Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This is a pep talk

This is a pep talk, this is me (as I do sometimes) writing out a pros and cons list to remind myself of what overshadows my fears and discomforts. This is how I prep myself for what is to come. Thank God for this beautiful day. 

It takes merely a few seconds to miss the allure and charm of the North when one leaves it behind. Then upon return, it takes merely weeks to not only remember the isolation but feel the pang of it in your chest.

Katie and I spent some time over the weekend acquainting ourselves with a couple construction workers who had been working here for a couple of weeks and then got weathered in until Saturday. The feeling of satisfaction in finding company who bring with them the comfort and memories of the South, of home, is rare up here.

When I asked them if they were bored, they told us about the movies they had been watching and said, "aren't you?" Usually I would tell them of the many things to do here, but these weren't men who hadn't been keeping busy. My response was, "I'm used to it, I guess."

The truth is that my response was not entirely the truth. I had already been feeling that loneliness ebbing into my soul. It started snowing the morning we went over to spend some time with our snowed in guests. It snowed most of the day Saturday, and Sunday. Today it is Wednesday and the snow seems to have stopped. The small white patches on the ground are melting away slowly. The sun is out but then again the moon is too.

I dropped Brody off at Daycare to play with his friends for the afternoon, (It's free here!) and then I took a short walk. I cannot resist basking in the warm sun on a fresh-air kind of day. I walked to the top of a small hill, just on the edge of town. I looked down in the direction of the airport and saw white sheets off in the distance. I briefly doubted that they would ever melt away.

As I stood on that hill with civilization behind me, I noticed the quiet. I closed my eyes for what must have been five minutes. I heard the birds, noticing that even though so many had already migrated, there were the remaining birds that must be exceptionally brave. They tweeted and chirped and in that moment I was transported to exactly the spot I stood. I took the trip but the perfection of the very spot where my feet were grounded was so untouchable that there was nothing better my mind could conjure. I could feel the warmth of the sun coming and then leaving with the shallow gusts of cool wind. The winter is coming, the moon in the sky at noon proves this daunting fact. I am afraid. They call it the land of the midnight sun, but you don't hear many refer to it as the land of the noon time moon - which it truly is for the majority of the year.

I cannot tell you what it feels like to live in Northern Canada, under the blanket of darkness. The place you are taken is a dark one and sometimes when you lay alone in bed you can hear your lonely heart thrum as though alone inside a rusted and forgotten oil drum. Sealed away from the world until the ice thaws and freedom claws its way slowly inward and releases you. There is a longing that crawls beneath the surface of the skin, the nerves that crave human touch but know it will be so long until anything other than a parka hugs the body. Knowing these things are coming, and coming fast, has me a little bit nervous these days.

Seeing those construction men off on Saturday was like sealing the envelope and reality sank in. The plane was taking this short summer and the fun company it provided for one weekend with it.

I had the feeling that I wasn't entirely alone in my peace on that hill. The walls here, and in every small town, have eyes. I suspected there was a middle aged woman standing half hidden behind her curtains, wondering about the crazy new girl in town. As I turned and took barely fifteen steps in the direction of home, I heard a loud knocking from the living room window of the house I was passing. She was maybe three, more likely two, with dirty blond hair. She knocked and I waved as I walked, her returning wave accompanied by a brilliant smile. I got a little further and she knocked again, waving. It happened four more times, the last of which when I was nearly out of sight. She had to wave until the chance was gone, she had a hard time letting go of a fresh smile that had just walked through her day. I realized how much that little girl reminded me of my twenty-four year old self, our mentalities at least, are similar.

Just as a child, it pains me to say good-bye, to watch something brilliant or fun or new come to an end. In the arctic, this is magnified. Yet all it takes to restore my faith and to remind me of why and how I stay here to push through another winter, is one day. One day, where the sun shines like gold on the water and illuminates the smiles of every passer-by. One day where the weight of my parka hangs on a hanger and not on my shivering shoulders.

I cannot quite put into words the way that the Arctic is in itself an outrageous contradiction.

Soon, the Northern earth will welcome the embrace of the long, cold winter that it is so accustomed to. In these windows sit children who long for adventure and outside of my window will stand a woman who is braving this Northern earth to continue the adventure she has found.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Worlds Most Northern Golf Course

I have never been golfing before, surprising as my fathers side of the family are avid golfers, every single one of them, aunts, uncles and cousins. When I spend time with them, an hour barely passes without some mention of the sport.

I may need to try it out at least once as this tiny town is home to the World's most northern golf course... or as the sign says, "The Worlds Most Northernly 9 Hole Golf Course in the World." I couldn't suppress a smile at the sight of said sign.

Note that this tiny town is also home to what feels like the Worlds strongest winds... I don't doubt that the winter here brings painful walking experiences. I'm not sure my ball would make it anywhere near my target point should I attempt it. I suppose you need to be the kind of avid golfer my father is to be able to account for the excessive strength of this northern wind and still golf a successful game.

Evening view from the 5th hole

 I hear that there is an annual celebrity golf tournament held here. I wonder who pays for the flights of those celebrities and if they come just to boast about playing the worlds most northern course?

As I walk these streets I can't help but think that this town and all of its inhabitants really know how to live the good life. They live a quiet life and though it may not be entirely free of dramatics, it isn't like Iqaluit with fist fights in the streets and a sell and swap Facebook page where people are posting daily, looking for things that have been stolen right out of their houses. The people here are genuinely kind, they smile and in ten out of twelve instances they stop to shake your hand and tell you who they are. The other two instances are just shy folks who will still offer a smile. I've met people and have been told afterwards, "You go to him when you need something fixed," or "He knows his way around anything that needs welding." Even, "He's the guy you need when there's a skidoo or ATV that needs some work."

Selfie on the course with Katie

These people know who is out on the water by the look of their boat in the distance, who just drove out of town on a machine and who is working at which store at what point of the day. It feels a little bit like neighborhood watch without the window stickers and a lot like the small town you've always been looking for. I've met people who came, fell in love with the community and stayed, and heard of people who are here to hide out. Either way, there is no shortage of people who have found their happiness here.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

How about the North West Territories?

Here's a funny little story for your Sunday afternoon...

We moved again. If you're surprised, let me assure you, we were too. We were under the impression that Katie would be in Kugluktuk for work for a decently substantial amount of time. A week after we landed she got a phone call and she was offered the managers position in Ulukhaktok. Of course, she took the job. She's been waiting for this for as long as I've known her. 

Ulukhaktok Airport - one of the smallest I've been in

I booked my one way ticket to this lovely town, set to fly out exactly a week after her call. When I fly out of here it will need to be on some sort of seat sale.... the flight from Kugluktuk to here, one way, cost me almost $900. 

My selfie with the Welcome to Ulukhaktok sign

I can feel Katie's excitement. After even more years of travelling than I've done, she feels like she can finally settle. It's strange to think of settling so far North, so detached from the world. Up here there is no cell phone service, we can only use black berry messenger by enabling WiFi on our phones. Really though, who still uses bbm? I have a solid one hand full of friends who I can keep in touch with that way. I'm starting to think it may not be worth my $72 a month cell phone bill. 

I spent the whole day yesterday trying to get my blog page to load so I could share that we have re-located yet again. It didn't work and I feel lucky to have written this one. On top of no cell phones, limited internet (no computers or i pads half the time {we may need to get a second modem}) we also have no home phone. Katie is waiting for her managers house to be ready for move in, which could take up to a month, before setting up her land line. 

I enjoy roughing it, technologically speaking, but it's strange not to communicate with my family who may not all be aware that I have disappeared again. 

The old, unused Catholic church
The original store

When we landed here on the 25th (the first time) we spent about forty minutes on lay-over. The weather was over-cast and gloomy, we couldn't see much from the airport. I thought this town was too sandy looking for me. Now that we are here, and have been going on three days, I see the bright side of this place. Wow'ed instantly by the views from inside of the town, I am sold. We are surrounded by three Bays, Queens Bay, Jacks Bay and Kings Bay. It is a short drive (or a long walk) to a fresh water lake and a river that serves as the local swimming hole. 

The fresh water river between the town and the airport, where people swim

The town is greener than I thought but is still mainly made up of rock that has a rust color to it. The mountains around us are much different than the ones I loved so much in Qikiqtarjuaq. They remind me of the Grand Canyon in the way that they are colored and the slope of the rock faces, though they are not nearly as vivid.  

The people here are wonderful, kind and welcoming people. Everyone I walk past on the streets stops to talk and ask me my name. Every stranger we meet when Katie and I are together also asks, "are one of you the new manager?" It seems that news travels exceptionally quickly here in this town of less than 500. 

So, as readers of this arctic travelers blog, 'Welcome to Ulukhaktok,' or, as many of the locals have said, 'Welcome to Ulu.'

With love, for the first time from the North West Territories own, Ulukhaktok. (Does this mean I need to change the name of my blog?)