Monday Morning Musings

Posted on February 10, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with no comments yet

Me and Makusi


I read somewhere that this quote is attributable to the Inuit – “A long time ago in the future.”

It’s impossible to go to any foreign country and unravel the mysteries of history and culture in a few months. At least that’s what I think. Canada’s north is a mystery to most Canadians. It is not a foreign country. Many of us have read about the north, heard aboriginal/indigenous speakers, and have watched movies and documentaries about the north. I can tell you, that until you’ve come here and experienced it firsthand, you can’t truly appreciate this precious Canadian jewel.

I’m into my fourth month in Northern Quebec. I have eaten raw beluga and caribou stew. I have made seal rib stew. I have met some extraordinary people. I have seen the Northern Lights. But I have barely scratched the surface in terms of understanding the north.

Last Friday, I got a glimpse.

A few classes in the school, including mine, were invited to go on a seal hunt. In parts of the south and in many parts of the world, the mere words “seal hunt” conjure up images, many of them negative. In the arctic, hunting is a way of life. It is not a sport.

The services of several experienced hunters and guides were enlisted to take staff and students out on this expedition. The conditions were ideal. It was sunny and cold but not windy. Each guide was driving a skidoo, pulling a sled behind it. Because I was considered an “elder”, I got to sit on a comfortable seat with a back rest, behind my driver, Makusi.

In order to get to the open waters of Ungava Bay, it is necessary to cross a chain of lakes separated by tundra. To suggest that the surface of these lakes is bumpy is an understatement. The hunters have managed to carve a path across the uneven terrain. If I had been forced to sit in the sled at the back, I am certain that I would have ended up in traction at the local clinic.

We stopped halfway to our destination so that everyone could get out and stretch. It happened to be next to a big snow- covered hill. Several of the students bounded from their sleds and headed for the hill for an impromptu slide.

Ungava Bay could be seen off in the distance. As we exited the last lake, the guides gathered for a meeting. They couldn’t see any open water where the seals would be found. A few days earlier, there was open water not far from where we were stopped but now this was partially frozen and too dangerous to traverse. A few guides went off alone to check for open water and luckily found a spot not far from where we were situated.

One of the guides grabbed his unaq (harpoon) and walked carefully and knowingly towards the open water, poking the ground every few feet. He stopped when he found the spot where it would be safe enough to stand without going through the ice. While he was doing this, the other guides were setting up lean-to’s and tents so that there would be shelter for anyone who might get cold.

A few of the hunters grabbed their rifles and walked towards the water. A few shots rang out indicating that there were seals in the bay. Gradually, the rest of the entourage was able to join the hunters. We watched as the guides patiently surveyed the bay, peering into a bright afternoon sun. Shots were fired but, on this day, the seals proved to be elusive. In fairness, the hunters were several hundred yards away from their intended targets.

While the hunt was going on, the students and staff had lunch. Some of the young people played soccer on the frozen ice while several hiked up a nearby mountain.

At one point, I was the only person standing beside one of the hunters. Everyone else was off doing their own thing. It was very tranquil. We hadn’t spotted a seal in some time. He told me that all the noise had probably spooked the seals. Normally, the hunters stand in perfect silence.

As the sun made its way across the sky, the colors of land, sea, and mountains seemed to change almost imperceptibly. There wasn’t a breath of air. I was experiencing the north at its finest and felt this immense attraction to the land.

Most of us wonder from time to time, when we are going to die, where we are going to die and how we are going to die. This is not morbid fascination. It is human nature.

I knew we were probably less than an hour away from departing for home. I turned to Makusi and told him that I wanted to walk across Ungava Bay alone and have him pick me up on his way. He smiled and handed me the unaq. “Take this. You might need it.”

I started walking towards home along the skidoo path, clutching the unaq. Honestly, I wasn’t afraid of confronting a polar bear, as bizarre as that sounds, but I was certainly vigilant. Every once in a while, I would hold the unaq in a defensive stance wondering how my last day on the planet might unfold!

Mostly, I felt intense peace.

A long time ago in the future, I walked across Ungava Bay.


Have a great week.

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