I’m sitting in my cozy apartment, waiting for a pot of chili to simmer down, surrounded (literally) by piles of field equipment, thinking about all the work that needs to get done. I’m Here, in the far Canadian north, on the sandy (!) coast of the Arctic Ocean.
Before arriving Here, we had one brief stop at Cambrige Bay, Nunavut. Stepping out of the little twin-propeller plane, I got my first true glimpse of the arctic landscape. My initial impression was: grey; dark; barren; frozen; rocky. Alien. For the first time since leaving my home, my wife, my very comfortable life in eastern Ontario…I realized just how very, very far away from home I was. It was a bit of a sniffly moment for me, if you know what I mean.
We took for the skies for the last time, and before clouds once again overtook the view, I noticed that the bodies of water below displayed a beautiful array of very unexpected colour.
The photograph does not do it justice; the frozen bay was a gorgeous aquamarine. The smaller ponds ranged from mustard yellow, to pale chartreuse, to teal. I don’t know what was responsible for the colour or the variation (algal blooms? minerals seeping from the earth below?), but it was beautiful and it gladdened my heart.
We started our descent, and I got my first look at my summer “home”. The plane landed, and things happened at a whirlwind pace: I was met by my field assistant/guide and his grandfather at the landing strip. My bags and gear were piled into the big, black family truck, and I was taken to my apartment at the end of one of the village’s dirt roads. It turned out to be a very comfy and spacious living space. A quick phone call home, a mass email to family, then I was off to a government building, where I exchanged cash for the ATV I am renting for the summer. My first ride on the four-wheeler took me through town, past the two grocery/hardware/everything stores, the two schools, and the community centre, then back to my place for warmer clothes, boots and mitts.
Then, we headed out “on the land”. To the end of the main gravel road, past the dump, and onto the trails. We passed frozen lakes bordered by sand any tropical southern resort would envy…through mud-drenched trenches and pools of water so deep I had to lift my feet onto my seat to keep them dry…over hummocky tundra, so bumpy that the best way to ride over them was standing, using my legs as shock absorbers…pond after pond, stream after stream…up steep hills and down the other side…past grizzly bear dens.
My guide paused at one point to take out his rifle – he provided brief instruction (fill clip, load clip, load bullet, safety off, aim, BANG!) then handed it to me; in the (unlikely) event that he was unable to himself, and it was a life-or-death-by-bear situation, I need to know how to fire a gun. I shot a few rounds into a pond, initially surprised by the power I felt coming from the weapon in my hands, but quickly coming to enjoy the sensation. We had a quick snack, packed up, then headed back home, noting possible sampling sites along the way.
The land here is incredibly rugged, and terribly beautiful.
Tomorrow promises to be a warm, sunny day. We will be setting traps and collecting critters along the way, and my camera will be at hand; the tundra is a very lovely place when the sun is shining, and flowering plants are already in bloom despite the cold. I’ll have more to share tomorrow, but for now I have to get some sleep – despite the evening sun still brightly glowing outside my window.