Monthly Archives: November 2016

(Now I bet those are four words not strung together often!)

Since mid-November I have been away from the Hoarfrost River, based in Yellowknife, Gameti, and Lutsel K’e for a contract with the Bush Hawk.  Flying transect lines laid out by the survey biologist, with two observers in the back seats calling out wildlife spotted (“anything with fur” were the instructions to us on day one), and the wildlife biologist in the right front seat recording locations and details.  Lest some readers get the notion that these flights are a non-stop frenzy of animal sightings, I hasten to add that several of the common themes of our very widely spaced onboard conversation, interjected into long periods of engine-and-prop hum,  are comments like “Well, a few tracks there…” and “Wow, pretty quiet,” and the occasional wistful “Sure looks kinda moosey.”

The themes in my blog post from August 2013, “Summer Hunger” apply, although on this survey we are well within treeline. A Parks Canada brochure laying out the case for a new National Park out on the east end of Great Slave Lake included a remarkable comment, to wit:  “This is a land teeming with wildlife.”  I quoted it over the intercom the other day, after a perfectly silent low-level transect of some 90 nautical miles (167 kilometers) and my fellow observers responded with quiet chuckles. I really must invite the Parks Canada author of that phrase along for a flight or two.

This vast expanse of northern North America has many marvelous attributes, and I heartily support the uncompromising preservation of some enormous unfettered tracts of it. (Oh look, it’s the Chamber of Mines and the NWT Chamber of Commerce marching toward me with buckets of hot tar and Five-Star sleeping robes leaking duck feathers!)  But let’s get one thing straight, and keep it clearly in mind (remembering Haines’ admonition to northern writers about making “a sustained effort to demolish the cliché”):  This is the ice-scraped, fire-quilted, rock-floored northern limit of the boreal forest, squeezed between the cold depths of Great Slave Lake and the edge of the Arctic tundra.  “Teeming with wildlife” it is not.  Never has been, never will be.  In Saturday morning English, this is tough country for critters.

So what does a pilot do on these long quiet lines, hour after hour – and on these (even longer!) grounded “weather days,” one after the next? Lately I’ve been dabbling in Haiku.  5-7-5 syllables.  The textbooks tell me that this form is not to be punctuated and should be free of capital letters.  I will leave them the way I jotted them.


Over Stark Lake

Airborne, skis pumped down.

Cliffs and whitecaps slide below.

Engine snarl – good noise!


The Meadow

Shot caribou here,

But that was decades ago.

Now just ice and wind.


Ice on the Wings

Of the months we fly,

November is the worst by far.

Each night, down safe – good.



Transect Line Three-Nine

Post-lunch sleepies setting in.

One-liner anyone?


Trumped — 1

Moose! – On the ridge there!

Do you know or give a rip

About this craziness?


Trumped – 2

Of course not, he says,

Or so I think I hear.

“You are strange creatures.”


Watching Hockey with Joe Lockhart

During ads we talk.

Old stories of his good bush life.

These days, TV games.


East of Yellowknife

These miles of charred moss

Will burst green again, someday.

Our children will see.


Airborne at Sunrise

Over water, cliffs and trees,

Skis down, as if they would help.

Life insurance paid?


Back in YZF

At least in Lutsel K’e

We could see the stars at night.

Here, only streetlights.


Weather Day 4

Two words are comfort,

Just five welcome syllables:

“Daily minimums.”


At the Pool — Weather Day 5

When we cannot fly,

Swim twenty-five meter lines.

Creature of habit.


Annual Reminder

Minute by minute

The days keep squeezing shorter.

Why am I surprised?

Grounded on yet another gray and snowy November day in Yellowknife.  Trying to get an aerial survey contract finished, and dodging the season’s unsettled weather day by day.  Reciting that old bush-pilot mantra: “Better to be on the ground wishing we were flying, than to be flying around, wishing like hell we were on the ground…”

I’ll try to post something for November in the next few days but today I have an announcement here, and as Tom and Ray of Car Talk on NPR would say, “Welcome to the Shameless Commerce Division, folks…”

A new edition of my 1994 book North of Reliance is now available from the publisher, Raven Productions of Ely, Minnesota, or by inquiring through your local bookstore.  This is a happy resurrection for this collection of essays, after a period of about 15 years in “out of print” status.

Congratulations and Thanks to everyone who has made this happen!

Here is the link to book information from Raven:

Some comments from the back cover:

Olesen confronts the contradictions in using the tools of the modern world to touch the purity, serenity, and magnificence of wild nature in the far North. …This is a beautifully written, often moving, account of a couple’s quest to live a life together that touches what matters.

— Erik F. Storlie, author of Nothing on my Mind and Go Deep and Take Plenty of Root

Dave Olesen has captured a sweet spot in place-based writing where mystery, beauty, paradox, contradiction, and intimacy all gel together into an elegant truth.

— Bob Henderson, author of Every Trail has a Story: Heritage Travel in Canada and co-editor, Pike’s Portage, Stories of a Distinguished Place 

Dave Olesen is a writer/poet/observer of nature’s relationship with humanity like no other. He writes in the tradition (and standard) of Thoreau, Muir, Leopold, Eisley, Abbey, Dillard, Stegner, Berry and Snyder, but his perspective of the subject is as different from theirs as his lifestyle is from yours or mine.

— Dick Dorworth, author of Climbing to Freedom and The Perfect Turn

If you enjoy my monthly Hoarfrost River musings on this blog, you will find some good reading in North of Reliance. And if you have already read the book, you will enjoy the layout of this new version, including 40 photographs by Kristen Gilbertson Olesen. A link to her portfolios is     It was a pleasure for me to work with the people at Raven, and with Kristen, on this new edition — at times a mixed pleasure upon which I reflect in my Preface:

A late-winter morning here at home, half a mile west of the Hoarfrost River.  White ice, blue sky, and the fathomless silence that is the essence of the Far North. Time to place some new words ahead of this book’s original Preface.

It was John Dos Passos who claimed that “If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works.” (New York Times, October 1959.) Re-reading North of Reliance chapter by chapter over these past few months has not been a hellish experience. Far from it. The memories and images, clear and strong, have come back to me from those mostly-halcyon first seven years here: visions of caribou streaming the October hills and of June mornings alone, peeling logs for the sauna. As I have reviewed these chapters I have smiled often.

But Dos Passos was onto something with his comment, too, and there have been plenty of moments during my review when I have had to pause and consider not only my writing, but my thinking.  In the easy and straightforward instances I have just smoothed the grammar, corrected a typo, or changed punctuation.  (I thank Erin and Johnna at Raven, too, for their eyes and hands in this.)  In other places – places the readers might not suspect – I have had to take a deep breath, cringe, and resist a strong impulse to delete a phrase or to scrap an entire three-paragraph riff. In those soul-searching moments I have looked to other writers for wisdom. British author and World War One pilot Cecil Lewis, in his preamble to a third edition of Sagittarius Rising:

“They say that men grow wiser as they grow older, but I think they only get more gaga.  However, I am not so far gone as to tinker with what I wrote in those glorious years when life stretched before me like a landscape from ten thousand feet and there were no shadows in the day.  Certainly I can add nothing to what I said then.  A few passages, somewhat naïve or foolish, I might have suppressed; but since they are all part of the picture of extreme youth in action, let them stay.”

With that example in mind I have done only what I set out to do – that is, to let the gist of these quarter-century-ago impressions and conclusions stand as first written, stalwart in the face of my urges to qualify or alter them.  So I admonish readers of this second edition:  take these stories and essays for what they are, written when they were, and be thankful, as I am, that the passage of time does change us all – or at least we can hope it will.  (For who would want to live in a world steered by headstrong, footloose, starry-eyed thirty-year-olds? Seriously now.)

With Cecil Lewis and countless others nodding sagely at my side I say:  “Here is how it was for me, way out here, back in those days. Enjoy!”


8 April 2016