Ingi and I were fast friends.
We met on Christmas morning in a duplex living room filled with families – and friends that are like family – coloured lights a-twinkling, bright light pouring through the windows, the joyful kind of Christmas every soul who is separated from their relatives by vast distances hopes to have but rarely does. It was one of the most special things I’ve ever experienced.
The whole clan was decked out in plaid onesies, gifted to us by favourite neighbours.
“Here. Go put this on,” they gruffly shoved the bag into my hands and pushed me out the door.
Ingi introduced himself by his first name only – as, I’ve learned, is typical of him. I thought it might not be his real name. I thought, in fact, he might not be entirely of sound mind. His hair was thinning, short on the top but long in the back, and he held one of his granddaughters out in front of him in a box, slowly moving her around as if she were in command of a hovercraft. He spoke of an ‘investment of a lifetime’ – an outhouse on his property that one could hold a lifetime share in for 35 cents. Of course, by the end of the visit, I handed him a quarter and a dime.
At supper he told stories and I peppered him with questions, always wanting to know more, always challenging. The conversation became so intense at one point that his son walked over smiling, put two beers down in front of us and wordlessly walked away. Ingi said he was a letter writer and I said real mail is one of my favourite things in the whole world, and so we became pen pals.
The letters came and I read about the comings and goings of all things – people, plants, animals, birds, Sage the Dog, the snow, the skies – on a lake outside Flin Flon, Manitoba. It wasn’t long before I wanted to see it for myself, as I am apt to want, and I was graciously hosted for a week in early May.
I might well have stayed forever – or at least as long as I’d stay anywhere else.
Everyone I met was warm. Welcoming. Kind. Genuine in whoever they were. And the land? Rocks, trees, and water – my favourite kind of land. A paddler’s dream, and consisting of enough walking trails to keep me happy.
On the second day Ingi said if he’d ever had a daughter, he’d want her to be someone who loved to walk and paddle and be outdoors. He asked if he could adopt me. Now, this may seem strange – even outrageous, like Ingi – but the truth is, I have adopted family all over the country, and homes on the ocean, in the mountains, on the prairies and in between. I’m the luckiest, that way. My mom, who is one of the kindest, wisest people I know, once told me that we can make our own families wherever we go with kind people we meet where we are, and I’ve taken that to heart in my travels. I smiled and agreed.
A few days later on a smoky, sunny morning, Ingi and I flew to the trapline, about 25 air miles north of Snow Lake, Manitoba. The sky was red for most of the flight, reflected off a thousand little lakes below. We made our way in the Murphy Rebel further and further away from the signs of industry, of human life carrying on. Upon landing, we put a boat in the water and headed down a river to some rapids, then headed back and sat on a bench with a mint tea. It was quiet. So, so quiet.
I might as well have stayed forever – or at least as long as I’d stay anywhere else.
Ingi talks of a mentor of sorts – ‘the old trapper’ he calls him, though I’m pretty sure his name was actually Albert. I wonder if one day I’ll tell someone else, someone younger with the same yearning to know the land as I have about ‘the old trapper,’ Ingi, who could hold a drink in one hand, spin an axe in the air with the other, sneeze, catch it, and cut a piece of wood, and who simply, desperately wanted the land to be safe.
I’m counting down the days until I can get back, and see the trapline through the lens of a new season.