A Real Live Trading Post

August 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Robertson’s Trading Post, that is.

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Treebeard’s Trail

August 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Province, this is the place where ancient aspen shed their bark before they die like old robes that interfere with their return to earth. Hung with bearded lichen, these trees support life until their own ends with a windfall; then, their decomposition feeds the forest’s renewal.

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A Welcoming

August 7, 2013 § 2 Comments

They arrive in Stanley Mission at the time of the Gathering, and cross the Churchill River system to the shore where the white church gleams. As they crest the hill from the docks, a meadow opens before them and the community does too.

A covered stage is prominent on the hill and spectator benches form a loose arc, following the curve of the boreal forest. Wooden walkways lead into the shade of the bush; there, an outdoor kitchen hums with activity as a lineup forms for lunch. Beyond, the graveyard is vibrant with silk flowers and coloured garland and the church, blinding in the sun, silently surveys the river bend as it has done for 153 years.

The first person they meet is the Chief; she deftly fillets fish and cracks jokes with a group of men in preparation for the evening meal. A little further into the trees, moose meat smokes over a low fire. A row of canvas tents edge the meadow; each shelters a woman of immense skill. The first shapes moose bone into tools for scraping hide; the next sews moccasins with exquisite beadwork; the third winds wet sheets of birch bark into berry baskets. These hands are brown and lined and full of knowledge passed through the matriarchal line.

Lunch is moose meat and moose stew and fried fish and bannock and conversation and laughter with the people of Stanley Mission. Cree fills the women’s ears with its melody. A square dancing competition begins; the caller holds a cigarette throughout, his right boot tapping the beat, his grin as wide as the sky, his calls unintelligible except to the dancers who twirl and step and misstep and laugh at it all.

In and around the church children play unknown games, back and forth between sunshine and stained glass splashes. The women watch and listen and laugh with this wonderful community, feeling the generous welcome they have been offered. They have only gratitude to offer in return.

The sun moves to the west; they say farewell.

This is the end of their northern road. They turn back but keep the laughter in their hearts for the way home.

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Into The Forest

August 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Far enough away to gain seclusion, yet within reach of those whose genuine interest prompts them to make the trip, Beaver Lodge extends a welcome to you if your heart is right.” — Grey Owl

Province, here is an adventure story.

When the moon is high and full, three women follow roads North, further than they’ve been before. They aim for the forest and the deep night sky. On the shores of Waskesiu, they prepare for a long hike. Astronaut food, a tent, three sleeping bags, coffee, hobo knives, cups, and spare socks; into the packs with these. Attach a bear bell for good fortune. Who’s got the deet?

Through mosquito hordes and every green imaginable, the journey to Grey Owl‘s cabin begins.

The sunlit landscape is a changeling: Here, great distances of wooly moss spread beneath the trees, offering spaciousness to the shimmering birch. There, a giant poplar stands landmark. Clamber up root-bound riverbanks, through fields of fern, over felled trunks, swampy muck sucking at feet. Then the green lake, a fecund skim of thick algae blotting out life from all the pale trees surrounding. Suddenly the forest bears fire scars; black spires of char jut through lush brush. Other trees die of old age, fading slowly to the forest floor in invisible, tangible stages. All the while Kingsmere Lake beckons, and at last they strip and plunge into its cold clarity before pushing on.

They reach Northend in five hours; 17 kilometres down, only 3 more to the goal. In late afternoon light, they round the last bend and the cabin emerges from the landscape.

It is lonely. Serene. Full of presence, though whether the legend’s or the land’s cannot be determined. The women try to imagine how to live here, in this isolation and beauty. They stand at the trio of sunken graves on the hillside. They stare across Ajawaan Lake and then they depart for their camp.

Astronaut food tastes divine, it turns out. They sleep.

In the morning, clouds mottle the sky and shortly after the hike begins, the rain does too. The slow fat drops escalate into torrents and the three are drenched in seconds. Keeps the mosquitoes away. But then: hail pummels, lightning lashes and they scan for falling trees as thunder sharpens their eardrums. Too close. The path is a river, they stumble and slip and try to move quickly to escape the weather. It takes an hour and a half to find the other edge of the storm.

At last they reach the trailhead, where strangely, they had begun only the day before. The forest has impressed itself. Hundreds of mosquito bites and lasting exhilaration prove their hearts are right.

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