TUESDAY 3:10PM, UPON EXITING THE TWIN OTTER WE SEE SEVERAL HUNTERS (on their way back to Norman Wells) standing in front of an orange tarp on which rows of horns and piles of capes (the fur or pelt of animal) are laid out. Behind the hunters several women, a few small children, two dogs, an old man wearing a baseball cap and an oil cloth duster, several young men astride 4-wheelers as well as a handful of seasoned looking guide-types stand watching us. Here and there sit, or just are, all manner of Self-Supported Commune apparati; head-high stacks of red-blue-and-orange metal barrels, a wooden windowless garage-shaped building, a couple of rudimentary water pump-looking pumps, a large quantity of white plastic buckets, about 100 yards of 2” black plastic hosing, some of it strung-out some of it coiled, solar panels mounted on pieces of lumber stuck in the dirt just kinda wherever, etc. Behind A.R.R.O’s “airport” a path (the driveway) leads off into the woods toward camp.
Centered around a Main Street of sorts, Basecamp is a collection of low, log-cabin and log-cabin-looking buildings, storage sheds, utility sheds, tool sheds, bunkhouses and the Kitchen, which kitchen, the oldest and most important building in camp, is (apparently) the center of activity not just three times a day but nearly almost always – if you’re at Basecamp (i.e. not in the bush) you’re eating cookies and drinking coffee basically all day long. Off to the side, just beyond a trickle of a creek (the camp’s only sink and water fountain), is the Meat Shed and Horn Shack. Both are surrounded by a low, blue electric fence—for the Grizzly bears.
TUESDAY 3:30PM, WHILE JASON EATS A BOWL OF CARIBOU (or moose or similar, nobody knows) stew and talks to Tav (the owner of A.R.R.O.) while he refuels his Super Cub, I talk to Dave, the duster and baseball hat dude from earlier. Dave’s daughter Rebecca is married to Tav. Dave is here (in camp) doing “various things.” Dave is an old Bush Cowboy, or depending on which part of Canada you’re from, an old High-Country Cowboy. Dave tells me about Tulies, Riding for the Brand, surviving 13 plane crashes, the time he was run over—as in literally run over—by a steam train, and what it’s like to have cerebrospinal fluid running out of your nose in the process of surviving what should have been a fatal kick to the head by a horse.
TUESDAY 3:40PM, TAV TAKES JASON INTO THE BUSH IN A SUPER CUB. Thirty minutes later I am assigned to be flown into the same bush in a helicopter operated by a pilot in a BMX helmet. The pilot, I later learn from Kent (our guide) over a reconstituted (Mountain House) Buffalo Chicken dinner, has seizures and was likely “got” at a serious discount. Before we depart the helicopter pilot gives me a number of very basic rules regarding properly passengering in a helicopter, i.e., when the helicopter is on never walk around behind it. The flight is powerfully scenic—helicopters are practically all glass and they fly nose down. After a 45-minutes of thuck-thuck-thucking over several mountain ridges and countless massive drainages we land in an expansive, wide-open river valley on a non-descript (except for Jason and our Guide and their gear) stretch of rock and gravel. After crouch-scrambling off the airship which airship barely touches-down and never actually comes to an actual stop, I walk over to where camp is being pitched.
The guys, tent poles in hand, fire nearly started and but just kinda smoldering now, have stopped what they’re were doing and are silently and cooly observing my arrival. The helicopter is long gone, it’s quiet like it’s never been quiet before. I’ve never been further from civilization. I am WAY out of my element and natural habitat. Not since childhood have I been more reliant on a single person. The Guide, who I’ve never met before now, I know carries a some-what reliable satellite phone and an assault shotgun. Of the three of us he is the only one with any experience in the N.W.T. My life depends on his ability to make good decisions and solve problems. He looks young and worrisomely basic, or normal. I stop in the rocks five feet shy from the two of them. It’s still quiet and still nobody has said a word. Jason smiles, the Guide smiles, I smile. The Guide looks at me and my pack and my empty hands and says, “Hey, you forgot your food bag.”