This past Monday morning, as I perused the community bulletin board at the Co-op, a hand-written poster leapt out at me: “SCIENCE CAMP”.
Science Camp? ZOMG!!! I flew over to the recreation complex to crash the party. Some super-nice undergrad camp leaders (one from B.C., one from New Brunswick and one from Iqaluit) welcomed me and told me about the not-for-profit organization for which they work. They provide travelling science workshops and day camps for girls, underprivileged youth, and youth in northern communities. Fan-freaking-tastic. They also look for mentors at each location: scientists or elders who can come chat with the kids and talk about their areas of expertise. When I appeared with the offer of “doing bug stuff” with their kids, not only did they not send away the weirdo with the “Bug Hunter” shirt, they invited her back to “do bug stuff” on Wednesday. Sweet.
By mid-afternoon on Wednesday, I had eight little kids gleefully running around outside like crazy fools, lifting up rocks, rummaging in bushes and fighting over egg-sac carrying “Mommy” wolf spiders. We talked about insect diversity and abundance, and why they’re important in the north. We checked out different traps and figured out what tools worked best for collecting different insects in the field. Then we took our catches back inside and they set to work, UNPROMPTED, with microscopes, hand lenses and some kid’s field guides I’d scammed from the school library. The delight in their discoveries was more than evident; even better, they felt empowered doing “real” science with “real” equipment. Fan-freaking-tastic. Do you see the grin on the girl in the pink sweatshirt? The one holding the aspirator? Awesome. On the way back to the recreation centre, she told me she wants to be a scientist when she grows up. Awesomer.
Yesterday I had a different audience: I spent the day with half a dozen high school students who had spent the summer working with the Hunter’s and Trapper’s Association (HTO). It was their last week, and their supervisors were treating them to a work-free fun day. My role was to teach them a bit about my project, and show them how to do aquatic insect sampling. Vials in hand and chest waders donned, they set out into the small rapids and riffles along the shore with gusto. The big icky black and yellow stoneflies found under rocks on land were an instant hit with the younger boys. Two others scoured submerged stones and carefully plucked anything that moved with their forceps. The lone girl in the bunch sorted through pans of muck I netted from the substrate. When the bug hunting mayhem was finished, labels were completed and vials were handed in, it was time to go fishing – for all but one, it seemed. “Aren’t you going to go fishing?” the boys asked her. “Not right now”, she said, “I want to keep looking for bugs”. She turned to me: “This is actually very interesting, you know”. I know, kiddo, I know.
The only thing that could possibly have topped that exchange was lunch. Our host that day was the local wildlife officer, Allan. He’d navigated his water-jet propelled boat skillfully (and at a heart-pounding speed) right through the rapids and rocks to the shore next to the falls. He prepared a small fire pit in the lee of a large rock, chopped some wood that he’d brought using a sharp stone, and then gone fishing while the kids and I were doing our sampling. By the time we got back he had a lovely Arctic Char filleted and ready to be laid on a large flat stone that doubled as a frying pan. The fish and some burgers sizzled away until they were finally ready to taste. While the kids dug into the burgers, I had my eye on that fish…
Finally! Country food! And oh my good gravy, it was worth the wait. Perfectly cooked, slightly smoky, with the same colour and texture as salmon, with a milder taste. Allan even cooked the fish’s eggs, and they were also delicious…nutty texture and a mild but rich flavour. Allan and I chatted all afternoon as we watched the kids haul in fish that they would bring home to their families, and shared our observations of the arctic ecosystem. A fantastic day.
(p.s. I know my posts are few and far between these days-my internet connection is PAINFULLY slow -each photo takes close to an hour to upload and a page refresh is twenty minutes. I’ll keep ’em coming, but you’ll have to bear with me, ok?)