Friday, August 30, 2013

northern poetry & charity Friday

It's Friday!  What social causes deserve your attention this week?
  • My friend Ali volunteers for the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Every once in a while she posts photos of really cute seals that she gets to work with. Cute seals are a great cause! Donate here:
my morning glories are in bloom!

In other news, I won third place in a Northern poetry contest! I entered Up Here Magazine's Robert Service poetry contest. Up Here is a great Northern lifestyle magazine that makes living in Canada's far north seem pretty exciting. The poetry contest required contestants to write a poem about living in the North in the style of Robert Service, the famous Canadian poet who wrote great poems such as The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee.

Anyway, for this contest, I wrote a poem called The Redemption of the Sewage Truck Driver. It's all about how our sewage truck drivers just don't get enough appreciation for the important work they do. For those of you who aren't familiar with how the sewage system works in most Nunavut communities, we don't really have a functioning underground sewage system. Instead, our sewage is sucked out of our houses by truck, and then carted away, while water is delivered by a different truck. It's a pretty smelly process, but an important function.

All this to say that my poem won third place in the contest! You can check it out here:, or in the latest issue of Up Here Magazine. 

Big thanks to my husband, Aaron the editor, and the sewage truck drivers for the inspiration. 

a beautiful moon hanging low over the tundra horizon at sunset. i missed sunsets! i missed the moon!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Arctic Sports

pretty serious furs

Another cruise ship came in this weekend, bringing in Canadian tourists this time. Cambridge Bay was quite the happening place. Apparently, Cambridge Bay is the second most popular cruise ship stop in Nunavut, after Pond Inlet.

I popped into the cultural show again, and caught a demonstration of traditional Arctic sports. I swear, every single Inuit sport I've observed looks not only very physically challenging but extremely painful. They certainly are not for the faint-hearted...or the weak-kneed.

This is the knuckle hop. You basically hop across the ground on your knuckles and feet. The person who makes it the farthest wins. See what I mean by painful-looking?  Sorry about the fuzzy photo. The athlete was just so fast.

This game involves making your body stiff as a aboard while others carry you across.  It looks like it requires a lot of core strength.

this is actually the mayor of Cambridge Bay, doing a great job

The knee jump consists of jumping from kneeling position to your feet. See what I mean about how you can't have weak knees?

This is a muskox wrestling game, where you get in a headlock and try to push your opponent to the other side of the room.

This game involves holding what looks like an impossible balance on one knee, and then hitting a target. I'm pretty sure this is a breakdancing stall move, and I'm pretty sure you have to practice for years and years.

This game is kind of the opposite of limbo.  You have to try to kick a target (in this case, a stuffed animal) that is raised higher and higher.  The athletes were able to get some really impressive heights with this sport, kicking far above their heads.

Folks also offered the tourists a chance to watch them perform some traditional Inuit drum dances.  I love watching these, and the dancers in our town seem to be particularly talented and enthusiastic.  There's something about the way the drums kick in, halfway through the song, that gives me chills.  It's quite a beautiful sight.

traditional Inuit drum dances

video footage of the Inuit drum dance

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

the last kayak trip of the year

"Who left their party yacht at the dock?" I asked, mainly because I was miffed that I was not invited to the party yacht.

Nobody in town seemed to know. It was too small to be a cruise ship, and it was definitely not the Coast Guard...but it was definitely the right size of a boat to be an awesome party boat.  The kind you'd invite TI and the guys from the Lonely Island to join you on and make a music video.  But no one seemed to have a clue what insanely rich guy had brought his boat to shore.

Maybe, I pondered in my head, he was hiding something. Treasure? Booty?  I decided it was time. It was time to become an Arctic pirate and explore. And conquer.

I set out and left shore in my own pirate ship, the  Britney Spears.  The Britney Spears may be only a red kayak, but she's trusty and has pulled through many rough trips with choppy waves and foul weather.   She's smooth and stealthy and was the best vessel for sneaking up on a party boat, pirate-style.

Unfortunately, the party yacht must have seen the Britney Spears approach, because it pulled away suddenly and before I had time to start the chase, it was just a white speck on the horizon. Dammit.  I'll have to party with TI another time.

I had brought along S, who was there for the ride not so much for the  pirate adventure but because he's leaving soon and this would be his last kayaking trip in the Arctic. He suggested that if we couldn't hunt pirate booty, we could just paddle out toward West Arm. If he were a proper pirate, he would have said West Arrrrrrrm.  But he's just Ukrainian, so he didn't, and we headed for West Arm.

On the way there, we encountered the most beautiful sunset.

I love the sky here in Cambridge Bay.  They seem to stretch on forever over the flat tundra, and they are like nothing I have every seen before.  

The waters were calm and the cool breeze seemed to push us along towards our destination.  It was a lovely moment. It didn't feel like the temperature was below zero. We didn't feel it at all.

We stopped at a remote beach.  I love the fact that I am always finding new beaches while out kayaking, and they are always abandoned, without another soul around.

We rested on the beach for a cup of tea.  I found a muskox skull.

But then the weather turned.  The weather changes quickly here in the Arctic; one moment you could be enjoying still waters under a clear sky, and then the next minute the clouds have settled in, the winds have picked up, and you're scrambling to get into your boat while the waves thrash it against the rocky shores.   All of a sudden, we could feel that the windchill was -3°C; we could feel it in our spines.  We were going to have to head home quickly.

The first thing that hit me when I got back into the kayak was how cold my hands were.  You know the kind of cold where it pricks you like a sharp pain and you suddenly can't put your mind on anything else?  I was wearing fishing gloves, but they were soaked all the way through.  The rest of my body was fine, because my wetsuit covered everything else, but I realized that my hands were experiencing exactly what you'd think you would experience if your bare skin was immersed in the Arctic Ocean. A little shock, a lot of pain.  But I couldn't exactly put my paddle down to warm my hands while the kayak drifted, because the fierce winds were pushing me back in the wrong direction.  So time to bear down and just push, push, push.  Try not to pay attention to the fact that my hands hurt.  Try not to pay attention to the fact that my hands no longer hurt...because I was losing sensation in them. Push, push, push.

At least the waves were getting to be fun again.  S had been complaining that the calm waters were getting boring.  Of course, he's the guy who saw the snow storm last week, and the white caps in ocean caused by the 90 km/h winds....and decided to jump right into those waves with his kayak.  People in town were filming him and B, the crazy dudes going kayaking in the middle of the storm where sleet was blowing sideways.

The waves were nowhere near crazy this time around, but they were big and powerful, and I had to concentrate on watching them come in to meet my kayak. Honestly, it's fun.  When the stormy waves drop you down, it's the exact same sensation as riding a roller coaster, and trying to keep the kayak in balance gives you a better core workout than any Pilates ball ever will. I love riding the waves.

Eventually we made it back to our home base, having returned with no Arctic pirate booty. My biceps were starting to look pretty good, though.

As we pulled into shore, I began to regain feeling in my hands, which is also an incredibly painful process.  I knew it in my heart.  This was going to be my last kayaking excursion of the year.  Things would only get colder from now on, and the adrenaline rush from riding stormy waves was no longer going to outweigh the pain of rigid temperatures. At least we had been treated to a beautiful sunset.

Oddly enough, after battling the choppy waves of the Arctic Ocean in sub-zero temperatures and losing all feeling in my hands due to the cold, when I got home I found that I was craving ice cream.

Monday, August 26, 2013

the first snowstorm of August

Well, it did snow on Friday. I had been hoping to wake up to a winter wonderland so that a snow day would be declared, but the snow didn't start until I was actually at work.


But then, it just didn't stop. By the evening, the winds picked up to 90 km/h, and the snow began blowing sideways. Soon the view became a sheet of white. We closed our curtains and stayed inside.

The next morning, this was the view of August from my window. 

so much for going on a hike

wiping snow from the windshield

The winds created all sorts of havoc around town, including garbage cans, sidings off houses, and the boats in the harbour.


 my indoor house plants are doing fine though!

Can you imagine the Polar Bear Dip occurred only a few weeks ago? And that I was on beach on the hottest day of the beach? The seasons change quickly here in the North.

Friday, August 23, 2013

the new fox in town

"What's that little thing running at us?"
"It's a fox!"
"Quit moving; I'm trying to take a photo."
"He's just moving too fast!"

Later on, an alert came up on the Cambridge Bay News Facebook group:

Then this alert was sent out to Government of Nunavut employees:

Several people? Yeesh.

In other news, it's supposed to snow on Friday.

(Source: CBC)

Hopefully we won't get hit by snow as bad as Gjoa Haven last week:

 August in Gjoa Haven
(Source: Twitter)

Also, speaking of Gjoa Haven, yes, it's expensive to eat in Nunavut:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

reading material

now that we are actually experiencing night time darkness again, I sighted my first moon since May last night. One of the lights in this photo is a street light. The other one is the moon...or a UFO.

Sometimes people ask me what it's like working as a lawyer in Nunavut. There have been a couple of interesting reads lately that do a great job of describing the experience.

There's this article by a colleague in Rankin Inlet about practicing family law in Nunavut in the Common Room, the publication of the Women Lawyers' Forum: .

There's also this feature in National Magazine about the state of access to justice in Nunavut, also featuring my colleagues:

Both offer great insights about how different it is from practicing down south.

A snowy owl, hanging out at the golf course.

Also, on a somewhat unrelated note, I wrote an article that was published recently in Touchstones, the publication of the Equality Committee of the Canadian Bar Association.  It looks at the history of Korean lawyers in Canada and the Korean-Canadian legal community that has developed since. You can read it here:

Of course, one of the great things about working reasonable hours here in Nunavut is that we get to have a lot of fun after work too. And there's definitely a lot of things to do.

like have a pool party! An indoor one, of course. At the local pool. Which is 3 feet deep.

taking long hikes through the local golf course

brunch: fruit salad, featuring mango and dragonfruit (yes, you can get all those here!)

sushi party!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tourists (and Tagaq)

Nothing happens in a small town that goes unnoticed.  One night, four Sea-doos with bright headlights pulled into the harbour of the bay, accompanied by a larger motor boat.  We all watched from our living room windows and discussed who they could be, and what they were doing.

I heard several stories stories:

1. Someone had found a human skull and now the police were bringing it back to investigate.

2. Whalers.

3. Invaders. (Space invaders?)

4. They were adventurers going through the Northwest Passage by sea-doos, traveling from Inuvik to Greenland then Iceland and then on to London, England.

5. They are Americans filming a show called Dangerous Waters, having arrived here from their last stop in Kugluktuk.

The correct answer for these particular arrivals were #5. As a side note, Dangerous Waters, pshaw.  I go kayaking in these waters all the time, and I don't use a motorized vehicle to travel.  If they think this is dangerous, wait till they come across that swimming grizzly bear no one's caught yet. Personally, I liked the human head story better.

Elements of most of these guesses end up being true to some extent or another though. The Coast Guard was docked in the Bay, perhaps investigating the human skull. There was also a film crew in town who wanted to shoot a bar scene - I guess they were stuck with the Elks, which is the closest thing to a bar. At a party, I met Swedish sailors were were sailing a sailboat through the Northwest Passage from Alaska to Greenland.  One of them looked like the exact replica of Mr. Clean, down to the bald head, white eyebrows and earring.  He claimed to be a sailor but I'm pretty sure they were pirates.

The truth is, it's tourist season and there are a lot of visitors in town. That's right, Cambridge Bay is a popular tourist destination. For those with adventurous spirits, bird-watching tendancies, or a passion for exploring typical Arctic communities, Ikaluktutiak is a pretty great spot. As a result, we're a popular stop for cruise ships making their way through the Arctic.

The local businessfolks go through a lot of work to make sure the cruise ship tourists have a good time when they stop here for the day.  The artists sell their craftwork and carvings at the Artisan Market, Inuit guides hire themselves out to take tourists out on the land and show them around, and the town even organizes Arctic games and sports that the tourists can watch.  I've played the tourist for so long that it's kind of neat to watch it all from the other side of things.  Watching the tourists wander down the streets in fascination, taking photos of random things like the ATVs, trucks, and me (does this mean I look like a local?).

This week the MV Bremen was in town, making their way through the Arctic Ocean from Germany. It was pretty amusing to watch the grey-haired Germans with matching coats walk around, asking where they could find the closest grocery store so they can snap photos here.  They were all wearing coats and snowpants that made me want to sweat just looking at them, because, you know, it's summer for us here right now.

The town put on for them a cultural show, showcasing artwork and Inuit fashions.  I stepped out of work to catch some of it.
traditional hunting outfit for the fashion show


Inuit throat singers

The German tourists looked a little nervous at the bannock that the volunteers were passing around as free samples.  Little did they know that these free samples weren't anything terribly exotic like raw beluga, but just fried dough...originally brought to the Inuit from Europe.

a video of traditional Inuit throat singing!

I love this middle piece by Tanya Tagaq

My favourite portion of the evening was the headlining performance of Tagaq, which came as a big surprise for me.  Tanya Tagaq Gillis is a well-known musician that has recorded and performed with Bjork, one of my favourite musicians.  She's also on the theme song for the CBC TV show Arctic Air.  I knew she's from Cambridge Bay originally, but it just seemed surprising and unusual that she was here now, in her hometown, performing in front of a bunch of mostly elderly German tourists.

As Tanya explained to her audience, her music is not traditional, but is all about being Inuit now, in the present day.  Her music therefore contains elements of throat singing, but it's also different, evolved in the way that music does develop over time. I have really enjoyed her music for a while now, but this performance really took me by surprise.

Tanya performed with a violinist who had his instrument electrified through an amplifier. The result was a haunting avant-garde performance with an electroacoustic style,  Tanya's vocals providing both a fluid rhythm and context that rippled against the violin, which was at times a counter-melody and at other times ambience. I loved it. I didn't know if everyone else appreciated it as much as I did, but I was enthralled.

you gotta hear it for yourself

It reminded me of this one time in high school where all the arts departments held an art night, displaying paintings. performing plays, and playing music.  My musical partner and I performed an installation in the lobby.   Our performance consisted of my playing repeating riffs on a piano while my musical partner provided ambient sounds on an ARP, a really amazing vintage 1970s analog synthesizer that my school had kicking around for some reason. We took ourselves to be pretty avant-garde because we were listening to a lot of Steve Reich at the time.  I guess the janitor didn't really care for it through, because he started vacuuming in the middle of our performance.  He didn't realize that this was an exhibit; he thought we were just goofing around. Oh well, sometimes a true artist is just not fully appreciated at home.