Moose Survey, Pilot Haiku

(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?

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