Closing Time

It’s been a while since I’ve visited my blog, but there is a reason.

In a couple of days, we’ll be pointing our Toyota straight north for a 15 hour drive to  Waskaganish (a.k.a. Fort Rupert), a Cree community at the tip of James Bay, where Andy has a contract to teach Northern Building Maintenance.

In the flurry of planning, supply shopping, packing, wrapping and winterizing our home, memories and images hovered ever so momentarily, and then dissipated as I reached for another mug to wrap, but a new one would appear as I reached for the next item. I found the box of Christmas cookie ornaments decorated at one of our get-togethers in our last community. Bits and bytes of memory-bank movies also played while driving into town for that one more item we missed on our list.  “Remember that time when …”

We enjoyed the intense, and often unlikely friendships, that only happen in isolated communities, the invitations to hunts, feasts and lunches at camp in the only place in Canada where Cree and Inuit coexist, cooking bannock on a fire at the edge of the Hudson Bay, visiting the magical mystical Manitok islands.

We loved the land, the barrenness, the openness, the frigid westerly winds, even the precarious whiteouts. Just out of town, we could stand on windswept knoll to see nothing but monochrome rock, sea and sky and turning around and around until they all become one.

Also the astonishing richness the land brings: frost-kissed cranberries falling into our open hands, dark blueberries, steaming, smoky tea made from Labrador tea leaves.

Now the evenings are cooler and I have taken to watching the Canada geese fly in from the fields to the nearby river to shelter for the night.  I’d wrap a blanket around myself and watch as they form letters in the sky, and can almost hear them splash-crashing into the water. It is the sound of the north I hear.

Some nights when it is cool and the sky is clear, I look up at the stars piercing absolute blackness and look for the wavering ribbons of the northern lights, but we are too far south.

Again tonight, I stand outside listening to the geese come in. The patio door slides open.

“What are you doing?” my husband asks.

It’s getting colder and I hug my blanket tighter.

“Nothing,” I say.  The door is still open.  Andy is waiting for me to come in.

“What are you thinking about, out there?” he asks.

“Just everything, and absolutely nothing,” I shrug and smile, turning around to fold my blanket on our last evening here.

But absolutely everything,” I say to myself.

Fluffy White Feathers

We found a sturdy black spruce that would become our Christmas tree.

Most trees by the bay cluster in tight stands for protection against the winds, but this one stood alone. We brushed off the hard crusted snow.

As we loaded it into the back of the truck, we heard three gunshots. I stiffened. But then I saw a flock of ptarmigan lift, scatter and dissolve into the low hanging grey clouds.

Moments later, we passed a man standing by his skidoo, his gun resting against his leg, turned towards the ground. A woman stood by him plucking at a white bird.

It was just 2:00 in the afternoon, and the sun was already sinking into the horizon.

“Look it’s started to snow!” I said. Large fluffy flakes bounced off the windshield.

It me took a moment to realize what I thought was snow, were tiny soft white ptarmigan feathers.

First Snow at Camp

IMG_00000631We went to the camp at Mile 9 for a night. After setting up, we walked a couple of kilometres up the road. My face stung from the cold. We turned around as the sun melted orange into the horizon, with statuesque pines silhouetting in the foreground. Behind us a waxing moon rose and guided us as it darkened.

Cookstove, with new kettle (early x-mass gift)

Cookstove, with new kettle (early x-mass gift)

A fire had already been lit, so when we returned, it was cosy-warm inside the camp.

We wonder who replenishes the woodpile (just behind the woodpile is a little outhouse with a seat cut out of styrofoam).

The next morning, we woke up to snow. It’s always nice to get away from the bright lights of the city!

Indian Tacos

Indian Taco (courtesy of google)

Indian Taco (courtesy of google)

Food is sold via a community Facebook group in both communities we’ve lived in.

Whether for fundraising or to supplement income, lunch plates of fresh game, pasta, pork chops and lasagna can be picked up or delivered for $10 – $20 a plate. Indian tacos appear to be a favourite.

Today Andy picked me up at school.

“I bought lunch,” he said. He pointed at two styrofoam containers on the seat of his car. A student’s wife had made a bunch of Indian Tacos.

I sat down to a puffy round of fry-bread, covered with cooked hamburger meat, lettuce and tomatoes.

It was quite good, but I must admit that I prefer my beloved fry-bread hot, fresh, and plain with a bit of jam.

Today's dessert plate available for pickup

Today’s dessert plate available for pickup

Moose Nostrils on the Loop

We decided to ‘do the loop’ this morning. Walking, jogging or running the 5.5 kilometre loop just out of town is part of the lingo here.

After an eclectic potluck thanksgiving dinner the previous evening featuring Salvadorian, Korean, vegan, and traditionally Canadian fare followed by games and music making, a good walk was in order.

Two of Andy’s colleagues walked with us. We chatted and occasionally stooped to pick berries. In the distance we saw stationary ATV and a family standing on an exposed bit of rock.

“Maybe they are looking for berries. We should find out what kind,” I said, always eager to learn more about edible foods.

An elder bent over a pile of what looked like entrails.

“It’s moose nostril,” she explained. Her son had taken a large moose the day before, and she was preparing it. I’ve heard that the nose of a moose is a much coveted delicacy.

She grabbed a large blow torch and began to singe the nostril. Whether she was burning off the hair or cooking it, I have no idea. But for now I will stick to berries.

Trilingual Funeral in the North

The town shuts down when there is a funeral. Flags are at half mast, and schools and businesses are closed. A family member of one of Andy’s students passed away on route by medi-vac to Montreal. He was only in his 40s, and died of a heart attack.

The funeral was held at the Anglican church – a functional structure, with skylights to let in sunlight (or just plain light). The altar was carved in patterns of the Christian cross, an igloo and a teepee.

Family members spoke at the casket. It was pretty much like any Protestant or Jewish funeral. The exception was that the priest’s (minister’s?) sermon was translated into Cree and Inuktitut as he spoke. I recognized the melodies of traditional hymns sung in Cree.

A family member sang a traditional homecoming song accompanied by his drum. A favourite song of the deceased was also sung, accompanied by a guitar.

It was raining.

People headed to the burial grounds and would be going to a feast afterwards.

We headed home. I poured myself a glass of wine and Andy opened a can of beer.

We had our own little wake.

Gone Hunting!

The Mystical Manitounuk Islands

The Mystical Manitounuk Islands

One of Andy’s students asked if we’d like to go his camp on the mystical Manitounuk Islands.

Up here there are two goose hunts. One in the Spring when the geese head North, and one in Fall, when they return South.

We’ll take a boat to the islands. I must be careful; it is said that you cannot point at them, as it will bring on fierce winds.

It’s a haven for seals and birds and apparently, one lone musk ox.

Can’t wait!

If you don’t hear from us by Monday, call the coast guard!