Dose of Awesome # 285

I need to interrupt my tales of the John Muir Trail to write about the awesome with which I’ve been blessed over the past few weeks since I returned to Kuujjuaq. I’ve not found much time to write, let alone even think about writing, so much has been going on. But, thanks to a long weekend and gloomy weather that goes oh so well with pj’s, coffee and my blog, I feel inspired to write.

I returned to Kuujjuaq on the 9th of August, and was swept away by all the beginning-of-a-new-school-year awesome. Potlucks and lunches allowed me to bond with colleagues, and meet new teachers. Kuujjuaq’s annual Aqpik Jam music festival allowed me to enjoy four nights of great live music from artists from all over the arctic. A birthday full of celebrations with close friends sent me into my 33rd year with so much love.

My return to work was rejuvenated and filled with the excitement of setting up a new classroom and getting ready for a year with new kids. This year I am teaching sixth grade – a lovely class of 11 students whom I’ve gotten to know quite well over the past few years since moving to Kuujjuaq. We’ve been back to school two weeks now, and we’re off to a great start.

Two weekends ago, I was given the opportunity to spend a few days hiking and camping in Pingualuit National Park. Pingualuit is a 1.5 million year old crater believed to have formed when a meteor hit the earth. It is also said to have the purest water in the world. I drank it, and it’s delicious.

In the spring, I’d put my name on the waiting list to take this trip, but I’d resigned to the fact that I probably wouldn’t get to go. The trip was full, and since I’d had the chance to go to Kuururjuaq last year, open spaces would be given to people who hadn’t gone before (as far as I understood). But, luck was on my side, a spot opened up at the last minute, and I received a phone call two days prior to departure.

Accepting the opportunity, a small group of us (7 teachers and 2 women who work elsewhere in the community) boarded a chartered Twin Otter bound for Kangiqsujuaq (a small village approximately 2 hours’ flight north of Kuujjuaq). There, we met Maali Tukirqi, who picked us up at the airport and gave us a tour of the village (which started at the Nunavik Parks office and Pingualuit Interpretive Centre, and included a drive around the village, a stop at the beach to see the iceburg, and shopping for snacks at the Northern Store).

An hour later, we were back in the plane and on our way into the park, and less than an hour after that, we’d made 3 gut-wrenching swoops over Manarsulik camp’s tiny landing strip (the landing strip is a short clearing in the tundra covered with gravel, which is not maintained so much as cleared by the swoops of the plane before it lands). Excited, we were settled into our charming little cabin on the lake before dinner and a little walk to an archaeological site not far from the camp showing where camps used to be.

The hike around the crater took 8 hours, much of which was sunny and with just enough wind to keep the bugs at bay. Hiking together in the beginning, we enjoyed great conversation and a picnic lunch at the halfway mark. Afterward, we spread out a bit more and hiked at our own pace, enjoying the quiet and solitude as it came.

We got back to camp just in time for an amazing sunset and a beautiful rainbow over our camp as we ate, chatted and played numerous rounds of Yahtzee together.

We were hit by stormy weather the next day, which put a damper on our plans to qajak on the lake and go on a smaller hike. Our flight also got cancelled, giving us another day at the camp. I took the opportunity to work on my sewing project and read almost an entire book (something I don’t get to do in one day very often). We were running out of food, but our guides were generous and brought out all kids of country food – tuttuvinik (caribou), nikkuk (dried caribou) and mattaq (beluga) filled our stomachs that night.

The wind was strong and shook our cabin all through the night, and, though the fog lifted, it still gusted well into the next day. Fortunately, for the sake of work, a classroom that needed to be set up by the following afternoon, a grocery order full of frozen food that was scheduled to be delivered to my house in Kuujjuaq that afternoon, and a few things I had planned over the next few days, we were able to fly out. Our plane arrived at Manarsulik around 3 pm. It was bumpy, but we arrived in Kuujjuaq 2.5 hours later safe and sound.

Awesome was the opportunity, the adventure, and the fact that everything works out, even when they don’t go as planned.

Dose of Awesome # 281

I’ve been on summer vacation for two weeks. Like previous years, I decided to stay in Kuujjuaq to enjoy the beautiful (relatively bug-free) weather, finish up some projects, and relax before I travel to California and hike the John Muir Trail. My days have been full of playing violin, reading, drawing, biking, hiking, and just enjoying the land both alone and with friends. I could not have asked for a more rejuvenating and fulfilling time.

1. Awesome was finishing not one, but two new drawings.

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Amaruq – Wolf

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Kayuqtuq – Red Fox

2. Awesome was the opportunity to enjoy 7…yes 7…hikes on the land?

3. Awesome were picnics, and road trips and little walks past the end of the Road to Nowhere, where we found one of the most beautiful spots around Kuujjuaq, had a healing ceremony, and saw muskoxen. Further awesome are muskoxen – a symbol of strength and endurance, and their timely appearance.

 

Dose of Awesome # 280

Another school year is rapidly drawing to a close. My days have been full of marking, paperwork, report cards, slowly packing up my classroom, and various end-of-year events. One and a half weekends, eight teaching days, and two pedagogical days stand between now and summer vacation!

1. Awesome is completing a new drawing – Ookpik.

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2. Awesome was receiving a new custom-made parka. It’s for the fall, but we’ve been blessed with weather cold enough to allow me to wear it (even though it’s June).

3. Awesome was receiving letters and chocolate from our pen pals in Switzerland. I’m sad that I won’t be able to continue this project with the same students, but am hoping to do so with my new ones in the new school year. In the meantime, we wrote post cards (which I’d printed on card stock with photos I’d either take myself, for found on the internet).

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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!