"While I was laying there in my sleeping bag, I told Alex that this was how all those explorers died--going out in the spring or the fall, when all the storms occur. We were 40 miles from home, and no one could help us in that blizzard."
—Marjorie Tretiak, from "A Bridge to Home"
In today's world, people blog about their travels. They chronicle their experiences online for anyone to read about. Fifty years ago, snailmail was the common technology.
A Bridge to Home is a story told through the personal letters of Marjorie Tretiak of Gimli. It chronicles her life during her marriage to Alex Tretiak in 1960, up until her death in 1996.
Together, Marjorie and Alex Tretiak travelled constantly. They lived in Canada, the Arctic and Africa.
SCENE asked Alex Tretiak to select one of the many adventures he and Marjorie experienced during their 35 years of marriage. This excerpt is from their days in the Arctic (1962-1964), in Inuvik, NWT.
(From Chapter 3 of A Bridge to Home: On to the Arctic)
September 4, 1962
Dear Mom and Dad,
We just got back a couple of days ago from a ten-day camping trip around the Mackenzie Delta.
We left on the evening of Friday, August 24th in our canoe, headed for Reindeer Station. That night we pitched our tent on the river bank. We had the river on one side of us and a small pond on the other side, in which two muskrats were swimming around. The next afternoon we reached Reindeer Station, which is 30 miles north of Inuvik. A group of reindeer herders live here. In the summer they round up the three reindeer herds on the Arctic coast. About the end of October they drive the reindeer down to Reindeer Station where they slaughter some of them. The frozen carcasses are stored in the Northern Affairs reefers and are sold to the public at 50 cents per pound. We haven't tried any yet ourselves.
While we were at Reindeer Station we asked an Eskimo if he could give us some drinking water. They cut ice in the river during the winter time and store it underground. Then, they use it as drinking water. His ice hadn't melted yet, so he got busy and pumped up his Coleman camp stove and started melting ice for us in the kettle. He and his wife gave us coffee and bread while we were waiting.
On Tuesday morning we headed to Campbell Lake, about 40 miles south of Inuvik. It took us two and a half days to get there, as we were paddling against a wind and a current. We arrived there on Thursday afternoon, set up camp, and fished a little. This was to be a permanent camp for five or six nights. We planned to spend our time fishing, berry picking, reading, etc. There are thousands of cranberries growing here, only on small bushes close to the ground, like blueberries.
We had just crawled into bed about 9:30 p.m. when it started to rain and a wind came up. Later on that night it changed to snow. The wind came in gusts up to 60 mph, and every hour we had to knock the damp snow off the tent. The storm lasted all that night, all the next day, and all the next night. We stayed in bed all day Friday because it was the warmest place we knew of. We couldn't build a fire for a hot meal because the wind was blowing so hard. All I had to eat that day was one cold chicken sandwich and a couple of cookies. We had no idea how long the storm would last. We bore in mind that we were north of the Arctic Circle, and that winter comes early up here. While I was laying there in my sleeping bag, I told Alex that this was how all those explorers died -- going out in the spring or the fall, when all the storms occur. We were 40 miles from home, and no one could help us in that blizzard. We had lots of bedding -- a double sleeping bag, a wool blanket, two flannelette sheets and a quilt, plus our underwear.
I told Alex that as soon as the storm ended, I wanted to go home. The tent was wet, and all the bedding was damp. Saturday morning the wind had subsided and the weather cleared. So, Alex got up at 4:30 a.m. and I at 5, we had breakfast and left, and paddled the whole 40 miles back home in one day.
All along the way we could see the results of the storm. Huge trees had broken right in half like matchsticks. Great chunks of the shoreline fell away. Trees had fallen over everywhere. Back in Inuvik the tree under which we usually keep our canoe had blown over. The power lines had blown down. The storm had bashed a couple of float planes that were on the river. In Norman Wells the winds had been blowing up to 75 mph. We found out that everyone had been worried about us out there.
I must say we did enjoy the trip though. We saw owls, eagles, red fox, beaver, hundreds of muskrat, rabbit, and thousands of ducks. . . .Alex Tretiak is a retired teacher and naturalist, living in Gimli. His
writing has been published in several journals, including The Cottager,
The Gardener for the Prairies, and Voices: Journal of the Lake Winnipeg
Writers. He is the author and photographer behind Journeys of a
Naturalist, his first book.Pictured above:
1. Marjorie Tretiak in canoe on the East Channel of the
Mackenzie River. (Alex Tretiak)
2. Marjorie and Alex Tretiak. (Self-timed camera)This content is provided by Alex Tretiak. The views expressed do not express the views of CBC. CBC is not responsible for this content