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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

The perfect storm

Mom was in her nineties when she decided she needed to see Maligne Canyon in Alberta “one last time”.  She had been making those “one last time” requests for at least a decade, but even so, it seemed like a good plan to go adventuring again.

Somehow, I managed to get her on a plane to Calgary, not an easy feat since boarding meant climbing a steep set of stairs into the plane.  But as we began our descent, she looked at me with her eyes sparking and announced, “I can still fly," and I was flooded with optimism.

Which quickly faded.

Arriving at our cabin in Jasper, we were soaked in the smell of early season bug spray, which both of us are allergic to.  We managed our famous “on the bridge” picture, but decided after a night of misery that leaving early and heading towards Calvary would be best.

At the ranger station entry, my frustration grew as the person ahead of me engaged in a long conversation.  Arriving at the gate, I asked what was going on.  The ranger explained that a rock slide had occurred outside of Banff, but the road was being cleared.  She explained I could turn around or go forward in hopes the road would be cleared. In my frustration, and with a less than healthy mom in the car, I chose to proceed, as our flight in Calgary waited for us the next day.

My anticipation of the beautiful drive through the Canadian Rockies was ruined by a relentless rain that began to fall.  Nearing the half way point, we encountered a newly released rock and mudslide just finishing its journey across the road.  Knowing that more might soon follow and with Calgary in my sights, I did what no one should ever do…. I drove through the fresh slide praying no more was on the way.

I had to get my mom back to Calgary and to safety.

Once arriving in Canmore, finding lodging was hard.  Only one hotel outside of town had a room.  We quickly found out why.  A storm cell was trapped in the valley of these mountains and had been swirling relentlessly for hours, dropping so much water that the swollen waters of the Bow River and its tributaries had not only engulfed the city of Canmore,but also had destroyed the Transcanadian Highway, the only east/west route across Canada.

We were trapped.  And mom’s medication had run out.

A frantic run to a pharmacy solved the first problem.  Later, when we asked about a good place to eat, the hotel clerk told us that if we left the hotel, we would likely not be able to get back.  The waters were continuing to rise.  The road back to Jasper was closed by rock and mudslides.  A worry filled night awaited.

That next morning, the clerk announced that a back route out to Vancouver was momentarily open.  I went back to the hotel room and as calmly as I could, suggested we hit the road.  Canmore could likely be shut in for weeks.  We had few options.  Mom cheerfully packed her bags, and we left in the pouring rain.

Mom’s macular degeneration limited her vision of the disaster.   Mine was clear.

We were the only car on the road.  Driving next to the swollen river, I could see the debris of homes and belongings being carried downstream along with enormous trees.  I knew that the hillsides on either side of the road could tumble at any moment in the continuing deluge.  But I held my panic inside, and I kept the spirit in the car light because mom did not need that worry.

There is not enough space to tell the tale in its entirety.  Suffice it to say we made it to a Canadian border town where our family awaited and mom, given the preferential front row seat, chatted on and on about her now “greatest adventure” escaping the flood.

I did not share her enthusiasm.

Seated in the back of the van, I looked out the window and began to weep.  My soul was exhausted by the constant prayer, the spontaneous problem solving, the concern for her health and safety.  I honestly wondered at times if we would be trapped somewhere or buried in a slide.

I thought about that journey today as I accompanied a woman who has been helping traumatized citizens of a small border town who had escaped cartel violence.  None of these townspeople were prepared for the flood of violence that overtook their town.  None of them were prepared for the roar of the gun battles or the kidnappings in their streets.  None of them had been thinking of ripping up their lives and fleeing their homes.

And yet they did.

As we went from place to place helping her deliver supplies to their temporary housing, I couldn’t not help but think about my “privilege”. When disaster struck my little world, I had the luxury of credit cards and cell phones, and a car. I was in a foreign country whose language mimicked my own. I knew the security of my home awaited.

I had every resource at my fingertips.

As I looked into the eyes of these families, I couldn’t not help but think of what this disaster had done to their lives.  No belongings.  No transportation. No money for emergencies.  And now displaced in a land where, except for the helpers, they were soaked in a foreign landscape.

I know how desperate I was, even with all of my resources, to keep my mom safe.  For these families, without resources, their only path to safety was through the mountains… children, elders, infirm, new mothers…families who woke up one day to a shattered world and had only one goal.


When it was my mom whose life was in danger, I would have moved mountains to keep her safe.  I would have forsaken my own life to protect her.  I would have risked anything and everything for even the tiniest glimmer of hope that escape from disaster was a possibility.

And somehow, I imagine you would do the same.

Just like the person fleeing the bombs in Palestine or Ukraine.

Just like the person fleeing on a flimsy boat across a dangerous expanse of sea.

Just like the person illegally crossing the desert to escape cartel violence.

You would do the same.

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What a powerful way to put things in perspective. Thank you, Char, for yet another great Epilogue!

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