Saturday August 2nd, 2014
Paradise. I’m in absolute paradise. I sit on an old sagging dock, dipping into a crystal clear fresh water lake. The only sounds around me are the steady hum of a motley crew of bugs buzzing through the bush; the occasional splash of water as a hungry loon dives deep in search of breakfast; and the soft whisper of the wind as she blows her secrets through the trees. I watch water beetles beside me as their long legs skitter through the water like oars, relishing the shade of the dock. The water gently laps against the dilapidated boards that hold me above the cool water.
Wisps of my hair tickle my face as the slight breeze blows them across my cheek. I have not beheld this beautiful scene in all her summer glory for nearly 12 years. For many winters we’ve braved the unforgiving cold and made the trek over countless frozen lakes to reach this destination so beloved to us: the Cabin. But we have not graced her soil in summer in 12 long years.
In winter we’d arrive after hours on snowmobile, breaking trails through deep, fresh untouched powder. We’d switch off the machines and remove our helmets hastily, letting our eyes greedily drink in the serene scene before us Our ears still hum with the roar of the sleds, now only an echo- we relish the silence out here. The sight of the undisturbed cabin makes every second of the cold journey more than worth it. We’d begin the ritual of unpacking, firing up the wood stove and shovelling clear the 7 select places on the lake for fishing holes and water: one person digs, one drills, the other sets the lines. It was like a perfectly choreographed dance and we all knew our parts, setting to them silently, not needing any direction. We’d spend our days out here gathering wood, tending the fishing holes, building igloos, reading, napping and feasting. The winter days are excruciatingly short, so we make the best of them while out here, trying to get outside as much as possible. We’d sled over to the adjacent lake, put in a few holes and jig the lines hoping to catch dinner. There is something so magical, so liberating about pulling your drinking water from the ice cold lake and catching your dinner from the same dark depths. To know the water is that clean and safe to drink unfiltered, leaves you in awe of the bounty of the land and water around you. It’s the best water I’ve ever tasted in my life, I promise you.
Summers out here are much the same on a basic level- but are an entirely different world at the same time. We don’t have to brave the cold for hours, breaking trail through the fresh snow. Instead we anxiously board a 3 seater floatplane for a brief but startlingly beautiful flight out. We fly over hundreds of lakes, the red sun glazing each of them as we pass over their waters with a vibrant red – they look as if on fire. It takes my breath away to see the land surrounding my home for the last 22 years– to see how truly beautiful and pristine she is. I barely say a word the whole flight out because I cannot ask my eyes to tear away from such intoxicating sites, and I cannot ask my tongue to attempt to put into words the beauty I’m gazing enraptured at. After the pilot touches us gently down on the lake and we unload, we watch the him effortlessly lift the floats into the air as he takes off, leaving us completely alone out here. With no way to get home now, the feeling of isolation and solitude is invigorating. There are a few other cabins on the lake, but this time we had the whole lake to ourselves-most people only venture out in winter. While we were only about 45km from Yellowknife, there was nothing but land and water between us. There are no other people, no buildings, no cell service- nothing but complete wilderness. The intense silence as you sit there holding your breath, drinking it in, is a reminder of how truly isolated and alone you are out here.
Our cabin is on a large, perfectly round island. Through a route I often trek in winter, I made my way from our drop off point towards the cabin through the bush, seeing what the snow has kept concealed from me for over 12 years at last. My eyes cannot drink it in fast enough. How strange to see a place I’d come to be so familiar with covered in a protective blanket of snow, suddenly naked before me. How strange to see the billowy tufts of moss, the mazes of lichen on rocks, where before I saw only ice crystals sparkling.How strange to see trees without their parka of snow draped over their branches. And how strange not to see a billow of smoke steadily wisping out of the chimney from the cabin.
I rushed around the island absorbing it all, a permanent grin plastered on my face. I felt like an 8 year old in Disneyworld. That night we unpacked, got settled, explored a little and made a quick and easy dinner. Exhausted, we all reached for our books and hit the hay by 11, drifting off in our bunks with dreams of what tomorrow would bring. I slept like the dead. I never sleep well, so this was an especially pleasant surprise. I woke suddenly around 9:30am to the intoxicating smell of coffee. It had me salivating instantly. I grabbed my glasses, threw on some clothes and bee lined for the door- I simply couldn’t wait to get out there and start the day. I opened the door to see my dad and step mom on the dock, coffee mugs in hand. They began softly singing happy birthday to me. I had completely forgotten in all my excitement that it was my birthday! It served only to make my morning all the more sweet. Dad brought me a steaming mug of freshly percolated coffee. The only time I ever drink coffee is at the cabin, making it all the more a treat. I grabbed my journal, and with my coffee in the other hand, plopped myself down on the sunken twisted dock. The lake was glass as I sat alone writing about paradise, sipping on hot liquid candy.
I spent the day in the cool lake repairing the dock with my dad, and later fishing in the canoe with Travis. We ate fresh trout fish tacos for supper, followed by a surprise cake the parents had snuck out for me. We finished the night with a 4 hour game of Rummoli – which by birthday luck’s chance, I won. It was the best birthday I’ve ever had, one I will remember forever. There was something truly special about spending the day with dad, measuring, cutting, hammering- turning a very old, badly warped and inoperable dock into something sturdy and solid. Dad said we should we proud, and we were. Some people may prefer to spend their birthdays eating expensive and lavish food, drinking excessively and partying- I prefer to be surrounded by family and nature. Building something of worth and use, catching my own dinner and laughing deep into the night with family is beyond rewarding and fulfilling. I am so blessed.
Sunday August 3rd, 2014
We took the canoe out again today. The ever present haze from the surrounding forest fires was especially thick. The air was dead calm so the smoke hung low and heavy in the air. We paddled across the glass lake around the island, casting our lines out, letting the heavy lures sink deep to seduce the trout from their cold depths. We caught a perfect five pounder and kept it for dinner. Not needing to paddle, we let the pull of our casts and reels trail us zig zagging through the lake, with no wind to oppose us. Eventually we came to a small shallow bay. Docking, we took to shore of a small island in the middle of the bay. The water is so low this year. I could tell that half the island I was standing on used to be submerged beneath the lake. I cast out into the midst of the lily pads where I saw a few small pike swimming. After catching and releasing three, we took to the lake again. Around another bend, we pulled in to shore to take a peek at a mostly abandoned cabin. It was tiny, with a pair of caribou antlers atop the outside door, welcoming hunters and travellers alike to take respite within it’s walls if need be. I stayed in the canoe while Travis went to inspect. I threw my line in, suspecting a good spot for pike. Moments after my first cast my instincts proved right- I pulled in a pike and another on the next cast. The desperate flee of the fish pulling on my line had dragged me away from the shore, so I had to paddle back to pick Travis up. We paddled into the middle of the long lake, with our island on our left. In front of us was a white wall of smoke, obscuring our view of the lake and the land ahead. It cast an eerie feeling all about us, paddling into the unseen. The silence was pervasive, broken only by our paddles cutting the water. It followed us around the lake and into the hazy void of smoke. The idea of speaking in such silence seemed blasphemous. But the ravens did not agree. A murder of them sailed in through the white wall like black winged apparitions. Their shrieking cries ruptured the silence with painful finality. Their caws screamed back and forth between each other as they perched on scraggly treetops for what seemed like an eternity. It was haunting, unearthly.
We drifted on past the cacophony, their echoes following us. I heard a small splashahead of us, and excitedly thought it must be a fish breaking the surface to feed on the skittering beetles. But just there, ahead in the gloom, slightly shrouded in the haze, the glossy black head of a loon broke through the surface, followed immediately it’s mate. I couldn’t resist- I whistled my best mimic loon call to them. They craned their agile necks towards me and to my delight, called back. I called to them again and they responded together, the three of us creating a chorus to carry across the lake. I stopped and let the striking pair carry on their song without me. It was one of those moments, those moments you know you’ll remember forever, the kind that stir your soul. With the glassy lake shrouded in smoke, a pair of loons serenading me as I bare witness, feeling like an intruder (albeit a very lucky one) to this pristine scene, we paddled on.
Monday August 4th, 2014
Day 4 at the cabin. I awoke around 9, toiled in bed for a while before getting up, getting dressed and grabbing my book, and headed for my new favourite spot- the dock. In the early morning sun, trying desperately to penetrate through the thick haze of smoke, I finished the last pages of Rohinton Mistry’s ‘A Fine Balance’. It was a powerful read, an insight into the corrupt life in India in the 1970’s. It was a heart-breaking novel filled with tragedy, yet so many of those heartwarming characters trudged on, while still others could endure no more. I love reading novels set in foreign lands that I’m so ignorant about. I feel like it gives me a small glimpse into the land, the people, the culture and the customs. And as always, it produces a yearning in me to visit these places and experience it for myself.
After sipping on my coffee and eating my bagel, we hopped in the canoe and trolled for a while, the sun breaking through the smoke at last, its heat finally palpable. I decided to take off my life jacket and shirt and go completely topless sitting in the front of the canoe, baring my breasts to the kisses of the sun, skin that seldom feels her warm touch. It felt wonderful and liberating to paddle along into the sun like that. It was definitely my first bare breasted canoe ride, but wont be my last. More and more I want to be topless- our society is so silly with the stigma around naked bodies. We all have the same parts in different shapes and sizes and colours- it’s just skin and bones, curves and crevices, but we make such a big deal about hiding it all, and an even bigger deal when something that’s supposed to be hidden is bared for all to see. But ever since Shambhala last year, when I went topless each day at the river amidst an endless flow of strangers and a few friends, I’ve felt the urge to do it every chance I get. It simply feels right. Perhaps that’s what brought it on out here at the cabin – not just the heat of the sun, but that feeling of going back to basics, of being removed entirely from society and all their silly qualms.
We explored a great deal of the lake that day, venturing into new bays, discovering an old abondoned beaver house, and a crumbling hawk nest perched in the cliffs, it’s owner circling above us. The winds picked up and we had quite the ride back to the cabin after those few hours of exploring. We fished on and off the whole time, only catching one fish, but it got away just before we got it to the surface. We docked back home and then went gathering dead wood for the winter stores. It was sweaty, dirty frustrating work. We all ended up filthy and with an abundance of scratches and cuts. But we were rewarded with a wonderfully refreshing bath in the beautiful cool lake. I washed my hair and body and face, feeling deliciously refreshed and clean. Our scheduled pick up was in 3 hours. We were all quietly saddened by this impending end to our trip. Atfer 4 days and nights, no one was ready to go back home and leave this paradise
Tuesday August 5th, 2014
What a lovely surprise! We were supposed to come home from the cabin today, but the smoke became so thick that there was no visibility, and a huge storm rolled in on top of it. We made contact with our pilot via phone by clambering up to the highest point on the island to get service, and he told us we would have to spend the night and he would try tomorrow when it cleared up. How happy we were! Travis and I took the canoe out after the great news, and went fishing as we now needed to catch something for our unexpected dinner. The lake was calm and eerie, almost glass. The smoke was so thick we couldn’t see what lay very far ahead or around us. We fished for 2 hours with little luck- just one small trout, which we kept for dinner. It was as if the fish sensed the storm and wild, strange weather above and took to their own hiding places. We turned into a bay and 3 loons began their choral serenade. At first we could only hear them, not see them, through the heavy gloom. It was beautiful and haunting. Then the thunder started to rumble and the lake calmed even more. It was beginning to feel rather ominous with the limited visibility, the loons and the thunder, so we headed back to the cabin. We had a delicious dinner of trout seasoned and bbq’d- skin on, potatoes and corn. It was such a wonderful and surprising extra day at the cabin, we all truly savoured each moment.
Wednesday August 6th, 2014
Today is the day we say goodbye… we were all a little heavy hearted today as we awoke to start our last day in paradise. Through the night it rained (finally the rain gods have smiled up on us!). The skies were grey, but alas with clouds and not smoke! It was as clear as we’d seen it our whole time there. The rain did the land good, it was beyond parched. The moss no longer cracked and crumbled beneath our feet, but cushioned our steps as we trod across it. We went about our day, with those heavy hearts, packing our things, looking with longing eyes at a scene we would likely not see for nearly another year or more. But we all knew there was no way we would go another 12 years before returning in summer. Now that we found a pilot with affordable prices, we would definitely be making it an annual trip.
It was five enchanting days in a smokey summer that all of us will always treasure and remember. Sometimes we just really need to disconnect from life. We need to remove ourselves from civilization and get back to basics.
Coming out here is bliss, absolute bliss- a euphoric escape form modern civilization. From work. From house. From people. From responsibility. From cellphones and the internet, television and cars. It’s an escape from the banal reality our lives are back home, an escape to something simpler, something basic. It feels like paradise. Absolute paradise.