Upwelling draws nutrients from the depths to the surface of the seas to feed plankton, the foundation of life in the Ocean. Adventure draws raw emotion from the depths of human consciousness to feed the soul, the foundation for happiness in life. To find or make adventure in the haze and murk of modern responsibilities, be they necessary or imagined, is a gift. It is a gift that every child is born with. Curiosity is birch bark to the fire of adventure. Let it burn.
Darkness and cold retires
Light and life explodes
Buntings, Murres, and Eiders
Ice releases and goes
Animals soon join the flow
Kits, chicks, calves, and cubs
Flowers paint replaces snow
Poppies, Saxifrage, and Willow buds
Tundra flowers roots grow shallow
For life, ice will not permit
Darkness and cold soon follows
Into winter’s frozen grip
The spring is a favorite time of year. Warm weather, uninterrupted sunshine, sea ice to travel on, and seals to hunt.
Life in north is characterised by contrast. Shadows come to life on sea ice and mountains. Animal’s black eyes peer out through a world of white. A ringed seal hole allows a glimpse into the dark icy waters of arctic oceans.
There is also great contrast within community life. Seal skins dry against a house with two satellite dishes. Dog teams anxiously anticipate their next journey, while snowmobile race across the sea ice. Grandparents that were born on the land and lived in igloos and sod houses share the same living quarters with their grandchildren who play Xbox video games and listen to music on their ipod touches. Time and schedules that were created in latitudes where the sun dictated the working day make little sense in these latitudes where the sun either never sets or refuses to rise.
The contrasts in the community are also deep in the emotional realm. There are periods of great happiness and communal celebration, like we had here in Pond last week for the grand opening of our new arena. The men’s hockey tournament that followed, which hosted a team from Clyde River and a team for Arctic Bay that snowmobiled over 200km to get here, was a great success. The community of Pond Inlet pack the arena and loudly supported one of their two local teams to a championship. The communal happiness was extinguished with news of a beautiful young girl’s suicide. The same week saw two more suicide attempts and one more tragic suicide that ended the life of bright young women who was a student in three of my classes. The fear that many people express in the face of such extreme emotional swings is that the continual contrast of ups and downs desensitizes ones emotional response and allows tragedy to become normalised.
For Tov and I, we make sure that we take time to do the things we love when sadness touches us, as it did last week. We spent our entire weekend exploring and being active. We saw our first polar bear 17km out on the sea ice. We snowmobiled up a beautiful valley and hike along an incredible glacier. I saw a handful of ringed seals basking in the sun, and located several of their breathing holes. While we were sitting together atop a sandstone hoodoo on Bylot Island, enjoying the sun’s warmth (-15˚C), we first heard and then saw three little snow buntings flutter by. These are the first winter migrants to return to this area, and seeing and hearing them helped us reflect on the contrasts of the arctic. Their will always be ups and downs in life and after a long dark winter, these little birds represent a new spring, and new life.
Today was -52°C. It should be noted that at –28 or colder, exposed skin can freeze in under 30 minutes. When it drops to –40, it is said that frostbite can occur in less than 10 minutes. If you drop it below –55, you’re in danger within two minutes. Our students walk to school in running shoes, some without mitts, and many without toques. That said, many of them have frost bite all over there face. They think this is cool because it shows that they are tough or that they have been out on the land. Tove and I have both experienced mild frost, which is painful and resulted in peeling skin on the nose. Some of our students have patches of black skin on their faces. They must be real cool.
Last weekend I bolted a large piece of acrylic to our snowmobile’s windshield to extend our wind and frostbite protection. This Jerry-rigged windshield worked miraculously and I stayed much warmer on a ride over to the hoodoos on Bylot Island. Hoodoos are rock formations that have been carved by wind. En route to the hoodoos, we stopped at an amazing iceberg to load up on drinking water. What’s most amazing about this iceberg is that 2/3 of its mass is underwater.
The longer days that we are experiencing now is all the encouragement I need to get and explore the nuna and the tariuq (the land and the sea). I am super excited about camping right now, but am somewhat nervous about polar bears. Tov and I did our gun safety course in January and are expecting our licenses from the RCMP shortly. Once we get those, I am mail ordering a 10/22 Ruger, and Remmington 12gauge pump action shotgun. Oh happy days.
In this entry I will recapitulate the past few weeks. Tov and I sledded across the incredibly smooth ice of Eclipse Sound to enjoy the surreal mountains of Bylot Island. We circumnavigated Beloeil Island, adjacent to Mt. Herodier, and found a cute little lemming scurrying across the snow. We enjoyed some throat singing, drum dancing, and the lighting of the qulliq (traditional blubber oil lamp), while feasting on raw char and ringed seal at the ‘return of the sun’ feast. We participated in the teacher’s of Nunavut conference in Iqaluit, where we learned a great deal, met David Suzuki, and witnessed the incredible aurora borealis.
The winter solstice has come and gone and the days are getting longer. By that I mean we get more and more light each day around noon. Today, for the first time since November 14th, the top of a large mountain across Eclipse Sound received the direct rays of our sun and was lit up in a brilliant glow of orange and pink. At our latitude, the sun should rise above the horizon for the first time this year on January 29th, but the landscape to the south of us rises about 5degrees above the horizon and will block the sun’s return for several more days. The anticipation for this celestial event is well felt throughout the community. Everyday, people speak of the retuning light like the return of an old friend from a long trip, or an old friend that goes to prison for three months every year perhaps.
Children at school place bets on which day the sun will appear, while hunters claim that they have already seen the sun in their travels on the ice. What is most exciting for me is that by this time next month, the sun will be rising at 7:55am, and by May 6 (my birthday) the sun will rise and not set until August 6th.
We haven’t updated our blog in some time, and much has happened. We spent a wonderful Xmas break in Ontario with family and friends in Gravenhurst, Stouffville, Lindsay, and Mississauga. It was a very exciting time for Tove and I, because we were sharing the news that we are having a baby in June. Tove is 5months pregnant and we couldn’t be happier. Apparently, we didn’t think that it was adventurous enough moving to the high Arctic, so we decided to create a human being in our spare time. This new adventure does not come without some complications. Since Pond Inlet does not have a hospital or doctors, every pregnant woman is flown to Iqaluit in the 36th week of their pregnancy. Once in Iqaluit, the expecting mothers relax for a month in a boarding house with hundreds of other expecting mothers. Needless to say, Tove will not be hanging around in Iqaluit, and will be carrying on to Gravenhurst, Ontario where we have a midwife and family awaiting.
Back here in Pond, a new semester has begun at the high school and we are both stoked with the new courses we are teaching. Tove is now teaching senior Art, Keyboarding and Office application skills, and English for ESL students, while I am teaching senior PE, Arctic Geography, Arctic Ecology, and a kick ass Wildlife and Survival Skills course. We are also pursuing our goal of life long learning and have recently completed our Canadian Firearm Safety course and have applied for our non-restricted firearms license. We are considering the purchase of a 22magnum or a 12gage shotgun. A 22 would be ideal for hunting arctic hare and ptarmigan, while a 12gage would protect us from polar bears while camping. I like the 22 while Tove likes the 12gage. I believe we will find a compromise and purchase both.
The weekend is upon us and we both plan on relaxing and eating too. Our only other plan is to take the snowmobile to one of the icebergs and chip off a week-load of a drinking water. Once you drink thirty thousand year old glacial water, you don’t go back to town lake water.
A poem from our time in Muskoka this winter:
There are places where the bark splits
In lines of heavy contrast.
Where golden sap settles into amber
Over unsettled years.
Where white pines whisper over cold granite
For Nuthatches and chickadees to come near.
Beaver huts emerge from frozen ponds
Like painted turtles from seasons past.
In engineered isolation
There is warmth beneath the boughs.
White birches imprison the blue sky
For in winter, little escapes.
Here are some pictures from my ride today out on the sea ice. Saw several seal breathing holes, one seal carcass that a couple of ravens were enjoying, and a snowy owl that landed atop an ice berg that we were having tea at. The sea froze under calm conditions and is quiet smooth as a result. We were cruising at about 70km/hr along the ice. Most of the picture are taken between 12 and 2pm. Yes, that is the moon rising in several of the pictures. Pond Inlet can be seen in the distance in one of the pictures as well. Enjoy.