Wednesday, April 10, 2013

dispatches from a border planet

"Don't you ever miss the city?" my friends ask me sometimes.

Sometimes I do wake up, craving the city. I want to wander into a crowded coffee shop that's playing music by CBC Radio 3's latest darling, sit at a a small table, order a hot latte and nibble away at an organic date square, watch everybody ignores me because they're going about doing their own thing in a hurry.  We don't do things like that here. There are no coffee shops in Cambridge Bay.

We've been watching the TV show Firefly lately, and I've been finding myself relating somewhat to the border planets on the edges of the star system. Cambridge Bay really is far away from the centre of the universe that is Ontario. It takes two days' travel and at least fifteen hundred dollars to travel to the closest city "down south". Instead, we live our own world up here. Also, like in the moons of the show Firefly, there is sort of a sense of time dissonance here. I mean, I know it's 2013, but I also feel like I've been transported back to a familiar time before iPhones, where people still use the yellow pages and didn't have to dial the area code to phone locally, where you get all your local news from the bulletin board at the grocery store, and the postman knows your name. 

photo taken on one of my runs: kind of looks like an alien planet sometimes

I've been picking up hardcore survival skills, living here in the Arctic, like chopping my own carrots to make *homemade* carrot sticks, and actually using the stems of broccoli instead of throwing it out. This one time, we melted snow to make water. We’re like McGyver, guys.

But sometimes we spoil ourselves. My coworkers often offer me a ride wherever I’m going, whether it’s home, the gym, or the grocery store. I always give them a confused look, because the distance I’d be walking is like the equivalent of, say, from the Parliament Buildings to the World Exchange Plaza, or maybe Dundas-Yonge Square to the Eaton Centre. As someone who still has the brain of a student who will walk three kilometres rather than shell out the bus fare, it’s just confusing as to why I’d want a ride to the post office two hundred metres away. But then I’m reminded that we’re in the Arctic, and it’s minus forty without the windchill. And there is definitely a windchill.

me atop a snow bank

I've begun to really learn to love the little quirks of Cambridge Bay. For example, there's a sign in the fitness room that says "COUNCIL IN SESSION PLEASE BE QUIET" and I really have no idea why. Also, once in a while, I see notices like this on the grocery store bulletin boards:

There’s an alarm that goes off in town at noon and ten at night every day. It’s kind of like the church bells, letting the townspeople know that it’s time for lunch or time for bed, but instead of playing pretty melodies, the alarm is a loud air raid siren that is, well, kind of alarming. YOU GUYS. YOU GUYS. IT’S TEN O’CLOCK AND TIME FOR BED. YOU GUYS. I asked why we’ve chosen this particular sound, and it turns out its left over from the days of the Cold War and everyone was worried about the Russians coming. There’s a Distant Early Warning station (DEW line) that’s still functioning, right outside of town. [NOTE: it’s not that they were worried that the Russians would bomb Cambridge Bay. It’s more like, if the Russians sent a missile to Ottawa (cus we were totally a world power and stuff), we’d see it’d pass by us on the way and we could give those folks down South a call to let them know] So that makes sense. Except that I hope that if the Russians ever invade, it’s not at noon, because when the alarm goes off, we’ll all just think that it’s time to take a lunch break.

 Also, whenever it is time for lunch, I’ve got this instinct to duck and cover.

snow inukshuks made by children, DEW line station in the background

I admit that I do miss the conveniences of city life sometimes. I need to buy new hiking shoes, for example, and because of my oddly sized feet, I really need to go into a store to buy them, rather than ordering them online. Having a Mountain Equipment Co-op nearby would really be handy.  I miss browsing designer boutiques for cute new dresses I can't afford, and I miss watching movies in theatres.

On the other hand, sometimes I have beautiful moments that make me feel so thankful that I am here.  Yesterday, I went for a run along the ice road that stretches into the Beaufort Sea. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a big beautiful Alaskan malamute dog came running and joined me, sprinting alongside me for the rest of my route. I've talked before about how beautiful the dogs of the north are. Have you ever done the Basic Run in the WiiFit, where the dog leads you on your virtual run? It was like that, except in real life, on an ice road, with a sled dog. I felt like a princess in a Disney movie.

dancing on the ice road