June 8, Day 7: Drove over 1000 km yesterday through tremendous mountains passing bear, moose, and families of wood buffalo. Watched little mountain sheep scale the ridges behind their parents. We pushed through to Liard River hot Springs where we set camp in the nightlight of the North then hiked after midnight to the hot springs. The protective boardwalk passes through wetlands. Somewhere west of us, the sun must have been trying to set because a few mountain clouds mimicked the pink of wild roses. We walked toward the rising steam passing tiny bluebells and strawberry flowers with their fruitful intentions.
Went back in the early morning, startling a moose who quickly moved on. The Liard River descends, heats then rises, bringing minerals. My eyes full with poetry I thought of the water emerging from the earth to meet the air, and exhaling to the tall tips of spruce, Getting into BC, we’d gained another hour. People in the springs said they gained a few more years from the waters.
Saskatchewan farming machinery posed along the prairie highway are huge and fantastical–like giant Transformers. Far away, sections of fields methodically burn. Little birds hopscotch across the warm pavement then rise together to chase off crows, smacking the giant birds on their heads.
Ethereal mist across Alberta grasslands makes the highway blanch to invisible, sheets of rain hundreds of kilometres away mask your approach; the disappearing self, and a grey falcon settles on signpost.
Innisfree AB: We stopped for gas atop a rise to see the lake below releasing sand into the wind in great gusts of white.
We visited with the young attendant who wore a tall turban and sported a long beard. Before it became too busy for me to take his photo and name, he shared that he was originally from Etobicoke. He explained that a number of Alberta lakes are drying up and so they blow off alkali. I asked him about being in the North. He said, yes, especially through the long quiet winter nights, this is North.
Another gas station stop found us meeting 2 women from Japan here on a visa and another who is happy to live in Fort Nelson (originally from Phillipines) and enjoys the small town community. Asuka and Tomoyo don’t want to go back and while the winter was hard, they were awed to see the northern lights 4 times. Mary asserted (like an old-time Canuk) that Pshaw! This past winter was mild! To all of them , Yes this is North…although they’d been even more north to the Liard River hot springs which was our destination that night.
loved driving through Saskatchewan–austere, stately–more later(?)
Construction detours in Edmonton conspired to delay us further but we cheered with the radio to the winning goal of the World Cup opener in Edmonton followed by news reports of Edmonton Pride. Such is media, how we can feel connected just by listening and as though we are participating in these events as we trail slowly behind pick up trucks making their way through the city street detours to get back onto highway.
June 7; Day 6: Writing on the road to Alberta. About to touch down onto the start of the Alaska-Canada highway. We have travelled 4218 km. This morning we rose in a dirt road municipal campground built around oil pipeline stations, wild rose bushes, and plenty of biting bugs. The birds sang past midnight as it was still dusky light when we drifted off.
We drove a couple hours before stopping in Grande Prairie for coffee and a bit of clean up. Maryam was just opening her Fusion Cup and we waited for her to set up. From Mississauga of Pakistani ancestry, Maryam moved to GP in 2011 and opened the cafe 11 months ago. She has found a Muslim community of over 100—comprised of people from different national origins. Her mosque in Mississauga was more culturally similar. We commiserated on the fast stress of Toronto. Her welcome friendliness led us into conversation about her northern experiences and I asked her if GP is North. “There is much much much more North than here,” she said and then described the awe of seeing the Northern Lights with her husband as they drove along the road one night, pulling over to watch the brilliant majesty of the universe. Most Grand Prairie people she’s met have never seen them and she spoke about how living in a smaller community lets her slow down to enjoy such events and even our conversation then. She has painted these words inside her cafe: “Enjoy the Journey. Life isn’t measured by how many breaths we take but by how many moments take our breath away.” Relocating has pluses and minuses. Karen mentioned one day leaving Toronto and Maryam left us a question to ponder: Of the places you’ve seen or will see, where would you relocate to? Fusion Cup
So to continue the question Where the North? Karen and I have been asking people as we travel the country if they consider “this” North. Here are a few pics with the accompanying stories and their insights about the North. While we are canoe tripping, I have scheduled these to come out to you. We had a great time in Whitehorse. We camped next to a couple from NYC who were travelling up to Alaska to give their dog good memories since he lives in an apartment. When Karen tried to say hi to the dog, the parents backed her off quickly explaining that the dog is very protective. Plus—he was having his dinner in a bowl on top of the picnic table….They were sleeping in their Mercedes SUV. Funny, we’ve met people whose stories seem so bizarre I think they really must be on the lam.
We took river training today with Up North Adventures while watching bald eagles soar, then broke camp. We loaded the canoe onto the car as a pet pig named Ernest strolled along the sidewalk. Whitehorse is great!
At Turtle Lodge, I asked a few youth Where is North and they all pointed in the same direction. Then I talked to Sage (Raptors fan with the Bulls hat) and Austin drummers and singers from the Sagkeeng First Nation who said proudly that Yes, this is North.
Karen and I stayed until noon the next day at Turtle Lodge and were honoured to witness the morning part of the ceremony of leadership and water. Elder Dave Courchene talked about the responsibilities of the original people, their survival, the importance for them to take their place as leaders to the world for us all to live in harmony with Mother Earth. He spoke: “We reject assimilation. We are a beautiful people… And we have the responsibility to heal ourselves with the unconditional love of Mother Earth.” Dave Courchene also said: “Water is a primary concern and carries in its spirit the memory of creation.”
Fred Kelly spoke about all the waters being connected and told the creation story of the different waters coming from the sky to join the grandfather stones. Grandmother Katherine Whitecloud: Speak with the spirit to make our families and our nation whole again. And then we heard from the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde who spoke of his experience in Alert Bay some months ago where the community demolished the residential school then celebrated with dancing and singing and he heard a ten year old girl speak and shout with celebratory defiance “They didn’t win!”
We needed to rejoin our journey and left with gratitude to the Turtle Lodge knowing we are part of the “2-legged tribe” responsible for reconciliation and environmental healing. As we drove into Alberta, we listened on CBC Alberta Today to author and Idle No More founder Sylvia McAdam talking about righting treaty violations and sharing knowledge with the world to arrest environmental decimation. Her book is titled Nation Interrupted.
I carry the deep feeling that all who share this land can come together to heal. A great voice is growing. Let’s all hear it now.
Time is amazing. We’ve gained hours as we cross the country and now we can set up camp well past midnight in the light of day. One of our goals is to slow the time, become outside it, let it be a different mark of days for us on our leave. Went to sleep well after 1AM last night and used our eye masks to create darkness.
We’ve not had data service for a few days so I am trying to catch up–there is soooo much to write about! I am preparing advance posts to be published every other day while we are canoeing, so as to not innundate y’all. So here I am on wifi in the Robert Service campground while Karen prepares our canoe trip gear and studies the river map. We’ll be canoeing with the Yukon River about 350km to Dawson. True Klondykes!
Meanwhile this crew is our for night fishing for arctic grayling.
We arrived at Turtle Lodge around 3pm and heard drumming and singing inside the beautiful wooden building. We were asked to wear skirts so we used our colourful sarongs and entered into community to hear elders and knowledge keepers speak about healing from the scars of Canada’s residential school system and colonialism.
There was a focus on the wisdom of women and how grandmother leadership will help to bring healing and strength. Playwright and professor Maria Campbell spoke of not seeing her siblings or parents for 12 years when she was sent to residential school. Then, she talked about porridge. How simple it is to provide warm porridge for your children. The gift of a warm breakfast smell as they wake, to give them your time and attention through the morning meal. She described herself (I’m paraphrasing) as a “good mother, wonderful grandmother and now an incredible great-grandmother!”
The teachings, leadership and water ceremonies were timed with a ceremony to acknowledge Youth completing their Makoose Ka Win and Vision Quest rites of passage to Adulthood. Karen and I drove into town to buy pizza to bring to the community feast then set camp on this sacred land and fell asleep to drumming.
I’ll post more about our time at the Turtle Lodge in another segment.
We broke camp early driving along a misty Hwy 11 in and out of rain. We expect to find coffee just outside the park but the north stretches long between towns. Stopped 150 km later at a busy gas bar/restaurant in Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation and bought breakfast sandwich made with bannock. We have breakfast and coffee to make in our car-kitchen, with us but we are finding the need to get on the road efficiently to make our timing marks.
Lake of the Woods is gorgeous and we saw a large doe meander near the A&W in Kenora. On CBC, we’d heard all about resident’s love/hate relationship with the new traffic roundabout in Kenora. Strange familiarity made us laugh as Karen took us around it twice. In Manitoba, cool rain was traded for warm open fields. We left stern northern Ontario — with its jagged rock, hulking army of pine, and giant lake — for Manitoba, scruffy and open, like a laid back cousin’s living room where inviting comfort and quiet discovery reside.
We wanted to talk to a ranger before sharing more about our encounter with the Bear. Karen was driving. A large male on his hind legs was sniffing the air and waited for an eastbound car to pass. Then got on all fours and ran at us. It hit the back driver’s side bumper. We heard the thud. All in 10 seconds from when we first saw it to when we collided. We held our breath. He somersaulted behind us then rose quickly and ran into the bush.
We were both upset wondering what we could have done differently. We said a prayer, sent spirit healing for the Bear.
The ranger we contacted explained that the Bear probably misjudged timing and thought it could get in front of us. He’ll report it to Bear Wise.
We have claw marks on the bumper, fresh raised paint but no blood or fur.
Today we are traveling to Turtle Lodge on Sagkeeng FN to attend the Nibi Water Ceremony. Just crossed into Manitoba. We have been listening to reports on the Truth and Reconciliation commission. As Canadians, we have much to reconcile.