Friday, August 9, 2013

vandals & muskoxen: the absurd & the beautiful in the North

The kids went on a spree this weekend. They broke into the storehouses of the Nunavut Impact Review Board and threw paper all down the street, spray painting "F U RCMP HA HA".  They broke into the group home and vandalized the building.  They stole gas from some of the cabins to fill up their own ATV. They spray-painted WEED DOPE on a pickup truck down the street, stole a bicycles off a front porch, and slashed all four tires of the truck belonging to one of the local businesses.  It's summer,  school's out, the sun hasn't set in six weeks, and they are full of energy with not enough to keep them busy.

These are unfortunately the realities you have to deal with when you live in the communities sometimes.  Living in the North seems to require, often, the ability to accept the surreal as real and the absurdities as part of normal life.  This goes for good things as well as bad.  I often encounter the most unexpected scenes of incredible beauty, leaving me to wonder if I'm really here, up in the Arctic, experiencing this. IS THIS REAL LIFE.

Take for example the things we saw this weekend. J and I went exploring this weekend, hiking to the Old Town Site and then going for a drive with B down Gravel Pit Road.

The trail to the Old Town site takes us through the Sewage Treatment Wetland Discharge, which sounds to me like treated sewage being discharged into the wetlands. 

 First we came across this Jeep that had been burned to a crisp.  I have no idea what the story is behind this, but it was pretty cool to see.

Then we passed by the old stone church, a beautiful old building that was constructed in the 1950s with frost shattered stones and seal oil. Then some kids burned it down.

Then we got to see the LORAN Tower up close.  It's the tallest structure in Cambridge Bay, and one of the tallest structures in Nunavut.  It was built, apparently, to act as a beacon for flights in long range navigation, but then they built  better beacon system and the Tower became obsolete almost before its construction was finished.  But it's still electrified, so clearly they're using it for something. We just don't know what.  Either way, as the tallest structure, it sort of serves as a guide for figuring out where you are when you are out on the land.  Kind of like a really huge inukshuk.

Then there was the Eagle, the ship that the former priest had bought a while ago, but then he got relocated to another community, and he just left the ship here.  Do you see a repeating theme?

Also, my friend the dead whale was still lying on shore nearby. Somebody had hunted the whale, carved out the good bits and left the body here.

Off in the distance, we could see the Martin Bergmann, which is supposed to be trying to locate the lost Franklin shipwrecks.   Pssst, guys...this isn't it....

Afterwards, B took us for a nice drive down Gravel Pit Road to visit the Japanese memorials set up to remember the Japanese students who had disappeared here while exploring the island.

Unfortunately, some kids had destroyed one of the memorials.

broken plaque

Despite the vandalism, it really was beautiful out there on the road past the gravel pit, on the way to Long Point Beach. They say this this is the land where the Little People live, sort of the Inuit equivalent of elves or dwarves according to their legends, who have magical powers and generally hide out of human sight when they live on the land. People like to stay out of sight out on the land here too; they build their cabins to be alone so they can fish in peace, out in the wilderness.

part of Gravel Pit, which is, as you may imagine, a big gravel pit

Augustine Hills - not very huge mountains, but distinctly visible in the flat rolling tundra

solitary cabin in the middle of nowhere

The Arctic ocean was also looking breathtaking. This part of the island has sandy beaches; the water is such a beautiful hue of blue, you'd think it was the Caribbean and you could jump in for a swim.

This, as you can see, was more of the "beauty" part of the Arctic, and less of the "absurd".

Time for a beach party!

I also saw a snowy owl who stood absolutely still until he noticed me. Then he flew away.

Sung like the CSI theme: "Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?"

"What's he doing out here during the day?" I asked. "I thought owls are nocturnal."
"Gloria, days last six weeks here. We haven't seen night since May."

We got word from a friend that some muskoxen had been spotted behind the Distant Early Warning station, so we decided to go for a drive in that direction.

I am pretty sure this is an alien beacon set to communicate with alien spaceships

Unlike pretty much everything else in the world that involves the United States and military operations, you can just drive up to the DEW Line station, and drive right through the compound.  In fact, if you want to take the road to Ferguson Lake, you have to drive through the compound.  They say that part of the compound is technically American soil; this would make this part of Cambridge Bay the world's easiest American-Canadian border crossing.

On the way there, we passed a completely random asbestos burial site in the middle of nowhere.  I swear, that's what the sign said: Asbestos Burial Site.

"What am I looking for?" I asked, as I surveyed the landscape. "What would a muskox look like?"
"Look for big hairy rocks," B answered.  "Oh, look.  Like that."

And there they were suddenly, the first muskoxen I've ever seen.

Live ones, anyway. I've seen and eaten plenty of the other kind.  This year the muskox hunt was cancelled because the numbers were low, so this pair of muskoxen weren't in any danger of being hunted today.  We could sit back and enjoy watching them graze.

"Mmm, muskox burgers," she dreams

It felt like a privilege to be able to see the muskox.  They aren't found in many parts of the world; in fact, they don't have any muskox on Baffin Island, so people from Iqaluit who visit the Kitikmeot region want to see them.  They're ice age animals that are apparently more closely related to sheep or goats than oxen. But they'll charge at you like a bull if you intimidate them; so we gave them their space.

where you can find muskox in the world (from Wikipedia)

Anyway, having a chance to see a muskox made a really nice end to an adventurous day.  We'd seen a lot of things during our trek out on the land, a lot of things that were hard to believe or understand; some things that were sad, and some things that were beautiful. In the end, it's the beautiful sights like a pair of musk oxen, quietly grazing, that make it all worth it for me. 

that, and sandy ocean beaches and good company

Big ups to the Muslim folks in town who observed Ramadan! Not an easy thing in a land like Nunavut  where the sun doesn't set at all...for weeks...