December 31, 2009

What's around the corner?

It's kind of crazy to try pinpointing all of the events that significantly affected my life over the past year. And I really can't wrap my head around this whole "new decade" thing. Twelve-year-old me didn't have a 10-year plan and I still don't have one, so I'll just say – at the risk of sounding trite – that a lot has happened in 2009. A lot of goodbyes, a lot of hellos and a lot of "you're still here!?"s.

In the spirit of a new year and a fresh start, I found while browsing my iTunes library a bunch of songs that seem to jive well with the tacking up of new calendars. This is neither a "top 10" nor a "best of" list, the model that has become so sickeningly popular as of late. There happen to be 10 songs because, well, I happen to like the number 10. I'm also partial to Canadian artists. Do you have a favourite song to ring in the New Year? Here are my picks.

Soundtrack to a Canadiana New Year:

• Danse Danse Resolution – Ruby Jean & The Thoughtful Bees
• Lullaby For The New World Order – Matthew Good
• Celebration Guns (Camouflage Nights With Kevin Drew Mix) – Stars
• A Thousand Suns – Hey Rosetta!
• Dance All Night – Julie Doiron
• Ballad Of A Comeback Kid – The New Pornographers
• Make A Little Noise – Joel Plaskett Emergency
• The First – Tegan and Sara
• Gonna Make It Through This Year – Great Lake Swimmers
• The Tigers Have Spoken – Neko Case (because 2010 is the Year of the Tiger)

Not quite the musical fare to which I'll be subjecting my ears at the pub tonight, but – Happy new year!

December 28, 2009


Wallace just turned 11. Five days ago, to be exact.

For his birthday he got a black and silver iPod Shuffle that lets you switch songs by pressing a button on the headphones. It has four gigabytes – that's room for like 777 songs. He loves AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Elvis Presley but he also appreciates Eminem and Three Days Grace.

For Christmas he got even more stuff. You always get double the presents when your birthday is this close to Christmas. Video games – and oh! his cousin Mikey got him a hollow mask like the one on the Japanese anime show Bleach that their older cousin Jacob got them turned on to (but he won't get the mask until Mikey comes to visit from Penticton). Hey, look, he needs to get his puffy black gloves stitched up. There's a hole in almost every finger and he can stick his thumb in the middle one and twirl the whole empty hand around, like he's doing now. And see what his teacher got him? An electric blue Krazy Karpet! Actually it's a Wacky Karpet because it's extra long, longer than a regular Krazy Karpet. It says so on the sticker. He could take it for a slide down Suicide Hill – you know, that hill with the crazy jump over by Twin Lakes? Yeah, that one. But, he already did that – just lately.

He could go see what's going on at the youth centre, but there are too many teenagers there. They always play their music so loud and it's really annoying. His mom says he'll do that too when he gets older. Just wait. But, maybe not. Anyway, he'd rather hang out here – there's a vacant computer with a high speed Internet connection perfect for re-watching the final fight scene of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on YouTube and Google searching for images of those huge Egyptian beetles – scarabs, yeah!

Plus, he hasn't come around in almost two weeks.

He finally takes a breath and plunks himself down in a rolling office chair, pulling off his tuque and neckwarmer and jacket and unzipping his overall-style snowpants. He frowns. He thought he was wearing his new favourite shirt with the skull on it today. But he forgot and put another one on instead. He's so disappointed. That's not why.

It's because his mom promised him if he got a B+ or higher on his science test that for Christmas she'd get him a PSPI – it's like a PlayStation but it's better because you can play it anywhere and there are tons of new games. But he only got a C+. That's why he's disappointed today. He had to miss a couple days of class because his mom needed him to help clean the house – you know, mop the floor and stuff – and of course he had to deal with his room. No way it could've waited till the weekend or even till after school. It was just too dirty. So, he missed a couple of lessons, got a C+ on the test and, to be honest, is still unsure how the circulatory system works.

We watch about five minutes of Bleach so he can show me how cool the hollow mask looks, even though it turns that other guy's face totally hollow and creepy. He lists off all the food he ate at Christmas dinner, even though he usually eats two or three pieces of fudge cake and this year he didn't touch it at all. Just didn't feel like it.

An hour and a half later, we've abandoned unfruitful searches for recipes for pumpkin juice that he drank once – the same kind in one scene of Harry Potter – that tastes delicious on the first gulp but horrible every time after that but he still likes it because his mom says it will make him strong. We've replayed his favourite parts of Bleach episodes while he tries to explain the subtle differences between bad guys – there's a creature that's kind of like a vampire but instead of blood he sucks out souls. We've swapped winter stories – he reiterated his tale of being stuck in a blizzard while walking home from school in Cambridge Bay when the snowdrifts were up to his waist. It was the coldest he's ever been.

I glance at the clock. It's getting late.

"Sorry, Wallace, but I gotta take off."

"That's OK," he says. He's having pizza for supper tonight!

"Oh, good. I love pizza! So how about I come over?"

"Sorry, but, no," he smiles, in on the joke.

As I lock up, I watch him heading opposite of home, trailing his electric blue Wacky Karpet over the metal grill sidewalk, pulling it along with one ripped glove.

The keys nearly freeze between my fingers.

December 21, 2009

Quite frankly...

This came across my desk the other day. I don't know who Susie is, but I have to admire her straightforwardness.

Merry winter solstice!

December 12, 2009


Weather Network, why must you taunt me?

November 29, 2009

A lesson in optimism

Those of you who've visited this blog before may have noticed I changed its name. It occurred to me the previous moniker, YOU'VE NEVER BEEN HERE, probably came off more hostile than satirical, as I'd intended. Also, I can't stand all uppercase. I don't know what I was thinking.

Besides making vague and slightly cliched reference to my geographical location, this new title matches my writing process. I think we'll be very happy together. It's likely, though, that my few readers couldn't care less what I name these ramblings and I'm lucky to have readers in the first place. So, moving along.

I have a week to enjoy the sun before it disappears until next year. As of Dec. 5, little orphan Annie is wrong: The sun will not come up tomorrow. Next Sunday is expected to be the first day of about a month of darkness in the arctic. The town of Inuvik is set to celebrate the sun's return with its annual Sunrise Festival on Jan. 9. Right now we're down to about two hours of daylight, which has felt kind of surreal. While out and about yesterday around 3 p.m., I saw the moon rising on my left and the sky still pink from sunrise on my right.

One of my last sunrises of 2009, photographed Nov. 28 at 12:30 p.m.

Thanks to my experience living nocturnally throughout university, I don't anticipate spiralling into depression because of a lack of natural light. But just to keep the positive energy flowing, and throwing "balanced" journalistic convention to the wind, I've decided to share some of the things that make me happy to be here. Here goes.

Things I like about living in Inuvik (in no particular order):
  • Never missing a November sunrise
  • The view of the Mackenzie River through my window
  • Walking downtown in the morning as the only pedestrian
  • Reading the "social bulletin" board at the post office
  • Wide open space
  • The underfoot crunch of dry snow
  • Town council meetings
  • The smell of wood stove smoke
  • Endless summer days
  • Taking Inuvialuit language and culture lessons from a nine-year-old
  • Tracking down people's unlisted phone numbers by calling anyone with the same last name
  • Being completely unreachable when I want to be
  • Being completely connected when I want to be
  • Writing about polar bear sightings, whaling camps, seal hunts, but mostly about people
  • Eating bannock and char
  • Seeing someone I know at the grocery store every time
  • Meeting the many eclectic and engaging personalities who also make their homes here
It occurs to me how many of the above only encourage my loner tendencies. Hrmm. Well, I've heard it said that these dark arctic winters bring people together.

And on that note, here's a song that makes me happy.

November 23, 2009


Shadows slouch against the glass, muddy mannequins thawing in a heated storefront.

Cold air rushes me in, carrying away most of that sharp smell. Avoiding eye contact, I half-nod in their direction. It's a generic, almost undetectable greeting, motivated by a shameful mix of pity and fear I didn't know I would feel. And I feel eyes on me.

"Hey, Katie."

I hear the words as if reading them in blurred ink, dripping and pushed together.

I stop, facing the stranger in a flash of surprise and poorly hidden hostility.

The old man's dark winter jacket wears him, so permanent and starched with grime it seems just another rough layer of his skin. His red face is pinched and creased so deep the wrinkles have shadows. Impossibly ancient.

He's smiling and I can't think of why, besides the liquor. He's looking at me from under the brim of his baseball cap, small brown eyes close together, bloodshot and foggy but shining and – familiar?

No. It can't be him.

This can't be the same well-dressed, levelheaded, charming elder who – just yesterday – sat with me in his counsellor's office declaring a month of sobriety. Trashing alcohol for burning through his vulnerability after he dropped out of residential school, for keeping him from education, for destroying his family, for throwing him out on the street, for stealing his power. He's on the waitlist for treatment even though he's been down that road twice before. The third time's the charm and he wouldn't be here all the time talking to Jeffery if he didn't think so. He had to sober up just to get on the list and he's not wasting it. He tries to bring his friends around when he sees them out with their bottles, telling them "he's a great guy. Jeffery's a great counsellor. He understands – he's been there." Residential school was a hard time, the first of many in his life. But he's done blaming himself and he wants to heal, he needs to. He'll go to treatment whenever, "where ever they'll take me." He's so close.
I extend my hand to him, proud of his purposeful handshake, matching his steady gaze as he smiles and lifts the brim of his Inuvialuit Regional Corporation ball cap off his forehead. I say congratulations.

What's changed in a day? I look into those eyes again and wonder – but no. It's not him. This man is wearing a different cap. It's dirty and so is he. This is a different man. A stranger.

Comfortable relief trickles in around the emptiness of robbed feeling as I convince myself and continue on, not looking back on my way out into the night.

I still tell myself it was just a drunken slur. He didn't really know my name.

October 14, 2009

Summer reminder

"I thought we were going to walk."

"I thought so too." Grinning in his Ray-Bans and caramel leather, hand on the gearshift, he watched her. "And then I got drunk."

She reached for the handle of the mud-caked passenger door and pulled it closer, knuckles brushing a listless seat belt.

He reversed.

"I'm kidding."


September 27, 2009

There's an Arc(tic tour)

Hey Rosetta! played The Mad Trapper bar in Inuvik Sept. 10 for an audience of about 150 people as part of a fundraiser on the St. John's band's "arctic" tour, consisting of stops in Iqaluit, Inuvik and Yellowknife. The show raised $2,000 for a children's charity. I took off my reporter's hat to check it out.

"Never seen so many white people in the Trapper all at once," someone commented, to big laughs. Funny because it's true.

No showy chitchat means more space for conversation as we sit. Seems strange not to dance but we're not there yet.

The cellist's frayed bow curls over the strings like a mischievous moustache. I glance over to see if you've noticed this silly juxtaposition of images. You're not looking at the band.

You look so serious/The night is serving us/But you look so serious

This wasn't what you expected, you mouth to me, leaning across the table, but in a good way.

"Do you play any instruments?"
"Yes. The radio."

I watch the piano keys move under red stage lights and turn around to see lines of shadows waiting at the bar.

And a smile is what I least expect/In the clutches of this darkness

Everyone listens.

Better make it a double; don't want to wait anymore.

The tallest guy in here is dancing now - finally, someone is. He looks like he forgets how to stop and it seems to be catching on.

You pull a camera out of your jacket pocket and we find ourselves up front in an explosion of sound to represent a first-time view of the Northern Lights.

Cymbals clanging, violin screeching, drums thumping until we all stop thinking.

Tired eyes/Open wide/Either side, all these/Veins of lights

At the edge of the stage you tuck your camera away, step back, into the dance.

And then we're just standing there, surrounded by applause. Three hours snaps by.

Are you a wolf? / Warm in your pinstripes?

We walk past the clapping crowd out into a cloud of smoke after the second encore, just as the house band strums its first familiar chord. A reversal.

The only thing I've ever learned/is when trusting a stranger/Your trust will be returned.

August 26, 2009

In other news...

Off the coast of Paulatuk on a summer mid-morning.
  • I took my first real "business trip" to Paulatuk, NWT, 400 kms northeast of Inuvik, with a mining exploration company.
  • I discovered getting a brand new camera will not magically make me an amazing photographer.
  • I was surprised (not unpleasantly) to find a fellow ex-Cornwallian up here above the Arctic Circle.

Katie's first ever Dempster adventure
Part Three

So where was I? Ah, yes: the music fest from a month ago. This has gone on long enough.
Which is exactly what I was thinking on my way to and from the "big event." I made it there in time to snap some photos of the band - a country/rock setup from the prairies that played Pink Floyd's "We Don't Need No Education." Not super-appropriate given the audience, I thought, but maybe I'm just losing my edge.

I can't post any of those pictures here, since the copyright belongs to my employer and posting photos taken on assignment, no matter "the hour or the camera used" has been expressly forbidden via staff memo.

Anyway, I also made friends with some little kids who were catching leeches in the lake and secretly wished someone would invite me into their camp for dryfish. Or s'mores.

It was a long, dark drive home, sprinkled with a couple skulks of almost-road-killed foxes, a bald eagle and (oh shit!) a wolf. Though I only had a little less than half a tank left upon arrival at Midway Lake, I didn't stop for gas back in Fort McPherson. I didn't want to miss the last ferry and besides, it was only four hours between gas stations and by that time I'd be home, safe and sound.

The worst thing that could happen was that I'd run out of gas and be stranded on the Dempster in the middle of the night under the almost-autumn dusk. I thought I'd wing it. That was before I encountered the wolf, obviously, or I might not have been so blindly brave.

But four hours later, around 3 a.m., with the gas meter drooped half a milimetre below the red line, I saw city lights and my tires once again felt the ecstasy of pavement.

So, my first Dempster adventure turned out to be a successful execution of beginner's luck. Just what I needed to boost my already foolhardy personal sense of invincibility. I'm not exactly looking for excuses to do it again, but I won't look for excuses not to, either. My next road trip won't be for quite a while, though, mostly due to a vehicular incident in which I had absolutely no part. But that's another story.

I still haven't checked to see whether there was actually a spare tire in the trunk. Better not to know.

August 08, 2009

Katie's first ever Dempster adventure
Part Two

By the time the brakes had the tires back under their command, I'd done a 180. The Blazer pointed me back to from whence I came as I sat there in the driver's seat, white-knuckling the wheel, wondering what in the hell had just happened.

One might think, after my little conversation with God, that I'd have taken the whole incident – which lasted probably no more than 15 seconds – as a sign to head home. And if I wasn't the type of person to yearn for mass murder on a slow news day, I may have done just that. I turned the car around and kept going.

About two hours on the road after leaving Inuvik, I saw this sign:

A welcome most welcome. Tsiigehtchic, formerly known as Arctic Red River – but now only referred to that way by old, white men who can't pronounce Tsiigehtchic (sig-uh-chick) – is a Gwich'in community of about 150 people. It has no airport, so is only accessible this time of year by crossing the Arctic Red River on the Louis Cardinal Ferry. The Dempster continues on the other side of the river. As the ferry operator waved me aboard, I asked him what the toll was.

"What?" He squinted at me with a bemused, belittling smirk reserved for stupid tourists.

"How much does it cost?" I shouted over the whirring boat engines.

"It's free!" He shouted back. "You staying on the Dempster?"

"Crap," I thought, nodding my answer to him as he pulled up the ferry gate behind me, "he totally thinks I'm a tourist."

Though being mistaken for a tourist doesn't really do much for my street cred as a reporter who's supposed to know what's going everywhere in the Beaufort-Delta region, I guess I was a tourist – one who'd never been on a government-run ferry before. After all, I was just passing through en route to a new adventure. I'd never been to Tsiigehtchic and I didn't have time to stop there now. The sun had faded from view, it was raining harder, and I still had two hours of driving ahead of me.

This is a cabin just outside of Tsiigehtchic that may or may not have been part of the community's cultural centre. I don't know; I didn't have time to stop. I just liked the lonely chair.

Once I knew I was halfway to my destination, everything around me magically became more beautiful. The landscape was suddenly so scenic and not scary at all. But I still hadn't seen any wild animals. Here I was, travelling through untamed territory at the height of bear season, and I wasn't even going to get a glimpse of one? Even the tiniest little black bear? Unbelievable.
Eventually, I experienced the simple yet overwhelming joy triggered by a glimpse of the "Welcome to Fort McPherson" billboard.

Finally, I'd made it! I pulled off the highway and drove through the village streets, past rows of peeling-paint houses, the North Mart, the Co-op store with its two gas pumps, the Inns North hotel, the canvas tent factory, the Tetlit Gwich'in Council office, the – wait, was that it?

I parked outside the inn and knocked on the doorknob-less front door, figuring someone there would be able to succeed where Google Maps had failed and give me directions to the music festival. Then I saw the "closed" sign in the window. Of course. It was 7 p.m. on a Sunday. Everything was closed.

I looked around, hoping to see someone, anyone, who could tell me how to get to Midway Lake – and maybe let me use their bathroom. I spied a man working in his front yard and went toward him eagerly. When I got close enough, I saw he was chopping wood with a certain swagger that made me think approaching an axe-wielding stranger might not be my smartest move.

As I headed back to the Blazer, two middle-aged guys who looked like they hadn't slept or showered in days pulled up to the inn. I told them it was closed.

"It closed early," one of them said.

"We can't go much further," said the other.

Fearing they would expand on their surely tragic travellers' tale, I quickly interrupted.
"Hey, any chance you guys have been to the music fest?"

Yes, they said, they were there the day before. I briefly wondered to myself what they'd been doing in McPherson ("McPhoo", as the locals call it) for a whole day, especially without a place to stay. They told me to get back on the highway and keep driving until I saw a bunch of tents. Then, they said, I'd know I'd made it to the festival.

I quickly learned that not only was I still 40 kilometres away from the festival, but that there was yet another ferry ride in my future, this time across the Peel River.

I was the only one waiting at the ferry dock on the McPherson side of the river while the boat brought over a full load of four or five cars. Four or five more were lined up on the opposite bank, on their way back from the Midway.

The operator on the Abraham Francis Ferry was chattier than the last one had been, and no way did he think I was a tourist. I told him I was a reporter and he didn't even look surprised. He didn't react at all, actually. He told me the festival got off to a late start that afternoon but that people had been dancing jigs for hours under the big tent, out of the rain. This year the Midway Lake Music Festival, as it had almost every year since 1986, featured local fiddlers and country/rock bands from the Prairies.

The ferry operator, who looked to be in his mid-50s, was sad to be missing out. He'd started his shift at 5 p.m. and would be on until the last run at 2 a.m., but he worried local kids would break into his house while he was gone. That's what they do, he told me, especially now when most people are out camping at Midway.

"They're bad," he said. "You gotta be careful." His crooked teeth were brown with rot.
If I wanted to make it back before the ferry system shut down for the night, he told me I'd better "dance until 10:30 and then come on back." That way I should be able to make it to the Peel River dock by 11 p.m. and arrive in Tsiigehtchic by midnight, in time for the last boat across the Mackenzie.

It was 8 p.m. That gave me two hours at Midway. Would it be enough time?

August 06, 2009

Katie’s first ever Dempster adventure
Part One

I didn’t peek into the trunk before I left. That way I couldn’t know for sure if I was doing something dangerously stupid or just stupid enough. I drove to the outskirts of town and turned onto the gravel highway wondering whether I had a spare tire.

I knew I didn’t have a map. But I had glanced at the route on Google Maps a couple of hours before I left the apartment. As far as I knew, I was all set to head out on this beautifully sunny Sunday afternoon to cover the annual Midway Lake Music Festival in Fort McPherson, the next hamlet over.

From Inuvik to Fort McPherson, 182 kilometres southwest, it was the Dempster Highway all the way. I couldn’t get lost. Could I? I told myself of course not; I’d have to be a supreme idiot to get lost on the only road out of town. Then my demoralized self told my demoralizing self to shut up and focus on driving. Both selves mostly agreed I was a capable driver. But the thing about the Dempster was, I’d heard too many horror stories.

The federal government began building the Dempster Highway in 1959, when it heard tell of oil in the Yukon, but nothing much happened construction-wise until the Americans discovered oil deposits in Alaska a decade later. Then the feds hurried up and finished the highway in 1979. Now it stretches for nearly 700 gravelly, soily kilometres from Dawson City, Yukon to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. People who’ve driven it say it offers some of the most breathtaking scenery through the mountains, into the undisturbed, wide open wilderness.

But I’d read too many retired couples’ “arctic adventure” travel blogs not to grasp the other, darker meaning of the “breathtaking” Dempster. Mountain views mean narrow, winding roads over cliffs and deep rivers. A wide open landscape means no service stations, no street lights, no traffic and a lot of wild animals that fordamnsure know they outnumber you. Roll over a too-sharp stone and it’s game over.

Unless you have a spare tire. Which I didn’t know if I had. Could I even change a tire? Gulp. The only things I had beside me on the passenger seat of the company’s Chevy Blazer were a notepad, a camera, a light jacket, sunglasses, bug spray, a bottle of water, my wallet, my cell phone and my iPod (don’t ask about my reasoning there). I discovered my cell phone to be useless about five kilometres out of town, paring down the list of worthwhile travelling supplies in my possession to two, both of which I possessed through no foresight of my own. One was the company’s satellite phone and the other was a full tank of gas.

“Luckily for you,” Andrew mentioned casually as I headed for the door after announcing my departure in a burst of spontaneity, “I just filled up the tank.”

The camera was also pretty important, since festival coverage translates in print to a photospread. And that, again, was Andrew’s doing. He offered up his Nikon D90, which I gratefully accepted – but only after he insisted and after I realized the batteries in my company-issued camera were dead.

So I set off, seeing straight to the horizon, turning up the volume on the CD that was already in the player: Dire Straits. Around the third or fourth time the disc looped back to Track 1 and the chorus of “So Far Away” filled my head, my demoralized self crept back up and I started to doubt if I was even heading in the right direction. I hadn’t seen any road signs (or any signs of civilization at all) for the past hour (or was it two?) Not even a tiny marker to specify that this was, in fact, the Dempster Highway. I hadn’t passed another car for at least half an hour.

I thought of turning back toward town, buying a map, checking the trunk for a spare, getting a good night’s sleep and trying again the next day. But my demoralizing-turned-inspiring self coaxed me on with the promise of adventure.

And then it started to rain. Just drizzle, I told myself. I’ll be fine. I repeated it out loud.
The Dempster, I knew, turns into a spiraling mud-coated Slip ’n Slide when it rains. I had already delayed my departure a day to wait out a thunderstorm for that very reason. I’d heard of travellers getting stuck in the mud, tires perilously spinning and sputtering.

But this was just a light drizzle. Tiny droplets. I didn’t even need the wipers. Still, I dropped my speed down well below the maximum, or what I imagined to be a reasonable speed limit, since I still hadn’t seen one posted, and kept steady. My inner selves praised my calm demeanor, my unflappable courage, my heroic prowess.

I crested a small hill, turning the wheel slightly to the right. But the tires veered left, toward the ditch, and then sharply right, then left, then right again, spinning out of control. The brake pedal was playing opposites.

I had forgotten that beneath the road’s gravel surface, the dirt was still soaked through and slippery from the previous day’s rain. But in the moment I couldn’t rationalize what was happening. I desperately tried to regain control while trying to think how best to protect my head so as to maximize my chances of survival when the vehicle rolled over. I squeezed my eyes shut and launched a pleading split-second monologue that went something like this:

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Katie. I spent far too much time reading Judy Blume novels as a child and consequently I have no survival skills. But I swear to God I will learn some and never take your name in vain again if you give me a free pass on this one….”

July 15, 2009


Today, I wore a winter coat.

July 12, 2009

June 19, 2009

Inaugural month in the igloo office

Just about a month has passed since I came up North, which means only three months to go until I beat my previous record. I think it's about time I posted some pictures of where I've been for the past 30 days, so here you have it: my office.
P.S. I'm a workaholic.

Above is the aforementioned raccoon pelt and snowshoes that have been ever-so-artfully glued to the wall for probably decades.

My sweet "corner" office.
The front lobby pre- Massive Paper Cleanout '09. The town doesn't recycle newspaper, so... please send my sincere apologies to Mother Earth.
Welcome to our office!

June 15, 2009

Locked out

Usually when I get home from a long day sitting at a computer and writing, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of my computer and write some more. But today was different.

When I returned to my apartment after work, arms full of groceries, and put the key in the door, the deadbolt wouldn't budge. I was locked out.

In the 20 minutes it took for the maintenance guy to arrive and perform magic on the stubborn door with his bare hands, I had a lot of thinking time. There I was, standing in an empty hallway clenching my futile keys, no cell phone, no contacts, in the middle of nowhere.
I realized the lock wasn't the only thing stuck. For the first time in my life, I have no plan. My old plan, the one I've been working from since I was about 16 years old, went something like this:

1. Get good grades to get into a good university with a well-respected journalism program.
2. Earn money to pay for university. (working every summer since I was 14 didn't quite cover it, but thank goodness the government deigned to give me a little money and a lot of strings.)
3. Secure newspaper internships to boost chances of future employment.
4. Graduate from university with a shiny new journalism degree. (and a crushing debt)
5. Get a full-time job at a newspaper.

And there it ends. All my work for the past eight years was simply a means to that end. And now that I finally have what I always wanted, I'm not sure if I want it anymore.

It's not that I don't like my job. Every week, I come up with 8-10 story ideas of my own, no editor breathing down my neck. Everyday, I talk to new people and learn about a totally different culture. I write meaningful stories for people across this vast territory. At the very least, I write stories that mean something to somebody, sometimes. I have my own office. Isn't that supposed to mean something?
I am isolated, yes, but anyone can be isolated anywhere. At this point, my location has no effect on how much I enjoy my work.

So what is my problem? The answer, I think, lies in one recently uncovered self-truth: I was never a big fan of eggs. Not until I found out how hard it is to get fresh ones this far North. Now, my thoughts drift to omelettes much more often than I'm comfortable with.

I always want what I can't have. And if that's my inescapable truth, I should've dreamed bigger.

June 06, 2009

Arctic house party

Thick Italian songs bleed through the walls, out the open window, replaced by soft sunlight glinting off tiny mason jars half full with red wine.
They dance with their gin and tonics, flowing. The women confident, exotic, oblivious, accented: French, German, Italian. The men, sun-bleached with weathered faces and young eyes, keep their balding heads uncovered. All of them moving and removing layers, laughing easy.
On the roof, the sun shines in our faces and finds all of our pale spots and we smile at it, at each other.
On the road below an RCMP van rounds a bend, fading into the distance. Beyond wait the new waters of Boot Lake, just free of their familiar ice.
"The night is a fetus" that won't begin and so it never ends. We are on top at the top of the world.
The cool wind tips a forgotten jar of gin, rolling it over unmoved shingles, down, down, strawberry and lime spinning inside. Down, down, down - don't chase it! A red halve slips out just in time, stuck at the edge. And then the sound is so small.

June 03, 2009

Irony's a bitch

This morning, still sleepy from taking advantage of the 24-hour sun, I strolled into my office at 11 a.m.
My first task: interviewing a 17-year-old kid who has never missed a day of school in his life. Perfect attendance from preschool through Grade 12.
Today's lesson: I have so much growing up to do.

June 02, 2009

Delicious with raw heart of seal

"Hard tack" really sounds a lot like "heart attack."

May 23, 2009

Inuvik: Day 1

Yep, I made it. I flew in from Yellowknife yesterday afternoon, but apartment cleaning/unpacking/grocery shopping took up much of the day. Speaking of shopping, I feel like I'm a contestant on What Not To Wear, but instead it's What Not To Buy, and instead of browsing through the many shopping districts of Manhattan, I can walk across the street from North Mart to Arctic Foods. I get sticker shock every time I pick something up, no matter what it is. It's like I'm being charged shipping and handling for every single item in the store -- which probably isn't far from the truth, considering how far North Inuvik is. (If you're wondering, I suggest Google Maps, since despite j-school's Google-centric training, I don't know how to post one here.) I knew everything would be expensive, but man! A regular-sized carton of orange juice: $10. Milk is even worse. A loaf of Wonder bread: $6. I could order a single small pizza for $25. I won't be ordering out anytime soon -- maybe once the paycheques start coming in.
Speaking of getting paid, I haven't kicked it into full gear at work yet. I'll be feeling the pressure to fill a section soon. Likely tomorrow (Sunday) morning. My office contains creepy muskrat and raccoon pelts and has snowshoes taped to the wall. It makes me feel like a fur trader.
I'm responsible for covering the Beaufort/Delta region of the Northwest Territories for the NWT News/North weekly newspaper. Basically, that includes all of the tiny communities outside of Inuvik, north to the Beaufort Sea, east to Nunavut, and west to the Yukon. Though I'm based in the town of Inuvik, I'll rarely be reporting on anything that happens here.
That is the responsibility of my office co-inhabitant, Andrew, who runs the Inuvik Drum weekly paper. We met yesterday and he graciously helped lug my suitcases up the four flights of stairs to my apartment. (The building sits on high wooden stilts because it's pretty hard to build foundations on rock and permafrost.) He's a red-headed, well-mannered cynic who hails from Cape Breton and has a subtle yet unpredictable sense of humour.
Hmm, that sounds familiar. Sheesh.
On to the weather. It's spring here, of course, but it feels like November. Except instead of the ground starting to freeze, it's slowly starting to unthaw Er, thaw. I don't know. Evidence: mud on my shoes and pant legs. It's an arctic desert climate, so there are are coniferous trees but not much other vegetation. Gravel roads. Dust. Walking through the town triggers the song "All the way down the line" from Joel Plaskett's new album, to start playing in my head.
It rarely ever rains and is usually sunny this time of year, though yesterday was overcast. It never gets dark. My bedroom window is covered by a thick curtain, which I think is actually a bedsheet in disguise, but it's very weird to see the sun shining through like it's noon when it's 7:30 p.m. Or like it's 6 p.m. when it's 2 a.m. If I didn't have a watch I'd never be able to even approximate what time it is at any given moment. Summer in Yellowknife is like this too, but the constant sunlight doesn't begin this early in the season there because it's further south.
Maybe I'll post pictures, if I get around to taking some, but I'm not convinced anyone actually reads this thing. If anyone's out there, good job on making it through this one.

May 19, 2009

Careful what you wi- nope, too cliche. (a.k.a. the second beginning of a Northern journey)

Nine months ago, when I sat in the Edmonton International Airport and began typing the previous post on this blog, I had no idea my words would become kind of an accidental prophesy. I wrote that I was tempted to catch a flight to Inuvik, just for the hell of it, when I knew I couldn't do that. I was headed back to Halifax, with no plans to return North anytime in the near future.
But here I am, sitting in the Edmonton airport again, laptop on knees, typing away, waiting for a flight to Yellowknife, whence I shall proceed to my final destination: Inuvik.
I'm not going totally for the hell of it. Business is my primary reason for the trip, but I'm looking forward to what I hope will be an adventure. This time it's for real. I don't have school to fall back on anymore; I have to be a genuine, full-time journalist. As Dan Aykroyd's character emphasizes so frighteningly in Ghostbusters, "you've never been out of college! You don't know what it's like out there! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results."
Eeeeesh. Trying not to stress about that part.
I'm staying in Yk for a couple of days before starting out in Inuvik (Canada's northern-most town of 3,000 that does not have a Tim Hortons but does have a Pizza Hut, according to the Internet), so I'm taking comfort in that I'll be somewhere familiar for a little while before I go off on my own. I haven't told Les and Margita that I'm headed their way, but maybe I'll find time to stop by and see them before I leave the capital.
Also, I just got Skype. Don't know how to use it, but I figure it may serve as an easy way to determine who among my university acquaintances was actually being sincere when we all promised to keep in touch after graduation.
So, that's all for now. I'll update when/if I can get a reliable connection for my laptop.