Boreal Forest Ski Mushing Tours
On the Trail with Cliff
by Ted Leighton
We had stopped together as a group on the logging road in order to take a picture of one of us being pulled along on skis by one of the sled dogs; the dog team itself had raced on ahead, carrying our backpacks to the camp we were heading for.
I was suddenly struck by the social and cultural and ecological significance of the scene we were now a part of. Beside us, about 50 metres off the road, was a small log cabin of the style typical of the post-contact Woodland Cree and nestled on the shore of a small lake. The picturesque and pleasant scene of the cabin was greatly disfigured, however, because the forest had been clear-cut almost to the lakeshore. The woodland home of these Cree trappers had been cut down right to their very door and was gone; only the cabin remained to remind us of what had been.
There was smoke coming from the chimney; it was a real home of real people that had been so recently ransacked by our economy. And we stood on a new road, between cabin and clear-cut, ecotourists out for a ski in nature, passing through a moonscape and pulled by a sled dog whose life and heritage now were preserved, not by the forest-dwelling Cree, their partners of the past, but by a fringe of sentimental enthusiasts and ecotourists like ourselves.
We wore the fleece, thermolite and spandex of urban industries, not the hides and fur of the cabin-dwellers. We sped along under the crystal sky on plastic skis down a path bulldozed between then and now, pulled by an eager pup whose ancestors pulled the first people across the Bering Sea, along trails made by the very tracked machines that had all but made her race extinct.
And, strangest of all, we were the hope for the future in this scene of painful contrasts – we urbanites in our plastic clothes – we who will support those few among us with primal fires in their eyes and who warm us by those fires from time to time; we who will tell our leaders that we must have real forests in the woods, because it is necessary.