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Few of us living in Saskatchewan have ever followed the Athabasca Seasonal Road—a lonely gravel road that cuts through the heart of the boreal forest and leads to the isolated communities along the shores of Lake Athabasca and Black Lake. Even fewer have ventured beyond. But for the people living up here, the road does not end where the highway stops.
Less than fifty years ago, hunters, trappers, and traders still traveled along this ancient First Nations route by dog team. Today, it is a snow machine highway. But I often wonder what it would be like to travel the old way north, and cross paths with the barren ground caribou in their southern winter range. There’s only one way to find out: my husband, Quincy Miller, and I load our 12 sled dogs into the truck and take the lonely gravel road to Black Lake. It is the middle of March, but up here, spring is nowhere near in sight.
Over the next few days I cannot get enough of the spectacle that repeats itself again and again in a similar fashion. Something catches my eye. A rock? A raven? When we get closer, I realize it is a caribou! Suddenly, there is a whole group. Caribou fill up the land. Some come to check out what we are, others go about their way undisturbed. Some rest on the ice, some wander along the shore pawing for the caribou moss below the snow. Others trek in single line, following their calling to a safe place for their calves to be born. Watching the caribou so at ease with their unforgiving environment makes me realize what it means to travel the old way north: to slow down, follow the seasons, respect the ways of the land; and to make your own trail, no matter how harsh the weather, how rugged the terrain. As I urge my team on, I feel less hurried, less cold, and I stop to listen to the land.
A more in-depth reading of this wonderful adventure can be found in the Spring 2014 edition of Prairies North Magazine.
About the Author: Miriam Körner immigrated to Canada in 2003, and has a background in psychology. When she is not busy writing, Miriam and her husband Quincy guide people through Northern Saskatchewan with their business, Paws'n'Paddles Wilderness Tours. You can visit their website at www.pawsandpaddlestours.com. Miriam lives in Northern Saskatchewan with her husband and 12 sled dogs.
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