Monday Morning Musings

Posted on January 4, 2021 under Monday Morning Musings with 5 comments


The ice man cometh


(Warning. This may be damaging to your eyes. It’s a long post!)

I can say, without hesitation, that deciding to stay in the north for Christmas may have been one of the smartest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Like many of my colleagues, I wanted to go home, but this year, it just didn’t make much sense for me to travel anywhere. None of the options were particularly attractive because of Coronvirus. Getting home or anywhere else in Canada would have been one hurdle. Being able to move around freely and enjoy normal Christmas activities wasn’t going to happen. Returning to the north posed challenges including getting a Covid test.

I think our brains are hard wired for so many things. Music comes to mind. Almost any piece of old music conjures up memories of the past. Different events like Christmas are somewhat like this. The mere thought of Christmas releases chemicals in the brain that fill us with a sense of anticipation and joy. I have been away from home for Christmas a few times in my life. The memories are etched in my mind. India was remarkable.

When it became obvious that I wouldn’t be travelling anywhere for Christmas, I convinced myself that spending the holidays in the north would be wonderful and would provide more stories for my next book.

The north did not disappoint. Kangiqsujuaq was a superstar.

I have never been in a community that embraced Christmas quite the way the folks have in Wakem Bay. There was something going on in the village all the time or so it seemed. The local FM radio station held on air contests almost daily. There were outdoor games and activities. I took part in some of them. Regular readers saw my most recent post where I played a game of sawing logs. No, it was not a sleeping contest! I got roughed up a bit. The day after this event, the principal presented me with a lovely cake. It appears that one of the people who bowled me over felt some remorse and made a cake to soothe my wounds. I had a great laugh over this. The cake was awesome!

Two signature events were the Christmas Dinner and New Year’s Eve. After several delays due to weather, we were finally able to prepare and deliver food to over 100 people on January 30th. A few of my team, including your truly, went to the Family House that morning and peeled 70 pounds of potatoes. We encountered a few extra challenges. There is no underground water or sewer infrastructure in the village. Water is delivered by tanker truck every few days. Similarly, sewage is pumped out of people’s homes into trucks on a regular basis. Oil is delivered the same way it is in most parts of the country. There are not many days that one of these three vehicles arent’t pulling up to the side of your house or apartment building.

Except when there’s s storm. And when there are two blizzards in three days, things get backed up. (hopefully not your sewage!) Especially during Christmas week. You get the picture. With every property snowed in, getting these essentials to homes was going to take some time. When we arrived at the Family House, both driveways were impassable. We quickly discovered that the sewage tank was full, and the water tank was empty – not ideal conditions to try and prepare a turkey dinner for delivery. We had no choice but to improvise. The village’s water plant was close by, so we were able to get jugs of water to cook the vegetables. Bathroom breaks required workers to go back to their homes. Most of these homes are close to the Family House so that wasn’t a big deal. By mid- morning, we had things well in hand. As I was heading to my apartment, I looked across the tundra. At the base of the mountains, there were more activities going on. Children were sledding and adults were engaged in an igloo building contest. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to find the time to go and check out the igloos.

My whole team of volunteers showed up early in the afternoon carrying the 10 turkeys that were cooked and carved. I was deemed The Head Turkey or Maitre Dinde! PD the MD! We spent the next three hours working out the final logistics and getting the foil trays loaded up with dinners. I will spare you all the details as I don’t want you to fall asleep before the end of this rather long piece. We had large families (more than 7 people), smaller families and individuals. Each tray was prepared accordingly and marked.

I don’t think any of my colleagues would be upset with me singling out one person. The critical piece in all of this, of course was delivering the meals to the recipients. The Family House had prepared a list of the names and addresses of those to receive meals. Unfortunately, the list was rather random. Madeline, a university student home for the holidays, was able to rearrange the list according to family sizes and where they lived in the village. At 4:00, three trucks were dispatched from the Family House with all of the trays.

This is not unique to Kangiqsujuaq but the numbering of houses in many towns and cities can be confusing and perplexing by times. Many modern communities are laid out in grids making homes easy to locate. They are also about esthetically pleasing as chewing on a piece of cardboard. Me an M. were a team. M. is also a Qullanaq from the south, but he speaks very good Inuktitut. It took us quite a while to locate out thirteen households. One thing I found very interesting when I came up here was that people don’t knock on doors. There’s an exterior door to protect homes from the elements and an inner door. When we delivered the meals, M. went in first so that he could let people know what was going on. The recipients hadn’t been notified about the meals. The looks on people’s faces said it all.

I’m sure that many of you have been on a long trip by car at some point in your life. You arrive in a new town or city after driving for 12-14 hours. You’re tired and hungry and if your co-pilot has given you the wrong directions at the end of the day, agitated. Now, M. and I were not tired, hungry, or agitated. Far from it. We were filled with joy. We were down to our last tray. Finding many of the homes had been a bit of a challenge. The last one of the day left us scratching our heads. We drove up a dead-end street. Between us and our intended destination was a throng of young people lined up outside the local FM radio station. The road was impassable. We asked several local people of the whereabouts of our final family. No one was quite certain. The family House was only a few hundred yards from where we were parked so we decided to go there and walk through the snow to find the home we were looking for. Alas, this was in vain as this was NOT the street or address that we were looking for.

By this time, the other members of our team had finished their deliveries and were back at the Family House sharing stories. Once again, Madeline saved us and was able to pinpoint the location of our final delivery.

The day after, of course was, New Year’s Eve. For some strange reason, I wasn’t able to sleep in despite serious fatigue from the previous day. I was on the go at 4:56 a.m. I reckoned early on that attending the fireworks on the tundra that night was a non- starter. As the day wore on, I had a chat with myself. I wondered if I would ever get to spend New Year’s Eve on the tundra ever again. I made a plan. I postponed my power snooze until mid-afternoon. This worked well as two of us went to the Family House in the early afternoon to clean the two kitchens we had used. Yes, the driveways had been plowed and the facility now had water and sewer! I knew that the only way I would see midnight was to go to bed in the evening. I watched the entire World Junior hockey game between Canada and Finland and then went to bed at 8:30 setting the clock for 11:30. This worked like a charm. The only drawback was getting out of a warm bed and bundling up to go and stand on the tundra for 30 minutes in -37 degree weather… with a bit of a wind. Some small children from the neighborhood were standing outside my apartment waiting for me the other teachers to escort us.

I have mentioned more than once in these posts that I have never been cold during my time in the north. There is no such things as bad weather, only bad clothing. One of the reasons for this is that when you are outdoors in extreme temperatures, you’re always moving. The clothing and footwear are designed for this, and more often than not, after walking or snowshoeing, you end up sweating. This would not be the case in the waning minutes of 2020.

It only took a few minutes for a chill to set in. This was exacerbated when the wind came up. For a few moments we wondered if we had come to the wrong location for the viewing of the fireworks. There were only a handful of vehicles and maybe 20 people and it was 11:55. Out of nowhere it seemed, you could see lights coming from every direction on every mode of transportation. By midnight, I think the entire village was in attendance. Horns started honking at the stroke of midnight and the fireworks started.

Have you ever tried to take pictures when it’s -37? In the time it took me to remove my glove and get my Iphone out of my pocket, my hand was absolutely numb. When you’re bundled up, you don’t notice the cold but when your flesh is exposed, even for seconds, the effects are immediate.

Another common theme in my writings over the years is that I don’t impress easily anymore. It’s not that I’ve seen everything or done everything. Far from it. There are many other wonders out there but as my runway is shortening, I am not likely to see many more. The Taj Mahal is special (I’ve seen it) but so is our family cottage on St.Georges Bay. I digress.

Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon (that’s for you, BV!) but fireworks don’t do much for me anymore. I’ve witnessed dozens and dozens of fireworks displays in my life, none more impressive than the International Fireworks Festival in Montreal many years ago. Fireworks are a staple on Canada Day.

It wasn’t that I hauled my sorry butt out of bed to go and see the night sky light up. No. I wanted to be part of the community and the experience. I knew some of my students would be there (they were). This was a once in a lifetime to experience New Year’s Eve in the arctic.

I have now ascertained that, like real estate, when it comes to fireworks, it’s ‘location, location, location’. The local fire department had staged the event at the base of the mountains across the tundra and beside Waken Bay. The combination of the colors of the fireworks with this stunning backdrop turned something, otherwise mundane, into something magical. It was borderline jaw dropping. Simply put, it was spectacular. Many of the local people ( they have been around these parts for 4,000 years) used good judgment (they know better!)  and stayed inside their vehicles and honked their horns rather than freezing their asses off standing on the frozen tundra. However, I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything.

When the last rocket fizzled out, it was time for a giant parade of vehicles through the village. I initially declined as my tootsies were nearly frozen. Before leaving the tundra, I noticed the fire chief returning from the fireworks staging area. I walked over to thank him and his team for this amazing night. He took off his glove and thanked me for coming to his community to educate its children. You know folks, sometimes it just doesn’t get any better than this. My feet were frozen, but my heart was warm.

I turned to head home. The principal of our school was on her skidoo ready to join the convoy of vehicles for the parade. I have been in the Highland Games parade in my hometown in July, bathed by warm sunshine. I have never been in a parade in the early hours of the morning in biting cold weather. She asked me if I wanted to hop on.

You only live once. I guess you only die once too! Despite being chilled to the bone, I accepted her offer.

We drove along the road that runs parallel to the bay. The mountains formed the backdrop along with a billion stars.

The Inuit people of Kangiqsujuaq provided me with the most memorable Christmas that I could have possibly imagined and an incredible start to a new year.

Bring on 2021!

Thank you.

Have a great year!


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