Boreality Trip Log

Boreality — Spring (June 1- 5, 2009)
Boreality — Winter (December 15-19, 2008)
Boreality — Summer (July 26 - 31, 2009)

Fall Boreality trip (October 3 - 7, 2009)

We knew we wanted to come full circle, end with the beginning, back on the east side of Lake Winnipeg where we spent our winter trip. Because we had started off with two days of traditional teachings with Garry and Björk, we’d hoped to celebrate the closure of phase one with them. Turned out they were in Iceland doing sweat lodges and ceremonies and we wouldn’t be able to spend time with them in Hollow Water after all. Perhaps we’d see them in November when they got back. Still, our other destinations, Wallace Lake (near Bissett) and the petroforms at Bannock Point and Tie Creek, were both about beginnings.

The Wallace Lake area, including all the cottages, burned down sometime in the 80s. Since then most of the cottagers have rebuilt, and so has the forest. This whole area is an amazing example of a new-growth forest.

The petroforms at both Bannock Point and Tie Creek teach the creation story, the beginning. The Tie Creek Petroforms may have been created as early as 10,000 years ago, and are perhaps older than the surrounding forest itself. Since this was the end of phase one of Boreality, and we would soon be moving into phase two, it felt right to be connecting to, and ending with, the energy of beginnings.

The trip came together easily. We were fortunate that Tony Szumigalski and Carla Zelmer, biologists with an extensive knowledge of botany, were able to accompany us to Wallace Lake for the first part of the trip. As well, Ron Bell, keeper of the petroforms, was available to take us to the Bannock Point and Tie Creek Petroforms on the days that we’d be in the area. When first planning the trip, I didn’t know about Ron Bell, and it was only with the help of Judy and Bob (keepers of Nutimik Lodge where we stayed) that we made the connection with Ron.

Having Tony, Carla and Ron with us greatly deepened our understanding of the boreal landscape and of the significance of the petroforms. They helped us to see and experience the landscape in a way that we couldn’t have done on our own. We were also fortunate to have the first three trips to draw on, all the wisdom of the elders, teachers, kids and hosts we’d met in each community.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

After we picked everyone up in the exact same order as the three previous trips and the ritual bags of nuts for snacking were distributed, we left Winnipeg and made our first stop in Pine Falls. The conversation at lunch turned to animals. Carla told the story of a snake that had stretched out in bed with its owner, not because it was feeling all cozy towards her, but because it wanted to size her up for lunch. I brought up the monkey that drank wine and smoked cigars who went berserk and hurt someone, and Sid told us of a traumatic chicken attack. Maybe this was a good reminder that in the boreal we shouldn’t feed the squirrels or pet the bears, and that we should pay attention.

With Tony (Kate’s brother) and Carla (her sister-in-law) we were a group of seven. There was a lot of energy, anticipation and excitement. Our education started as soon as we got out of the car just across the power dam in Pine Falls/Powerview. Part of the Trans-Canada Trail started in this area, and on the map at the beginning of the trail we could see that it went all the way to our next destination in the Whiteshell. The first thing Tony and Carla taught us was how to identify poison ivy, explaining that even in winter it can have a powerful sting.

Bissett CemetaryWe drove to Bissett without stopping and arrived around 3 pm. After greeting Jeannette and settling in at the San Antonio Hotel, we drove to the cemetery. I wasn’t sure I was prepared, but it seemed appropriate to start with a visit to my mother. Unlike on our winter trip, when everything was covered in snow, her grave was easy to find. The headstone and stone slab covering the length of the grave had crumbled around the edges, and parts of her name were erased. I was surprised at first, then remembered that 30 years had gone by and that likely the harsh winters had claimed little bits and pieces. I thought that perhaps one has to give something in return for such a quiet resting place. It was the first time since the funeral that my mother had had so many visitors. We stopped briefly at the other graves, leaving no one out. I was grateful for the company of the team, and I hoped those dwelling there were okay with our visit.

A bit later I realized that even while we were at the graveyard I was no longer thinking about death. Somehow, feeling more connected to the forest and to the natural cycles and seasons had helped to shift the pain I’d been feeling about the many wonderful people in my life who were ill or had died. Also, with Tony and Carla along, everything was new and alive, even the graveyard. We looked at leaves, feathers, plants, bird bones and excrement, and put together stories from what we saw.

We went back to the hotel for our first supper but didn’t linger long because we knew it would be dark by 7 pm. There wasn’t enough time to start at Wallace Lake that evening so we decided to explore the town. We walked down to my favourite rock by the lake. In summer the diving board is attached to this rock, but now it was resting on the little beach, quiet, ready for its long winter sleep. The rock was bare, without the picnic table that usually rests on its surface. Tony and Carla examined it in a way I had never done. I have loved this rock, traced its surface with my fingers and spent endless hours sitting on it gazing across the lake. Still, I had never really “seen” its scars before, not in the way that Tony and Carla could.

GraniteThey pointed out the huge gouges that looked as if a giant being had reached out of the lake with clawed hands and used the rock for leverage in an attempt to drag the rest of its body out. Carla explained how they had been made by the glacial ice that had dragged over the surface of the rock eons ago. I looked at every scar, traced one with a finger and felt waves of tenderness towards this rock, for what she’s survived.

I was excited about sharing Bissett with the team (I lived there for a total of four years during three different times in my life) because, although I have lived in Winnipeg since 1981, this is the closest to “home” that I’ve known since coming to Canada as a child.

We left the beach and walked back up toward the motel to where the TV tower used to be. The elevation here was quite high and you could see way out past the mine and across Rice Lake. It was gorgeous up here surrounded by rocks, lake and islands, leaves turning colour. In Winnipeg we don’t have elevation unless we are in tall buildings. I love this about shield country.

We went to our rooms early. Mandy and I were asleep by nine. I was grateful that we were all here together for this last trip, and for the additional company of Tony and Carla. As usual, I felt safe here, stronger, bigger somehow because of the connection to the rocks, the lake, the land.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

We gathered at the hotel for breakfast at 8 am, grateful that Jeannette had agreed to work on her day off. Later I packed a picnic lunch and we were off to Wallace Lake. It was almost deserted, with just a few cottages and trailers still inhabited. We noticed that there was a path onto the rocks and into the forest. I can’t remember where it went but it seemed familiar, a path I’ve likely been on before. It disappeared now and then in places where soil had turned into rock covered in lichen and moss. We always eventually found our way back to the trail.

We seemed to be walking in slow motion, heads bent like ripe sunflowers towards the ground, as we learned the names of the lichens, mosses, flowers and fungi. We looked at excrement, guessed at how old it was, who it might belong to, and speculated as to why several moose had left their offerings on the same bald rock. I thought it might be because the bare rock offered a bit of a resting place from the bugs when they were bad. Who knew, perhaps the moose liked a good view now and then. Carla held up a small, almost flesh-coloured mushroom in the shape of a little saddle and told us that the common name for it is Fairy Saddle. The forest might sting if you rubbed up against poison ivy but it seemed equally whimsical in some of its other creations.

We learned to look with a magnifying glass for tiny black hairs on the trees in order to determine which ones were black spruce. Tony and Carla told us the story of soil. Now, there was a collaboration if ever there was one! In the boreal soil is like gold, there is little of it and it takes an orchestra to create it. Everything here had to work together, and it did.

It felt like we’d walked for hours, but we hadn’t, it was just that we’d been moving so carefully, examining everything we came across. Finally we reached a lake, which may have been just another part of Wallace Lake. Briefly the sun came out and we lay on the rocks, relaxed, blissful. The walk back was much quicker because we were colder and ready for lunch.

Stick GameA few people made a fire while Mandy and I put out the lunch. Carla taught us how to balance a stick (at least three feet long) on one hand, something she had learned from a colleague. We got lost in the stick game, laughing as each person tried to balance the stick while developing a style of their own. The stick went home with us, to be shared with others, who turned out to be somewhat less impressed than we were!

We learned the names of the trees and Sid made friends with the jack pine. I was pleased because it was my favourite in the boreal landscape. Carla told us how the cones on the jack pine, which look like gnarled ancient claws, open and release their seeds only when there is a forest fire. Now, after the Wallace Lake fire, there were many jack pines. I imagined there would be a lot of fear at an approaching forest fire, but I wondered, did jack pines sing when they saw a fire coming, seeing it as a long-awaited lover?

On the way back to Bissett we stopped at the airstrip, which hasn’t been in operation for a long time. This area used to be one of the best blueberry and chanterelle patches my dad and I had ever found. As we walked further down the road I was shocked to see that part of a huge Precambrian rock had been blasted apart, with great big pieces missing, taken Boreality Projectaway for what, I wondered? We climbed the rocks surrounding the pit that had been left behind, which looked like a crater, a boreal volcano. Carla handed me a leaf, which I crumpled and popped into my mouth. Although the leaf didn’t look like it, I thought it must be peppermint. Carla said that it was wintergreen. We kept climbing, as high as we could go, and looked out over miles and miles of boreal forest displaying every shade of green, some yellow and hints of orange.

We stopped at Birch Falls, a favourite spot for those who live in the area. The little picnic ground didn’t look as well tended as it used to be. Someone was camped here, but they must have gone on an outing because the only two-legged beings we met were the magpies sorting through the garbage in the fire pit. They were having a feast and ignored our offering of nuts.

Boreality ProjectFor the first time I noticed how carefully this trail down to the falls had been made, how there were several paths, all leading to different viewing spots. Each path took us to another bend in the splish and splash of the falls, then to the spot where all activity settled down into a pond before the water quietly found its way to a river. As usual, Mandy was taking pictures, Ken stored sounds, with each of us lost in this beautiful place in our own way. I remembered a picnic over 30 years ago, on a very hot day with lots of red watermelon laid out on the grey rocks, a vivid memory. Today the memorable colours were the grey of the rocks and the intense green of the moss, which was so thick and inviting that we took turns lying in a particular cushy spot. We had made our boreal bed, and we were grateful to lie in it!

The day seemed to go on forever and then ended all too soon. Around 6 pm, after supper in Bisssett, Tony, Carla and Sid got ready to head back to Winnipeg. Suddenly our group was almost half its original size. I was sad to see them go. Not only were Tony and Carla extremely knowledgeable about the boreal landscape, they were such gentle, kind people who shared my love for this landscape.

That evening Kate, Mandy and I took a walk to the edge of town and the furthest house, situated on a rock overlooking Rice Lake. The house was falling apart, deserted now, but the view remained. We had come here in the winter and had stood in the same spot looking across the lake. I wanted to show the team what it looked like without a big white blanket of snow. There were distinctions now between earth, rock and lake. Kate and Mandy remembered being here and Mandy photographed the same gnarled, knotted pine tree she’d photographed in winter. No other tree up here looked exactly like this one, which seemed to belong in a Group of Seven painting.

We walked back through town, past the “witch’s house,” which now just looked like an ordinary tool shed. Again, we got to bed early. When I closed my eyes all I could see was the forest floor with its lichens, mosses, plants, fungi, decomposing trees, boreal creature excrement and Precambrian rock all working together to continue the story of soil. I wondered if the landscape had in some way woven us into its story, as we have woven it into ours?

Monday, October 5, 2009

We left early this morning and tried to find Silver Falls along the way back. It’s close to Currie’s Landing, a waterway used before there was a road to Bissett. The road was narrow and deeply rutted. We abandoned the van; it wasn’t a boreal vehicle. After we passed a truck with two hunters in it we realized no one in our group was wearing orange, except for my hat. We also weren’t sure when hunting season started, so we turned back.

Our next stop was English Brook. This is where my brother was married almost 30 years ago. There used to be a beautiful wooden bridge over the waterfalls, but it burned with the forest one year and was never replaced. It was colder today and our leftover picnic lunch from yesterday stayed in the cooler. We needed something hot and stopped in Pine Falls for lunch at the Manitou Lodge. It was warm and welcoming.

I wasn’t exactly sure where Nutimik Lodge actually was – somewhere on Highway 307, after Seven Sisters Falls, I read in the directions I found. It turned out that Seven Sisters Falls came quite early on down the road, which made us laugh because pretty much everything came after Seven Sisters Falls, except Nutimik Lodge, that is. I wasn’t worried, certain the owners would have a big sign, like all the other lodges we passed. There were two rainbows fading in the sky. A good sign, I thought.

We soon found the Lodge, met Judy, checked in, unpacked and looked around. The day was strangely calm, nothing moved, nothing at all. Our cottage stood next to a river whose surface was as smooth as glass. Beavers swam without making a sound. This silent landscape was almost unreal.

For supper we had perogies, cabbage rolls and fresh veggies that Andris had picked. We were eager to meet Ron Bell. He arrived at 7 pm and we chatted for a bit before heading out. We loaded everyone into the van and travelled the few minutes to the Bannock Point Petroform site. I noticed that Ron was confident in the dark, even wearing sandals – he knew every inch of this site. We began by leaving tobacco on a rock, which already held many offerings – of pearls, pens, coins, but mostly tobacco. Ron showed us some of the forms and led us to a circular area, the sweat lodge in whose centre hung many colourful cloth offerings. This was the home of the old ones, he said. Still nothing moved.

Ron asked Kate to drum. Ken joined her on the jaw harp. A few flags moved just a little. Nothing else did. Ron said the old ones were dancing. Sometimes, he said, all the flags danced. He told us how the site had recently been used for a gathering of 2,000 people. The energy here was celebratory, speaking of laughter, fire, food. Although there were only five of us, I felt the energy of many. Ron had wanted to share Bannock Point with us at night because it felt different than it did during the day. He told us that over the summer he had taken 7,000 people through the site. Ron was much more than a tour guide – being the keeper of the petroforms and assisting with sweat lodges and ceremonies was Ron’s life’s work, and he gave a lot.

When it got too cold we headed back to our cottage. We sat for awhile and listened to Ron’s stories about the Sun Dance, the buffalo heads waiting to be cleaned in his yard, sweat lodges he’d been to, stories about Garry Raven. After Ron left, I went to bed, eager for the next day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

We met Ron at 10 am and I noticed that he wasn’t wearing sandals. He warned us that the trail could be really bad, that at some point this spring he’d had to swim across a creek on the way to the Tie Creek Petroforms because the little bridge had been destroyed. We piled in the van, drove just past the Bannock Point Petroforms and parked at the entrance to a gated path. He figured it would take us about two hours to get there.

The path was wide enough for ATVs and rutted with many little pools that needed to be crossed, avoided or hopped over, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it would be. When we got to the creek Ron had been talking about, we found a new, makeshift bridge and we crossed without a problem. Ron was at the front. He walked quickly, sure of himself, guiding the way. He had his drum slung on his back in a beautiful bag and carried an eagle feather fan in one hand. Every now and then he’d point out a plant and tell us about its healing properties.

Boreality ProjectEventually we reached a place with just bare rock. Moss and lichen had grown in on both sides but there was still a clear rock path about five or six feet wide. I felt kind of giddy with joy, and I joked about this being the highway to heaven. After about an hour and a half we reached a place where there was a huge ten-foot fence across our path. Ron explained that the site was fenced off to prevent people from driving over it in winter with snowmobiles or otherwise harming the site. It was still completely calm. After Ron opened the door in the fence and we were in, he told us there was good news and bad. I couldn’t imagine what the bad news might be at this point.

It turned out that the good news was that we made it to this point, but despite the fact that he had a key to the door in the fence, we had not yet been given permission to enter. To our left were two large boulders set about twenty metres apart. This was the gateway we would pass through, but only if permission was granted. Ron told us that he had to drum the rock on our immediate left and if it drummed back, we had permission to go. If not, we would turn around and walk back. He told us how he’d once taken a group of 30 people here and they had had to turn back because the rock didn’t give permission to enter. Ron drummed the stone while I held my breath. The stone drummed back. We made our offerings.

Tie Creek was a teaching, healing sacred site where the instructions for life had been given by the Creator to the Anishinabe people. Some of the forms here seemed larger, more complex than those at Bannock Point, although we also saw the same types of turtle, snake and sweat lodge petroforms we’d seen there. Ron told us stories of how everything looked before the lichen had claimed some of the rocks. When we reached the sweat lodge petroform we sat, drummed, sang, made a fire and ate a bit of lunch.

Boreality ProjectAfter lunch, Ron handed me a medicine bundle made of white and red cloth with tobacco tied in the centre. He told us to put our prayers for the Boreality project into the bundle and to choose a spot to hang it. I was awed and honoured by Ron’s thoughtfulness; there couldn’t be a more perfect place to leave our hopes and dreams for the project. We started wandering, visiting each formation. Ron told us about the little people and other stories.

Eventually we reached a lone pink rock. Ron said this was the grandmother rock, a powerful, healing rock. He said that the pink granite was nearly indestructible, and that the lichens had grown on her because her healing work was done. I put my hands on her and she still felt very much alive. Ron told us there was a similar pink rock at Bannock Point. He told us how turtles and snakes line up with rivers and lakes, how these formations line up with formations in other sites as far away as the US.

I spotted the perfect tree for our prayer flag. We circled it, explored other parts of the site and eventually, when we came back to that tree, it still felt right. Kate, Mandy, Ken and I held the bundle, each of us praying in our own way. Ken and I hung it in a tree, high up. It was beautiful. This small ritual was the perfect gateway to move from one phase of this project into the other.

Boreality ProjectThe sun came out. We were warmed, grateful that it hadn’t rained on this trip. The path on the way home was lit by the sun, from behind everyone looked like they were wearing haloes of light. We were really happy to see the van and to sit.

Around 7 pm Ron came back to sit with us around the fire in the back yard of our cottage. We spent the evening telling stories, drumming and staring into the fire. Ron is a trickster, and he teased us by challenging us to walk back to Tie Creek at night.

By 9 pm I was exhausted and went to bed. The next day I woke feeling that a shift had taken place, although I didn’t know exactly what. I felt remade, renewed or reborn (not in the Christian sense) and although I had jokingly referred to the stone path as the highway to heaven, when we arrived at the Tie Creek site I felt like I was in a kind of heaven, a state where nothing else existed – the beginning. Ron told us that the site would continue to work with us over the next few days, weeks and months, and that we should pay attention. It was a huge honour to have been brought to this site. I was very grateful to Ron not just for having taken us, but for having shared so much of himself that day.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bannock PointWe stopped at the Bannock Point Petroforms on our way home so that we could see them in the light. It was a different place during the day. We wandered the site, looking at each formation, finding the spots Ron had showed us the previous night that were now so much easier to see. I found the rock where he had once fasted for seven days and nights. Kate found and pointed out the grandmother rock. Mandy took the pictures she hadn’t been able to take in the dark. We made our offerings and said goodbye.

On the way home we stopped at the Goose Sanctuary, where there were still many geese feeding and spending time. Two eagles flew overhead, circling the sanctuary. A little further down the road we saw another ten to fifteen eagles feeding on something at the side of the road. I’d never seen that many eagles in one place before. It started to rain, but we were at the end of our journey, at the end of phase one, and everything was perfect; the fact that it was raining didn’t matter at all.

by Janine Tschuncky