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.
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.
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.
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.
On the way home I stop many times to sit in the warm breeze, inhaling the fragrant cottonwood air. It is stunningly peaceful.
Tomorrow I will do a show in Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh), then drive to Smithers.