This is what my walk to work looked like this morning. Unseasonably warm, it is only -2 C. Time to break out the barbeque. As an added bonus here are three pictures of the House, taken today in the sun.
From pretty early on in this adventure one of my favourite blogs to visit has been Simon's 75 degree South. Simon has spent the last couple of years living and working at Halley V, a British Antarctic Service research base in Antarctica.
Antarctica is an incredibly austere, incredibly beautiful land. One that I was lucky enough to visit for a short time and one that I'd visit again at the drop of a hat if only the planets would all align as they should. Simon's blog chronicled his life at Halley and along with wonderful photos and video provided insights into a way of life that would be profoundly strange to most of us and although we live at almost the same latitudes there is no comparison to the isolation and weather extremes that overwinterers face in the south polar region.
Alas, alas, all good things must come to an end. Simon leaves Halley today upon the Ernest Shackleton, taking one last cruise by the new group left behind. He'll no doubt be blogging about his trip north, back to England, however it is the beginning of the end of this wonderful blog. If you've never visited his site, go now, before it is too late.
Here is a short, 15 second, Quicktime movie of the House Hare in lea of the house in today's mini-blizzard. I actually went out to film some Ravens playing in the wind, but of course they disappeared by the time I freed myself.
Last Sunday I took part in the Great Backyard Bird Count here in Arctic Bay. I birded by truck (what can I say, I've got a BIG backyard, it was COLD, and I had Leah, Travis and Hilary with me). The results were pretty predictable for me, I didn't add any species to my 2006 bird list. I did get a species count of 113 Ravens in two locations. I made a half-hearted attempt for ptarmigan but let's face it, I was only hoping that they'd show up at the road the same time as me.
The highlight of the trip, however, was not a bird, but a mammal. We saw a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) on the hills above the dump. We watched it with the binoculars for several minutes before it worked it's way over the crest of the ridge.
Now while the Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus) is by far the more common species of fox here, we do have a healthy population in the Baffin. We are pretty much at the Northern limit of their distribution but I've seen them since I first arrived up here. The first time I saw a Red Fox here (a Cross phase fox) I did a classic double take. Driving back to Arctic Bay from Nanisivik I saw a pair of foxes a little way off the road. Cool, I thought, Arctic Fox and then snapped my head back, when I realized that they could not be Arctic Fox. Like most people I was surprised to learn that Red Fox lived this far north, I've always thought of them as creatures of woodlands, and we are a long way from any woodlands here. They are not the only mammal species that I was surprised to learn live in the High Arctic. Two mustalids, the Wolverine (Gulo gulo) and Ermine (Mustela erminea) also make their home here.
All told there are about 19 species of mammal that one could expect to see around Arctic Bay, more than half of which are marine mammals (and I include the Polar Bear <Ursus maritimus> on the marine mammal side). There is also an arctic mammal that you will not see on Baffin Island, the Muskox. Surprisingly no Muskox live here, the nearest ones being on Devon Island, north of us.
But we do have Red Fox, and I was happy to see this one, as it has been a couple of years. And this was the first red phase one I've seen here, the others were all cross foxes.
Did I mention I no longer like surprises? You would think that at this stage of the game we'd have run our course of them, but no.
Three weeks ago we brought in the final interior window. Now I believe that I've mentioned it before but there are five interior windows in the house. One window is in the kitchen above the sinks, looking over the, well nothing really, looking at the wall of the dining room. But it really adds to the look of the kitchen. Another window is between our hallway and the Great room, allowing us to peek in and see if the guests have started moving in the morning, and get the coffee going.
The other three windows, one thin one in the office, and two that form a wall and corner of the dining room are tall windows, they are supposed to be some 92 inches tall. All three of them. Unfortunately for some unknown reason our supplier thought that the biggest of them would look better three inches shorter than the others. Three inches! Kind of hard to hide when the two windows form a corner, butted up against each other. And as the wooden dividers that visually separate the window are dividing the window in thirds height-wise, they don't line up with each other.
True to form, Gary came up with solutions, and fretted and worked out trim that would look good on the window. The dividers still don't line up, but the window looks pretty good all the same.
The second surprise came last week. Before Gary left for Christmas we had discovered that there were no flooring transitions or glue for our iCore floor. I happily discovered that our local Co-op could supply them, and quoted a price significantly lower than our main supplier. I ordered what I needed just before Christmas, and was told that it would take three weeks. As four and five weeks went by I began getting nervous and asked the manager to check on them and was told that they were coming. By the time last week went by I thought that I had better do some checking myself and called the distributor, only to find that none of our transitions or glue had been ordered. The Co-op manager determined that someone at their Winnipeg office simply filed the order and never placed it with the distributor. He assured me that they had sent their PO in now. Only problem was that I couldn't wait another three weeks for the transitions. They had some glue in stock and would get it up right up and send the rest in three weeks (which works for us as most of the gluing is done after the floor is installed). We would need to make some transitions on our own, using extra maple and birch we have.
When our glue still hadn't arrived after a couple of planes I called the distributor back. No they hadn't placed the order yet. He was good enough to get the glue sent and the order started, while I called the Co-op back to find out why this was to complicated for their purchasing department. Hopefully we'll see the glue on Saturday's plane.
Of course that still meant I needed a surprise or glitch for this week, and it was a big one. Our electrician never finished the last time he was in, and was supposed to be back over two weeks ago. I finally tracked him down in Clyde River to find that he was not coming until March, after I was supposed to have clients already. Huge loss of revenue and we still need to wait for him before we can finish other things. Mrs. Kines' little boy is not a happy little boy right now.
And what else did we get done. Gary has started the finishing of the stairs, building the banisters and getting the maple treads and risers prepared. The crew has worked on painting and trim and underlay. And I've put up more crown moulding (in our apartment) and built a cabinet for our bathroom and one to hold our hats and mitts in the back entrance. And now I'm finishing off the trim in the kitchen. I find this work very satisfying, although it would probably be easier to do if I could sleep through the night.
When Kevin first arrived at La Ronge Detachment it was impossible to get information at a call. One of those people who was larger than life, he was also larger than the rest of us. Kevin stood 6 foot 7, and just after graduation at Depot, weighed 285 lbs. Walking into a call would go something like this...
Okay, what happened here? "Boy are you tall." No, I'm pretty much average. What happened? "Not you, him! How tall are you?" 5'11. What happened here? "Not you, him!!" Oh, he's 6'7". Do you need the police? What happened here??? "How much do you weigh? Oh I don't know, 195. Please tell me what happened. "Him, not you HIM!" 285. Does the guy on the floor need an ambulance?
Eventually I started walking into calls by saying "This is Kevin and boy is he big. He's 6 foot 7 285 lbs, and by the way, do you mind telling me what happened here".
Extremely easy going, he was also smart and eager. He fit in well with our small watch, and quickly became a good cop. He was also extremely easy to tease. One of our vehicles was a Chev Blazer, and by the time you put in a silent patrolman, shotgun and radio, there wasn't much room for me. I used to delight in taking it out, forcing Kevin to fold himself into the passenger seat.
Policing in a small community, at a busy detachment you quickly become very close to your co-workers. Policing is kind of insular at the best of times, you tend to get closest to the people you work with. When they are really good people you end up the best of friends. You work together, work out together, and hang out together. Our watch probably spent 60 hours a week at work. It was busy and we were keen. Kevin made those hours pass quickly.
He used to love to bug me about commendations. He knew that deep down, I wanted one, and felt I was deserving of them. But he had them. Kevin was actually a hero. He rescued a kid from a house fire in Stanley Mission, cutting himself on a window and ending up in the hospital with a massive infection. He and Mark also got a commendation for physically disarming a man who had set them up with a fake call, intending on killing a member. We had had a murder earlier that morning, and I have never felt more helpless than when Mark's call for help came over the radio, and I was unable to leave the office, tied up with our murder suspect. As much as he deserved that recognition, it really meant nothing to him. He was just doing what he loved.
What really mattered to him? His love for Christine, his sweetheart from University. He couldn't wait until they got married and would finally be together. It was a sweet sweet wedding. One I was happy to be at, despite it coming on the heals of Janice's death. It was easy to be happy for the two of them, and easy to forget troubles hanging out with Kevin.
Late last week Mark, the other member of the A team, called me with the devastating news that Kevin was in Intensive Care, unconscious with a failing liver. Healthy one day some mysterious malady had knocked him flat the next. There was little information other than that he had improved somewhat, but that they did not know what it was and that he was on dialysis as his kidneys had also shut down.
If life were fair, Kevin would be mending. Fighting back with that great spirit of his, once again quietly doing the hero thing. But life isn't fair, and sometimes it just plain sucks. Another colleague called this afternoon... Kevin passed away last night, in his thirties, leaving his love, Christine a young widow. It shouldn't be that way, not to people larger than life.
I've been meaning to write about Amautiqs, the inuit woman's parka, for sometime now. Really I was waiting for better pictures to post, but getting a picture of Leah is akin to getting one of the Loch Ness Monster, although I am sure that Leah exists.
The amautiq is a marvel, capable of holding a baby (or two) comfortably and warm. Many people have a misconception that the baby is carried in the hood of the amautiq, which isn't correct. The back of the garment is made in such a way that it creates a pouch. It is in this pouch that the baby is placed, snug against mom's back. The pouch is further secured by a rope of yarn that slips around the back and into a harness on the chest, pulled tight to keep the bottom of the pouch from opening up. The hood is a separate part of the garment.
The women here are amazingly adept at putting the child in and out of the amautiq without help. To put a child in you hold it high on your back and neck, and while you hold it there with one hand the other pulls the pouch up and around the baby until it can be safely lowered into the pouch. The child is taken out over the shoulder dropping into mom's waiting arms.
Children can be carried in an amautiq until they are quite old. Leah still carries Travis (or rather did before Hilary's arrival) on occasion, especially if she was making a short trip and in a hurry, he'd need no jacket or snowpants etc.. I'm not sure how her back handles it.
Men also wear amautiqs, although I've yet to find one in Arctic Bay that would fit me, and would use it so infrequently that having one made wouldn't be worth it. It is actually considered good luck for a baby to be carried by dad in an amautiq.
Most amautiq are made of cloth, with a separate liner (a warm layer which can be taken out when the weather is nice), although occasionally you see one made of Caribou skin. There are many skilled seamstress here, it is a valued skill. Leah's mother is particularly skilled (I must post a picture of my parka some time) although she didn't make this amautiq, another woman did (she just fussed over and changed the trim and the lay of the cloth).
The amautiq is one of the things that makes the arctic unique. I have to admit that when I first arrived here I found it particularly striking to see so many women wearing them, their everyday outerwear. And although it is difficult getting a picture of Leah in one, my all time favourite photo of her is one of her with Travis in the amautiq, on board the CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent. I'd post it but she doesn't like this sort of attention, it's a Loch Ness thing.
It's the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin today. No one in history has had a greater impact on the natural sciences than him, and he remains to this day an icon, a true great in the world of Science.
Reading On the Origin of Species was an epiphany for me. Darwin became my hero, and cemented my burgeoning interests in Natural History. I longed to one day travel to the Galapagos, and realized that dream several years ago.
The Galapagos Islands are also iconic in the myth that surrounds Darwin, and although what he saw there furthered the questions he began asking about the mechanics of Evolution, in truth his entire experience on the Voyage of the Beagle contributed to his understanding of Natural Selection. He ruminated for a long time on publishing what he came to understand, knowing that it was revolutionary, and knowing that revolutions frequently met resistance. He suffered ill health, perhaps in part because of the stress he felt (and perhaps he may have had Chagas Disease contacted in South America), and was finally spurred to publish when news of Wallace's impending publication reached him.
Many people misunderstand just what he contributed. That life evolved was already known, Darwin's grandfather himself had been a proponent of a theory of Evolution later proved wrong. What he had discovered was the mechanics behind the changes, Natural Selection. Simply put mutation occurs all of the time, if mutation proves beneficial to an organism it will make it more "fit" for its niche and that it will retain that characteristic. Slowly over time these changes will accumulate and new species will arise. It is not directed but random and nature can be a harsh selector of what works and what doesn't. Stephen Jay Gould put it this way... Take some pick-up sticks and let them fall, that represents the variation. Perhaps only one of those sticks will be a successful variance. After time you have another handful of pickup sticks where that one fell and you let them fall again. Again perhaps only one of those sticks is a successful variation. Keep repeating that and eventually your pile of sticks will be in another location, a new species. No hand of god, but random variation and reward for fitness. Not fitness in the idea of strength or stamina, but fitness in the sense of having the attributes that best fit the needs of the particular niche.
Darwin was a true generalist, which is hard to understand these days of specialization. He wrote on Coral Atolls, earthworms and Barnacles. His early interests in nature included collecting beetles. He was thorough and questioned everything, he tested his hypothesis over and over before he published it. He asked the questions that doubters would ask, such as "what good is half an eye?". That is what makes good science. Evolution and science are under attack these days. Intelligent Design masquerades as science but doesn't test, doesn't question itself and will never stand up to those questions.
The first bird I saw when we landed on the Galapagos was one of Darwin's Finches, and at supper we had them picking crumbs off our table that night. To this starry eyed prairie boy it was a culmination of deep desires to somehow connect with Darwin. How I wish I could have somehow met the man. I was happy to settle for his finches.
I know I haven't posted in awhile. I'm finding it difficult to put together enough coherent thoughts with the lack of sleep that a newborn introduced into my life.
Hilary is starting to fall into more of a routine but I still consider a two hour stretch of sleep a luxury. Most days I start to write something here and I just find myself fighting to stay awake. I have a few posts on the go so I best get at them.