Yesterday the dogs and I returned home from our southern sojourn, and as planned, we successfully missed the freeze up on Great Slave Lake. We were lucky though – it came 9 days later this year and the ice only formed a few days before we arrived. And the night before we arrived home, there was a big wind from the south that broke up the ice a little further out in the lake. Fortunately it wasn’t windy for too long, and the ice in Houseboat Bay stayed frozen solid. Its currently 6 inches thick, and although some neighbours are still dragging their canoes around when they commute, there is really no need.
I love winter, but I knew that coming from warm weather to sudden and cold winter temperatures would be a bit tough. For me and for the dogs. The body needs time to adjust – I am always reminded of that during the first cold weather every year, when winter seems so brutally unpleasant. But it’s been amazing to be here.
The first thing I noticed when we got to the lake, (which we currently have to walk across, for a few weeks, until the ice is thick enough to drive on) is how clean and clear the air is here. I think this is the special quality of the light that I’ve been marveling about up here for a couple of years. Things positively sparkle, and are so vivid. And there is so much to see. You might think that a small marsh and a big flat frozen lake would be void of interest, but the play of light on dried grass and snow and hoarfrost, and rocks and lichen is fascinating. And always there is the big sky overhead, glittering with endless stars at night, and often those old friends, the aurora. Not only is there lots to see, there is much to hear. The ice is so noisy! When you walk on it you can hear air bubbles gurgling underneath, which is very strange. And this time of year, as the ice is rapidly forming, it makes a ton of noise. As soon as the sun goes down the ice starts rolling and banging. I used to think it was like thunder, but it goes on longer. It actually sounds like avalanches going off all over the place. And sometimes, like last night, you can hear an expanding crack traveling from a long ways off, and coming right up to ping again a pontoon. This is accompanied by the house shaking. It’s all very odd, but in an interesting, old friend returning, sort of way.
This might in fact be my favorite season. Right now the lake is frozen perfectly smooth for probably 10 kilometers around us. It’s perfect for skating on. It’s surprising to look out the window, where recently there was water, and see someone whipping by on skates, with a gleeful dog right beside him. There aren’t many folks out on the ice yet, mostly just the locals, so its very quiet. Blissfully wonderful.
Yesterday it wasn’t so quiet however. As we crossed the lake, coming home from the airport, there was a helicopter buzzing overhead. It hovered around us for quite a while, and finally I figured out that it was probably a film crew. Which it turns out it was. I may have mentioned that a reality tv show is being filmed in this area for the last several months. I haven’t seen it, but apparently it’s called “Ice Lake Rebels” and is described like this:
The freeze and thaw periods are the two most deadly times of the year on Great Slave Lake among Canada’s Northwest Territories. This series follows a handful of survivalists as they hunt for food, drill for water, trade for necessities and protect their turf. It’s a lawless frozen lake of ultra-libertarians forced together during brutal winters. Choosing another kind of lifestyle, these rebels have bid farewell to living life the conventional way on land and traded it in for floating homes and houseboats. Since they don’t live on land, they don’t pay taxes, and, therefore, no one polices them. The very things that we take for granted—from opening the front door, to walking your pet, to shopping for groceries and supplies—are incredibly difficult to navigate. As one rebel says, “It’s not man you have to worry about; it’s woman” — Mother Nature.
Now, I do think we live an alternative and interesting lifestyle, but I’m not sure I’d describe myself as a rebel. This might be the reason the show has been relatively, and happily, uninterested in us. We have a normal sized house, not a hobbit hole, are moderate people wearing ordinary clothes, doing mostly ordinary things, and while we love (mostly) the houseboat life, we aren’t here to save money on taxes or live in a lawless society. After looking at it the website, I’m quite sure I am not interested in the show’s version of ‘reality’. Now this might be a crazy idea, but I actually think real peoples and real stories are quite a bit more interesting that Hollywood hype. It could have been an interesting story, but hey, that’s what this blog is for! Anyway, if you are still curious, apparently the full episodes can all be found on Youtube. I think at some point there might be some footage of Martin and I and the dogs hauling the toboggan full of suitcase home across the ice, which is kind of fun. Can I put reality show star on my resume?
This morning was another spectacular day. I took this little video to show you, although I doubt you can really appreciate how wonderful it felt. (Aside from the cold, which I am not used to. I think I can best describe it as a mist of knives – the mist like quality being the wthe way it creeps into any open space, and the knives of course is how it feels on the skin. But honestly, even that feels like an old friend.)