dog on Atlin Lake

The Simplest, the Smallest and the Most Profound

I continued to scroll through the newsfeed. Stories of doom and gloom. I didn’t even have to read the content. The photo and headlines were enough to drag me down. Switching back to Facebook and Instagram didn’t help. It felt like people showing off their perfect lives. An image of life that was only partly true but kept me trapped on a hamster wheel of trying to do more, have more and be happier.

Suddenly the phone rang, snapping me out of my catatonic state.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Kay.”

“Oh, hey Dad.”

It didn’t take me long to tell him how I was feeling. “Dad, it’s just really hard right now.”

“You know, Kay, one of our big problems is that we don’t realize how much we really have.”

I had heard this statement over and over again in my life. It wasn’t new.

“You mean gratefulness?”

“Yes.”

I couldn’t agree more with my dad. I mean, every time someone said “Remember to be grateful,” I would always nod my head and smile and reply, “Yes, yes. It’s all about perspective.” But for some reason, it didn’t fully sink in and I always ended up back in a “wanting” feeling, like my life wasn’t enough.

“Dad, I have to get going. I have planned a solo trip out on the land to try and reset.” I was heading to the land for a night, to stay in a small cabin near Atlin. It would be me and the three dogs—Tin, Junip and Diamond—no other people, and there would be no cell service or internet.

dog on frozen lake
Junip with an open lead

We said our goodbyes and I hung up the phone to start packing.

During the drive to the cabin, my mind chatter was loud. As I left Internet Land and drove into the shadows, without cell service, I immediately felt an irritation of withdrawal. No longer existing to the outside world, I continued to drive down winding roads, past the last electricity pole and house, and into the wild.

As I arrived at the end of the road, there were two full-grown caribou pawing at the minerals and salts in the gravel. One had fully formed antlers, the other without. “What an amazing treat to see these two beauties right at the beginning of our adventure, hey guys?” (The dogs seemed to agree, with growls and wide eyes.) “We’re going to have to wait.” The pair of caribou slowly moseyed off the road and made their way up a snowmobile track into the mature forest.

I left the dogs in the truck, to give the caribou some more time, and walked to the spring to fill up my water bottle. Bright-green watercress danced happily on top of the surface, and the spring was warm to the touch. I dipped my bottle into the mouth of the cavern where it exited the mountain. While I stood by the water, I immediately felt better. It felt like a wave of relief and calm washing over my body.

Back at the truck, the caribou were nowhere in sight. I readied my heavy backpack, let the dogs out and put the pack on. Then I toed my boots into the ski clips with a quiet click. “Alright guys, let’s go!” The dogs excitedly led the way; they knew where we were going. Luckily, there was an old snowmobile track that I could follow. It was packed enough for me to stay on top of the snow’s surface.

The last hill down to the cabin was nearly too much to handle, so I got creative. Instead of trying to ski it standing up, I sat down on the backs of my skis, like they were a sled, and careened down the hill toward the huskies. Junip thought I was playing a delightful game of Chicken, so she continued to jump in front of me, until I almost ran into her, then bounded out of the way just in time to avoid a collision.

I then started breaking trail to the cabin. The snow had a thick crust of ice, over its surface, from the freeze-thaw cycles of early spring. I broke through its crust with each slide of the skis. Underneath the snow it was soft and powdery, and the dogs struggled to stay on top. Tin, the youngest, courageously led the way, followed by Junip and myself. Diamond, the old Lab, was no fool and made sure to stay behind me.

The cabin looked humble yet inviting amongst the towering trees. “Nearly there, guys,” I called out. At the cabin, I eagerly unclipped from my skis and let myself into the small, simple interior. I immediately off-loaded the massive pack and dropped it in the corner. “Time for lunch, guys.” I rummaged through the bag and pulled out my miniature cookstove, a can of beans and a can opener, and a Ziploc of hot-chocolate powder. I set up a small kitchen outside. The little cookstove worked like a charm, heating the beans up in no time. I added cheese sticks to the bottom of my bowl and poured the hot beans over top. Junip supervised (in exchange for some cheese).

As I ate the beans, I realized how different they tasted out here. It was funny to me because, back home, I believed eating a can of beans was unhealthy. They were packed full of sugar and were a pretty basic meal. But out here, the beans actually felt good for me somehow. I hastily gobbled down the superfood and melted some snow to clean out the pot. “Now for hot chocolate!” In the clean pot, I melted some more snow until it came to a rolling boil. I added the steaming water to the hot-chocolate powder at the base of my blue tin cup. Then I stirred in some milk and sat down with the warm drink on the cabin step.

Dog on Atlin Lake
Tin looking out onto Atlin Lake

As I sat there quietly, with the sweet, hot drink. I looked down at its surface and noticed these incredibly beautiful bubbles forming. “No way … they look like little rainbows.” I looked closer and marvelled at the beautiful colours radiating across the bubbles, and thought, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this before.

After lunch, I left the gear behind and skied down to Atlin Lake. The trail was icy, in spots, and Diamond gave me lots of distance for my inevitable falls at the base of each hill. Eventually, it flattened out and merged onto the massive expanse of Atlin Lake.

I left the trail and ventured out along the shoreline. The ice of the lake had formed a crumpled fringe along the snow-covered beach. The surface underneath the ice shelves was dark brown in colour as it had collected the earthy pebbles from the shore. Small icicles formed underneath in miniature caves. Farther along, a section of the crumpled ice glowed in an aquamarine colour similar to that of Llewellyn Glacier. I skied over to this especially beautiful section of the ice and was drawn into its colourful caverns and intricate expressions. The dogs sat with me patiently as I marvelled at the smallest details in the tiny caves. Eventually, I came to and decided to ski out, on top of the lake ice, and continued down the lake.

Open river water
Open river water

Tin, and then Junip led the way and stopped at the outlet of a small river. I headed back into shore and skied over to the pockets of open, flowing water intermixed with shelf ice. The sound of the running water was melodious and reminded me of summer. The sun glared down on us and its light echoed off the lively liquid. I looked up and out across the lake. The snow and ice went on and on and ended way out on the horizon against the base of dark mountains.

I stood amidst the grandiosity and started to reflect. My surroundings didn’t care about my shortcomings. I was allowed to be part of the picture just as I was. I relaxed into this feeling of being fully accepted, which allowed me to simply be.

Curiously, in this moment of presence, I started to feel grateful.

It wasn’t a superficial gratefulness, like the smile and nod from before; but, rather, I felt a grateful energy in my body. It wasn’t a nervous energy, like how the online media made me feel; instead, it was soothing and somehow felt more real, like I was present in the life before me. It was a similar feeling that I had tasted in different ways throughout my day, with the caribou, the cabin, the hot chocolate, the lake ice … but this time, it felt more permanent.

I squinted and smiled at the stark, yet beautiful landscape before me. And this time, when I said it, I truly meant it. “Thank you. Truly, thank you.”

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