Frum Outdoorsman: Rare but Possible

The wanderings and adventures of an orthodox Jew

Remembering the Northwest Territories

Posted by Frum Hiker on February 7, 2008

I have never been so aware of my devotion to Hashem than on my trip to Alaska. In August of 2007 I undertook trip that many people dream of, but never actually complete, or they opt for the cruise and miss out on all I was to see and bask in. I say this because, the drive is a lonely one, literally coming to towns every 150 miles or so, along the Alaska Highway (Alcan). There is just nothing ordinary about it, you have never really been in the true middle of nowhere until you make the drive. Northern British Columbia and Yukon Territories are so vast and empty it’s a marvel that anyone calls it home. Prior to 1942 with the construction of the Alaska Highway, it was a truly desolate, with just a few mining and logging communities, towns were non-existent and most of the residents were natives or living in the Bush. The bush is the term used to describe someone that lives in a community or area that is not accessible by road, and usually only accessible by plane or snowmobile. Till today there are thousands of people living in the bush, and thousands more that live in places that are accessible in the winter through the building of “ice roads”, its unbelievable and I was driving right through it.

In fact a quick look at a map of the north country will reveal that for most of the Alaska Highway, it is completely void of human activity on either side for a thousand miles in either direction. This is why I was completely aware of every little spark of kedusha that I brought to this isolated piece of land.

It didn’t hit me so hard until I was davening shachris on the side of the Liard River in southern Northwest Territories. There was this long single lane bridge with a wooden planked surface, it was rather odd and the Milepost even had something to say about it. The Milepost is a guide to the north country, and is put out every year, it is extensive and a must for anyone traveling the north, usually the north is referred as anything above the 60th parallel, which is at over a thousand miles due north of the United States northern border with Canada which is at the 49th parallel.

Anyway I was overlooking this vast swift moving flat water river, sandy shores butted up against the greenest, thickest forest of pine I have ever seen. In fact the whole area is this unbroken plain of pine trees that are rather short, due to the extreme northern cold climate and northern location. There is a point at which the trees end, and nothing can grow besides for grasses and shrubs, but we were not headed up that far. I was standing off to the side of this long bridge while my driving companion Danny debated if he wanted to go fishing for some breakfast.

The road we were on was dirt, in fact there are hardly any paved roads in the Northwest Territories (NWT) and we were on a short detour, because in my mind you cannot come to the north and skip out on being somewhere that is so hard to get to. NWT stretches north to he arctic ocean and also borders Nunavut, Canada’s newest province, most rural and hardest to get to. The lure of NWT for me was its shear size and lack of people, 41,000 people live in an area almost ten times the size of California, that is just too insane to pass up.

We had decided not to drive so far into it, since the roads are unpaved, and although they aren’t too bad, I did want to make it to Alaska, and most of NWT is flat and I fiended the mountains of the Yukon and Alaska.

It really wasn’t a question of whether I was the first person to daven on route the side of the bridge right outside the Northwest Territories. But I had begun to think of a bunch of different ways to bring kedusha to the ground we walked on. Brachos instantly became more pronounced and excuses were made to say a bracha, more kinds of food were eaten, picking wild flowers to make brachos and going to the bathroom more so we could say asher yatzer, it was unreal really and the mood lasted throughout the trip. Every time we sat down to eat or make camp, there was a little learning that may not have been done, have we been in a more populated location.

The road became rough and down the center of it was a small pile of gravel and earth, it was making it hard to drive faster then 30, then a road grader approached up and flattened out the road, nearly swiping my car and all its contents into the ditch that was on the side of the road. Every few minutes we pass a cut in the trees with no apparent purpose, but according to the Milepost they were snow roads, only opened when enough snow had fallen to allow trucks and snowmobiles to travel over the roots and fallen trees.

My car came to a halt in the middle of the road, nearly skidding off it, for a herd of Buffalo had just appeared out of the thickets, I hadn’t realized anything could fit in the forest. The huge brown hairy behemoths, just grazed as if were weren’t even there. I love Buffalo, especially in the wild, which in the lower 48 is rare, save for Montana and South Dakota which have several herds. We took some pictures and stared at wonder at the large beasts, just taking big bites off the bushes on the side of the road.

A little further on we came to a simple road sign that said Welcome to the Northwest Territories. It was a simple affair and since we were almost out of gas, we continued on to the small town or outpost may be a better word, of Fort Liard. I just wanted to see some people that actually called this place home, and see the license plates. The license plates in NWT are shaped like a grizzly bear and I found that interesting.

We stopped at the one gas station, we had since stopped thinking of gas cost because everything is marked up in the north and you can forget about brand names. Most of the gas stations were merely a bunch of cabins with a pump sticking out of the earth. We walked in the store and realized that most of the town were natives.

Then we went to the one store, a native crafts store, and browsed. We looked in the guest book and sure enough some folks had written their names in Hebrew and were from Israel, whether they were religious we will never know.

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7 Responses to “Remembering the Northwest Territories”

  1. yankal said

    I,m looking to get away, what/were do you recommend that’s outdoorsy this time of year (within usa)

  2. Frum Hiker said

    Well you should email me- frumsatire@gmail.com

    It all depends on how much time, money, outdoorsy you want to get. Are you sleeping outside, driving flying, hiking, wandering.

    If I had the time and money- I would probably go to the Southwest- Utah/Arizona- because I never get to go in the winter when its not hot. Thats me, I am in love with red rocks and painted desert- and you can sleep outside, and just wander around.

  3. Nice said

    Beautiful as well. That’s a Lubavitch oiece about bringing nitzotzot of kedusha to everyplace you go, isn’t it?

  4. Frum Hiker said

    You know the first person who told me about was Lubavitch, but since then I have heard many people mirror that view. It is a basic chassidus concept of helipah and atzilas- not necessary chabad.

  5. Mindy said

    Never even heard of that. Helipah and atzilas? Why did I never hear of that?

  6. Frum Hiker said

    Kelipah I meant to write, the kelipah is the covering around the world that was put on creation- and atzilus is the small amount of Godliness that can penetrate through the kelipah. Kelipah means covered literally. Its interesting stuff.

  7. Mindy said

    My grandfather once gave us a shiur about klipos one Shabbos, but I wasn’t paying attention. It does sound interesting, and is the type of stuff I like to learn. (I mentioned learning on your other blog, actually)

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