Monday Morning Musings

Posted on August 31, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with no comments yet

Government of Canada photo


Ok. I have a lot on my mind but before I head down three trails at once, let me start with some more information about the north as part of my (and your) ongoing education.

A few weeks ago, two people in the community shot caribous which, would not be considered “breaking news”. As I have mentioned in this space more than once, hunting is a way of life for the Inuit. It provides food for families and is shared with others in the community. I was the beneficiary of one of the hunter’s generosity receiving several pieces of fresh meat.

One of the hunters posted something that I found very interesting and instructive. She paid homage to the caribou and thanked it for giving its life in order to provide sustenance for her family.

We take food for granted in the south. I don’t think many of us who shop at large supermarkets ever stop in the meat section and thank a chicken or a cow for giving up their lives. Let’s not even go there and start a conversation about our food chain and where our food comes from.

It’s probably not much different back home when someone shoots a deer far out in the woods. I suspect that many hunters process their kill on the spot, as is the custom up here. No. not everyone back home does this. There is still this bizarre practice of strapping a deer to the hood of a truck and parking it at a local watering hole so that passersby can ooh and aah and marvel at the number of points on the antlers.

I mention these things because last week was “knife day” for indigenous people. Shown in the picture above (from the Government of Canada website), is an ulu. In Inuktitut, ulu means “woman’s knife”. These crescent shaped knives are tools used by Inuit women. They use these unique knives to harvest and skin animals as a source of food and clothing for their families. Men use different kinds of knives for hunting and fishing. Many women use the same ulu their whole life. Engravings on the handle have specific meaning to the woman’s personal and cultural identity. According to Inuit rights activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, when an Inuk woman dies, her ulu retains her energy making ulus powerful spiritual objects. (source: The Canadian Encyclopedia). I had the honor at last year’s staff Christmas party to sit with a group of Inuit women and sample country food. I had the opportunity to carve a piece of raw meat with an ulu.

The Inuit have such profound respect for the land and the animals that have sustained them for centuries.

There is so much to learn. Someone I met last year sent me a very interesting quote. While I have been hired to teach, I am here to learn. She said, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” I love this. Thanks NC.

I’m getting the impression that many of you are fascinated with the north and are enjoying my posts. Some of you have even threatened to visit me. Of course, in a Covid world this is not possible, but you all know that the north is not all about beautiful sunsets, pristine air and water (both in abundance, by the way) and soaking up the culture. In other words, it’s not all ‘peaches and cream’. The challenges in the north are well documented but when you are a guest of the Inuit, you do get to appreciate the north in a powerful way. For every breathtaking sunrise, there are other things that happen that cause one dismay. Life tends to be that way for most of us.

I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything… even when it’s -53!

Last thoughts.

One reader admitted (privately!) that she has read most if not all 1,140 of my posts. I won’t mention her by name to avoid public shaming for her lack of judgment. She did make an interesting observation. She said “It’s like going to all these places and it hasn’t cost (me) a cent.”

Another friend admitted that my last post about ‘belonging’ brought a tear to her eye. I didn’t realize that I wrote so poorly!

Summer camps ended last Friday. I had an awesome time attending the camps reading books and singing songs. On the second last day, after I finished doing my thing, I turned to put my guitar back in its case. Before I could react, this little boy of about the age of 8, came up and put his arms around me and gave me the biggest hug. I almost lost it. Hugs are verboten during Covid but he caught me completely off guard. I must be getting old when something so simple can touch me so deeply.

Some things, the best things, are free and absolutely priceless. I will never forget this moment.

Have a great week.



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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on August 27, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

Nourishment for body and soul


What does it mean to belong?

There are a handful of you (you know who you are!) who have read just about every one of my 1,140 posts over the past nine years. First of all, let me extend my condolences to you for putting up with me all these years. Some of you may not know this (or care) but when I first discovered that I enjoyed writing, my stories were exclusively humour. I wrote a regular column for three newspapers. One of these papers was owned by our largest provincial paper and many of my stories were shared throughout the province. And what, pray tell, is your point, Len?

I would say that over 90% of the stories that I’ve written have been purely for entertainment. There are lots of places one can go to load up on bad news and negativity. You won’t find much of this on my website. Every once in a while, I’ll drift into something more serious, even controversial but that’s a rarity.

“Where is he going with this?” I’m sure you’re wondering.

When I came up north last November, I came to teach. That was in my contract, but I also came to learn. I am a big fan of lifelong learning.

Most of you will never get to see Canada’s north. It is expensive to travel up here and for many of you, spending quality time in a place where temperatures can drop to -55, is not your idea of a cool time. Well, I have a hot tip for you. You can learn about the north vicariously from the comfort of your living room. A few simple clicks on your favorite electronic devices and you get to hang out with me. I’m sure that that sounds like penance to some of you.

I’m not about to lose my sense of humor and go all serious on you but I do plan to continue to share what I’m learning, as I am experiencing it. Many of my future posts will be to inform and educate.

What constitutes an extraordinary day for you? It could be getting a promotion and a raise at work. You might have just retired or sold your house. You may have experienced the unmitigated joy of the birth of your first grandchild. You may have received roses from a secret admirer. A special day means something different to everyone.

Monday was one of those days for me.

Can someone describe what it feels like to belong? It’s really hard to put into words but I’m going to try.

I have lived in small communities before. My first real taste of belonging came in the North Peace Alberta town of Fairview. This is a farming community and a large part of the population are people who trace their roots to Germany and the Ukraine. I certainly felt like an outsider there during my first year of teaching but when I returned for year two, I detected a subtle shift in attitude by the locals. I had paid some dues and I had returned. I learned how to operate some of the farming equipment and sang in the church choir. More importantly, in a community where hockey is king, playing for the Fairview Elks Senior hockey team was the clincher.

I came to Kangiqsujuaq last November. As I have stated, ad nauseum in this space before, I was far too overwhelmed to have any sense of community. My reintroduction to teaching consumed every waking hour of my days and infiltrated my sleep at night. I didn’t get involved in the community. I wasn’t worrying about being accepted. I was more focused on surviving the next day at school. Survival is an important life skill.

Covid entered our lives in March. I went home. I self-isolated. I walked and hiked daily with my son. I wrote a new book. On August 1st, I returned to Kangisqsujuaq and quarantined for a second time. I emerged from my cocoon on the 15th. In a very short period of time, things felt different. Yes, an 80- degree difference in temperature from the dead of winter to mid -summer will do that to a person! From my first trip to the Coop for groceries, I felt welcome. I was greeted by the cashiers like I was a long- lost friend. I was repeatedly stopped in the aisles by people who thanked me for coming back. Every day, walking to and from my apartment, young children shouted “Hi Len”.

“You’re drifting, Len. What in the hell happened on Monday to set you off on this wild tangent?”

In rapid succession on Monday, it seemed like everything clicked. It was a series of “aha” moments, something like you might have felt when you finally discovered how to ride a two -wheel bicycle without tipping over. I received my first invitation to go hunting. This is a big deal. This is an honor. People don’t hunt for sport up here. It is a way of life. “Country food” is every bit as important to the Inuit as oxygen.

After a very busy and productive day (I’ll spare you the boring details) and a beautiful, albeit very chilly evening walk, I was stopped just outside my apartment and given a serving of vegetarian chili. A few minutes later, my next door neighbor produced two fresh, warm blueberry banana muffins. The berries were picked across the street on the tundra, just a few paces from my front door.

I was barely in the door when I heard a knock. A local man was holding a bag filled with several different cuts of caribou that his son had shot on the weekend. He described each piece of meat. He gave me cooking tips for the roast and the stewing meat. He promised that I would be receiving arctic char in the not too distant future.

This, my friends, it what it feels like to belong in the north. It is easy to describe but an indescribable feeling.

Have a great week.

P.S. I’ll let you know how my caribou roast turns out!

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on August 24, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment



Inukshuk in Kangiqsujuaq

Cairn Park – Antigonish


Inukshuks dot the landscape in the north.

Cairns are ubiquitous in Scotland and other parts of the world.

What is it about these wonderful stone markers?

A short time ago, I posted a picture that I took on one of my walks here in Kangiqsujuaq. On the outskirts of town, there is a large inukshuk, a popular gathering place to watch the northern lights. It is what I would refer to as the classic image that southerners most easily recognize. The next time that I saw a large pile of stones, it closely resembled the Scottish cairns with which many in my part of the world are familiar. I actually referred to it as a cairn. It didn’t take long for me to be corrected. I was told that even though the shape was different from the more recognizable inukshuk, this was indeed an inukshuk.

So began my exploration of the origin of cairns and inukshuks. Here is an explanation of both, paraphrased for your reading pleasure.

“The Inukshuk is a symbol with deep roots in the Inuit culture, a directional marker that signifies safety, hope and friendship .Inukshuks are the most important objects created by the Inuit who were the first people to inhabit portions of Alaska, Arctic Canada and Greenland. The term Inuksuk (the singular of Inukshuk) means “to act in the capacity of a human. “It is an extension of Inuk, meaning “a human being.”

These stone figures were placed on the temporal and spiritual landscapes. Among many practical functions, they were employed as hunting and navigational aids, coordination points, indicators, and message centers. In addition to their earthly functions, certain Inukshuk-like figures had spiritual connotations, and were objects of veneration, often marking the threshold of the spiritual landscape of the Inummariit – the Inuit who knew how to survive on the land living in their traditional way.

Inuksuit (the plural of Inukshuk) serve in a spiritual capacity to indicate a place where life is renewed or where spirits reside; where judgments or decisions are made and where celebrations and festivals are held. The Inukshuk, by standing along the way, may guide seekers on their journey helping them to find the way forward as well as the best path to their spiritual home. An Inukshuk may also indicate an object that should not be approached or touched, or an object that brings good fortune.

The skill of building an Inukshuk is traditionally passed down from one generation to the next. Each stone structure has a purpose, such as pointing the way to a good fishing spot or indicating where meat is cached. Inuksuit are used as directional markers and functions as instruments of navigation and astronomy. The longest arm may point to the closest village where you will find safety. Some will point to Niqirtsuituq or the north star.

The Inukshuk is a symbol of the human spirit. It recognizes our ability to succeed with others, where alone we might fail. It reminds us of our need to belong to something greater than ourselves and prompts us to reconnect with our individual responsibility to invest our efforts today so that we may all have a better tomorrow.

When you look at an old Inukshuk, you are seeing more than just a stack of stones. You are seeing the thoughts of another person left upon the land.” Norman Hallendy


The following passage refers more to cairns popular in Scotland.

“A cairn is a group of stones carefully arranged on top of each other. These man-made mounds , used since the prehistoric age, take on a number of roles and have guarded various landscapes for thousands of years, withstanding both the ferocious elements and the test of time.

Derived from the Scottish word “carn”, meaning “heap of stones”, cairns are ancient markers with Scottish roots found across the globe. Since prehistoric times, cairns have served as landmarks as well as burial monuments. Some experts state that many of these ancient stone stacks were also built for astrological, ceremonial, and hunting purposes. Indigenous people in places like Alaska and Greenland (and Canada’s north) have relied on such markers for centuries. Seafarers used cairns for navigating long before lighthouses entered the equation.

In Scottish folklore, Highland clan members would each place a stone on a pile before battle. The surviving warriors would subsequently remove their stone, leaving the remaining ones to transform into a memorial cairn for the fallen. The act of adding a small stone to a cairn, especially on a hilltop, is a deep-rooted Scottish tradition that signifies respect. By adding this rock, you are preserving the integrity of the monument and helping to protect it from harsh weather.

When the cairn marks a grave, the old Scots Gaelic blessing ‘Cuiridh mi clach air do charn’ or ‘I’ll put a stone on your cairn’ becomes relevant. The gesture is a way of saying ‘I’ll always remember you’ or ‘You will not be forgotten’. Torie Chalmers.

While this is not an exhaustive dissertation on the topic of Inukshuks and cairns, I thought you might find it interesting. I know I will view them differently when I pass them here in the north or back home.

Have a great week.

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