Thursday, January 21, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Today's Morning Coffee and Nordic Lessons 2 (TMCNL 2)

Grab your morning coffee and come sip with me. Ok, if you’re a morning coffee drinker like me, it’s already too late for your morning coffee. Let’s call it elevenzies.

Do you copy when I say ‘the greyhound demographic’? Let me rephrase that. If I were to talk about the types of people you might find skulking around busses and depots, you would capische, right?

A couple of weeks ago I became an honorary member of the bus riding demographic. Because it is approximately 650$ less to take the bus to Edmonton than it is to fly. Believe it or not, to get from Hay River to Edmonton, which is exactly 1000km, 2 hours by plane, 10ish hours by car, or 16 hours by grayhound…it costs anywhere from $800 to $1400 to fly. Unless you are a lucky duck that gets wind of a rare seat sale (which to my knowledge, has not ever occurred other than in Nordic mythology). Or unless you work for the government, who will buy your ticket for you, at approximately 11 times the cost, without batting their territorial eye.

Now that we’re on the subject of travel costs, let’s move on to the educational segment of this post. Allow me to enlighten you with all of the recent discoveries I have made regarding northern travel, both endo and exo.

1. Hay River has a small airport that flies to only 2 places: Yellowknife (40 min flight) or Edmonton (3hr flight), the closest major airports. There is no such thing as a package deal out of this place – you buy your flight to one of the 2 major-ish airports, and then make all further travel arrangements separately. All my life I have lived near major airports. I never knew what a luxury that was. I wonder what percentage of Canadians DON’T live near a major airport? I have sympathy now for the extra financial burden (not to mention major inconvenience) it imposes.

2. Flight costs out of Hay River are as follows:
                 to Yellowknife: Buffalo, $330 round trip.
                                      First Air, $400-$500 round trip.
                                   (let’s guess which one the government uses?)
                 to Edmonton: Northern Airlines, $1340

3. To get to Edmonton from Hay River, you then have two flight path options:  the cheapest, indirect through Yellowknife which costs approximately $800 ($330 with buffalo, then the other leg with another airline); the more expensive, direct to Edmonton, at $1340. Let’s take another guess at the sole user of that airline….

3. If you take the cheaper, indirect route through Yellowknife, you will always have a 4 hour layover in an abbotsford-sized airport. Always. Apparently, all flights arrive sometime around 9am, and all flights depart sometime around 1pm.

4. Say you want to go somewhere OTHER than Yellowknife or Edmonton (which if you’re a government employee is unlikely…except maybe if you’re French, in which case you go to Winnipeg). Then you basically HAVE to get to Edmonton to get anywhere else*. You’ve already got your $800-$1400 ticket and 9 wasted hours to get you to Edmonton…now add your final destination to the total. You’re looking at a minimum of $1000 to get anywhere…plus an entire day of traveling, IF your connections work out nicely. For a town that only takes 10 hours to drive to from Edmonton, you’d swear we’re in Iceland.

footnote*not entirely true. I found a loophole. Continue reading for further enlightenment.

5. When you live far from a major airport, and you want to visit your best friend on the same continent who also (though not as dramatically) does not live near a major airport, it costs about as much as flying to Madagascar.

6. To prove point #5, I will give you a supporting example. I was recently trying to book a trip to Colorado to visit Karla. Simple enough. I’ve been before, it cost me around  $250 to get there and back. Ahhhh…but from Seattle. Domestic flights within the states are pretty dang cheap. So I arrive at complication number one: I am about as far as I can get from the US border. Not an option. Must take an international flight – now my cost doubles. Ok, fine. OK, international flight to Colorado. No problem. I’ll book it from Edmonton. Oh wait, it costs minimum $800 to get there, then it’s about $600 to Denver….. $1400 for a one week vacation within north America. Okay, there must be another way. I’d drive to Edmonton, but I don’t have winter tires on my car, I don’t trust my little civic in this cold, and what if there’s a storm or I hit the ditch and can’t get to my flight in time? Ahhh….full circle back to grayhound. Very affordable option – $160 return if I book three weeks in advance. But 16 hours each way. I know the route well, considering I did it just a couple of weeks ago. Ok, a 16 hour bus ride, I can do it again. Let’s check the connections – leave Hay River at 8am, arrive Edmonton at midnight…no flight out to the states until 6:40am. Flights out at that time to Denver all have stops in other cities, so I would arrive in Denver at 4pm. Okay, one and a half full travel days to get to Denver – gross and long, but at least I can afford it. Wait, Karla doesn’t live near Denver. I have to get to Colorado Springs, which is about a 2 hour drive away – or more with rush hour…which is when I’d be arriving. Ok, how do I get to Colorado springs? Bus? 70 bucks each way. Plane from Edmonton? Tack on another 200 bucks, since you really just connect through Denver anyway. Not to mention that we’re also adding time here. So I would finally arrive at Colorado springs, either having spent 1 million dollars flying all the way ( I think it works out to $1600) and a full day traveling..or bussing a total of 18 hours and flying 5 hours each direction, and spending $900.  Great options, eh? I love you Karla, but I could be going to Europe.

7. There are loopholes, such as Westjet seat sales from Yellowknife direct to Vancouver for a little over a hundred bucks each way. Hmmmmm…..Vancouver….that’s close to Seattle! Just get  a ride across the border and all of a sudden….direct flights to COLORADO SPRINGS (not even Denver!) for another hundred bucks each way. Yellowknife to Colorado Springs for 500 bucks. Ok, now we’re talking. The ridiculous thing is that my 40 minute flight north (the wrong direction) across great slave lake to Yellowknife from Hay River costs me twice as much as the others. Oh well….suck it up, princess.

So I am sadly not going to become one with the depot demographic this time around – I suppose I have risen above. Which is too bad, because when I had the experience of a few weeks ago I found a lot of fodder for creativity. I scribbled furiously on a big notepad for hours, about skittish Eugene and his meager plastic bag and the corrections officer that left him at the depot… about Bill the bus driver who told me of how left Hong Kong to give his boys freedom and enjoyment in education…about the old aboriginal man with tourettes freezing on the side of the road waiting for the bus in middle-of-nowhere Meander River…about the homeless couple that camps out the Edmonton depot, always walking purposefully about from one end to the other with blakets around their necks and with a single duffel bag filled everything they own, tagged with official greyhound tags as they masquerade as travelers for dignity’s sake….about the frenzied Chinese man that spent 15 stressful minutes trying to get the arm of his chair to lift, then another 10 trying to get his seat back to recline again after having not having noticed that he had accidentally triggered it to pop upright, thinking it was the button for the arm…about me, listening to Jupiter Winter by Sufjan Stevens, clicking my teeth and blinking my eyes to the beat of each passing pole, pretending I’m in some independent film about a girl discovering some great truth (as inspired and suggested by the epic tune playing in her gigantic headphones) traveling alone towards some great destination on Christmas eve.  Amazing, the kinds of characters you find lurking around bus depots and hiding out in their busses. The kinds of people who can’t afford to fly. Is it any wonder? I guess I’m one of them…

…well, not anymore.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It is cold.

Originally uploaded by Joanne Abraham Photography

It is cold today. But not in measurable terms, unless you count skin pain and swollen hands as valid measures as degrees C, F, and K.

Good thing there are beautiful things to keep your mind off the weather.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Today's morning coffee and nordic lesson just doesn't get better than morning coffee. The single most enjoyable part of every day.  Er, is that shallow?

 When I first moved here, I had a beautiful morning ritual (which I explained in great detail in an earlier post, for those of you that follow). But since the land of the midnight sun has become the land of perpetual dusk in the winter months, I have been unable to maintain it. Every wink of sleep more I can steal, I steal - which, as those of you who know me as an early-bird-catching-worms, is slightly unusual for me. Turns out I am not immune to the slumbering, lumbering effects of darkness.

Oh, don't get me wrong. It's not pitch black all the time here - I'm not far enough north for that. Allow me to educate you on this matter. I receive lots of southern inquiries into what it's really like up here: Is it dark all day? Are there any trees up there? Inuit hunting seals? Have you tried blubber? know, typical clarifications on the very little we know of our Canadian North. Which is not a criticism on my part....because I thought I knew stuff before I moved here, and it turns out I didn't. I knew a bit about mythology and tradition, but nothing about the lay of the land, the population, current affairs. So here are a few little notes to help you understand where I am, and what I've learned about the Vast, Great, and White North. You might want to keep referring to a map to help it all make sense:

1. I live in Hay River. It is both affectionately, practically, and clichéedly referred to as the 'Hub of the North', as it is transport centre of the NWT. The highway is paved all the way here from Alberta and the railroad passes through, so all goods pass through Hay River before going out to more remote places via plane, bus, or boat. The population of Hay River is around 3500. We have 2 grocery stores, 2 hardware stores, an arena and rec centre, and about a block's worth of other random shops. It's bigger than you would think. But maybe smaller than you would like (unless you're like me, who misses life in lil' ol' Princeton!)

2. The canadian show 'North of 60' was called 'North of 60' because the territories are all north of the 60th parallel. Common knowledge, ok.... but to some of you it's news. But the 60th parallel is not really that far north, really. Considering it's only a 9ish hour drive from Edmonton. It is NOT the arctic. The 60th parallel is NOT synonymous with the term arctic.

3. The term arctic coloquially refers to the area north of the treeline, but more precisely refers to the actual arctic circle....where it really is night all day, all winter long. Here in Hay River, we have lots of trees, and we are just in solar limbo. Here it is pitch black until 9am,  dawn until 11:30am, then at noon the sun begins to head towards dusk, then to full black night by 4:30. And the sun lays fairly low in the sky all day -  all day long shadows are cast, making it feel like perpetual dusk.  I'm told that summertime in Hay River means daylight until midnight, then dusk all night long. No full black. I'll confirm if this is true come july.

4. Hay River is only about an hour and a bit north of the 60th parallel. So if you drive due north from Edmonton, you'll hit the Alberta-NWT border in about 9-10 hours (well....summertime driving anyway),  take a photo by the sweet Northwest Territories sign planted at the 60th parallel, drive another hour, stop at the beautiful gorge and waterfalls just before you hit the no-man's land town of Enterprise, eat a meal at Winnie's diner, then continue another 25 minutes up the road to Hay River, on the southernmost shore of Great Slave Lake (which is not to be confused with Slave Lake, which you'd have passed by on your way through northern Alberta...the lake up here is, well, Greater.) And instead of continuing to the southern shore of the Great Slave via Hay River, you could also have decided to take one of the very few forks in the northern roads, back at Enterprise, to head due west then north around Great Slave Lake towards Yellowknife via Fort Providence. And shoot some buffalo while you're at it.

5. Great Slave Lake is really quite large. Peripherally oceanic, from the southern beach's perspective. Yellowknife is really right across the lake from us, on the northern shore, but it takes a 45 minute plane ride with Buffalo Joe or a 5 and a half hour detour by car along the west side to get there. It's a big lake.

6.  Buffalo Joe is our local Hero. He is the star of Ice Pilots NWT, a new show on the history channel. Many of you are already watching it.  Joe and his crew fly old war cargo planes...for daily passenger flights to and from Yellowknife. They had the world première party here in Hay River, his hometown. I went. I watched the first episode with a bunch of Hay Riverites that know Joe, have flown with him often, and that cheered every time they knew someone else in the show...because it's just that small of a world up here. Buffalo Joe himself gave me a t-shirt. I almost fainted at my brush with fame.
PS- I just saw him again this morning. And I patted his dog  a few weeks ago. I'm basically famous.

7. The Ravens should be counted as part of the population. They are as big and as loud as a real person. And they really do laugh. And they comprise the majority of the wildlife you will see up here. My animal count so far:  Foxes - 1, Ptarmigan - 10, Buffalo - 5, Rabbits - 3, Wolves - 0, Caribou - 0, Moose - 0, Bears - 0 , Ravens - One Billion. If I were to have to make a pie chart, you see how the average percentages would difficult to even calculate, let alone section into slices of pie, given such a margin of difference.

Well, that's all for this morning's lesson. Stay tuned for more coffee time with Joanne.

On the agenda for today: Yogurt and granola, Snowshoeing, Turkey Stew. Hmmm.  Somehow my agendas are predominantly comprised of food related activities. Sweden 30 pounder, here I come.

Monday, January 4, 2010

...and a-Ptarmigan huntin' we will go....

Originally uploaded by Joanne Abraham Photography

Yesterday my friend Adam and I skulked around the in the woods. He was hoping to find lynx. We found Ptarmigan instead. We shot them, like we shot the bison. Note his weapon of choice. It's a cruel life here in the great white north. No sissies allowed. Hawksely would agree.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Adventure Adschmenture

What I have learned about me by not being ridiculously busy for the first time in a decade:

  1. I am a procrastinator. I had my suspicions in the past, but it has been confirmed. In the past it was never obvious because I was always working on ten things at once,  and while each thing was put off to the very last minute, I was busy all the while. There was always daily deadline. With no sense of immediacy or urgency, I putter … even more than Ben Braun-Kauffman. Because there is always something to accomplish in puttering. It’s just harder to measure. 
  2. I will always and forever wish for more time. I will always yearn for the mythical Someday, when I will be able to release and act upon projects that remain blurrily confined to my brain. These ideas will always grow and spread in painful and inspiring spurts, and my desire to accomplish them will always be eventually converted into guilt or pressure. Even if I have the time to do them.
  3. I am 75% ideas, 25% action. I always thought I would readily take action on my ideas if I were (in the mythical Someday) granted to time and space to do it – I hoped I was a more balanced 50/50 split. Turns out, as I am now living in the not-so-intangible mythical Someday, I’m only a really devoted do-er when I have a full schedule and I have no choice but to get ‘er done.  But lighten the load on my plate…(see item #1 above)
  4. I have a lot of ideas.
  5. I am afraid of taking on a major project on my own. I’ve been talking about writing all year, and was waiting for the opportunity to be away from my normal distractions and commitments to give my brain room to de-fuzz from fatigue and busyness. Now I’m supposedly in it. And I revert back to items #1 and #2. And then taking #4 into account in conjunction with #3…well, you see where that leads...
  6. I need people to keep me going, to hold me accountable, to inspire me, to bounce ideas off of, to collaborate with, to goof off with, to run around outside with, to adventure with, to get me out of my head and to keep me from going too far inside it for too long. I might think I’d rather be alone, I might think I need to be free and totally independent, I might think I would like to be hermit. But I need to connect. I am neither rock nor island, as it turns out.


This year’s adventure – leaving Abbotsford at the end of June to travel across Canada and perform in living rooms and backyards, and venturing north of 60 to satiate some longtime Mowatian desire to experience one of the most Canadian parts of Canada – has not been about what I thought it was going to be about. It is not about finally having the time to write a play. It has not been about organizing the digital archives of the thousands upon thousands of photos I’ve taken over the course of the last few years. It has not been about becoming Heather Rose so that I can feel less like a fraud when I tell her story. It has not been about reconnecting with my French roots. It has not been about better understanding the plight of the Inuit or the First Nations people of Canada… or what Farley Mowat and John Ralston Saul and by extension maybe even Louis Riel are all about.

So far as I can tell, it’s been more about discovering different elements in myself, removed from the me I have come to know in the last decade. To experience firsthand the variability of the properties of character, of faith, of pride, of skill, of a sense of belonging, of a sense of self. To see how environment and habit shape and define. To observe and take stock of who I am in quiet, when no one else is looking...well, besides maybe Rosie. And to be inspired by the opportunity to do so.

And the 6 items listed above, which are neither Gospel nor complete, are things that I have been observing in myself as being slightly … different… than I would have liked to see in myself when I imagined living in the mythical Someday (though simultaneously confirming niggling suspicions I may have had). Because one might say that I’m living in that mythical Someday, since I took a year to get away and chip away at my dreams of writing and being bored. And I suppose I want to object that I’m not living a true mythical Someday, since the ideal mythical Someday should always be just a bit out of reach, since we like to romanticize everything anyway. The mythical Someday will never be what you imagined it to be, because in your dreamy projections, Someday holds no limits. I have limits here. My brain is still often fuzzy. I have a job in the real world that is lovely but consumes my energy and my brain – I can’t leave it behind at 5pm. I am tired when the winter sun tells me I should be tired – until 10am and after 4pm – which leaves me very few personal brain productivity hours, and none outside of work time. I still don’t know how to sit still without guilt, so I’m forcing myself to do absolutely nothing and work through my subsequent heart palpitations. I’m still learning what I’m like and what I do when I have no obligations, and when no one has expectations of me. All that to say that though I’ve been headed towards my mythical Someday, a deliberate time to work through the dreams I’ve always told myself I’d get to “Someday when my life allowed for it”, it is not as romantic or as lofty as it was in my projections.  Which I knew I would discover…just as I knew I might discover the 6 things…but needed to experience first-hand. I needed to know what part of me operates in fairytale. And it’s been worth it.

It’s always worth it. Every moment is significant, every experience is valuable. I’ve realized over the last few weeks - as my body is becoming increasingly less tolerant of dark days and as the novelty of adventure wears thin as it grates against awareness of the geographical distance between me and the people that I know and love, and that know and love me – that I often try to be quite conclusive, reasonable, and constant in my feelings about things… when in all honesty I'm experiencing polarized emotions simultaneously. How can I love it so much here , and dream of all the amazing things that could come out of staying here indefinitely ….and the next moment be longing for my old community or for my family? For the mountains and the ocean? The answer is in reconciliation. Life and our feelings towards it are not cut and dry, black and white, crisp and clean. My pull in two opposite directions does not have to be contradictory. The fact that my Someday now occasionally shifts from Arctic back to West Coast does not negate my reasons for coming here in the first place, or make my love of life here less real, though I’d want to err on that side of thought when I’m in secondguessing mode. Hey, I’m only human. I will always sweeten the past and idealize the future…and take the present with a healthy dose of criticism. It’s what I do. So, then,  I suppose that makes the present is the only real part. Which is why it’s worth it. I’ll take authenticity for 500 please, Alex. Ooooo...well, let’s make it a true daily double!

Every so often I function in fairytale – sipping wine, sampling dark chocolate, and nibbling on goat cheese while I wait to be handed inspiration on a silver platter, and dream of the day  (er, the Someday) when it all falls into place. When my gifts and abilities make sense together. When I feel like my sense of purpose in my vocation is actually enough. When I find success in blazing some kind of sustainable grassroots artistic trail. But I won’t be disappointed for what I have not yet produced. Or what I have failed to live up to. I am more than the sum of my parts, I am far more than my job + my skills + my dreams. My identity is not threatened by failure, by inability, or by shame.  I am a child of God. That’s what matters.

And I’m getting a better idea of how often I wait for mythical Somedays…and am reconciling myself to the fact that I always will. It’s who I am.

Unless of course, you (a living human being) give me deadline. Then I’m in like Flynn.