Wednesday, July 30, 2014

the northernmost pool party in the world

On Saturday night, we threw the northernmost pool party in the world. Probably.  Unless someone in Taloyoak happened to rent the pool for a private party that night, or unless the swimming pool in Igloolik has finally been repaired (it currently serves as an Arctic circus training ground.)

fruity drinks

summer jams for an Arctic summer pool party

Cambridge Bay's swimming pool is only about waist deep for a grownup, but it can be pretty fun anyway to splash around, play a little ultimate frisbee, and goof around with the underwater camera.

i love Arctic summers

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Story of North Cape Cod

Sometimes you only catch a fish when you aren't expecting to. Or while you're trying to catch a seal.

"Bye, honey, I'm going kayaking!" I said to my husband while he lay on the couch, playing computer games on his laptop.

"Are you going to fish from your kayak?" my husband asked, looking at the fishing rod I held in my hand.

"Nah," I said, "I figure we'll pull our kayaks up on some beach for a rest and I'll cast a few lines there."

"Are you going to bring your tackle?" he asked me.

"I won't need anything," I said, "We won't catch anything. I never do."

"Well, there's a first time for everything," my husband said, as it turned out, ominously.

I met up with my friends on the shore and we set out on the Arctic ocean in our kayaks and canoe. There was no wind that night, so the water was still; you could see all the way to the bottom in some parts, and our kayaks held the illusion of sliding over glass. I marvelled at how smooth the waters were, at how they came alive and pulsed in response to the motor boats that passed occasionally again, and then became still once more.

Now that the ocean ice had all melted away in the bay, we were able to bring our kayaks out farther towards West Arm. We stopped at one of my favourite beach spots. I used to call it Lonely Beach, but have been thinking lately that I should start giving these beaches better names. But what? Garbage Beach? Shale Beach? I waited for an idea to come.

I cast my reel into the water and waited for something to bite. I was testing out a new theory. I had heard that someone in town had caught some char in West Arm, although I didn't know why the fish would be hanging around a dead end.  I thought maybe this new beach might be a good fishing spot, because while the immediate shoreline allowed for you to wade in the water knee deep, there was a sudden drop off in the ocean floor where it suddenly fell away some two hundred metres.  The idea of accidentally slipping off that ocean ledge terrified me, but I thought maybe that would be a good place for fish to hang out, on their way to going to West Arm, for whatever reason they'd be going there.

I cast my line a couple of times but had no luck.  One time I dislodged a rock with my hook. Another time I pulled out some seaweed. I guess that was food - Koreans love mi yuk gook - but not exactly the dinner catch I had been hoping for these past days.  I put down my rod and gave up.

Instead, I started paying attention to some action that was happening some hundred feet away in the water.  There was something moving around in the water and breaching the surface occasionally, but I couldn't see what it was.

"Is it a whale/" I said.

"Maybe a seal?" B suggested.

"I want to catch it!" my friend Christine said, and grabbed my fishing rod.

I was starting to explain to her that we probably can't catch a seal with a fishing rod - that it would probably pull her into the water over the dreaded ledge - and that on the other hand, there was plenty of driftwood lying around that we could possibly use as a club...but then the line started to tug and Christine started to shriek.


In her excitement, Christine threw the rod down on the shore and started dancing. "I caught a fish! I caught a fish!"

B was pretty quick thinking and swooped down to grab the fish and detach it from the hook before it could swim back into the ocean, while Christine danced.  He offered the cod to Christine but she declined, as it was still squirming around.

"I don't want to touch it," she protested. "I caught a fish! I caught a fish!"

still too grossed out to actually hold it

Then we were faced with the fact that we weren't actually equipped to bring a fish home.   I had assumed that we weren't going to catch anything, remember?   I had....a life jacket.  I had...a wet bag. I had....the inside of my kayak, but there was no way we were going to be kayaking home with a flopping around under my skirt between my legs.

Eventually we remembered the storage compartment in our kayak and kept it there.  But in Christine's kayak, because, as I pointed out, "She caught it! It's her problem."

We had a relaxing paddling trip back to the main shore, where I quietly reflected on the darkening clouds in the sky and hoped that the fish that lay inside the kayak was, indeed, dead.  Off in the distance, some kids fishing off the dock by the Martin Bergmann also caught a cod fish, but it was much smaller than Christine's.

Once we returned to our base on the shore, we were faced with the dilemma of how we were going to bring the fish home.

"I have a plastic bag in the sea can," I suggested helpfully, not mentioning the part that it currently held my underwear.

But when I checked the sea can, I realized that I had not brought the plastic bag, which means I also had not brought any spare underwear. Man, was I ever unprepared for this trip.

We tried putting it in a box that used to hold cans of soda pop, but it got soggy quickly.

Eventually we "borrowed" a plastic box that belonged to one of the teachers that were away for the summer.  It worked well and Christine was able to bring her cod fish home, the very first fish she had ever caught. Also, I finally came up with a good name for the beach we had found: North Cape Cod.

trying to add it to Google Maps...

an expert teaches us how to filet a char using a traditional ulu knife

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

midnight fishing

One of the things I love about Arctic summers is that everyone has so much energy with the permanent daylight. So when you've finished eating a nice roast beef dinner and passed the evening playing board games with your friends, and it's nearing midnight and one of your friends says, "Hey, wanna go fishing now?", you say yes.  You don't say, No, it's almost midnight, and we have to work tomorrow, and we should go to bed. You say, Yes, let's go fishing.  We have all winter to sleep.

midnight "sunset" (the sun does not actually set) at the river

And then all your friends pile into someone's old truck and sing along to the oldies playing on truck's cassette tape player, pretending to do a duet with Patti Smith, waving at the folks on their ATVs as you pass them on the road out of town.  Because the night was belongs to lovers. Because the night belongs to us.

near Long Point, by the gravel pit

You decide on a fishing spot based on wild speculation, based on rumours that you heard around town.  I heard somone caught a bunch of char over in West Arm. In West Arm? Why would the fish go there, a dead end? I heard the fish like bad weather. I heard the fish like colder water, near the snow banks. How about that spot by the river where that kid almost drowned? There's a dead fish on the shore here, half fileted; this must be a good omen. You test these theories that are based on nothing but fantasies and you choose your spot and you cast your line.

You reel it in, find nothing, then you try again. And again.  Sometimes you move, having learned that your latest theory was bunk. You don't care.  You cast your line.

You develop the perfect soundtrack to listen to on your headphones while you fish. Oddly enough, I have found that songs about fishing do not necessarily make the perfect fishing music.  I like Jonsi and the xx.

West Arm

One of the problems with fishing off a shale beach is that every time your line snags on a rock (and, of course, the ocean floor is all rock), you have a brief moment of hope, false hope, that you've got something. You've got something! Everyone come here, you've got something! Oh wait, no. It's a rock.

Sometimes, it won't be a rock but a clump of mucus-y mud, or for me, my own tackle box.  I've still got to practice my aim. Being new to the hobby, I have been learning through all sorts of painful mistakes. What a broken reel looks likes, and, consequently, how expensive it is to buy new reels in Cambridge Bay. What happens if you don't keep a proper eye on your line...and how easy it is to get it tangled up like a kitten playing with yarn.  How to yank your hook free from a rock without breaking everything. How gross mucus-y mud is.

sexy bug net

But for me, it's not even about catching the fish. It's about casting the line and then reeling it back in. Over and over again. It's the same reason why I spent twenty years at the driving range before ever setting foot on a golf course. I don't care about the game or the goal. There's therapy in the repetitive action in itself.  It's an activity that allows you to be alone with your thoughts in a non-anxiety-inducing manner. It's an activity you can do with your friends, but with your friends faraway in their own fishing spots, left with their thoughts, being quiet together.  It doesn't matter to me when I don't catch a fish.

At least that's what you tell yourself. Of course, when the guy on the other side of the shore catches a fish, a real fish and not a rack or mucus-y mud, there's a little envy mixed in with that admiration. One day I'll catch my fish.  And then...I'm going to have to figure out how to filet it.

Hard to believe that it's July here, sometimes

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

swimming in the arctic ocean: Cambridge Bay's Polar Bear Dip 2014

Yesterday, Cambridge Bay held its annual Polar Bear Dip. This is a fundraiser to raise money to build a new multiplex recreation building, and it involves the bravest residents of the Nunavut community running into the freezing ocean, while the more sensible residents stay dry on shore barbecuing burgers.

I did it last year, and it was cold.  This year, it was still cold.

An ambulance with paramedics, waiting just in case...kind of scary

Last year, we had done it on one of the hottest days in August. And it was still really cold. This year, the weather was 7°C, and the Arctic ocean was 4°C. The ice had just melted last week. It was going to be interesting.

getting ready to go in the water

Polar Bear Dip 2014 participants, gathering their courage

Ready...get set...go!

and here's the video...

Right here, I am saying, "Why did we do this?"

The water was really cold, of course. It was fine when I was up to my ankles...probably because I was cheating, just a little, with my kayaking boots.  But once my legs and arms and torso went in, everything went tingly and intensely painful like a bunch of tiny needles pressing into my skin. I could tell you that my initial reaction was NOT "How lovely...let's stay in the water."  I wanted to get out. Immediately.

Earlier this month, my friends saved a young boy who was drowning in the water.  Having now gone for my first swim this year without a wetsuit, I have all more awe and appreciation for what they did.  Willing yourself to remain in that freezing cold water is almost impossible; I don't know how they managed to not only stay in that water, but rescue a drowning boy while the currents pushed them away and their clothes and boots weighed them down.

Luckily this time, the paramedics weren't needed at all and everyone came out of the water, screaming but laughing, a little proud of themselves for doing something a little crazy but fun.

Read the Nunatsiaq News' account of the story here

Friday, July 18, 2014

mount pelly

We drove out to Mount Pelly to climb up the mountainside under a grey cloudy sky threatening clouds.  Rain does not stop Gloria.

obligatory photo by inukshuk

these old bones

arctic flowers

Raven's nest on the park sign

swans on ice