Where did John Flood's fascination with the north originate?
it began with a swamp...
Mooskek Reader #1
There is a friend in Hearst who affectionately refers to the flatlands of the area as The Great Swamp.
Without knowing it, he has described this part of northern Ontario in a way that is common among the Cree
of James Bay. Their term is one that Kanina, in Fred Bodsworths's The Strange One, uses to describe
her origins to a white intruder: Mooskek-owak. The Ones of the Muskeg. Mooskek is a word that has a number
of meanings, as illustrated by Walter Avis in A Concise Dictionary of Canadianisms, but which for
northern Ontario means "an organic bog which is a brown to black mixture of water and living and dead
vegetation often covered with a carpet of sphagnum or other mosses and often of considerable depth."
To define the northern space--Mooskek is as good a definition as any--we've got to resolve the traditional
arguments that demonstrate where north begins: at Barrie or French River, at Highway 17 or the height of
land (called summit, all 1400 feet of it, by the railways). Where I live just a few miles north of the 49th
parallel, it is hard to say to Torontonians that I'm not a southerner and to Alertians that I'm a northerner.
The problem is that our conception of space is of distance measured in miles. Anyone who travels 500 miles
north from Toronto is bound to be in the North; another 500 miles will put you at Winisk on the shore of
the Hudson Bay, still comfortably below the 60 degrees North latitude. When you arrive at North Bay you are
told that you are passing thought the gateway to the North; at Cochrane the gateway to the Bay; at Moosonee
the gateway to the Arctic. Gateway, A Moving Target, maybe even better than Mooskek!
Connotation of movement is appropriate in the definition for one who cannot risk standing still in the
north--neither when pursued by blackflies and mosquitoes nor when hampered by freezing temperatures. You've
got to keep paddling, keep lifting one snowshoe in front of the other. So our perception of landscape is
space that is always on the move; white pines and black spruce, green lakes and sphagnum moss are just
reference points, sometimes rest points, but always departure points. Otherwise the bush can be a trap--as
much as the mind as of the body. And so we pamper ourselves with tourist promos of the pretty, perhaps even
the grand or the sublime, lies, but always if we get a few feet off the trail, the unknown, the wild, the
truth is there to dissolve us. And that is north, the mind whose consciousness of itself is heightened by
the real unknown, the space we cannot embrace but which absorbs us. It is the home of our worst fears.
It is wise to fear the north, and to understand that fear. For some, understanding may be in the form of
respect or awe, for others, of anger and hatred. In this volume ... written by and about those who have
feared, it is the depths of the mooskek.