So often, we find ourselves in the grasp of an old cliche, the one about how the journey is the adventure, and yet forever and a day, it rings true. For us, great adventure doesn't end in a far-flung destination, our wildest dreams begin and end in the same place, safely at home. For my partner Leah and I, our dreams drift in a direction north, but more importantly, our dreams are always of water.
All winter, we walk on water, imagining the moment when finally, the ice will give way and once again, we will float, free to roam the landscape where dreamers find their muse. The moment arrives, and the tradition will always come gurgling in a river's song. On the toes of another season, we take everything we need, load it into manageably sized packs, and head off into the land of forests and water destined for the old trails, quickly becoming immersed in the rhythm of travel, on a canoe trip once again.
This past summer, Leah and I embarked on a journey we won't soon forget. Loaded with 60 days of food, our camping gear, and maps to span some 1300km, we began near Armstrong, Ontario, just north of Lake Superior, and paddled and portaged to the most northern community in the province, Fort Severn. The trip crossed all five major watersheds of north Ontario, ending at tidewater on the Hudson Bay coast. The route connected traditional waterways of the Nishnawbe people; many of these trails have been in use for over 8000 years. We knew the trip would pass by eight remote fly-in Oji-Cree communities, and though these trails are their ancestors' highways, we expected to find it hard travelling on the ancient routes as many have fallen out of use for various reasons.
For two months, our wild dreams of water often felt like a mutually understood race against the hardships of a benevolent land. Our constant companions were wildfires, dry creeks, flooded rivers, long gone portage trails, and the ever-present torment of bugs. Each day we reminded ourselves just how lucky we were to dream; we would remember how free we were to open our minds to the perils of hard travel. Never for a second did we forget about the ancient people who found the way, their trails mere imprints in the thick, green moss.
We didn’t share their struggle, for we had food, good shelter, bug nets and well-made maps, yet we found comfort in knowing we were just two souls in a land full of spirits. The joy of waterways, be it sprawling lakes or ocean shores, raging rivers or peaceful streams, is that we travel in a way the land intended.
When we go by water, we go where the land has left a story, and to read it, we travel by canoe. What lay ahead is best described as old trails, and of the many stories they can tell, ours is just one.
Words & Photos - David Jackson