The agreement when I first met Ingi was a three-day minimum interview, and there had to be a dialogue.
I spent a week on the lake in May. Ingi told everyone around that a journalist was coming to take pictures of the Investment of a Lifetime – a publicly funded outhouse (seriously) at Neso Lake. On a snowy day in May, I photographed the knocking down of an old outhouse at camp, and the bringing in of a new one.
Some time over the summer, the three day requirement for an interview turned into a three month requirement, again with dialogue. Three months started three days ago, and it’s already moving past us too quickly. Time does a funny thing when Ingi and I chat, and an hour can seem like two minutes.
Yesterday it snowed, and not just a fall sprinkling that melts as it hits the ground. It came down in heavy, whirling flakes and stayed where it landed. With the wood stove burning and grey light filtering through the window, Ingi stretched out on the couch in preparation for a quick interview – one of many to come, in the form of our daily banter, I know.
“I think I’ll just lay down here,” he said, his toes touching the end of the couch closest to me.
If you get to know Ingi, I think you’ll like him. Allow me to introduce you.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: I sit in an outhouse with a door wide open (note: this isn’t entirely true. He hasn’t sat with the door open since I’ve arrived, to my great relief) – especially so in autumn and spring when the geese are flying. I drink whiskey. Sometimes I walk with joy, sometimes I walk with pain. I’m fit, tanned and strong (note: Ingi unconsciously flexes his arms as he says this).
Q: What do you value?
A: Beauty more than money. Even squirrels gather cones for the coming year. We all need to survive, but sometimes we pursue more cones, more money, and forget to live life. I choose beauty and I choose life.
Q: What do you do in your downtime?
A: The things that bring warmth and purpose. It can be walking, paddling, laying on a hammock, reading, writing, repairing a cabin. I get confused between work and play, that’s what I’m trying to say.
Q: How did you end up here, at Neso Lake?
A: Philip Bashnick – I met him through my dad and uncle in 1974 for the first time in a little old blue cabin (note: the cabin is still standing across the highway from Neso Lake, down a short path through the woods). There were squirrels climbing on his pants and peanuts on his shoulders – not just one, but several squirrels. [My dad and uncle and I] were living in tent camps all over the north, getting dropped off with ski planes and float planes, cutting grid lines, staking claims, and swinging the axe all day long.
I got to trap with Phil in 1978 – spring beaver trapping – and then I got to trap here full time in 1979 with the dog team. For 13 years I had dogs. Boyhood dreams, that’s what brought me to the area. Closer to boyhood dreams. I had a passionate boyhood dream to have a little cabin in the woods.
Q: Where did the dream come from?
A: Books, school. I’m a high school dropout. I took the stunned math course on purpose. I was good at math, I could finish early, and I would over and over draw this little log cabin with the snow falling, the cabin snug and warm, the smoke rising, an axe in a stump.
(Note: At this point I said it’s funny how closely the cabin at Neso Lake resembles Ingi’s drawing. He told me, “Go look outside at it, right now. Do you see it?” And there it was – not just the cabin, but the snowflakes falling around it.)
Q: What’s the highest education you have?
A: I’m not done yet, but I’m getting more educated with you here, too. I have grade 10. Now I have a question for you. Who learns more – someone who reads a university textbook but only reads the teeny, teeny portions within the $100 textbook so as to merely and better pass the test, passes the test, and then moves up the hierarchy of education, just to climb up the academic ladder of success – greater money, and ease of life – or someone who has the same textbook, finds it in the garbage or for two dollars at a garage sale, and reads it cover to cover and discusses it passionately?
Q: How did you come to have the trapline you work now?
A: I yearned for a wild and pristine land with no roads. I knew the old trapper there before me, Albert Jordan. I met him over the years, actually back in 1978. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. No roads, no winter roads, just little trails through the boreal forest. Woodland caribou, unmolested; no park wardens required for them to maintain their living status as free creatures. I fell in love with it. And so, Albert, by then when I took over, he was 77 years old. In 1991 I took over. I think he was pleased. I think he was, because he wanted someone who would take care and love the place. I think we all do.
Q: What do you enjoy about trapping?
A: It’s a reason to keep me on the land. Walking, padding. It’s a reason of intimacy. As cruel as it might sound to be – harvesting animals – it’s a reason to be on the land. It’s an industry by and large for the very wealthy, who can afford fur coats. At the same time, it provides jobs for the not so filthy rich, who want to travel the land – the Indian Peoples, others.
The years have changed, since 1983, the general collapse of the fur trade. Cultures have changed. We’ve become more entitled, and, can I say lazy? I think they dance hand in hand, entitlement and growing easy. I think they dance together. That’s our quandary, being human.
The fur trade, it had rich experiences for the individuals – it gave them a reason to be out, a purpose; walking, staying fit, sleeping under the stars, intimacy with the land. A relationship with the land to guard ourselves from a relationship with greed. I think it has a purpose that’s always going to be there. The more the lands are developed, the more progress that comes, the more it will crush our combined spirit. When the last rock is blasted for the last ounce of gold and the last water is dammed, we will find emptiness. I think there’s room for wild places. I think that’s a part of what you want to see, as well.