Below us, the city of Toronto, and then its suburbs, fell away, and we glimpsed fields and farming communities as the plane's powerful engines lifted us high above the clouds.
In less than two hours we were descending again, and looking down on a beautifully rugged landscape. A river shimmered silver in the sunlight, reflecting the clouds above as it snaked its way through the green and forested landscape.
I was excited at the thought of reconnecting with the rest of the team, but was also looking forward to seeing Harriet Visitor, the grade 8 teacher whom we got to know when she brought her graduates from Mish to visit the south for a week in June. Harriet was going to be away on vacation when we'd be in Mish, and we were disappointed that we wouldn't see her, but the week before we left, Harriet had messaged me to say that she and her family were in Thunder Bay, and asked for our flight details as she wanted to bring her husband and daughter to meet us at the airport.
Before we connected with her though, as we emerged into the arrival lounge, Holly spotted an airport staffer and hailed him like a long lost friend, with a warm, "Hi Bartlett!"
Bartlett looked at her with a slightly embarrassed smile, saying, "I'm searching for a name..."
Holly broke into peals of laughter as she pointed to his identification badge and Bartlett smiled on, relieved, I think, to be off the hook.
And then Harriet and her husband appeared, with their sweet daughter, who was tricked out of her initial shyness by the irrepressible Holly, who engaged her in a spontaneous game of peek-a-boo, which quickly escalated to an ever more boisterous game of tag.
I thanked Holly later for showing me how easy it is to build rapport with a child. I can feel shy and awkward with little ones, but she demonstrated for me that the secret is to forget myself and just look a child in the eye--making contact! I practiced this lots over the days ahead--relaxing and enjoying the children. This was one of my first gifts of the trip.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye and get on our way.
Paul had booked a compact car but when he went to pick it up, the compact cars had all been rented out. For the inconvenience, the dealership upgraded us to a roomier and more luxurious Nissan, which really proved to be a blessing in ferrying people and supplies around.
Susan, our trip coordinator, gave us last minute instructions on how to get out of Thunder Bay before our convoy set off for our next destination, the small, northern community and river called English River, where Susan's husband, Ron, had suggested we stop for lunch. Ron knows the province well through his profession of Ontario and Canada Land Surveyor, so his recommendations bear weight.
We eventually and gratefully rolled into the parking lot of the Black Spruce Motel and diner. Susan had thoughtfully called them the day before, to forewarn them of the pending invasion of 15 people all at once for lunch, which proved to be a good thing to have done. The waitress managed us all with calm professionalism, while admitting to panic the day before.
The restaurant proved to be a gem, living up to Ron's recommendation, both in food and ambiance.
Susan spotted a party of people at one of the tables, with someone she recognized: Judy Maunula, or Chief White Cloud of Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation, a band with whom Susan's husband has worked professionally.
When I saw that there was home-made pie on the menu, how could I not sample the work of of a fellow pie maker? Susan and I shared this delicious slice of blueberry pie and gave it full marks!
We still had far to go, so refreshed, we set off again. At the town of Ignace we left Highway 17, for the secondary highway 599, which would take us all the way to Mish, passing along the way, the Arctic Watershed. North of it, all water drains into Hudson's Bay, while rivers, lakes and streams to the south flow into the Great Lakes. We also entered a new time zone here, one hour behind southern Ontario. We followed a grey road with an ochre ribbon dividing it and boreal forest on either side, for about 4 hours. Along the way, a bear cub ambled out of a ditch and across the road and we spotted a bull moose in the trees at the side of the road. We were entering a place of much natural beauty and abundant wild-life and within a few hours we would be in Mishkeegogamang--a new place to some of us, but to others a place that we have grown to love over many years. The adventure was truly about to begin.