And now 'tis man who dares assault the sky . . . And as we come to claim our promised place, Aim only to repay the good you gave, And warm with human love the chill of space.
— Prof. Thomas G. Bergin
It seems like it has been a hellish month, this last one. A friend felled by a massive heart attack, too young. Another friend, chasing the joy of being out on the land, excited to have the opportunity to go boating, doesn't return, drowned along along with his brother when their boat overturns in rough seas. And now the crash of First Air flight 6560 practically next door.
For all of its vast space Nunavut is a small place. Less than 30,000 of us live up here, separated by at the most two degrees of separation, never mind six. Resolute may be 300 kms away, but is a neighbouring community, strongly connected. We share families, an airline route and common history. Look down the road to the next village, town or place and you'll get a sense of it. Imagine that there were only three or four such villages, towns or places and you might get a bit more of a sense of it.
I didn't know Marty Bergmann, the director of the Polar Shelf Project, but I have many friends who knew him well. Randy Reid, the cook at the South Camp Inn, was a stranger to me, but strangers travelling here since the crash told me of knowing him. And I certainly know Ozzy Kheraj, whose two granddaughters were on board, one of whom survived. Everyone here knows Ozzy, the owner of the South Camp Inn, a fellow who evokes strong feelings amongst people here. He has been host to many many travellers in the north, and his businesses are legendary here.
Ozzy must be reeling from the loss of his six year old granddaughter, Cheyenne, and so many of his employees who were on board. It was he who chartered the jet to bring food and supplies up for his hotel. The north is such a strange place that it is more economical to charter a 737 than to bring food up through the Federal Nutrition North program. The jet was mostly bringing cargo, but there were a few seats available, twelve passengers plus the crew of four.
Air travel is a unavoidable fact of life up here. It is our only way in or out of the communities. Many people will have flown in that jet, joked with its crew. I may have been in its belly sorting through luggage and freight when I briefly worked for First Air. No doubt the First Air family is reeling as well.
Regardless of the crash we will board a flight the next time it comes to travel. It is the north after all. No doubt our thoughts will turn to someone on that flight the next time we rumble down a runway.
Growing up in rural Manitoba where and when I did, I called Sharp-tailed Grouse "Prairie Chickens". There were real Prairie Chickens that owned that name, but I didn't know that. They were a bird I never knew.
There was a time though, when there were many of them in the area I grew up in. Even when native Prairie gave way to farmer's fields the agricultural methods then, the grain harvested in stooks and then threshed, were much kinder to Prairie Chickens than modern methods. As that style of farming gave way, the native prairie already gone, the Prairie Chickens disappeared.
These days Greater Prairie Chickens are on the verge of disappearing. The native Tall Grass Prairie they rely on is almost gone, and modern agriculture is not kind to them. The remaining birds are scattered in pockets in a fraction of their former range. I have never seen one. It is likely, the way things are, that I never will. They do have a their champions though, and given half a chance they could be saved.
I first met filmmaker (and ATV stuntman, a story for another time) Timothy Barksdale in 2006. He was one of our first clients at the B&B. He, along with his producer and a second unit cameraman, had come up to Arctic Bay to search for and film Ivory Gull for an upcoming series on rare birds. People like Tim were the best thing about running a B&B, and we had long conversations from everything from Ivory Gulls, to Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, to hollondaise sauce. I also got the chance to see great film, film that shone even before it had seen any editing. He has mad wildlife cinematography skills.
Tim's current project, a film on the plight of the Greater Prairie Chicken, is almost done. It is in the final stages of post production, geared to be shown on PBS. But its not there yet, and Tim's company needs help in getting it finished.
The past couple of weeks I spent a great deal of time at the outflow of Marcil Lake, getting in some late season bird counts, and enjoying the wildlife, and the solitude.
I always paused at this feature in the river, imagining the activity that teemed here a number of years ago. This, is a fish weir.
Rocks were placed in the river to form this feature, and inverted "V" pointing upstream topped with a circle of rocks forming a small pond. It was, of course, an aid Inuit built for fishing. Char returning to the lake in the Fall would be funnelled up the V channel, ending up in the circular trap at the top. In their they'd be speared with kakivak or simply scooped out by hand.
There are other fishing structures along the river. Mostly simply low dams that would slow the fish enough for them to be speared or caught. In the Fall, fish returning to fresh water were a bounty not to be missed. Stone weirs such as this, made sure that some of that bounty made it into the larder.
It is blueberry season up here. The weather has been gorgeous.
Those two statements together mean we have spent all of our evenings out picking blueberries, hands down one of Leah's favourite activities. Now, when I say we have been picking blueberries I'm stretching the truth a little, for I've done very little. I've birded and wandered camera in hand, played tag with the kids, built ancient inuksuit but berry picking not so much. A little, I'm more into savouring the fruits of Leah's labour.
Tonight was no exception, but it did have a bit of twist. I had something that needed attending to right after supper, and Leah wasn't about to wait. So she headed off on the ATV and the kids and I followed an hour or so later by truck.
Now, because school starts this Friday, we've been making a rather abrupt change from summer sleep habits for the kids, but it has been challenging, and they've been tired. For Hilary this evening tired translated into grumpiness and tears and by the time we'd reached the spot where Leah parked the ATV I had had enough. Knowing how tired she my strategy was to put the seat back, duck under my jacket and pretend to sleep, counting on her to follow suit
It worked well, too well. I'm not sure which of us fell asleep first. After about an hour I woke up, sat upright and looked out the window. Looking right back at me, from across the road was an Ermine. I lowered the window grabbed the camera and fired away, steadying the camera, checking my camera settings, squeaking or pishing, keeping it in view, until it finally lost interest and disappeared through the rubble of boulders.
Sometimes a little luck, and a little sleep, is all it takes.