Well it’s been a while since I’ve sat down to write. Summer caught me up in all her glory and busywork. I had the privilege to head back into the bush for a month’s worth of work at a remote fishing lodge in northern BC. The lodge was situated just south of Atlin and a scant 25 miles south of the outfit I used to work for ten years ago, along the beautiful Nakina River.
It was the first season that the lodge was open for clients in over a decade, and there was a lot of work that happened the week before I arrived to make the camp a clean and comfortable place. The owners flew myself and my son up to Whitehorse in the Yukon, and had us chartered south over the BC border to the town of Atlin. We left Edmonton under a blazing sun and arrived in Atlin, where I swear it was trying to snow and I was chiding myself for packing only tank tops and a couple t-shirts and no long underwear.
It was so much fun to explore the gold-rush town with my son and show him one of my most favorite places on God’s green earth! The air was crisp and damp as we explored along the shoreline of Atlin Lake. My son was picking up rocks that he thought were unique and stuffing them in his pockets, while I snapped pictures of Atlin Mountain and relics left behind from the gold-rush and early tourism years.
The morning showed up early and found us outside beside a glassy calm lake, watching the sun dispel the shadows on the mountains around us. The seagulls were crying and the mosquitoes were humming and the sky was blue high above us. It was a perfect morning for our helicopter ride south of the big lake to the Nakina River.
George, the so-called “mayor” of Atlin, dog-rescuer and “vet” and former mail carrier among many other things, was also our “taxi” driver. He picked us up and ferried us over to the Heli-base, where we met up with Jackie, the First Nations elder that was coming out to the Lodge to teach us about the area we were going to work in. Jackie’s niece Nichol or Skaay-da-oo in Tlingit, was joining us along with Eric, from the First Nations Government. They would enjoy a few days of fishing from lodge.
Paula, our pilot flew us in her LongRanger helicopter along the eastern shoreline of Atlin Lake and over Pike Lake and miles of dense forest between mountains. We passed the distinctive Paradise Peak that I remember viewing from a mountain ride I did nine years prior with a few friends that had come up to help cut trail for my former outfit. Soon we were flying over the Nakina River and I could spot the glare of shiny tin in the forest below. The helicopter approached slowly and I could see a large timber cabin and 4 smaller plywood cabins along the top of the cliff below us.
We landed the helicopter and were soon welcomed into the camp by the owners of Northern BC Heli-Fishing Adventures, and my friends, Jordan and Katie Hillman and their three boys—who were keen to show my five-year old the lay of the land. From the time we left the helicopter I didn’t see my son for hours!
It was a scramble and a bit disorientating at first as the people that had come to help get the camp ready were leaving, and we had arrived an hour sooner than expected. After a flurry of activity the chopper left for town and a more peaceful calm returned to the camp.
It was much warmer here than Atlin had been. The thick forest around us gave off a humidity that wasn’t felt along the big lake. The river ran far below us—a constant rumble of water rushing over rapids. White, low-lying bunchberry flowers (Dwarf dogwood) littered the sides of the dirt path that led from the heli-pad, passed the four guest cabins and wash house to the larger Lodge that served as the dining room and kitchen for the camp.
It was a beautiful and welcoming cabin that was wonderfully decorated by Katie and her mother-in-law, with a rustic charm. Despite having their big pine table blow off the helicopter sling when they were bringing it in, they had masterfully decorated a plain table with a large moose horn shed and candles. The warmth of the wood and the artfully placed snowshoes and northern trinkets filled my eyes and I knew instantly I would enjoy cooking for people in this environment.
The kitchen was small and a little haphazard, but after a hearty lunch provided by Katie, I set right to work, organizing the stock of food we had brought in and familiarizing myself with what I had to work with. It had more than most back-country camps I had worked in before and by camp standards, was well-appointed. Plus I had the benefit of two large freezers! The old propane refrigerator had given up the ghost and so we used it like a cooler—rotating ice packs morning and night. And that reminded me of the years of using coolers to hold my food for two weeks or more.
Knowledge that had lain dormant came back to me as I walked Katie through some ideas to make things easier and more efficient. I told her it usually took me a month to get at peak efficiency and she laughed because in a month all this would be over and we would resume our “civilized” lives.
That night for dinner we dined on succulent home-grown beef roast, airy Yorkshire puddings, braised purple cabbage, garlicy-mashed potatoes and crisp green beans. It was such a pleasurable experience to sit around the table and listen to the chatter of excited boys, the old tales from Jackie, the roar of the Nakina rapids below and the clink and scrape of silverware on plates. The fruity-spicy smell of peach crisp mingled with the smell of roast beef and wood smoke, while the northern sun shone bright–still over the tree tops–streaming in the western window of the cabin.
I knew I had been missing this a long time. It was good to be back in the bush again.
And that night the mice crackling through the stores in the pantry where Colby and I made our beds reminded me of the other side to the living in the bush. About three o’clock in the morning I heard a loud snap of the mousetrap I had set earlier. And then for the next three hours I listened to that mouse pull and drag itself across the floor. Screech. Scrape. Crackle. The mice had found us and the war was on!
Jackie told of the days when he was growing up in this wild unpopulated area, that his parents–wishing to make sure their children didn’t step outside of their boundaries–told the young kids that they couldn’t go over that mountain or that mountain or else they would fall off the earth. That was their “yard”! Stay between this mountain and that mountain, or else! Times have changed, because I told my son his limits were to not go past this end of camp or that end. A wee bit of a tinier yard, but I was okay with that!