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Fridges in the Forest

Updated: Aug 2, 2021



"Place identity is attachment in terms of emotional or symbolic meanings that are assigned by an individual to place. The physical landscape or place becomes part of a person’s self-identity."- Proshansky and Kaminoff


A sense of place identity comes from how places provide us with a sense of belonging, meaning and attachment. Place identity shapes our experiences, behaviours and attitudes.

I was first introduced to the concept of space and place theory attending a Master's course on psychological anthropology at the #FreieUniversitaetBerlin (Free University of Berlin). Feeling entirely lost in a big city for quite some years, I found myself in this theory. I studied overseas for 13 years in Berlin and Damascus, Syria before finding my way back home to "my place" in Canada. Now here I am. Quickly packing my car keys into my pocket, run out the door, turn off the generator, lock up the sled dog that had the opportunity to run free from his chain today, sprint to the quad so I'm not late to pick my son up from school. I'm dressed in my best fashion, inspired by my years in #Berlin minus the rain pants I quickly slip over my leggings and rubber boots. When I get to the car, about a 15 minute quad ride from our cabin in the woods, I always throw my rubbers and rain pants in the trunk where my heels await me. It's nearly impossible to get to the city looking as though I haven't been trudging through mud puddles despite the efforts and I always smell of the new scent that comes along with this bush life: eau de gasoline. With hopes that a long-awaited letter has arrived in my mailbox, I am in a double rush today: need to make it to the post office before it closes!


I'm transporting important documents that we have been compiling for months- documents that will change our lives forever. I have to laugh as I place them in a garbage bag in a box strapped to the front of the quad. I start my drive to the car tightly gripping the bag, steering the quad through massive sloughs, over trees, bumps, ruts, mud puddles, water flies up around me, I feel the cold subarctic air burning my ears and slow down in my favourite spots to check what the beavers and ducks are up to. I usually call out: hey ducky! to the local duck that lives in the first big pond. I feel more of a relationship with him as he sometimes swims nearby where we drive and close-up encounters are not unusual. He's like a neighbour somehow. The beavers I don't feel the same love for. They often chop down trees unexpectedly blocking my path to get to the car so I really only admire them if they are far away from the trail.


As I arrive at the car with a splashed up muddy garbage bag, I carefully remove the documents and place them in the front seat. I always take one look around to see who is watching. I never expect a person, but rather an animal to be lurking somewhere wondering what I am doing here. I've encountered bears, grouse, beavers, ducks and one fine lucky day- a Lynx about 2 meters from me looking absolutely annoyed that there I was in his place.


There's an old abandoned fridge in the forest where I park my car on the trail. I often look at that fridge and think to myself: Who in the world put that there? Who thought that would be a good place for it anyway? Then I think back of myself in Berlin...much like the fridge in the forest, it wasn't a good fit. Although, the experience definitely taught me what I needed to know to appreciate the sense of belonging, attachment and meaning I feel in nature- in Canada in particular. Berlin taught me theory- the theory of everything perhaps?


While I am aware of the fact that I currently reside on Yellowknives Dene First Nations traditional territory and would like to acknowledge, recognize and honour that fact, I am here nonetheless. The past three years I spent working for the Yorkton Tribal Council with Keeseekoose, Cote, Ocean Man, Ochapowace and Kahkewistehaw First Nations taught me so much about relationships with the environment and have changed my life and perspective eternally. While I learnt in Berlin what it feels like to be entirely detached from nature, I always admired the vast wilderness in Canada and the ability to remove myself from society and be alone with nature here. Growing up in Canada, I took the abundance for granted not realizing what much of the rest of the world looks like outside of my small rural community. At least until I moved overseas and felt a deep longing every day for a sky besides what's visible between the skyscrapers or condensation trails from too many flights or smog. I longed to feel a chinook, the painful cold of -50 degree winter weeks, watch a storm approaching from miles away, see a wild animal besides a squirrel or rat and the list goes on ad infinitum.


Relieved to be back home in Canada, despite the realization that much has developed over the past decade, I learnt from Indigenous Elders how bird populations used to be so substantial that they blacked out the sun during migrations or forests used to thrive everywhere that land is now cultivated. It saddens me how we have come so far from remembering what our bodies are physically capable of and how significant and spectacular nature is. It must be protected and what can be, restored. All of the material objects and slavery of office jobs that have come to outrule the importance of sustainability don't even begin to equate to adventure and survival in living with nature.


The meaning and attachment I hold for the Indigenous peoples of these lands, their beautiful cultures, incredible knowledge systems, the fascinating flora and fauna of these environments and the need to honour, respect and protect the remaining environmental and cultural diversities that exist and can teach us about this place is immense.


The 23 sled dogs are howling their good night song. I hear the waves crashing on the rocks outside the cabin. It's dark and we have no electricity or running water. Sometimes I dread having to use the washroom this late at night because it requires a trip into the dark bush. But when I get out there, feel the temperature, get closer to the waves and on occasion the northern lights are dancing above my head, all I can think is: Wow! This is so incredibly amazing and most people are missing out on this always. So much gratitude for the opportunity to be in this place. And really be in this place.


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