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.


Daily Dose of Awesome – Day 161

1. Awesome was sharing a lovely meal with all of my colleagues to conclude yesterday’s ped day, as well as another school year. Nakurmiimaarialuk to all of you for all of your team work, hard work and support throughout the school year. I wish everyone a fantastic summer vacation!

2. Awesome was receiving this thoughtful little thank you gift – beaded kamik earrings made by Lucina Cain.


3. Awesome was making a new friend – another connection in Kuujjuaq!

4. Awesome was chatting with, and watching as a bunch of Inuit ladies sewed tents at the culture centre yesterday evening. Also awesome was witnessing real, unstaged throat singing (anytime I’d heard throat singing before, it was part of a concert or a cultural show. This time, it was out of the blue and for the fun of it, which made it all the more authentic and cool).

Daily Dose of Awesome – Day 158

1. Awesome was a fantastic graduation ceremony yesterday afternoon, during which I not only got to present diplomas to my students who have finished primary and will be going on to secondary next year, but also congratulate this year’s grad class of 2013.

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2. Awesome was a celebratory graduation feast yesterday evening with all of my colleagues and friends and family of the graduates.

3. Awesome was learning that a friend who’d been going through a difficult time lately has finally gotten a break, as well as the renewed enthusiasm that reflected in our conversation has he told me about it.

Daily Dose of Awesome – Day 157

1. Awesome was blowing off some steam yesterday evening with a 3 hour hike after an extremely discouraging afternoon. Also awesome was the fact that it was so warm that I could hike in just a tank top (and pants, of course), thus allowing the sun to put a little colour back into me.

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2. Awesome was another wildlife sighting. I saw not 1 but 3 arctic hares on my hike yesterday.

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3. Awesome was being commended on my professionalism. At a time when everyone’s so busy with everything they need to do to notice everything others are doing, it’s nice to have someone take notice of my hard work.

Daily Dose of Awesome – Day 155

1. Awesome was another hike on the land. Yesterday’s hike took me along the same route as the weekend before, only it was an hour longer, as I’d chosen to explore one additional mountain prior to turning away from the bay, into the valley and heading toward Mae’s Lake.

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This is me atop one of the many little mountains that I went up. Unlike every single other one, this one had very red rock which, I’ve been told, has a lot of iron ore. 

2. Awesome was a change in weather forecast. Environment Canada had predicted a disappointing weekend of rain and snow – far from ideal for my last weekend in Tasiujaq. However, Mother Nature was on my side yesterday as the sun shone and the land remained dry enough for me to go on one last hike. It was a bit windy and cold (hovering just above 0 degrees Celsius), but it was nothing that this gal can’t handle.

3. Awesome are fathers, and awesome was my father in his own unique way. Happy Father’s Day Dad. I love you and miss you.

Daily Dose of Awesome – Day 152

1. Awesome was going for a run as caribou grazed along the river. Tonight I might go a little bit later in the hopes that I’ll go just as they’re crossing over and up into the mountains, so as to get a closer look at the beautiful creatures.

2. Awesome was, for the first time this year, seeing the river completely devoid of ice. As I walked to school yesterday morning, flowed in the most intense and vivid shade of blue I’d ever seen it, and glistened in a unique way as the morning sun shone through the fog.

3. Awesome was realizing that yesterday was Wednesday, not Thursday. I’m not usually one to wish time to pass by, but I do, on occasion, wish for time to slow down so I can either get things done, or savour the moment. Right now, I wish to do both.

Daily Dose of Awesome – Day 149

1. Awesome was a long hike on the land yesterday, and choosing a hiking route that took me right along the caribou migration path. Even more awesome was the fact that I stopped to eat my lunch just as a few caribou happened to be migrating! Also awesome was a new wildlife sighting – an arctic hare.

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2. Awesome was an afternoon making suvalik with friends (for those who are new to my blog, suvalik is an Inuit fruit salad made with berries and cut up fruit, suvaq (fish eggs) and oil (traditionally misirak – aged seal fat). To make suvalik, you first smush up the suvaq  with your hands until they are all separated. Then you add the oil or misirak a bit at a time, mixing it rapidly with your hands. As you mix, the suvaq grow and the mixture becomes light and fluffy. When you are finished, you add the berries and fruit and mix it all together. Partially frozen fruit is best.

It’s by far not the healthiest thing I’ve eaten, but it’s fun to make, a good way to bring people together, and an interesting culinary experience from time-to-time.

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3. Awesome was learning that a surprise had reached its destination, and had served its purpose well.