Sunday, February 24, 2008

Place of Man

Inuvik is a town that I described as “ugly” in a post last September. Back then I was just passing through, and I had only spent about an hour on the main drag of town. It was hard to see past its industrial exterior. I am officially withdrawing that remark. After having lived here for almost a full week, I can say that Inuvik is beginning to grow on me.

Maybe it is the rusted ships that dot the edge of the river. Old tugs that may yet be seaworthy and have found shelter from the ice on shore. I have started walking the dog on a route that takes me past three of them- five if it’s warm and I have the energy to go a bit farther. I can almost convince my self I’m back in Newfoundland or some seaside town in Nova Scotia.

Out on the frozen river you can see the headlights of trucks heading to and from Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk. You can also hear the whine of skidoo engines being wound out and pushed to their limits. They are always in pairs and they seem to be drag racing on that long, straight, flat expanse.

I think part of my newfound love for Inuvik is the landscape. Tulita had nice mountains and rivers, but I felt landlocked there. Here I know that the ocean is just a hundred clicks up river. It is difficult to explain that feeling of being landlocked unless you’ve lived your whole life by the ocean. I remember the first time I went to Ontario when I was 17. The thought would occur to me several times every day that I was so far from the ocean.

Along with the comfort of the ocean is the peace of mind that the road brings. Inuvik is the end of the Dempster Highway. If I was so inclined, I could purchase a beat up car and just hit the road straight down to Dawson, Whitehorse, and BC.

Although I consider myself a pretty cheap guy, and I’m not one to shop for the sake of shopping, it is great to know that there are two hardware stores here in Inuvik. Three if you count the industrial supplies shop. Being a male, I have a gene that predisposes me to love hardware stores. There is no retail outlet more beautiful than one that specializes in practical things. The one possible exception is a bookstore, which Inuvik also has, along with a nice little library, and the Northwest Territories largest magazine stand. You would think that Yellowknife, with 20,000 people, would have the largest magazine stand. But no, it is here in Inuvik, with a population of about 3,000.

Inuvik celebrates its fiftieth birthday this summer. It was founded as a place to resettle the people of Aklavik because that town was - and is - prone to floods. Of course some people refused to move, and Aklavik survives to this day. I hope to travel there in the coming weeks, although our company vehicle does not have four wheel drive at the moment. Inuvik simply means “Place of Man” in the local language. It is the northernmost town in Canada. There are other communities at higher latitudes, but not incorporated towns.

I am loving my job. I can’t put into words how good it feels to go into an office and write every day. I love going out to meet and interview people, but at the end of the day I have to sit down and carve out a story of just 300 to 500 words. It is challenging, but at the same time I know that I can do it. Working at the store became this insurmountable challenge. I knew that no matter how many hours I put in, and no matter how hard I tried, there would always be more to do. I could never be satisfied with the results I received from my efforts. Here I might file a poorly written story, but when it is filed it is done and I can go home knowing I learned from my mistakes and strive for something better next time.

One thing I’ve learned is that people have short attention spans. We try to say more in fewer words. So if you’re still reading this, I’ve already taken you further that the average newspaper article. I will be trying to post more regularly now that I have an abundance of time. This was one of my first real weekends in years. A weekend has to be long enough so you can afford to waste some time without feeling guilty. A weekend isn’t a weekend unless you get to have it on Saturday and Sunday. There is a vibe you get on those days that you just can’t get on a Tuesday.