Tag Archives: story telling

Kechika Wild

by Louise Goulet


The sun was sinking below the ragged mountain peaks,

bathing the valley below in a warm golden glow.


A light wind was drifting up the steep valley slopes,

caressing the shivering saffron grasses and the silvery willows

who were shimmering against a crimson sky.


Below the river was lazily meandering, sparkling in the dying light,

past dark spruces and emerald oxbows.


A moose was feeding mid-calf in a crescent-shaped slough,

water and green grassy ribbons dripping from its mouth.


Time had stopped as I stood entranced above the valley floor.


Mysterious chemicals pathways were engraving in my mind,

for decades to come, this time, this place where I had come to be

and where a part of me still is; all senses tingling, in awe,

overwhelmed by the beauty and wildness of this untamed world.


September 2009

Memories of a Northern Life

by Paul Strome

Paul2I am an optimistic, energetic, 65 year old, retired teacher of 31 years who has lived, worked, or travelled in EVERY province and territory in Canada. I have been an environmentalist all my life thanks to my Mom and Dad who educated all our family about the seven grandfather teachings: respect, love, humility, wisdom, bravery, truth, and honesty.

Our family lived along the east coast of James Bay in a small community called Fort George (Chisasibi) from 1941-1955 while Dad was a Hudson Bay factory post manager and my Mom was the regional nurse. The community was composed mainly of Cree with a few Inuit and some non-natives. When we moved to Winnipeg in 1955 my parents continued to teach the three of us boys critical morals and ethics that have served us well throughout our lives.

Environmental issues have always been discussed around the dinner table. Much later in life, when I worked for the DEWline (Distant Early Warning Line) I witnessed numerous environmental breaches involving every kind of lubricant, antifreeze, aviation fuel and hazardous chemical used in it’s operation that you can think of. A few short years later, when Dewline sites were closed because they were deemed unnecessary, those stockpiles of drums, buried heavy equipment and other hazardous materials were dug up, contained properly, loaded onto ships and sent south for appropriate hazardous material disposal which cost the U.S. government at least $360 million and hundreds of man years.

When I worked at Nanisivik Mines Ltd. at the north tip of Baffin Island 26 miles down the road from Arctic Bay, I was part of the solution regarding the handling of hazardous materials that were shipped south. There had been numerous small mountains of contaminated chemicals such as ammonium nitrate, copper sulphate and lime that had been spilled all over the tundra right above a local water source. The really great part of my job was to identify, collect, label, package and then ship them south to be processed appropriately. I was able to get the entire outside storage area cleaned up. Empty drums were organized as a base for heavy parts so that the snow of winter wouldn’t bury them. We were able to ship thirty or more sealift containers south to be dealt with appropriately, no matter what they were filled with.

I was also, however, witness to a tailings lake that is still there and is lethal for anything that enters the lake. Why was it never cleaned up? The managers of the mine could have reversed the flow of the tailings pipes and run a pipeline 3 miles downhill to the seaside port at the fjord where the ships pulled right up to the shore. The tailings could have been loaded onto ships and taken south for proper processing, but they weren’t.

5245580362_fd53512e6dI first arrived in Gjoa Haven, NWT in 1979 when the population was about 500 souls. Of these 480 were Inuit and the rest were non-native. I taught for three years in Kekertak Ilihakvik (Island School) and I taught the Adult Education Program for two years. While I lived in Gjoa Haven I travelled extensively across the land; I interviewed numerous elders with a translator; I was an active member of the NWT Hunters and Trappers Association, and I planned, supervised, and executed an exchange trip with Simcoe, Ontario. I still stay in contact with numerous Inuit and non-Inuit in Gjoa Haven. The whole area became part of the Territory of Nunavut on April 1, 1999.

My wife, oldest daughter and I moved south to Rankin Inlet in 1984 where both my wife and I taught in the Maani Uluyuk Ilihakvik. In 1986 I transferred and taught at the Kitikmeot Regional Education Center while my wife continued to teach in the elementary school. I taught technological studies, science, mathematics and English during the week, but spent as much time as possible out on the land or on the water hunting, fishing and exploring. I have always been amazed and impressed at the attitude of Inuit regarding environmental issues. They were intelligent and foresighted enough to ensure their land was returned to it’s original state prior to the Dewline site ever being built by including a clause to that effect in the original legal agreement. No matter what school I taught in, I was the Outdoor Education staff representative as well as the staff sponsor for the Environment Council and the Outers’ Club staff representative. I was the person who organized the canoe trips, hiking, climbing and rappelling, dog sledding and outdoor education training sessions.

dogsWhen I moved south from Rankin Inlet to Milton, Ontario, I searched for three or four months for an appropriate dog sled provider. I eventually found Chocpaw Expeditions which is owned by Paul and Margaret Reid of South River, Ontario. For the next 13 years I organized dog sledding trips for teachers, students, family and friends with Chocpaw, and was never disappointed in the quality, professionalism and friendliness that all of their staff exhibited. My views on dog sledding and outdoor education were captured in this blog, posted in 2010. They agree in large measure with more recent published studies, e.g. How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway.

I have been absolutely blessed to have others in my life who share the same heart and are willing to risk almost everything to make our adventures happen. My Dad and Mom laid the groundwork for most of my feelings regarding the outdoors and my values about accepting of others. They took me camping from the earliest days I can remember. Dad showed me a kazillion things; the most practical was how to make fuzz sticks to light a fire easily. Mom showed me how to make bannock with raisins. Dad taught me how to fish, which meant I was able to teach my daughter Erika how to fish later on in life. She caught her very first fish when we were in Yukon, Alaska, NWT, and British Columbia in 2000.

Spending a week on the tundra on Montreal Island south of Gjoa Haven, hunting and fishing with our wives for a week and living out of tents bathed in 24 hours of sunshine was another emotional high. As the staff sponsor of The Woodlands School’s Outers’ Club I organized the training and the hike up Mount Washington that was a life changing event for all the staff, parents, and students who participated.

Kayaking down the Horton River in the NWT with six other environmentalists/ adventurers/explorers for two weeks enabled us to watch baby Peregrine Falcons, a silverback male Grizzly bear eating berries on the riverbank, muskoxen grazing on the tundra, and a female Grizzly with her two cubs within a hundred yards of us. We had seen many caribou on this trip but nothing surprised us more than the caribou that walked right into our camp on the afternoon prior to our pickup. We gave thanks to the animal for giving up it’s life to feed us and I gifted tobacco in it’s honour. We had an amazing stew and steaks that evening and fed the wolves with the remains.

I attended and participated in many Inuit drum dances which I absolutely loved. drum dancingWomen would arrive in their amoutiks, kamiks and caribou clothing. The older women would gather together in one area away from the door so they could support each other when it was their turn to sing. I experienced a shamanic spiritual connection every time I was part of a traditional Inuit drum dance, and traces of the feeling always lasted for days. That’s one absolutely amazing thing that happens whenever I have participated in spiritual ceremony – a fire keeper at sweat lodges, drum dances, or pipe ceremony – the profound, heartfelt emotions run deep and true.

When an old arctic explorer friend of mine asked me to join them to hike the Chilkoot Trail with my two daughters it only took me nanoseconds to respond in the affirmative. My girls were 14 years old and they had been involved in many of my hiking, canoeing, climbing and rappelling trips, so they knew what to expect, for the most part. What they weren’t ready for was the 7 days of driving, 14 hours a day in order to get to Skagway, Alaska from Milton, Ontario.

They overcame all the immense challenges they faced; ended up in the best physical and emotional shape they ever had been until then, and made everyone else in the group immensely proud. Erika caught her first fish on this trip. The bond between Allie and Erika grew because of the month we spent together. They got to see and help out with the First Nations and Inuit celebration in Moosehide which is a few miles downriver of Dawson City.

We celebrated for four days with Navaho, Inuit, Inuvialuit, Dene, Sioux, Tlingit, Tutchone, non-natives, Niskas, and others and in the 24 hour daylight. It was truly a novel and amazing experience. The three of us volunteered our time in some way or other for the set up, operation, and take down of this very special celebration that happens only every two years. We got to know some VERY special people, listened to First Nations stories and many drum dances, played many new games and participated with people from many new tribes.

Dover Beach

by Matthew Arnold (1851)

The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back and fling
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long withdrawing roar,
Retreating to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.



Looking Back and Forth: A Sense of Place

by Erlene Woollard

Erlene 1I grew up as a quietly feral child in the deep US South in the midst of a conservative, highly traditional and even rigid decorum. My earliest memories are of much family chaos juxtaposed with the serene visits to my grandparent’s farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was orderly and wonderful with its large “gingerbread” house, scuppernong vines, gnarly apple trees and enticing barn with scented hay bales that my handsome young uncles fed to the dubious looking cows and horses. The huge lawn welcomed us with its old oak trees and much needed shade by day and evening gatherings of family and friends.

Once the day’s hot, hard work was done and the evening meal of local bounty was over, we would gather for respite and fun. We children chased lightening bugs and each other in the approaching dusk, trying not to hurt bare feet on the sharp acorns scattered about. Our evening treats of freshly churned ice cream full of farm cream and locally grown strawberries or peaches made the evenings complete and we happily settled into sweet smelling and seemingly ancient beds for dreamless sleeps.

Then my family moved farther south and these visits became less frequent but just as sacred while I entered a new life of being a “town kid,” learning to ride my bike on tree lined sidewalks, walking to school and starting piano and tap dancing lessons. At the age of five I was allowed to go to the store for mom who had two smaller kids napping at home. I roamed and roamed, collecting Spanish moss hanging from cypress trees and the velvety blossoms that had fallen from the huge magnolias, all perfect for making homes and comfy beds for the frogs and bugs I nurtured. One August day as we swam in the local pool fed by a natural creek we had to leave very quickly. An alligator had found its way into the pool area. How exciting!

Then, horror of horrors, we moved two miles out of town to an isolated two acre place with a flat stone house, huge pine trees scattered about in a disorderly fashion and just fine sandy dirt, pine needles and cones for a front yard. Was I now destined to become one of the country kids donning overalls and saying “upehre” instead of “up there”? Little did I know what opportunities this move would provide. I was still close enough to town for lessons and friends but now had a huge garden where we could grow exotic vegetables and fruit.

I learned about freezing, drying and canning and remember being able to relate proudly to my town friends where pickles came from as they had no idea that cucumbers could transform in such a way! My dad planted two rows of tender pecan trees that turned into a lush orchard and is still there today some 60 years later. We had puppies and kittens galore and even two pigs that magically produced six piglets that I sat on our wooden fence and watched for hours. There was a hoop towards which we threw basketballs and a large yard where we ran and played with abandon.

Best of all were the long, lonely walks along and then across the distant railroad tracks that divided our property towards landscapes that beckoned my wandering spirit. Finally, trees that I could climb, hide and daydream in, while watching the bugs, clouds, and birds. The parched landscape that had first seemed boring now was alive. One of my treasures was a runt of a wild plum tree struggling to survive in this loveless hot dry environment. I watched and offered the love that later in the summer I was sure had helped it produce blossoms and scabby yellow plums. It struck me then that I was possibly the only person in the world who knew or cared about this little tree. For years I went to it on many spring and summer days. No one in my family ever asked me where I had gone or what I was doing or even cared where I was during these visits to that tree. As I reflect now, I realize that was the only time in my life that I was ever truly alone and able to become meditative in a way that still provides a grounding sense of luxury and peace.

I left home at the age of 17 and wherever I have lived during the many years to follow, I have always sought out and wandered between natural but cultivated urban environments and more isolated wild places for reflection, peace, and a claiming of “my sense of place.” My two grandchildren are still lucky enough to have access to wonderful wild environments and choose them often over more defined activities. I hope that when they are approaching 70 years of age they will be able to sit down in a healthy natural place and peacefully write about such long term memories while their own grandchildren play happily at their feet and have the peace that comes with knowing that the natural world will be safely offered to many generations to come. grandparents farmhouse 2

When Are We Going to Get There?

by Lillian Ireland

“When are we going to get there?” I pleaded for the umpteenth time, as I sat huddled between my two brothers in the back seat of the Volkswagen Beetle. Through the eyes of a six year old, everything looked the same; the long road, blaring headlights, and blowing snow. How I wanted to see my Grama! I ached to be with her on her farm. From southern Saskatchewan, the endless road seemed to stand in the way.

She and Grampa homesteaded the land which they had cleared by hand and by horse. I’ll never know how hard they worked to make it livable, to build their tiny home from timber they cut, to draw water from a well they established, to grow crops and vegetables and to raise cattle to feed their many children.

There was respect for the Cree who lived on nearby land for a season each year. They brought their children and families, their horses and tepees, travelling annually to set up for a few months near Strawberry Creek on their journey through north central Alberta.

There was respect for the Hutterites who farmed nearby.

Grama couldn’t converse with many, but there was mutual respect for those who chose this part of Canada to live in. She knew very little English but through her heart and actions, I absorbed much of her love of life and her knowledge. She couldn’t read or write, but she was a profoundly wise, strong and tender woman, educated by her many experiences of survival. Her diploma was written in the deeply etched lines on her face and hands.

Walking with her in the nearby forests and bushes which edged the fields of hay, wheat, oats and barley, we picked wild strawberries, raspberries, mushrooms and Saskatoons. Walking silently through the bush, she would bend and try to explain by simple words and actions what was edible and what was not. Sometimes we munched on the berries and sometimes we would gently place them in her apron which became her basket. Even though the berries were miniscule in comparison to the commercial hybrid ones of today, my mouth still waters as I think back to their delectable flavours while we quietly walked hand in hand.

It was there I learned to revere the land.

I was always surprised how she could stretch everything to make it last until the next harvest. The berries miraculously turned into jam or preserves which she stored in her underground cellar. The root cellar was accessible through a tiny, creaky door on the side of the bank underneath her house. Even though I was a child, I had to lower my head getting into the tiny, earthy treasure store.

The year’s garden vegetables hid there too. When she wanted potatoes in the winter or spring, we’d put warm coats and boots on and I’d accompany her around and down the side of the house, remove the sun bleached, twisted branch which propped the door shut, and we gradually adjusted our eyes to the dim light offered by the small flashlight. Slowly we would find our way over to the large bins of dirt at the far end of the cellar.

Grama would ask me to reach into the mounds of dark, rich soil to pull out some potatoes. Sometimes I’d find other surprises which were stored there months earlier. She tenderly smiled at my amazement as I discovered huge, hearty carrots or plump, purple beets from which I excitedly brushed the dirt. To me, these were hidden treasures. To her, they were a necessity fashioned with patience, faith, fortitude and sacrifice.

At the side of the cellar, along with the jars of fruit, there were jars of canned chicken, fish, pork hocks and pickles she had canned earlier in the year. Even though the cellar smelled musky and was dark, it was an exciting place to explore. Years later, Grampa cut a hole in the kitchen floor and strung a ladder. A tiny light bulb was hung which made the treasure hunting not nearly as thrilling.

“When are we going to get there?” I wondered. I was now a teenager, living in Calgary and it was a much shorter ride. Yet, I still longed to go to the farm, especially in early autumn. The rich scents of fall on the farm continually captivated me, drawing me back. As a city girl, I yearned to get away from the busyness of activity which at times was too much. I longed for the quiet of the farm, sitting with Grama in the kitchen, shelling peas or making perogies. The primary audible sound was usually the drone of the buzzing flies at the window or occasionally a car driving by on the road, spitting up gravel and leaving a thick, gray trail of dust separating Grama’s farm from the neighbours.

By now, I had learned a little Ukrainian and Grama knew more English. Yet, even without many words, we still shared a quiet satisfying communion.

When the kitchen chores were finished, we’d go out to the fields where I couldn’t take in enough of the powerful fragrance of the freshly cut hay. I’d watch my Uncle Tony with the horses while brushing the annoying flies away from us. The hay which had stood nearly as tall as me only a few hours earlier had transformed the field into a stubbly blanket of yellow shafts.

I knew that very soon, with pitchforks in hand, we would stook the hay. We would excitedly lift the sheaves and stand them on end. To my brothers and me, it was something we looked forward to each year. Some years, we would heave the hay high onto the hay wagon. Standing at the edge of the hayfields, the wind seemed to blow the fresh, sweet scent deep into my soul. I stood and breathed it in. It filled me, this was home.

Again, I learned to revere the land.

Many years later, the scents and memories flooded back as we visited Grama’s farm with my own teenaged children. “How are we going to break it down?” they asked as we pondered the fresh beaver dam near the farmhouse.

Grama and Uncle Tony desperately needed help since their home and farm were endangered by the rising water. Strawberry Creek was no longer a gently meandering creek but a huge pool of foreboding water perilously close to their home.

Back then, a naive urban west coaster, how little I knew about the natural environmental landscapers! The beaver within days had changed the countryside. Even though beaver can establish flourishing, future marshes which benefit wildlife, farmers often wish they would do it in a different place! It was unbelievable how quickly her yard was converting into an infringing, unwelcome wetland!

Horrified by the news that the county was going to dynamite the dam, our children wanted to take the dam apart by hand. And they did! The three of them and my young Sister surveyed the situation, and with careful savvy, moved the various sized trees, branches and rocks. Many hours later, with dedicated teamwork, concentrated effort and heavy sweat, the creek flowed again. Grama’s home was spared. Her farm survived and so did the beaver. Surprisingly, they moved on and didn’t attempt a new dam in that area.

Another generation had learned to revere the land.

Twenty years later, I wondered, “How are we going to get there?” as I prepared for some important meetings regarding farmers’ rights on a return trip to Alberta. I yearned for solitude prior to the first meeting. I needed time to collect my thoughts while catching up with the latest readings about the Alberta Energy Regulator and its encroachment on the lives of many Canadians.

There seemed to be a strange parallel between the beaver and the oil industry. Both did what they wanted with little thought or concern given to the landowners. Both make unspeakable changes without long term consideration. People learn, sometimes grievously too late, that once major changes are implemented; it takes immense effort and resources to turn things around. And often that’s not possible.

The farm still exists, the wind still blows, and the flies are still annoying, but sadly, underneath much of Canada’s and the world’s fertile soil, damage is being done that will forever rob the soil of its ability to raise crops or feed cattle. These are changes which cannot be reversed by a few energetic young teenagers in an afternoon. These are changes made with a very narrow, short term viewpoint.

There is unprecedented damage to hunting, fishing and gathering areas of Aboriginal people, there is havoc to the water systems, there is widespread loss to animal, plant and human habitat, there is toxicity of the air we breathe, and there is irreversible destruction of soil.

We need long-term perspective, we need viable solutions, we need healthy, sustainable practices, and we need conscience with respect for the environment and Mother earth.

When are we going to get there?20141016_102121

Ever Lived a Moonbow?

by Roger Sweeny

For this retelling I invite you to be my shadow as we climb to the open, moonlit bridge of the Light Cruiser HMCS ONTARIO to begin the Middle Watch (midnight to 0400) on this Battle of Atlantic Sunday, 20th May 1951. Also, since the story involves moon, stars and water, I have asked the Spirit of our own St. Francis of Assisi, lover of all nature, to be with us on the bridge.

Homeward bound from a training cruise to Australia, we left Suva yesterday and are now about 900 miles south of the equator, steaming North-East at 15 knots toward the Trans Pacific Cable Station at Fanning Island.

The bridge crew includes the Officer of the Watch (OOW), a seasoned lieutenant, who already has assumed command of the captain’s chair and called for his first mug of sweetest hot chocolate (kye); the Second OOW, a sub lieutenant working on his watch-keeping ticket, busily keeping the ship on track, doing all the things and gathering all the information he will need when writing up the log; the Midshipman, myself, lowest species of officer, general dog’s body and go-for, tasked to watch, listen and absorb all goings-on and to ensure a constant supply of kye to my seniors; the Signalman, and the Port and Starboard Lookouts, constantly scanning the horizon.

It’s a warm, starry night with a bright full moon high in the western sky astern (which casts you, shadow, in front of me). A gentle South-Easterly breeze coupled with our speed of advance puts the apparent wind on our Starboard bow at about 18 knots. Air scoops surrounding the bridge deflect all wind over our heads so we are in a calm zone. Sky and sea ahead are velvet black, with a scattering of clouds faintly visible along the horizon. Five hundred shipmates sleep soundly as the turbines far below hum on.

So far it has been a quiet watch, routine and uneventful. The stars seem so close we could almost reach out and grasp them. Now the time has rolled on to 0230. The moon is drawing down towards the sea fine on our Port quarter; another hour should bring the first hint of dawn.

“BEARING GREEN THREE ZERO, FAR, A LIGHT” calls the Starboard Lookout. Immediately all binoculars are trained on the bearing … and there, yes – looks like a tiny patch of light … a faint greyish glow on the horizon. “CHALLENGE IT” says the OOW to the Signalman, who switches on the big signal lamp, swings to the bearing, and flashes out the morse code message “WHAT SHIP, WHERE BOUND?” There is no response.

Within minutes the sighting has become a distinct semicircle of pale grey sitting upon the sea beneath a cloud. Minutes more and we are watching, fascinated, as the apparition, relative bearing unchanged, grows ever larger and comes on to meet us. By 0245 a great arc of softly shimmering grey light has blocked out the stars and filled most of our field of vision ahead. It must be within half a mile now … and look at that! – a perfect rainbow, faint but clear, running all around the rim from sea to sea. It seems alive! … (and in my mind I see the Francis Spirit gazing upwards beside us, eyes gleaming).


The ship’s bow slices into the veil. For just an instant the light is everywhere, we within it. Then it is gone and the line squall engulfs us. Our calm zone transformed into a chaos of laughter, wind and driving rain.

Five minutes and we’re through it … but we’ve hardly time to catch our breath before “BEARING GREEN THREE ZERO, FAR, A LIGHT” calls the Lookout again.

ONTARIO’s log entry for 20 May ‘51 confirms that our Captain Hugh Pullen, a Battle of Atlantic veteran, was on the bridge for our second moonbow encounter that night. There is no mention of a Spirit, though of course he was there only in my imagination (or was he?) – he whose Canticle of the Sun inspired the inscription on our church’s memorial window: “Thou did’st make our Sister Moon and Stars. For Sister Water praise to thee, Good Lord”


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