An emotional reunion gets cross-Canada walk to restore wilderness back on track

By Natali Trivuncic
Staff Writer
ntrivuncic@fortfrances.com

Canada is known for its vast forests and beautiful wildlife, something that we often take for granted because we assume it will always be here but in other parts of the world, it is something that they are trying to get back.

Michael Yellowlees is walking across Canada to bring awareness to the Scottish Highlands which has lost its forests to a number of changes over centuries.

Yellowlees said his decision to walk across Canada was to raise awareness of the Highlands that were once thriving but have since become barren.

“If you go to Scotland, you’ll be quite shocked with how barren it is. It does look beautiful but when you understand how it should look you realize it’s actually quite a damaged landscape,” Yellowlees said.

Yellowlees is raising money for the Scottish charity “Trees For Life,” which aims to rewild the Scottish Highlands by restoring the Caledonian Forest. Yellowlees adds that Canada’s wilderness is what he hopes Scotland will one day get back to.

While his ultimate mission is to raise awareness, the root of his walk goes a little deeper.

“I’ve often suffered from depression in my life. I turned to walking and nature to give myself a better headspace,” Yellowlees said. “I find myself much calmer and much happier when I’m in nature. I’m giving back to the thing that is really helping save my life.”

Yellowlees arrived in Canada last summer and spent a few months working and saving up for the trip.

During the winter months Yellowlees was working with sled dogs in B.C. and Luna happened to be one of them. She and Yellowlees formed a bond, and because she was nearing retirement, he said they were kind enough to let him keep her.

Yellowlees began his walk in March of this year, in B.C.

“Obviously, I’m doing it through a pandemic,” Yellowlees said. “That’s added some challenges that you don’t really think about at the time like being able to go in and warm up in a cafe. Getting inside and getting away from the elements sometimes has been tough.”

It is rare for a journey as grand as this to go off without a hitch and almost three weeks ago Luna went missing. It was a terrifying and exhausting week for Yellowlees and everyone who has been following him throughout his journey so far.

Luna went missing on July 2 in the dense forest with her lead on while they were portaging from the southern tip of Bear River to New Portage on Namakan Lake. Luna miraculously made her way back to their cabin a week later a little thinner than when she left, but in good shape otherwise.

Yellowlees said it was an emotional reunion and is glad to have her back. The pair spent several days recuperating and restocking at La Place Rendezvous. Owner Sarah Noonan had donated a room to the pair before their canoe journey, and was happy to welcome them back after their harrowing ordeal. Yellowlees adds that Luna’s endurance has surprised him over the course of the walk and adds that she has also been a great coach by encouraging him to keep moving.

Michael Yellowlees recouperated with his trusty companion Luna, after a harowing ordeal in Lake Namakan. The pair are
walking to raise awareness of lost Scottish forests. – Merna Emara photo

The walk has been more mentally challenging rather than physically, Yellowlees said, adding that the body adjusts over time but the continuous starting and stopping can be mentally draining.

Yellowlees said they are covering anywhere from 40 to 50 km depending on the day.

He had switched to canoe to make the trek to Thunder Bay, because he was advised by many that the highway’s shoulder is narrow and dangerous. A woman who had seen him along the road had offered help to get a canoe. It was a welcome break from walking, and was supposed to take three weeks.

However, he has since changed his plans, and will be heading out on foot once again.

Yellowlees has raised almost $20,000 so far and he is only about halfway through his journey. He adds that he does not have a monetary goal as he did not know how the response would be but hopes to raise as much as possible.

The Cape Spear Lighthouse in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador is where Yellowlees will end his journey. He is hoping to reach it by November, but Yellowlees said he is in no rush and is just trying to enjoy every step of the way.

Yellowlees said he is grateful for everyone’s help along his journey especially to those who have helped and supported him during his search for Luna. He adds that he hopes his journey will inspire Canadians to look after the wilderness.

​​“I think that double-edged sword of this trip is reminding Canadians as well to look after what you’ve got here,” Yellowlees said. “We’ve lost all this back home. It’s such a beautiful country and it’s so wild and you need to look after it.”

To follow Michael and Luna along their walk, visit “Michael and Luna: a Rewilding Journey” on Facebook.

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