Humbled by the land – Nicole Cummings

A series of posts from our 2009 trip. These have not been published on the website previously.

Originally published at http://www.cbc.ca/pei/features/chinookproject/posts/humbled_by_the_land.html

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 | Posted by Nicole Cummings

Travel on open sled

 

Words cannot really describe a day like today. The people we have met here have really made us feel welcome, and today was the epitome of this “welcomeness”. We were picked up this morning by a member of the RCMP named Demetri, accompanied by his sister and conservation officers, Dustin, Gerry, and Mathieu. And by picked up, I mean we looked out our host’s window onto the frozen land to find 5 snowmobiles, two with very large sleds attached. As we waddled our way down to the waiting snowmobiles I realized that we all slightly resembled the good year blimp—because of the many, many layers of clothing. We had been warned repeatedly to dress as warmly as possible.

 

We climbed onto the sleds, with 5 sitting on an open sled, and 2 sitting in a semi covered sled. I, of course, chose the open sled. “Go big or go home,” I told myself. I could hardly see through my fogged up sunglasses and scarf-covered face, so I was instantly jolted when our driver, Gerry, pushed on the gas. Within seconds, I had snow whipping the few exposed parts of my face, but I did not care. Once I cleared the snow from my sunglasses, I realized Gerry was carrying a very large rifle on his back. The rifle was for polar bear encounters. This was all part of the experience.

 

Nicole, examining sled dogs.

After 20 minutes on the sled (and a very sore rear end), we arrived at Mathieu’s house. The term “out on the land” is an understatement. His house is located along the Coppermine River, without a single person or house in sight. He snowmobiles to work in town everyday, and in the summer, when the river melts, he boats. His house has little running water, and a compost toilet, but it was warm and cozy and it felt like a great place to call home. Outside, he kept his dog sled team. Eleven dogs in total. Our services were needed for vaccinating, and deworming. I guess I do not know what I was expecting: while a few of the alpha male dogs required Mathieu’s assistance, as a group of outside dogs, they were surprisingly well tempered. The whole process took less than 15 minutes.

After our pit stop we jumped back into our sleds and headed to a magnificent place called “Bloody Falls.” It was frozen over, but in the summer, the falls are large rapids in the river. The place is named for a massacre that occurred during Samuel Hearne’s exploration of 1771 when Hearne’s Chipewyan guides attacked and killed a group of Copper Inuit they found in the place. Even frozen, the falls were breathtaking. I tried to take as many pictures as possible in order to somehow preserve this memory. I did not want the moment to end, because even though I took pictures, I knew I was not likely to ever return to that same place. I would never listen to and hear utter and complete silence for miles and miles ever again. I did not want to forget the smell, feel, and pure emotions of a land that seemed so untouched. It was humbling.

 

Eventually, we reluctantly headed back to town, and spent the remainder of the evening reflecting on our day. The people we had as guides were perfect, and the land we traveled was awe-inspiring. I can see why the people born and raised here love it so much. Time to sign off because it will be back to our jobs tomorrow.

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