Merrily we Roll Along

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!

Happy Christmas, Frohliche Weinachten, Blessings at Solstice, and a very belated Happy Hanukkah.

Tomorrow we will be leaving for Montreal. We’ll be on the road before sunrise to maximize on daylight hours. Our first stop is Ottawa, where we will spend a couple of days to shop, see an English movie or two, and visit with Andy’s daughter who just received her Master’s designation.

It does look like Christmas here. The village is lit up with festive lights. I’m glad I put aside a small box of ornaments aside when we moved here. We found our tree in the forest, while trying out our new snowshoes. After we cut it down, we realized how sparse and lopsided it was, but didn’t have the heart to take down another one. After it was decorated, it didn’t look quite so sad.

It is cold enough for the lake to have frozen over. At night, the lake is dotted with lights, like fireflies as the skidoos careen back and forth. We’ve been dressing in many layers of clothes. Both of us have big mitts sewn out of moose hide by Cree women of the community, which fit over regular mitts.

The new year brings new adventures as Andy’s next teaching job will be in a fly-in community of Whapmagoostui Hudson’s Bay, at the mouth of the Great Whale River. This will be an interesting experience. My fear of flying is only exceeded by my fear of bears, and there are polar bears up where we are going.

We send our warmest greetings and hope the New Year brings good health and happiness to our friends and loved ones.


The Long and Winding Road to Chibougamau … with Phil.

We picked up Phil on the way to Chibougamau to attend an evening of music and dining organized by a group of teachers. It was cold, so very, very cold. He stood at the intersection of 167, at the cut-off to Mistissini, waving a flashlight.

We stopped and I rolled down the window. He is freezing, his facial hair crusted with ice whiskers.

Here is the conversation:

Me:  Where you going?

Phil:  To town. To Chibougamau.

Me:  Come on, get in.

Phil:  I’m Phil. Who are you?

We introduce ourselves.

Phil:  It’s cold. Thank you for stopping.

Me:  No problem.

Phil:  I’m Phil. What are our names?

We reintroduce ourselves.

Phil:  What do you teach?

Andy:  I teach cabinet making.

Phil:  What grade do you teach (to me).

Me:  I am not a teacher. I am here with Andy.

Phil:  So what grade do you teach?

(Repeat previous conversation)

Phil:  I’m Phil and what are your names?

This conversation went on for the rest of our car ride.

Phil:  Can I open my pop?

Me:  Sure, go ahead.

(sound of pop can opening, only it smelled not like pop, but like beer)

A few more rounds of introductions ensued and questions of what we teach.

Phil:  I’ve gotta piss.

Me:  Andy, stop the car, Phil has to pee.

We stop the car.

Andy (to me):  It’s going to be a long, long, ride into Chibougamau.

Phil (tapping my shoulder). Do you smoke?

Me:  No, I don’t and there’s no smoking in the car. Andy has Asthma.

Phil:  Oh.  You don’t smoke?

He asked us repeatedly if we smoked, as he obviously wanted cigarettes, and repeatedly, we told him no.

We surmised that Phil lives alone at camp, where he says he likes to be alone and drink.  His plans were to go into Chibougamau and to buy beer and hitch back to his camp to drink it.

We stopped in front of the Bistro at Chibougamau as he requested.

Before getting out of the car, he shook our hands again and introduced himself and asked our names.

We then watched Phil stagger across the street to the Depanneur, presumably to buy cigarettes and beer.

Winter is Coming!

It is cold already and it is only the beginning of December – 27 (-37 factoring in the wind-chill).

It takes time to dress for this weather, but there is a system:  Bottom layers – Leggings, jeans, windproof pants, inner socks and outer socks. Top layers – thick sweater over thin sweater, microfiber hooded parka, hat, inner mitts and outer mitts. When we mentioned our impending move to Whapmagoostui at yesterday’s feast, a couple of people shivered and said “It’s cold up there!”

I googled a climatic map of Canada and zoomed to the mouth of the Great Whale River on Hudson’s Bay. A thin sliver of land that surrounded this area is classified as “arctic”.

Now I’m seriously worried.  If the Cree from Mistissini say it’s cold up there, it must be really cold!

Inuksuk – Little Men of Stone


Photographed at Pacific Rim Park

Photographed at Pacific Rim Park

Like many suburban gardeners, I’ve always been fascinated by inuksuks, the traditional Inuit statues, stones jutting out at the sides vaguely representing a human form.

Last night, we mentioned that we would be moving up to Whapmagoostui and the neighbouring Inuit community of Kuujjuarapik. After discussing how cold it is up there, someone at the table mentioned that we’d be seeing inuksuks. I’ve always been curious what they signified.

From what we gathered from last night’s conversation, there are two kinds. The traditional ones, with flailing arms are actually human representations used to herd caribou for hunters. The caribou mistake the stone towers for humans and follow the path designed for them.

Other stone piles are markers. Bending down and looking through an opening, the next structure can be seen. This is clearly a direction marker.

When I have a garden again one day, I will build an Inuksuk, but this time I will understand its significance.

Bear Head on a Platter – Teeth and Bones

We were invited to a feast at the Traditional Cree Fishing & Chisheinuu Chiskutamaachewin Project, also known as Murray’s Lodge, named after its director. This is where elders of the community pass down cultural knowledge and skills to members of the community. The feast was a celebration of the upcoming festive season.

Skidoos and trucks were parked alongside the road, the lodges were brightly lit and warmed by wood stoves on that cold evening. In the dining lodge, people were squeezed together on benches at tables covered with bright plastic tablecloths.

One of Andy’s students, Robie, recognized us and waved us over and indicated a space across from him. The man beside me introduced himself as Matthew. Two towering plates heaped with several sorts of meat were placed in front of us. The dark meat on my plate appeared to be propped up by an orangey-yellow object. I tapped it with my finger. It definitely a beaver’s tooth.

Matthew showed me a piece of meat he was chewing.

“Guess what this is?” he asked.

“Looks like beaver tail,” I tell him. He appeared quite impressed by my answer and was happy to converse with me for the rest of the meal.

Soon foot-long moose ribs were passed around.

“Looks like at the Flintstones,” Andy whispered to me.

How long could I hold out before confessing my inclination towards vegetarianism?

“I don’t eat much meat,” I tell Robie. “Would you like my beaver?”

“Sure!” he said, and grabbed a good chunk.

Suddenly a large grinning bear head on a platter appeared in front of me. At first I thought it was a boar head, as depicted at medieval feasts, but there wasn’t an apple in its mouth.

“You can’t take a piece,” Robie told me. “A man, like your husband, has to cut some for you.”

“It’s OK sweetie,” I tell Andy. “You have some.”

I grab my third Indian donut and another blueberry fritter. “Bannock, I think originated in Scotland,” I asked Robie, my mouth stuffed with bread.

“Oh, no,” he said. “We’ve always had bannock, from times way, way before.”

Robie questioned some elders sitting at our table. The conversation was in Cree, so he translated for us and explained that traditional bannock was made from dried fish meal and fish eggs.

The food stopped coming and someone appeared with a large roll of tinfoil, so the heaped plates of leftovers could be taken home. I grab another Indian donut.

I began to gather plates and bones, but was told to leave them.

“The bones will be taken outside,” Robie explained.

“For the dogs?”

“No, for respect” he said. “If we don’t do this, there will be no more hunt.

The bear’s head will go up in a tree.”



Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick

I’ve been walking with dogs for a while now, usually with two or three … up to seven at a time, as I posted last February in “Andi of the Seven Dogs.”

Now I carry a big stick. I no longer greet dogs and offer my company on walks. I even walk past puppies, looking up at me pleadingly, holding up a frozen paw. I no longer let them snuggle in my lap for a few moments to warm their tiny feet. There is the danger that they will follow me to unfamiliar territory.

A few days ago when I was out walking, a couple of dogs I recognized bounded over to meet me. I greeted them and was about to continue on my way when an unfamiliar, large chocolate lab mix approached. He barked aggressively, head lowered, fur ruffled. Two more dogs joined the group. Suddenly, I was at the centre of a pack of dogs, barking and nipping at my mitts. Was this some instinctual, primitive hunting collective?

A man came out of a nearby house and walked down his driveway towards me.

“I am so sorry,” he said as he grabbed the lab.

“No harm done,” I said as I continued my way. Since that day, I’ve noticed this particular dog chained up by the house.

I am not afraid of dogs. My last dog was a 110 pound malamute, and before that, a collie-shepherd mix.

Then it happened again. Yesterday, I took a shortcut across a vacant lot. Two dogs, I recognized from my summer walks approached me; a Siberian husky with pale blue eyes and a husky-shepherd and maybe coyote mix.

They followed me, nipping at my mitts, playfully I thought at first. I continued along, but had the sensation of being stalked. When I turned, they were at my heels, single file, heads low, hackles up. They nipped at my mitts from behind. I waved my arms and spoke to them firmly and assertively to go away, but they just stood still and glared at me. I continued to walk and they continued to stalk. Then I felt teeth gripping my calf. Fortunately, I was wearing leggings under my jeans, and wind pants, otherwise the dog would have drawn blood. I admonished them again and they slinked off. This was clearly predatory behaviour. When a wolf takes down a moose or deer, they will go for the leg tendons first, to lame the animal before final kill. I am more angry than alarmed.

There are children playing in snow banks. Maybe this is why dogs are generally not acknowledged. Perhaps I was encouraging them by speaking to them kindly?

I stopped by the shop and tell Andy, who had warned me in the past about the village dogs. He found a cane for me to walk with.

Was it the sudden unseasonable cold? The muskrat fur on my mitts?

From now on, I walk softly and carry a big stick.

You Married a White Woman!

We live in a community where I am a visual minority, let alone blonde, of which I am told, there is only one other. I never thought much about what happened at yesterday’s feast, until someone posted a video on my facebook page.

Last night we met a man, who introduced himself as Harry.

Here’s the conversation:

Harry:  You’re not from here (he’s looking at Andy). You’re not native, are you?

Andy:  Yes I am, Anishinabe.

Harry:  From where?

Andy:  The Key Reserve in Saskatchewan. (Andy gives a short synopsis)

Harry:  And you married a white woman?

Andy:  Yes, this is Andi, my wife. Why don’t you ask her where she’s from (I have found that, older men especially do not address women directly)

Me:  Where do you think I’m from? (I lower my glasses so he can see me better)

Harry: I don’t know. You just look white. He flicked his hand at me and wandered off.

We chuckled about this on the way home. But now I wonder if I missed something.