Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures.
The ear-shattering thumping I hear is not the thundering of caribou hooves. Which is what I had signed up for in Vancouver. Instead, it comes from the raucous music of my bunkmates.
We are in a lodge. On the tundra. On the Canadian Shield. On a northern arm of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. It is early May. The next plane out – or in, for that matter – is anybody's guess. It all depends on when the lake ice melts.
I arrived in Yellowknife on my way to Nunavut's Ennadai Lake to catch the river of migrating caribou south while enjoying the creature comforts of the five-star Arctic Haven Lodge. But an e-mail arrives to say the lodge has suffered massive winter damage and is uninhabitable. Therefore, my tour has been cancelled.
Well, when one door closes another opens: A friend tells me one of the local Yellowknife lodges is looking for volunteers to get it ready for paying guests due in mid-June.
So, the very next day I signed up with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and became a WWOOFer. In exchange for six hours of work a day, volunteers are given room and board. In normal circumstances, if it doesn't work out, one can just up and leave. But here we are marooned until float planes can land. (The ice under the melting slush during breakup time is unstable.)
During my month at Blachford Lake Lodge, I picked up garbage that appeared as the snow melted. I newly flagged the trails. I loved these jobs. I was out in the taiga tramping on muskeg, greeting ptarmigans and listening to the ravens and gulls. Standing on the whaleback bedrock, looking out over lakes to the far surrounding horizon, the sky clear of clouds or aircraft vapours, I understood the poet's deafening silence.
When inside, I mopped floors, cleaned and stocked bathrooms, washed a never-ending pile of dishes and pots and pans. From the dwindling supplies I made a fried-rice lunch that a native Dene WWOOFer warily tried (he'd never seen anything like this before, he said) only to go on and have two big helpings. I picked up the many mounds of sawdust from the hewing of dead trees into logs for the fireplaces, filling huge buckets for the composting toilets and the filtering of grey water.
There were frequent moments of awe that I'll never forget – watching how the ice, as it melted, formed a ziggurat pattern of shadows on its surface; waking at 2 a.m. to see the horizon rimmed in a warm red-orange prism; finding the print of a bear paw while walking the trails.
But I'm happy to forget the pounding, irritating music I heard night after night. At 72, I'd followed the call of the wild and I simply wanted to listen to it.
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