The loons were the last living things we saw as we were leaving Fortunate Lake in the Otter.
Make no mistake about all of this. We were tourists, protected from the true North, like a diver in a bell from the true sea, by all the dehydrated, metal, nylon and plastic things brought with us. But so many and strong are the laws here that even as protected foreigners we had to abide enough by some of them to get a certain appreciation of what it is like to be a permanent resident.
In this environment interest is quickly lost in things outside the immediate sensory range. The rest of the world comes to seem greatly distant, very abstract and dreamlike. But there is a much heightened awareness of the nature of things close at hand, including oneself. You walk on an esker as wolves do, not simply as a matter of intellectual curiosity. In doing so you come better not just to understand but to feel the faculties, needs and pleasures that are common to men and wolves. Reflexively you look for communities of spruce clumps, reindeer moss and cloudberries, because places where these grow well are good spots for people. There is a very apparent connection between certain arrangements of sedges, gravel bars, snails and pike and your stomach.
Given the obvious restrictions and aggravation of the North it is not easy to explain its appeal. Perhaps as a last, weak stab it might be said that despite the support systems, one has there a strong, invigorating sense of temporarily going native.
We did not, as we first imagined we might, come across great waving meadows of scented grass, not even a single clump of it. Since field work had not solved the mystery, I tried other methods after returning.
Our more or less constant companion in the hills was a splendid botanical text, Vascular Plants of Continental Northwest Territories, Canada, written by the late Erling Porsild and William J. Cody. Learning that Cody is at present employed by the Canadian agriculture department, I called him. He said that so far as he knew there was only one genus of grasses which might grow in the Scented Grass Hills that had species which were scented.
"The Holy grasses—Hierochloe?"
"You did indeed read our book."
"I'm rusty on keying out plants, but we didn't find anything that remotely resembled one of the Holy grasses. If they are there they are so insignificant that it seems strange if the whole peninsula is named for them."