As children my younger brothers and I were taken on many boat trips over the years. Our education on the water started very early and we all learned how to operate a boat on the Attawapiskat River and out on the great James Bay. We understood that this kind of travel could be relatively safe in the calm steady waters of the river but much more dangerous in the open water of the bay.
I was 17 when I approached my dad Marius to ask for permission to head out on my first boat trip alone. I had a lot of experience as I had taken the controls of my dad’s boat under his supervision several times and I had piloted our family along the river on trips home from the bay. He had grown confident in my skills but still he cautioned me to travel no further than the river. He did not want me to challenge myself by going out into the treacherous salt water bay. He suggested that I take someone along on my first trip. My younger brother Paul was eager to go and I also asked our mutual friend Eli to join us.
I agreed with dad that we would make this an overnight trip and that we would camp near the mouth of the river. He gave us the choice of an 18 foot or a 24 foot freighter canoe. I knew that a larger boat would be a challenge to move around with three teenagers and so I decided on the small 18 foot freighter canoe. I also chose my dad’s light 15 horsepower motor to power us. We packed up some small amounts of supplies and food for an overnight stay, as well as a nylon tent and sleeping bags and plenty of plastic tarp. In a short time we were ready to head out.
I piloted our canoe out onto the river, following the same routes that my dad and my older brothers had taken me hundreds of times before. They had pointed out water hazards for me and my younger brothers to memorize so we could choose the safest passage on the water.
We brought our small gauge shotguns with us with the plan of doing some bird hunting on the open tundra by the bay. Our ride was slow but steady. It was a big change from the powerful 30 and 40 horsepower motors we regularly travelled in with our families. The small and narrow frame of the boat also added to a different feel in our short trip to the bay. We were happy to be out in the fresh air and felt some freedom in doing this trip on our own without older relatives to guide us.
In the afternoon, the sky clouded over to create a grey ceiling. It was not a dangerous situation as the winds were light. A slight drizzle made our trip a little uncomfortable. We approached shore and floated on the water trying to spot ducks or geese by the bay. We did not really try very hard to find anything. Just being on this trip on our own was enough of an adventure for all of us. The rainy weather we were experiencing made us consider canceling our overnight stay but later that evening the rain stopped.
The decision was made to stay out over night. We parked our boat on a muddy shore at low tide and tied a long line to some bushes on land. In the dull light of evening we debated on whether or not we should set up a tent on the open tundra where we stopped. It was a warm summer evening and there was a breeze that blew all the mosquitos and biting insects away. We scanned the clouds and took that chance that it might not rain again. We spread out our plastic tarps on the ground and opted to sleep out in the open.
In the dark we slept by a fire we lit for warmth and to cook our meal of hot dogs and a pot of tea. In the dying light of the fire, the clear sky was filled with bright stars that lit up our surroundings in a blue glow. As we lay on our backs searching the stars we talked and laughed about the day’s adventure. Every once in a while one of us would point out slow moving satellites in the sky and bright flashes of meteors entering the atmosphere. The fresh air and long day out on the land pulled us into a deep restful sleep.
In the morning, the clouds were back and we woke up to a slight drizzle. It felt good to wake with the soft drops of rain on our faces. We decided to head back to town. As we approached the community we felt like triumphant hunters or fishermen coming back from a long trip out on the land. The rain fell steadily on our heads as we rode past the high banks of the community and a few Elders looked down on us from the top. They nodded their heads approvingly and I imagined that they might be recalling their first solo adventure on the river. We felt very proud of ourselves and we headed home with the exciting news of our trip hot on our lips and fresh in our minds.