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ALL ABOUT CANOES
Sunday August 15, 1999
From the glowing teepee, thanks
Geoffrey Peake writes:
I'm exhausted. Tonight as I write my final journal, I can barely keep my eyes open. My legs ache, and my face is windburned after our long trip to the bay today. But the thrill of seeing polar bears in the wild far outweighs any discomfort or weariness I feel. In fact, what I am feeling now, the quiet contentment at the end of a long day, is the hallmark of a good trip.
I'm writing tonight's dispatch from inside a teepee in the town of Peawanuck. Now, before you paint a rustic picture of spruce poles and canvas skin in your mind, bear in mind this teepee is a little different. It is a fully framed and furnished, complete with walls, shingles, a front door, two beds and a desk, and--most importantly--an electrical outlet.
Hudson Bay Polar Bear Perk Adventures, the company that runs guided trips out to the bay, has built a half-dozen of these structures high on the bank of the Winisk. Although the teepee is far more luxurious than any of our tents, there is only one amenity here that is of interest to us: the electrical outlet. We now have an unbridled supply of electrons to power all our hi-tech needs, and thus can enjoy a sense of abundance and luxury in using these items that has not been possible since we left Pickle Lake.
I am now relieved of perhaps the most tedious and frustrating responsibilities on this trip--the daily charging of the battery. No more need I worry about the capricious and unpredictable nature of sunlight. Like a beggar revelling in new-found wealth, I can now recklessly run both computer and phone with abandon, consuming power with no worries of sudden failure.
We have used two hours of phone time already today, sending a backlog of nearly 30 photographs that we couldn't send before which you will see in the form of QTVR's.
On arrival in town yesterday, we employed the standard tactic we use in finding someone in a northern town -- we simply walked down the main street. In a town like Peawanuck (population: 350) you can bet that everyone knows everyone else. In fact there's a good chance they're probably related. In this case, we were looking for Sam Hunter, the guide who was going to take us out to the bay. (if you look in the comments section of the site you'll see a message from him).
The first person we met was Maurice Mack. We asked him where Sam was.
"He's not here"
We all looked at each other in puzzlement. Sam had said he would be in town to guide us.
"Do you know where he is?" Michael asked
"Yeah. He's up at the Sutton River with some clients."
Sutton River is an excellent fishing river about 100 km. to the east.
"When will he be back?"
"I think maybe Sunday or Monday"
For a second, our hope for taking that trip to the bay vanished into thin air. Everything became clear once we learned that Maurice was a partner with Sam in the guiding business, and that he would be taking us out to the bay the next day. Apparently we had found the right person. He generously offered us the use of their group campsite, and we carried our packs and canoes for the last time up the bank and into camp.
One of the fascinating aspects of northern travel (or any travel for that matter) is the interesting people you meet. In our campsite we met Jeremy, a young artist in his early 20's who had come to Peawanuck from Vancouver, searching for a quiet place to meditate. Jeremy, aside from being an artist, is also a Buddhist. His quest in life is to find 'power spots' as an inspiration for his work. He believes that the muskeg bogs of the Bay area are one such source of the energy vortex that is particularly powerful, and so he has come to Peawanuck to discover for himself the creative powers of the muskeg.
We asked him why he was camping in town instead of staying in the bush. Jeremy said that he had tried that, but problems with wildlife (a young polar bear had wandered through his camp) had convinced him to limit his meditation sessions to daily excursions.
This morning we had another visitor to camp. Louis Bird, A Cree elder, caught sight of our canoes and came over to have a chat. Louis is a fascinating character--a living example of the great changes that have swept over his people in the last 40 years. Never without a smile on his face, Louis was born on the land, up the coast towards Fort Severn, in 1934. He recalls the days when the Cree lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving from winter camps in the bush to the summer camps on the Bay. There were few permanent settlements. The construction of the radar base at the mouth of the Winisk in the late 50's changed all of that. He was particularly interested in our powerbooks and satphone. Louis laughed when we told him of how we could send our stories every day so that others could hear about how our trip was going.
"We used to have something like that too, you know"
We looked at each other in disbelief. How was this possible?
Louis described to us the Conjuring House, a Cree practice shrouded in mystery. There were people, said Louis, who had the ability to communicate with others from a great distance away.
This ritual, called the Shaking Tent, was performed by certain skilled individuals who had developed the power over many years. We would call this person a Shaman, although Louis said the Conjuror's role was greater than that. The Conjuror was able to summon, through the Shaking Tent ceremony, the voices of people many miles away, and with the psychic's gift of insight. He described the ceremony as a powerful medicine, and often the abilities of such people were recognized at only a few years of age, often when the child would have a recurring series of bad dreams. The child would then receive an extensive apprenticeship to develop the latent skills.
Louis laughed then. "Now, I guess, everyone just uses the internet." He said that he himself now had a powerbook, only with a Cree syllabic keyboard, and was writing down the oral histories of his people that he had recorded on tape. He wants to have it written down before it is all forgotten. "The young kids these days" he says "aren't interested in the old ways."
Maurice had enlisted the help of his son, Fletcher, and Toby Hunter, Sam's brother, to accompany us on our trip to the bay. We headed down in two motorized canoes, and aided by the swift current and 30 h.p. motor, we whisked down the 30 km to the bay in about an hour. The river divides into a labyrinth of gravel bars and channels that Maurice carefully navigated, ever mindful of the maze of rocks that lay just inches below us at times. Eventually, we found the side channel that marked the start of our overland route to the viewing area.
Maurice drew out the two battered Browning .303 rifles that would offer us an insurance policy against any hostile bears. Handing one to
Fletcher, we headed off in single file.
Well, to make a long story short, we saw our polar bears. In fact, we were within 300 meters of one lone male who, until he caught our scent, was intently coming our way. The rifles were not needed to persuade him to keep his distance. Standing there on that barren plain on the shores of Hudson Bay, with four polar bears fully in view, I had to remind myself that I was still in Ontario.
And for me, that marked the end of the trip. As Chief Guide of the HACC, my final act on this trip was a ceremonial dip in the bay. Both Tom and I stripped down to shorts and took a quick dip in the ocean that proved to be much warmer than we expected.
I thought of the incredible adventures we had experienced in the last two weeks, from our reception in Webequie, the many rapids we paddled, the dozens of Eagles and Ospreys, the delicious fish chowders, the hours spent writing late at night in the tent, all these are now just memories of another great trip.
Before I sign off for the last time, there a few people I wish to thank. First would have to be Bernie, Lynn and Jen at Canoe Frontier, who did so much to ensure that this trip got off the ground. The hospitality they extended to us was generous to the extreme. Also, Maurice and Margaret Mack, and Gloria and Sam Hunter in Peawanuck, who looked after us on the bay, and gave us the gift of seeing Wabusk, the polar bear, in his natural setting. The task of sending all these pictures and stories on a daily basis is, as you know if you've read any of my previous journals, a difficult one.
The folks at Canoe, especially Doug Bell and Greg Oliver, deserve high praise for sorting through the morass of fragmented files, partial files, unreadable files...well, you get the picture. Also, they were our sole link to those readers who offered questions and comments on the site. Doug would bundle up a daily sampling and send it off to us. Without their support, this trip would not have happened.
To Woods Canada and Via Rail, I thank them for their logistical support in getting us up here, and supplying us with some excellent gear (like the bug jackets) which were appreciated greatly. And Apple Computer and Infosat, for supplying us with the obvious essentials for an online trip.
Finally I would like to thank the real reason we do this: you, the reader. The response we had to this trip has been overwhelming. I want to print the portion of a comment from the site Doug emailed us today that best captures this spirit:
Tom, Geoff, Michael, David, Peter and Peter;
Every morning since you left, I have sat at my computer, watching your journey and wishing more than anything I could be with all of you. You have brought laughter and beauty to my mornings, and I am going to miss it when you get home. Although, probably not as much as the bunch of you will. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful experience with those of us who are unable to make such a trip.
Brightest Blesings to you all
Well, Colleen, the pleasure has been all ours. If we have been able to recreate for you the joys and trials of our trip, with all the beauties and dangers, then we have accomplished our goal. For you, Colleen, and for all the rest of you who came along with us down the Winisk, it has been our pleasure to have you by our side, even if only in a virtual sense.
Those who have enjoyed the pleasures of wilderness travel know the incredible sense of rejuventation it creates. Here's hoping that all of you found some of that along the way, just as we did, and that you can join us on the next trip, wherever that may be.
"We were not pioneers ourselves, but we journeyed over old trails that were new to us, and with hearts open. Who shall distinguish?"
Dr. J Munroe Thorington
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