Boreality Trip Log

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

Boreality Summer trip (July 26 - 31, 2009)

About ten days before our summer trip to Bloodvein First Nation, I spoke with William Young at the Bloodvein River Lodge to finalize the details about getting there. He mentioned that the weather conditions on Lake Winnipeg were pretty rough, and that if these conditions continued, neither he, nor Captain Dave who runs the ferry, would be able to take us across the narrows. The water levels were much higher than usual. That, combined with the incessant rain and wind, made crossing treacherous. Not only might there be a problem getting there, getting back might be just as challenging.

This was the first time William had mentioned that crossing the lake wasn’t a sure thing. If you take a look at the map of Manitoba, just past Pine Dock, you’ll see where the ferry crosses. It looks like a tiny jaunt, but according to William and Captain Dave, it can be impossible at times. They don’t take any chances. I think William had assumed, like all of us, that this weather pattern would end and summer would finally emerge. I told William I’d have to consult with the rest of the group. It felt like our summer trip was on shaky ground, or more precisely, on stormy water! Should we abandon the trip? If we did, where would we go on such short notice? Flying wasn’t an option for a couple of reasons, so we would either cross by boat, or not at all.

That afternoon, emails flew back and forth, and we decided it would be best to abandon this trip because of its inherent uncertainty. We couldn’t just sit there day after day waiting for the ferry, or William, to get us there and back. But, after a somewhat restless night, something shifted. I completely changed my mind and decided we should attempt it. The alternatives we came up with didn’t feel right, and I was certain we were destined to go to Bloodvein First Nation, a community active in creating a World Heritage Site on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. Living with uncertainty for the next ten days would become part of our experience in the same way that it always existed for the people of Bloodvein First Nation. As William had said, “this is what we deal with all the time.”

We’ve learned from our trips to boreal communities that we have to work with the element in ways we don’t even think about in the city, where nothing much stops us, unless weather conditions are extreme. And even then, it doesn’t take long before the snow ploughs make it possible for us to get around. Here, there was no machine, man or woman that could make Lake Winnipeg lie down flat. We were completely at her mercy.

The next day, everyone in the group agreed that we should try to go. Once we had made the decision, we changed some of the details to accommodate surprises. Heidi made the fabulous suggestion that we take non-perishable foods instead of fresh (we would be making our own breakfasts and lunches at the lodge), so that if we didn’t get across on Monday, we could try again the next day and nothing would be spoiled. I created a roughly sketched-out plan B, and decided that we wouldn’t try crossing until Monday when the ferry ran. I figured that the ferry had a better chance of getting through than William in a much smaller boat. I was wrong. When I asked Captain Dave he said that it all depended on the exact conditions of the weather, sometimes a little boat was better than a ten-car ferry. At least the ferry was scheduled to run on Monday, so if William couldn’t get through, maybe the ferry could, or if the ferry couldn’t, maybe William’s small boat would. Two options seemed better than one.

A few days before the trip, I stopped worrying because the forecast was good, although I obsessively checked it every day, sometimes more than once. I also found myself growing more comfortable with uncertainty in a way that I usually wasn’t. I attribute this newfound comfort to my latest interest.

A few months ago I started watching adventure documentaries and dramatizations, where survival and success depended just as much on people’s attitudes as on the weather and the decisions they made.  After our spring trip, I watched the dramatization of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition and found it so inspiring that I went on to watch the actual footage filmed by Frank Hurley and to read Shackleton’s memoir. This “failed” voyage is an amazing account of teamwork, optimism, endurance, creativity and survival. Although we were never concerned for our physical safety and survival, the success of our summer trip was at stake, and to some degree, I have Shackleton, and our extraordinary Boreality team, to thank for the way this trip would turn out.

Sunday, July 26

Even though the ferry didn’t run until Monday, we decided to start our trip anyway. We spent Sunday exploring Hecla-Grindstone National Park. Because the day was hot, and Lake Winnipeg was completely calm, I was certain we’d be able to get on the ferry the next day. It turned out that there was much we didn’t know about Lake Winnipeg. We went to sleep that night unaware of the changing weather, and just how different the lake was here, compared to where we would have to catch the ferry.



Monday, July 27

We were up early and headed up highway number 8, past Riverton, past Pine Dock to the end of the road where the ferry was scheduled to leave at 1 pm. It was cold and raining. I was less certain about crossing the lake, although along the way, it had looked fairly calm. We arrived early in case there was a lineup. The ferry could take only ten cars. When we got there the wind was so strong we could hardly stand comfortably, and there was definitely no lineup. The harbour looked deserted. Ken talked to the couple stranded on the ferry with a vehicle in need of repair. They told him the ferry wasn’t running today, and would probably not run all week.

BorealityI had to hear it for myself, as though the news might change in the next few minutes.  The couple told me that Captain Dave had left for the day and that he took the radio phone with him. They confirmed what they had just told Ken, that the ferry wouldn’t be running today, but if we were lucky, they added, we might be able to get across by Thursday. They said there was no way William would be able to come out in these conditions, and since Captain Dave had taken the radio phone I couldn’t call William (he later confirmed that he couldn’t come).

For a moment it was hard to take in. The worst possible thing had happened. Neither Captain Dave nor William would be taking us across. With the weather predictions being this bad, it didn’t make any sense to spend the entire trip trying to cross Lake Winnipeg. We had taken the risk, and right now, it looked like we lost. I thought about the people living in the boreal communities who had taken risks in the past, having assessed a situation and having made the best possible decisions, only to find that they would have to abandon their plans, or worse, that a bad decision would cost them their lives.

Again, our circumstances were trivial in comparison, but it made me think. In the city we rarely changed plans because of the elements, so we had little training. Our winter trip was during one of the coldest weeks in December and a few people thought we should cancel the trip, our spring trip had to be postponed by a month because of flooding in Peguis and Fisher River, and now our summer trip was being rerouted because of high water levels, wind and rain. The expression “going with the flow” was taking on a whole new meaning.

For a few seconds no one said anything as we stood in that space between having to abandon one trip and having to create another. The whole team shifted their weight to the other foot, so to speak, as we abandoned the idea of getting to Bloodvein First Nation and moved forward into Borealitywhat might become our summer trip. This shift occurred within about ten minutes. One of the reasons Ernest Shackleton’s crew survived their ordeal is because after it became obvious that they would not reach their goal of getting to the South Pole, they abandoned it. The new definition of success was to get every man home alive, and all their energy went into creating the details towards this new goal. Although we didn’t have to abandon the summer trip itself at this point, we had to let go of any attachment about the destination being Bloodvein First Nation. Had we not been able to agree, we might have argued about what to do, or even just gone home in defeat.

Before we left Winnipeg, I had looked at accommodation close to Pine Dock. I had talked to a young man at the Jack Pine Resort just a few miles out of Pine Dock. He had assured me that if we were stranded they would take us in. That assurance was the only thread of a plan B I had. Although I had no idea if they still had room for us, or what the place was like, we decided to try.

We arrived at the Jack Pine Resort around 2 pm and felt instantly at home. Kathy, the owner, said if we were willing to move from the motel to a cabin and back again, she could keep us all week. We knew this would be a very different trip from the other two, where we had connected so strongly with the communities. There was no community here, and Kathy and her family were far too busy to sit down and chat with us, so we were left alone. Alone with the forest.
Jack Pine Resort caters mostly to people flying out to other destinations. There’s a motel and a few cabins situated on a quiet bay, with several float planes in the water, a dock and a few canoes with an airstrip nearby where ground planes came and went throughout the day. Other than the activity at the resort, there was nothing but forest. It was gorgeous, and after settling in we went outside despite the rain. Mandy and I discovered that the forest floor was completely covered in wild strawberries. I have never seen Borealityso many of them in one place. Some were as big as my thumb. There is something about finding wild food that is far more exhilarating than shopping for it, or even picking it out of a garden. We were giddy with the scent of strawberries on our fingers.

Another reason Shackleton was so successful in getting every man home alive is because of the crew’s optimism, which was largely inspired by Shackleton himself, and a few well-chosen crew members. I was amazed at how well our team worked with the weather. It had been brutally cold on the winter trip, cold and raining on our spring trip, and now it was cold and raining on our summer trip. There was some disappointment, but no one complained. We worked with and around the weather and we decided that we were in the right place at the right time.

Tuesday, July 28

BorealityWe got up early the next morning and after breakfast moved into cabin # 31. It continued to rain. As soon as it stopped, Mandy and I went strawberry picking, and filled several containers.

We made our first lunch in the cabin and sat around talking about sacred music that arises from the landscape itself, which is of course what this project is so much about. We discussed the creative process and the nature of collaboration and how our collaboration had been developing and transforming over the months. Ken had brought a recording of the jam session that he, Sid and Kate had put together a few weeks ago. As soon as I heard Borealityit, I knew something was working because I could recognize the winter trip in the short bits of music they had put together. It was exciting to hear this bit of “translation.”

That afternoon Kate and I took a walk out to the airstrip, where there were many parked cars but few people because they’d all flown somewhere else. The conversation turned to green funerals, something I feel passionate about. Later I thought about how the process of becoming more aware of the cycles and seasons was helping me accept the cycles of life and death, something I had been struggling with for the past year as I watched too many good friends get ill and/or die. I thought about how eventually, the death of phase one of this project would give birth to phase two, how that would give birth to phase three and the other projects we wanted to share with you, aBorealitynd how during all of this, nothing would actually be lost. One phase of the journey shows up in the other, it’s the same with the seasons, with us.

I was glad that we had risked going to Bloodvein First Nation. Despite the seeming failure, being alone with the forest was just what we all needed. Because we were on our own all the time, without community involvement, presentations and visits to Elders. we also got to know each other on a deeper level. Another survival skill Shackleton’s crew practised was shared team values. Their team’s message was “We are one – we live or die together.” Again, I’m not trying to compare the Shackleton expedition to our own (we never had to make the choice of living or dying together), although we can certainly apply the knowledge.
The strength of this project, any project, relies heavily on the strength and cohesion of the team. As with Shackleton’s crew, some of our core values are courtesy and mutual respect, despite differences in opinions and beliefs, of which there are many. Another factor for a project’s success is the external support it receives. I felt deeply grateful to everyone who had made this project possible, including our funders, the communities that were so willing to work with us, Sue Hemphill, Ron Thiessen, Andris, Heidi and many others.

For those of you who enjoyed learning about Ernest Shackleton’s survival strategies, you might be interested in reading Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition by Dennis N.T. Perkins, a copy of which I found by accident (or was it!) at Aqua Books. For those of you who didn’t, my apologies for the endless references. I felt that this incredible story had so much to teach us, regardless of the groups, organizations or individual struggles we are working with, that I just had to share some of it with you.

Wednesday, July 29

BorealityBorealityAfter lunch Ken took us on a walk up a path he’d found the day before. When we reached a clearing he asked us to sit in silence. Although the mosquitoes chewed at our ankles, we sat quietly and after a while an eagle flew overhead, circled the clearing and flew away again.

We saw ravens and more kinds of mushrooms than I’d ever seen in the bush. When we got back to the cabin, I walked over to the resort where I was greeted by our four dog companions. We’ve had dog companions on each of our trips. None of these dogs belonged to us, but in some way or another, they accompanied us on walks, played with us, and entertained us.


Thursday, July 30

BorealityEveryone worked intently on their pieces of this collaboration. Later we noticed that the sky was clearing for the first time this week. It was amazing to see the bay in the sunlight after all that grey. Everything had colour, sparkled and seemed to have come alive.

That night we celebrated the good weather and our last night together by making a fire down by the lake. We told ghost stories until it was late and tried to spot stars where the clouds had parted. Celebration was another survival skill practised by Shackleton and his crew. Despite the horrendous conditions they endured, they regularly created reasons to celebrate, with games, skits, poetry and increased rations. Throughout their two years lost at sea they continued to find something to celebrate and it was that spirit of optimism and celebration that saw them through. Tonight we celebrated the clear sky and a successful trip. Boreality







Friday, July 31

We prepared to head home. It was raining again. We said our goodbyes to Kathy and her family. We were grateful for their hospitality and for the care they took with the food, which was fabulous. As we drove home, I was amazed at the miles and miles of forest. When we got back to Winnipeg it was still raining, and very lush. Winnipeg was an urban forest. The distance between the boreal and urban forest seemed much shorter than it used to.
Discovering the boreal forest of Manitoba through these trips was kind of like finding an extra limb that I didn’t even know was there. I have so much more appreciation for what is above us, and encourage you to do some exploring of your own. You can find the links to the Jack Pine Resort and William Young’s lodge in Bloodvein First Nation on the links page of this website.

We are eager to go on our fall trip coming up in about six weeks, when we’ll be reconnecting with some of the communities we started working with this past December.

by Janine Tschuncky