Monday, September 21, 2020

Voices from the Past : Betula Lake to Dorothy Lake

This morning was so dark when we woke up that we weren't sure the new day had actually arrived. A strong wind was blowing, making it feel like it should be cold and rainy, but it was oddly warm. Throughout the unsettling day we kept expecting it to rain, but so far it hasn't.

We set off down the trail around 8:00 am. For most of the day we followed a wide, grassy track that ran parallel to Provincial Rd 307. The fall colours were blazing, and if anything seemed brighter in the dim light. It felt like they were trying to give off enough light and warmth to keep the animals who remain during the winter warm.


After walking around 5 km our trail brought us back onto the road near the Pine Point Trail. From there we decided to take a 1 km detour down the highway to visit the Bannock Point Petroforms. These petroforms are stones laid out on the bedrock in the shape of turtles, snakes, humans, and abstract patterns. Anishnawbek and other Indigenous Peoples believe they were left here long ago for the benefit of all people that might visit this site to receive their teachings and healings. Archeologists aren't certain about exactly how old they are, and no fixed interpretation of their meaning has been made. Many levels of understanding and learning are possible, and the site is regarded as Sacred.

We walked down a short footpath between deciduous trees that were ablaze with the yellows, oranges, and reds of fall. Many coloured scarves and flags had been hung in the branches of the trees as well. When we reached the end of the bright tunnel we emerged onto an area of exposed pink shield. This was the beginning of 1.1 km loop, which took us past the petroforms. 


At first we didn't really know what to look for. We eyed the rocks lying among the grasses and moss at the edges of the trail, and wondered how anyone could recognize them as significant forms. 

It turned out those were just rocks. When we saw the petroforms, they were easily recognizable, and quite amazing.


My skeptical mind wanted to question their true age, purpose, or intended meaning. However, as we walked around the site it was clear that in many ways those things are irrelevant. The trees around the petroforms were decorated with black, red, yellow, and white flags, the colours of the Medicine Wheel in Indigenous cultures. There were also various articles of clothing hanging, some belonging to children. On some of the rocks offerings and rolled messages had been left. The Sacred site was clearly still being kept alive, and providing a space for healing and learning, as the Indigenous Peoples believe it was meant to do. It was a peaceful and thought provoking place, and well worth the detour.

After visiting the petroforms we backtracked down the road to the trailhead. From there we walked along a wide, gravel road that took us north, over a concrete bridge that spanned a fast-moving river. The tea-coloured water rushed in a noisy torrent among the boulders and around a bend in the river.


For the next few hours we continued down a wide, grassy, tree-lined track. At one point a busy group of Black-capped Chickadees chattered noisily in the trees beside us. The bright blue plumage of a Blue Jay flashed through the undergrowth ahead of us, contrasting with the bright fall foliage. The bright white rumps of several Northern Flickers flitted up from the ground ahead of us and disappeared among the trees.


The satisfying crunch of dried leaves beneath our feet accompanied us down the trail. In places the damp, earthy smell of fall already filled the air. As we talked about the petroforms, and the rock snake, we spotted a real, live Garter Snake on the path! In total we must have spotted about four live ones today, and quite a few that failed to make it across the road.


One of the highlights of the afternoon was walking past several beautiful marshes. The lush green grass, and bright red and yellow leaves were reflected in the chocolate brown waters. Large v's of Canada Geese flew past overhead, and small flocks of ducks jetted past at high speed below them. One group consisted of Green-winged Teals, and another included several Wood Ducks. 




Eventually the trail brought us to the Nutimik Campground. The word 'Nutimik' means 'up the river' in the Cree language. As we approached the campground we crossed a wide, winding river on a long red suspension bridge. Its shape and span were very impressive.


On the far side we stopped in a Great Trail Pavilion. Among the exhibits inside the rounded pavilion was an information plaque on the Borders to Beaches Trail. The Great Trail follows this path for 370 km, from the Ontario border to the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Along the way hikers see some of the most beautiful scenery in Manitoba, including ancient granite covered in 100 year old lichen, orchids, lush boreal forest, petroforms, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, and spectacular wildlife.

After winding through the campground, the Great Trail took us back along the road, down a wide, grassy track. One of the highlights was climbing up to a lookout with a great view of the fall colours extending down the river valley. A marble bench provided a nice spot to rest and enjoy the view.




When the trail brought us back to the road, we passed the Whiteshell Natural History Museum. Although it was closed when we passed by, this log museum features displays on the Winnipeg River, the Petroforms, wild rice, lake sturgeon, and the wildlife of the Boreal forest.

Outside the museum was an historical plaque describing the prehistoric manufacturing of copper tools, weapons, and ornaments in the region. These artifacts appeared about 4,000 years ago, some arriving through trade, and some being crafted locally from copper deposits on the northern shores of Lake Superior. 


While relaxing outside the museum our attention was captured by a TCT sign and map of the park.  Upon closer examination we discovered that the Great Trail in Whiteshell was divided into three segments - Proposed, Under Construction, and Completed.  Interestingly while the map was dated 1999 those sections which have been beautiful and easy to both find and navigate in the park precisely matched trails on the map noted as Completed.  By comparison those sections which we have lost or involved bushwhacking and wading into marshes were noted only as Proposed.  While those which have existed solely as flagging taped pathways were cited as Under Construction.  Another mystery solved. 
 

Another stretch of grassy trail wove up to another lookout before taking us through a beautiful section of spruce forest, and then back along the road. It was a pleasant walk, but by the time we reached Dorothy Lake we were getting tired, and it was late afternoon.


As we rounded a bend in the trail we unexpectedly came to the Pinewood Lodge. This was a huge, gorgeous, log building with a bank of windows looking out over the lake. We stopped for an ice cream in the convenience store, and soon learned that the owners had met and remembered Mel Vogel! 
 

As we sat on the porch outside our will to continue hiking evaporated, and we decided to see if any rooms were available. We were in luck, and the extremely kind owner offered us a discount in honour of our hike! When we saw the inside of the lodge, it was amazing. 


The center is a tall open space with an irregular shaped pool, and two floors of rooms surrounding it on three sides. The third side is a bank of windows with a view of Dorothy Lake. Everything is wooden, and the railings around the second floor are hand crafted. Each spindle is a different size and shape, and the tops of the posts are hand carved into the shape of owls and other birds.


We enjoyed a dinner of warm, delicious, home made pizza in our room, and an evening of work. It was a long day, and as we listen to the rain falling outside we are very glad to be indoors once again.






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