Category Archives: awesome

Hot hot and hot: photome (to mile 560 and tehachapi!)

Internet is limited as I have absconded to the coast for a few days to let a sore foot heal from back to back 40 k days on hard road and wait out a forest fire that is threatening to close the next section of trail. Its also 104 degrees out there and I am a wimp. Monday looks cooler, so then I will hike.

For now, here is a snapshot of the last 150 or so miles. Wispy grass oak to giant pines to the hot and windy desert; night hiking in starlight to shadows of joshua trees; dehydration to hippie parties in the magical manzanita forest. There was one crazy night across the broad mohave where we started at 3am, watched sunrise break and walked somemore. We hid all day under a bridge like trolls, walked again at 5 till 10, crashed into wind storm laden bed, but it never relented. Due to crazy wind and a quickly breaking tent we ran away for cover at 3am to a burrito style sleep in a rocky ditch 2 miles away. Eesh. We woke too late due to being protected in shade by this sandy windy stupor. We paid for our mistake with a hot hike and a dry mouth. 70k in 36 hours, holy shit. I spent the last hour or two to tehachapi promising myself that “if i didn’t cry from feet and fatigue i got town!food! but if i did cry:well i had to watch ghis eat up his delicious delicious noodles while i didnt so don’t be a softy.” Im easily motivated by food these days so at least that mantra worked! Getting off that damn mountain man, you have no choice so you just better go. Its getting funny to think about that day now, but it took a lot of ice cream to make the memory foggy. The trail provides, even if it its not always what you think you are looking for.

What we hikers call trail magic was everywhere this section. Cold cokes in coolers in the middle of nowhere; hiker hostels ranging from hyper organized to taco salad shambles; water caches just when the thirst was getting real; instant rides to the all you can eat chinese buffet from a bernie sanders sticker sporting clunky old car driving trail angel who picked us up before we even stuck out our thumb; root beer floats; rumours of free chicken salad sandwiches given out by valley dwelling desert rats (which we missed due to sheer lazyness of not wanting to walk 200 extra yards  so instead just huddled under a joshua tree);  ice cream; hiker box scores of siriracha and a nail clipper, both of which i have been hoping for for a week. There was a friendly hello and gift of dried fruit  from a fellow hiker just when the grump was starting: too much walking on the sharp pain of an angry tendon that has no choice but to be walked on until the next road and water 20 miles out.  Helped the new mantra of “you better hurry even though the suck is now real.” Apples and chairs (chairs!) at mile 459 in barren waterless hills when i needed relief most. The joy of total collapse and taking off of packs when the miles end and the hotel discount for us hikers is real and cheap so the shower I feel guilty dreaming about can become solid reality. Free milkshakes. Our collective trail economy of hiker boxes where one can score now staple life items like dried beans and trade coffee for bags of nuts. This trail society; its free and equal and gift-oriented. Something in me thinks maybe this is real life and the rest is a bad vacation where capitalism somehow won but this is how it should be. No status, no money, all generous and kind. Just forward momentum somehow supported by strangers you may never meet. I am so grateful.

Southern california is almost complete; kennedy meadows and the snowy sierra are so close. I can’t stop imagining what it will be to reach their granitic shadows and cool breezy creeks. Desert, its been nice, but im pretty much over you.


hello chilly mornings (plum clafoutis)

flowers

The leaves are off the silver birch and I am now in my third decade. It’s the first week of October and both of these things surprise me, even though seasons and birthdays are two rare things one can predict. I’m dreaming of third decade goals including goats, pizza ovens, and the world’s largest sunflower patch. That said, I am pleased that my nature continues to be steady: my heart is still mostly called to biking mountain passes and months spent in tents. We celebrated my birthday in the best way I could imagine- a cabin full of friends, a sky full of stars, and litres on litres of wine bag. I don’t know if it was that (or the glow stick filled piñata), but the world feels open and shimmery right now; nesting and adventure-schemes are merging into what will soon be the winter cocoon.

Basically, its my favourite time of year. Welcome October where quiet is encouraged and new ideas burst from the gift of long runs in the chilly woods and a little bit of slow! Welcome crisp leaves, cozy fires, soup, and saturdays with the pottery wheel! Welcome apples and pears! Although, I am only tentatively welcoming their friends- the bears. The other night we were out trail running in the rain and bumped into this moonlit glowing apple tree along the edge of a field. The fruit was glistening and faron and I were blissfully chomping on a tiny orb when we heard the distinct harrumph of large mammal from the bush to the left. We backed away a little, but then saw a group of horses in the distance so brushed it off. Called by the fruit, I swung my arm up towards the tree to grab another apple and my headlamp hit straight into the eyes of a bear. Baby bear. In the tree. Mama cub? Probably in the bushes. Magical, but oh nelly. Fall, in all its messy glory, is here.

making it.

kludahk

fall gardenbirthday!

Why I am telling you this? While, apples and winter are about to take-over our world, there is a realm of other cozy deserts still to explore. Don’t give up on the stone-fruit yet! December isn’t here for months. I am making it my mission to savour fall and avoid winter bum out through denial of the darkening days.

Weeks ago I picked our plum trees bare in a flurry of over-tired energy; I was proud of myself for getting ‘er done but then quite sad that plum time was over just as it started. I might have exhibited a little prudence and picked bits off the trees at a time. Oh well. I thought I would have to wait another 11 months for more plums but then yesterday noticed a branch with some over-ripe leftovers peering over the neighbours yard. I almost died climbing up our moulding collapsing fence but I was desperate enough for this one last kick at the summer fruit can that I lunged repeatedly at the high branches across the air-space. I managed ten plums and only one leg scratch as collateral damage. The fence wanted mending anyway. And, ten plums is all one needs at a time. Really, any plums are enough for this cake (which also has the generosity to double as “healthy” breakfast the next day). And, if you must, softly cooked apples would work too. Hurrah for seasons and new beginnings. Clafouti anyone?

(Also, need to note; how ridiculous is this? http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/canada-sets-lowest-standard-at-world-conference-on-indigenous-peoples-1.2779590)

plum clafouti and kitty

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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)!

feastIMG_0534

DSCF0250

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

DSCF0328 gorgeous

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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post-storm

heather and my shadow

post-birth

From my porch

bay ice

out the front door

blizzard coming in

I am desperate to leave the computer and head out into the sunny afternoon. Its only – 10 and the wind is still. It feels like the tropics out there. Except with the potential for some post-work GT racer sledding time and you still need to wear a very warm hat. I have a recipe for you (!) so will sneak back over the next few days and write something proper. For now, maybe you will find a copy of this week’s daily found it/cant find it list from my little leather bedside journal somewhat amusing? Anything you found or can’t find this week, despite heartfelt searching?

Found this week in Rankin Inlet:

A blizzard with 80 km/hour winds!
My inability to stay inside during said blizzard, whoops.
Toothpaste. Not the hippie kind.
Laundry detergent (but for $20, eesh)
A connection to caribou, char, and beluga meat; package arrives Tuesday.
Drop in archery at the elementary school gym.
Cabbage
Spinach
Pilot biscuits
Mustard flavoured kettle chips (!!)
Bingo cards and dabbers for radio bingo night
Coconut milk, okra, and phillipino spice mix.
Cross country skiis to borrow and a new friend with a gun.
Awkward cross-cultural interactions.
All the artificial coffee creamer you could ever dream of using and then some.

Not a chance:

Coffee cream.
Espresso
New yorker magazines I havent read three times already
Recycling/compost
Plain yoghurt
Inuktituk to English dictionary (why oh why not????)
Avocadoes
Lemons
Tahini
Miso
Running shoes
Mascara
Wine
Lentils, chickpeas, or almonds.
Avoiding tim hortons.
Instant cross cultural expertise.

arrival letter

Its minus eighteen and a group of twelve year olds near the health center are racing on crazy carpets wearing shorts, sandals, and parkas with fur wrap-around hoods. Everyone has yellow seal skin mittens which the teenagers doodle all over like I used to do with my sneakers in grade eight. The oldest ladies walk around wearing big muffs and beaded knee high boots called Kamiks while the young mothers sew frantically through their pregnancy to make “amautis”- large hooded parkas where babies are tucked into for trompsing through town. No one uses car seats or seatbelts with amautis around. You can tell who the locals are because all their winter gear is home-made and brightly coloured while us foreigners from the south are stuck with our dark canada goose and north face. You tell me who has life figured out. 

It feels like spring. Today you could walk around without a balaclava, down pants, and- if you took the smoke break fast enough- one could theoretically keep their coat hood pulled off to feel the sun on your face. Your nose will get wind burned but the feeling is sublime. I am going to get a tan by June if it kills me. Every day is a little brighter, and people can’t stop talking about the upcoming melt. Next week is the annual snowmobile race, and around the corner is the highly anticipated fishing derby. I swear the reason I am up here is so that the two local midwives can finally (for the first time in five years!) enter the contest. Excitement is palpable.

All the cliches about this place are true and false at once. As always, travel is the best way to clear your head and start anew. I was so scared sitting in the plane about to take off from Winnipeg but, a week in, have found passion where the west coast winter and its intricities were stripping me dry. It is cold, but its light out, the snow meeting horizon so beautiful, the air so crisp, and the difference intoxicating. The waves of hudson’s bay have frozen into undulating shards of sea ice that are inticing to explore. It costs $25 for a hamburger in the only real restaurant in town. Grocery store food is ridiculously expensive. But, we are only a plane ride from Winnipeg here- so unlike other parts of the arctic- you can find kale, boc-choy, and strawberries alongside arctic char, caribou, and furs hanging on the wall. Like the produce, the town is cosmopolitan. Patterns of global migration for work are obvious when you only have 3000 people and the government runs on an import model. This week I have been lucky to be immersed in inuit midwifery, but have been totally surprised to run into people from the Phillipines, Tanzania, America, Australia, Uganda, France, and Argentina. All with their own opinion on how and why things should be run. A strange kind of colonialism I am struggling to understand. Yet, I am so enamoured with the newness and joy of working my beloved job with such wonderful collegues (who are reasonably tired of the constant rotation of workers from the south) yet are so happy we are here so they can take a break, be with their families, and go hunting. The critical part of me thinks this is all screwed up, but the part that already loves this cowboy medicine and is scheming how to get back next year, thinks being here might be less problematic than I think. The praxis of theory and life is always hard to reconcile.

What I have not struggled to reconcile is the clarity found in long walks around town dodging snow-machines, SUVs, and the idea I am going to be eaten by a polar bear at any second. All my problems seem far away and petty. I bravely made it out onto the ice the other day and wished I had my cross country skiis and a gun so I could really start to explore. But, I am not stuck inside. With all the months of snow and the pile of transient workers, there are many easily accessible things to do in the evening. It kind of feels like summer camp except you wear four pairs of pants to go outside. I never thought I would have to add ten minutes of getting dressed to my getting to a birth on-time routine! Ive tried drop-in volleyball where I proceeded to play as poorly as I expected but instead of ridicule was greated with invitations to the legion for the one day in the week you can buy a beer and (!) a potluck on sunday. There is aerobics, zumba, yoga, and a new gym that is enormously popular because everyone eats a lot of chips and pop and smokes and drinks and statedly loves to lift weights and wrestle so the gym is packed at night to work off all those carbs. Im stuck with a big walk in the middle of the day- lunchtime is the best-time because we get a full hour and a bit so people can go home to make hot food and visit with their kids. The health center is supposed to be locked because we are not allowed to be at our desks working. Noon is the only traffic jam in town: I’ve learned that 12:00 is not a good time to be a pedestrian in front of the northern store, co-op, or royal bank. You will get run-over by a snowmobile in the race to get home and make soup. 

I’ve been lucky to attend two births already. Dozens of people show up for the birthing time and our birth center has a long hallway with chairs for folks to sit and wait. Sisters, aunties, cousins, and friends move in and out of the birthing room so no one is ever tired and wiped. Some woman birth alone, in general everyone is quiet. The midwives I am working with are the first two inuit graduates of the northern midwifery program and, both growing up here, fill a void of locally trained people serving their own communities in their own language. I would try to interview them but they are understandably sick of academics and research projects following them around. I don’t understand much of what people say, as english is definitely the second language, but what I am gathering is how treasured these young woman are to keeping tradition alive with a modern dash of obstetrics and evidence based medicine (for what all that is worth). Its intimidating, but yet again I am reminded birth is birth everywhere and it doesn’t take much to gently be its guide. I’ll save the discussion of medivacs and airplanes and birthing away from home and weather reports for another post, but in the face of huge odds its impressive to have this little birthing center tucked up here among the ice rock and snow.

All of last year I was worried I made a mistake going to midwifery school. That it wasn’t worth all the moving, the packing, the loss of self, the missing out on holidaysbirthdaysfunthingswinedrinking and goingintosomuchdebtitsinsane. It was.