2019 brings encounters with the heavens, birds, ice, people, food & ransomware

 

Stars and northern lights

I am already in my bed in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut on Sept. 30, with a book, when my friend runs in and says “they’re out.” I know what she means and throw on my parka and kamiks and we head out down the road towards Mt. Pelly. We stop before the bridge and step out. Huge pulsating swaths of green light are moving across the sky, curling and reforming.

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The most amazing sight: the stars, like a blanket behind the green light. How would I feel if I could see that every night?

 

Birds

I spend some of my spring watching the ducks as they meet on the lake where I live in southern Quebec. There are so many kinds, some of which are already familiar to me from the North: loons, buffleheads, common and hooded mergansers, Canada geese.

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Sometimes the ducks form a line and race back and forth across the lake after the ice melts. The water is frothing behind them. I watch them for hours. They are just having fun. In my next life, I want to be a migratory duck.

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In the North, I watch the snow buntings and redpolls. This photo shows two birds at the feeder at the same time. That only happened once when both the birds were hungry.

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Ice

Moving from north to south I see the ice break up and freeze over and over again. In April I see the melting ice under a bright red sunset at the lake.

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Then, again on June 8, it’s about midnight when the melting ice in Frobisher Bay turns pink.

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In the autumn I watch ice form in Cambridge Bay producing frost flowers.

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Then, again, back by the lake, it’s freeze-up again. This time, the island looks like it’s ready for Christmas.

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Cabins

I go to Mt. Pelly near Cambridge Bay in September with a friend to her cabin. We’re lucky because it’s warm enough to walk around on the half-frozen land. Only later we learn about the big grizzly bear that’s out and about in the vicinity at the same time.

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When I’m not in the North, I spend a lot of my time off-grid in my island cabin.

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People

What keeps me going in 2019 are people.

Here I am at the Legion in Iqaluit on a tired Friday evening in April, at the left, with a group of my former co-workers. At that moment, we have no worries.

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Food

Sometimes a good meal can make everything go smoothly. One day in Iqaluit, in June when I am recovering from a bad cold, I get two portions of the best sushi I’ve ever tasted, of Arctic char and caribou, at the Nanook food truck in Iqaluit.

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A friend in Cambridge Bay makes us a flight of drinks one night.

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And how about the neighbour’s fish? Who needs a freezer in Cambridge Bay?

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Ransomware

I am finally planning on taking a weekend off when the Government of Nunavut is hit by ransomware on Saturday, Nov. 2. On that day, I am not even sure what that is, but, from then until the end of December, I go on to write maybe 20 stories for the Nunatsiaq News about its impact on the GN, on social assistance recipients and on the delivery of health care.191213_NNLayout_6 copy.jpg

Now…

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It’s been six years since I started this blog, and I’m sure many who end up here have no idea about a series about my experiences in the Arctic in the 1990s, which I wrapped up in the spring of 2013.

In Like an iceberg, I talk about an exorcism, brain surgery with a hand drill, robins in Iqaluit and a visit to the High Arctic’s fossil forest — as well as some big issues like censorship of the press, sexual abuse and violence.

There are also many photos you won’t see anywhere else…

So, here are all the links — and relive those times with me.

Like an iceberg: on being a journalist in the Arctic

Like an iceberg, 1991…cont.

Like an iceberg, 1991…more

Like an iceberg, 1992, “Shots in the dark” 

Like an iceberg, 1992, “Sad stories”

Like an iceberg, 1993, “Learning the language of the snows”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., “Spring”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., “Chesterfield Inlet”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., more “Chesterfield Inlet”

Like an iceberg, 1994: “Seals and more”

Like an iceberg, 1994, cont., “No news is good news”

Like an iceberg, 1994 cont., more “No news is good news”

Like an iceberg, 1994 cont., “A place with four names”

Like an iceberg, 1995, “More sad stories”

Like an iceberg, 1995 cont., “No place like Nome”

Like an iceberg, 1995 cont., “Greenland”

Like an iceberg, 1995, cont. “Secrets”

Like an iceberg, 1996, “Hard Lessons”

Like an iceberg, 1996 cont., “Working together”

Like an iceberg, 1996 cont., “At the edge of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1996, more “At the edge of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1996, cont. “Choices” 

Like an iceberg, 1997, “Qaggiq”

Like an iceberg, 1997, more “Qaggiq”

Like an iceberg, 1997, “Qaggiq” cont.

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Qaggiq and hockey”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Brain surgery in POV”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont.: “Masks on an island”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Abusers on the pulpit”

Like an iceberg, 1998, “Bearing gifts”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “At the top of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “A bad week” 

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont.: more from “A bad week”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “Memories”

Like an iceberg, 1999, “The avalanche”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “An exorcism, followed by a penis cutting”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., more on “the Avalanche”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Robins in the Arctic”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Fossil hunting”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Where forests grew” 

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont.,”And then there was Nunavut”

Riddu Riddu thaws Arctic boundaries

After tallying up a record number of visitors, more than 9,000 over five days, Norway’s 28th Riddu Riddu Indigenous festival wrapped up in the early hours of this past Sunday.

“The festival has surpassed my wildest fantasies,” said festival manager Sandra Márjá West in a release.

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The outdoor stage at Riddu Riddu 2019, which this year saw a record number coming to the festival in northern Norway. (Photo courtesy of Riddu Riddu)

“I am happy that so many people would go to Riddu Riđđu this year,” West said.

I wasn’t at Riddu Riddu to watch the festival unfold, but sitting 5,200 kilometres away at my at off-grid island cabin: I had made no plans for July other than to watch the eagles roosting and see my family.

But then suddenly, thanks to social media, accessible now on my phone,  it felt as if Riddu Riddu was taking place close by, and I wished I could just step off my boat and be there.

Riddu Riddu, which takes place annually in Kåfjord in Arctic Norway, includes Indigenous music, art, theatre and dance, youth camps with artistic and political workshops, a children’s festival, seminars, course programs, films and literature.

Riddu Riddu means stormy wind off the water in the Saami language, and had I been at the festival I would have dressed warmly as I could see that my Saami friends wore light parkas over their gáktis during the evenings.

Every year, Riddu Riddu reaches out to other circumpolar regions and indigenous peoples to spotlight the music, art and culture from a northern, Indigenous people.

And this year, its featured Indigenous northern people of the year were the Inuit of Nunavut.

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Silla and Rise, who fuse Inuit throat singing with dance floor beats, perform at Riddu Riddu. (Photo by Kalvig Anderson/courtesy of Riddu Riddu)

The line up of performers from Nunavut included, among others, award-winning Tanya Tagaq and Silla and Rise.

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Tanya Tagaq, winner of numerous awards, performs July 12 at Riddu Riddu. (Photo by Kalvig Anderson/courtesy of Riddu Riddu)

Tagaq, who has appeared at Riddu Riddu several times, also read to festival-goers from her new book, Split Tooth, which I reviewed for Nunatsiaq News.

Back in 2004, Riddu Riddu’s Indigenous people of the year were the Inuit of Nunavik.

They came after, in 2003, I had first gone to Riddu Riddu with two throat singers from Nunavik, who performed under the name of Puppuq.

After that festival, I had headed south into Finland with a busload of Koryaks, members of Mengo, a 21-member dance and theatre troupe from Kamchatka in Russia’s Far East.

The Koryaks, 6,600 of whom live in Kamchatka, were Riddu Riddu’s northern people of 2003, arriving at the festival with boiled reindeer meat, broiled salmon and fish cakes.

I can’t remember how we communicated about where they should let me off, but their bus left south of Oulu where I spent a week with friends at their island cottage, immersing myself again in Finnish.

In 2006, I was back at Riddu Riddu, when the program showcased everything from polar ska, Ainu dub, tribal funk to ethno-futuristic rock played by groups from Norway, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Siberia, South Africa, Greenland and Alaska. I hardly slept.

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Oki plays the tonkori, an Ainu stringed instrument, mixing traditional Ainu music with reggae, dub and other styles of world music. (Photo by Jane George)

I stood in front of the Riddu Riddu stage late into the night, listening to Oki, an Ainu from Japan.

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Members of the Siberian group Ayarhaan, as seen at Riddu Riddu in 2006. (Photo by Jane George)

And then there was the Siberian group Ayarhaan, which means “the tribe of the creator” which took the festival by surprise with its wildly traditional music combining elements of traditional throat-singing and Jimmy Hendrix.

Their home, Yakutia in central Siberia, is a place where temperatures range from -40 C in winter to 30 C in the summer, an extreme sort of place that produces an extreme version of throat singing.

“To survive you have to be strong, so you can hear the strength in the music,” Albina Degtyareva, the group’s lead singer, told me. “In Yakutia, you can feel and hear the power inside you.”

Her mouth harp, or “khomous,” looked like a pair of scissors with a metal tine sticking through the middle. Yakutians traditionally used the khomous, which was said to have been made by gods and possess a magical voice, to accompany their throat-singing. But Degtyareva said that 20 years ago, only 10 people in Yakutia knew how to use the khomous.

Raised in a small village, with a family where the harp was still played, she said she was one of only two people in Yakutia who felt confident enough to teach others how to play.

(And playing the khomous certainly isn’t easy: you have to learn how to make the separate oo-aa-ay-e sounds and then vary them by using your tongue. At the same time, your hand has to stroke the harp in a certain way, moving it back and forward, “like dancing,” slowly or fast, depending on the desired sound. It’s the kind of music someone has to teach you personally — and that’s what Degtyareva and her two partners did in workshops at Riddu Riddu, showing an interested group how to produce basic sounds on the khomous.)

For me, going to Riddu Riddu was an inspiration and an affirmation of strength and cultural and linguistic unity which I had always felt throughout the Arctic—and so it seemed this year for some of those at Riddu Riddu.

To see more photos from Riddu Riddu look at their Facebook page.

And, if you haven’t already, take a look at my “Like an iceberg” series of posts  on being a journalist in the Arctic in the 1990s.