Long-time resident of the NWT and incredibly passionate about the natural wonderland in which she lives, Rosanna Strong leads customised tours in Yellowknife. Upon hearing about her infectious enthusiasm for the great outdoors and her famous home-baked cranberry cake, we knew we’d found the perfect candidate to answer a few questions about this incredible destination.
On your website, you say that the Northwest Territories are host to a landscape that you personally ‘never tire of’. What makes this landscape so rich and rewarding?
I never tire of this landscape because on any given day there is a change to be noticed, but only if you take the time to read the “stories” being “written”. These changes can be as noticeable as the change in the seasons from winter to spring or as minute as when the fragile calypso orchid has bloomed, a snowshoe hare has nibbled on that willow shrub or watching a downy feather of a grey jay blowing across the snow. And, just when I think I have seen it all, I discover something new or experience another awe inspiring place in the North. The richness of the boreal forest comes from spending time looking, listening, tasting, smelling and getting your hands dirty while getting up close and personal with this place.
You offer a variety of themed tours to potential clients – We know it might be hard to choose, but do you have a personal favourite – if so, why?
Tough question, like asking to choose your favourite child! I guess I would have to say the “Stories in the Snow” Tour, which is a winter tour on snowshoes. For many of my guests this is a series of firsts. Their first time in a winter environment and their first time on snowshoes. My child-like wonder is renewed watching them discover all of this frosty beauty on a traditional mode of transportation. The other thing about this tour is the reminder that there is more animal activity in the forest than you think. In the summer, you know that they are there, but this forest is so vast it is sometimes difficult to see any wildlife and there is very little evidence. In the winter, however, the snow provides a clean slate for the myriad of footprints or wing tips to leave an impression and tell you who has been in the neighbourhood. What’s more, the snow is just beautiful; it’s sugary, ranging in colour from when the sunrise stains it pink and gold to sunset mauves and blues.
There certainly seems to be some unique wildlife, flora and fauna on offer in the boreal forests. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Where to start? Here are some of the highlights…We’re home to the largest land mammals in North America (wood bison). We’re on 3 major migratory routes for birds and many stage right here in Yellowknife before heading North in the spring, (my favourites to return include all four species of loons, yellow-rumped warblers, tundra swans, and the pair of eagles that have returned to nest on my lake for the past 15 odd years). Then there’s the gorgeous flowers that bring colour to the forest, ranging from delicate orchids to the wild roses that are heavy with perfume to the urn shaped flowers of cranberries. Learning the traditional uses of plants and animals from aboriginal elders will never get old, and I’ll forever be amazed by lichens in every shape and colour with great names like bear’s hair (that really looks like bear hair), pixie cups, frog pelt, rock tripe, animals with built-in snowshoes, like the snowshoe hair and ptarmigan. I could go on all day.
The whites of winter and the greens of summer look equally appealing to us; could you say a little on how the striking landscapes change with the seasons?
The change between the seasons is subtle and has a lot to do with the waning of our daylight in the fall to the heaps of it we get in the spring that jump starts your tired winter body. In the fall, the birch and tamarack take on a golden mantle while the poplars take on shades of flame orange, all against that wall of green of spruce and pine. The under-tones of fireweed, roses, and dwarf birch add to the fall palette with ruby and rusty reds. We tend to get more grey days in the fall, which just make those colours pop even more. But, on those sunny days, if you are up in a little float-plane it is the most beautiful quilt of gold, deep emerald green, sapphire blues of water, grey of the ancient rocks, and velvety browns of the peat bogs. Fall continues on and proceeds to more black and white tones, as we wait for the snow to stay and ice to form on all the lakes around here. Once the snow arrives, we leave the monochromatic of late fall as the snow changes its tones with the winter light. And, Northerners get busy with enjoying all that the season has to offer. In the spring, it feels like nature is holding her breath, giving out little “puffs of air” to tease you with some of the more subtle signs of spring, like the change in colour of willow bark from winter brown to scarlet, orange, neon green, and yellows. Then, one day, you blink and all the trees are waving their new leaves in the spring breeze; a green that can only be described as “freshly minted”. From there it is a frenzy of activity as we all (animals, plants and people) race to take advantage of every drop of those long summer days.
With years of experience it might be hard to say, but do you have a stand-out hiking experience or memory that you can share with us?
Oh my! That is another difficult one to answer, there are so many! Most centre around my wonderful guests who are so open to new experiences and are willing to get down on their hands and knees to take in the beauty of a small flower or individual snowflake. One experience that stands out for me from this year was a trip to the ice cave that forms every season close to the city. The ice looks like melted wax as the water is tinted with tannins from the peat moss above it and has this look of continual motion. One of my guests, a local Yellowknifer, was along for this trip. I mentioned how I had used my ski pole to tap out some notes on the icy forms on my last trip, and so she began to play the ice like a drum while singing a lovely B’ahai song. If the ice cave wasn’t magical enough, she transformed it further with her performance.
Finally, how closely do you guard the recipe to your famed Cranberry Cake?
Very closely! To receive a copy of the recipe, one must take the Cranberry Cake oath, swear on a stack of field guides to keep the recipe a secret and promise to keep the goodness going by making the cake to share with others on their return home. But, if that seems too complicated… join me on a tour and I will have some to sample with a piping hot cup of tea or hot chocolate.
Image © Greg Schroeder