Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2003 Porcupine River Trip
Vermette Lake, Northwest Territories to Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan
  Day #5 - Monday June 30, 2003 - Route Detail

Helen Joseyounen born July 03, 1903, nick named Ts'u dlaghe (laughing girl)
From They Will have Our Words: The Dene Elders Project, Volume 2

"I have lived everywhere, Nueltin Lake, Kasba Lake, Snowbird Lake. The people from Kasba Lake used to get supplies from Stony Rapids. The route that they used was from Kasba Lake through Snowbird Lake and Selwyn Lake, then to Stony Rapids. My husband Bedzi aze (baby caribou) and Cilikwi aze (teenager) are some of the men that went to Stony Rapids. These men have all passed away. Things used to be cheap in Stony Rapids. When these men went there that is when we knew that other Dene were living this far south. Twice a year people would go for supplies. The men would go to Stony Rapids in winter by dogteam and in the summer they would go to Brochet by canoe." When asked about the sound of men drumming Helen says, "When I hear the drum it feels like my body is on fire."

And to think that this route we are on was also a major winter and summer highway for the Dene from Black Lake and Fond du Lac. This route will take us through Selwyn in about another week. When they hunt for caribou in the winter, Dene still use this trail and the one that Helen speaks of, although the land is strangely silent in summer months now.

We looked for the Disan's camp on Firedrake Lake today - the Dene call it Wolf Lake - but since we didn't think to mark it on our map the results were predictable. No camp. This camp is still active and Greg Disain uses it each winter as a base to trap for wolves. With the prices of fur so low as a result of what I consider to be the mis-thought anti-fur lobby, it is likely he and a few others like Raymond Fern and Lawrence Adam will likely be the last trappers this land will see.


A great day with a north wind that races us south along Firedrake. We even got to sail for about 2 hours.The country is changing quickly. There is less tundra and the hillsides are much more heavily treed with black spruce. We make near 20 miles in less than 7 hours of paddling and are camped behind a copse of black spruce out of the unrelenting wind on a hummocky muskeg field of flowering white Labrador tea, pink bog laurel and scattered tundra birch. The smells of the crushed plants from our crawling about in the kitchen permeates the air.

  The sun is warming us up nicely and the pizza dough is rising in anticipation of a feast. We still have some brownies left for a treat in the tent later.



We are very happy out here. I looked at Lynda tonight after we had the whole camp up in 25 minutes and asked rhetorically if anything in town could make me this happy. The answer was obvious. We are lucky to be able to chase this dream of a nomad.


As P G Downes said " ... camped on the edge of tree line, again it was one of those indescribably smoky, bright-hazy days one some times gets in the high latitudes ... it was a curious spot, for all the horizon seemed to fall away from where I squatted, and I said to myself, "Well I suppose I shall never be so happy again."

If P.G. could be here with us now he would count this as a spot that made him happy to be alive.

  Day #4 - Sunday June 29, 2003 - Route Detail  


For the last eight years, Lynda and I have paddled in the Dene's Land of Little Sticks and out onto the Barrens to the home of the Inuit. Each year, the same question fills my mind. Where is that special place that soothes my soul and gives me the answers to the very secrets of existence? Surely, the answers must be in the north that we paddle through and that has remained unchanged for a hundred and a thousand years - for here I feel happy in a way that I can find nowhere else.

Something in this land of the Dene and the Inuit speaks to me and consumes my soul in the same way it did the white trappers who escaped into the north during the great depression. In the same way that I am called to this place, these men were drawn by the magic of the north further and further into the sea of green and out onto the tundra along silver threads of water that carried them far from family and friends, until realising that they could not go back, they died alone in the land that had consumed them. But surely these men must have found the answers I seek?

And then, today, it dawned on me that the answers I seek and that special place are with me every day I set off anew. Each place I go is that special place and holds the answer. And like the nomadic Dene and Inuit and the white trappers before me, that place is always somewhere else. It moves with me and it is everywhere I go out here. For a nomad would know no single home and would revel in the day to day and there would be no single special place. And now that I know this simple truth I understand the strange unease that plagues me when the trip ends and I return to La Ronge. The confusion is because I need to move, to feel the motion that I know is the key to finding the new home that I know my nomad's soul needs to stay alive. Like those before me whose souls were consumed by this land, I know that the price I will pay when I can longer travel here will be not be as great as the rewards I have had by being here.

We woke today to a cold gray sky that had blown in from the north. It was so cold that the insects were non-existent and when we started to paddle my hands and feet were freezing. But it was a perfect day for the portages we had to do and the wind from the north sped us along south on the few small lakes we paddled.

The first 2 portages were longish (700 meters) but excellent over flat open sandy tundra. The third was short and ok. But the last 3 were treacherous - with one long at 600 meters - with thick tundra birch hiding deep holes and crevices. The last descent into Firedrake Lake was steep with unsure footing where a fall could have done serious damage. All totalled, we carried about 2.5 kilometers but as we are packed relatively light we got away with two trips each across each portage.

Now at 7:00 we are sitting under the tarp with a chocolate chip brownie cake and hot chocolate as a special treat for all our hard work. We made 12 miles today and are camped on a gorgeous tundra esker behind a clump of black spruce that breaks the bitter north wind that doesn't seem to want to let up. A meal of Bear Creek Chicken and Dumplings is filling the kitchen with a smell that is wonderful. We will sleep well tonight for sure.

  Last Year La Ronge to Arviat 2002 Map
Introduction Story for the 2002 trip
Check out Bill and Lynda's
2001 trip to the Dubawnt River in NWT & Nunavut.
Bill Layman's bio - with other Trips & Stories by Bill.
Live text edited by
Joan Eyolfson Cadham, freelance writer/editor, Foam Lake Saskatchewan.


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