Of Porcupines and Parks
I am told there is another shorthand out there in the world of text messages, an abbreviation to join OMG, LOL, BTW, WTF, and etc. It’s “TLDR,” for “Too long, didn’t read.” I gather that almost no one really reads anything, at least on a screen, that is much over a hundred words long, whether it is a news clip, an obituary, or a love letter, er, love e-mail? This cannot be good news for writers. We have become the Readers’ Digest Condensed culture, with the collective attention span of a herd of gerbils. Last spring I was down in Fort Nelson on airplane maintenance, watching TV and eating dinner at the local pizza joint, when I realized that The Sports Network now condenses entire baseball games into less than 20 minutes. Nothing but the action. Because, really, who has time nowadays for the pitcher to scowl at the catcher, shaking off the sign, shaking off another sign, then to slowly glance over his shoulder to hold the runner on second, then winding up, delivering a slider, fouled off into the right field stands… yawn. And this slowness is, I think, the very essence of baseball. I digress. So anyhows… Thinking about my monthly posts here, I have resolved to knuckle down and try to keep them to some reasonable length, say under a couple thousand words, in the thin and fading hope that a few cherished fans will still plough through them completely. The other day I hit on a notion of appending a bonus-prize tidbit to the tail end of each rambling missive, an offering of arcane or obtuse bush-homestead practical wisdom (I have plenty, believe me) – a kind of trophy for reading all the way to the end.
For example – what is the best way to move a porcupine safely and harmlessly off the premises? The other morning, just before breakfast, Kristen came in and announced that there was a big porcupine stuck in the barn. The dogs had been making a bit of noise off and on in the pre-dawn hours, but nobody had gone out to check on them. Over the years, mushers get good at deciphering all kinds of subtle nuances of dog-yard uproar, even when we are half-asleep. Some 3 a.m. kennel sounds send us up and out the door in a rush, whatever the weather, armed with jacklight and firearm and horn. Dogfight, unplanned breeding, loose dog, grizzly or black bear, wolf, wolverine, or some awful combination of several of these. The noises the other night were not in that category. A porcupine had wandered into the barn.
So here’s the tip (I’m already well into TLDR territory, here, I know.) Should you need to capture and relocate a porcupine that has gotten itself cornered in an outbuilding, a large and long-handled fishing net is the tool of choice. A second smaller landing net works well, clapped on top of the opening of the first one, once the porcupine is in the big one. Then just lift and carry. Panicked porcupine, yes, but soon a very happy porcupine, who is probably still reminiscing about his morning motor-boat ride across to the beach on the east side of the river-mouth. There to be hoisted ashore, to make a comical waddling 100-yard dash off toward the wilds of… Canada’s newest National Park.
Last winter, with tongue firmly in cheek, I started to write an announcement for the newspaper in Yellowknife. Along the lines of “Mark the date and start the preparations for this Golden Anniversary, everyone. Two years to go, and counting down.”
In 1971, 48 years ago, a rugged swath of land and water lying to the south, southeast, and northeast of here was set aside by Parliament, to someday, maybe, possibly, become a National Park. The consultations, negotiations, projections, meetings, studies, case scenarios, consultations, negotiations, projections, meetings, studies, case scenarios, consultations, negotiations, projections… well, you get the idea… dragged on, stopped, started, paused, resumed, dragged on, stopped, re-started… okay.
As we approached the 50-year anniversary of this process, and after yet another postponement of a community referendum on the park over in Lutsel K’e last winter, I just wanted to poke some fun at this half-century of discussion. The celebration, I thought, would most fittingly take the form of a colossal Meeting to End All Meetings. Picture it: tables groaning with stale doughnuts, rubber chicken, styrofoam cups and paper plates, gallons of weak coffee; microphones, briefing notes, laptops; maps the size of bedsheets all festooned with lines and arrows and captions. Entire days and nights of meetings, an ultra-marathon of politically correct droning – the speakers rambling on, all haltingly translated into six or eight official languages; listeners napping, snoring, and drooling… We would need an acronym, of course, and Kristen came up with a good one – S.T.A.L.D., for “Still Talking, After Lengthy Discussion.”
I never got around to writing that piece, and now I will not need to. Because – lo and behold, will wonders never cease – on Wednesday August 21st, in the tiny hamlet of Lutsel K’e, 55 miles southeast of here, starting at dawn with an airborne armada of dignitaries and bureaucrats and journalists all touching down in chartered planes on the gravel airstrip a hundred miles from the nearest highway, papers were signed and speeches were made and drums were pounded and hands were shaken and applause rang out. And after 48 years of on-again off-again discussion and deliberation, Canada has a new National Park, named Thaidene Nene – and no, I am not going to dip a toe into the perilous waters of trying to phonetically sound that out for you here.
Right in synch with the decades of lead-up to this agreement, the signing ceremony itself was hastily cancelled and postponed back in July, to accommodate more eleventh-hour discussions. But, by all accounts – stay tuned – it is now really and truly a done deal.
What will this mean for us here, living right on the edge of this new National Park? Honest answer – I’m not sure. Gut feeling – not all that much. But I could be wrong. For years I have said that I was of two minds on the topic – I supported the creation of the park, while fervently hoping that our place here would not wind up within its boundaries. I had (still have) visions of platoons of green-suited starry-eyed Ottawa types, clipboards in hand, all asking pointed questions: about dipping drinking water from the lake, or about estimates of quarts of lingonberries and blueberries picked each year, or about the cutting of dead trees for firewood or – gasp – the felling of a living spruce or birch or tamarack, to become a stack of boards, or – gasp again – specific queries as to the precise destination of our elegant and odor-free outhouse buckets (See my post about Outdoor Plumbing from October 2015.)
And as another layer of personal response to that large question about how I would view the capital-letter National Park… well, it would be the ultimate irony for a lifelong disciple of John Muir, Robert Marshall, Sig Olson, Annie Dillard, Gary Snyder, Edward Abbey, and Henry Thoreau, to name just a few among many, if the creation of a new wilderness park spelled the end of our halcyon life in the outback, now wouldn’t it?
For now, just ten days in, our life here on the outskirts — but not, and thankfully not, within the boundaries — of Thaidene Nene goes on. Frantic and frenetic July is past; our visitors for the next eleven months will be very few and very far between. Fewer and farther between every year, park or no park – and this I do not take as a good sign, believe me. A little uptick in park-related flying and activity, maybe, and maybe a new neighbor or two, in some Parks Canada role, for some portion of the coming winter. Hard to say. Some more meetings and consultations. (A friend who worked in the NWT government for years told me that one meeting agenda item that never failed to come up toward the end of every meeting was… scheduling the next meeting.)
There is no doubt that the Park will bring along some new jobs in Lutsel K’e, good and interesting jobs for a few people, jobs out in the back-country, doing work that will have far more appeal for most locals than those capital-J Jobs up at the mines, loudly touted, most loudly by those who would never dream of working at one of them. Changing bedsheets or preparing cafeteria steam-table shrimp dinners, or driving enormous dump-trucks of crushed rock up and down, and up and down, the growing tailings pile. 12 hours a day, two weeks in and two weeks out, year by year. Thanks, but no thanks. A truly impressive pile of crushed rock now rises 44 miles north of us, and has quickly become a new aviation landmark for any confused pilot, visible as it is from 50 miles away in all quadrants. “Diamonds are Forever” takes on a whole new meaning. I digress, again.
The porcupine headed off toward the boundary of what is now a park, and he or she (we didn’t try to ascertain the critter’s gender, it being scared, and a porcupine) will likely find safe and abundant living there, for as long as this entity we call “Canada” lasts. Which of course will not be forever, any more than a diamond ring, or a pile of crushed rock, for that matter, can be.
When I set the politics and polemics, the nattering, and the rose-colored projections of highly-paid consultants aside, there is solace for me in the sight of that odd, and oddly beautiful creature, hurrying as only a porcupine can hurry, across the beach and up into the woods on the edge of this new preserve, on a sunny late-summer morning.
In case you are still with me, here below are some facts I found as I tried to put some size, in my mind’s eye, to this new preserve, by referencing some of my old stomping grounds and well-known chunks of park and wilderness elsewhere on the continent:
Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve: 14,000 square kilometres of wilderness protected through partnerships between Parks Canada, Government of Northwest Territories, the Łutsël K’e Dene First Nation, and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, and with the Deninu K’ue First Nation, and with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation
Together, the new areas, including the two Territorial Protected Areas allocated immediately adjacent to the national park reserve (an additional 12,222 square kilometres), total approximately 26,222 square kilometres (almost the size of Vancouver Island).
14,000 square km. = 3.459 million acres
12,000 square km = 2.965 million acres
Total size of Thaidene Nene = Six and a half million acres
Banff National Park 6,640 square km = 1.6 million acres
Jasper National Park 10,900 square km = 2.7 million acres
Nahanni National Park = 7.4 million acres
Yellowstone National Park is 2.2 million acres.
The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is 1.3 million acres.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness = 814,441 acres
Quetico Provincial Park = 1.18 million acres