On the final day of 2022, I drove from Lethbridge in southern Alberta to
High Level in northern Alberta, a long fourteen- to fifteen-hour journey. As a
return drive, I had started early, reached Edmonton just after noon, and
continued northward through the day. In that time, I concluded my listening to
an intriguing audiobook, ‘The Splendid and the Vile’ by Erik Larson, about
Winston Churchill written recently and with access to documentation from
previously unavailable sources; the book compiles memoirs and correspondences
into a more intimate view of Winston’s world – Britain and its people,
colleagues, family, friends, brokered loyalties, royalty – all at a time of
war, World War II.
Close to 9:00 p.m., my drive brought me to Manning, Alberta, where I fueled
my Corolla, got snacks and began the last leg of my journey home. Northward,
cresting the hill leading out of Manning, clouds in the night sky reflected
bright, red-orange light. As I drove toward the Manning airport (ahead, on my
left), flames reached high into the sky.
A building was burning, not at the airport, but at a farm on land
immediately preceding the airport. The building was one I had considered
photographing through the years. But it had been dressed down. While the
overall shape and architectural style held interest, the building’s windows
were boarded up, and the structure had been painted a dark chocolate
brown. It was more a dark brown brick than architectural interest worthy
of a photograph.
I pulled into a service road connecting the farm and the airport. I
photographed this blaze from my vehicle. Looking at this image now, the fire’s
light reflects on people’s faces, the fire holds the gaze of people who have
come to witness this spectacle, and people chat and are at ease with each other.
It was New Year’s Eve, a night to say goodbye to 2022, a night to say goodbye
to this old farm building.
A week later, driving south, the building was absent. Nothing remained. The
area where the building had stood was flat, cleared of debris and now offered a
clear, unimpeded view from the farm home out to the service road and highway.
Winter likely had been the safest time to burn this farm building, and burning
the structure may have been the most efficient way to remove it.
Listened to: Erik Larson’s ‘The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill,
Family, and Defiance During the Blitz.’
Quotes to Inspire (1) ‘I walk, I look, I see, I stop, I photograph (Leon
Levinstein).’ (2) ‘Photography must be integrated with the story (James Wong