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Mental migration

in Featured/Remote Control by

Death stalks life this time of year. There is so much left to harvest and people cling to Summer, laying down astro turf for greens where there are none. So, golfing polar bear alley beside the community dump in Arviat might continue for awhile. The geese have said their farewells though a few odd ducks have missed the memo. Most of us are still wearing our light jackets, reluctant to let go, denying that it was ice in the puddles on the way to work.

Back on the Avalon, a friend describes a similar psychological disconnect as the new season arrives but the landscape is too stubborn to reveal it. Tomato plants and zucchini still in full production, ripen and continue to fill a 6 quart basket from the garden each day. Pumpkin and squash going mad while the frost holds off. No one is complaining, but Fall seems late to arrive this year, both east and north.

Geese have said their farewells; a few odd ducks missed the memo

In keeping with Inuit practice, people here in the Kivalliq allow their activities to be dictated by the seasons. In particular, hunting, gathering, and preparing for the winter are noticeable aspects dominating people’s daily routine. Life is remote and controlled by the weather and seasons that govern it.

My Inuit friend dropped by a week ago and was torn between his instinct to go on a traditional hunt and having to go work in the mines two hundred kilometers away. Tormented by the fact that when he returned to Arviat, the season and his beloved traditional hunt would be postponed for a full year. It seemed sad to me that he couldn’t have both. Relocating for employment necessary to pay for his life but at the sacrifice of something he has always done this time of year. His situation represents the character of Autumn perfectly.

People will start feeling either afflicted by the challenges that isolation and winter can deliver or delighted at the prospect of being forced to slow down and cozy in.

When I touched down in Yellowknife this past week, I related to him. Growing up with trees all around me, it has become an ingrained part of who I am. Whether it be raking leaves or going to pick pumpkins, these seasonal activities have come to define me and help carve out purpose and ritual during isolated times in the year. You know you are chasing seasons when the sight of falling leaves in another territory makes you think you missed a month of your life before it’s even happened. No one is hungry for the heat up here, but everyone wishes the sun would stay.

As the cold settles in, the strong winds grip us and people begin to be tied together in a new way. Often in the north, travel means getting stuck due to unpredictable weather or mechanical malfunctions which can be the beginning of the most fruitful relationships. People will start feeling either afflicted by the challenges that isolation and winter can deliver or delighted at the prospect of being forced to slow down and cozy in.

No one’s hungry for the heat, but everyone wishes the sun would stay

Each town is shaped by the land it occupies, the animals followed, the harvest reaped, and the resources available. We underestimate the power of seasons over our everyday lives and moods. Our identity is intertwined with the land and for this reason we must be ready to adapt. God forbid it come as a surprise. Already, the temper of our town is altering. People walking with hunched shoulders, heads down, hoods up, and hands in their pockets. It should not feel like an approaching apocalypse but it does.

While visiting Yellowknife, I had the opportunity to re-visit autumn as I know it to be, refreshing but certainly not dismal. To us small town folk, visiting a town with a population of 27,000 or more feels pretty urban and huge. A lot like going to St. John’s, Gander, or Corner Brook when you live out around the bay. There is so much to choose from: overwhelming rows of products, streets, and buildings screaming at you to be that consumer you know you need not be. Maybe it is simply overstimulation but the approaching winter felt less dreadful in Yellowknife surrounded by trees, hills, and buildings: securities I had not even realized I was missing.

We underestimate the power of seasons over our everyday lives and moods. Our identity is intertwined with the land and for this reason we must be ready to adapt.

It was heartening to see rainbow real estate, a likening to the signature houses in Newfoundland, bringing light and a feeling of hope as the darker season settles in. During fall time in Nunavut, cabins are easy to access, and the trails between them easy to see. Newfoundland influence is also noticeable out on the tundra as you see antlers hoisted on eaves, wood stoves smoking, and brazen contrasting accents for the trim. Red on black, white on yellow: all loud and inviting. In contrast, most cabins resemble sheds, constructed from mostly unpressurized lumber, many unpainted, and designed from what scrap is found lying around town, the dump, or what can be salvaged from the barge crates. There is so much life within these decaying exteriors. The crimson land reminds you of the impending winter when the contrast of blood on snow after a fresh hunt highlights the necessity of death in order for life to continue.

Antlers hoisted on eaves, wood stoves smoking

As of late, days have been more overcast than not, reminding us of home. Darkened skies, sideways rain, and the sun suffocating to get through the heavy dark cover. Being of the island mindset, we dress for function all the time. You leave the house these days with your face kissing the wind, knowing sometime soon you’ll be in full disguise. The fresh feeling of rosy red cheeks we all enjoy when the cold hits is not so appealing here. Getting dressed will become a theatrical performance in itself during winter and the lightness in your step will increasingly become heavier.

People trail blaze around town and on the sandy outskirts and leave town every chance they can get. They are heading out to cabins to stay, and enjoying mitten-free mug ups before it’s too cold to move is a motive for many. The layers of rock and time are separated by distinct colors among the sand and tundra with the uneven clouds dappling the horizon as the backdrop.

The fresh feeling of rosy red cheeks we all enjoy when the cold hits is not so appealing here. Getting dressed will become a theatrical performance in itself during winter…

The beautiful tapestry of the red, yellow, and brown land, speckled with bitter black berries and overripe orange aqpiks (Newfoundland’s well known bake apple or cloudberry). Like home, most good spots are already picked over long before now, berries bagged and in the freezer or preserved in a mason jar.

The other day we spotted two elderly Inuit women far from town out picking berries on the land. They are testaments that hardy people dare not give in to the onslaught of cold fall winds or wet weather, or life will prove dour, and quickly.

These elders knelt on the marble painted land, gracefully accepting its offerings. I’m certain it was not the first time in their lives. Their embrace of the moment and satisfaction in it made me feel the finger wagging of those who came before me. The fall is here, and the winter should not leave me with fear but rather with excitement for the next season to come and all the gifts that come with it. We occupy space for many different reasons so we best suck it up and get prepared.

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