We drove down Nungesser Road with three dogs in the bed of the truck and the stereo blasting, mostly drowning out the sound of my dad’s beagle-mix howling in excitement. Nungesser is a 70-mile straight shot north to the Berens River and acts as a gateway to First Nations communities; though to get to the closest one, Pikangikum, you’ll need a boat during the warmer months or a sturdy truck for the ice road in the winter. You’ll also find some remote camps and the Forest Fire Management Headquarters forward attack base up there.
The road was built many years ago to service an iron ore deposit for a potential mine, but now it’s a great road to head down in search of trails, wildlife, hidden fishing holes, and even a Christmas tree. After enduring many harsh winters, the road is crumbling on the edges, and potholes have formed from the yearly freeze-thaw cycle.
It’s always fascinating to me, a Gen-Y’er who’s spent the majority of her working life in Silicon Valley surrounded by tech start-ups and creative entrepreneurs, to live in a community so rooted in the logging and mining industry. In a way, it’s so much simpler—harvesting raw goods from the Earth. Not that those industries aren’t complicated in their own ways, but the idea is very basic. It’s a far cry from the cloud storage or software companies that my friends work for.
A few yards ahead of us on the road, we saw what I thought was a young moose trotting along, but I later learned it actually is a female Woodland Caribou. A really rare sighting, according to Red Lake locals. This place continues to surprise me.
Eventually we turned off of Nungesser onto a dirt logging road and began the bumpy drive to the Upper Chukuni River. The dogs jostled around in the back. At the bridge, we pulled over, climbed over the giant snow berm, and headed for the trail head.
I watched my feet as we walked, with Daisy blazing the trail as usual. The trail was covered with moose tracks big and small. Mamma and baby. We talked loudly as we crunched through the hard-packed snow, not wanting to sneak up on any wildlife. The bears, I am told, will not come out of hibernation until early May.
The river's fast current kept portions of the water unfrozen all winter, but there was still a thin layer of clear ice that stretched out 50 feet from the shore. The dogs walked on it tentatively, and we threw rocks in the air to see if it would crack. A pair of bald eagles soared above us followed by a gaggle of Canadian geese, honking as they passed by.
The winter that I never thought would end is finally coming to a close. I live for days like these.