Friday, July 29, 2011

I broke my one rule again last night-- the one about setting up camp early-- but it was for a good reason.
 From Goose Bay I headed north for a side trip to Northwest River. Less than half an hour from Goose Bay, Northwest River is a tiny town that was the home for the Hudson Bay Trading Company. It's also where Leonidas Hubbard left on his ill-fated expedition. the museum there had a large collection of things from the expedition, including his last meal-- a boiled shoe.

Just about everyone I spoke to in Northwest River offered me a place to stay, actually, the first was a motorcycle rider in Goose Bay as I was leaving the hotel. Joey was on a cruiser, and I asked him how he gets anywhere on his bike without the whole dual sport suspension and dirt tires. He said he didn't go anywhere far, just Goose Bay and Northwest River and the immediate area. I said goodbye and went to get gas, and Joey roared up next to me to tell me he had a place in Northwest River and I could camp there.

The other place I wanted to see was the Innu town of Sheshatsiu. It's connected by bridge to Northwest River (an improvement over the single cable  car they used until the early 1980's). I was hanging out there and got invited to take part in a sweat lodge ceremony. I'll write more about that later, but the three guys doing it were incredibly welcoming, explaining everything as it happened, and I felt pretty lucky to be invited. It was an important ceremony for Mike, who is about my age, because he was receiving his pipe, and Jack, a young shaman, had come down from James Bay to perform the ritual. Max, a shaman who lives in Sheshatsiu rounded out the group, along with yours truly, playing the part of clueless white guy, which I felt I did well.

The heat was pretty brutal, and we emerged from the sweat lodge at about midnight. I didn't want to disturb any one the folks who had invited me to stay with them, so I headed for Joey's vacant spot on the beach. The only problem was the bear.

All day long, people had been talking about the three bears who had wandered into town a few days before. Two of them were found and shot (for meat or public safety, I am uncertain). While they hadn't located the third bear, it was last seen wandering around (you guessed it) by the beach.

A large white dog was sleeping on Joey's porch when I showed up, which I took as a good sign, because it would probably bark if a bear showed up (although, come to think of it, it didn't bark when I showed up...). I put the food, in it's bear-proof canister, along with my stove, on the other side of the lot, brought my bear-spray into the tent with me, and left the radio playing as I drifted off to an uneasy sleep.

The next morning I headed back across the bridge to Sheshatsiu to speak with a tribal elder there, a woman who grew up in the bush, camping and hunting. The first question she asked me was "Weren't you worried about the bear?"

I guess the animal spirits were on my side. Maybe I didn't bungle the ceremony as badly as I thought.

Anyway, I'm off towards Churchill Falls, back on the gravel.

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