Dose of Awesome # 279

As many of you know already, Nunavik has been suffering from a heartbreaking suicide epidemic for a few months now. Recently, we lost two teens I’d known well from my time in Tasiujaq. During the three years I’d lived there, they were like my own students, and were very close to the six kids that I’d taught.

Though I’ll be unable to make it to Tasiujaq for the funeral, I spent the better part of my morning writing letters to each of my old students, to tell them that I’m thinking of them, that I’m proud of them, and to share some memories of our time together. I will send them to Tasiujaq on Monday with a colleague.

As I wrote the letters, I realized how many good memories I do have of each of them. Though I’ve taught many more kids since them, and have lots of memories of those kids, too, Mosesiapik, Noah, Annie, Harriet, George and Jaiku will always be my very first students, and I’m thankful for the three years we got to spend together as a class.

I thought, in particular, of one specific day a few years ago, and a short story I’d written about it. In honour of all the kind, loving, beautiful kids of Nunavik, I wanted to share it.

Love and Ptarmigans

Harriet and Anautak crept on all fours over the frosty tundra. The air was still and thick with silence. The land uttered not a sound – not even the slightest whisper of a crunch as they crawled, slow and calculating, over the brittle foliage. Harriet was first; Anautak followed closely behind like a little hunter in training. Even Elisapee, who had fallen behind and was crying because the shrubs were just a little too big for her tiny five-year-old legs to maneuver, had quieted. Like cats, they were stalking a lone ptarmigan dawdling nonchalant along the side of the hill.

We were just far enough onto the land that we’d lost sight of the village. It was a Saturday afternoon, early Fall. I could smell a hint of winter – that smell of crisp land that happens just before it snows. Winter was soon to come, yet the land radiated orange and red so vibrant and alive. I could see my breath but still feel the strong heat of the sun.

A friend and I were hiking toward Mairaaluk in an intentionally roundabout way that took us up and down one hill after another and along the Leaf River. The girls had seen us as we walked through the village. They ditched their bikes by the daycare, and followed us onto the land. They wanted to come with us, even though we told them we’d be hiking for hours and they’d get tired. They insisted that they knew the way, and they probably did know it better than we did. And though we didn’t want to be responsible for three little people on our little adventure, we let them follow for a while.

I, captivated, stopped to watch Harriet and Anautak as they crawled. As I held my breath, waiting, I wondered not whether Harriet would actually kill it. Ptarmigans do strike me as a tad dimwitted. Rifle or not, they seem to be an easy target, and ever since Jashua killed one with a pebble and plucked it clean on the playground at recess one day last year (he kept it in his desk until school was over), I’ve never once questioned these kids’ ability to hunt. Plus, Harriet, who’d been a student of mine since I came to Nunavik, frequently goes hunting with her grandfather, so perhaps this wouldn’t have been her first ptarmigan kill.

Rather, I wondered how many times she’d done this before and how many times she’d succeeded. I admired the mix of childhood fun, and tradition, and I imagined her carrying it home proudly, and sharing it with her family later on, eating it for dinner.

The world stopped as Harriet prepared to pounce on the seemingly oblivious bird, and there was a split second when I was certain that it was a goner. But sometime within the split second between lunge and trap, there was a sudden and frantic fluttering of wings from the foliage that had, up to that moment, created the facade of solitude. Simultaneously, forty or so wings sprung from the land like camouflaged Jack In The Boxes. The once-lone ptarmigan evaded doom as Harriet jumped back. She giggled, part startled, but also maybe part disappointed, part embarrassed.

It was for you” she said shyly, but full of love.

Dose of Awesome # 278

Snowshoeing season has rapidly melted away with this week’s rain and high temperatures. There is still a bit of snow on the land, but I’d imagine its texture is an unenjoyable mix of slush and ice. At the moment, I am taking advantage of the extra time to read, draw and play the violin as I await bicycle season.

1. Awesome was one last beautiful weekend of snowshoeing, two weeks ago. The weekend was full of sunshine, light wind and hours on my own enjoying the land.

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2. Awesome was finishing a new drawing – sled dogs, inspired by the recent Ivakkak dog sled race.

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3. Awesome was finalizing some of the biggest details of my upcoming summer adventure. This summer, I will be hiking the John Muir Trail, after spending a few days in San Francisco and Mammoth Lakes. With my flight booked and my trek organized, I can start looking into accommodations and plan some ideas for the rest of my time there. It’s starting to feel real!

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Dose of Awesome # 277

The community of Kuujjuaq came together yesterday to welcome the competitors in this year’s Ivakkak dogsled race at the finish line. The race began in Quaqtaq, and went through Kangirsuk, Aupaluk, Tasiujaq, before finishing here.

1. Awesome was an early school closure that allowed everybody to head to Stewart Lake to welcome the Ivakkak teams. Team 10 was the first to arrive in Kuujjuaq, but team 7 won the race.

Waiting for the first team to arrive.

Team 10, from Puvirnituq.

2. Awesome was a mid-week afternoon of snowshoeing, thanks to the early school closure. Since I’d gone in early to get some work done in my classroom before school began, I decided to take advantage of some amazing weather and get a few more hours of snowshoeing in. I went for a beautiful 3 hour loop through Nuuvuk Bay and by the marina. What I love about that loop is that every time, it can be so different, as the land is so vast.

Snow drifts and tree shadows inspired me.

3. Awesome was progress made with a challenging student – thanks to an awesome and dedicated team of people and their support. Sometimes things take time, and sometimes lots of it, but this, I hope, goes to show that if you don’t give up, great things can happen.

Dose of Awesome # 276

My favourite time of the year has arrived in Nunavik. It’s spring, but it still feels like winter. It’s -30 degrees, we have tonnes of snow, and there’s more coming. I love it because after enduring an average of approximately -45 for seemingly forever, -30 feels mild. I love it because it stays light out longer – long enough that I feel a notable boost in energy each day, but not so long that it causes you to miss the northern lights. I love it because I know it’s only a matter of weeks before the snow melts – and it will melt fast. Then I’ll be able to go hiking, and biking. But in the meantime, I appreciate the snow and cold all the more because I know it will soon be gone.

I love it because it’s the perfect time for snowshoeing.

1. Awesome was 2.5 hours of snowshoeing yesterday, by myself. It’s been a long time – since my third year in Tasiujaq, in fact – since I’ve been out on the land by myself. I forgot how peaceful it is. I forgot how liberating it is to just drop everything and go (my plan for the morning involved doing laundry and reading, until the sun started beaming through my living room window), without having to wait for, or answer to anybody.

Yes, company is nice. But, every once in awhile, so is this…

Yesterday, I went through Nuuvuk Bay and then toward the marina – making a huge loop up and down the hills and back the way I came. Further awesome was finding my own tracks again as I neared the start of my loops – a definite boost to my confidence in my own navigational skills.

2. Awesome was another 3 hours of snowshoeing today. Only this time it was with friends. Today’s route took us through Nuuvuk Bay toward the marina, and on a loop back down to the Koksoak River, which we followed back to where we started.

3. Awesome was time to catch up with friends this weekend, through phone conversations and dinners. It’s crazy how busy life can be – time can really slip by if you let it!

Dose of Awesome # 275

March Break is coming to an end. Tomorrow is a pedagogical day, and Tuesday, it’s back to school. I am back at home in Kuujjuaq, where the temperature hovers around -30 degrees Celsius, the sun is shining, and the snow is no less plentiful and white than it was when I left ten days ago. It’s the kind of perfection that I appreciate all the more after a week full of rain, slush and mud in New Brunswick.

1. Awesome was the feeling of walking into a spotlessly clean home, and unpacking after ten days of living out of a backpack in various places. Though I’m certainly grateful for all the hospitality I’ve been offered during my vacation, this is a pretty awesome feeling.

Also awesome was finally being able to play my violin, which I’d decided to leave behind because I didn’t have a definite plan of accommodation for my trip to New Brunswick.

2. Awesome was a trip to my home town which included everything and almost everything I’d hoped for. Filled with many delicious meals and cups of coffee with friends from elementary school, high school, and university, it was truly a walk down memory lane.

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My friend Amanda and I at dinner.

3. Awesome was also being blessed with the opportunity to visit my old university town (a place I hadn’t been to in ten years), browse through the Moncton Farmer’s Market, do a bit of shopping, have a massage, go on a little hike, see a movie, and go out for karaoke.

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Posing with my first Tim Horton’s coffee of the vacation, and the giant lobster in Shediac, New Brunswick, on the way to have lunch in Sackville.

Mel’s Tea Room, from the booth in which I spent many afternoons and evenings writing philosophy essays and reading. 

The train bridge on the Tantramar marsh at the end of Bridge Street – location of many a muddy adventure, my first winter camping experience, and lots of hours reading and writing at the edge of e broken bridge. 

Dose of Awesome # 274

Awesome is finishing another work of art.

I much enjoy the process of creating any work of art. I appreciate the slow start of meticulously sketching the most important details, measuring each line to the very last millimetre. I love the smooth momentum of shading – darkening shadows in layers and erasing the highlights in a similar fashion as gradually, the portrait come alive one detail at a time. I love the struggle of working through a new challenge, as I’m forced to experiment with new techniques so as to best reproduce a detail or a texture I’ve never worked with before in a drawing. But as much as I enjoy all of that, there’s a special feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing a piece of art.

There’s a story behind this portrait. It’s a self portrait, drawn from a photo taken in late February on a sunny, but freezing afternoon of snowshoeing with a friend. My scarf was frozen solid and covered in frost, as was some of the fur around the hood of my parka. My face was frozen to the point that I couldn’t tell if I was smiling at the camera or not. My hands froze instantly as I removed my pualuuk to take the photo – the photo that I couldn’t tell would take or not, because the sun was so bright it washed out the screen and, for all I knew, the cold had sucked the life right out of the camera’s battery.

I liked the photo immediately – not only because of how it turned out, but because of what it represents. It could have turned out a million different ways and it still would have told the same story – a story of healing in the midst of a lot of loss, a big life change, and a huge shift in focus. That’s why, after months of artists’ block, I was inspired to make this my next piece of art – a self portrait taken on a day I’d felt the most free and content than I’d felt in a long time.

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Dose of Awesome # 273

At the beginning of this weekend, I found myself overwhelmed by a lot of different emotions as I tried to begin processing the loss of another community member and student. This is the sixth suicide since Christmas – the second this week. Though I didn’t know this person personally, I’m faced with this constant worry that grows each time, and my heart hurts for the people of Kuujjuaq who are effected, as well as all the people working so hard to provide any support possible in this seemingly unrelenting time of sadness, confusion, and pain.

But now is an especially important time to focus on the awesome things in life, because, as hard as it may be to see, they still do exist during tough times. One of them might be the only thing getting a person through a day. I know I would have struggled a lot more this weekend if it weren’t for these awesome things:

1. Awesome is a discovering a new outdoor activity. This sunny afternoon, a friend and I went cross country skiing in Nuuvuk Bay. It was my first time. Though I like to think I did quite well for my first time, it did take me awhile to catch on to the technique, and required a lot of concentration. Not only was it a good 2.5 hours of exercise, sunshine and fun, it was a much-needed distraction from all the stresses life has thrown my way as of late.

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Older photo, but same place. 

2. Awesome are adventurous meals with friends. Yesterday evening, I went to a 6-course gourmet Scottish dinner party, where I tried both haggis and black pudding for the first time. On the menu were scotch broth to start, cod fish cakes with home made tartar sauce, black pudding with caramelized apples and whisky sauce, haggis with turnips and potatoes, rabbit kidney and steak pie, and raspberry custard and short bread for dessert. I’m still full.

But that wasn’t my only social meal of the weekend. I’d also joined some friends at the restaurant for dinner on Friday evening, and some other friends for brunch this morning. Again, there’s nothing like coming together with friends for some laughs and relaxation over delicious food during a difficult time.

3. Awesome is massage therapy, and starting an amazing Sunday with an hour-long deep tissue massage. If I were rich, I’d start every day like that.