Circus of the Spineless (the sequel) is up and running at the excellent blog Snail's Tales. Sit down, relax, and order something off the menu. Actually order at least one of each, it will be worth having your lovely(?) server returning to your table again and again.
One of Arctic Bay's Elders, and one of my favourite people, died this evening here in Arctic Bay. Kautaq Joseph was a fantastic woman, born around 1930, with sparkling eyes and a ready smile, a truly beautiful woman. She had lived in Arctic Bay (the community) longer than anyone else, having moved here when she was about 3 years old. Her father had worked for the Hudson Bay Company. Growing up around the Hudson Bay post meant that she spoke English better than anyone else of her generation here. She was one of the first people to welcome me to Arctic Bay, and always had time for me. She also excelled at making my favourite country food, strips of seal cooked on a rock over a heather fire. Yum.
A short time after I arrived here I was given a book, written by a woman who spent a year here, with her husband at the meteorological station in 1945. In it Kautaq was mentioned, and there were pictures of her as a young woman. I took the book to her to show her, and she was familiar with it. It was written in a less enlightened time and had some unflattering things to say about Inuit. Kautaq said to me, "Some things in that book are true, some of it is not". And proceeded to tell me stories of her father and of other people in Arctic Bay connected in some way to the book ("Did you know that that man Jimmy is so and so's real father"). She knew of my interest in history and helped me understand the way things were. Leah and I had been talking recently that we need to interview her on video for posterity. I guess we shouldn't have just talked about it.
I worked with Kautaq as she was a member of the inumarit (The elders, who served as an adult justice committee here in town). By far the most progressive thinker, her opinion carried a lot of weight with me, and she was one of the few who wouldn't cotton to any violence against women in the community. She was also very active in the movement to fight the suicide epidemic that has such a hold on Nunavut. One of her daughters wrote children's books (from which I learned the word for snow), another grew up to be Nunavut's first Language Commissioner.
Unfortunately like so many people in Nunavut (young and old) she smoked, and a lifetime of smoking carries a heavy price. Lung disease has now robbed Arctic Bay, and indeed Nunavut, of one of it's greatest citizens. She will be sorrily missed, and not the least by me. Taima.
First photo by Patricia D'Souza (Nunatsiaq News). Second Photo courtesy Stewart Klebert (CCG)
Somewhere, not too far from the cozy warm house where I sit and write this, an Arctic Woolly Bear Caterpillar (Gynaephora groenlandica) sits frozen solid, in the spot where the dropping temperatures of an Arctic fall found it. It is one of the most cold tolerant species of insects known. It is also long lived. The caterpillar lives for fourteen years before becoming an adult. Fourteen years of freezing solid and thawing again, alive.
It is hard for most people to comprehend this fact, our minds won't let us accept (with the possible exception of Walt Disney and other cryonics believers) that a living creature can be frozen solid, for periods of 9 or so months, and still survive. The reasons this remarkable insect is able to survive living in the high arctic are many and complex. It's tissues are freezing tolerant partially because of the presence of natural antifreeze, such as glycerol and others. During its active summer phase it warms it's body, often to several degrees above the ambient temperatures by actively basking in the sun, and orienting it's body to maximize the effects of basking.
The caterpillar thaws in the spring when it's body temperature approaches -8 degrees C. Although it has thawed, at that point it still isn't active, and it is in a kind of suspended animation until it warms further. At a few degrees above zero it finally becomes active, and is able to feed at temperatures in the mid teens. It has very little time in the short arctic summers, even with active warming strategies, to feed and grow, so it is perhaps not surprising that it takes 14 years to work its way through its instars to adult hood.
With all of the time it spends frozen, it probably seems like quite a short life to adulthood, and it of course has no way of knowing just how remarkable and wonderful it truly is.
It's dark now on the walk to work, the landscape is no longer in focus but is a silouette against the sky. The sky glows! On the eastern horizon it is incredible shades of orange, quickly darkening to blues and then to black. The ciel is pierced with bright points of light. Light billions of years on its journey to my eyes. Such incredible beauty; mine to behold.
It started out to be a pretty good day, and if the truth be told ended on a high note. But there was a stretch in the middle that bit, big time.
The morning found me doing little things around the house, building a stand for a glycol pump for instance, and then I headed home for a phone meeting which turned out surprisingly well, and relieved some of the pressures we've been feeling lately. The afternoon found me back at the House helping in the preparations for getting heat in it.
We were filling the boiler and the system with glycol, and I suppose some explanation of the set up is in order. The glycol is mixed with water and then added to the system. Basically I would get a bucket of glycol from the drum outside and add it to the large plastic garbage can that we were using as a reservoir for the pump to add the glycol to the system, then added the proper amount of water to the glycol. A hose ran from the garbage can to the pump, and then from the pump to the boiler main.
My main job while filling the system was simple. While Dale, the plumber, bled the system I ran the pump. With one hand on a valve, and the other on the plug for the pump, I kept an eye on a pressure gauge. The goal was to keep the pressure just a little under 30 psi, go over and a pressure relief valve will blow, spewing glycol, go 10 pounds or so under and there isn't enough pressure to get the fluid up to the attic and down to where it needs to go (the mile of pipes under the floor). You partially control the pressure with the valve, but if it starts to climb near 30 psi you shut the valve. When you shut the valve you have to unplug (or switch off) the pump, or you risk blowing out the hose from it's fitting. Just shut off the pump and not close the valve and the glycol mixture runs back into the reservoir.
Things went pretty well, once we figured out that we were looking at the wrong numbers on the gauge, and after coffee when it came time to fill the reservoir again Dale took the opportunity to go home to make some phone calls. I filled the garbage can to a few inches from the top with a couple of buckets of glycol and the water to go with them, in all about, I don't know, 30 gallons. As Dale wasn't back at this point, I took the opportunity to go home and deal with a couple of small matters.
I finished up and walked back to the house. When I got there I thought it was strange that Gary and the rest of the crew were not outside where they had been working earlier. As I walked up the back steps I noticed that there was glycol on the door sill, I hadn't remembered spilling any and made a mental note to be more careful with the next bucket. And then I opened the door. Sometime during my absence the garbage can had collapsed and fallen over, spilling its entire contents of glycol and water over the floor to the sealift room, water tank and mechanical room, soaking all the boxes of plumbing supplies stored on the floor. Everyone was madly cleaning it up, soaking it up, scooping it into buckets and containers. Now I have to find out how to dispose of it. Luckily, we still have enough glycol to finish the job. What a mess!
But like I said the day finished on a high note. Once the clean up was done, we again set up the pump system, this time with the reservoir secured to a wall, and in quick order finished filling the heating loops (there remains the heat coils for the air exchangers, make up air and the hot water tank). And at long long last, we have heat. No more temporary measures, by tomorrow there will be a warm floor and warmer air in the house, and tonight there is smoke coming out of the chimney.
I and the Bird #9 is up over at Girl Scientist's excellent blog Living the Scientific Life. She has kept up that same high standard of hosting that has come to be the norm for I and the Bird (and which fills me with dread for my turn at hosting #11 in a month). And once again the carnival is filled with excellent and varied posts, sure to appeal to the bird lover in you.
For the most part I embrace technology. I'm typing this now on a beautiful G4 Powermac, listening to music on it, over a wireless network. I've games and other electronic toys. When it comes to books however I have to admit I'm a Luddite. I enjoy reading blogs on line, but give me a book any day. It's not as though I haven't tried electronic books, I just can't get into them. The same goes with audio books, put me to sleep (well truth be told so do "real" books, but I don't try and read them when I'm driving).
And just what does all this have to do with birds? Well, I guess I have to come down firmly on the side of paper when it comes to "data bases" for the identification of birds. Mike, at 10,000 birds has written an excellent review of a product, called WhatBird, a web based data base for the identification of North American bird life, but unfortunately it is a product that holds very little appeal to me.
My Grandpa gave me my first field guide, a hardcover Peterson's Guide to Eastern Birds. It was a gift that encouraged an already burgeoning love of the natural world. I devoured it, and remember flipping through page after page of birds, longing to see birds that in some cases seemed wildly exotic to this Prairie boy. I still own it, can turn it over in my hands, see my Grandpa's inscription in it, and still make use of its well thumbed pages. It requires no connection to a network or outside world to work, opening it's pages creates it's own connection, to a natural world filled with wonder. It's technology hasn't changed since 1937 because it works (and one can argue that it's "technology" goes back even farther to the invention of the printed word). We may have made some minor refinements in the wheel, but we don't change it's basic design simply because it's history goes far back in time.
I've bought other field guides, and "updated" my Peterson to a more current edition. I especially enjoy my Identification Guide Series for seabirds and for shorebirds, but for day to day use I'm pretty partial to Peterson's. I know there are others with other strengths but I love it's familiarity and thus it's ease of use for me, it is very much like an old friend. And like an old friend I stay loyal to it, despite it's foibles. I know that water and weather can damage it, but I don't mind taking it out in the middle of rain if I need it. I know that it will weather the weather better than my PDA will, and I'm sure better than a cell phone would, even it there was one that worked here, and I was inclined to own one.
One of my favourite moments in travel, comes long before the actual trip (Ah trips, I remember what it was like to travel, I think). There is nothing to compare with the arrival of a new field guide for a new country. How I've imagined, while flipping through the pages, and studying the birds, what adventures I'll have. I study the birds I hope to see, those that I'll have a chance to, and revel in the anticipation. The book in my hand makes these revelries tangible. And even now, when most of the birds have left me, following the sun and the warmth, I can pick up those guides, and follow them south if only in my mind.
So, those of you who are so inclined, can use your computer as your field guide, the world is a big place and there are room for both of us. As for me, I'll keep using the touchstones that helped send me away along this journey. Give me the strength of bound paper, and the memories and hopes that they hold within them.
Alright I've been meaning to do this for awhile. When Tony at Milkriver Blogresponded to my tagging him with this Personal History Meme, he added additional questions and tagged me right back, the rat. If you've never visited Milkriver, make it a point to head on over. Tony must have an incredible amount of energy to pursue his many and varied interests, and find the time to write about them.
There are so many things to comment on on his meme post that I'm not even sure where to begin, actually I don't think I'll begin other than to say.. you'd love the Antarctic and the whales there, an incredible amount of them. I can't imagine what it would have been like 100 years ago, before the whaling really began in earnest. Email me Tony if you'd like a recommendation on who to travel there with. And.. Cuba is much more than beauty, not much negative that I ran into. Warm people, highest literacy rate in the western world, a doctor for every 127 families (not on average, literally), certainly a lot of abject poverty; much of which could be eliminated if... ah never mind, no politics.
So... the answers
FIVE PET PEEVES
Well first of all, that sounds just a little too much like a high school yearbook, and I'm a pretty laid back kind of guy but I guess everyone has peeves
1) Intolerance. I grew up in a small rural town in Manitoba. There is an incredible dichotomy in small town life, welcoming and exclusionary at the same time. Nunavut is also a very small town, just incredibly spread out. Only 27,000 people live here, and it is amazing how small a place it can be. Just see how many people you run into at Iqaluit airport that you know. It also has a surprising amount of intolerance. Surprising coming from so many people who have experienced intolerance themselves. Before I give the wrong impression, we are no different than anywhere else, it is a minority, they just are vocal and cause people hurt.
2) Lawlessness. Gee that's a surprise, given my background. I'm not talking about anarchy, rioting in the streets lawlessness, but the idea that you don't need to follow that zoning bylaw, or helmet law, or a myriad of mundane laws, that they somehow don't apply to you, that they are just for someone else.
4) Mis-numbering lists
5) The pettiness of politics. I think there is a better way, and I think it will never happen. We first have to scrap the party system of politics (I'm talking up here in the land of k.d. lang, Dennis Lee, Geddy Lee and Sir John A.. I don't even want to get started on the two party system south of the border). Elect MP's based on who is the best person in the constituency, let them decide on a PM by consensus, let them lobby for cabinet posts to a committee struck by the elected PM. Yeah I know...
FIVE WILD CRITTERS I'D LIKE TO SEE ONCE BEFORE I GO..
I'm going to assume that the key here is that they must be alive, in their natural environment.
1) A coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) 2) In the same vein, a tubeworm
(Riftia pachyptila) 3) One of the Birds of Paradise (Paradisaeidae) 4) Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis) 5) Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)
There, that ought to keep me busy.
FIVE MOMEN... Wait! Can I say Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) too?
Okay sorry about that.
FIVE MOMENTS IN MY LIFE THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING THAT I'VE DONE SINCE
Almost every moment changes everything that follows.. I know that that sounds trite but a decision to stop and have a coffee on a drive can impact where you are in any particular place in time, which can effect your life in unforeseen ways. Some people call it the butterfly effect, I don't. But I think this is meant to be the big moments, the life altering ones. There are many, I'll stick with the easy ones.
1) July 24, 2002. I was just watching the DVD of this moment actually. The arrival of Travis Matthew Alvin Avinga Evaluarjuk Kines into our lives. Two days old and already working on frequent flier points. He arrived from Iqaluit on the regularly scheduled jet, Leah's cousin brought him back with her. I can not imagine my life with out him now and it is impossible to describe just how life altering this event is. How can your life not change while looking at an impossible tiny baby, who fits in to your strange and clumsy fingers, knowing that everything you do from here on in will have some effect on his life, and what kind of man he'll turn out to be? Gawd but it is scary, wonderfully scary.
2) July 5, 1995. Sitting in the Doctors office with Janice in Saskatoon and hearing "Cancer". What followed is a journey that is far too personal for this space and which included the hardest moment I've ever had to face in my lifetime.
3) July 1, 1987. An excellent example of just how life changing the mundane details of life can be. Janice, who was teaching French Immersion in Thompson Manitoba at the time, had just bought the first new car of her life (a 1987 Chev Sprint Turbo). Now normally, at the end of the school year, she bolted from town, but alas her new pride and joy broke down and needed a part that was nine days in coming. I was picked up at the train station by a friend after camping, canoeing and looking for a place to build a cabin in the wilds near Thicket Portage MB. Friend says, "you need a shower, we're going to the bar". I go to the bar, Janice is there with friends, we meet, end up driving around all night talking, I fall in love. I still own that car, but I guess I've decided to donate it to the Kidney Foundation (although judging by my procrastination I still am having a hard time parting with it)
4) February 8, 2000. I had just finished up a lengthy day in court, working into the evening. I was one of the last people to leave the gym (where court is held when it gets to town), and as I was walking out I noticed that Leah and her mom hanging out in the lobby. Now Leah always had a smile for me, and, strangely enough, I notice when a strikingly beautiful woman smiles at me a lot. As I said "hi", I added "You should come over for tea sometime". To my surprise, without saying a word she got up and followed me out to the truck. So we had tea, and two nights later we rented a movie, and were soon madly in love. Because of our many differences, including cultural and a significant age difference, many people don't "get" us, and that's okay. We get it, and that is all that matters. (and she is going to kill me for writing this as she doesn't like me writing about her)
5) I don't know, there are so many. Perhaps one that kind of altered my way of seeing my actions, or rather the effect my actions could have. Some time in 1993-1994. A good friend of mine in La Ronge has the most amazing, inspiring life story. She's had a horrific childhood and youth. Without going into a lot of detail, she suffered sexual abuse, physical abuse (including a broken arm), running away (by airplane), life on the street, drug and alcohol abuse, and brushes with suicide. She is the most upbeat person you'll ever meet. At the time she had an intense desire to become a member of the RCMP, and I always ask people interested in that why they want to join the RCMP. Instead of the usual answers (You know.. help people.. good career... drive fast and carry a gun) her answer surprised me. She told me "You know Clare when all this stuff was happening to me, a mountie came into our community. When he saw me he smiled at me and patted me on my head (she couldn't speak english at the time). It seemed like no one had ever been that kind to me. I wanted to be like that". Here was a fellow, who to this day, will have no idea just what kind of effect he's had on a terrific person's life, just because of his simple gesture.
FIVE MOVIES THAT ARE MY LIFE
Okay, if Tony intended that these are movies that mirror my life, there are none. I'm sorry I live far too boring (and paradoxically, far too interesting) a life for anything in the movies. Well except perhaps for Dumb and Dumber. Mind you there have been car chases, shootings and explosions. Maybe it needs a soundtrack.
If he intended it to be five movies I wouldn't want to live without, that is only marginally easier. The first one is easy...
1) Casablanca. Far and away the greatest movie ever made. I could watch it over and over and wish I had Rick's moral fortitude all the time. Ersatz war movie, love story, action, art and all the great lines you could possibly hope for from a movie. What more could you possibly want.
Everything else that follows is just candy...
2) Okay I guess you'd need a war movie. Mine would be Gallipoli. My grandfather's regiment's (The 16th Canadian Scottish) battle honours include The Battle of Gallipoli, and even though he wasn't there that just adds icing to the cake of a very good movie.
3) Hmm. This is hard (and I took the easy route). A love story... Four Weddings and A Funeral.
4) Action. Master and Commander. A training film for our Northwest Passage trip.
5) How about a duster? Silverado. Out dusts the classic dusters.
That's them, five I'd take to a desert island. Choices would change tomorrow, except number one.
It is a dark dusk now, while walking to work. Dark enough to see the planets and the brightest stars. I love the light at this time of day, the series of subtle blues and black, the bright pinpoints of light, the landscape still in focus.
It does my heart good to think about planets and light, something other than building, and opening, and money. Too bad it isn't a longer walk to work.