Late morning. Cool breeze and warm sun. Plane heeled up on an open crushed-shale beach, a hundred miles southeast of the Hoarfrost and maybe twenty miles south of Taltheili Narrows. My passenger Bruce, a research geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada, is off up the hill with his hammer, pounding off chunks of 1.8-billion-year-old outcrop, examining them for clues to… to something he could take several days to try to explain to me in layman’s terms.
I sit on the float step in the shade of the wing, writing up my logbook, making a few notes to myself in my “brain” – the little notebook I carry in my shirt pocket. 40 minutes pass. This is one of the many versions of a day’s work. It’s a good morning to be a bush pilot.
A scuffling sound from up the hill. Bruce returning to the plane? No, can’t be, not from that direction. More sounds, gentle footfalls, rustling of leaves. I tense. There he is, or she – surely one of the most unlikely creatures to tread this miraculous planet. Porcupine. Blonde, comical, shambling, totally absorbed in his morning stroll. Oblivious – for who, or what, would dare mess with him? He ambles into plain view not 30 feet from the tail of the plane. Up on his hind legs to grasp a willow shoot with both front paws, his bright-pink mouth and tongue turned toward me. Eyes the epitome of “beady,” but evidently not very sharp, because he makes absolutely no sign to show he has seen me.
He saunters off, pausing every two or three feet to pull down a tendril of shrubbery and eat a few leaves. I return to my Journey Log: “11 July, off Izok 1432 direct Yellowknife, down 1627, 1.9 hrs. air time.”
From the point to the south the unmistakeable cackling scream of a bald eagle, in syncopation with the alarm cries of six or eight gulls.
Bruce appears, smiling, his packsack heavy with brick-size chunks of grey stone and holding in his hand a foot-square slab of dark-gray shale, a perfect 5/8” tile that could have been cut on a saw. “Found your tile roof,” he says. “It’s just up there laying around…”
We load up, push off. Nose out of the quiet cove and into swells building from the southeast. Taxi at least a half mile to find some shelter from the small island and narrows to the north. Full throttle, a few bounces off wave-tops, airborne, and climbing in a gentle bank to the south toward Blanchet Island, the eagles and gulls circling below us in aerial combat, Mr. or Mrs. Porcupine somewhere down there in that green lake-edge, filling his odd niche in the neighborhood, living his unlikely life.