An unexpected journey

It was supposed to be a straightforward adventure. And then my path turned to water and light, life and death, and deep time.

My best laid plans always leave room for surprise.

Bright green arms of the Aurora Borealis spread across the starry sky over Great Slave Lake.
The aurora borealis shimmering over Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories.

It was supposed to be straightforward. I would take another road trip to a bison destination to gather blog and story map content. I would add to the project I sweated over for 18 months to publish– and then recovered from , letting it languish online for a year. My day job swelled with opportunity to innovate and lead. I suddenly found myself mentoring two college interns. I needed to divest myself of the whole Barbie Western Ranch kit after my last horse died. The country descended into surreal chaos. Too much going on to think, write, draw, communicate anything personal.

Cover image for a Story Map, with a title and buffalo staring out from the screen.
“On the Trail of the North American Buffalo” now lives on ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World.

This trip, I would take time to decompress. The interns would be back at school. I would spend more time traveling, four days driving to Northwest Territories and Wood Buffalo National Park and three weeks on the road. I meticulously penned the plan on a pre-flight wait in March. I scheduled the trip for September to avoid mosquitoes and crowds. I left an itinerary and emergency numbers with my sister, neighbors, coworkers, friends. I would check in regularly. All set.

But my journeys, no matter how strategically planned and defined in scope, always lead somewhere I don’t expect. This time, it was meant to be about wildlife, documenting travel tips, history, updating neglected blogs with new stories.

And then my path turned. The journey became all about water and light, the randomness of life and certainty of death, and deep time.

blue sky.
A golden eagle flies over the rich boreal forest of Northwest Territories.
A large wood buffalo bull walks among young aspen trees growing at the edge of the boreal forest.
A large wood buffalo bull walks among young aspens at the edge of the forest.

It will take me awhile and a few posts to unpack this journey. I packed not only my gear but also a strange and dangerous organism that dogged me all summer and almost won. I drove across a national border and turned off the news to ignore my country in historic chaos, anger, and agony. The unexpected changed my perspective at every stop.

I’m not superstitious, but I will always carry a small wooden square carved from an ancient tree, pressed into my hand by a Métis man who struck up a conversation with me. He insisted I take the square with me to ensure my survival and safe return to Canada in the future. He asked me to look up the real history of St Paul des Métis, where the tree once lived. He wanted me to share the story as far as I could. People needed to know the truth, he said.

At the time we spoke, I wasn’t sure I could do that. There might not be another trip. Ever. By that point in my travels, I felt overwhelmed, almost done in by a microscopic pathogen, and meaningless in the face of time. I wasn’t sure it mattered what happened to me. This was supposed to be a simple adventure and now I felt like a kayaker spilled into infinite rapids, grabbing a breath anytime I surfaced in the sunlight.

Then, after that conversation, the tide turned- suddenly, finally.

The sun rises over Great Slave Lake, on the shores of Hay River.

Here is the path I followed, a route that landed me in a place unimaginably old. Watch for updates as I set out on the road for my first destination: Blue River, British Columbia.

My journey from home to Wood Buffalo National Park, through the badlands of Alberta, and back home again.

Key:

  1. (A) Snohomish, Washington
  2. (B) Blue River, British Columbia
  3. (C) Saskatoon Island Provincial Park, Grande Prairie, Alberta
  4. (D) Sixtieth Parallel Territorial Park, Northwest Territories
  5. (E) Hay River, Northwest Territories
  6. (F) Peace Point, Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta
  7. (G) High Level, Alberta
  8. (H) Elk Island National Park, Alberta
  9. (I) Drumheller, Alberta
  10. (J) Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
  11. (K) Springy Point, Idaho
  12. (L) Home again!

Author: Monica

Once a scientist, now a communications professional, always a wildlife/nature nut. Helping create a balanced future for people and wildlife.

One thought on “An unexpected journey”

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