nephew Steven, my then-teenagers, Eric and Minetta, |
and I in our bug-protective gear preparing to load our canoes.
“What about the Thelon, Mom?” my fifteen year-old daughter and sixteen year-old son questioned. It was mid-May 2006, and we’d been studying maps and reading books about Canada’s Arctic for months. We’d signed up for canoe lessons, bought life jackets and paddles, dry bags, and a new tent in anticipation of a family canoe trip, when suddenly my husband of thirty years ran off with another woman.
“We’re going, kids. I don’t know how, but we’re going to do it together,” I encouraged. “Dad isn’t the only one who can have adventures!”
|Caribou crossing the Thelon River.|
I called my nephew Steve, begging him to be our fourth paddler. Meanwhile, I spent two months drying food, packing dry bags, and a food barrel. The work was therapeutic as I triple-checked meals and gear, too focused to dwell on the great rift in my heart. There would be time for grieving during the weeks on the water, where we’d be entirely alone for weeks at a time.
Our float plane taking off after leaving us
alone in the Arctic wilderness....
Our time on the water was idyllic as we paddled with the current, searching for a glimpse of muskox or caribou, or trailing a fishing line to supplement our dried food. But land was another matter. I’d spent five summers of my youth in the Arctic, and while I didn’t like the bugs, I viewed them as a necessary evil.
My vegetarian daughter caught
the biggest jackfish!
By early August, the wind was kicking up, blowing away the swarm but making paddling difficult. As we approached our pick-up spot, where the Thelon entered Beverly Lake, thunder clouds piled up from the North, and a howling wind tore at the canoes. My son, Eric, and I hugged the lee shore, digging in our paddles, to pull forward a few feet while the wind clawed us backward. We could see where we needed to be, but it took us an hour to paddle a few hundred feet. Meanwhile, Steven and my daughter, Minetta, had taken a different tack and ended up on the windward side of the river, fighting against breaking whitecaps as they strove to close the gap between us. I prayed silently for Steven’s strength to hold as he dug his paddle deeply against the savage water that threatened to drive him and Minetta back to the far shore. It seemed to take forever for them to cross the river, and Eric and I waded into the water to help beach their canoe against the wind.
|Eric and I use a tent fly to set a sail on a downwind day.|
Finally, the wind dropped, and in the evening, two motor boats churned up the river, their wakes glistening like silver. Our canoes were tied down safe for pickup at a later date, while we tossed our gear in the fishing boats, eager to get a few miles in before the full dark. A day later, we pulled up to the shores of Baker Lake, our new Inuit friends welcoming us to their community for our last night in the Arctic.
compares his hand to a huge grizzly bear print left on the shore |
where we had a swim, made dinner, and quickly left again!
I looked at my sun-burnished crew, glowing with health and the joy of living so close to the earth, and while my heart would feel bruised for years to come, I was also filled with the love and pride of my family and what we’d accomplished on our Arctic Adventure.