Friday, November 29, 2013

the last sunrise / the last sunset

The sun in this photo is both rising and setting in this photo. For the last few weeks, the sun has been barely rising, just peaking its face over the horizon to say hi before shooting down again.  "High noon" here in the high Arctic actually means beautiful sunrises and sunsets at lunch time.

Today is the last sunrise and sunset of the year. The sun rises at 11:23AM and sets at 12:14PM. After this, the sky will still get light, like it does at dusk, but the sun will not actually rise above the horizon again until January 12, next year.

By now I've forgotten what it's like to wake up to daylight. It's actually been almost a year now that I've been waking up in darkness. During the summer we sleep with the curtains shut because the sun is up all the time, so now we've just gotten used to rising in darkness.

My friend sent me a link on how to prevent the winter blues by being your own light. Some of it is excellent advice, like wearing warm sweaters and eating healthy vegetables.  Some of it is not applicable to the North, like going into the woods (no trees), lighting a campfire (no wood), watching the sunrise (no sunrise).  It is important though to take steps to combat the winter blues.  I've felt it; even though we have a SAD lamp, my body knows it's artificial sun and my body misses the days (okay, that one day) when we sat on the beach feeling the summer sun.  I feel tired. My body craves sugar, carbs, and all sorts of stuff to equip me with a warm layer of fat for the cold winter. I've started taking vitamin D supplements.

Luckily, winter also means we get to enjoy the beautiful night sky, which I really miss during the summer.  All last week, you could see the full moon in the sky, all day long. At night (and by night, I mean 3PM) you can see the Big Dipper, Orion's Belt, Pleiades, and even Jupiter near the moon.  And we're often greeted by the beautiful Northern lights, a sight that I will never grow tired of.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

the daycare auction

I tried to buy a wolf on Saturday night.

It was one of the coolest things on sale at the auction.  The Daycare Auction is one of the biggest events of the year in Cambridge Bay. It's one of the few nights where the men bust out their collared dress shirts and ties, girls hobble in on the high heels (after changing out of their snow mukluks), and I carry my fancy Coach handbag instead of the usual man-purse that I stole from my dad.  

fancy men in fancy dress

dapper dudes in dapper ties

The evening features dinner, dancing, and of course auctions for various crafts and items on sale, all as part of a fundraiser for the local daycare.

This year's theme was James Bond, and the organizers did a great job of decorating the community hall for the event.  My favourite decoration was the posters of the daycare kids on the wall.  They kind of looked like mugshots, but the kids were just too cute.

There were a lot of great items for sale at the auction. Items were donated by local businesses, artists, craftsmen, and carvers.

carving and framed picture

Breathtaking painting by local painter Miguel Chenier

"Don't you dare outbid me!"

One of the things we wanted to buy the most was the polar bear parka. Yes, the warmest looking parka that you've ever seen, made out of polar bear fur. I don't know why we didn't end up going home with it.  It ended up selling for around $700, which is actually a good deal for polar bear fur.


Of course, the item that everybody coveted the most was the wolf.

The taxidermist had done an excellent job with this Arctic wolf.  Doesn't it look like it's about to jump up at you?  I wanted to buy it so bad.  Unfortunately, so did everyone else in the room. It was one of the most intense parts of the auction that night.  People bid all the way up until it was sold for over $2400.  

I hope the guy who ended up buying it is now dancing around his living room wearing the wolf on his head like a cape, as was my original plan.


So, I didn't end up buying a wolf.  We didn't end up buying anything, because the bids on all the items went up quite high, fortunately for the daycare. But we had our fill of yummy dinner, catered by the culinary arts students at the local Nunavut Arctic College, and then we danced our hearts out.  Which is all I can ask for in a night out.  Well, a wolf would have been nice too.

Monday, November 25, 2013

school dance chaperone

A bunch of the grownups in town decided to throw a school dance for the kids of Cambridge Bay.  Dances are held pretty regularly here, because they are a great way to give the kids something to do in a safe supervised environment on a Friday night that will keep them from running into trouble on the streets. But this weekend, the social workers, the cops, the folks from the Justice department and the teachers all decided to get together and throw a big special bash for the kids, with a real deejay, music video projections, a light show and a smoke machine. That's how I found myself volunteering as a school dance chaperone on a Friday night.

Sometimes it surprises me to remember that I'm one of the "grownups".  I bought this sweater recently while my husband protested that it was not age appropriate. "What are you talking about?" I said. "I can totally pull this sweater off." Then I saw about four other ten-year-old girls also rocking my sweater at the dance.

It doesn't seem like that long ago, the last time I was a teenager at a high school dance. We'd grumble about the deejay not playing our favourite song, we'd hide from the teachers who wanted to know if our breaths smelled like alcohol, we'd gossip in the bathroom about what girl we saw dancing with which boy. How could that possibly be over a decade ago? And now I was here as one of the grownups, making sure nobody was making out in the dark corners, no one was sneaking in with a flask.

This dance was not like the teen dances of my days, however.  For one thing, it wasn't just teenagers attending the dance. It seems like all the kids of all ages had turned out: ten-year-old girls wearing my sweater, five-year-old sisters leading their three-year-old brothers by the hand, preteens packing babies on their backs, and of course teenage boys in baseball caps and hoodies, always looking cool.

Also, there was the circles. My friends had told me about the circles. "They just walk around in circles for hours," my friend told me. I had not understood what she meant, but I could see it now.  If at my high school the default stance was to stand against the wall like a shy wallflower, here the default move was to walk around in a giant circle. Like mall walkers. Like skaters at a skating rink. I have no idea why they were doing it. It was good though; at least you're getting more exercise walking around in a big circle than standing awkwardly against a wall.

This wasn't a typical dance for the kids either. My understanding is that usually the music is played off someone's iPod. This time, my friend B was deejaying the event, with actual deejay equipments.  The kids gathered around the stage where he worked, star struck, all calling out his name with his requests. 

DJ B, looking so cool. "Play Freebird!"

They were amazed by the lights. B had set up light displays that shot sparkles of coloured light all over the gym.  The toddlers stood in front of the lights, holding out their hands and giggling when they saw the specks of light on their arms, their bodies, their faces.

The kids were also fascinated by the smoke machine. It fascinated them because, you know, they're kids, and let's be fair, smoke machines are fascinating to me as a grownup too. But some of them had never seen one before, and a few kids ran up to me alarmed.

"You must put out the fire!" they told me, frightened, "or else the smoke alarm will go off and we will all have to go outside without our jackets!"

I tried to explain to them that it was not real smoke, and they were amazed. They all gathered around the smoke machine on the stage, and soon they forgot all about the cool deejay, the music videos being projected on the gym wall, the light show.  All they wanted was to be standing right in front of the smoke machine when it shot out smoke.  

Soon, before anyone had time to react, there was a mosh pit breaking out in front of the smoke machine.  Every kid wanted to have smoke shot into their face.  The bigger kids began shoving the smaller kids out of the way, and soon enough, a small child was running away to cry quietly in the bathroom. Time to implement some crowd control.

I was assigned bouncer duty, guarding the deejay so that the kids wouldn't rush the stage in their enthusiasm for him. I soon found myself surrounded by a posse of young girls who, for some reason, thought I was really cool.  This was beyond my understanding. When I was kid, I never thought any grownup was cool and worth talking to at all. I sort of still think this.  Maybe they recognized that my sweater was really cool.

buncha shorties 
(photo by Kerri)

"Can you ask the deejay to play my song?" one girl asked me shyly.
"What song?" I said.
"Smoke Weed Every Day, by Snoop Dogg," she replied.
Um, no.

Instead, the deejay put on "What Does the Fox Say" by Ylvis, along with the music video.

"Are you guys watching this?" I demanded. "Are you seeing this? What is going on? Why is that guy dressed like a fox? Why would the fox say that? THIS IS SO WEIRD."   (I have been a little out of touch with pop culture, as I also was as a teen, wishing the deejay would play Sigur Ros instead of Britney Spears.)

But the kids were not as mesmerized as I was.  Kids are so jaded these days.

Instead, a few girls asked me to be their mommy, which instantly caused my uterus to hide in fear.  My teacher friend tells me not to get too full of myself though; they say that to a lot of people.

It was a fun night. The chaperones enjoyed themselves, and the kids seemed to have a blast too.  This is how kids should be spending their Friday nights. Not wandering the streets in the middle of a blizzard, or getting arrested at an age where they should be passing notes to the pretty girl in class that say "Do U Like Me? O Yes O No O Maybe."

As we began to clean up the gym, the kids begged us to put on another dance like this again soon. Maybe next time play more Snoop Dogg next time.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

my Arctic vegetable garden

It's -45°C outside with the windchill. We're getting about four hours of daylight, and the ocean is freezing over. What am I doing on this fine winter evening?  Tending to my vegetable garden.

It's an indoor vegetable garden, obviously, and it requires the use of our SAD lamp. We originally got the SAD lamp for us, in case we miss the sun during the winter, but it's actually been making our plants very happy. And when our plants are happy, we are happy.

So far, we've managed to grow or at least not kill tomato plants, cucumber plants, pepper plants, and green onions.  We had a morning glory plant at some point, but it died and I did not really care because you can't eat morning glories.

green onions, one week old
The green onions were the most impressive plants that we've grown so far. We planted the bulbs in soil, and a week later, they were fully grown and ready to harvest. We basically will never have to buy green onions again.

This is pretty cool, if you think about how hard it is to get fresh produce up here in the Arctic. Vegetables are already more expensive at the grocery stores here, and if you're looking for fresh, local and organic, you're out of luck...unless you set up an indoor vegetable garden.  We're now trying to do the same thing with bok choy, celery, and fennel.  Since the climate is very dry here in the winter, we have to water them pretty often.

Now, if we can find a way to grow our own Kraft Dinner and ramen noodles in our potting soil, we'll be set!

wind blowing in from the open Arctic tundra. The DEW line station is completely out of sight.

Monday, November 18, 2013

tow truck blues

On Saturday morning, the residents of Cambridge Bay woke up with the realization that they should have plugged their truck in last night.  At -45°C with the windchill and with the 60 km/h winds, it was too cold for the engines to start. All right, who's got the jumper cables?

Of course the bad weather would fall on a weekend, when there was no work to be cancelled. I've been doing a blizzard dance for weeks now, for the hopes that we'd get the day off work.  It would figure that the intense winter weather would finally hit on a Saturday, continue on to Sunday, and then clear up by Monday.

The winds were strong, blowing the snow in from the tundra, which made for poor visibility, less than a kilometre at times. All of the flights were cancelled at the local airport.  Luckily, the residents of Cambridge Bay know how to survive through these things.  Time to bust out the real snow pants. We limited our use of water, because who knew when the next time it would be that the water and sewage trucks would be able to make it through?

Giant raven on a garbage can

We got a call from our friend telling us that he got his truck stuck in a snow drift that had blown across the road.  Could we help him out? Sorry, we don't have a chain.  My husband hung up. "Boy, it would really suck to drove your car into a snow drift."

And then my husband drove his car into a snow drift.

(Photos by Christine Aye)
First, he called the hamlet.  The hamlet sent a guy.  "Do you guys have a chain?" the guy asked.
"No," replied my husband. "Are you saying you don't have a chain?"
"I don't have a chain."
So Rob called everyone we knew for a chain.
"Do you have a chain?"
"I don't have a chain."
Eventually, the RCMP came by and saved the day.

ploughing the snow around the truck

Meanwhile, I was at home wishing I could take a bath.  On the bright side, I had an excuse not to do the dishes.

my friend B, disappearing into the landscape

Thursday, November 14, 2013

ladies' weekend in yellowknife

For residents of Cambridge Bay, Yellowknife is often just a layover, a place that you stop between flight transfers.  Sometimes, you'll spend the night there, probably at the Super 8, and what few hours you get, you'll spend it at the Wal-Mart or Canadian Tire so you can bring supplies back up North.

This weekend, we decided to spend the weekend in Yellowknife, with the northern city itself as our travel destination. We still did a lot of shopping, especially for supplies to bring back home, but it was nice to indulge a little on "big city life".  You wouldn't normally call a city of 20,000 or so a "big city", but for many of the residents of the northern communities that pass through Yellowknife, it is a big city. It's the place to stock up on supplies, enjoy a little city life, and run into other people also on their way to their destination, including people from Cambridge Bay. Despite being in "the big city", we ran into fellow Cam Bay residents every day.

Because Yellowknife is south of Cambridge Bay, I assumed it was warmer and didn't bring down my Canada Goose.  It was, in that Yellowknife was -20°C rather than -50°C, but it was still cold.

smiling, pretending not to freeze

It's only when I leave home that I realize all the little things that I have missed. Trees. Cocktails at restaurants.  Highways that keep going. Industrial parks with large box stores. Ethnic food aisles at the grocery store. Traffic lights. Traffic. (I may have dodged a car or two due to the fact that I haven't crossed a busy road in a while).

Cocktails at the Trapline Lounge - we loved this one drink featuring sprigs of rosemary. Rosemary! Real rosemary!
Alberta braised beef ravioli at the Trapline Lounge

Another unfamiliar big city feature: Strangers.

My friend was in the middle of a heartfelt personal tale when a random dude plunked himself down at our table at the Black Knight.

"I've got to tell you something," he said urgently.
 We turned to him and waited, expectantly.
"....." he said.
We waited.
"....." he tried again.
We kept waiting.

Eventually he realized he was not in the best condition to be telling things to anyone but the mirror, and so he moved on, muddled.

Twist Burger Bar (you can find more photos of our performance here)

Mojitos. Also, Christine staring longingly at the mojitos.

Another big city feature: coffee shops. I love sitting in a coffee shop and just chilling.

And the eating. Oh, the eating.

Sushi North came as one of the best surprises of the weekend. This place is actually run by Japanese people, recruited directly from Japan. As many Ontarians know, most of the sushi places in cities like Toronto and Ottawa are not run by their Japanese creators, but rather Chinese and Korean owners.  The cafeteria-style joint offers nothing but sushi, delicious delicious sushi.


Love this wall art at the sushi place, featuring fish (duh, what else?)

Arctic char rolls - my favourite type of fusion (Arctic-Asian)
miso, inari, & yam rolls
salmon & avocado

We may or may not have eaten way too much here.  Heck, we ate way too much all weekend.

Pho at the local Vietnamese restaurant. Everyone know I love pho.

And then, of course, the shopping. Lots of shopping. All day shopping.

 Yup, lots of shopping

My mother tells me that when I was two years old, they took me to Toys R Us for the first time. When I stood in the middle of the aisle and saw toys everywhere, as far as my two-year-old eyes could see, I was apparently overwhelmed at this strange and wonderful sight....and promptly peed on the floor of the store.

When I walk into the stores in Yellowknife, that sensation comes back to me, just a little.  (My pants generally stay dry though.)

The Gallery of the Midnight Sun is a great place to buy crafts and artwork by northern artists

And to take pictures with bears.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Gallery of the Midnight Sun. I think there are more works by Nunavummiat artists here than there are in Nunavut.  Also, they featured a Christmas section.

Love this Inuit nativity scene

It was a lovely and refreshing trip. I love Cambridge Bay, but sometimes it's nice to stretch your legs out and go to a different place for the weekend.  After months of staying in the same four-kilometre radius that is Cambridge Bay, you start feeling a little bit like a fish in a goldfish bowl, swimming in circles like a Pink Floyd song. But it's always nice to return back home at the end of the weekend.

Old mines outside Yellowknife. And trees!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cambridge Bay Jam Session

Checked out a local jam session that was going on in town last week. There's a lot of talented musicians here. And of all ages!

It was one of those laid back jam sessions where you just show up with your instrument, pull up a chair, figure out what key everyone is playing in, and join in.

It was the most fun I've had in a long time. While kids ran around, the women danced, and everyone sang. We sang traditional songs, hymns, Christmas carols, and even the ABCs.

In other news, the northern magazine Arctic & Beyond recently published my story "The Mercy of the Loon". You can read it here (flip to page 46).