February 20, 2011

Time to go

I watched the sun set over the North today from the window of a jet plane.

I can't say when or if I'll ever be back, but the idea of being gone for good isn't one I want to entertain right now. Inuvik has been my home for the past two years and it's hard to leave. At the same time, I know it's time for me to go.

I'm off to have new adventures -- whatever or where ever they may be. I'll still be writing, just not here.

Thanks for reading.

January 30, 2011

Big old hearts

My horizon view's framed by coyote fur as I stop, fall behind, to watch the sun rise Sunday afternoon.

It lights me up again and again, always the best I've ever seen. Harps play in my head -- everybody's part of my cartoon. They're all characters worth seeing through, I know, and creativity might thrive in tragedy but this is just what's true now.

All I want to be is here.

January 22, 2011

Sweet darlin'

I linger by the doorway when the lights snap on, none too eager to poach another pink lipstick-stained cigarette and pretend not to see the fierce hunger in the smudged smile of she who offers.

Soon a rush of revellers will be upon me. Look at them, far off, laughing so slow like they don't any of them have children at home. I'd rather not just stand here, zipped up, gloves on, conspicuous by being alone. But for now it's better than going out there. Even if - especially if - there's someone waiting for me, as usual. Cold, cold, cold.

In the corner of my eye there's that unmistakable ball-cap-molded gleam of white hair heading toward me. He's put down his acoustic guitar, wiped stage-light sweat from his forehead and now wastes no time making for the exit, just as I imagine he's done at the end of every night his band's played here. Till 2 a.m. five nights a week for five weeks, off and on. The same loved songs over and over, even through the occasional bar fight. Just like the Titanic's band.

I call up a tone of sobered earnestness to catch him just in time, mid-stride, door ajar. He turns his lined but pleasant face to me, eyes expectant through gold-rimmed glasses.

"Louie," I say. "Thank you for your music."

It comes out drunk. But I need him to hear it. To understand what hearing him means to me.

"You're welcome." He replies without missing a beat and with no hint of a smile.

"You go straight home now, you hear?"

After the door slams shut behind him I snicker to myself. No, he doesn't understand. How could he know?

Just how many goodbyes I've given during his sets of country-song-singing before the leaving ones even realized they had to go.

November 10, 2010

Trite lite

The air sparkles under streetlights as I walk at night, mulling over past hours and worrying over the next day, week, month, year ahead. I give in to those clichés about fresh snow. Sometimes I don't think about anything except my footprints on nature's blank canvas.

And then I snap out of it and realize most of my life fits into two categories: Too banal to share with the world, or too meaningful to throw up on a blog such as this. These walks, during which I freeze my nostril hairs taking the long way around to think or – more often – to stop thinking, invariably belong to the former.

But tonight something happened. Something in between. Something that made me smile. And not in that off-kilter way people smile when they walk down the street mentally re-living this funny thing that happened to them once, this event so hilarious that just thinking about it makes them want to bust a gut right there, but they restrain themselves because others would stare and they don't want to seem loony. And it wasn't in the snarky way people smirk at each other to mask their own insecurities after they spot one of those silly-faced crazies walking down the street. No, this was sincere.

It was like this.

I took a shortcut past the main road, over Ski-Doo trails, alongside a gaggle of fox tracks, down a hill under a utilidor onto a narrow beaten path in the brush, slick with falling snow. I passed an empty bottle of Private Stock stuck upright in the snow bank and saw a shadowy figure trudging unsteadily in the shadows ahead of me. We were heading the same way, single file down the dark slope. When he heard me crunching along behind him, the man turned and grunted unintelligibly. I recognized him by his familiar stance as a street person I'd seen around town and I wondered where he was going and whether he was going to get there, stumbling as he was.

We crested the hill, two pairs of prints following each other down into the darkness. He glanced back over his shoulder at me. Opened his mouth. Closed it again. He slowed his already leisurely pace until I was almost on his heels.

"Keep going," I silently urged.

Then he stopped. He stuffed an ungloved hand into his jacket pocket. When he pulled it out again I saw the shadows transform in the glow of a mini flashlight. In the light there was no mistaking his lined face or the self-satisfied grin that suddenly spread across it. But he turned his back to me without saying anything. He didn't have to.

Instead he held the flashlight loosely in his left hand, curving his wrist back behind his knees, lighting my way.

"Hey, thanks!"

He said nothing until we reached the end of the path and stood in the parking lot of my apartment building. Then he only nodded, switched off his flashlight and ambled across the lot, disappearing back into the bush.

And I'm still smiling.

September 07, 2010

Back to school

My coworker has just returned from a six-week vacation.

"We've been here a long time, haven't we?"

He doesn't mean here, in this dim-lit hotel bar with about as much character as an airport lounge. Where speakers in every corner emit Lady Gaga's stutters at a volume that hovers between annoyingly quiet and annoyingly loud, where people sit in sparse pockets as far away from each other as possible, shrouded by the high backs of their upholstered chairs.

He means here as in up here, in this different world.

We both sigh. He stares into his cream ale. I look out the window.

Pickup trucks and SUVs roll slowly toward the intersection, waiting at that one traffic light. The sky is grey, not dark yet, but soon. When I walk out into the wind, buttoning my sweater against it, the air smells deliciously smoky. Woodstoves already burning. Winter's a'comin'. They talk about it, whether they've lived here six days or 60 years. The longer they're here, the less they talk.

I don't care if the snow flies tomorrow and every day after or if it doesn't get here at all. Because right now the hills on the horizon are golden, the birch leaves have turned, the sunsets are pink and new. We're in the blink of falltime – not dying, but starting over. Back to school.

My summer has been, in some ways, a crash course in self-sufficiency. For six weeks I worked in an office alone, during which time I learned that being the sole producer of content for a weekly paper is an amazing high for exactly one day – the Wednesday between Tuesday's copy deadline and Thursday's mass delivery. But it wasn't entirely an exercise in solitude - the hardest part for me was realizing when to depend on someone else. Over the course of the summer, under 24-hour daylight, I stumbled into things that may or may not have advanced my initially unintentional quest to become a more well-rounded and generally fearless individual. (Reader scoffs acceptable here, and at any point prior or upcoming.) A few highs and lows:

I listened to so much Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire that I now can't fathom how I ever got any writing done without that Canadiana hipster soundtrack playing in the background.

I made a list.

I chased after caribou and splashed around on a Beaufort Sea beach in Ivvavik National Park, Yukon.

I gutted and filleted fresh char caught off the coast of Victoria Island by an Ulukhaktok hunter and fisherman named Kirby. Below are photos meant to serve as feeble proof and as my personal homage to the Half Nelson DVD gag reel.

I hopped aboard a military Hercules plane with the prime minister and his entourage for a visit to Tuktoyaktuk, where apart from the political dramedy and staged photo-opps, I feasted on muktuk (raw whale blubber that tasted like rubbery chicken), confirmed the humanity of many longtime sources who had for the past year existed to me only as voices through a phone line, and allowed an Australian tourist to snap a dorky photo of me (not shown!) in front of Canada's largest pingo – an awesome ice-cored hill.

On a related note, I learned which member of Ottawa's parliamentary press gallery has earned the affectionate nickname "Sleepy Bear."

I successfully seized my first opportunity to use an Allen wrench - even if while doing so I continually referred to it as "that L-shaped thingy" - and subsequently rejoiced in my newfound mechanical abilities. Days later, I swallowed defeat in the form of ice cream soup, realizing this rudimentary skill could not help me solve the Case of the Un-Cold Freezer.

So as I prepare to stare into arctic winter's wizened face for a second time, feeling as though one year here should count as five elsewhere in this country, I remember there's still so much I have to learn.

July 05, 2010

All she rote

Happy Sweet Sixteen Princess!!!!
A young life taken too quickly. We'll miss you, Burton.

Suddenly everybody wants to advertise something so I guess print's not dead or they just don't know yet maybe a revival but for how long I'm sorry I don't know how much it will cost or what it will look like because I don't have display rates or design charts because I'm just a reporter you'll have to call yellowknife I know I know the little boys carrying empty backpacks are clogging the doorway waiting for today's paper to sell so they can buy some gum or pop is school out already what time is it yikes oh right it's summer no tyrone your mother called and she wants you home right away seriously I can't believe those words just came out of my mouth finally the bundles are here good good better late than not at all isn't that true how you doing today good good ok here you guys go now get out is that thunder hope the power doesn't go out the red phone light isn't blinking that's a good sign except for all those callbacks I need dammit it's too close to deadline just concentrate now on the voices coming through the headphones talking about oil potential and pipelines and drilling sea ports exploration relief wells buzz buzzz buzzzz words all things I never thought I'd have to pretend to know much about click clack why can't I type faster I hate seeing those annoying red lines so better to get it right the first time but still faster is better I should get a typing tutor mavis beacon beacon of knowledge and speed and computers wait what is this story about and what is that noise footsteps?

I swivel in my chair to face the three little pairs of wide eyes. Three little bodies creeping closer into my office. They don't speak, offering no explanation for their presence. I've never seen these kids before.


They freeze. Wider eyes. The girl runs away, pigtails flying. One of the boys ducks back behind the door frame. The trio's brazen leader takes another step forward, trance-like. Then snap. His eyes narrow. The spell is gone.

"You liar!" so violently he hollers, pointing a defiant index finger at the glass office divider, through which I now notice gleams my coworker's shit-eating grin.

"She's not a robot!"

June 15, 2010


My desk is clean for the first time in months.
A cold snap killed all the mosquitoes.
You painted your deck.
Year 2 started without me.