Friday, November 24, 2006

A Ridiculously Long Post

Last May, when my folks were away on holiday, and Nicole was in St. John’s, I went to a jewelry store in Halifax and bought a ring for Nicole. I knew that I wanted to propose to her, and I was reasonably sure she would accept. What I didn’t know was how long it would be before I would have another opportunity to buy a ring. So in a single frenzied afternoon when I was supposed to be running other errands, I ran from store to store looking for the right ring.

The woman who sold me the ring found out that we were moving north, and warned me not to trust the postal system or even the airlines with the ring. Do not mail it to yourself. Do not put it in your checked baggage. Carry it with you at all times.

My first plan was to just carry the ring in my coat pocket. But in the days leading up to our departure, I started to become paranoid that customs officials would see the ring in their x-ray machine, and they would want to inspect it, thus spoiling the surprise and forcing me to propose in an airport customs line (which would have made for a good story, but not one I wanted to tell if I could help it). Then I thought that I could hide the ring in my sock or tape it to my leg. But then I worried it might set off the metal detectors. In the end, I decided to take the ring out of the box and hide it in a pair of (clean) socks in my carry-on bag.

Going through customs in Halifax was a breeze. They didn’t question anything in my overloaded book bag. It’s a wonder because the tangle of electronics, wires, and my battery charger must have looked like a small bomb waiting to go off.

Edmonton, however, was a different story. You are advised to arrive at the Edmonton airport two hours early in order to get through the long inspection lines in time for your flight. There were so many officials, I was hoping that Nicole and I would be directed to two separate lines. But of course we ended up in the same line, with her going first.

I could tell long before it was our turn that the short-haired woman doing the inspections took her job seriously. She stared long and hard at the x-ray of every bag that was going through her machine, and she consulted with her partner on several items, asking more than one person to open their bag.

Of course, Nicole got through without any problems. I hinted that she should run ahead to find our gate, and that I would catch up.

“No, I’ll just wait here for you.”

“Why don’t you go wait over there. I think you’re blocking traffic.”

“No I’m not. I’ll just be right here.”

Meanwhile, short-haired lady was staring at her computer screen with a frown.

“Sir, what sorts of electronics do you have in this bag?”

Our last minute packing was so frenzied, I couldn’t quite remember all that I had put in there. Already I was getting nervous because Nicole wouldn’t leave.

“Ummm, I’ve got an mp3 player and a digital camera. Oh, and a battery charger. Hey Nicole, seriously, why don’t you go wait over there.”

“Any radios, sir?”

“Oh yeah! I forgot. My radio too.”

She stared at her screen a moment longer, and consulted with her partner.

“I cant figure out what this is here? What does it look like to you?”

“C’mon Nicole, you don’t need to hang around here. Just run ahead and find our gate.

“No, Brodie, I want to wait here with you.”

“Sir, would you mind opening your bag?”

I was breaking out in a sweat now, I could tell my face was turning red.

“Sure, no problem.”

Then I turned to Nicole and spoke to her though my teeth.

“Nicole. Go. Wait. Over. There.”

She furrowed her brow and stormed off out of earshot, but watching from a distance. As soon as I was sure Nicole couldn’t hear, I spoke with the woman.

“Is it small and round? Is what you want to see small and round?”

I could feel my heart racing at this point. I knew I looked visibly distressed, and I knew that the short-haired woman was very aware of my distress.

“No. I see that, but I want to know that this bundle of wires is.”

The bundle of wires was a set of headphones. I started to calm down as she rummaged through my bag. I told her why I was so nervous, and the tension was instantly lifted. She smiled for the first time, and once she located the bundle of wires at the bottom of my book bag, I walked on to meet up with a somewhat pissed-off Nicole.

Proposing is a difficult proposition. I wanted it to be special and memorable. At first I thought about proposing at midnight, with the summer sun still out. At that time we were still living in the log hovel down by the water. It wasn’t the most romantic place. As the summer dragged on, I began to think about proposing under the northern lights.

When the lights finally started coming out, I learned that they are unpredictable. I’d have to wait for the right showing, preferably on a night when I didn’t have to work the next day, and then I’d have to get the ring from the bottom of my sock drawer and drag Nicole outside. The logistics were too messy, especially after she sprained her ankle.

So our trip to Yellowknife seemed to be the best option. We were going to get Mackey spayed. We could have just sent her out on the plane, but Nicole wanted to get out of town for a few days. She timed the trip to coincide with our fifth anniversary. What better opportunity?

We almost didn’t make it out. It is slightly cheaper to charter a flight with the local charter company than to fly with the local airline. I suspect it is cheaper because the charter planes are older, smaller, and have uglier paint jobs than the airline. But on the morning we were supposed to leave, it was snowing, and visibility was poor. Our pilot said he didn’t feel comfortable flying. Luckily, the local airline was flying because they have better navigational equipment. We made it to Norman Wells, and then boarded a 737 for Yellowknife.

On Friday morning, we dropped Mackey off at the vet. We planned to spend the rest of the day Christmas shopping. All day, Nicole dragged me into every jewelry store she could find, dropping hints about engagement rings. Little did she know, I already had her ring in my coat pocket (and it was MUCH more expensive than the ones she was pointing out).

That night we went to a restaurant in Old Town Yellowknife. Old Town is what Yellowknife was before urban sprawl set in. It is down on the edge of Great Slave Lake, and it reminds me of any small Newfoundland town. The roads wind between giant granite boulders, and houses are perched on rocky hills. The restaurant we chose was called Oldtown Landing. Somewhat swanky, but not too stuffy either. The sort of place where you can order a bottle of wine with supper, which we did.

We started with the crab dip. Then I had a buffalo steak (yes, real buffalo) and Nicole had the stuffed whitefish. We were making short work of the bottle of wine. I didn’t know you were supposed to wait for the waitress to come top off your glass.

I wasn’t sure when it would be appropriate to pop the question. Perhaps proposing in a restaurant is just a movie cliché. I chose to propose during dessert, for no other reason than to delay the inevitable for as long as possible. Finally, after Nicole was three bites into her cheese cake, I got up from my side of the table, got down on one knee and took out the ring. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it included “oh, Brodie, not here” and “did I pressure you into buying a ring today?” To which I replied “No I bought the ring in May. I bought it before we came up here. Now will you marry me?” And she relented and said yes and then we went back to our dessert, except neither one of us could eat at that point.

Oh, I forgot the best part. On our flight from Tulita to Norman Wells, Mackey threw up in her kennel. I took the dog and the kennel outside the Norman Wells airport to clean up the mess, but by the time I got some paper towel from the bathroom, the puke was already starting to freeze solid. You know it’s cold when…

Sunday, November 12, 2006

“Talk of your cold! Through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail”

It is hellish cold. Winter is here. It started around thanksgiving with the first dusting of snow. At first it would go above freezing in the day. But then it stayed below zero. Pans of ice began flowing down the river. They moved past much more slowly than the logs in the spring. The water level in the Mackenzie dropped significantly as well. The edge of the river retreated twenty feet or more. Now there is more ice than water in the river, although it is weeks away from being solid. Remember that in two month’s time, eighteen wheelers will be driving across the Mackenzie.

It doesn’t really snow here. I miss the big fat flakes of the east coast. Instead it just gets so wickedly cold that any moisture in the air freezes and clings to the trees or falls to the ground in small particles. You don’t need a shovel to clean off the steps. A broom is much more efficient at brushing away the dust. And the powder that forms has yet to pack down. You can’t make a snowman with the snow that is in my yard.

I broke down and bought gloves the other day. God knows we brought fifty pairs with us, but I’ll be damned if I can find any of them now. I bought them after a quick trip to the warehouse to grab a few boxes of Christmas decorations. My fingers got painfully cold very quickly. It was -20 after all. The gloves I bought have a rawhide outside and a fur pile inside. My boss warned me that the fur would get crushed and inefficient before long. He recommended wearing gloves inside mittens. Mittens are a must, because individually wrapped fingers can’t keep themselves warm. But when you do need those fingers, you can take off the mittens and still have the protection of the gloves.

Everyone talks about the “dry cold” of the north. Living by a river that has yet to freeze, I can’t say I know what a “dry cold” feels like. Apparently, once the river freezes, it won’t feel as cold, although it will technically be colder. I don’t care what the humidity is: minus twenty is cold.
The days are getting noticeably shorter now. Even with daylight savings, the sun doesn’t rise until twenty to ten. It seems to come out of the south-west, instead of the east. It then does a slow, shallow arc through the western sky, hanging over the river. It never rises above 45 degrees from the ground. Go outside at twelve noon and it feels like late afternoon. The frost in the air causes sun dogs to form on either side. It then sets in the north-west before five.

At night there is usually a white ring around the moon. The stars don’t simply twinkle; they seem to change color, with flashes of red and blue so noticeable that Nicole and I spent five minutes one morning trying to decide if it was a star or a plane we were watching in the western sky.

While these atmospheric displays are amazing, they are forgotten when the northern lights come out to play. Tonight the lights are a still, green glow stretching towards the north. Two long trails of light merged into one directly over my head. On other nights they look like a shimmering curtain. There’s a line from a song that rings true whenever I see the lights.

“the northern lights give a ghostly glow
It’s hard to tell if they’re really there”

The only adjective for this light is ghostly. Any other light you see at night either comes from the moon, or from man made lights. The northern lights are not tied to either of these. They are visible without illuminating anything else. They don’t rely on the moon or stars for their light. The stars are still visible behind them. You can’t say for certain where they begin or end because they are always moving. All you can say for sure is that they are there. They are indescribable, so I’ll stop trying to describe them. But I will say this: no picture will do them justice.