Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The End.

What Happened?

We left. In January, a job came up back east. I applied. I got it. We left. Those last six months after my last post were great. We drove to Dawson city. The summer flew by. We flew back east in August and got married. In the end, opportunity knocked and we answered.

I could've written more post those last months but I was busy writing for the paper. The north was no longer foregin to me. I was begining to see it as normal. It was harder to pick out things worth writing about from a southerner's perspective. So I stopped, and focused on writing for the paper.

I've been thinking about the North a lot lately. I especially miss it in the summer months. Sometimes I find myself craving a drive on the Dempster. Sometimes I miss the view of the river from Tulita. I miss how the north was at once vast in size and small in community. Mostly I miss the people.

I thought I should sign on and let any readers out there know the end. Thank you, good night.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A Very Large Day

My friend's dad used to have a saying. Whenever I was sleeping over at their house and we woke to a bright sunny Saturday he would look out the window and say, "Well. It's a rather large day out there."

He always put emphasis on the "large." I can still remember the first time he said it because I had never heard the saying before and yet I knew exactly what he meant. There were no clouds that day. The sky seemed so big and at the same time the day was full of potential. It was Large.

The other day I checked the "sunwatch" for the paper. It's a listing of sunrise and sunset times. The sun is now up. And it won't be setting until late in July. Yesterday was also one of the first warm days of the year. The first real t-shirt day. As I was walking the dog around boot lake it hit me that this is the largest day I've ever experienced. Summer is finally here, and the potential seems unlimited. We're going camping.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Two views of the north

A few weeks after I got to Inuvik, a British journalist named Oliver Burkeman dropped by our office. He was there writing about northern sovereignty, oil and gas, etc, etc...

His article was more negative than positive, in my view, portraying the north through the eyes of an outsider.

"It isn't hard, visiting the Canadian Arctic, to feel as though you have reached the back of beyond: a place at the edge of the map, empty except for the caribou and a few improbably hardy humans, who journey for miles to shop at Inuvik's solitary supermarket, which sells overpriced groceries shipped from "down south" - meaning the northern Canadian city of Edmonton - along with a small selection of snowmobiles."

Inuvik has three supermarkets, not one. It was the first of several errors in his article, "A very cold war indeed."

I duly reported them to the editor of the guardian, but I didn't receive a response.

Today I read an excellent article about another northern country, Iceland. It was called, No wonder Iceland and the happiest people on earth. (Also by a reporter from The Guardian.) I saw many similarities between what Iceland did during World War Two, and what is currently happening in the North as it embraces industry on its own terms. There is a similar view here of family, and of welcoming children. It's not, as reporters in the south might have you believe, a epidemic of unwanted teenage pregnancy.

Perhaps it is because my job is to seek out the good news, but I see such potential here. And when I read article's like Oliver Burkeman's, portraying the north as a backwoods and its people as pawns in the geopolitical game currently being played out, I can't help but get a bit mad.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Night and Day

Spring in Inuvik is not like spring back East. Yesterday we got 10 centimeters of snow. The roads are now rivers of dirty slush. We have had some warm days. But warm up here is anything near 0C. Anything above 0C is downright hot.

Every day I have the trouble of deciding whether or not I’ll wear my light spring jacket, or my heavy parka. It comes down to whether I’d rather be a bit too warm, or a bit too cold.

At least the pussywillows are out. That has to count for something.

Last time I checked we’re nearing 18 hours of sunlight a day. We gain about 10 minutes every day, or over an hour every week.
The strangest thing of all is that the sun now sets before it rises in the run of a day. Technically, a day begins at 12:00am. Lately sunset has been around 12:15am. And sunrise is around 5:00am. So technically, the sun sets before it rises. “Night” as most people know it is for a few short hours in the morning. The mind boggles.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

If you enjoy this blog...

There are quite a few other bloggers writing about the north. Another blogger recently created some awards for the best NWT blogs. Quite frankly, I don't see how this can be for the "best" blogs since mine wasn't in the running for any of the awards. I've learned my lesson. It's nothing but shameless self-promotion for me from here on in.

If you are online tonight, you still have time to vote. Lots of good reading to be found.


I woke up just before my alarm, around 6am on a Saturday morning, to catch my flight to Paulatuk. I was offered a seat on a charter by a resources start-up called Darnley Bay Resources. Myself along with two reps from the company arrived at the airport a bit after 8. Of course the plane was nowhere near ready to take off. The pilots had rolled in just before us.

Although they did their best to get the plane going, the pilots were at first unable to find someone qualified to drive the fuel truck. Welcome to a small town on a Saturday morning.

The mining guys shuffled impatiently and checked their watches. Representatives from the community corporation who were there to help the community did the same. This was funny because they were actually the owners of the airline, and they had no more power to speed things up than anyone else.

We took off about 45 minutes late. But then again lateness is just an idea created by people with watches. In the North, you’ll get there when you get there.

I was able to see the tree line once we got in the air. An hour later we came down through the clouds above the frozen Arctic Ocean. A string of dots lay on the treeless coastline. Welcome to Paulatuk.

They picked us up in a big shiny 15-passenger van and drove us three minutes to the school gym. From there I bid my friends adieu and set out on foot to see the town. The sun was out and it was just a bit below zero. At 10:30 on a Saturday morning, everything was quiet. There were no real signs of life except for the sled dogs tied out on their leashes.

I was drawn to one old building overlooking the water and spent a few minutes taking shots from different angles. Just about every other building in town was standard government housing. A hundred years ago, Paulatuk had whalers passing through. This one building may have seen wooden sailing ships docked out in the bay.

One old man I spoke to that morning by the name of Charlie Thrasher said he himself was a descendant of the whalers that came north to make their fortunes.

As soon as I told him I was from the paper, he asked me if I was getting it right. He didn’t specify what “it” was. He also told me that global warming is “bullsh*t” and pointed out all the snow around town to prove it. He said this is the latest spring he has ever seen, and he was most certainly well past 60.

Paulatuk has suffered through a lot of unusual blizzards this past April. It is usually to cold and dry to snow very much this far north. Although Mr. Thrasher might see more snow as evidence against global warming, it is more likely proof of climate change: more moisture moving in from the south and temperatures warm enough to allow it to snow.

The mining guys were in town to ask the community’s permission to drill on their land. Paulatuk is home to one of the great mysteries of the geological world. The Darnley bay anomaly was discovered in the 1950s by INCO Mining Corporation. The Geological Survey of Canada also knew of the anomaly. Although they never bothered to mention it until the 1990s, when Darnley Bay Resources staked the mineral rights.

It sounds like something from a Stephen king novel. The anomaly is a “blip” in the earth’s magnetic and gravitational field. It means there is a large, dense body somewhere below Paulatuk. The mining company is betting that it is mostly nickel and other metals.

82-year-old Leon La Prairie, the company president, is determined to get a drill bit down there to see what the heck it is. He was working for INCO back in the 50s when the anomaly was discovered. La Prairie chatted with residents and shuffled around the gym, leaning on his cane. At the end of it all, he got approval to do the test drilling.

Before the community voted, we were treated to a meal of caribou stew, caribou soup, and straight-up boiled caribou. It was good. At least the stew was. I wasn’t in the mood for soup, and the boiled caribou was more for the elders.

The mining company also brought Tim Horton’s donuts, which are a real treat up here, even if they are a day old. In the North, most communities make “traditional” or “Eskimo” donuts. These are a sweet, light, fried bread. There was a plate of these sitting next to the caribou stew. I ate three. Tim’s could take a page from Paulatuk’s recipe book.

The other thing the mining company brought was oranges. Two whole cases, to be exact. This was probably at the suggestion of an elder, or someone who occasionally travels to remote northern communities once every few years. People traveling to the North seem to think that kids are going to go wild for fresh fruit, or that they only get it at certain times of the year. I’ve read stories about barges coming up the Mackenzie at the turn of the last century. They would bring oranges and give one to every child in every town. I hate to break this to everyone, but it’s not 1942. They’ve got papaya and mangoes down at the northern store. Give the kids their donuts.

After the meeting there was a lot of hustling to get back on the plane and back to Inuvik. We had to go track down the pilots, who were sleeping off Friday night at the hotel. I was a bit concerned with the water they were guzzling on they flight back, but the landing was flawless. I slept most of the way. I wish I had more time to talk to the elders, and round up a few more stories, but you’ve got to take what you can get up here. I just hope next time I can get up there in the summer.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ice Road to Tuktoyaktuk

Note: A slideshow of pictures from the trip is available at the bottom of the post (or by clicking here). I suggest opening the link and viewing the pics full sized.

The road to Tuktoyaktuk mostly follows the path of the Mackenzie River. It took us three hours to get there. For the first half hour we were stuck behind a large dump truck, presumably hauling a load of gravel to Aklavik.

For the first hour there wasn’t much to see. The road was solid ice covered with drifted snow. It was very clean. I recall flying past an empty can of red bull, and the elbow of a stove pipe. There was no other litter.

There were hills to the left of us, trees and low shrub to the right. About an hour in, I saw something that seemed to stand out against the plains. Nicole dismissed it as small tress or shrubs at first, but as we got closer we realized it was a herd of reindeer.

Reindeer are domesticated caribou. There is little difference except in temperament and color. Reindeer are much more docile than caribou. A man on a snowmobile was leading the herd.

As I was standing up on a snow bank, snapping pictures of the reindeer, I turned and noticed an animal running on the other side of the road. At first I thought it might be a fox but after Nicole saw the pictures, she told me it was a wolverine.

Note: Correction. On closer inspection of the phots, it was a fox.

When you look at a map that shows the tree line, Inuvik is right on the edge. In fact we had to go about an hour and a half north before we realized we were above the tree line.

One might think that thee tree line is just an idea, or that the end of the trees is a much more gradual process. It was, from what I can see, almost an invisible line. There is literally a point where the trees suddenly peter out to nothing. I was in a hurry to get home when I noticed this, so I didn’t stop for a picture. Maybe next time.

It wasn’t easy to tell when we left the delta and drove out on the Beaufort Sea. We kept checking our GPS. The frozen shoreline became apparent after a while. It was different that the hills in the delta. The road is build offshore, on the ice. The road is bright blue when it is not covered with ice. It is a strange, frostless ice full of cracks. Driving on the ice was smoother than driving on the gravel of the Dempster, with very few “potholes.” But it was wavy in places. When a truck was driving towards us with its headlights on, it bounced up and down ever so slightly so that it looked as if he was flashing his high beams at us. Occasionally you would hit a crack in the ice.

Tuktoyaktuk was visible long before we reached it. Near the edge of town you can see two “pingos,” which are distinct hills that are formed through the thawing of permafrost. I had seen at least a couple on the way up. They are impossible to miss on an otherwise snow covered tundra. I would love to see the tundra in the summer. In the winter, it is not much to look at. Perhaps that is why pingos are so loved among the people of tuk. They provide natural scenery. The area just outside of the town has been set aside as “pingo national park.”

Tuk looks like so many other northern towns, with a lot of the same government housing. I’m sure it would be pretty in the summer, and it does have its scenic parts. I ran into Sister Faye, someone I had only known as a voice on the phone. Nicole and I were up exploring the old churches in town. Sister Faye was going into “Our Lady of Grace” Catholic church to start up the furnace. She said that they now only use this church for Christmas, Easter, and confirmation. On this day she was getting ready for confirmation.

Sister told me to walk right into the church, and to check out the Anglican church as well, which was a small log building near the Catholic church. She said they always keep them unlocked.

I walked into both. The Catholic church was beautiful on the inside, with ornate woodwork and painting. The Anglican Church, true to its protestant roots, was more humble. It was all I could do to stop myself from pulling the rope in the porch that led to the bell.

There was a tiny, fold up pump organ near the altar of the Anglican church. It was the size of a large suitcase, and it hand a handle on the top. It looked old. I suspect it might have come up on a whaling ship. It looked as if it were designed to be used on a ship, brought out for Sunday mass no matter where the crew might be. Then again, it might have been ordered out of the sears catalogue in the 1940s.

I think I became fixated on the ship idea because there is a large wooden sailing ship not far from the church. It too is owned by the church, and Sister Faye told me that they will be having the ship and Our Lady of Grace painted this summer. The Anglican church is mostly bare logs, and except for the window trip it looks as if it has never seen a drop of paint.