Fly-In to the Boonies

500 feet above the ground, the floatplane is jostled by the gusting winds as we fly directly into a front of driving rain. My stomach pitches and I close my eyes, concentrating on my breath. A bead of sweat lazily wets a trail down the back of my leg as I welcome the onslaught of rain droplets against my face, pelting through the pilot’s cracked window which is the only source of air conditioning on the 1950s Beaver. The soft-faced, young pilot turns to nod his head towards our window, the engine’s roar filling the small space of the plane’s body. Below us, two adult moose stand nonchalantly, knee-deep in the bog, ambivalent to our presence overhead. Their massive outlines appear toy-like from our vantage point. Beyond them, the tree-lined horizon stretches infinitely, dotted with endless clear-blue lake and swaths of black spruce stands. Cliffs of mighty granite jut obtusely from the earth outlining the contours of the bush. As far as the eye can see, there is emptiness, without a singular trace of human presence, yet there is abounding life in the land’s natural form. I feel small, humbled and grateful.

Beside me, Alice’s small body slumps against my side, tucked sweatily under my outstretched arm. Her sunburnt cheeks jiggle deliciously in rhythm with the engine’s hum, her lips slightly parted in a state of deep slumber. I smooth her tangled hair and smile. Her image is summer perfection: dirty feet, mosquito-marked little legs, sandy hands and a suncreen-scented neck. I am reminded of my own childhood self spent running barefoot across the rocky Canadian Shield shoreline, slipping naked endlessly in and out of the water on backcountry canoe trips with my family. Without consciously planning it, I realize how similar our summer childhood experiences have been and I am glad. How fortunate we have been to be able to gift our children these memories.

After three days of disconnected bliss, Blake, Henry, Alice, Ada and I were en-route home via floatplane. While waiting for the bush pilot to come pick us up at our outpost camp, I had polled our crew for their staycation highlights:

  • Blake: ‘Late fishing’ with Henry and Alice
  • Henry: No work days for Mom and playing with quick sand
  • Alice: S’mores
  • Ada: Endless creature-chasing at the beach
  • Me: No cell phone service

Inspired by Bob Allen’s children’s book ‘Fly-in to the Boonies’, we had jumped at the unique opportunity to get off the grid for a family getaway at a fishing outpost, tucked about 50 kms from our home on the northeastern tip of Lac Seul. As the second largest body of freshwater solely within Ontario’s borders, Lac Seul is a massive, 240km-long, crescent-shaped lake widely known for its legendary, world-class walleye and muskie fishing which draws largely American anglers year after year to its outposts in hopes of landing trophy-worthy fish. For locals, this experience is largely made off-limits by the cross-border tourists who book years in advance to access these waters. During non-COVID times, I would always mark the official start of summer as Wisconsin-plated pick-ups towed expensive looking fishing rigs into town and our ER filled with fishhook-related mishaps. This year, of course, has been different. With our southern border closed to American visitors, the fishing-related tourism that many local people rely upon for their livelihoods has all but dried up resulting in rare opportunities for local ‘staycations’.

The red marker indicating the massive lake, Lac Seul, north and west of our town of Sioux Lookout
Lac Seul

For me, fishing has never been a passion, however, I do love evenings on the boat with Blake and the kids watching the sunset, spotting eagles and local wildlife all the while wrangling the kids to stay put on the boat, untangling snarled lines, breaking up fights, handing out snacks and managing the logistics of potty requests while on the water. There is never a dull moment while attempting to land a few walleye with a four and five year-old onboard!

A few weeks ago, when owners of Anderson’s Lodge (a local fishing lodge and family favourite dining spot just up the lake from our home) had mentioned they had availability for all of us to stay at one of their outposts for a family fishing staycation, we had jumped at the chance. With the ever-present demands of my work, even on my precious days ‘off’, I am often dealing with emails, phone calls and meetings. I was desperate for the opportunity to get off the grid and melt into the silence of the bush.

So, packed to the gills with snacks, smokies and s’more supplies, we had headed via floatplane to Pickerel Narrows on Lac Seul. Pristine and remote, the solar-powered cabin had been nestled on a sandy beach with not another soul to be found. Without Wifi or cell-service, we spent three full days of uninterrupted time with the kids. Our mornings were consumed with hours of leech catching, toad hunting, and chipmunk chasing barefoot on the mossy forest floor and sandy shores of Lac Seul. We munched on chips, read and napped in the quiet of the sunny afternoons and spent the evenings on the water as a family in (often retrospective) hilarity of walleye fishing with our crew. As parents of littles all understand, vacations are generally just time spent parenting as usual with a different view. As predicted, the highs were higher than high and the lows were intensely low, there were meltdowns and chaos but amid the normal pandemonium there was something so precious and rare in the moments of absolute stillness, expansive silence and the shocking realization that there was simply nothing to do – no laundry, no cooking, no emails, no meetings and no to-do list.

We are ever grateful to Meredith and Rick at Anderson’s Lodge and to Matt at Slate Falls Airways in enabling us to experience this slice of local paradise and to create so many lasting summer memories with the kids – sunburnt noses, tangled lines and marshmallow faces galore.

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