Last night, the final night of June, Kristen and I flew the north shore of McLeod Bay, homeward bound from Yellowknife. Glassy calm water and the very last floes of ice were scattered on the mirror like shards of a giant broken vase. On the perfect calm they float for a few final days in delicate arcs south of Thompson Landing and northeast of Kluziai Island. Ice out is official, for there will be no one stopped by those few chunks of ice. A few happy boaters on this Canada Day might poke their cabin cruisers up into the western reaches of the bay and find a little ice for their Scotch. Hopefully this will make their day, as it should.
There is a taiga fire burning to the northeast of us. The edge of the fire will today likely reach the shore of Long Lake (our name — how many Long Lakes are there in the world?) As of yesterday evening, when we circled flaps-down through the smoke for a good look, it was only a quarter mile from the shoreline of that lake, which lies directly across its path, and is wide and, as you might have guessed, pretty long — or at least it feels long when coming up or down it on a dogsled in the dark. To call the burn a “forest fire” would be misleading. Even a “wildfire” sounds a little over-dramatic for this creeping band of smoldering lichen, brush and deadfall with its thick plumes of white smoke. Still, it is a fire, burning wild and completely unchecked, and it is moving at the whim of the breezes, charring the countryside as it passes. It is fascinating to peer down from the plane into the country already burnt, and see all the green still there — big pockets of birch and alder, low wet ground, tall trees. Even on the hottest blackest sections I am left with the feeling of witnessing a perfectly natural drama, not some cataclysmic event. Glib of me, for it is cataclysmic enough to an unfledged white-crowned sparrow as the flames lick upward to consume the nest. Always amazing too, to watch the hot edge reach a stand of tall white spruce. Broad orange plumes of flame rush up through the smoke and entire trees burst into flame at every twig and needle.
Whether Long, Windy and Pistol Lakes will stop the advance of the fire in our direction depends mostly on the wind and the weather, but they might and I cannot help but hope that they do. If over the coming weeks the fire reaches the outskirts of our little homestead we are confident that with the right help from the local fire crews we could protect our buildings, our fuel cache out on the rocky point, and our livestock of the canine and feline varieties. As of today that one hot edge of the fire coming close to our dog-trail route is about 7 nautical miles from here, which is, in the vernacular of the old mountain men and my dear mother, “a fur piece.”
This morning the smoke lies thick and visibility is less than 3 miles. The sky above is a beautiful pale blue smattered with puffy cumulus. In the entire month of June we recorded just 5 millimeters of rain, in two brief showers. Still, somehow, as they always do, the woods have greened up. Canada Day is sometimes summery, sometimes not, but this year July begins in verdant green, a smoky haze, and down the bay some ice tinkling in some lucky boater’s orange juice.