(Today's morning coffee and nordic lesson 3)
I left for two weeks, and in that short amount of time, light has returned to Hay River. I suppose the science of it is that after December 21st, the days get longer more quickly here because of our angle to the sun compared to the angle of you more southerly folk. So while your days get longer by maybe 2 minutes a day, ours are getting longer by 4. So it adds up quickly. My daily ritual of getting up a couple of hours before going to work is getting sweeter and sweeter. It’s no longer pitch black when I leave the house at 8:45am! I can’t wait until the sun greets me when I rise. My guess is that will happen sometime in April. I’ll keep you posted.
There is a fundraiser for Haiti today at École Boréale, the francophone school in town. Garage sale, BBQ, face painting, Quebecois hippie threaded hair, music. A small town shindig. Haitians could probably not fathom our living conditions, just as we cannot fathom theirs – but we’re connecting. The world is really just not all that big.
Speaking of a small world, have I ever talked about how small it really is up north? I don’t think I have. Excuse me, then, if I am repeating myself. But the longer I live up here, the more I understand that though this land is vast, the community is small.
Let me paint a picture for you:
I live in the Northwest territories, a gigantesque hunk of land. I am an hour and half north of the northern Alberta border (or, as I’ve said before, about 1100 km north of Edmonton). But there is STILL way over 1000km to the north of where I am.
There are a good number of little communities scattered and distanced about this limitless NWT, Hay River being I think the 3rd largest at 3500. (Only Yellowknife (20 000) and Inuvik (4000) have got us beat). Most other communities’ populations are in the hundreds, definitely not the thousands.
Let me do some territorial town name-dropping, see if you’re brushed up on your northern Canadian geography:
The southerlies (south-ish of Yellowknife):
Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, Fort Providence, Fort Simpson, Fort Liard, Hay River
The northerlies: (north-ish of Yellowknife)
Rae-Edzo, Wha-ti, Deline, Dettah, Norman Wells, Tulita, Lutzelk'e, Aklavik, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk
Now these names may be foreign to you for the most part, but I hear about them every single day. The names of these towns (and, more astoundingly, the people in them) are part of daily news, business, and conversation. So now, when I start my day off waking up to CBC news north, I always know what they are talking about. I have my bearings in the NWT. And to bring me to my point about the small worlded-ness of the seemingly endless territories – I usually know WHO they are talking about, even if it’s in a town I’ve never been to, 800kms away. Partly because of small town talk and gossip, partly because the north shares the same newspapers, partly because the north has defied the law of 6 degrees of separation by reducing it to 1 or 2.
So it doesn’t take much to be famous up here.
For the last 2 years, I have subscribed to the CBC’s ‘The North This Week’ podcast (a condensed and abridged radio program you can download after the broadcast), knowing I would be northern-bound someday. I didn’t have a sense of where things were, and the names of towns were a mystery to me, but I enjoyed hearing about what was going on up in that huge cold space, which I imagined to be a bit more populated and far more disconnected than it actually is.
So once I got up here, I somehow went 2 months without listening to that podcast. Maybe because I had the straight feed from CBC radio anyway. Anyway, I put it on one morning, seeing that I had a whole bunch of podcasts to catch up on. I chose one at random. Within 5 minutes, I realized that these places and names of people no longer belonged to some huge, unknowable place – but to a world I was beginning to naturally become a part of. Within 10 minutes, it went beyond just familiar context – because what I heard next was a familiar voice. My friend Kevin was being interviewed. Now, Kevin is kind of a northern Big-Deal as it is (ha!), so it’s not really a surprise. But had I been in Abbotsford, tuning in, his voice would have been part of the anonymous bigness of the north – but instead, his voice became a part of the very personal smallness of it.
I have more stories like this one. Almost every time I read a newpaper, I know the people in the pictures, or at the very least, know who they are. My theory is that there are about 4 famous people in every town, and you can guarantee they’ll make almost every issue. You can also guarantee that you’re only 1 degree away from them.