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.
LIVE-IN CAREGIVER NEEDED.


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.

"Hi."

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

Back

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.

April 06, 2010

Northern getaway

"Where I come from, this would never happen."

She was loud. She was gesturing. I wanted to smack her.

The Easter weekend shoppers unfortunate enough to be ahead of her in the lineup - which stretched beyond the checkout counter, past the Chex boxes in the cereal aisle, and beneath her wagging finger - wore sympathetic half-smiles and looked down at the tiled floor in an exhibition of the kind of "be the bigger person" tolerance that keeps people like me from telling a stranger to shut the eff up.

This loud, gesturing, finger-wagging young woman was saying, to anyone within earshot, that she'd only been in Inuvik a week and already she couldn't wait to leave. I mean, come on. There's only one grocery store open on Good Friday and I have to wait? I've been standing here for, like, two minutes already. This shit is not OK.

An older lady in front of her turned around as they inched closer to the cashier, who was keeping up a no doubt self-preservatory appearance of oblivion, and softly tried to explain, probably not wanting a brand new resident to base her opinions of the town on some less than speedy service at the Northern store.

"They've been really understaffed here lately," she said with another well-meaning half-smile. "And it is a holiday."

But the other woman was shaking her head, plunking her pile of loosely held groceries on the floor in front of her, crossing her arms. Excuses, excuses. This is just a symptom of the general laissez-faire philosophy around these parts.

"No one cares," she sneers. "It's like in South America, except with the opposite climate. Here, it's slow and cold. It's so weird!" she guffaws, as if trying to fill an obnoxiousness quota.

She didn't mention where she was from, that magical place where nobody ever has to wait in line and where everything is done right right when you want it, but she did make clear that she fully intended to go back there very soon. A heads up to start planning a going away party, I guess.

"I'm only staying long enough to collect my Northern residents' deduction," she said, presumably to the lady in front of her, who by now had turned her back. "And then I'm gonna take the government's money and run."

Though I've never heard it put so callously, I know that "take the money and run" attitude is almost inescapable in "southern adventurer" working circles. I've lived here less than a year and I've seen it happen over and over and over again. Even though I'm still a Northern newbie, Ms. Finger Wag's comments hurt my feelings.

This place is becoming more a part of me than I realized it would.

March 31, 2010

Floating away

You're snowmobiling across the thick-frozen Beaufort Sea, up near the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. You've made it this far. You think you see - yes! - there's a polar bear in the distance! You go after it, but you're not close enough yet and over the engine you almost don't hear it: the crack. Wait. Stop. Feel that? You're moving. And there's water. You aren't supposed to see water, not up here. But there it is, welling up all around the sheet of ice. The wind is pushing you, drifting the ice pan further from shore. You're trapped.

Can you imagine?

That's what happened to a group of sport hunters and guides looking for a trophy off the coast of Paulatuk one night last week. Melting ice is all-too-common cause of death/injury/missing bodies in the North. This group was rescued by helicopter early the next morning, thanks to an emergency GPS satellite 911 signal, but not before one of them slipped off the edge of the ice floe and got hypothermia. I covered it for the paper and since then I haven't been able to shake the story from my mind, wondering how I'd deal in such a circumstance. Such wonderment requires intense introspection and self-scrutiny. So, instead of intro-scrutinizing, I decided I can't possibly know how I'd cope unless (UNTIL?) I'm in that situation.

Not that I'd go looking to get myself in such a dangerously helpless predicament, but I'd also not turn down a hunting expedition (anyone want to invite me along next time?) for fear. The guarantee of a fantastic adventure pretty much outweighs the possibility of an icy death.

Still, the whole thing got me thinking about how the hunters must have felt at that moment of realization when the ice broke away, how I'd feel, how anybody would feel. Overwhelmingly out of control. And what's it like to feel that way in daily life, even if you're nowhere near the Arctic Ocean? Some people do. (Get ready for a rocky segue).

The top three medical conditions in the Northwest Territories, based on the types of drugs most frequently claimed through the Government of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services department*, are:

1. Diabetes
2. Asthma
3. Mental illness
*also the source of this information.

Anti-depressants are the government's highest health claim expenditure, after medicine/equipment to treat diabetes.

This was news to me. (See what I did there?) We hear about the diabetic epidemic in the North, but we still don't hear/learn/know so much about mental health issues - not as much as we should. And I know it's too early for some kind of public service announcement (plus I generally loathe PSAs) about National Mental Health Week (which isn't until May 3-9, sandwiched between National Hospice Palliative Care Week and Naturopathic Medicine Week - now you know) but....whew. (Too many brackets.) Where was I going here? Right. Out of control.

Point is, and I sometimes forget to remember this, we're not all trapped on ice floes. And even if we are, there's GPS.

March 24, 2010

Surprise

I was wrong. Kind of. That's not the surprise.

The day after writing my previous post, the one in which I whine about the tardiness of spring, I walked through the snow to work, immediately noticing and admiring a bunch of daffodils on my coworker's desk. OK, so my admiration may have consisted of an envious glare and a demand to know "Where'd you get the flowers?!" Anyway. My coworker, he replied:

"Look on your desk."

Oh, glory be! It had been quite a while since I'd seen fresh flowers and I guess I got a little carried away...
No, I wasn't trying to ingest them. They did smell nice, though.

Turns out they're fundraiser flowers. Some volunteers from the local chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society were going door-to-door selling the daffodils they just had shipped up here. So, yes, I was wrong - thankfully - it feels much more like spring now! And for a good cause.

March 22, 2010

My apartment shakes

...much more than usual, lately. The building sits atop wooden pilings that are driven into the permafrost, so I'm hoping these mini tremors that trigger Titanic dreams (you know the part when the ship is tilted vertically and Jack & Rose have to jump?) are just signs of spring. Fingers crossed.

Said pilings.


But it doesn't look or feel much like spring around here just yet.






So, with my iPod cozy in an inner pocket of my parka, I listen to this song.


March 15, 2010

The hardest part



Roberta Memogana slides a heavy sheet of blank paper across the table toward me.

"First, we need to draw something."

Easy for her to say. And do. Roberta Memogana is a well-known NWT artist, originally from Ulukhaktok (formerly called Holman), famous for her stencil prints of traditional Northern life (see some of her work here.)

For 16 years, she's been printmaking – a craft she learned from her father, Jimmy Memorana, one of the founders of the Ulukhaktok Art Co-op, through which artists in the community of about 400 have been producing prints for nearly 50 years.

And that's why I'm here, at Inuvik's Northern Images art gallery on a bright Saturday morning alongside two other eager students – to learn from her, and (if all goes well) to make a stencil print of my own. Because it sounds like fun. But, drawing? Freehand? Uh-oh.

I look to my left and then to my right, trying to gauge the reactions of my fellow workshop participants, making no effort not to look like I've just been told I must throw a puppy out a third-storey window. There's something sacred about looking into a stranger's eyes and knowing you're both silently having a panic attack. "I can't draw!"

Artistic ability is subjective, I suppose. So here's a fact: I don't draw. I don't paint or sculpt or sketch or create anything anybody would want to hang on the refrigerator, much less put in a picture frame and display above the couch. I don't even doodle in my notebook during long-winded phone interviews. Despite having quite a lot of appreciation for fine art, I haven't actually done any artsy stuff since those mandatory elementary school art classes I couldn't wait to leave behind. My Grade 8 teacher, Mrs. Bouchard, upon finding out I hadn't signed up for a single high school art course, showed hyperbolic shock and appall.

"You'll regret that someday," she told 13-year-old me, who knew everything anyway and didn't care.

So now, maybe today is that regretful day. Mind as blank as the paper in front of me, I turn again to Roberta, who smiles patiently. No sign of a "why are you even here?" eye-rolling smirk, although I wouldn't blame her.

"It can be anything you want," she says. "Then we'll make a stencil out of it."

She gestures to a pile of transparent overhead projector sheets (known by the pros as mylar) and pen-like X-Acto knives. Beside them on the table are a scattering of barbershop-style shaving brushes, their bristle-ends coloured blue, yellow, red, green, orange, brown, black, and there's a placemat covered in matching ink splotches. The oil-based inks are solid in individual packs ordered from down south, "probably Toronto," and she keeps them all in a plastic bag. If it gets too hot, they will melt. It's better in the cold. But the colour comes later, Roberta says. She's already finishing up a pencil sketch of a "simple" igloo. Her word, "simple." My word: "mind-blowing."

I decide to try my hand at an owl stencil. Paintings of snowy owls feature prominently on the gallery walls – convenient inspiration. In Inuvialuit culture, Roberta tells me, the owl is a symbol of good luck. I've never seen one in real life, I say, so that explains a lot.

Roberta can't draw any wildlife she's never seen. She draws them the way she sees them. And she draws them fast. I take a break from erasing my wacky-looking owl eyeballs for the fourth time to watch her work.

"My father used to tell me to take my time. I'd say, 'what do you mean?' And he would say, 'you're drawing too fast!' I said, 'but, I am taking my time,'" she laughs. Of course, traditional stencil printing is much easier now than it was in her father's day. He used to cut his stencils out of sealskin.

Her older sister, Mary K. Okheena, a talented artist herself, motivated Roberta to start making prints of her drawings. Now, her work is in galleries all over Canada. Tourists visiting the Beaufort-Delta region can quickly pick out her prints on framed canvas, greeting cards, and even T-shirts commemorating the Inuvik Community Greenhouse.

She still has piles of drawings at home that she's never made into prints, she says, simultaneously cutting out her igloo stencil, twirling the knife expertly around its curves. Circular shapes are the most difficult for first-timers, but she makes it look deceptively easy.

She's generous with her secrets, though, and amazingly I manage not to maim myself or my little owl – much, since I'm really more interested in listening to her stories than creating a masterpiece. And it shows. By the time I'm ready for the printing part of the exercise – the colour! – Roberta has already completed two prints and is working on yet another sketch, of two polar bears, that a gallery customer has just come in and requested.

Roberta distributes ink onto the brush by thump, thump, thumping it onto the appropriate-coloured splotch until there's just the right amount. She knows when. She makes her own beat.


I watch as the brush moves leisurely over the paper with a scratchy-soft drum beat sound, giving a light, almost airbrushed, blue glint to the snow beneath the bears' feet. The sound is repetitive, relaxing. Soon a chorus of four different brush-beats fill the room. It's therapeutic. That's why Roberta likes it. This is what I am beginning to like about it, too.


Stencil print artist Roberta Memogana with one of her finished prints.

"The hardest part," she says, surveying her finished print, "is coming up with a title."


As for my foray into artistry, it didn't work out nearly as well compared to Roberta's talent and experience, but, all things considered, I don't think my owls turned out too horribly.

Stencil print artists generally make three proofs before they settle on a final piece, and I only finished two. So that pretty much sums up my career as an artist. But Roberta said they were cute!


And, like I said, I'm interested in the story more than the pictures.



March 07, 2010

Never say die

That's the motto of the town of Aklavik, where I had the good fortune to go yesterday.

From Inuvik, it's about a two-hour trip along the frozen Mackenzie River - the longest river in Canada.

I had never driven the ice road before, nor had I ever sat in the driver's seat of our newly company-owned bright white 2008 Chevrolet Equinox, but it was a gorgeous, almost spring-like, day for a road trip. And no way was I going to miss Aklavik matriarch Mary Kendi's 95th birthday celebration.

So I set off, turning onto the river, seeing nothing but snow and evergreens and blue sky forever, listening to Sean Cullen proclaim the winning qualities of cake (because there's no instant mix for pie) on CBC Radio One. Sometime in the middle of Jonathan Goldstein's awkward phone confrontation with his Twitter imposter, I had to take a moment to process the awesomeness of what I was doing. My mental monologue went something like: "Holyeeeeee. Shiiiiiiiit. I am driving on a river. FROZEN WATER. It's not as slippery as I thought it would be. I can't believe I'm actually doing this. WOW, THIS IS AMAZING. I AM AMAZING. OK, people do this all the time. Don't be a geek."

But, in my giddy state I couldn't control my inherent geekiness and I had to stop and take some pictures.

First, for comparison:

October 2009


March 2010


Yep, I'm driving on a river. No big deal.

That blue sky makes me want to learn how to kayak so I can revel here in the summer.

Eventually I made it to Aklavik, pop. 645, wished Mary Kendi a happy birthday, shared a feast and enjoyed fiddle music and jigging with some great people. A story for another day.

The community, formerly an administrative centre in NWT, with one of the first Hudson's Bay trading posts and RCMP headquarters, is celebrating its centennial this year, and I'll be back the next chance I get.

Enough said.






March 01, 2010

Orange you glad...

…the generous bleeding hearts at Tropicana Canada deigned to shed some light on the joyless, dim souls who, for some mysterious reason, choose to inhabit Canada's Arctic? I sure am.



A production crew hired by the orange juice giant filmed this commercial here in Inuvik the second week of January, a few days before the town's annual Sunrise Festival as part of Tropicana's new ad campaign, which launched last week. In the past few days it's aired on national TV networks, enjoyed a prominent spot on the Globe and Mail's website and garnered thousands of views on YouTube and Facebook, where it's sparked delightfully "bright" comments, including:


"Great Commercial, loved it. I wonder if this is the first time those eskimos ever tasted Tropicana."

"Wow!! Truly Amazing!!! The look and smile on their faces will illumate their community until the real sunshine returns...Great campaign Tropicana!!!! The only OJ I drink!!!!"


"really great ... it's the caring efforts that mean the most ... especially to our far-north neighbours who have so little. Kudos Tropicana. Nicely done!"


"well isn't that nice of you,s too do that"



Isn't it, though? All of those poor, uncivilized shmucks* looked so happy when the Tropicana truck rolled in. It's almost as if they were being paid hundreds of dollars (plus royalties) to glance up and stare in awe for a few seconds at a fairly ridiculous inflatable orb that finally, yet intermittently, glowed. Oh, wait. That's exactly what happened.


I suppose it doesn't really matter that the sun actually rose – albeit briefly – for the first time in a month just before 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2010, proving false the commercial's claim that Jan. 8 was Day 31 without sunlight in Inuvik until Tropicana lit up the town. But, that's a tiny detail, not something the entire premise of the ad was based upon, right?


And I won't mention the epic condescension in the juxtaposition of the commercial's images and end text. Let me just say: an editorial is brewing.


So. Um. Yeah, thanks so much, Tropicana! Thanks for reminding me stereotypes are alive and well – and apparently orange-fed.



*whom I genuinely love equally as much as the 18-second mark of the commercial.


February 22, 2010

One of those days


I dreamt last night of
the St. Lawrence but woke up
on the Mackenzie.

February 17, 2010

The ink-worthy Wells

Ack. Sorry about the delay on this one, folks. I had to screen it through the censorship police.

Just kidding, obviously. I'm not one of the free-speech-oppressed journalists of Iran or China or Vancouver.

Anyway, here's a little piece of my work trip to Norman Wells last month. There were many more pieces, but I won't give them away.



When I asked him what people were talking about around town, Larry got up from the table and disappeared from the café so abruptly I thought he must be fed up with all my questions. Then, a few seconds later, he reappeared with a clipboard and a black pen and started making a list of the most pressing issues facing the 800 residents of Norman Wells.

I shouldn't have been surprised. I'd landed at the airport of this little industry town one latitudinal degree below the Arctic Circle less than 48 hours earlier but it didn't take long to figure out what kind of people this place – The Wells – made a home for.

Just off the plane, I stopped by the window outside the arrivals gate, wondering about the giant grey van idling driverless at the curb. A stencil of a sleepy teddy bear peeked out from under tucked covers below a red emblazoned RAYUKA INN logo on the side door. And then, in front of me, was a tall, thin, mid-50s man in a ball cap and a baggy jacket. Eyes tired but kind behind rounded glasses. Smiling slightly, unassuming. Larry.

"Are you with News North?"

I didn't ask him how he knew. The answer would have been obvious. Mine was the only face he didn't recognize.

Larry and his wife, Carla – who welcomes me with a hearty handshake, laughing brightly to match her short burgundy hair and emerald eyeshadow – have been running this hotel since "before you were born." The way they are together seems rare, like they've been together all day and all night for all of their lives and they've never run out of things to talk about. In both ways they have, and they haven't.

They tell me about the town, a little, as I pop through the café on the way in or out to one of many excursions over the course of the week. No gossip, though. Not quite what I expected. They tell me about themselves, a little more, as I sit down with them for a late lunch at a table between the colouring-page-plastered help yourself drink cooler and the Keno lottery counter. One of them's always rushing up to "whoo-hoo" a ticket, sell a newspaper, ring up an order to go, check on the kitchen staff. The lunch break rush is over; now it's back to the regular afternoon rush. The place is small – only four or five tables – but everybody's just passing through, saying hello, grabbing a cup of coffee.

"Just stay in this spot," Larry chuckles as he gets up again, hurrying to answer the phone, "and you'll get all the news you need."

I look around. He's right, of course. To be a fly on this wall, amid the cutesy painted wooden placards with their kitschy sayings lamenting non-existent maids and know-it-all teenagers. For the record, no question I could ask and no answer I could jot down in my reporter's notebook would be news to anyone here. If they want to know the state of the town's affairs, they can ask the mayor directly. He comes in here for breakfast every morning.

By now Larry's flipped two ruled sheets over the back of his clipboard, scrawling a fresh page of news tips, most of which would never have occurred to me. Some reporter I am. I feel I've been missing out, and I tell him so.

"You wereeen't heeeere!" he sing-songs, making me laugh, making me forget for a moment my inadequacies. I can't argue with that.

"But I hope I can come back soon," I tell him.

And I mean it.

February 01, 2010

Message from Mexico



Four exclamation points, really? You just have to rub it in, don't you?

I love my parents. They probably don't mean to be cruel. But, I don't know, maybe there's something about restricted blood flow as a side effect of extreme cold weather that makes it difficult to feel all warm and fuzzy upon receiving an e-mail from them euphorically dashed off and sent via high speed connection from somewhere in the tropical depths of the Mayan Riviera, just off the coast of a grand turquoise-soaked coral reef.

It's -22 C in Inuvik right now. That's mild. It's basically spring. Apart from the 20 km/h white winds, of course. Well, the good news is, it's pretty unlikely any little furry herbivorous mammals will be seeing their shadows with such limited sunlight here, so spring has got to be on the way. I'm not sure very many groundhogs live in the Arctic, though. Can foxes predict the weather, too?


Oops, I seem to have caught these two in the middle of a game of "Watch while I pretend to freeze to death!" Fun.

Yes, spring is on its way. In the meantime, Inuvik winter is pretty chill. I can dig (out of) it.

Stay tuned: I've got a new tale of wintry bliss simmering about my recent trip to Norman Wells, NWT. Oh, simmering. My new favourite word.

January 26, 2010

Dragon clouds

Can't remember what I'm thinking of

January 17, 2010

Lemonade

Plastic bags of beer cans clunk between our identical black down parkas as we trudge through packed snow along the side of the road, gasping out cloudy breaths of air so cold it stings the teeth.

"I feel like a teenager, walking down the road with my booze to sneak into some party," you snicker into your fur-trimmed hood.

"I know what you mean," I laugh but it comes out too loud and abrupt in our silent surroundings. "But if we were teenagers we'd be carrying Bacardi coolers and Smirnoff Ice."

"That's true. I remember when I found out about Mike's Hard Lemonade. It was like, awww yeah! I was so happy. Every time I was gonna get drunk I'd buy a five-cent bag of candy, wash it down with a swig of hard lemonade. It was the best."

You're walking at least six paces ahead of me and I'm stepping on your shadow. But I don’t blame you. Your legs are longer, for one thing. And it's too cold to slow down. You're talking out into the wind and I'm zipped up to the bridge of my nose. We can barely hear each other and we don't even really know what we're saying but we still talk. Otherwise it would be too quiet.

"How long do you think it would take to die out here? I'd say not long."

"Would you rather die of cold exposure or heat exposure?"

We agree in a calm, casual, sick, twisted way that freezing to death would likely be faster, and therefore preferable, over slowly dehydrating, writhing listlessly in a pool of your own sweat until the end.

"But," I think aloud, "Freezing is probably more painful. At least until you go numb. Right now I feel like someone dumped a bucket of hot coals on my legs."

"A bucket of what on what?!"

Later I'd discover an ugly, red and white patch of frostbite on my left knee just under where the parka hem hits. Punishment for not tending to my leggings-dominated laundry pile in a timely fashion.


But it doesn't matter, at least not until after we're inside, warm, laughing naturally, and then, not much does. We're here now.





January 11, 2010

Another reason not to smoke

This is what -48 C with windchill and fog looks like.

And I was able to enjoy this scenic view whilst walking back to the office from tonight's town council meeting.

Yes, I said walking...


That's why. Well, also because town hall is about a two-minute jaunt from my office and I'm young and healthy and I can take the cold. Right. Just to be clear: I returned to the office afterward not because I had to file, but because I had to get warm before journeying on.

My goal for this winter is to keep all my fingers and toes.

January 03, 2010

The glory days

As I prepare to head back to work tomorrow after a very short break with a renewed energy aimed at producing quality journalism, I can't help but think back on a time when my passion for the craft blossomed and thrived. A time when my colleagues and I inspired each other every day. A time when we could spend hours debating every facet of the paper we produced, from the front page headline to the puzzling horoscopes on the back page. That is, we could have debated those things for hours, if we took the time, but as it was we were always rushed. Regardless, my three years working for our weekly university student newspaper seems, in hindsight, a time when anything was possible.

OK, maybe not anything. We might not have won any awards during my years there, but The Gazette crew I remember did work hard for little thanks. And we did manage to have some good times. Some moments, of course, were better than others. The great divide between the news section and the arts section, the epic power struggles between some of the editors and the general insomnia (or was that just me?) probably did more harm than good. Some of us threatened to quit every week, while some of us actually did throw in the towel (strikingly similar to my current work life, actually.) But (to wax poetic) I found a sense of camaraderie (however naive) in our little third floor newspaper office that can only exist among people who know what it's like to put out a paper every week, starting from nothing every time.

And it so happens that I came across video evidence of our commendable togetherness and impeccable communication skills while sorting through files on my laptop recently.

I demonstrated my pro-quality super awesome videography skills by filming this video during one of the final Gazette staff meetings (a.k.a. Greco's carnage ritual) of the school year on April 1, 2008, while I was news editor. We sparred for the better part of an hour in what seemed, on the surface, to be a silly argument about streeters and hot/nots. But underneath all that superficial stuff, we were really concerned with the deeper ethics guiding the entire newspaper industry. Unrecognized geniouses are we. A pretty typical meeting, I would say. I like to call it The Great Printable Humour Debate of '08.

If any of my former colleagues object to (read: have lost all sense of humour about) this brilliance being broadcast on the interwebs, let me know and I promise to duly consider your desperate pleas to remove it. As with all good journalistic endeavours, this piece has not been censored.

To my fellow journos: if this doesn't inspire you, I don't know what will. For the rest of you, there's not really much sense in watching.


Enjoy.



video