(This is the post that followed the final post in the book - and the last entry before I shut the site down for the winter)
"You should know that there may be some weight issues on the way back."
The young pilot leaned close to me and spoke quietly.
"Sorry?" I said.
"Well, with the gravel and all ..."
"Well, ya ... and the short runway. And the fact that the take off is over water. There may be some weight issues. You may have to leave some things behind tonight."
"We already left a bunch of stuff behind in Winnipeg." I said, thinking out loud. "And we play tomorrow night ..."
I paused, weighing safety against a potentially missed gig, "How much stuff?"
"No more than a hundred pounds ... but it's really up to the pilot ..." He thought for a moment, "and the wind".
Our tiny ten passenger Pilatus single engine turbo prop sat alone on the Big Trout Lake air strip - a ragged gravel swatch cut out of the lakeside forest - surrounded by the band, the crew, a small collection of gear and the community's welcoming committee.
We moved quietly through the gathering entourage, shaking hands and making introductions. Accompanied by Eno, the show's coordinator, Luke, our constant companion for the evening, and three teenage boys, we boarded a battered yellow school bus for the ride to the "resting place". We crashed and bounced through the trees on dusty dirt roads - I raised my left hand, like a rodeo bull rider, bouncing on my seat. We hooted and hollered. Glen the school teacher - obviously British, wearing a Tilley hat, steel-rimmed glasses, shorts and boots grinned from behind the wheel.
"Kish'n'mayg'sib" Luke delivers the community's name as though it contains no more than two syllables.
"A little slower, Luke. Who's got a pen?"
"Kitchen - aw - maygo - sip" I repeated the word over and over in the arena's basement dressing room.
"Kitchenawmagosip, Kitchenawmagosip, Kitchenawmagosip"
"You've got it now" said Luke, smiling.
"Kitchenawmagosip" I repeated, unconvinced.
Kitchenawmagosip, or Big Trout Lake as it's called on the map, is an hour and a half flight northeast of Winnipeg. It's not accessible by road in the summer, when the ice-roads have melted. They have two stores, a school, a police station with three policemen, a woman's shelter, and a small hotel with a restaurant. They are planning a youth centre and a laundromat. We were there as part of a celebration that also included square dancing, fiddle music and a $50,000 Bingo game.
"Take us there!" we said when we heard.
"Two Fifty a card" replied one of the buzz-cut teenagers.
"Two hundred and fifty dollars?"
"That's how we do things." Eno said proudly.
About a hundred people, in two rows of chairs, sat at the halfway point in the large dark arena. The six o'clock show-time had drifted to seven. Our high-intensity intro music exploded in the silent, near empty arena and the first show began. It is fair to say that first nations people have a general tendency to shyness. As an audience, they applaud appreciatively between songs but lack the animated interaction of a typical rock crowd. After I insisted that they move their chairs closer to the stage, the small audience began to warm up. They smile. Shyly.
We have flown from Vancouver to Winnipeg, from Winnipeg to Big Trout Lake and performed a ninety minute set. Our second show begins after a short thirty minute break - most of which is squandered signing autographs at the t-shirt table. We are already exhausted as we take the stage for the second time that day.
"That second show was on fire!" says Luke quietly as we make our way down the basement hallway to our bright yellow dressing room.
"Hey thanks." I say, shaking his outstretched hand.
By 11:00 PM we are assembled again at the airstrip. The warm, clear northern night is pin-drop quiet - headlights from a few randomly parked pickups provide enough light to load the gear. We talk quietly as we say our farewells. Luke promises to email photos. Eno's handshake turns into a hug. I step away from the group for a moment to discuss the weight issue with the pilot.
Ten minutes later, as we fly back to the tree-line, the copilot shuts off all the lights in the plane. We are high above the clouds and sharing the sky with a massive display of northern lights. Our tiny plane is surrounded by enormous curtains of shimmering and dancing light. Like children, we press our faces to the small windows - maneuvering our elbows to the seats in an effort to see higher into the night sky.
An hour passes before Winnipeg floats into view in front of us. We take turns craning over the pilots' shoulders as the city lights grow brighter. Soon, two clearly defined parallel rows of lights position themselves below and ahead of us. It still seems like a very long way down. Tilted at a slight angle to break our speed, but moving straight towards the runway, we descend smoothly to the Winnipeg tarmac.