Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sunday Morning: An Interlude

We've been wrestling with the problem of a toilet that won't flush since we moved in. On Sunday morning, I finally found the time to call Dad and ask him for advice.

"Well, it may just need a good plunging, but you should go check to see if it's properly vented. There should be a small black pipe sticking out of your roof above the bathroom. It's called a hore pipe"

So out I went, clad in pajama pants and rubber boots. As I stepped onto the doorstep, I saw one of the town elders slowly shuffling along the road. First I went around the side of the house, but I was in no position to see the roof. So I went up to the road. As I was craning my neck, looking for the hore pipe, the elder stopped and watched me for a moment.

"You need a hand with somthin'?"

"Oh, no thanks. It's just that our toilet's plugged up. So I'm looking for a hore...I'm looking to see if it's vented properly because..."

The old man looked a bit confused. My embarrassed babbling was too fast for him.

"Your Teee-Vee not working?"

(awkward silence)

"No no. Ha ha, my TOY-let. It needs a vent or.. nevermind. No, I'm fine.

Suddenly I realized how stupid I must look: inspecting the roof, from the road, in my pajamas, when there was a problem with the toilet.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Synopsis so far...

As I write this, it is 1:37 on a Sunday morning. It is the first time I've seen darkness since this time last week, when I woke up in the middle of the night. Even now, I can see across the Mackenzie river, which is several kilometers wide. It's like after dusk. Just dark enough for streetlights to come on.
It's been a long week. We're now settled into our house, but it took every evening this week to get it into a livable state. Let me take you back to Monday night.

Nicole's boss picked us up at about 2 in the afternoon. She had warned us that the hot water heater might be out of commission. So together we agreed that we would ask to stay in the hotel one extra night, until they got it working. But when she arrived at 2 and told us everything was in order except for heating oil, we decided to move in.

As you walk in the house, you first go through a crowded, cluttered, and dirty porch. From the porch you step into the living room. The walls are painted that shade of light green that was invented in the 1970s. The molding is a slightly darker version of the same cheap and nasty green. Our carpet is a blend of reds, oranges, and browns. The tile in the kitchen and bedrooms is white. There is no attic in the house, so the ceiling rises to a ten-foot peak in the middle of the living room. This high ceiling is one of the house's saving graces. It's other saving grace is the woodstove that is in the center of everything. Although, like everything else in the house, the woodstove has seen better days. It once had a glass window in the door. That has been replaced with a piece of steel.

When we first came in, the walls were adorned with scary pictures of Jesus. The kind you often see in the homes of old people. There is one that changes from Jesus to Mary depending on the angle at which you look at it. We also found a set of rosary beads hanging in every room, including the bathroom and two porches. But the best pieces of Catholic paraphernalia are the two statues that sit atop our kitchen cupboards: one of Jesus, the other of Mary, forever looking down their noses at us, reminding us that we are sinners. We took every bit of this down (with the exception of the statues) and hid it in a back room.

The kitchen is off the back of the living room. It was filthy on the day we moved in. Even today, after hours of scrubbing, soaking, and javexing, I wouldn't feel comfortable using the word clean. There was a wonderful layer of chocolate syrup (I'm assuming it was chocolate) that spilled down the back of the fridge and settled on the bottom. The cupboards have now been scrubbed and lined with cardboard.

Our first night in the house was cold. I lit a fire in the woodstove to keep us warm in the evening, but with only seven sticks of wood in the porch, it was out long before we went to bed. Nicole refused to sleep on the one mattress that was in the house, so she took the couch. I braved the mattress. At about 3 in the morning, I woke up. The house was freezing. I was frozen. But I knew it was still above zero, because I could hear the drip, drip, drip of what I thought was a leaky faucet. I tried to ignore it, but between the cold and the noise, I couldn't take it. When I checked the tap, I realized it was actually a slow leak in a valve under the bathroom sink.

It's still not entirely dark outside. Time for bed. I'll finish this in the morning.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Sun Never Sets on Tulita

The sun set at 11:59pm last night, according to Environment Canada. That means tonight will be the first official Midnight Sun of this year. Not that anyone except me is marking this significant occasion. I won't even be staying up for it. I have to report to work in the morning, and so does Nicole.

Before we moved up here, several people warned us about the long days. You would think that days of darkness would get depressing, and they might. But the body will wake up when it has had enough sleep, regardless of the light outside. However, getting to sleep when daylight is still leaking though your blinds at 11:30 at night is another story. When you wake up at 5:00 in the morning, it could just as easily be 5:00 in the evening. The only way to know for sure is to look at a clock.

The idea of 24 hour daylight has always held a certain place in my imagination. One of my earliest memories is my father reading Robert Service poems to me. For someone who is skeptical of any work of fiction beyond a Clint Eastwood movie or an episode of CSI, Robert Service has always been unusually high on Dad's list of favorite writers.

Service went to the Yukon for the gold rush of 1898, but he made his fortune writing thousands of poems about the men of the gold rush. All of his poems rhyme and most have the same sing-song rhythm. For that reason, they are dismissed as doggerel by the literary snobs of today. Still, I've been known to read Service now and then. I brought two volumes of his collected works with me. They're somewhere downstairs in a rubbermaid tub sealed with packing tape.

When Dad read to me about the "strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold," I never dreamed that I would find myself here under a midnight sun, moiling for a paycheque from the grocery store.

Today we move into our house. This will be then end of my easy access to the internet. You might not hear from me for a few days.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Two Incomes are Better Than One

We made it in one piece! There were times during our final plane ride into Tulita when I thought we might not make it. Have you ever driven in an old clunker of a car where the driver has to open your door from the inside because the outside handle doesn't work? Yeah, imagine that, only on a plane. The pilot looked to be about 14, and the plane about 40. It was a 5 seater (counting the pilot and co-pilot seats).

As the guys at the airport were checking the list of passengers, they recognized Nicole's name. No surprise after flying in 11 or so tubs of our junk. This airline also delivers the mail to Tulita.

We landed on a dirt runway. The snow is gone, and the weather is now warm. It's almost stuffy here in our hotel room. Nicole's new boss greeted us at the airport. Perhaps airport is a bit of a stretch. It would be more accurate to say she greeted us in the small building on the edge of the clearing where planes land. We saw our house, but we won't be moving in until Monday. It's a freaking log cabin! This makes the romantic in me want to start writing poetry. How many people can say they live in a log cabin by the Mackenzie River?

And finally, to add insult to injury, I was offered a job within my first four hours on the ground. We went to buy groceries (which is a post in itself), and the guy in charge told me to come in on Tuesday if I want work. I was just getting used to the idea of unemployment: I'd brought so many books. I was planning on getting our house in order, doing some writing and maybe attempting a radio documentary. But the offer of steady work and something to keep me busy eight hours a day is almost too good to pass up. Two incomes are better than one. I guess, if I do start work, Nicole and I will officially be DINKS (Dual Incomes, No Kids).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Time is Money

Lately I feel as if we’re getting ready to go camping on a very long, very expensive camping trip. Money has begun to loose its meaning, at least for a cheapskate such as myself. If we think we’ll need it and we don’t have it, we buy it. New TV? Done. BBQ? I don’t care how short the summers are, we’re not going two years without a BBQ. Fishing pole? Fishing is the new Internet: hours of mindless entertainment while attached to a long piece of wire.

Today is Tuesday morning. We leave on Friday morning. Although money doesn’t mean much anymore, time is in short supply. We have today and tomorrow to get the last minute stuff shipped up. My parents’ lawn needs to be mowed. Tomorrow night I pick up my parents and grandparents from the airport. We’ll have one day with them, and the next morning they’ll be taking us to the airport. There’s so much we need to do before we leave, but also so much we want to do too. Sunday night was spent with friends at a BBQ. Last night we went to see a movie. Tomorrow I hope to drive out to the Minas Basin one more time and smell the salt water.

The pressure is getting to me a bit, at least in my dreams. The other night I dreamt I was perched on top of a stack of boxes that were ready to fall at any moment. Another dream had Nicole and I in jail. It wasn’t that bad. I tried to make the most of incarceration by writing a tell-all book about what it’s like on the inside. But last night I slept more soundly.

We will see what the next few days bring. My next post may be from Tulita. Who knows when that will be? We arrive Saturday afternoon, but I’ll need to use Nicole’s work computer to post. Monday is a holiday. We’ll be getting settled in as well. But I plan on writing a longhand journal on the way up, and I will transcribe bits and pieces and post them as time permits. So stay tuned.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Drifting Home?

I’ve been too busy to write much. Nicole is back from Newfoundland. We’ve been packing and shipping, packing and shipping, buying and packing and shipping.

Last night, even though we had a truckload of stuff from Wal-mart (mostly cleaning supplies), we decided to take the night off. Nicole googled the Food Mail Program. It’s the government’s subtle way of influencing what people in the north eat. Basically, they make it relatively cheap to have perishables and healthy food shipped in. Chips, pop, alcohol, and wieners, however, still cost about $2.50 a kilo, on top of the already inflated price. When Nicole heard this, she immediately wanted to go out and buy some pop. We’re going to need mix for the boatload of liquor we bought yesterday. I’m going to miss beer.

As we were going to bed, I found some reading material on my grandfather’s bookshelf (we’re house-sitting for my grandparents). Drifting Home, by Pierre Berton, is his account of a 13 day journey up the Yukon river to his hometown of Dawson. Burton also writes about his own father, who came to the Yukon during the Gold Rush of 1898. As I read the first chapter aloud to Nicole, I changed the names and dates to reflect our own journey.

“I know we’ve left something out [Nicole] would say in her cheerful manner. “I just know it.”

I skipped the part about their boxes being “bruised” after three thousand miles of travel.

Then I came to a passage about Berton’s grandfather.

"Words, he said, could not describe the beauty and magnificence of it. He had almost half a century left to live, and it would be spent among mountains like these, far from the Atlantic’s shore… He believed he was going to the Yukon for a two-year stay but those two years lengthened into forty. The decision to join the stampede changed the current of his life, as it changed that of so many others."

Nicole and I both saw the parallels to ourselves in this. We are, after all, only going for two years. She started pummeling me as I read this.

“Stop it Brodie! Turn out the light and come to bed!”

But hey. He’s writing about the Yukon. We’re going to the Northwest Territories.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"The Art of Packing" or "Why Tetris isn't a waste of time"

Packing sucks. When I start repacking all our stuff (tomorrow, I swear I will start tomorrow!), it will be the third time since February. I spent my spring break packing all of our stuff in Newfoundland. Nicole and I had tossed about the idea of renting a van or a trailer for that move, but both were too expensive. We ended up selling or giving away our furniture and packing what was left into Nicole’s Ford Focus.

I like to approach packing as if it were a puzzle. It involves fitting odd shaped objects into square boxes. Every time there is more stuff and stranger rules. In February, the challenge was to fit an entire apartment into a Ford Focus. Last week, when I moved out of my apartment in Halifax, I had to pack everything in 24 hours, and all I had was garbage bags and about six small cardboard boxes.

Now I’m at level three. Because we’re mailing our stuff up, the rules have again changed. Boxes must be no larger than two meters squared, and must weigh no more than 66 lbs. And no, I don’t have a scale to weigh anything.

We agreed that I will take care of the packing, while Nicole will take care of the worrying. She does this by making lists: To-do lists, and lists of things we don’t have and will never need.

Nicole: I was thinking of picking up some bungee cords from Princess Auto. They’re on sale this week. And skidoo saddlebags are on sale too. We might need one if we get a skidoo.

Me: Are you planning on getting a skidoo?

Nicole: Probably not. But you never know.

Me: Well, it’s your money, but I think we can live without a saddlebag. It’s just more junk for me to pack.

Nicole: OK. But what about the bungee cords?

Me: What are we going to use those for? We don’t have a vehicle. There are no roads. Remember?

Nicole: Yeah, but if we get a skidoo, we might want to strap stuff down on it.

Me: (sound of hair follicles ripping)

Her philosophy is “buy it, and if we ever need it we’ll be glad we have it.” After living in one too many small apartments, I’m a practitioner of the “do without” school of living. Why buy a whisk when a fork will do? Who needs a flathead screwdriver when there is a drawer full of butter knives in the kitchen? Do you REALLY need a magnetic hook to hang oven mitts on the fridge?

That may be the greatest thing about living in Tulita. With luck, our house will not mysteriously fill up with junk we don’t need, and empty boxes we can’t throw away.