A LETTER ABOUT
12 September 2007
want to tell you about my trip to
was a journey on so many levels. To
go back to somewhere that had been very special to me, to see again a place
which I knew would have changed dramatically, to meet up with people from the
past. Also to explore new things, meet new people, see new places.
was the strangest thing – I didn’t realise until I got
of all, I travelled with my friend Ann Goodwin who was the perfect travel
companion. I will be sending this
email to her as well, so I don’t want to embarrass her, but she was fun,
adventurous, easy going, witty, optimistic, interested in everything.
We enjoyed both silences and conversations.
And best of all – she wanted to be the driver!
Our trusty “Nissan Pathfinder” (with thanks to Ann’s daughter
Rachel and partner Ian) took us 4,500 kilometres on our journey from
was thinking yesterday, as I have been enjoying a kind of spaceless, timeless
recuperation at home, how amazing it is that we travel across the world in a
flash and act as if that is normal. Of
course it’s not. It’s mind
blowing. I see bits of myself fly
off into the slipstream as the plane soars through the sky. How
sensible travel was, when people went by boat and took six weeks to get to the
northern hemisphere from
glad my holiday began with a few days in
I’m glad I didn’t fly directly to
north was full of adrenaline – the excitement of getting to significant places
– milestones. The first big one
was Mile Zero of the famous
met the most amazing people on our trip north, like Ray and Mildred McKenzie.
We were looking for breakfast in Grimshaw just as the National Truckers
Meeting was sitting down to pancakes, syrup and sausages.
Anyone could buy a $7 ticket ... so we did.
And that’s how we met Ray and Mildred – close on 90, married for 70
years, and telling us about their rodeo days as if they were last Sunday. He
was still a bronco champion and she, queen of the barrel race.
Further north, we saw a black bear (actually, I
only saw its bottom as it scampered away). Can
you spot the bear?
stopped for petrol or coffee at places with romantic names like Peace River,
Indian Cabins, Paddle Prairie,
met lovely people, like Verna Chalifoux, an Inuit, born in
And Amanda and Farrah Key – two young girls running
an isolated roadhouse, at Indian Cabins, miles from anywhere. Amanda
had come north because holding down eight part-time jobs in the city was just
eventually crossed the 60th Parallel and were in the
we crossed the Mighty MacKenzie River at
Eventually, we got to
have always wanted to return and I felt such a sense of achievement and
completion. This was a deeply emotional
for me. It was the last place where
I was a young woman with a future which seemed clear and safe and certain. Then
during the next few years it all fell apart and I never really knew why. I
didn’t have insight. When people
talk about insight it is as they see
something – in words or pictures.
But for me, insight came as a
physical sensation. Not anything I
saw or realised. Something
felt. A knowing.
this went on unconsciously. Day
after day, I delighted in being there and seeing the present, really being in
it. And at the same time, relating
to my past.
still a frontier town. Always a frisson of danger or excitement.
Something I can’t quite put my finger on.
stayed in a log cabin in the “
near The Wildcat Café (opened in 1937 by Willy Wiley and Smoky Stout).
Near the old float plane base.
within a history of three waves of fortune - the fur trade, the gold rush, and
most recently, the diamond discoveries.
of the things I most wanted to see again was the Northern Lights.
Ann and I went out several times just before midnight and drove beyond
the city limits to find some dark place for better viewing.
We were really lucky because the “Aurora Season” had only just
opened. Twice we saw such a spectacle! Phosphorescent
light surges along veins in the sky and the effect is mesmerizing. They
are not at all like they look in photographs.
You’d need to take a film because the point is that they move, they dance
across the sky. (Poets have also
debated whether or not you can hear them). Also, when we saw them, they were a
soft grey-green – not the virulent green in the following photos. The
long exposure of the camera has picked up colours which the human eye doesn’t
register. I haven’t learnt how to
modify the photos yet, but you may get the feel
of the aurora:
other thing I wanted to do was meet up with more friends from the past.
But for various reasons, it just didn’t happen.
It was the strangest thing. So
strange, in fact, that I felt it must have been meant (but then I always look
I met new friends – Maggie McDonald and Percy Kinney.
Madly in love and soon to leave
had taken old photos of my early
We went on several hikes.
We walked round the
I was last there, there was only one place to get a good meal. The Hoist Room.
Now, there are dozens. We ate local food like buffalo burgers, arctic
char, pancakes and maple syrup. Yum!
saw gorgeous sunsets:
had several immense and clear night skies when I saw the constellations I knew
as a child in the northern hemisphere - The Plough, The Little Dipper and
We visited a beautifully constructed heritage museum and saw some fine art collections in the Legislative Assembly. My favourites were paintings by Bern Will Brown (here is his “Born to Lose”) and a quilt made by 21 women of the Deline community.
drove along challenging roads (sometimes at delightfully challenging speeds).
The upkeep of roads is really difficult because of the damage done by ice
each year. When I lived in
visited the Dogrib Indian
loved the plants - the fireweed and clover, the sedge, the bulrushes, and the
tamarack, aspen, and poplar trees. And
the birds – especially the huge ravens. And we saw sand cranes and squirrels
were so many weird and wonderful moments in our time there. An open
day at the local rifle range when I scored a cool 5 out of 5 with a .22 rifle!
(I did less well with a .33). We
were actually offered crack in a downtown burger bar.
last night in
best of all, on my way back to the cabin, I saw a wolf. We stared at each other for a very long time, then it
turned on its tail in slow motion and left.
What more could I have had? A
full moon and a wolf. But later, Ann and I went out for our last aurora hunt and
saw the best aurora yet!
Ann and Eileen and I went out to celebrate our return,
and the next day Ann left for
was the most wonderful of journeys. And
it’s also wonderful to be back home again, here in Raumati, with Doug and the
cats, and friends, and the garden in all its Spring glory, and a life I love so
much. I have been taking it very
easy, looking through my journal and poems and photos of the trip and writing
this to you.
There is an intriguing opening to a book which I am
reading at the moment. It goes like
is no mystery to happiness. Unhappy
men are all alike. Some wound they
suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of
love put out by scorn – or worse, indifference – cleaves to them, or they to
it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterday.
happy man does not look back. He
doesn’t look ahead. He lives in
the present. But there’s the rub.
The present can never deliver one thing: meaning.
To find happiness, a man need only live in the moment; he need only live for
the moment. But if he wants meaning – the meaning of his dreams, his secrets,
his life – a man must reinhabit his past, however dark, and live for the
future, however uncertain.
nature dangles happiness and meaning before us all, insisting that we choose
between them.” (The
Interpretation Of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld).
this journey to