Monthly Archives: May 2014

meltwater tundra love

 

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I have so many stories of people and took pictures of rock and ice. Oops. The story of catching a 34 week old on an airplane last week where the mother was desperately worried her baby will be a wandering soul because we didn’t know the exact GPS coordinates of his birth place. Not so fussed that I gave it mouth to mouth because of a misplaced bag and mask. Oh the North when the problem is not a resuscitation at 1000 feet but that I let the pilots know we had a baby present a little too late. Damn. All turned out ok- its geese season up here so we settled for the name “hunter” feeling that the baby’s choice of early birth probably meant he wanted to spy on the ways of migratory birds. Only once that was settled could we load her into the waiting ambulance on the ground. The way you are born is important. Can’t rush things.

The story of my office geese pool where the first person to spot the arrival of more than 5 snow-geese won $50 bucks and the right to take an afternoon off to go shoot something. The smokers definitely had the advantage with all the breaks they take on the deck. I just sit at my computer (sometimes I wonder what is healthier) and I definitely lost. Failure at bingo. Winning at lunchtime crib. Daily potluck snack hour with my co-workers where Cas, one of the local midwives, is working hard to integrate the concept of “grapes” and cut down the concept of “chips.” How everyone brings baking on payday. How many of my co-workers took my “eat all the country food project” seriously and brought me chunks of meat from their freezer to share. How new friends fed me whale (muktaaq) and muskox (umingmak) not once, but twice! Stories of laughing my guts out because when the crazy arrives and the shit hits the fan, you might as well giggle. How inuk people say yes and no with their eyebrows and I can’t get it right and the response is just utter hilarity instead of judgement. Its been a good month.

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Then, there are the stories I hold but are not mine to tell: of people struggling, of hurt hearts, of suicide, of the nasty intergenerational effects of colonialism that are impossible to fix even though one really wants to try. The tender ones are there too: that sunset run at midnight where so many people are still out on the road it could easily be 5:00. Potlucks and soccer tournaments. The country music on the radio interrupted by announcements to sell prom dresses, aeroplan points or to get someone to visit their relative at the health center; dance tunes in the gym; frozen pizza and blizzards on a lazy holiday afternoon. The bumpy honda rides across the tundra with emerging arctic willow buds to hunt for geese. Yet,  instead of a food-prize, I got to quietly revel in the return of magical child-sized cranes (that no one else seems to love because you can’t shoot them from the sky). The fact that there are eskers (ESKERS people!) and 5000 year old tent rings just down the road. No big deal. The fact that when you say “down the road” everyone knows what you mean because there is only one road out of town. I leave on Tuesday and still haven’t figured out where it goes.

I have no recipe today, even though I tried. The pork-apple I was going to share just doesn’t seem to fit. All I can muster is a full heart and a bucketfull of new stories (some I don’t know how to tell) to bough me up next time I get cold inside.

not an arctic poem (best broccoli)

out there

Two amazing things happened last night. Three. The first is this broccoli. Quality groceries are hard to come by up here and this combo of (mc-cain) orange juice and eighty year-old pepper from a long-left transient roommate is something I normally avoid like the plague. But, even with my arctic variations it was really delicious. You should try it. I had mine with butter chicken from a spice mix which I won’t share because its silly to call processed paste and canned tomatoes fine home cooking. But, I am definitely giving the fancy dining label to the broccoli. With orange juice. From a can. Its the north: what can I say?

The second is that I got to try to drill the sea-ice eight feet deep with a giant power augre to set a new hole for the fishing derby. I didn’t catch a fish. I could barely hold the giant drill. I didn’t wear my thick mittens so had to leave early before I got frostbite or the winning arctic char. But, on my walk home from my ice-fishing fail I ended up talking to a dozen happy people hanging out around their weekend fishing camps. Everyone stopped me to chat about bait choices (bacon, pepperoni, and klick were favourites); the size of their cousin’s trout down the ice road; or if we knew anyone in common at the birth center. One random lady offered me a piece of bannock; her teenage daughters and I laughed at their measly catch. Her toddlers were running around in the most adorable snow suits and some other kid was asleep in the back of the kammatik. On Friday night I had a fantastic feast of muqtaa (beluga) and caribou followed by a silly night at the legion with new friends who were easy to pin down and uncomplicated to find. Why is it that this doesn’t happen down South? Such generalized familiarity and friendlieness. No one wants anything from you: up here the next person in line at the coffee shop (ahem, tim’s at the northern store) is never going to be a millionare who wants to pitch you his newest app. Up here you are not going to get rich, or a better job, or chance exquisite conversation with beautiful people in a bar. It might feel a little redneck, unhip, or politically incorrect. Yet, there is something nice about living with people simply being people wanting to chat about their fish, their cousins and their day.

The third thing is this poem. This magic moment actually happened a week ago when I spotted it on my work bulletin board, but I copied it out last night and think it says what I am trying to say better than I can express with thousands of finely typed words. Even though the produce is terrible quality and reeks of pesticides from surviving its long journey in the truck from California to Winnipeg – by train to Thompson, Manitoba- and cargo-plane to me on the Hudson’s Bay; I feel lucky to eat it.  Feel wealthy for the chance for a simple meal and the luxury of something green amongst all the fish (and snow). Happy Monday. Have a poem -and some broccoli- on me.

Wealthy (Bruce Dethlefsen)

after my reading

a very serious sixth grade girl

asked me if I was wealthy

well I said I have twenty-two

dollars in my wallet right now

my purple truck has two hundred

and thirty-five thousand miles on it

I’m wearing clean and mended clothes

I’ll sleep in a warm bed tonight

I’ve got my health my hands my eyes

My family and friends who love me

and I can come here to sennett middle school

to read poetry to you guys for free

so yes I’m very wealthy

wealthy indeed.

(Recipe after the jump…)

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pakallak thyme (easy roast beef)!

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Some things in life are given. Like, there are few places on earth where Tom Petty covers don’t make the beer dance bounce and you can never get enough Patsy Cline impersonators at a talent show. Adding accordion, kamik boots, and french style jigging is the best way to win at competitive square dancing. Jerry cans, plane tickets, and gun cases never fail to please as raffle prizes. Other things are harder to figure out, like Inuktitut words beyond pop, chips, smokes, sex, and the phrases I now know in five obscure languages due to my apparent propensity for birth travel: “push my god, push.” Today I accidentally called someone’s lady parts a “bearded seal;” I think I might be getting beyond my capacity for syllabic accuracy and new linguistic accumulation. Oh well.

Other things would take a lifetime. A month-in means basic cultural understanding; more time on the ground means witnessing and holding more complex stories. More love and happiness here equals some difficult evenings in my head where I ponder solutions and problems and ways to feel better about being a person dipping in and out of this beautiful place; being yet another transient GN (Government of Nunavut) employee overwhelmed at the state of some folks’ mental health and the fact that thirteen people can be squished into a one bedroom apartment, all of whom are on a 10 year waiting list for some solo housing for them and their man. neat

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What drove the love last week was Pakallak Thyme. The annual spring festival marked the period of massive melt and the town turning into a giant brown waterfall. Apparently permafrost equals giant puddles everywhere. It also marked the warmest spring anyone can remember- and the subsequent re-scheduling of the fishing derby- but that is for another post. Highlights included a community feast where I sampled caribou, seal, musk-oxen, and beluga; nightly dance competitions; the above-mentioned talent show; children staying up every night until 2am; dog sled racing; craft sales; a mini-mushers carnival; concerts featuring local bands; and some sweet fireworks on the lake accompanied by beers and a pre-dinner of the best roast beef I have had in awhile. I spent every evening at the community center. Elementary school gyms and their transcendent florescent lighting really are the epicenter of small towns. To celebrate Pakallaking my office hosted a brunch potluck and a newspaper hat making contest. I lost the hat competition despite my arctic animal sea creature origami additions, but the winner had 18th century wig-like curls cascading down the back of their hat. She nailed it. Basically, it was one of the best weeks I can remember.

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