In the Arctic things change fast. Really fast. In an instant you can be blinded by a weather system, a development in the community or faced with life threatening decisions. The last time I traveled to the 70th parallel I was younger my eyes were filled with innocence and to be honest I had never really experienced some of the difficulties of life. This time it’s a bit different. I like to consider myself ‘better’ versed in the realities of the north. Without any surprise, this week has been filled with sudden shifts in reality, weather systems and dealing with life.
The winds howled through the windows forcing its way through any open cracks. Outside a vortex has been created, a mixture of sand and dust plowing through the gravel packed roads. Nestled between rocky copper cliffs and the gradual three hills the community of Ulukhaktok NWT, tightly packed into less than 70 residential buildings, is bungled down to face an incoming weather system. Throughout the streets the 500 residents are out tying down their belongings with ropes and heavy knots in hopes that they won’t blow away. As soon as the wind hits there will be no shelter strong enough to face the storming forces. If an Inuit hunter tells you it will be windy. He really means ‘don’t go outside you risk blowing way’. This is just an example of one of the things that can rapidly change and at that point all you can do is buckle down and wait for the wind to pass, hoping that all will be O.K.
Patience is something that I continue to work on. As someone who is constantly battling excess energy I tend to rapidly rush into the next thing. Here you have no choice but to wait out the storm before you can travel safely. Safety is the main concern. If you are out on the land you can’t just use your phone to call someone to pick you up. You are literally out forever. I normally run with a knife, a hot pack and some sort of protein enriched food. Not because a flip blade will save my life but because it is a tool to prevent the worst.
Wandering up the shale crescent towards the top of the third hill I was suddenly struck by a sound. I could hear my heart beat simultaneously sending shivers throughout my body. I was numb. As I looked up I saw white fur brushing in the wind. It was an arctic fox. We stared into each others eyes, not knowing what the other would do. I was told by the locals “if he’s rabies then you should be scared otherwise don’t worry”. He didn’t move. I began to step backwards down the hill after a few steps he began to run away. If it had not been for my state of shock it could have been a different story, patience is the most essential tool.
Now, as the week is drawing a close the skies have begun to clear up, the sun is shining bright and people have begun to wander out of their houses. Some traveled down the coastline to escape for a few hours others have gathered in song and dance. I went up to the local gym and watched the local drummers resonate their sound throughout the space, the dancers took their turns and balanced their movements to the beats of the drum. Overall it has been another life experience to add to my week in the north.
By Geneviève Lalonde
A collection of stories and tales. Reminiscing the past and exploring the future.