"On the Land"
There is an interesting phrase Northern people use that you don't hear in lower North America. When experiencing wilderness we say we're "going to the woods", "hunting", "camping", etc. Up here, they say "on the land". It seems to be more of a symbiotic phrase, implying that we are going on the land to share her prosperity. It was day 5 of our trip and we finally were set to go out "on the land" with Richard for the day. The community is on the south side of the lake that shares its namesake, Colville Lake. It is a pretty substantial body of water with plenty of fish and game to explore. Knowing it would take most of the day to make our way around the lake we set out early.
"Shopping on the Land"
Richard made it very clear that he was craving fresh fish and meat. We talked frequently of how we grew up on wild game and our love for the outdoors. Early on in our trip it became the running joke that we would go "shopping on the land". Our first stop was at a fish net that hadn't been checked for a couple of days. It was full of beautiful white fish. We stopped and picked off a few so that Richard could teach us how to make dry fish, a traditional way of cooking and preserving white fish. We ventured on to the north side of the lake where a crystal clear stream connects Colville Lake to its sister reserve. Here we caught the start of the lake trout run. It was beautiful and the 10 feet of water was as transparent as glass. This stop alone was the level of adventure outdoorsmen would fly in from around the world to experience. Our last stop at the “grocer” was a duck ambush. While we watched Richard shoot some black ducks out of the boat while we were driving along, we were at first a bit thrown back. Where we come from there is a hunting etiquette that makes such motor driven hunts taboo. Yet, the more we spent time with Richard on the land, it was understandable that they would use the tools available to find their sustenance . This wasn't a sport, this was harvesting from mother earth to continue our own life.
After stopping by some of the tribe’s summer cabins that are stationed around the lake, we found a place for our white fish, trout and duck shore lunch. Or as Richard put it, we found a place to "make fire". This part of the trip was full of learning for us. We grew up cleaning and cooking game, but never like this. From the way we partially plucked the ducks before throwing them on the open flame, to the preparation of the dry fish as the Dene people had done for hundreds of years prior. It was a lot of fun work rewarded by a feast of duck soup, dry fish and fire grilled trout. A little salt and pepper, as well as a full day on the water without eating made for a very satisfying feast.
The most memorable part of the day was the consistent reverence Richard would give to the land. He spoke regularly of The Creator and how he gives us so much. After we caught our first trout he insisted that we put some tobacco in the water as a "gift to the land". Growing up with the Sled Maker, Jackson and I have always spent days in the wilderness. Dad always instilled into us a respect for the land and the animals that inhabited it. It was even more spiritual going on the land with Richard. He was full of gratitude the entire day, celebrating the bounty and sunlight. I think we will both bring the same reverence with us in the future, as it makes it all much more meaningful.
"High on the Land"
Between the fishing, hunting, and fire making, it was a full and memorable life experience. The 24 hour day light compiled with the excitement of the day had kept our spirits and energy high! Richard would describe this feeling throughout the day as us getting "high on the land", which he insisted was much healthier than drugs or alcohol!