Wednesday, January 30, 2013

life in cambridge bay

Remember the book BFG by Roald Dahl? He's a Big Friendly Giant who collects and distributes dreams to children.  He meets the Queen of England and the King of Sweden and the Sultan of Baghdad and convinces them to send a fleet of helicopters to the land of giants. The BFG leads them so far that the pilots begin to wonder where they are.  They open up an atlas and realize that he's led them to the blank pages of the atlas. You know, they leave those pages at the end of the atlas blank on purpose. As the pilot explains: "That's why they always put two blank pages at the back of the atlas. They're for new countries.You're meant to fill them in yourself."

This is what the Arctic looks like from an airplane

That's what the plane ride to Cambridge Bay felt like after a while.  Soon enough, we stopped seeing trees, buildings, roads, signs of anything but this huge sheet of white that I could barely distinguish from the clouds.  This blanket of white seemed to stretch on and on forever...until suddenly, you see an airstrip, a handful of streets and several dozens buildings, and you've finally reached Cambridge Bay, at the end of the blank pages of the atlas.

this is where Cambridge Bay is

It's not that far a stretch of imagination. Cambridge Bay, or Ikaluktutiak as is its traditional Inuinnaqtun name, is quite a remote community, if you look at its spot on the map. Most times of the year, it's accessible only by airplane; only for a short while when the Arctic ice melts just enough can boats come through.  Unlike Yellowknife, the nearest large city 800 kilometres away, there are no roads connecting the Cambridge Bay to other communities.

This is what happens when you walk outside for five minutes: Frosty Beard

This is where I'm going to be living for the next few years, working as a social justice lawyer in the most northernly situated law offices in North America.  It's definitely going to be different from all of the previous places I've lived before, especially considering the fact that this time last year I was living in the subsaharan environment of Windhoek, Namibia.  For one thing, I'm going to be going to work dressed like this:


You're looking at a (very much not cheap) Canada Goose Snow Mantra, the highest level that Canada Goose makes for maximum warmth in an Arctic environment. I'm also wearing Baffin boots that are made to withstand -100°C weather...although let's hope that I don't ever have to test that out. And no, you can't see my face with this coyote fur-lined hood, so I don't really have much peripheral vision when I'm walking to work. I guess I really am going to be that lawyer that wears long johns and snowpants to work

These days, Cambridge Bay has finally pulled out of its period of 24-hours of darkness, but for now daytime still remains a somewhat magical time that is perpetually sunrise or sunset. The sun rises around ten in the morning, lingers around the horizon, and then dips back down around half past two in the afternoon. This means the sky is always beautiful.  

The folks around town are friendly, always greeting us with a "Hi!" and "Cold out there, eh?" This question surprises me, because it's kind of always cold here. In the warmest months of the summer, the temperature gets to be about maybe 9°C above zero.  Remarking on the cold, though a very important Canadian tradition, doesn't strike me as being all that remarkable here.  Not that people here don't have anything to complain about: today, the temperature was about -50°C with the wind chill.

a view of the perpetual sunrise from my office window

sunset in Cambridge Bay