Thursday Tidbits

Posted on November 28, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Keeping the runway clear



“I’ll be home for Christmas.” I think.

Christmas, with its crass commercialism leaves me feeling a bit like Scrooge by times but I enjoy the family traditions of the festive season. The annual Boxing Day street hockey game is always a highlight and caroling around town and in the seniors’ residences and nursing homes is a joyful experience.

The Christmas Day dinner at St. James United Church is truly wonderful bringing together people who might not have anyone with whom to share a turkey dinner or a university student whose home may too far away to get home for the holidays. It’s also for people like me who might not want to go to the trouble of preparing a big meal. People are asked to bring something to the dinner. I’m a mashed potato kind of guy and usually bring a healthy portion. The church is a two minute walk from my apartment so it’s really convenient.

So, why I am in doubt about making it home for Christmas?

As the real estate people say “Location is everything.”

I am now living in a remote, fly in town in Northern Quebec. The only way in and out is by plane unless you want to hitch a ride on a cargo ship but, with the bay freezing up rapidly, that option is out.

I love airports when I don’t hate them. I’ve done my fair share of traveling over the years and 90% of my trips have gone without a glitch. Bad weather is normally the culprit and occasionally mechanical problems can cause significant delays. Getting lost is also problematic. Trying to navigate Heathrow in London or Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi often require a GPS.

The airport in Kangiqsujuraq is very small. The people who staff it are great. Some of you now know that I often wander up there on the weekend to shoot the breeze with people coming and going. I also go there through the week seeking my elusive luggage from home. I guess you could call me a “hanger-on”.

Last weekend I talked to two different people who travel frequently to our town on business. One of them told me that a few years back he got fogged in here for six straight days. With our proximity to open water that didn’t come as a huge surprise. I am supposed to leave here on December 19th. If the fog shows up, I’ll be texting Santa on the 24th to see if he can deliver me safely to Nova Scotia. Everyone knows that he starts his trip on the East coast of Canada!

Ron (not his real name) regaled me with a story that left me shaking my head. He and four fellow passengers managed to make it to the airport in the middle of a horrific snow storm. When they arrived, they discovered the terminal building open but no employees were to be found. The runway and docking area were invisible such was the severity of the storm. All appeared lost.

The passengers heard the plane before they saw it. Somehow, a talented pilot had managed to land his plane in next to impossible conditions. Even when he approached the docking area only a handful of metres from the terminal, it was still not visible. After shutting down the plane’s engines, he entered the terminal shaking off a layer of snow that he had accumulated from his walk from the plane. The passengers could scarcely believe what they were witnessing.

The pilot looked at the small group and said that he was going to continue his trip south. Needless to say, the passengers seemed a bit stunned by this declaration. “Anyone is welcome to come but it will be a rough ride.” That may have been an understatement. Anxious to get to their destination, all five agreed. Because there were no agents present, boarding passes were unavailable. None were required was the official word from the pilot. The passengers weighed their own bags so that the pilot could balance the load.

Once on board, the pilot stood in the aisle to give a few last minute words. “The first 15 minutes of the flight will be very turbulent but we will eventually break through the clouds and we will be greeted by sunny skies for the duration of the flight.” On hearing this, a resident of Kangiqsujuaq stood up and headed for the exit. The other passengers wondered to themselves if this person knew something that they didn’t.

The door was closed, the plane taxied down the runway, buffeted by strong winds. The pilot didn’t lie. It was a white knuckle affair. The four passengers had their heads down leading to speculation of prayer, fear, or motion sickness, possibly all three. The rest of the flight proceeded without incident.

If I am unlucky and am greeted by fog or a snowstorm, my first call will go to Santa. If he’s too busy “making a list and checking it twice,” I’ll track down that pilot and see if he wants to come to the Street Hockey Game on Boxing Day. He’ll need to deliver me there safely.

“Any storm in a port” is what I say!

Have a great weekend.

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on November 25, 2019 under Monday Morning Musings with 2 comments

Christmas Cheer?


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Well, it has been feeling a lot like Christmas up north but that probably has more to do with the temperature than anything else. When I arrived a few weeks ago, the temperature change was quite shocking. We had had some unseasonably warm weather back in Nova Scotia in October. When I stepped off the plane in Kangiqsujuaq, I was greeted by the biting cold and a wind chill. We’ve actually had very little snow up this way. I have heard that the last few winters have been peculiar with very heavy snow one winter and very little the next. I guess climate change is everywhere.

I don’t have radio or television so I am not being bludgeoned with Christmas ads or Christmas music. I actually may be less inclined to throttle “the little drummer boy” this year!

So why am I experiencing a bit of the Christmas spirit? Well, I received my first grocery order from “down south”. Down south used to mean Miami but now it’s Montreal. As mentioned in an earlier post, groceries can be very expensive up north so many people place an order from Montreal and have it shipped up by air cargo. My first order went astray but a few days ago, on one of my frequent forays to the airport, I discovered that my groceries had arrived.

Rarely does a grocery order from Sobey’s or Superstore cause rapture but these large grocery chains don’t painstakingly individually package every grocery item. In order to avoid breakage, every item, with very few exceptions, is wrapped efficiently in cardboard.

My order contained three medium sized cardboard shipping boxes. One was quite heavy, the second of medium weight and the third was one that could have been manhandled by a four year old. I had two friends accompany me to the airport. You know which box I got to put in the back of the truck. Most four year olds I know are stronger than me. That’s not giving a four year old much credit.

The boxes sat on the floor of the kitchen. I had forgotten exactly what I had ordered so you can imagine the excitement and anticipation of tearing into the boxes to reveal the treasures within. I am glad that there were no hidden cameras in the house to capture the oohs and ahs of opening a package and discovering a 1.5 litre bottle of ketchup. I was euphoric when I saw the two 400g packages of old cheddar cheese. Mercifully, I will not divulge the remaining contents of the boxes, with one exception – the featherweight box, the same one I had single handedly manhandled a short time earlier.

When placing the order, I wrote down the list so that I could cross check to see if everything arrived. I was far too giddy with excitement to bother with this futile exercise so my curiosity was piqued about the contents of the last box. My faithful readers are much brighter than me and surely you would have deduced (if you had seen my grocery list)  that this box, the same size as the other two, contained three- 255g bags of Lays Classic potato chips. I did not think it was humanly possible to ship potato chips without smashing them into powder. I was able to buy three of these bags for the same price as one bag here in town. If you ever decide to move up here, contact the Lays potato chip company and ask them to send a crate on the next cargo ship. Yes. Goods are also delivered here by ship when the ice isn’t in the harbour.

Many of you have asked me about my students and the school. For obvious reasons of confidentiality, I can’t say too much but I don’t think anyone would mind me discussing recess. Along with the children this is my favourite period of the day. I guess I’m just a big kid at heart or I’m slowly regressing back into childhood. You can decide. “We” play soccer, volleyball, and skip rope on the snow covered playground. My skipping days are well past me so I get to swing the rope. I take a pass on the soccer because the ground is very icy these days. I do play volleyball as the ball gets tossed around in a circle of children… and one old fart. I have rediscovered the joy of simple play in the great outdoors.

A couple of times a month, the elementary students are given the last period off on a Friday to take part in “Just Dance” in the gymnasium. Music videos with animated characters are displayed on the wall, the lights are dimmed, and everyone gets on the floor trying to follow the moves of the life like images. It is a great stress reliever at the end of a long week so it should not come as a surprise that many teachers take part as well. Never a wallflower, I joined the fray. I stood at the back of the room to avoid pandemonium (and laughter) so no one got to see me do my “moon walk”!

TGIF actually means something again which is rather cool.

Have a great week.


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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on November 21, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

The ever changing landscape


Ullakut. This is the word for good morning in Inuktitut.

Three years ago at this time, I was living in India in a city of ten million people. Today, I am in Kangiqsuguaq with a population of 800, excluding the sled dogs. The city of Hyderabad is a very busy place. The streets are jammed with traffic, including animals, and the air is filled with the sound of honking horns. It is warm in India at this time of the year and will get warmer.  The streets of Kangiqsujuaq are quiet except for the sound of four wheelers and the odd vehicle. With no commercial district, seeing crowds of people on foot is not common. While it hasn’t reached its peak, the temperature is dropping. It is cold at this time of the year and will get much colder.

You might say that these two experiences are polar opposites. Thanks to my dear friend, Carol from Ireland, who spent time in India in Kannyakumari and who delivered this pun in a recent post.

There is no typical water and sewer infrastructure to the homes in this northern community. Yes, there is a first rate water plant. How do I know this after only two weeks into my stay? I was at the airport for my morning walk the other day and was chatting with a chap who is a water treatment engineer. He visits 14 northern communities on a regular basis to help ensure that drinking water is clean and safe to drink. He told me that of all the communities he visits, the water plant in Kangiqsujuaq is the best managed despite having older infrastructure than many others. The reason is simple: the plant is managed by a grandmother.

Municipal trucks are the lifeblood of this community. With no water and sewer lines, trucks deliver water and pump out sewage at every home and business. They also pick up garbage and, of course, deliver precious oil to keep us warm. Besides the ubiquitous sound of four wheelers, the most common sound is the trucks.

Early in the morning, before the town comes alive, the silence is almost deafening. Besides the scrunch of my boots on the snow, the only other sound I hear is the howling of sled dogs. There a few packs of them situated at the base of the mountains. Their mournful wails are haunting and wonderful.

Speaking of the airport, it has become my favourite hangout. On non-school days, I wander up there prior to the morning Air Inuit plane departure. There is one departure and one arrival each day. The waiting room is usually chock full of people heading to other communities or “down south” to Montreal. I always end up talking to someone. Some of the passengers are from the local area while others have flown in here on business, like the water engineer.

On Tuesday of this week, there was a community wide planned power outage. I reckoned that the airport would have their own power supply and with no school, I meandered up to see what was going on. I had scarcely entered the small terminal building when this man said, “Hi, Len.” I sat down with J. who was on his way to Montreal for training. He will soon assume a senior management role in a local business. I guess when you’re the “new kid in town” (cue The Eagles), everybody knows who you are. His girlfriend is a friend of none other than Claire and Maggie MacDonnell. (“It’s a small world after all. It’s a small world after all…”) I haven’t met his girlfriend yet but have been in touch with her. Claire must have made quite an impression on these folks as they named their newborn daughter, Claire. It’s at moments like these that you’re proud of your hometown and good people like Maggie and Claire.

This leads me to a question I’ve been asked more than a few times. “Do you mind the isolation?” I guess I haven’t been here long enough to notice and I’m far too busy chasing my tail. Isolation is a curious thing. It’s both a state of mind and a state of body. Lots of people living in much larger towns and cities feel isolated sitting in their own homes. Maybe when the days get shorter with only four hours of daylight I’ll feel differently but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. And if I do feel a sense of isolation, I’ll just walk up to the airport and hang out.

I saved my favourite topic till the end: food. As reported earlier, I haven’t received my personal belongings from back home which include things like my slow cooker and recipe books, so I’ve kept things pretty basic. I’m still waiting for my first grocery order from down south. My order somehow got lost (computer glitch they tell me). Luckily, the Coop store which is a stone’s throw from my front door has everything one needs, albeit pricier in many cases than the food that is flown in.

The other day I saw a package of pork riblets on sale that looked quite tempting and the price was unbelievably low. I prepared some mashed potatoes, carrots and broccoli and fired the riblets into a pan, sprinkled them with Montreal steak spice and put them in the oven. Everything looked and smelled quite lovely. My roommate wasn’t home at the time so I dined alone. I cut into the riblets which resembled a rack of spare ribs – four ribs in total. I desperately looked for meat and none was forthcoming. I tore the rack apart with bare hands and attacked them like a caveman. There wasn’t enough meat to satisfy a small field mouse. This particular pig must have been on the Atkins Diet or was on a forty day fast ,such was the paucity of meat.

Ice is beginning to form on Wakem Bay.

I guess I’ll just have to go with the floe!

Have a great weekend.


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