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Notes from Missinipe

From time to time entries will be made here - to give you a sense of what it is like to live surrounded by shield rock, Boreal forest, and water. Since I don't live in Missinipe all the time, I will also draw on observations made by other people.

9 May | 2 June

9 May 1997 It is really nice to see open water again! As of May 9 nearly all the ice is off the lake. Devil Lake went out earlier this week. Now Otter is virtually clear. Rememeber last year? It was June 1 before we could take a motor boat across the Lake.

The water is quite high this year. Average flow at Otter Rapids for May is about 260 cubic meters per second. Otter is running at 325 right now. It should be a fun summer in the rapids!

Otherwise spring seems to be slowly coming. I have noticed some pussy willows outside my bedroom window. Last night I could hear the Merganzers quacking and making a lot of racket down beside my dock. The black birds have been here for quite some time. Thursday morning I walked out on the playground and counted over 30 robins looking for worms in the grass. Spring seems to be happening.

Now that there is some open water I am looking forward to getting my canoe wet again. There is a layer of dust on it from its winter storage. That will wash off with the first few strokes. I have a new paddle to try out. With summer up ahead around some corner it is definately time to get my paddling arms in shape again.

2 June Summer is Here

Everyone probably has their own criteria for distinguishing one season from another. For me Winter comes when we get the first snowfall that stays. Spring comes when the snow really starts to melt. Spring came to Missinipe this year on March 29. And summer starts when the leaves come out on the Trembling Apen trees. On that basis summer came to Missinipe on May 29.

The amazing thing about the Aspen is that the leaves seem to come out all at once. I walked outside on Thursday morning and the only leaves I could see were on some of the smaller Birch trees. By afternoon the hills around Missinipe were green. By evening Missinipe was mostly green. So summer started on Thursday.

Its nice to finally have summer here. Joanne is putting her bedding plants out. Shirley's yard is beginning to take on its typical summer look that one would think belonged in some warmer climate. Actually gardens all over town are starting to grow. I noticed, on the first day of summer, that even my garden has some green in it. Between some weeds, I found a few radishes braving the first summer day.

Something that I really enjoy about summer in Missinipe is the birds. They start singing at about 3:00 AM and slow down at about 10:00 PM. It seems at any time of the day I can sit at the edge of the forest and hear robins, several kinds of sparrows, thrushes, swallows, and many more that I can't indentify. I can sit on my dock and hear blackbirds, or if things are really quiet I can hear the bittern that hides in the weeds near my dock. There's a pair of Merganzers that make a lot of racket nearby. Sometimes I have loons in my bay to listen to as well. It seems there is never enough time to listen to the birds.

Summer also means getting out on the lakes and rivers. There are so many new places to explore and old places to revisit. Has the eagle returned to the nest in Murray Channel? How about the Osprey that usually nests near Walker Creek? How high is the water upstream? Is the surfing wave at Mosquito Rapids good at this water level or is it washed out already? Are the Walleye still spawning or are they out in the lake already? Its time to get on the water and start summers explorations.

Summer is a time to sit back and relax. I love to put my feet up and watch the world go by. A small piece of the world goes by Missinipe in the summer. Many corners of the world send their representatives here to go canoeing or fishing. I'd like to sit and watch the world go by right now, but I still have a few canoes to get ready for summer, and its already here!


Entries by Rebecca Kennel
24 May | 29 May | 31 May | 1 June | June 6 | June 9 | June 15 | July 19 | August 9 | August 20 | September 12 | November 1996

I am here for the summer, in Missinipe, Saskatchewan, Canada. That is 1 hour north of La Ronge (unless the roads are really bad, which they often are) on the road to Southend and Wollaston. The town is on a peninsula in Otter Lake. When I look over my shoulder and out the window, I see Grandmother Bay and right now (May 22, 1996) I can see the open water of the Churchill River across the still frozen Otter Lake.

The ice is hanging on this year - it doesn't seem to want to melt. Just a few days ago people were riding snowmobiles over the ice. Now we are listening to the float plane engines over at Osprey Wings as the mechanic does the final tune-ups in preparation for ice out.. The whining engines sound as anxious as the human population to get their feet wet in the water: like thoroughbreds waiting for the gates to open. And when that first plane lifts off the water, it is an affirmation that we have made it through the winter and summer is officially here.

Anyone want to make a bet on when the ice goes off Otter Lake? At the corner store they're saying May 24. I'm betting that the 28 canoes we have booked for the 24th will have to be pushed over the ice to reach open water. Hmm. . .I'll keep you posted.

24 May 1996 Sorry. The float planes are still on the ground, tied down, waiting. However. The Horizons Unlimited staff made it back from their first overnighter upriver. They had to find channels through the ice on Devil Lake over to Mosquito Falls. From there, they paddled upstream to "Corner" where they camped for the night. They made it up in record time, but then lining the canoe is easy when you can just drag it over the frozen "shelves" along the river.The water is high for this time of year so the surfing was great. Not to mention the chance to stand on ice chunks as the canoe drifts away.

So even though we won't fly for a while, there is still lots for the paddler to do. And I would imagine the 28 canoes with twice that many school kids and their leaders will have a great time on their first trip out.

29 May 1996 The gorgeous spring weather is continuing. Every day is warm and calm. The Lashburn High group got back from their trip upriver with stories of pulling their canoes over the ice - but they made it all the way through Hayman Lake to Nipew, and north past Clark Falls.

Warm and calm. We want WIND. Wind to break up the rotting ice on Otter Lake. Gary Thompson of Thompson Camps has his rental boats tied up to the docks and the motors lined up by the boathouse like little metal soldiers waiting to be called into action. The phone keeps ringing - when will we have ice-out? Hmmm. I predict that on Canada Day, there won't be any ice left, the float planes will be taking off, and the motor boats will be dancing across Otter Lake.

10:15 AM A float plane just took off from the bay south of our dock. The ice is free along the shore from Osprey over to here, so they just taxied along the shore, and then took off from here. Gary has moved his jet boat and a cessna over to the boat launch here. Things are happening. The world hasn't come to an end after all and life will go on!

31 May Cloudy, rainy and calm. For a while it only mists; then there will be a sudden shower. The fishing should be dynamite.

Within a day we lost all of the ice off Otter Lake. A warm wind started blowing from the south and pushed all of the ice into the Churchill River channel. And at the same time, the leaves came out on the trees. We must have finally reached that critical mass of heat where the ice and cold ground could not hang on any longer.

1 June Today we had our first feed of spring greens. Fireweed shoots, dandelion greens, and plantain made into a rice pilaf. It doesn't take long for plants to come to life, once they finally warm up. And with the 18 hours of daylight, it doesn't take them long to bloom and fruit. We found a place along the Walker Creek hiking trail where plantain are growing profusely. Anyone have a favorite recipe using plantain?

The Walker Creek Trail starts just across the road from the Missinipe sub-division. You have to scramble over a fallen log that conveniently also crosses a small creek, then through the criss-cross of fallen trees and brush left over from the new power line that is coming in, and then you can see the red and blue markers on the trees. The trail is narrow and only lightly used, with the soft moss still under foot. It is rather steep at first, as you climb along bedrock and bolders. You pass through a small stand of aspen, and then into an older spruce woods where the squirrels hide out. In the distance you can hear the roar of the creek - flowing fast now. The trail goes down to the creek and then follows along it towards the west. I don't know how far it goes. I haven't been to the end yet.

Someone left a pile of sucker entrails along the creek, which attracted a bear. I haven't seen it, and I really don't want to. If I do, you will be sure to hear about it.

June 6 I found the "one-way" trail today. If you go straight back behind our house, climb up over the rock ridge and wind your way down and across the road you will see a white plastic bag tied to a small tree. The trail goes straight west - or I should say it goes straight in the direction that I would call west. You climb up through rock and a forest of aspen and birch until you come to the "top" - a large rock. But it isn't the top. You can see the trail continue on (straight) down through the muskeg and small black spruce that grow there. It's a soft, dark, damp world in a muskeg swamp. The labrador tea covers all the space where the moss and the black spruce aren't. The path is spongy and the trail is sunk about a foot below the surrounding ground level. In places you can feel the water ooze up through the moss when you step. My father-in-law calls the black spruce and muskeg swamp a fairyland. It feels like a magic place.

At the end of the swamp is an abrupt shield rock wall. The sun is shining on it so that it looks like a stairway to heaven. I climb up to the "top" and find a large open area of solid rock. Various lichen and moss are growing on the rocks, and occassionally there is a bit of soil where some small plant or tree is trying to flourish, or at least live.

The trail continues on, straight ahead, through another black spruce muskeg. Then you climb some more through a deciduos band of trees to another rock outcropping. Now we are at the top. But what is amazing is that there is still more muskeg. But this time it is wetter. Water comes up over my shoes when I step on what looks like solid moss. Should I turn back and keep my feet dry, or bet that there is still more interesting trail ahead of me and go on? I go on. I soon come upon a "real" trail. This one has been used by four-wheelers. I lay a few sticks in the path to mark the inconspicuos trail back and follow the four-wheeler trail down to a little lake. A few ducks fly up - other than that there is no other sign of life. Only the ducks and myself and the songbirds.

I follow the four-wheeler trail back to the small path, then decide to see where the four-wheeler trail will lead. It seems to be going north-east and that is generally the direction that will lead me to the "generator" trail. I follow it quite a ways, always watching my shadow to try and keep my bearings. At least you can't get too lost here - you can always hear the float planes take off and head in that direction. But the trail keeps turning and going straight north, then a little west. Hmmm. What if I end up being too far west and never crossing the generator trail? I have visions of reaching the Churchill River 6 kilometers north of here, with my only option being to turn around and head back. No, I'll come to that little creek first, then I can follow it down to the road and walk back on the road. But what if I slip and sprain my ankle or break my leg? Nobody knows where I am. I don't have any matches to start a fire and I've never tried using a bow-drill, although I bet if I got desparate . . . Maybe I could spare three pieces of clothing, climb three separate trees and tie them to the tops and hope that some pilot flying over will notice and radio back to Missinipe that someone is probably getting cold out there in the bush without any clothes on. I can't imagine how ecstatic that would make all these mosquitoes that are flying around. All that bare flesh. Except maybe as my body temperature dropped they would quit biting me. Not that it would matter at that point. But if I had a broken leg, how would I climb the tree?

Why does my head do these things - I'm just on a simple little walk not more than a kilometer or two off the highway, and besides I can easily turn back and re-trace my steps. Relax and enjoy the walk.

It's not long before I come to the "generator" trail. This is actually a trail that leads off west directly opposite of the entrance

9 June Warm and sunny. Went for a hike up Walker creek with "The Botanist". We barely made it out the back door before we were racking our brains for names of plants we hadn't seen since last summer. The bog cranberry and the bearberry (look-alikes as far as I could see until Stephan showed me the tear-shaped leaf of the bearberry) were blooming their little pink bells; the low-bush cranberry was prolific and just starting to bloom; the pincherries weren't as numerous, but also blooming; the glossy-leaved sarsaparilla had put out it's long stem with the leaflets on the end; labrador tea was everywhere. We even found two morels - something I was afraid I wouldn't find this far north. I guess they aren't really common here.
15 June I got a chance to fly over the area today in a small plane. We flew up past Otter Rapids (they don't look very awesome from the air); over Barker Lake and the 'bubbly water' where everyone likes to play; up to Clark Falls and circled around to the north, then headed west to Nipew and back down to Stanley Mission and Nistowiak Falls. This country is an amazing mix of water and trees. From the air you can see how the glaciers carved the land from north east to south west. And how they cut into the older Churchill River system and created the long bays and lakes that are a part of the river.
17 June Today we had the first big thunderstorm of the year along with a good rain. Hopefully it rained enough to put out any forest fires that could have started with all that lightning. It brought the water transportation system here to a standstill. No float planes took off, and all the fishermen stayed put.
19 July Time. Northern time. Canoeing time. It's different than city time. Here the weather dictates our schedule.

So you have 10 days for your wilderness experience. You've worked everything out carefully. Fly to Saskatoon. Rent a car. Drive to Missinipe. Fly out to the start of your trip. Eight days on the water. Arrive back in Missinipe. Drive to Saskatoon. Fly home.

Sounds perfect. As you sit in your climate-controlled office, you can almost taste that first fry of fresh fish. You can see the sun setting over a calm lake as you lay back on the still warm shield rock. You can smell the wilderness around you: the pine, the moss. You count the days until you are in paradise.

So what could possibly go wrong? Everything is planned.

The weather. When you pick up your car in Saskatoon, you barely notice the strong north east wind. As you drive north of La Ronge, you do notice the heavy downpoar, especially when you leave the pavement and start dodging potholes in the road. But you are a tough soul and you are determined to have your time next to nature. You reach Missinipe, have your canoes delivered to Osprey Wings, only to have the pilot inform you that the planes won't be able to fly until the clouds lift and that there are 40 other people waiting to fly ahead of you.

It's easy to ignore the weather when you're in the city. Aside from complaining that it is always sunny during the week and rains on weekends, a person barely notices it. But it's different here. Here nature controls your schedule. About the only thing you have control over is the placement of your tarp to keep you dry, and your attitude.

As you spend time in the wilderness, slowly your mind and body switch over to the rhythm of the wilderness. Your internal clock becomes in tune with sunrise and sunset. You begin to pick up clues as to what the coming days will be like: the wind direction, the movement of clouds, the types of clouds, the activity of the birds and animals around you, the cycles of the moon. And you realize that being "one with nature" is more than watching a beautiful sunset over a calm lake. It is accepting and enjoying all challenges that living outdoors presents to you. It is adjusting "your time" to be in sync with "nature's time".

9 August What is it about this place that people love? There really is nothing spectacular here like what you would see in the mountains. As you drive north from La Ronge, you catch glimpses of small lakes beside the road, but mainly what you see are trees and rock. The trees get small and smaller as you go farther north. Trembling aspen, birch, tamarak and spruce, with alder and willow shrubs growing near the water. Small black spruce that look like pipe cleaners grow in the muskeg. Once in a while you go over a small height of land and can see more trees in the distance.

So what draws people back, year after year?

It has something to do with what you have inside of you. This place draws it out. You experience it most when you are on the water. Even when you are just out paddling around the islands on Otter Lake, you can feel the pull. You are not just an observer of something majestic and grand - you are a part of it.

The mountains are overpowering in their hugeness. You feel dwarfed and awed. Here, on the northern waters you can feel your spirit expand and you become larger rather than smaller.

Would someone please help me out here - I can't quite find the right words. . .

20 August It is the season for blueberries. So I buy a birch bark berry basket made by Mattilda Roberts from Grandmother Bay and set out to find the blueberries. I start out on the one-way trail up and over the rock ridges. Lots of plants, but no berries. Maybe the bears beat me to it. Here and there I see a single berry and after 45 minutes I have about 15 berries rolling around in the bottom of my basket making that sound that berry pickers learn to hate. And I haven't even eaten very many!

I back track to one of the rock ridges and then follow the ridge south. I can just picture the big black bear that beat me to these patches. He stripped everything clean. Obviously not what you would call a browser. When I took an Edible Wild Plant course, the instructor emphasized that we should gather plants the way animals do in the wild - you take a bit here and a bit there, leaving some for regeneration. It's called browsing. Too bad bears don't do that.

So I'm looking for blueberries. It might be easier to look for a bear because the bear will be where the blueberries are. Then I can chase the bear away and pick the berries. Or if I continue to look for blueberries, I will probably find a bear anyway because the blueberries will be where the bear is. Do I really want to take on a bear in a berry patch? I don't think so, although I am getting tired of hearing these berries rolling around in the bottom of my basket.

It's a great berry basket. Made of all natural materials - birch bark sewed together with spruce roots that have been dyed with natural dyes. It has a broad base and a narrow opening, which means that if you trip on something, you don't spill your precious berries. And these are precious. After one and one-half hours, I have about 45 of them. That's one berry every two minutes.

Oh well, it was a nice hike.

12 September Fall. It's quiet here now. Only a few of the hard core canoeists making their last trip of the year. It's a lovely time for a canoe trip. No bugs. Few people. And gorgeous fall weather.

We haven't had a frost yet. It's been close, but then clouds move in and blanket the area. The aspen leaves are just starting to turn colour.

Fall is the best time to enjoy the performances of the Northern Lights. They are unscheduled, so you have to be outside lots to catch them at their best. You never know when that white, hazy strip in the sky will merge and transform itself into a colourful, dancing display. I guess that's why they are so fascinating - they are so unpredictable.

November - by Joann Layton

When Rebecca asked me to take over writing Notes From Missinipe for the winter, I never realized what big shoes I was stepping into. She gave me some of the things she had written and I was greatly impressed. It took me back to when I first came to this community 15 years ago. I saw this place again with fresh eyes. I certainly can't take Rebecca's place but I will endeavor to fill in for her until next spring.

First let me tell you a little about myself. As I said before, I am an old time resident of Missinipe, one of the rare breed who stay all year round. I raised three children here, home schooling them until grade ten because the nearest school is fifty miles away. My children are grown now, off to jobs and university. Though I teach music lessons in La Ronge three days a week, it is always a relief to return home to my quiet little haven.

Fall in Missinipe, for me, has almost a spiritual feeling. After the hustle and bustle of the summer, the silence is sweet and magical. The forest becomes a mass of yellow and oranges, the sky and water a deeper blue. Mist forms over the lakes in the mornings and the slightest sound travels forever.

The last of the leaves have fallen now, even the golden tamarack have faded and dropped their needles. Winter came tearing in with its usual vengeance, leaving us without power for close to twelve hours. This was really a wonderful day. We spent our time cutting wood and stuffing it into the furnace. The first winter blizzard is always special.

The ice is beginning to form on the lake. The other day I was out walking in our winter wonderland when I heard a very strange, loud noise coming from across the lake. In the distance I could see an adventurous little boat, plowing its way across the lake, breaking ice all the way. I stood and watched as it approached. This is probably the last year I will see such scenes. The new road into Grandmother's Bay will undoubtedly make life easier for its inhabitants, but I fear a rich tradition may slowly disappear.

Well I must sign off for now. The wind howls, the furnace calls and I must obey.

By Luke Giesbrecht

i moved into otter lake when i was a young aspiring bush pilot in 1979. i have unforgettable memories of otter lake, the unbelievable autumns, summer float flying into gary thompson's flyouts. years later i flew out of wollaston Post, stony rapids, uranium city and whenever i got a chance to land in otter lake, i did so just for old times sake.

the last time i landed there was in the fall of 1989 when i came back down from Hatchet Lake fishing lodge where i flew for george for a couple of years. i wandered around the village, talked with whoever was in the canoe trip office, and let the memories come back. there was a little community of us that lived there, pilots and mechanics. those were the days when great shield air bought gary thompsons outfit and tried desperately to make it work to no avail! those years were formative for me however! i can still remember the old "bottle neck" flying back into otter in bad weather. the bottle neck was was formed by otter rapids and an unmistakeable landmark. you mentioned that a road has been built into granny bay and i share your sentiments on that. i have a good friend there (or he might not be there anymore, Isaac charles - or is it the other way around?!) and i know that the road is not going to be good for the community. however, i must not bore you.

I am always surprised when I meet someone who has read my Notes from Missinipe. I hope you enjoy them. It would be nice to hear from you and your impressions of the north country (or whatever). You can drop me a line at
Notes from Missinipe | Poetry | Confessions of a Greenhorn | Helen Solmes

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