It’s raining outside and the temperature is hovering around 10 degrees. The clouds are hanging low and there is a steady stream of cold droplets falling from the sky. To most, it could be described as a very miserable summer day. It is one of those unsettling days when everything blends together and morning, noon and night are merely different shades of grey. Days like this are rooted deep in my memory.
When I was young and back home in Attawapiskat, mom and dad took us out on the land often in the summer time. We boarded our 24-foot freighter canoe and headed out to the islands of James Bay to spend weekends and holidays. Most of our trips were a lot of fun and we children enjoyed running on pebble beaches under the warm glow of the afternoon sun and feasting on roasted goose and bannock. We sipped on our hot tea around an open campfire by the water. However, there were a few occasions when our parents miscalculated the weather and hauled the family out into wet and rainy situations.
I recall many trips out to the islands on the bay when we were more or less trapped in the wilderness during those long rainy days. The combination of wet and cold is not one I enjoy. We did our best to protect ourselves from the deluge by wearing rain gear, rubber boots and extra clothing. When you spend time on the land in the rain for any length of time, the wet eventually soaks right through the layers of protection and begins to chill you to the bone. Most of the time we were so desperate to get to the peace and quiet of our traditional camp that we ignored bad weather, unless of course it was really dangerous.
On those questionable days we did everything we could to motor on out into the great James Bay. I recall sitting with my family under tarps inside our canoe as dad piloted us to shore. After a couple of hours of listening to the drone of the outboard engine, the pelting rain, the muffled conversations of adults and children and being hidden underneath a blue tarp, it was a relief to be on solid ground. My younger brothers and I continued to huddle under the tarps in the canoe as the adults prepared camp in the rain. Mom and dad knew from experience that it was necessary to build a shelter and have a heat source started as the cool, wet weather could easily overcome a person in the wilderness. The most important thing out on the land is to be dry and if possible warm.
As we waited for the tent to be set up, we sat under the blue glow of the plastic tarp next to wet gear, soaked cardboard boxes and plastic bags of sleeping material. The pelting rain surrounded us with the steady crescendo of a million raindrops beating against the plastic. It didn’t really feel like we were out on the land under that tarp. In a way we children had our own world protected from rain. However, we were all restless, tired and thinking about what we were missing back in the community.
Once camp was ready and a fire was started in our little steel camp stove we were ushered into the warmth of the prospector’s tent. A fresh layer of spruce boughs lined the ground under our feet and we filled the space with cushions and heavy sleeping bags to lie on. It felt great to take off our wet rain gear and damp clothing. Inside our white tent, we sat quietly, exhausted from the short trip through harsh weather. We still felt restless but we also knew that it would take a day or two until we adjusted to life back out on the land and then we would be comfortable.
To mom and dad these little vacations on the land were a normal part of life in the wilderness. Our ancestors lived like this since the dawn of time. As we all rested, dad started a pot of hot strong tea and mom prepared a loaf of bannock. After a hard day of struggling to stay dry, there was a feeling of relief and tranquility as we peered from inside our cozy tent through the big open flaps. We sat back sipping our tea and munching on bannock with a great view of the windy and rain swept bay.
We were forced to forget our hectic and chaotic lives in the community for several hours. There was no room in our minds for worry as the sound of the waves lapped at the pebble beach and the rain pelted our tent. As always, Mother Nature was there to calm us and fill our minds full of natural wonder after having tested us out on the great James Bay.