"The Nass"  (Nisga'a Land) is at the top of coastal BC, very close to Alaska.

“The Nass” (Nisga’a Land) is at the top of coastal BC, very close to Alaska.

The Nisga’a highway has been improved since I was last here, in 2000; I miss the old narrow road that kissed the edge of Lava Lake, only marginally higher than the water. Now there are two lanes, paved, well above the waterline.

The Lava Beds: lava from an eruption in the early 1700's is covered in lichen.

The Lava Beds: lava from an eruption in the early 1700’s is covered in lichen.

This is the land of the Lava Beds. In the early 1700’s, the most recent volcanic eruption in Canada flowed lava into this region, wiping out two Nisga’a villages and killing 2000 people. Muted light greens, greys, browns stretch for miles in every direction: lumps of lava covered with lichen.

Lava Beds

Lava Beds

Meanwhile, I am not quite sure about the directions to my B&B. GPS has no clue and there is no cell signal. I drive into New Aiyansh, get some vague directions and head out again, still not too certain. But all the pieces land right and when I find the B&B in Gitwinksihlkw, I feel at home right away.  We have dinner, the family comes over from across the street, kids mill around softly with shy smiles. It is hours before dark up here. Locals talk me out of going for a hike on account of bears and wolves (there have also been some serious Big Foot sightings here, and last week the kids saw a kermode bear down by the river). I settle for a stroll around the village. The suspension bridge across the swift and powerful Nass is an adventure: dizzingly high, bouncing with my steps, swaying in the wind.  There has been a suspension bridge at this location for 400 years; this one was built in 1969. Groceries, furniture, supplies of all sorts were carried across the narrow suspension bridge until the car bridge was built in 1995.

Suspension bridge over Lisims (the Nass River) at Gitwinksihlkw. It's long, it's high, it's narrow, and the wind is strong. For 400 years, this was the only kind of bridge across the river; in the late 1990's the "car bridge" was built.

Suspension bridge over Lisims (the Nass River) at Gitwinksihlkw. It’s long, it’s high, it’s narrow, and the wind is strong.

The village of Gitwinksihlkw ("Canyon City")

The village of Gitwinksihlkw (“Canyon City”)

Day Two
The road to Gingolx follows the Nass downstream to the ocean. Along the way, I stop at the state-of-the-art Nisga’a Museum.  It is built on the model of a longhouse, with elegant displays of art, artifacts, and stories. Elders consulted in developing the museum insisted on having the artifacts (common objects, to them) out in the open rather than inside glass cases.  There are lots of “Do Not Touch” signs, and if you lean in too close, an alarm goes off (as I learned several times). I chat with a museum consultant who is setting up a new display. We talk for about two minutes; long enough to establish that he knows my friend Nigel in Victoria (Hello, Swans Pub). Clearly the farther you go from home, the smaller the world gets.
Display at the Nisga'a Museum. The Nisga'a fought long and hard for rights to their land. Theirs was a ground-breaking treaty when it came into effect in 2000.

Display at the Nisga’a Museum. The Nisga’a fought long and hard for rights to their land. Theirs was a ground-breaking treaty when it came into effect in 2000.

From there to the school in Gingolx, at the mouth of the Nass, at the end of the road – a road that wasn’t even there last time I was here.  The road winds up and down through the forest, placid bears munch weeds along the shoulders where the spring foliage is thick. Their coats are lush and shine brilliantly black in the sunshine.

In Gingolx (a.k.a. Kincolith) I watch two dozen eagles squalling over a carcass on the low tide. I have fun with the kids at the school, who devour the stories and howl with delight at every string figure. Then I sit in on a Nisga’a language class. The K/1’s practice colours & body parts, count to 100 by 5’s, and answer questions about the weather, all in Nisga’a. The sound is fascinating: lots of glottal stops, and fricatives wholly new to the indo-european ear.  “25” has a whopping seven syllables.

The school in Gingolx, at the western end of the Nisga'a lands

The school in Gingolx, at the western end of the Nisga’a lands

Black bear contentedly eating greens at the side of the road

Black bear contentedly eating greens at the side of the road

On the way home I stop many times to sit in the warm breeze, inhaling the fragrant cottonwood air. It is stunningly peaceful.

The Nass River near its mouth; low tide.

The Nass River near its mouth; low tide.

Tomorrow I will do a show in Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh), then drive to Smithers.