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.


  1. i started reading and just couldn't stop, and so i forgot to make my morning coffee.
    now i will make myself a cup and enjoy reading all over again! wow, so cool to have glimpse into your northern world.
    your friend,

  2. even better the second time with a cup of coffee in hand! makes me want to take a trip!