait for a signature lub-dub, the echo of a gas or oil pocket. Each returning sound carries information about depth, size, matrix and volume and slowly a map of the underground landscape emerges and is laid over the grid of roads and cuts through the forest. Once we wandered this landscape on its surface. Now we wander its depths.
So the road that began with a landing strip soon becomes a mathematical survey grid. The road and its offspring don’t go anywhere except to crisscross the land with straight lines where straight lines had never existed before. And these will be left as unnaturally straight scars in some future stunted forest unless the seismic echoes sing sweetly that treasure hides below. Then the road will have a new purpose and a reason for a harder, thicker skin. And the road will buzz with new mosquitoes and groan under man-made caterpillars….
So every road begins with a hunger and moves toward an imaginary feast… gas or gold… oil or diamonds and if none are found, the roads will whither and die.
Before the bush planes buzzed the sky above, humans trekked these territories on foot. They moved much more slowly than the caribou and wolves. In the wilderness, time is marked by heavy footsteps in deep snow and the physical limits of the human animal are quite apparent. Time was bigger, once, and so was space. But muscular machines will soon arrive to scrape a speedy line onto the shrinking landscape...
Excerpt from a text by David Hlynsky, March 2016