~ For people who are passionate about respecting the earth, walking in nature, observing wildlife, local diet, making do, repurposing, organic gardening, foraging for wild plants and fungi, natural health, scrumptious healthy cooking, renovations, DIY, crafting, raising children simply and mindfully, taking time for stillness, and living in harmony with the seasons.
Today is Wolf moon and if you know anything about me, you know that I love wolves. I was first captivated by wolves as a very young child and they have visited me in my dreams throughout my entire life. When I first moved out to the cabin a wolf appeared close by and I took it as a very good sign that I was in the right place at the right time. Last summer (ten years later), I saw another grey wolf standing out back next to my goose tractor. S/he was very still and relaxed and after looking at each other for a few minutes s/he quietly stepped into the woods and disappeared.
I first read the story of La Loba, or “Bone Woman” in Dr. Clarissa Pinkola-Este’s seminal book, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, and like many women, it touched me to the core. The story I share here is my interpretation based on my own intuitive experiences with La Loba.
You may have heard of her. You may have seen her in your dreams or caught her reflection in a still pond looking back at you. Or while sitting around a fire you may have heard the faint, faraway sound of her singing carried on the night wind. If you are really lucky and have ever been to the wild and loneliest places in the deserts and mountains of northern Mexico, you may have even caught a glimpse of her—a silvery gleam in the eye or a flash of shaggy tail under a rough skirt that is frayed at the edges. She has many names but I am told that her people refer to her as La Huesera, “Bone Woman,” or La Loba, “Wolf Woman.”
She is very, very old. She is small, hunched over, deeply wrinkled, and has gnarled and bony—but surprisingly strong hands. She works tirelessly at her one important task: to search and find and gather bones—especially wolf bones. Each day, she wanders and walks, eyes to the ground, searching. And when she finds one, she picks it up, tucks it into the folds of her skirt and lovingly carries it home.
She does this endlessly and when she has finally collected an entire wolf skeleton, she carefully assembles it, each bone in its place on the ground. And when the Moon is full and the air is thick with magic, and breath, and completion, the old woman sits by her fire deciding what song she will sing. When she is ready, she stands and raises her arms above the skeleton and sings her chosen song, quietly at first, then louder with each repetition. As she sings, she prays, and in the flickering flame of the fire and the silver-white light of the Moon, you begin to see the wolf skeleton slowly begins to flesh out. She continues to sing and soon the skeleton is fully fleshed out and tinged with fur. She sings some more, and louder, and soon there is a tail… and ears… and whiskers… and claws… and a moist, black nose. She sings some more, her hands and arms gracefully moving, and finally the wolf begins to breathe… As the Old Woman reaches the end of her ancient song, the wolf opens its eyes, gets up… and begins to run. And as it runs, if you are lucky and the Moon is bright, and if you squint your eyes just a little, you might see that the wolf is suddenly transformed into a woman, who continues to run, wild and free, laughing into the night.
Pinkola-Estes, Clarissa. (1992) Women who run with the wolves: Myths and stories of the wild woman archetype.
I remember the very first time I visited this cabin. It was mid-August 2010. I had recently left my old life in the city behind and was now in search of a new home “in the bush.” I spent many days searching, driving down quiet country roads off the beaten path just waiting for that special gut feeling when I’d know that I had found it. I had explained to a realtor that I was looking for a secluded property surrounded by wilderness and was annoyed with him when he announced that he was showing me yet another cabin on Pigeon Lake. The last time we were out here he had shown me a tiny clapboard cabin on a property the size of a postage stamp with neighbors just a few feet away on both sides. Oh yes, and an asking price that was double my budget. I reminded him that I was not looking for a lake property and that Pigeon Lake was far too expensive for me.
“This one is different.” He replied as he drove us toward the lake. “It’s a special property. You have to at least take a look.”
We pulled up to a large pan-abode cedar cabin with a huge stone chimney. It was beautiful but my eyes were drawn to the woods beyond it. I got out of the realtor’s car and the first words out of my mouth were, “Show me the land.”
The owner, Terry, was there and I was happy that he was available to answer all of my many questions. As we walked through the property and cabin he told story after story of the local history here and the significance of this special place.
In the 1940s the Freiman’s owned and operated a mill here and many homes built in the city of Leduc (40 minutes away) were built with lumber from this very mill.
But here is where the stories got really interesting. Forty years ago, Reverend Dr. Gerald Hutchinson and his wife, Miriam, retired, bought this land from the Freiman’s, and built this cabin here. Hutchinson had worked in the area as a United Minister since 1949. Being of a deeply curious nature, he had asked the simple question, “Why is this area called Mission Beach?” No one around here really knew the full story and so he spent the next fifty years of his life researching the early contact between the local Aboriginal peoples and Protestant missionaries.
He was particularly interested in Reverend Robert Rundle, chaplain to the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Edmonton. Rundle started a mission here with the First Nations people of this area in 1840. Having lived in Banff when I was younger, I was familiar with the famous and picturesque Mount Rundle and was surprised that a man who had had a mountain named after him in the Rockies had also spent time working with Aboriginal peoples, helping them farm the land, right here on the shore of Pigeon Lake.
Very little was known about Rundle and so Hutchinson knocked on doors speaking with local peoples. Then he and Miriam travelled to England and Australia gathering fragments and piecing together the stories and history of Rundle and the time he spent here on Pigeon Lake. He wrote and published three books on this findings, including The Rundle Journals, 1977; The Meeting Place, 1990; and A Mission on Wooded Soil, 2009.
In 1956, he established the Rundle’s Mission Society and two years later, the Rundle’s Mission Lodge was built just a few minutes’ walk up the road from here. In 1965, the Mission was formally recognized as a National Historical Monument.
In his university days, Hutchinson had studied agriculture at Olds College. Having grown up on a farm in Duhamel, Alberta, he had a lifelong passion for the grey wooded soil of this area as well as a deep desire to help the farmers and Aboriginal peoples who lived on this land. Gerald and Miriam lived here in this cabin for thirty years until Miriam needed to be closer to the city for medical reasons. They sold this property to Terry who was a close friend and board member at the Rundle Mission Society. He and his family had owned it for ten years but were now moving west and wanting to sell it to the right person.
The property for sale was only 1.7 acres but it was backing onto 150 acres of protected land (220 acres in total if you count land across a highway), which were donated by Gerald and Miriam to the Conservancy of Canada.
As we continued to walk the land and tour the cabin things just felt right. I loved everything about this place, the ramshackle greenhouse made of reclaimed window panes, the huge slabs of stone and petrified wood that Rev. Hutchinson had singlehandedly hauled back from Jasper on a homemade wooden trailer behind his Volkswagen Beetle, the botanical fossils in the grand fireplace, and all of the other interesting rocks that he left behind here. I loved the eleven huge spruce trees (I call them “Grandmothers and Grandfathers”) who stand in a protective line behind the cabin (Miriam made Terry promise that he would never cut those down) and the way that the property was so interesting with its sloped land and the absence of any straight lines. I love the way the property was edged by two small canyons and surrounded on three sides by the protected land and the lake on the other side (across the road and behind some trees).
As Terry and I talked, I shared my Metis background, that I also was a writer, educator, and gardener; and that I also had a deep love of the land. Terry was warm and friendly but as I was leaving he let me know that his asking price was firm and that he could not go a penny less. My best possible offer was considerably lower and I was amazed when it was accepted! Terry told me later that he knew I was “the one” the moment I got out of the car and said, “Show me the land.” He really could not imagine selling Gerry’s cabin and land to someone who was just looking for a recreational lake property and said that he had actually turned down a few offers already. After spending time with me he knew that I would love Gerry and Miriam’s cabin and land as much as they did and that I would take very good care of it. He also thought it was right that after all of the work Gerry had done with Aboriginal peoples that this place would now be owned by a Metis woman who could appreciate the scope and significance of Gerry’s work.
Six weeks later, on September 30th, I finally took possession of the cabin and arrived in the late afternoon with the key and a U-Haul truck full of my possessions. The sun was shining brightly and it was as hot as a summer day despite being early Autumn. The sky was a vivid blue and the trees had all gone bright yellow and orange. A breeze was teasing the leaves out of the trees and they fell like a gentle, swirling rain. I sat alone on the front deck of this beautiful cabin watching the indescribable beauty of the falling leaves for a long time. The beauty of surrender, letting go… I realized that I was in a mild state of shock and not fully able to understand how it was possible that I was even sitting here… That after waiting for years—decades—in the city that this gorgeous cabin and land were my new home…
As I continued to sit and marvel at the beauty of the falling leaves the sun began to sink lower in the sky. Suddenly the light shifted and everything was now bathed in a rich golden light. The sky was now golden, my bare arms and legs looked golden, I am sure that my red hair must have looked like it was on fire, and the leaves that continued to fall and swirl were also pure gold. A few landed on me and I did not brush them away, but instead, completely surrendered to the medicine and magic of this place.
I spent that first night sleeping on an air mattress in the living room. When I awoke I opened the living room curtains and was amazed to see a huge Great Horned Owl sitting on the arbor about 15 feet away. I held my breath as I watched it for a few minutes, then it swooped down to the base of a large apple tree where it effortlessly caught a mouse and then flew away. A few days later I saw the owl again in the back yard.
A year later, I had the honour of having Gerry, his son, Ken, and Ken’s late wife, Jean, over for a visit here. We also attended his huge 100th birthday party at the Mission where he gave a delightful speech and received a plaque from the Queen.
Rev. Dr. Gerald Hutchinson passed away a year later on April 14, 2015 (Miriam passed away in 2010 at 94 years of age). Gerry and Miriam’s ashes were mingled and their gravestone in Fisherton Community Cemetery located behind Rundle Mission reads, Together forever in the land they loved.
What you may not know, is that a small portion of their ashes were reserved and sprinkled under a patch of wild blueberries at the edge of this property by their three children, Ken, Beth and Rob. Nowhere on earth will you find blueberries that taste quite like this. They are shockingly sweet, grow in wooded soil, and belong to this land.
This is my tenth year of living in this cabin and I never forget that I am living in a very special place with a very special story. Although I am 50 years old now the stories of this place never grow old. My son (who also attended Gerald’s 100th birthday party as a baby) is eight years old and he loves living here. He can show you on a globe the exact location of Pigeon Lake, Alberta (he once claimed he could see our cabin on the globe). As he grows, I tell him the story of two very special people, Gerald and Miriam Hutchinson, and how they dedicated their lives to telling the story of this area of Pigeon Lake, our tiny spot on the globe, known as Mission Beach.
Yesterday evening, we enjoyed the first day of the year in a magical way—on a sleigh ride, through the woods, in the dark, through miles (and miles— two exactly) of twinkling Christmas lights.
The sleigh ride event was offered by the Pigeon Lake Watershed Association who partnered with Pigeon Lake Horse Drawn Rides as a fundraising event to support programs for a healthy lake and watershed. We were gifted with tickets by some good friends (Thank you!) and we made a donation to the Association to add to the fundraising pot. We were very excited! Although we had been on a handful of wagon rides (usually at the Village during Christmas or on visits to Fort Edmonton Park) we had never been on a sleigh ride through the snow.
The weather miraculously cooperated. After extreme cold warnings for over a week (-40*C with windchill) it suddenly warmed up to 8*C that evening! We dressed warm up for the 30-minute ride and when we arrived, we were greeted by Catherine (of the PLWA) with hot chocolate and a cozy fire.
The ride was truly magical. That really is the best word to describe it. Maybe because it was the first day of the New Year filled with promises of new adventures… Maybe because it was dark and the fire and Christmas lights glowed so brightly… Maybe because the ride was long enough that you felt immersed in the nocturnal world of the woods… Or maybe it was that hit of Baileys in the hot chocolate combined with the heady scent of horse and hay…
Regardless, Pete and Tug (two extremely large and handsome Belgian horses) pulled our heavy sleigh through the deep snow like we were feathers. Our teamster, Rus, made sure we all were comfortable and kept us laughing. He also gave Chayton (eight years old) a few impromptu lessons on how to be a teamster, letting him hold the reigns, steer, and even stopping and starting the horses. “Step up!” (That was an experience Chayton will always remember! Thank you, Rus!) A handful of small downhills on the trail made Chayton scream with delight (“We’re on a rollercoaster!!!”) and he enjoyed trying to touch the miles of strings of Christmas lights, which were always just out of reach.
Click here to see a video of the Christmas Light Night Ride on the Pigeon Lake Horse Drawn Rides website.
Pigeon Lake Horse Drawn Rides has been serving central Aberta for over 5 years. Owned and operated by Mike Patterson and Karen Sterling, they offer many services throughout the year, including:
Christmas Light Night Ride
Daytime Sleigh Ride
Birthday Party Wagon Ride
Photography (in partnership with Sterling Photography and Marketing)
They have a variety of wagons and sleighs, including a carriage, oak wagon, hitch wagon, bobsled, and sleigh (comfortable seating up to 3 passengers).
They also offer Horsemanship and Pony Exposure.
Located close to Pigeon Lake Provincial Park, include Pigeon Lake Horse Drawn Rides in your travel plans. Come out for the day and enjoy the horses and our beautiful Pigeon Lake Watershed!
Thank you to Michael for taking the picture of us last night (we forgot to bring our phone). Also, all photos on this page have been “borrowed” from the Pigeon Lake Horse Drawn Rides website (it was dark when we were there). Please visit their website for more excellent photos and video!
Pigeon Lake Watershed Association (PLWA) is a charitable, not-for-profit environmental advocacy group made up of people who live, work and play in Pigeon Lake and its watershed. Our mission is to enhance, preserve and protect Pigeon Lake and its watershed as a healthy and environmentally sustainable ecosystem for current and future generations.