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.