Oh Shoot! A Goose?

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Goose Break Raffle

Goose Break Raffle

Any day now, the geese will return, writing letters in the sky.

The bulletin board at the entry of Meechum has a posting for gun cleaning at $50.00. There is also an announcement for a raffle for bullets, tents, down sleeping bags, toilet paper, etc.

Inside the grocery store, signs advertise goose break specials. Cases upon cases of bullets are stacked high, alongside boxes of kraft dinner.

Across the street, at the local hardware store, I line up behind people purchasing gas tanks, coolers and batteries.

Goose break fever is in the air, as families prepare to leave for camps. Consider it similar to the pre-Christmas/Chanukah season of family celebrations, but instead of a turkey, picture hundreds of geese… Only the geese aren’t purchased in the freezer section of a grocery store, wrapped in plastic. These geese are shot, plucked and then singed over an open fire.

Andy asked a student what they did with all their geese. “We have lots of big freezers,” he replied.

Goose break is not only family time, but it is also a chance for a young boy to shoot his first goose.

When the first goose appears, is difficult to predict, but when it does, it will be hard keeping anyone in town. For about two weeks, families will be at their camps, some accessible only by skidoo, or later in the summer, by canoe.

One of Andy’s students invited us to visit his camp, which is more accessible than most, but we are headed back to Montreal for two weeks. I would have loved to have gone, with fresh baking in tow, in hope of a slice of fresh goose … maybe next year.

Below is a link for some pictures of Goose Break.



Timmies or Busted Gut!

After much anticipation and excitement, Tim Hortons opened in Mistissini last week. A giant blow-up of the signature brown cup hovered over the new franchise, beckoning me. I stopped in to have a look as I passed by on my daily walk. Half the population of the town was standing in a snaking line. I planned to come back once the fervour died down.

A few days later, driving past Tim Hortons with Andy, I had a sudden craving for a rich café mocha, with whipped cream – a treat I reserved for myself on Fridays when I worked downtown Montreal.

This time, the other half of Mistissini’s population was standing in line. I was desperate for my café mocha. My need had escalated, and now I required a double chocolate donut (with glaze) to accompany it.

Lining up is torture for me. After a few minutes my legs wobble, my back aches and my eyes cross…

Brainstorm! I recalled a setup for fancy coffees at a nearby gas station.

We headed across the street and prepared a cappuccino for each of us. On the way to the cash, Andy grabbed a cinnamon bun from a shelf. I normally check due dates on any item I purchase along with the ingredient list, and the caloric values, but it seemed fresh enough.

Andy was violently ill the next day. A stomach flu? We did a quick inventory of everything we consumed the last day and the only difference was the cinnamon bun.

I pulled the wrapper out of the garbage and noticed that cream cheese was on the list of ingredients. What could possibly be in cream cheese so that it has an everlasting shelf life? Isn’t cream cheese supposed to be refrigerated?

Maybe the pastry was the culprit, maybe not, but next time I will stand strong at Timmies!

Bootleggers up North and Indian Comfort Food

It is raining today and a very strong wind is blowing over the lake. In this wind, the house feels like a living and breathing entity, grabbing a lungful of air, expanding its girth, hovering for a few moments, and then rapidly deflating, as if the air is being sucked out of it. When this happens, the doors and windows rattle loudly in their frames. I am certain they’d be thrown open and banged shut, if they weren’t securely closed off for the winter.

This weather means it’s a perfect day for Indian comfort food … butter chicken, matar paneer, fresh naan and basmati rice. I made paneer early in the morning, stirring lemon juice into boiled milk, watching the milk separate into soft curds, which I then I pressed into a small disk and let sit all day to drain. Later the paneer would be cut into cubes to add to the fragrant green pea curry.

I also made naan, preparing the silky, stretchy dough in my bread machine. Everything was perfect. But where was the beer? Can’t have Indian food without a cold, crisp beer.

We called a colleague who was in Chibougamau for the day and asked if he could kindly bring us four Rolling Rock from Maxi. The doorbell rang. I opened the door and looked both ways and we make a quick clandestine exchange of cash and beer.

Does this make us bootleggers?

Spring has Sprung and Pop Bottles are Riz

Spring has never been my favourite season. I love the pristine stillness of winter, the frenzy of fall festivities in preparation for the winter and advent seasons. Summer I tolerate, but Spring … I could do without.

The raw, sharp fragrance of animal excrement, the moldy, musty leaf smell, the brown, slurppy mud …

I love snow!

Is there a Canadian kid that doesn’t love winter? I remember living in northern Germany, the climate akin to temperate England, waking one morning to a white world.  My mother and grandmother scurried about finding suitable clothes and bundling me up.

“Schnell, Schnell!” my grandmother told my mother. “Dress her quickly so she can play in the snow before it melts!”

My first winter in Canada, snow was everywhere, mountains of it. Snow meant tobogganing, skiing, skating, building snow forts in drifts, amassing snowballs for battle, my father hitching up the neighbourhood kids’ sleds to his old station wagon and careening down the streets with us, and those snuggly snow days from school.

Here and now:  It is light until after dinner, the snow is no longer holding, a thin crust had formed over my habitual paths from afternoon melts, and today I broke through the icy top layer and sank in up to my hips several times.

After pulling my bootless foot out of a hole, and then using all my strength to dislodge my boot, I decided to continue my walk on the road.

Along the road, the snow melt has revealed an accumulation of pop bottles, beer cans, as well as chip and other snack food bags. There was not a stretch of more than a foot without an item of litter.

I remember years ago, returning from a summer vacation in the Carolinas, passing by New York City. Garbage and litter were piled high along the beltway. New York has a population of millions. How could a small town produce this much garbage?

Bring back winter!  LET IT SNOW!!!!

Hunting Camp on Rte. 167

Hunting Campt

Hunting Camp

Yesterday, I drove north on Rte.167 (after the intersection to Mistissini, it turns into a dirt road) and caught a glimpse of what is most likely a hunting camp. Usually the camps are far from town and often only accessible by canoe or skidoo. The area has been pretty much logged out. I kept driving, but the scene wouldn’t leave me, so I turned back around to photograph it. There was smoke coming out of the chimney. The whole time, I only saw one other car on the road.

You’re Closer to Home than you Think!

Two of the Town's Dogs

Two of the Town’s Dogs

The purpose of today’s walk:  To photograph yellow dogs for a painting I am working on in collaboration with friend’s very talented daughter. I have absolutely no artistic ability, so I am providing her with digital and verbal details.

For the first time out walking, I actually met several groups of teachers. The weather is now warmer, and teachers work during the week when I am usually out walking, so this was a pleasant diversion, as we exchanged pleasantries.

As is typical when I meet people, I try to plot them on the earth’s grid. The teachers at Mistissini are not just from Quebec, but from the Maritimes and Ontario as well.

Two of the women I met were from Montreal, so we were able to narrow it down.

“I’m from Pointe Claire, actually,” I tell them.

The Blue House on Golf

The Blue House on Golf

“Oh, yes!” one said. “Near Cedar Park?”

”Yup,” I nodded, “Golf Avenue.”

“Which house?” she asked.

“The blue one.”

“Oh,” she cried, “I put an offer in on it! But I hadn’t sold my house in Beaconsfield yet, so I had to buy a house in Baie d’Urfe.”

“But that house had such a nice feel to it ….” She added.

Out of the blue …

The Girl in the Café meets an Astronomer

Pierre Bureau's art in a Café

Pierre Bureau’s art in a Café

The roads are dry and I am confident enough to drive to Chibougamau today with only two snow tires (long story).

My plan was to have lunch at Café Brulot and do some shopping. Andy had pointed out the Café on a previous trip into town.

“It’s your kind of food, you know, three chickpeas on a bed of bean sprouts and birdseed bread,” he said.

Just what I needed! I parked my little Subaru between two giant trucks and walked across the street to the Café. I studied the menu selections on the chalkboard and requested a panini, with swiss cheese and spinach.

I also ordered a cappuccino as I was waiting, and found a cosy table by the window and logged into their free WIFI.

The waitress brought my coffee. I had forgotten how creamy frothed milk tastes, and when swirled, the dark bitterness released from underneath. I savoured every spoonsful…

“I’ll have another!” I said, standing up, clattering the chair behind me, pointing at my empty cup.

Looking up from my playbook and cappuccino, I notice a bearded gentleman gazing at the pictures on the walls. I shifted a couple of times, to allow him a better view.

“Vous êtes l’artist?” I ask him, indicating the pictures.

The next thing I knew, we were sitting at the table, side by side, he with this tablet and I with my playbook, exchanging and bookmarking websites.

He showed me his creations in pastel, which I thought were quite wonderful. I have absolutely no artistic ability; however, the pictures were alive, swirling with colour and dimension.

Pierre told me, after we finally introduced ourselves, that he is a retired fine arts teacher, but his wife still works and is a principal at the local school.

An amateur astronomer, he set up an observation dome in the local library, which he insists Andy and I must check out. He gave me his number to call him first so he could have everything ready.

Of course, that started a new wave of excitement, when I told him about my fascination with the northern lights and we continued to swipe and tap our devices. Here is an excellent site that maps aurora borealis activity


Reluctantly my new friend had to leave. He had a funeral to attend.  But before he parted, he gave me his website coordinates:


On my way out, I stopped by the counter to pay. I heard a familiar sound … English! Two woman, and a girl of about five, were having coffee.

I stopped by the table and told them how nice it is to hear English.

“Oh, yes, there’s some of us here,” one of the women quipped

Pat and Anne invited me to sit and I sank into the offered chair immediately. The little girl, Mila, was Pat’s granddaughter who will be attending a local English school. This surprized me, as I thought there were only French schools in the area. We chatted for a while about children, grandchildren, distances, and about something they called “Cree time” to describe an easier pace of life than what I was accustomed to in Montreal.

But sadly, I had to go …

On my way to the car, I met Pierre who had just come back from the funeral home. We chat a while longer and exchange business cards and e-mail addresses.

What an absolutely lovely afternoon. I’ve had more conversation today than I have had in months!