This has been an unbelievably extraordinary weekend; one for which words will never ever be sufficient to describe everything that I’ve just been fortunate enough to experience.
We arrived in Rigolet on Friday morning, greeted at the airport by Sandi and Karl. It was a beautiful and somewhat balmy day, and despite the fact that we were exhausted from our early morning flight from Goose Bay, we were excited to have returned to such an amazingly beautiful part of the country.
Our visit to Rigolet proper was short lived, however, as we soon were packing up our gear for a weekend at Sandi and Karl’s cabin on English River. After loading up the skidoos and komotiks with our supplies for the weekend, we bundled up and hit the trail. Oliver joined Karl at the head of the procession, with Alex and Sandi at the rear. This left Ashlee and me to handle the last of the three skidoos in center position1. As we pushed further onto the land, the various signs of Rigolet and civilization faded away into our rearview mirror. The air was crisp and clear, and save for the sound of the skidoos and my breath under the protection of the balaclava I was wearing, the world appeared to be soundly asleep under a blanket of snow.
The trail we were on soon transitioned from a very comfortable 4-lane skidoo highway, to a narrow single lane that wound its way through the trees. On either side of us the trees were decorated with dollops of snow. The sky was the clearest blue, without a hint or even wisp of cloud. As we made our way through the trees, the sun – low in the sky – poked through the branches, creating a glow from within wherever the light and snow met. At once the world seemed at slumber and also fully alive; as if this immense warmth and energy were comfortably protected by winter but ready at any moment to rouse.
At times we briefly broke from the shelter of the trees and found ourselves flying across a frozen expanse, watching as the snow drifted gracefully over the ice. These breaks were relatively short lived, however, as we would return to the trees for a reprieve from the wind. Before long we were at the narrows; a frozen causeway that followed the shoreline. With the sun even lower in the sky, the water to our left appeared black and strangely viscous. The surface was silky smooth, but constantly moving in a slow rhythmic dance with the ice chunks that bobbed slowly up and down in time.
Between the awe filled silences that accompanied the scenes before us, the quiet water next to us was a reminder of respect that the land demands. While we were all quite comfortable and warm in our various layers, taking in the unmatched beauty before us, we were also fully aware of the potential danger of exposure. Fortunately, I never once felt like I was in any danger even when we accidentally found ourselves launching through the air after we hit a larger than expected snowdrift. I credit this to the expertise of our guides, our friends – Sandi and Karl.
Before long we had reached the last leg of the trek; a roughly hour long ride across a sea of frozen ice and blowing snow known as Lake Melville, away from the protection of the trees. We stopped briefly to ensure that everyone was fully bundled. Parkas were buttoned, hoods were cinched up, and then we were off. The forest behind us disappeared from view, and in every direction there was nothing but a seemingly endless other-worldly expanse of winter. The sun loomed low on the horizon, and it seemed to me that we were in a race to arrive at our destination before it disappeared completely. As it dipped closer towards the horizon the ice and snow were set ablaze; the pink and orange fire borne from the mix of sun and snow was brought to life by the blowing winds and drifting snow. The flames seemed to flicker and lap against the ice, desperately trying but unable to consume it. And then the sky and ice were one, both aglow with the dying flames of the day. As a chill set in, I had to wonder if it was due to the cold or the remarkable scenes that were unfolding before me.
Almost as the sun set, Karl and Sandi’s cabin appeared before us. A cozy log cabin partially covered in snow drifts, it immediately felt like home. It was cold and dark when we arrived but much like the sleeping land before us, we knew that there was life within. And as we gathered inside huddled around the wood stove in an attempt to warm ourselves, its walls were soon filled with laughter, and the smells of a crackling fire, coffee, and roasting caribou. We were home, and we were happy.
And this was only day one.
1 And by handle I mean that Ashlee drove while I sat on the back enjoying the incredible winter scenery that flew by.