The Last Ice

A guest post by Pete Ewins, WWF-Canada. Photo by Dennis Minty.

In fourteen years of travel with Adventure Canada, I’ve shared many magical moments with fellow passengers on the viewing decks, marvelling together at the enormous wild landscapes, seascapes, cultural history, and diverse and wonderful Arctic wildlife.

But one August morning stands above all others.

We were crossing Lancaster Sound in incredibly dense fog, lucky to see a few harp and bearded seals, and a polar bear. But overhead, hundreds of thick-billed murres and kittiwakes confidently commuted between cliff breeding colonies and rich foraging areas which we knew to be as far as two hundred kilometres away. Somehow they could navigate perfectly—without the benefit of the ship’s high-tech radar.

We were sailing over an area where years ago, long before rapid climate change was ever talked about, Canada had granted oil and gas exploration leases to oil giant Shell.

Everyone aboard the Adventure Canada ship knew the risks associated with oil spills, particularly in icy waters where, even to this day, there is no proven technique for effective cleanup.

That morning, the clash of values became so very clear: pristine ecosystems, concentrations of Arctic wildlife, Inuit coastal communities and their subsistence-harvesting lifestyle, and then the spectre of high-risk, big-oil developments and the inevitable accidents and long-term mess it would leave. Thankfully, the opportunity to safeguard Lancaster Sound and apply strong protection to these high Arctic marine and sea-ice areas is still intact.

The current federal government has committed to protect ten percent of Canada’s marine areas by 2020, and indicated at WWF-Canada’s Oceans Summit in 2016 that Lancaster Sound could soon receive designation as a large National Marine Conservation Area. Local Inuit, via the Qikitani Inuit Association, have been supportive of full protection for an even larger area of Lancaster Sound than the site suggested by Parks Canada—but this bigger boundary had long been thwarted by those Shell oil and gas leases. To unjam all this, WWF-Canada filed in federal court, and thankfully sense prevailed—Shell surrendered those old leases, removing the final barrier to marine protection for the incredible seascape we had sailed. Now, we’re eagerly anticipating a terrific Lancaster Sound announcement.

In this Anthropocene era of unprecedented rapid change, it is very clear that the Canadian High Arctic and its surrounding sea-ice areas—Lancaster Sound and north to the tip of Ellesmere Island, and west to the Beaufort Sea—will be an increasingly crucial home and refuge for wildlife species that evolved in persisting sea-ice conditions. We call this region the Last Ice Area (see map)—where Arctic sea-ice is projected to persist the longest in a region experiencing very rapid warming and loss of summer sea ice.

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Throughout the Arctic, these large areas require strong protection from high-risk human activities. This is what the sea-ice dependent species need in order to retain resilient populations and habitats in the face of dramatic change—species like the polar bear, narwhal, bowhead whale, walrus, ringed and bearded seals, and the food-chain species that support them.

This is at the core of our work at WWF-Canada. We thank all who travel with Adventure Canada to see wildlife and their habitat for themselves, and then help communicate the need for a modern approach to protecting these treasures while we still can. I’m already looking forward to this fall’s Arctic Safari, to celebrate important birthdays—Canada’s 150th, Adventure Canada’s 30th and WWF-Canada’s 50th—in this incredible northern Canadian home.


Pete Ewins is the lead specialist in species conservation with WWF-Canada. His polar bear-human conflict prevention work helps people and bears adapt to rapid climate change. Along with other WWF-Canada representatives, he will be joining the 2017 Arctic Safari expedition.

Why Antarctica? Reasons to visit in the Spring Season

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Everyone has a reason for visiting Antarctica—maybe, whether they know it or now—all of them unique and personal. For many, it can be the final checkmark on the map—the end of a lifelong bucket list to visit all corners of the earth. Others are captivated by its remote, pristine wilderness and its incredible wildlife-viewing opportunities. The call of an untouched world of glacial ice and rugged coastline is without a doubt one that is heard by many.

Whatever your reasons for visiting, there are some strong benefits to visiting the Antarctic in November, as the first rays of summer arrive on the world’s southernmost continent. The following is a few of the reasons you’ll want to reach Antarctica early in the year.

 

  1. The ice is sharp, crisp, and fresh. Over the summer, sun and sea take their toll on the innumerable icebergs that dot the Antarctic coastline. As the ice is weathered by heat and wave action, they change colour from blue to white as the volume of air trapped within changes, and the bergs become pitted and cracked. But in November and December, icebergs are at their most massive—they’re fresh from the winter season, sharp, and massive, towering in crenellated peaks over azure waters.People_zodiac_cruising
  2. The snow is immaculate. Early in the summer season, snow in Antarctica is fresh, white, and crisp—a true tabula rasa. As we cross the sea from South Georgia to the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, the most common reaction is reverence and awe. The sheer scale and immensity of the Antarctic coastline often leaves us speechless; the sparkling snow, the gleaming blue glacial shelves—unmarked with mud and impurities that are revealed by summer melt—are truly unparalleled sights to behold. Arriving early in the season means we see them at their best.Places_Neko_Harbour_ice_shelf
  3. The penguins are partying. Early expeditions offer the best opportunities for penguin viewing, as it’s their mating season and energy is at a peak. You can expect to see penguins mating, nesting or—often, and hilariously—stealing pebbles away from the nests of others. Chinstrap penguins lay late in November, and typically hatch two chicks each summer. They will occupy their colonies until the start of summer the following March, when they leave the pack ice for winter. These birds feed just offshore of their colonies, plumbing the sea for krill and fish which are shared with the chicks. The second most abundant species on the continent, the chinstraps are easily at their best early in the season—which is when we visit them.Wildlife_penguins_chinstrap_rookery
  4. The world’s largest carnivores are primed for action. It may surprise you to know that the southern elephant seal—also known as Beachmasters—are the largest carnivores alive, with some adult males surpassing even polar bears in size! In summer, these giants come ashore to moult and will lay beached for weeks at a time! Some can go up to three months on land before returning to the sea to hunt. By visiting South Goergia in November and December, we ensure that our arrival is perfectly timed to see these magnificent creatures, and hear their fearsome roars.FSG_seals_elephant_males

Sound like something you’d like to be a part of? Well look no further. Join Adventure Canada this November aboard the Hebridean Sky for our Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica expedition and travel in style to the bottom of the world.

Menace, Manor, Myth

sable 1

A guest post by Jill Martiin Bouteillier. Photographs by Sarah Beatrice (“Trixie”) Bouteillier.

For as long as I can remember, Sable Island was part of my family’s collection of narratives: whenever we visited my grandfather and great aunt in British Columbia their stories, expressions and memories brought that spit of sand floating off the coast of Nova Scotia in the North Atlantic into the room, where it leaped to life in vivid technicolour. Both Clarence, my grandfather, and his sister, Trixie, spent the better part of their childhood and young adulthood on the island where their father was the Superintendent. Robert Jarvis Bouteillier held that post from 1884 to 1913.

When I began my research for my two books on Sable Island, I realized that Sable Island exhibited multiple personalities: a deathtrap for the unwary or cocky, a warm hearth of gentile aspect, and a mysterious labyrinth habited by beasts and ghosts. Veritably, the stuff of myth.

Birthed by the confluence of two mighty currents, the Gulf Stream and the Labrador, Sable Island clings tenaciously to the edge of the Grand Banks. Its waters, teeming with fish, dared the Portuguese, Basque, French, English, American, and Italian fishermen to risk life and limb to fill their holds with the lucrative cod.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s flagship, the Delight, part of Queen Elizabeth I’s 1583 expedition to the new world, foundered in the deadly surf of the South East sandbar of Fagunda Island, as it was called by the Portuguese.

Richard Hakluyt, a young geographer, had been removed from the expedition at the last moment. He lived to meet the seven survivors of the Delight and to write their story. As more ships foundered in the Isle de Sable’s clutches, this temperate island in the middle of the Atlantic, was soon recognized by mariners as a place to avoid and earned the moniker, Graveyard of the Atlantic.

Once a permanent lifesaving outpost was established by the Colonial Government of Nova Scotia in 1801, men of strength and hardworking character added their names to the list of Superintendents. For six hundred pounds a year, these brave leaders dispensed justice, medical care, lifesaving expertise as well as managing supplies for the residents at the two lighthouses and four rescue stations ready to sacrifice their lives to save others. Although they were isolated in ways a modern dweller could never imagine, they raised their large families, grew massive gardens, and treasured the finer things like music in dwellings which rivalled the finest homes in Halifax.
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So when did Sable Island grow to mythic proportions?  I think it started with strange sightings of other worldly beings: ghosts of shipwrecked sailors, fishermen and lost travellers. With an estimated 2000 souls caught in the ribs of the shoals which stretch out from each side of the island, there is much fodder for spirits to linger. When the fog was just right, the sea conjured up fantastical forms. Those who saw them struggled to keep the vision secret, for fear of bad luck. But the stories were whispered around the fire—the lost coxswain, the bloody finger of Mrs. Copeland, the monk chanting his prayers along the north beach.

In addition to the spirit world, wild horses were left to range in the late 1700’s. With their arrival the island was touched by magic pixie dust. Imagine a place where hundreds of chestnut, sable and soft amber horses run free unhindered by man. Indeed some were trained to become work horses for the residents and some were sold in Halifax auctions, but many ran free in well-established gangs.  To such a place, scientists, photographers, politicians and poets came to watch in awe.

In 1858 a young Joseph Howe visited the Island. On his return to civilization, he wrote a poem about his transcendent experience on the island. What follows are the opening  and closing stanzas of his poem:

 

Sable Island

Dark Isle of Mourning–aptly art thou named,
For thou hast been the cause of many a tear;
For deeds of treacherous strife too justly famed,
The Atlantic’s charnel–desolate and drear;
A thing none love–though wand’ring thousands fear–
If for a moment rests the Muse’s wing
Where through the waves thy sandy wastes appear,
‘Tis that she may one strain of horror sing,
Wild as the dashing waves that tempests o’er thee fling.

Farewell! dark Isle—the Muse must spread her wing,
To seek for brighter themes in scenes more air,
Too happy if the strain she strove to sing
Shell warn the sailor of thy deadly snare;
Oh! would the dogs but hear her fervent prayer,
The fate of famed Atlantis should be thine—
No longer crouching in thy dangerous lair,
But sunk far down beneath the ‘whelming bring,
Known but to History’s page—or in the poet’s line.

Within days, he increased the funding to support the good efforts of the lifesaving station.

In 1905, the Skidby foundered on Sable Island. The Captain and crew were marooned on the island for a month. It was a long month during which no one including his ship’s owners knew the fate of their crew or cargo. Captain Pearson penned these lines:

 

Oh Isle of Sable, stormy Isle.
The tempests blasts around thee whirl
The angry seas around thee swirl,
Uncertain currents doth beguile
Good ships to doom; thou Sable Isle.

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Sable Island is all of that and more. I was honoured to be able to share a bit of the history and lore of this wild, beautiful place – still rugged and very isolated, but made accessible by companies such as Adventure Canada. For me, the most magical moment was on our second Zodiac ride to the island. Off the starboard side, the hull of the Skidby was visible below the turquoise sea. Myth became reality.


When Lunenburg Academy closed its doors in 2012, Jill turned the key on a thirty-year career in education, but the historian in her would not be silenced. Consulting for both the National Film Board of Canada (2003) and White Gate Films (2013 and ongoing) inspired her to develop her distinctly Maritime non-fiction voice. In 2015, Jill crafted the successful novel, Return to Sable. Her most recent work, Sable Island in Black and White (Nimbus) is a pictorial anthology of the island, narrated by compelling stories and illustrated with tintypes, glass plates, and old Brownie photographs. Jill sits on the Board of Directors for Friends of Sable Island Society. Join her in 2017 aboard our Sable Island expedition.

Siqiniup Qilauta

Heart of the Arctic 2016 - Day 5 - Lower Savage Islands - welcome ceremony Beedell- © Mike Beedell

A guest post by Heidi Langille and Lynda Brown. Photo by Mike Beedell.

There is a legend among the Inuit about the halo that appears around the sun. Known in some parts as siqiniup qilauta—roughly translated, “the sun’s drum”, it is a good sign; a symbol of good luck.

There are approximately 56,000 Inuit living in Canada in four distinct areas, as well as in urban centres such as Ottawa. Led by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the National organization representing Inuit in Canada, each area—Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut—shares common cultural practices, but celebrates different histories. For instance, in Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador, the Moravian missionaries have been present since the eighteenth century—but in Nunavut, ongoing contact with government representatives didn’t really start to happen until the 1950s. Inuit is the Inuktitut word meaning “the people”. One person is an Inuk, two people are Inuuk, and three or more are Inuit—pronounced ee-new-eet. You may have heard the term ‘Eskimo’—commonly used until recently. Eskimo is a northern Cree word meaning “eaters of raw meat”—and while there is some truth to the name, Inuit much prefer to be called Inuit!

Siqiniup Qilauta is also name of our musical group. Located in Ottawa, we have travelled nationally and internationally demonstrating traditional and contemporary Inuit throat singing, drum dancing, and games—as well as providing interactive workshops on the history of the Inuit, and their current realities. We believe strongly in the strength and resiliency of a cultural people that moved from igloo to iPod in such a short time. We enjoy sharing our culture and the many questions and interests that people have surrounding Canada’s northern people. Sharing the beauty and the strength of this dynamic culture, we hope to create a better world, full of understanding, for our children—and for all Inuit children.


You can hear Sunsdrum performing at Adventure Canada’s upcoming event in Toronto, Northbound!

Heidi is an urban Inuk with family roots in Nunatsiavut. She is one of the founders of the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre which empowers Inuit families in Ottawa with many programs and services. Heidi was nominated as one of the National Aboriginal Role Models in 2010–2011 which has enabled her to motivate and inspire Aboriginal youth across Canada. One of the many things that Heidi enjoys is providing interactive presentations to all Inuit walks of life including throat singing, history, current events, drumming, and Inuit games. She lives with her husband and their six children.

Lynda was born in Nunavut, her mother’s family originates from Pangnirtung, and her father is of Scottish descent. Upon graduating from Trent University with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Native Studies and Psychology, she moved to the nation’s capital. In Ottawa, home to the largest southern Inuit community, Lynda and her husband Rob Nicholson, raise their three young children. Lynda loves her work with the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre and is very involved with her community. She volunteers her time, primarily focussing on Inuit women and children and affordable housing. She is the President of Inuit Non-Profit Housing Incorporation, and has been serving on this board for six years. She participated in the 2008 Governor General Leadership Conference. Lynda is a traditional throat singer and drummer, and shares her cultural knowledge through demonstrations, information sessions and workshops. She performs locally, nationally and internationally.

Qujannamiik, Tunngasugitsi

Arctic Bay

A guest post by Robert Comeau. Photo by Scott Forsyth.

During our trip out of the Northwest Passage this past September, we made a community visit to the hamlet of Arctic Bay. We’d been unable to make our stop in Grise Fiord due to ice conditions—and our Expedition Leader, Jason Edmunds, wanted to make sure we stopped into an Inuit community in Canada before crossing over to Greenland. So, we made an impromptu stop into Arctic Bay.

As soon as we landed on the shores of the community, a snowball fight erupted between about two-dozen kids and some of our resource staff. After the snowball fight, we were able to explore the community with these youth showing us some of their favourite spots to hang out.

These kids reminded me of the kids in my community. Even though Arctic Bay is over 1,500 kilometres north of my hometown of Iqaluit, it felt like I was in a smaller version of home. This sense of familiarity was strong. In the case of Arctic Bay, it was these young Inuit that welcomed us so warmly. It was similar in the Greenlandic communities.

This hospitality extends throughout Inuit Nunangat, which is the Inuktitut term for everything that encompasses the Inuit Homeland. Southerners know this as the Arctic. I think this is a distinction that is very important to make—because when people think about the Arctic, many don’t think of its inhabitants, us Inuit. So, being able to travel as one of the Inuit Resource Staff aboard the Ocean Endeavour offered me the opportunity to help passengers understand our culture and our way of living in Inuit Nunangat. Each year, more and more expedition cruise ships are coming into Inuit Nunangat. With this increase, it is important that Inuit are present on expeditions to make sure that passengers experience our homeland to the fullest extent.

Inuit are very proud of our culture and ways of knowing. We are even more proud to be able to share this culture, this knowledge with visitors—or each other. Travelling from one end of the Northwest Passage to the other, we cross through many different Inuit regions with both similarities and differences. In almost every community we visited, we were lucky enough to cross paths with hunters coming back from being out on the land. In Illulissat, hunters were bringing ashore some caribou from their harvest and you could hear the Inuit Resource Staff commenting on how delicious the country food looked. This allowed us to share with the passengers our experiences and knowledge about harvesting caribou in our respective regions. I am tremendously grateful to have been able to help passengers understand our distinct way of life.

For me, one of the best parts of our expedition was when passengers had the opportunity to try some of our country food for the first time. This included frozen caribou meat, smoked fish, dried fish, frozen fish, and maktaaq (narwhal blubber/skin). “This is actually really good,” was the verdict! It was hard not to eat too much of it while cutting it up and handing it out, though…

The inclusion of Inuit Resource Staff by Adventure Canada enables the passengers to experience Inuit Nunangat as Inuit have since time immemorial. Simple rituals bring us all together; a game, a shared meal, a handshake. A smile. Who knows what expeditions to come will bring to us, but that’s the fun part.

So: to the passengers we were lucky enough to have aboard this past summer I say: Qujannamiik, a warm thanks. To the future passengers that will be aboard next summer and the summers to come: Tunngasugitsi, welcome.


Robert is a culturalist, hails from Iqaluit, and is currently studying History and Political Science at Carleton University. Robert has lived in, quite literally, all four corners of Canada and has experienced the west coast, the prairies, the east coast, and Ottawa. Home will always be the Arctic for Robert. He strongly believes that youth should be not only participating in the dialogue but helping also helping direct this dialogue. Robert is engaged in his community in Ottawa with organizations such as the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre and he hopes to help improve the overall quality of life for Inuit and ensure that youth in the Arctic have opportunities to have their voices heard. Join him in 2017 aboard Into the Northwest Passage.

My Arctic

Out of the Northwest Passage 2016 - Day 14 - Ilulissat - 10 - PSCC - © Scott ForsythA guest post by Shoshanah Jacobs. Photo by Scott Forsyth.

My mother says that the reason I spent three years in Ushuaia, Argentina, was because it was the furthest I could get from home.

Well, half of that is true; it was the furthest that I could get—but the goal was never to distance myself from home specifically. Travel, adventure, exploration…these are things that have become synonymous with our species. It was difficult for me as a child to contend with the fact that I could not just pick up and head off on my own. For several years now, home has been my big black canvas bag that can, miraculously without explanation, contract and expand between eighteen and twenty-three kilograms depending on weight restrictions.

I am a wanderer; a person without a fixed address.

Every destination that I am lucky enough to visit inspires me to continue to explore—and the list of places I haven’t been seems endless. Though this lifestyle gives me the freedom to wander aimlessly, there is one part of this tiny planet that keeps me coming back as though it was home: the Canadian Arctic. My Arctic.

2001 marked the first time that I ventured north to work. I was aboard a scientific expedition to a remote bird colony near Resolute Bay, and since then I have retuned to the Arctic every summer. In the Arctic I found the sense of home that many wanderers often seek but never find. It is at once familiar and alien, wondrous and haunting, inviting and harsh, exciting and tranquil and desolate and powerful. It is a land of contradiction and complexity, and it sings with a delight that makes you care for it as a loved one. It is the place that gave me glimpses into the secret lives of foxes, seals, musk oxen, and the great marine mammals that roam the deep. It is the place that sent my heart pounding at the closeness of polar bears; the place where stories shared become the torches passed between old friends. It is the most difficult place through which I have ever travelled, but it has also brought out the best in me and in my companions. It challenges us, it teases us—and then it rewards our toil with all its beauty and its grace. Our Arctic is a land of culture, of nature, of true wilderness, of landscapes beyond compare. It is my home. And I invite all to explore it.


Shoshanah became a sailor when she was six years old and her parents bought a twelve-meter motor yacht. Originally from Ottawa, she moved to the east coast of Canada where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Biology. She studied harbour seal population dynamics, and compled an independent study on the shark distribution around San Salvador Island, Bahamas, while spending as much time in the water with them as possible. Her MSc dissertation focussed on the acoustic ecology of seals and the effects of aquaculture on their population distribution. She returned to Ottawa in 2001 to complete her Doctoral dissertation on the energy dynamics of Arctic seabirds. She is currently studying Arctic seabird populations in Alaska and has been living in Guelph since 2012, where she is a professor of biology at the University of Guelph. She speaks English, French, and Spanish.

Phantom Power

Aaju and Matthew by Michelle Valberg © Michelle Valberg

A guest post by Tom Barlow. Photo by Michelle Valberg.

Music plays a major part in all of our lives—it influences how we feel, what we want to feel; it forms the emotional markers of our lives. The inclusion of music as a key component of Adventure Canada’s adventures is a unique and, I believe, integral part of the company’s philosophy of opening up our minds and spirits to the cultures and landscapes we visit.

Every culture in the history of the human species has had music as a central cultural touchstone. Many academic disciplines have ignored this remarkable fact for centuries. With modern developments in MRI technology, we have been able to look into our brains and see the effects of music on neural activity and other physiological processes for the first time.

The influence of music on the developing human brain and on human social interaction has spawned an exciting new branch of music-based research. Bestselling books like This is Your Brain on Music examine the power of music to profoundly affect our minds, our bodies, and our interactions with each other.

The inclusion of musicians on Adventure Canada expeditions not only entertains passengers; it also acts as a social passport to the various isolated communities we visit. Music allows conversation to begin where language leaves us disconnected; music conveys ancient stories and passes on traditional learning; it is the great unifier, the great common denominator, the heartbeat by which all people are connected.

Hearing Aaju Peter sing in Inuktitut as we approach Baffin Island, or Daniel Payne striking up a fiddle jig in a tiny outport community in Newfoundland connects us to those places in a magical, primal way. In turn, it connects those places to us.


Tom has been a writer and performer on the Canadian music scene for twenty years. During that time he has garnered three Juno Award nominations, a Canadian Radio Music Award nomination, and won the Canadian Independent Rising Star Award. His latest record, The Fire, is available now.

Natural Beauty

A guest post by Jack Seigel. Photo by Dennis Minty

The Arctic voyages of Adventure Canada travel to what southerners consider to be the most remote parts of Canada. From the tundra ponds of the western lowlands to the glacier-sculpted mountains of Devon and Baffin islands, this landscape presents an exciting diversity of wildlife.

From the ship, distant shore appear barren—but as we approach, the tundra presents a patchwork of colour and texture. Through the season it is a palette in constant flux. The purples and mauves of saxifrage and moss campion flowers in early spring give way to the yellows of dryas and Arctic poppy in summer, which are finally replaced by the spectacular golds and reds of autumns arrival.

The ankle-high growth of willows, birches, and heathers hides the runways of lemmings as they fly from predatory jaegers. A herd of some forty-odd musk oxen casually grazes valley grasses. Their dark hair hands like curtains with the last of winter’s wool marking their passage as it snags on scattered shrubs. The entire herd seems unconcerned with our group as we raise binoculars and cameras to watch them. On nearby ponds, tundra swans gracefully guide their young among noisy cackling geese and red-throated loons. Buff-breasted and semi-pelmated sandpipers wander the insect-rich margins.

In isolated bays, we board Zodiacs and watch a pod of belugas hunting the shallows. A single bowhead whale casually drifts in the lee of the white whales. On a gravel bar, a group of walrus rests. The large male rolls his head, scribing an arc with half-metre tusks, jabbing at his neighbour and claiming his space.

Crowding the bow deck, passengers watch as the ship negotiates the final summer remnants of pack ice. Off the starboard side, ravens and glaucous gulls draw our attention to a blood-covered floe. Excitement mounts as a polar bear is sighted swimming to the distant ice, glancing back at us with indifference.

Steep cliffs fairly vibrate with life, the narrow ledges providing safe nesting for thousands of thick-billed murres and black-legged kittiwakes. In late August, the young murres—still flightless—leave the cliffs, plummeting to the ocean far below. Escorted by their fathers, they begin their long migration, swimming as many as a thousand kilometres before learning to fly at last. Below these cliffs, we see Arctic foxes patrolling the talus slopes in search of those unlucky chicks unable to reach the water.

Every year we land at new sites, awed by the beauty and excitement of wildlife encounters. But no matter how remote an area appears, we always find tent rings, sod houses. Ancient reminders of this land’s true owners. The opportunity to visit the Arctic in its glory, to meet its people and see its wildlife, is a great privilege. We leave with a renewed sense that we must begin to take the problems that we have created on this planet seriously.


After thirty-five years teaching post-secondary biology and environmental studies, Jack remains committed to conservation, education, and the hope of a sustainable future. Over the years he has consulted on ecotourism development and taught guide training internationally. Jack has guided nature tours and conducted travel study courses in in North, Central, and South America as well as in Africa and South Asia. With an extensive knowledge of plants and animals and their ecological relationships, he enjoys introducing the big picture in a relaxed and entertaining style. Jack has travelled throughout the Arctic since 1978 and first joined the Adventure Canada resource team in 1994.

Living Rock

A guest post by Marc St-Onge. Photo by Michelle Valberg.

Four billion years of Earth history—and not a day less.

From the Beaufort Sea to the south-eastern shores of Iceland, the Arctic’s geological past is not only remarkably rich and turbulent, but also unique on this planet. No other place on Earth can claim the full planetary rock record as documented in the Arctic, with the polar record including the oldest rocks in the world. These range in age between 3.8 and 4.03 billion years old; the Earth itself is only slightly older at 4.55 billion years. It’s a unique rock record that includes some of the earliest traces of life itself—specifically, circular plate-sized mounds called “stromatolites” formed by bacterial colonies of blue-green algae once living at the bottom of shallow, warm equatorial seas and now to be found, 2.9 billion years later, in the Canadian Arctic.

This unique geological record includes Earth’s first Himalayan-scale mountain belt with the ancient, now-eroded mountains that extended beneath Hudson Bay through northern Quebec and southern Baffin into western Greenland. These mountains formed 1.8 billion years ago when the Quebec-Ontario landmass collided with that shared by Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Greenland. The resulting ranges were similar in every way to the modern Himalayas in south-central Asia.

At the younger end of the geological spectrum, the unique Arctic record includes the most compelling evidence for what is known as the “Little Ice Age”, a period of long, cold winters and short, cool summers that characterized the climate of the northern hemisphere from the late fourteenth century to the end of the nineteenth. Inconveniently, the Little Ice Age was also the historical period when polar explorers ventured into Arctic Canada, beginning Sir Martin Frobisher (and continuing with Franklin, Ross, McClure, and many others). Geologically speaking, this was definitely a cast of not checking the weather prior to departure!

Four billion years of Earth history, full of violent volcanism and flooding that would have impressed Noah—there were several—colliding continents, wandering supercontinents … and yet, life persisted throughout, somehow. The record graven the Arctic’s living rock is a gripping tale open to those who learn its language, and read it closely. Like any truly great book, it leaves those who peruse it utterly awe-struck.


Marc is Senior Research Scientist and Head of Regional Geology at the Geological Survey of Canada, Natural Resources Canada. His passion for and knowledge of Arctic geology served as inspiration for a recent short story by Margaret Atwood (“Stone Mattress”), and his innovative work led to the publication of the “Geological Map of the Arctic” in 2011, the “Tectonic Map of Arctic Canada” in 2015, and the GSC’s first-ever geological maps in Inuktitut, also in 2015.

Looming Large in the Arctic

A guest post by Pierre Richard. Photo by Dennis Minty.

A platoon of long-walkers made their way up a hill on Devon Island. Upon reaching the top, they fell silent and pulled out binoculars and cameras, silently creeping along the hilltop. Below, some six hundred metres into a valley, a dozen round brown shapes with golden mantled were standing in a sedge meadow. “Musk ox,” the trekkers whispered excitedly. The scene was amazing; the musk oxen were in full light, between us and the shore—and a kilometre away, listing gently at anchor, the ship waited.

Later that week, along the Greenlandic coast, the sea was perfectly calm and the setting sun bathed the land in rapt golden hues. Suddenly, a tall blow rose ahead of the bow. It was followed by the raspy sound of a whale’s breath. Soon, another blow followed … and another, and another. The ship was surrounded by six large whales, which lingered for nearly half an hour until we lost them in the receding light…

The Arctic’s treeless landscape and its vast waters provide priceless opportunities to admire terrestrial and marine mammals. While seabirds are the ship’s constant companion on expeditions, the sudden appearance of a group of musk oxen, a polar bear, a large whale, or a pod of belugas sends a wave of excitement through us all, whether on board or ashore. Large mammals are plentiful in polar environments, but they tend to be aggravated by our presence—many are shy, so spotting them tends to be feast and famine. We go for days without any sightings, and suddenly they are everywhere. Here, a herd of harp seals; there, three walruses. Finally, a polar bear.

The Inuit rely heavily on large mammals for sustenance but they also marvel at their majesty and ability. Their conversations are rich with stories about these mammals and the value—literal and cultural—of their meat, their skin, their fat. While stories of the demise of Arctic mammal populations abound, they are often exaggerated. Most Canadian large mammal populations—with a few exceptions—are plentiful. They are, nevertheless, the subject of much debate regarding sustainable hunting levels and, more recently, how climate change will affect their numbers and condition in the future. It is an important debate.


As a long-time Arctic marine mammal researcher, Pierre has focused on the population biology of belugas and narwhals of the Canadian Arctic, developing recommendations for the sustainable use and conservation of their populations. He is known in Nunavut as “Pieri, angutikutaq qilalugalerei” (‘the tall man who knows about belugas and narwhals’). He is the author of a Nunavut school book on Marine Mammals of Nunavut and several French language books on whales and mammals of eastern Canada and the Arctic. Pierre likes to spend a lot of time on the ships’ decks or out in a boat to spot marine mammals and birds.

Angry Inuk

A guest post by Aaju Peter

My travels to Europe to promote Canadian and Inuit sealing rights started in March, 2007. Anti-sealing organizations had successfully lobbied the German government to ban import of seal products and were being very successful lobbying in Holland. My son, Aggu, Jim Winter, a pro-sealing activist from St. John’s, Newfoundland, and I went to speak with the Government of Holland representatives, who were discussing to ban the import of seal products into Holland. A large anti-sealing campaign was taking place outside the Canadian Embassy, to shame Canada for killing seals. Teenage boys were holding large posters of east coast sealers and seals being harvested in an effort to influence europeans and the media that killing seals is a bad thing and should be stopped. Other demonstrators were dressed up as white coat seal pups. This in spite of the fact that white coat seal pups were no longer harvested by east coast sealers since 1983.

The Government of Holland proceeded to ban the import of seal products. The next step for the large, organized and well-funded anti-sealing organizations were to stop the import of seal products into all twenty-six European states all at once. The European politicians and their electorate were being harassed every day for years leading up to the vote in 2009. 550 for 50 against? As a small Canadian delegation of pro-sealers, we traveled to Strassbourg to try to tell the politicians that seals were not an endangered species; that we followed strict hunting regulations; that banning the import of seal products into Europe would have devastating financial, cultural, and social consequences for Inuit and remote communities in Canada. Even before the vote, the chair of the European Union sealing committee told us that even though she knew that the seal population had grown from 1.5 million in the 1970s to 7 million today, she would have to vote to ban the import of seals because that is what her electorate wanted her to do. So, the legislation to ban the import of seal products into Europe was passed because of European morality. That it is immoral to kill a seal.

Astonishingly, just after the vote, all six hundred parliamentarians and our small Canadian delegation went downstairs to a large restaurant to eat lunch. The day’s offer was rows and rows of meat from cows, chicken, and pigs. Little pictures of cows were proudly displayed on the veal. I was flabbergasted. I could not believe that all these politicians—just after voting to ban the import of seal meat and seal products into Europe—without any hesitation stuffed themselves with all these animals that had been grown specifically to be slaughtered for their own consumption. Is this moral? Absolutely, according to an old man, because the animals that are eaten in Europe are not living a free life as the seals do—and therefore it was perfectly fine. How European animals are raised and how they are slaughtered is not questioned. Somehow seals had became a holy animal. It is the poster child of animal rights organizations because they look cute, with big eyes that always seem to be crying. In fact, this is a biological process that occurs to prevent their eyes from freezing. A calf has large eyes and it is so cute. What about a chick? They are very cute. And a piglet. Oink, oink. So cute. That is a whole bunch of hypocrisy.

Alethea Arnaquq Baril, a young Inuit woman has been documenting and filming our campaign since it started. She has been screening her documentary, Angry Inuk at film festivals at Hot Docs, Barrie Film Festival and imagineNative in Toronto. She is receiving awards for her beautiful and stirring work gracefully leading a chorus of voices who patiently tell the audience and show them what they need to know about who Inuit are in the Canadian arctic and what an integral part the seal is to us. At one of the screening a young girl stood up and asked, “Where can I buy sealskin earrings?”. That was brilliant. Alethea promised to make a pair for her. At another screening another young girl says to me, “That is so wrong. They (animal rights groups) lied”.

Since the large demonstrations against sealing in the early 70s and 80s, the price for sealskins was finally up to where it had been pre anti-sealing campaigns, around $100. Leading up to the EU legislation to ban the import of seal products into Europe, the price kept falling and went down to between $10 and $20 dollars. The income for sealers went down by ninety percent. How can an Inuk hunter afford to go hunting to feed his community?

The hardship that animal rights groups, such as Greenpeace, IFAW, and PETA has caused to Inuit and coastal communities in Canada is not acceptable. In the Canadian Arctic, we now have the highest food insecurity in north America. What do we do? We have to urge others to follow the film and be more vigilant in our support of the industry and demand that the anti-sealing groups be accountable for their misinformation.


Born in 1960 in Arkisserniaq, a northern Greenland community, Aaju has lived up and down the west coast of her native country as a result of her father’s teaching and preaching career. She has travelled Greenland, Europe and Canada performing modern drum dance, traditional singing, and displaying sealskin fashions. Currently Aaju has a home-based sealskin garment business, translates, volunteers for the music society, collects traditional law from elders for the Department of Justice, and raises her five children—just recently, she graduated from Akitsiraq Law School and was called to the bar.

Click here to read more about Angry Inuk.

Filming Worlds Apart

An interview with filmmaker-photographer Jason Van Bruggen

Jason van Bruggen is a self-taught photographer and filmmaker based in Canada. His lens has previously captured an incredible Adventure Canada journey through the Northwest Passage. We are thrilled to share Jason’s latest cinematic poem featuring AC staffer and author-explorer James Raffan, and caught up with him to ask some questions about his craft.


Adventure Canada: Jason, what draws you to the wilderness as a filmmaker?

Jason Van Bruggen: Our wilderness is an endlessly fascinating subject to me. Not only for its beauty, but also for the opportunities it provides us in terms of learning and reflection. As we enter an age of scarcity and climate change, these opportunities become more precarious. As a visual artist, I have a role to play in conserving wild places and encouraging an appreciation for them in others. Not only for their visual interest but for their profound importance. My passion for wilderness locations is decades old and predates my current role as a filmmaker and photographer. My current career choice was informed by a passion for wild places rather than the other way around. A fascination with intrepid travel has spanned my whole life. Growing up, I spent my summers on unsupported canoe trips in the Canadian backcountry, which is probably at the root of it. I have worked in the most remote and austere locations on the planet ranging from the Tibetan Himalaya to the deserts of Iraq, and spent time wandering around in well over a hundred countries. Wilderness travel and exploration have been profoundly formative and continue to provide me with boundless inspiration.

AC: What extra considerations does a filmmaker have to make when shooting in remote locations like the Arctic? How did you prepare? What is the hardest part about shooting in cold weather?

JVB: There are many, many additional considerations that go into shooting in remote locations, especially when travelling with a sophisticated equipment package. Preparation involves fastidious attention to detail, starting with the planning stages. You need to be ready for contingency, for equipment failure (total or partial) and have backups of all the essentials. The hardest parts about shooting in cold weather are pretty obvious—keeping yourself warm, keeping your batteries warm, and keeping your equipment running are always crucial.  

AC: Is there anything in particular that makes a shooting location special? What do you look for when gathering footage?

JVB: The light. The fleeting point of confluence at which light, topography, and activity all meet is what yields magic.

AC: Wildlife is notoriously hard to shoot. Is there anything you take into consideration to help get the perfect shot?

JVB: First off, I don’t think I have gotten the perfect shot. In my view, the best way to capture wildlife is to research where you might find the fauna you are looking for, identify a target location, and then spend time there. I prefer to wait in one place and get to know it intimately; this allows me to develop an understanding of where the best opportunities exist. This enables me to find the best light and, hopefully, understand the habits and interests of the animals I am shooting. Observing animals candidly, without disturbing them, is always the most rewarding. That being said, you can do everything right and walk away without a single shot. It’s a crap-shoot like that, especially in landscapes as vast and changeable as the Arctic.

AC: What was the most challenging shot in this most recent project?

JVB: Many individual shots had their challenges, but I think the most delicate part of this project was trying to strike a balance between a number of competing priorities. At the end of the day, this is a piece to promote Arctic travel on behalf of Adventure Canada. It is also a portrait of a friend of mine, and one that I wanted to make candid without being overly revealing. Like many of the stories that I imagine and film, I wanted this to be honest and to steer away from a clichéed interpretation of the North, exploration, and wilderness travel.

AC: Part of what makes your northern films and images so striking is the haunting, subdued palate. Can you comment on how you achieve such a vivid representation of local colour?

JVB: I try and represent on film what I feel when I am in the North. The Arctic, as it lives in my memory, is not an overtly colourful place. It is an eerily beautiful place, though. I see a great deal of photography which feels like it stretches the boundaries of credible human experience in the Arctic. While there are flashes of brilliant colour on many of my Arctic voyages, my emotional memory of the Arctic on most days is reflected in my colour treatment of both still and moving images.

AC: How would you describe the experience of working with Adventure Canada?

JVB: I love these guys. It’s a family-run business with tremendous purchase in the communities we visit and huge respect for the part of the world in which they travel. Those relationships have taken decades to build, and aren’t something that can be bought. The resource staff aboard the AC vessels keep coming back, year after year, for the same reasons that I do—we get to work with great people in amazing places.

AC: What is your dream shoot? Somewhere you haven’t been, and always wanted to?

JVB: Tough question. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot , and get to a lot of ‘bucket list’ destinations. I want to continue to explore the most compelling and hard to get to pieces of wilderness in Canada, and around the world. If I had to narrow it down, I would say all of National Parks in Canada that I haven’t been to yet.

AC: Thanks very much, Jason!

JVB: Thank you!


Jason’s work is focussed on depicting North American wilderness, including the Far North in a manner that is authentic and narrative—building new interpretations of these landscapes. Favouring travel that brings him in direct contact with the frontier and those who inhabit it, Jason’s immersive work seeks to explore these emerging landscapes and capture the vulnerability of the ecosystems and the people who live within them, illuminating a tension between the strength and fragility of the region; the age-old resolve to survive, and the current intention to thrive in places where scarcity fosters incredible ingenuity, resilience, and hospitality. Visit his portfolio online for more information.

All photos courtesy of Jason Van Bruggen.

The Heyday and Decline of Arctic Exploration: a Case Study in Two Paintings

Guest post by Michael Engelhard

Analyzing the heroic quest narrative, the American mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out that it is crucial for the protagonist to face unknown dangers and to gain spiritually or physically value. As a placeholder for Arctic adversity, the polar bear perfectly embodied such a notion. Captured alive, pictured, described for science, or slain for its meat or skin, it signified the hero’s trophy, his travails, and his rewards.

Two English nineteenth-century paintings fall well within the Heroic Age and epitomize the polar bear’s role in visual mythmaking: Richard Westall’s apotheosis Nelson and the Bear (1806) and Edwin Henry Landseer’s memento Man Proposes, God Disposes (1864). This essay explores these works.

Landseer

Edwin Henry Landseer — Man Proposes, God Disposes — 1864 — oil on canvas

Landseer’s monumental canvas alludes to the fate of Sir John Franklin (Nelson’s subaltern at the battle of Trafalgar), “the man who ate his boots,” who—with his sailors—disappeared sometime after 1845 while seeking to conquer that northern chimera, the Northwest Passage. Using dark tones throughout this painting, Landseer, who’d studied live polar bears at the menagerie at the Exeter Exchange in London’s Strand, cast long shadows upon “an English optimism and triumphalism, which was particularly apparent at mid-century.”

Franklin’s had been the largest and best-equipped Arctic expedition to embark until then. His wife, Lady Jane Franklin, who never stopped hoping for his return, attended a soirée at the Royal Academy at which the “offensive” painting was shown—and was outraged. Her indignation was caused by the inclusion of two polar bears that, in Landseer’s imagining of the aftermath, gnawed on a human ribcage and shredded a red British ensign. Lady Franklin’s shock at the sight of the disgraced flag could have been exacerbated by the fact that she had sewn it (or one very much like it) for her knight-errant before he embarked on his last journey. Allegedly, at home, she had thrown that silken flag over Franklin, who was stretched out on a divan, and he had startled, reminding her that the Navy covered corpses with the Union Jack before burial at sea.

Every animal painting is also always a self-portrait, a story we tell about Nature and thereby reflective of our own nature. The red ensign in Man Proposes, which draws the viewer’s gaze, recalls Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw”—but to pious Victorians, the horror of men becoming bear prey was nothing compared to the evil whose name few dared to speak.

In 1854, word had reached London that Dr. John Rae of the Hudson’s Bay Company had met some Inuit who had learned from others that about forty white men had been seen in 1850, dragging a boat south, and that later, the bodies of those men had been found. They most likely had died from cold and starvation, but John Rae’s report included a disturbing detail mentioned by his informants. “From the mutilated state of many of the bodies, and the contents of the kettles,” he wrote, “it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last dread alternative as a means for sustaining life.”

Richard Westall — Nelson and the Bear — 1806 — oil on canvas

By contrast, Westall’s Nelson and the Bear—painted four decades earlier—reflects a younger, more confident empire. It poises the plucky, fifteen-year-old midshipman and future hero of Trafalgar at the edge of the pack ice, clad in a frockcoat with buckled shoes and a bonnet resembling a chef’s hat—not really dressed for such an outing. Nelson wields his musket like a club against an opponent that has flattened its ears against its head and looks more like a scared sheepdog than a polar bear.

In 1773, young Horatio’s ship, HMS Carcass, on the search for the Northeast Passage like many before it , ground to a halt in the ice near Spitsbergen. Carcass and a second ship, Racehorse, were sailing under the command of Commodore Constantine Phipps, who on that same voyage named the polar bear Ursus maritimus.

Together with a shipmate, Nelson went after a bear, whose skin he wished to give to his father. That, at least, is the story the ship’s captain, Commander Skeffington Lutwidge, started telling decades later. He added the companion and the loyal filial element only in 1809, four years after Nelson had bled to death on the deck of HMS Victory. In Lutwidge’s story, Nelson’s rusty, borrowed musket misfired and he was saved only because a rift in the ice had appeared, separating him from the bear. Westall’s painting, however, shows only Nelson, a single, steadfast Briton facing the epitome of the hazardous North. Obviously, a companion on the ice would have diminished Nelson’s glory. Westall also included, in the background, Carcass helping to scare off the bear by firing a cannon. Besides adding to the hagiography of a national hero, the work celebrated Britannia and its mariners, tougher than walrus hide.

Nelson and the Bear and, to a degree, even Man Proposes follow conventions of the exploration narrative, a genre seeking to terrify and to titillate. Such dramatizations of the quest—hand-to-paw combat, hull-crushing bergs, scurvy, and starvation—hallowed soldiers and explorers, especially in cases of premature death. By the time Landseer finished Man Proposes, more ships and men had been lost in search of Franklin. The futility of Arctic exploration was starting to register, but British hubris and vainglory persisted until 1912, when another hero—Robert Falcon Scott—perished at a pole, and an iceberg ruined both an “unsinkable” ship and the confidence of a nation.


Michael Engelhard is the author of Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon and of American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean. Trained as an anthropologist, he lives in Fairbanks, Alaska and now works as a wilderness guide in the Arctic.

The Land God Gave to Cain

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A guest post by Lena Onalik. Photo by Michelle Valberg.

The Torngats: they call this place the land of the spirits, the place where Torngat, the spiritual entity of the Inuit people, rests. Along the shores you will see evidence of people before us, spanning thousands of years. You cannot help but feel their presence.

In Nachvak Fjord we tread lightly on the remains of a five hundred-year-old village, where the remnants of sod houses overlay the even older Paleoeskimo settlement. Millennia of human history lie here, outlasted only by the creatures that call this land home, and by the ancient rocks that tower above it all.

To the south is Ramah, where the beautiful translucent mineral known as chert received its name. This material was traded throughout the eastern seaboard, down into Maryland, to Ontario, and north into Nunavut. Shaped into magnificent tools used to hunt the local animals and seek out survival, the precious chert accompanied the burials of our ancestors.

At Hebron, the history dates back thousands of years, with the most recent inhabitants being the Moravian missionaries in the early 1800s. The community thrived, and the German missionaries the local Inuit living in harmony until 1959. When the Newfoundland government made the decision to close the town’s only store, the missionaries elected to pull out of Hebron. That same year, the Inuit were forced from their homes and faced a devastating relocation to the south. To this day, the atrocities endured by the Labrador Inuit are present in the lives they live. Looking out over the landscape, and visiting the graveyard with its German inscriptions, we will find the mission buildings and the church still standing, and the newly erected Apology Monument that recognizes and remembers those who were cast from their homes. Although there are no longer any human inhabitants, the Inuit of Nunatsiavut still hunt and fish the area. The spirit of our ancestors still walk the land, watching over us, and will live among us as we embrace this beautiful place. This place is for the curious.

When asked to join the Adventure Canada team on the Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition, my reaction was nothing short of ecstatic. To visit the stunning shores of Greenland was thirlling enough, but to share the home of my ancestors with curious minds is a great honour. On this journey of discovery, I shared a special moment when I travelled to the birthplace of my dearest friend, my late grandmother (Kangidsualujjuak). The spiritual presence at the Torngat Mountains is one that beckons again and again. Along along the beautiful, rugged coast there are stories to tell. Stories like that of Jacques Cartier, when he named this place, “the land God gave to Cain.”


Lena grew up in Makkovik, NL. She spent her summers during childhood fishing in Island Harbour with her father’s family, the McNeill clan, who also fished with Bob Bartlett’s family. Lena is an archaeologist, the first Labrador Inuk to obtain this title. She also held the position of Chief Archaeologist for the Nunatsiavut Government. She shares her culture through storytelling, crafts, singing, Inuit drum dancing and throat singing.

Our 2017 Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition sets sail on September 23.

A Bird’s Life

A guest post by Mark Mallory. Photo by Dennis Minty.

Forget the ubiquitous cell phones, the white noise of city streets, and even the passage of aircraft. When you get to the Arctic, what do you hear? Perhaps nothing. But, more likely, you hear the wind—either rolling gently over the tundra and shorelines, or swirling off glaciers and cliffs. And what do you hear on the wind? Birds.

The Canadian Arctic is full of birds, some fifty million of them! Nunavut along is home to over 260 species, and more than 150 of those have nested there. From the tiniest hoary redpoll to the giant sandhill crane, birds can be found everywhere from the verdant river deltas that drain the barren lands to the lunar landscape of glacial Devon Island. Some of their names evoke polar images: tundra swan, snow goose, snowy owl, snow bunting (unsurprisingly, all of these are white). The Arctic tern lives here: the animal that travels further annually than any other on earth.

When you sail along Arctic coastlines, it is often difficult to reconcile the stark, simple, and spartan surroundings with the abundance of life they support. How can five hundred thousand birds eke out lives on a single chunk of rock?

Leaning on the railing around the rear deck of the Ocean Endeavour, watching northern fulmars effortlessly wing along in the wake of the ship, their wingtips barely touching the cresting waves, one cannot help but marvel at these creatures. To me, birds are harbingers of good news. I think of how much joy those early explorers must have found in spying them after long months at sea. How thrilled Hudson’s crew must have been to see the bounty of food available to them at the murre colonies of Digges Sound. The wonder that Sverdrup’s men must have experienced seeing eiders and fulmars return to Hell’s Gate, despite the hundreds of kilometres of sea ice in every direction.

Perhaps at no other point in history has the contrast between life in the Arctic and life in the south been so dramatic. Southern society can be fast-paced, hyperconnected, and noisy. But step onto an Arctic coastline, and feel wonderfully slow. Removed. Silent. In that silence you will be welcomed.

Mark is a Canada Research Chair in Coastal Wetland Ecosystems at Acadia University, Nova Scotia, where he studies coastlines in the Canadian Maritimes and Arctic. He was appointed to the Royal Society of Canada in 2014 and has long been a member of the Adventure Canada Expedition Team.

Magic Happens

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A guest post by Stephen Gorman

“If you want to take better photographs,” I tell myself, “put yourself in front of better scenery.”

It sounds like a simple solution—a surefire way to jumpstart you photographic creativity—and it is. There’s nothing mysterious about it; it’s utterly practical. You just have to be there, camera in hand, eyes wide open. When you are there—wherever there is—when you are ready…magic happens.

So when I follow my own advice, I spend a lot of time in spectacular places. Places like the Canadian Arctic. I’m a better photographer when I’m in the presence of something magnificent like the Grand Canyon, like the Canadian Rockies, like the Ilulissat Icefjord. In places like these, opportunities to take great photographs are at once bountiful and ephemeral. The scenery changes with the light from one moment to the next, and each scene is more breathtaking than the one before. It’s magical.

This is the magic I know we discover with Adventure Canada as we explore the High Arctic. I want to be there—to photograph the serrated, ice-capped peaks of Ellesmere Island; to see the haunting beauty of Devon Island; to explore the towering ice fields of Greenland.

I want to be ready to seize the moment. Every moment. It’s where the magic is.

Stephen is a professional photographer. He lives in Norwich, Vermont.

Stories and Storytellers

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A guest post by Michael Crummey. Photo by Michelle Valberg.

When I travel on the mainland, I’m often asked to explain the remarkable national and international success of Newfoundland writers, musicians, and entertainers. It does seem to require some explanation. For a province representing less that 2% of the population of Canada, the wealth of talent seems bizarrely out of proportion. Wayne Johnston, Great Big Sea, CodCo and This Hour has 22 Minutes, Lisa Moore, Michael and Kathleeen Winter, Hey Rosetta!, Rick Mercer, Bernice Morgan, Ron Hynes, Republic of Doyle, Amelia Curran … the list seems endless. Maybe there’s something in the water. Or it might be a part of our cultural DNA.

I grew up around storytellers, although I never though of it that way as a youngster. It was just people talking or singing or telling a joke or some old foolishness. My father, in particular, had a repertoire of stories he would dip into on nights he’d had a drink or two. They were just incidents from his own life, but they were diverting, often hilarious, and occasionally terrifying. Much of what I know about telling a story I learned from listening to him talk.

It’s only as an adult I started to see the Newfoundlander’s gift of the gab as a cultural trait, something unique to the place and its circumstances. Storytelling was how people in isolated communities entertained one another, how local history was kept alive, how the long winter nights were passed. It was a survival strategy as much as anything and it has become a defining characteristic of the people here over the course of generations. You still hear it in local kitchens and pubs, at the corner store, on the wharves. And if I had to guess, I’d say that tradition is also part of what makes the contemporary novels and films and songs of Newfoundland so compelling and entertaining.

Sit down a spell. Have a listen.

Michael Crummey is a celebrated Canadian author. He is travelling aboard Adventure Canada’s Out of the Northwest Passage 2016 expedition.

Near the Top of the World

michelle valberg, valberg, valbergimagnig, nikon; nikon canada; canada; canadian nikon ambassador; canadian photographer; ottawa photographer; adventure canada; arctic photographer; arctic, nunavik, nunavut, inuit, inuk, canada's arctic, north, kimmirut, greenland, kangaamiut, nuuk, cape dorset, art,

A guest post by Vern Turner. Photo by Michelle Valberg.

Before the blush is off the memory…

I decided not to make this essay a travelogue. This journey is one that simply must speak for itself. Adventure Canada runs these tours, and each of you will have to lead your own journey to and through them. I hope to give the reader an idea about a special place on the Earth that few of us get to see. That’s a good thing, because those of us who get to see it, appreciate it so much more than if it were something seen on every giant cruise ship commercial, and ruined by these behemoths of over-the-top luxury.

The west coast of Greenland and the east coast of Baffin Island are laced by fjords of various lengths carved by glaciers of various sizes. The cliffs may be a thousand feet high of defoliating granite that plunge into the clear water of the Davis Strait, or just rocky shores with boulders and moraines from previous glacial activity. It is a land of ice. Ice from millennia gone carved this land. We could see it from the air as we flew into our little air strip, a former U.S. Air Force base. We saw tundra and pools of water, but always there was ice. The icebergs we saw from 30,000 feet looked like flecks of dandruff on the collar of the sea, but when we were next to them in our Zodiacs they were city blocks carved by water and melting into shapes too complex for mere descriptive prose.

Since there was almost no dark time, we could see our new world just about any time we were awake. The seas stayed calm and the skies clear for us the whole trip. The reflections of the rock and ice on the glassy seas made for spontaneous art shows every moment of every day. We stopped at several villages along the way and even had some on-shore walkabouts to view artifacts of human attempts to find the infamous Northwest Passage in wooden ships. I wonder if those ancient mariners were as mesmerized by the raw and savage beauty of the Arctic as we tourists were. Theirs was a pursuit for a trade economy. Ours was one of using our economic successes to be able to see the place where life hangs on by a thread.

The tallest plant I saw was about one metre tall, and that was at our most southerly point, the airport where we landed in Greenland. Every thing else was less than thirty centimetres tall. Short growing season, you know. We spent the next five days visiting the fjords of Greenland and were allowed the luxury of seeing some humpback whales, several kinds of seals, birds galore, and some polar bears wondering who we were. Our walkabouts on shore were accompanied by armed guides to prevent us from trouble should we stumble upon a bear, especially a mother with her cub. 

From the observation deck, I watched icebergs slide by like giant sentinels of the sea. Some were tabular, having sheared off from some distant glacier as it moved toward open water. Others were multifaceted with shapes like solid clouds; one could play games by seeing shapes in them. Those bergs that had recently rolled had surfaces pocked with small depressions from the action of the water. The Zodiac excursions into the berg fields were especially awe-inspiring as we could literally get close enough to touch them.

Then, there’d be a loud crack! An iceberg calved into separate parts. You could see the fault lines on some of the bergs and see mini-waterfalls defining where the next break off would be. The crack was often followed by the sound of something very large being dumped into the water. Watching an iceberg half the size of our hundred-metre ship bobbing like a toy certainly makes one feel tiny. One had to keep realizing that an iceberg towering over the Zodiac by tens of meters and as long as a football field was only showing us ten percent of its volume. It takes some persistence to keep things in perspective.

Each new destination brought new and unique geography to our senses. We were fortunate to have a glaciologist/geologist on board who described the history of the rocks we were seeing and the dynamics of how the ice shaped them. It was her first trip to this part of the Arctic and she was, at first, moved to tears and speechless awe by what she saw. I was next to her as we stepped out onto an outer deck and felt a similar wave of wonder pass over me. There are just certain moments of magnificence that strike one dumb. For me, that was not much of a challenge, but this place…this place did me the service of resetting my wonderment program.

We were once anchored in a large bay at the end of a fjord so some travellers could visit a village on shore. I stayed aboard and basked in the sunshine of the fantail observation deck. The water was almost dead calm. There was barely enough wind to riffle the water, but the icebergs loomed in the distance as white monsters guarding the peacefulness that can occur nowhere else. On the shore, the colourful buildings of the village offered a paradox to the raw, natural beauty of the sea, the mountains and the ice. It was always the ice that captured my attention because of its impossible geometry and regal, aesthetic beauty. It struck me as a “no wonder” moment for those aboard guiding us as to why they love the north so. 

Then, there was a large ripple breaking the surface and the absolute tranquility. Then, another. I pulled the binoculars to my eyes to see harp seals doing what they do best. Three of them were swimming and diving while staying submerged for about five minutes between appearances. They just appeared. I never saw them coming until they were there. It was just me and the seals. Yes, I know. My fertile imagination was working overtime.

The only day it rained was our departure day from Resolute Bay in the archipelago west and north of Baffin Island. This was our highest latitude at just under seventy-five degrees north. I began to see how hard this country is during winter and inclement weather. For humans to live and work there, a special constitution is required. Not minding the dark for months has got to be a real challenge.

On the other hand, living for the beauty of the good days has its offsets. As our plane circled Resolute, before it entered the rain clouds, we caught a glimpse of our ship anchored in the bay waiting to collect its next human cargo to retrace the steps we took back to Greenland. The arms of the harbour, in their desolate look of dun-coloured rock, embraced the steel of the sea and accentuated the ice bergs here and about. It was quite a sight and I couldn’t help but feel that my earlier adventures no longer stood alone as “a trip of a lifetime”. I came to realize that the trips I take IN my lifetime are what are most important. This is a trip of a special nature that will resonate with me for the rest of my life. The new friends I made and the moments of overwhelming silence among the ice fields will be there for me forever.

Vern Turner travelled with Adventure Canada aboard our 2016 Arctic Safari expedition with his wife. They hail from Marble Falls, TX. Click here to find out more about upcoming expeditions like this one!

Travelling in the Company of Inuit

Kathleen D814034 by Michelle Valberg

Guest post by John Houston.

Photo by Michelle Valberg shows Kathleen Merritt—artist, culturalist, and youth leader—in 2015 aboard our Arctic Explorer expedition.

When I travel to the Arctic, I travel in the company of Inuit. Always have, ever since an Inuit dog team carried my mother from Cape Dorset to Kimmirut, the start of a long journey south so that I could be born.

We were returned to Baffin Island on the C.D. Howe three months later, and that trip likely sparked my love of sailing Arctic seas—but I think it goes deeper than that. The Arctic feels as mysterious, exotic, and elusive a place today as it must have appeared through the spyglasses of early explorers. The mind requires context to make sense of its images, its rhythms, its scale—and no one can create that context like Inuit can. We also need time to process all that information—and travel by ship allows and affords us that time.

I think a sea voyage with Adventure Canada is the best way to experience the Arctic. They were first to engage Inuit resource staff, a decade before other ecotourism operators would follow suit. The opportunity to spend time with people who live their culture, who embody their values, who share their world so generously—brings one to a better understanding of what culture is. What spirituality is. What hospitality is.

Perhaps international of awareness of the Inuit began with Robert Flaherty’s film Nanook of the North. Now, his granddaughter, Martha Flaherty, is one of the Inuit featured in a new film she has co-written. The ancient Inuit oral tradition was challenged by the arrival of our non-native culture, but Inuit quickly found new ways to communicate. Inuit culture is alive, and thriving. It is thriving in their art, in their performance, in their film, in their television—and now, in their digital media. It is thriving in festivals and gatherings, in communities large and small, in the North and beyond. Inuit are communicating to the world and amongst themselves the need to cling tightly to culture in order to preserve identity.

The Arctic sea and land are calling. If we listen, they will set things right deep within us. And the Inuit we meet along our travels remind us of what is truly important in life. As long as I am able, I intend to travel the Arctic seas. Always have. Always will.

John Houston is a culturalist, filmmaker, and expert polar swimmer. He has travelled with Adventure Canada since 1991.

 

A Sense of Place

Nachvak Fjord, Torngats National Park

Guest post by Dennis Minty

“Where do you belong?” A common question in this province. Not unlike “Where are you from?” but with a big difference. Behind it, there is an expectation of a sense of place and being rooted in it. Most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians feel this in their bones. We don’t really have a choice about it. Nor would we want one. But move one of us to another place on the globe and we can look with wonder, work with vigour, laugh with glee, eat with relish, and mix with pleasure. Then there comes a time when we just have to get home.

We can’t be alone in having this sense of place. I know other people feel it too. I would expect to find it, and do, in New Zealand, in the Hebrides, in the Arctic. Is it something to do with remoteness, otherness, being on the fringe? A bit I suppose. It’s even a little bit tribal, but in a good way.

We don’t own the place; it owns us. Sure its family and heritage and familiarity but there is much more than that. There’s a kind of magical grip on the heart that is bigger than all these things. I don’t understand it fully and choose to leave it as one of life’s mysteries. 

Whatever it is and however it is explained, it exists, in spades. And it is this sense of place that travellers see in Newfoundlanders and Labradorians when they visit. It doesn’t matter if it’s in La Poile, a tiny community of a few hundred with no road access to anywhere, or in old St. John’s, our inspiring, port city, visitors find people who are open, enjoy life, are happy to share what they have, are quick to dance and who love, truly love where they live. 

Then there is the place itself. As a professional photographer, I have been making images of it all my life, and it still knocks my socks off. Give me a soft summer morning with the mists painting the headlands and the mewing of gulls in the background. Give me a breaching humpback exploding through the ocean’s blue surface, forty tonnes of life airborne from two or three flicks of the tail. Give me the majesty of Saglek Fjord in the Torngat Mountains of Labrador with ancient, giant, weathered peaks all around and underfoot, a cushion of brilliant colour. I hear the word “spiritual” in quiet, church-like murmurs. Give me a soaring gannet against a northern blue sky, its wings broader than a tall man’s height. Then the wings fold into the body as it plunges with force into the sea to snatch a silvery herring. Give me the steep roofed salt boxes and the shallow-slopped biscuit boxes, houses built by the hands of their owners a hundred years ago before “vinyl clapboard” and “bungalows” were ever part of the lexicon. Give me the small boats moored in quiet coves and the increasingly rare flakes and stages where fish was off-loaded, gutted, split and dried in the sun by families toiling together to make ends meet.

Travellers can’t help but absorb some of this sense of place. This enrichment can inspire them to think about their own lives and what’s important. Some will bring home a fine collection of images, but all will have a bank of new memories to lighten the spirits as their journeys continue.

Dennis Minty is a professional photographer with a long history of work alongside Adventure Canada. His photographs have been widely published, including recently in his companion books on Newfoundland and Labrador. You can find more of his work here.

Fur, Feathers, and Fat: What it Takes to Survive an Arctic Winter

Polar Bear

Arctic birds and mammals are specialized for life in the extreme environment they call home. Insulation against cold is a key factor in their survival. Indeed, it has been shown that the skin temperature of large Arctic mammals is only a few degrees lower than their deep-body temperature, even when the air is as cold as -40°C! In fact, there can be a difference of more than 51.6°C between skin and air temperatures, demonstrating the efficiency of the animals’ fur as an insulator.

For example, the musk ox has a dense layer of wool next to the body, covered and protected by an outer layer of long fur. By comparison, the caribou or reindeer has a coat that consists of long, hollow hairs to trap air. The hairs of the polar bear’s coat are transparent, and allow light to reach the skin beneath, which is black and absorbs its heat. The fur then traps the heat, and little escapes.

Other animals, like the walrus, rely almost entirely on thick reserves of blubber to insulate them from the harsh environment.

Walrus, Rookery, Haul Out, Colony

Bird feathers are also good insulators! The plumage of resident Arctic birds tends to be denser than that of the migrating bird species. Birds can reduce heat loss by fluffing their feathers. When it becomes very cold, they can pull their legs up under their bodies and tuck their heads under the feathers on their back, turtle style.

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Adventure Canada is Flying it Forward!

A guest post by Ella Swan

Greetings fellow adventurers! I have just returned from a two-trip stretch working aboard the Ocean Endeavour. Fjords, whales, engaged travellers—I saw it all. Back home, I have to readjust to reality. There will be no daily wakeup call, no weather report for the day; I will have to cook my own meals. I will also have to go back to work at my other job.

Luckily for me, I have not one but two enviable summer jobs. Here in BC, I work with an organization called Groundswell at their award-winning Community Greenhouse and Permaculture Campus in the Canadian Rockies. I am involved with a bunch of different aspects of the project, including helping to forward a regional curbside composting program, tackling climate change with renewable energy, developing a permaculture garden, and special projects such as a corn trial for Lush Cosmetics. Groundswell aims to push the envelope on all things social development, community building, and environmental sustainability.

groundswell

What does this look like practically? It looks like school groups of every age getting their hands in the soil and learning how to grow food. It looks like moms and their toddlers at Plant and Play mornings, learning together and bonding over volunteering in the Greenhouse. It looks like people travelling from all over Canada and the world to visit and find out how to make a space like ours in their neighbourhood. It looks like John, a seventy-six-year-old volunteer arriving two days a week at 7AM to dig out paths because he loves to volunteer. It also looks like volunteer appreciation nights gathered round the cob oven eating wood-fired pizza.

flyitforwardWe exist because of people power. Since our ground breaking eight years ago, we have relied on donations of materials, time, and money. We have a program that we would love for you to get involved in called Fly it Forward. We have partnered on this program with Adventure Canada. All of their employees, (including me) are a part of it. It is a voluntary carbon offset program for air travel. For every 1000 kilometres flown, you are invited to invest $3.50 into Groundswell. For example, my return flight Cranbrook to St. Johns to join the Ocean Endeavour was 6,916kms. This will mean a $24.20 investment through Fly It Forward!

This year, the focus of Adventure Canada’s Fly it Forward is finishing the outdoor teaching space in the Permaculture Garden. It will be the capstone on the Permaculture Garden and creates a community gathering and teaching space. If you would like to learn more, visit www.groundswellnetwork.ca and register for the Fly it Forward program. When you sign up, let us know you heard about us through Adventure Canada. A healthy community is one where people feel needed, appreciated and necessary. Through our space and our projects we aim to inspire and create stronger communities everywhere and we invite you to join us in this goal.

Thank you!

—Ella Swan

 

Ella lives in Invermere, BC and spent part of this summer aboard the Ocean Endeavour as Assistant Cruise Director. Click here to watch a video outlining Fly it Forward.

The Encounter

A guest post by Lisa MooreMinty_20160706_210545_copy[1]

We are cruising out of haunting Hebron, where the remaining wooden houses bow and bulge in the wind, get down on their knees, collapse in the grass, where inside the church attic there is graffiti, written with a finger on the dusty glass of an old window, just some names and some dates, a teenager’s joke at the expense of history, see how ephemeral we are?  And where the apology from Danny Williams is mounted on a plaque, and where on the same plague the Inuit respond to William’s apology, and say that they accept it, without diminishing the trauma suffered by the community, accept it with such honesty and grace that the letters blur and enlarge under a smooth lens of tears because you can’t read it without tears, you can’t, trust me.

And where the sun bursts in shafts through blistering, silvered windowsills and the old paint flakes off the walls, and the church is being restored, yellow beds of insulation piled in one corner, a rusted woodstove, ornate with curliques and clawfoot legs, sinks into the dead yellow grass. Inside the dry wood smell of shut-up buildings and the ghost-voice of the choirs and brass bands and, as we emerge from that music and shadow we walk down to the water, step into the Zodiacs, patterns of sediment swirling on the landing rock, and where Billy gets the Arctic char, willing it out of the water with a wrist-flick or Vulcan mind control, or just the fresh air hunger for something salty and sweet. If you eat something that fresh, like the gutted roe, it will give you prophetic dreams.

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Later in St. John’s Harbour: some hikers on the mountain are as tiny as insects against the skyline. We look up at the sun and try to wave but they don’t wave back. Maria picks red berries left over from last year, points out the flock of ducks at the pond’s edge, and Pavel’s drone catches us all in our garish bright jackets against the lurid emerald grass messy with boulders, there we are, making our way, caught in a god’s eye, and the mosquitos come out all at once. Stick their thin and stately needles in, guzzling our blood, and then they float off drunk or sullen or bloated or blitzed and glutted and lazy and slow enough to catch in a single clap. We cruise away, leaving the Inukshuk standing watch, pointing the way to Nachvak Fjord. 

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And in the afternoon? 

Stealth. A rumour. A momma and two cubs. The Zodiac swings on the crane, an ink blot in the middle of the sun. Hits the water, and the chain coils up, and another Zodiac sways down. The drivers zip out. The ocean is a bed of harsh, sharp sparkles. Everything lit up, hyper-bright. The bay is calm; it should be cold but it isn’t. 

Five Zodiacs, another hanging up there, and swaying like a cradle. 

The rumour says a cove further down the bay, lolling in the grass, soporific, snoozy and rubbing all that fur against the sand. More yellow than white, paws bigger than your face, fifteen Zodiacs in the water now. Engines idling, drivers standing with legs apart, braced against the tiller, silhouettes. Splat of radio static, but the drivers are talking low. The drivers are using bedroom voices. Copy that.

Nineteen Zodiacs in all, load them fast, hurry up. Fast, but quiet. That’s the first ten. Copy that. Go, Tina, to the left. That’s the next ten. Let’s keep our voices down. Go, go, go.  

A little ride around the bay while we wait. We have to go together. Give everyone a chance to see. If they’re there, we won’t scare them off. We won’t get too close. 

So, we zoom up to the waterfalls. Fans of spring melt, thick as concrete where it spills off the black rock, and then shrapnel, bullets or feathers or glass bead far flung dazzle, icy cold. Drilling the water below, drilling down to where the phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain gorge on whatever billowing energy the tumbling water stirs up and the other sentient beings, blind or numb scoot around the  boiling turmoil to feast. 

Will the Zodiac engines send the bears gambolling through the long grass. Can we see them? Is it different? To see a polar bear in the wild? Is it different than a zoo? Can 198 passengers, staff, and Zodiac drivers sneak up on the momma? Not disturb her? 

There was a polar bear in the water as we entered the Nachvak Fjord, swimming. The smooth pellet of a head, tiny in the distance, imagine the churning paws the drive and power, holding up all that weight maybe a mile from shore. All that power concentrated in the work of keeping his black nose up above the surface, held high, sniffing.

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The Zodiacs, nineteen now in a line, approach the shore. How blue and eye-hurting the ocean is in the binoculars when you touch the focus dial, and a single sparkle bursts like a bomb in one of the lenses and a tiny bump makes the mountain blur in a slo-mo jerk, so the solid rock goes unsolid and seems to pour. Squish the two sides together, fold them in and the visual shock of the shore crisp as close and clear. Vivid and sharp enough to cut. You can see each blade of grass for an instant, the another bump on a wave and it all goes liquid and runny again. Then we stop, we idle. Nineteen Zodiacs and you can hear, on the wind, passengers saying: I can see them. I see them. A momma and two cubs. And the shuck-shuck of the camera.   

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Search the landscape. Each boulder yellowish and could that be the momma? Could that be a cub? A kind of stabbing disappointment with each boulder that is just a boulder.

But, oh god? The elegant, awkward clambering from a grass roll, standing now, and the shimmer the binoculars make of mist and distance. Standing now and turning her head, looking back over her shoulder. Shaggy and shapeless and bigger than you thought. Much bigger. And the cubs, someone says, have got to be two years. The cubs are big.

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Turning to sniff the air, turning to acknowledge. And the cubs beside and there is no hurry.  Hand the binoculars over. There, there. But it’s yellow, it’s not white, and bigger than I thought and slow/fast. Dangerous and peaceful. Mother and monster. Silent and arrogant. Powerful and endangered and solitary. The fur has no pigment. Each hair is hollow. The skin beneath is black. So what is that colour, why white? Why does it look ancient? It might be made of ice.

Impressions of Labrador

A guest post by Lisa Moore

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In the sand, bear paws.

Noses of the Zodiacs scrudging into the sand. Haul. Wet ropes, lean back, heels sliding on wet pebbles, tug the Zodiac up snug.  Slap down the bright yellow wooden step. Swinging legs over the side, walking poles, knapsack, step. Step on the block. Step into the water and feel the tug on your rubber boot. Water rushing up over the top of the wooden step, swirling  away in all directions, smooth pebbles tumbling end over end, everything stirred up underfoot. Stab the walking stick, lapping kelp, up, up, on the beach. Bright GoreTex jackets, red, aqua, mosquito net hats, hiss of radios, MJ, MJ, Jason. Jason, MJ.

The resettled Moravian/Inuit community of Ramah—bear paw. Some of them still filled with water. Claw scrapes on stone. The bear had just rambled through. Haunch and rippling muscle/chunks of hunger and force, but gone. The print a cup surging with water, gleaming in the sun.

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Partridge eggs. Hold back the alder branches. Can you see them? Speckled. See them? I can’t see them. There. The mother just flew. Where? There, the mother.

On the ridge overlooking the beach the bear monitors are just fluorescent orange flecks on the grey stone. They were far away but I could hear them checking in with each other on the radios.

The fjord last night. But impossible to capture the intensity, the depth. Cracks running through the mountains, the black dykes, old molten lava, rust, caramel, cream, brown, black, white splotches of snow, the green like an old rug worn in places, the light slicing through. Light slashing up the mountains. Clouds bunched like grapes, like marbles, like bowling balls. Still blue up there. Blue as a GoreTex jacket. I wish you could see this. I miss you. How can I tell you about this? You would love this. There was no wind. It was still. A black bear just a dot.  A moving dot on skyward straining granite. 

I felt tears lifting up inside me. Like the water rushing around the yellow block by the Zodiac, swirling all directions around my rubber boot, and tugging on my ankles, my leg, this answer in my body to beauty all mingled up and confused with you would love this and I miss you and my god, my god, what is this, the tears are disorienting, salt water—what is this? This is wordless. This is big. This is still. This is forever. This is infinity. This is a fork in the fjord. This is which way do we go? Do we ever go back? Can one go back from this? This is every path ever taken. Never taken. This is giving up, giving over. This is smallness. This is a blasting apart of the inner things. This is we are together, aren’t we? We are in this together. This is missing you and wishing you could see. This is a bunch of people on a deck, on all the decks, nosing in, deep and deeper. This is nowhere. This is the only place. 

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The rocks are cinema and the light is unrequited. The light is, don’t mess with me. The light is, you have never seen anything like this light. You will never see it again. Okay, this is vast. The light is a love affair. The light is going. The light is pink now. The light makes creases and folds in the mountains. The light fingers through. The lit up caves and the lit up faces of the people on the deck. The light is a last hurrah. The pink of inner things. The pink of new things, like the cry of a grandchild, like don’t stop, please don’t stop. This is the pink of the fresh salmon pulled from the water this afternoon and cut up with a pocket knife, and dip/flicked in the ocean on the side of the Zodiac and we ate in raw like religion, like a gift.

On the beach this morning Michelle told us about sod houses. The windows were made of seal intestine, translucent. Just imagine in a snowstorm. Just imagine a child born. The frame might have been wood or whale bone. This is so long ago. The ghosts are translucent. The ghosts are windows made of brass. They sang in four voices. They covered houses in cured skins, and then sods, and when there was a fall of snow, the sod house was very warm. 

The floor of the house might have been slate or wood. Now it has collapsed and grasses overgrown. Let’s not walk over it. Let’s leave it alone. There would have been a cold trap built in the entrance. A depression in the earth into which the cold would sink. But keep your eyes on the water, because bears can approach from there. Swimming sometimes as much as eight miles. Keep your eyes on the land. Be alert. I wish you could have seen. What a fjord that was last night. The way the light slashed across the uppermost blade of mountain. The way it faded. Or lasted. Went dark. Bellowed like a trumpet in the dining room. Looked all sultry and come thither, crooked its finger, said the truth. Flipped a coin, told a joke; the light was a pole dancer a circus, a dream with monsters and empty streets and everything was wet. Everything it touched turned to gold.

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I was talking with another writer on the deck about how hard it is to write. We laughed about ‘hard’ work. Because it isn’t coal mining after all. It’s pure pleasure. It is one-hundred voltage thrill. But it is hard. That’s what we said. And we said of course it wasn’t hard. Nobody twisting your arm to write. What is the difference between intense pleasure and pain. What is the difference between desire and discipline? If we follow this fjord forever where will we end up.

In the sod houses they had soap stone lamps with a wick made of woven beach grass burning in seal oil. The idea of that tiny flame, the halo it must throw out, in the midst of these  mountains,standing up in the dark. I hear Maria, on the radio, say she has spotted a white beluga. Mathew James, Mathew James, Maria, she says. And he answers: Maria, Maria, Mathew James. The hiss and clutches of sound bursting out of the radios. Maria, Mathew James. It is still very early in the morning.

The truth is I got up at five to write. I stumbled out onto the deck, almost blinded by the morning sun. Did it ever go to bed? Did it get tiny like that little flame in a sod hut, maybe a hundred and fifty years ago, glowing through the intestine of a seal? A line of radiant mist on the horizon. Pure white, where it touched the earth. Burning upward. On the hill in Ramah this morning, a little graveyard. Grey stone, half devoured by the grass, sunken, almost gone, splotches of orange lichen and the dates softened by the rain. It’s only ten thirty in the morning, but I feel like I have experienced a century since that mist on the deck burned away. I cannot wait to see you. I have a lot to tell.    

A Boatload of Kids

IMG_2212Working at Adventure Canada certainly has its highlights. Every voyage brings new peak experiences—that’s part of what keeps staff, as well as passengers coming back time and time again.

The best part is, you never know what’s in store in a given season, on a given trip, even on given day.

This spring, on my seventh trip with Adventure Canada, I finally had the opportunity to bring my wife and two kids aboard as we travelled the Mighty St. Lawrence from Quebec City to St. John’s. Better yet, it turned out we were not the only family with children on the trip.

In all there were eleven kids, every one of them a pint-sized explorer brimming with enthusiasm for what each new day brought.

The highlight of the trip for me was driving the Zodiac with all eleven of those kids on a morning cruise around Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island. The feeling of excitement and freedom was as fresh and stimulating as the morning breeze. To see kids embrace the fullness of nature’s bounty and the glory of a day at sea made an impression that will last a lifetime for me—and perhaps for them too.

Here’s the best shot we could get, with waves and wind (I got big props for taking a selfie stick along!). Clockwise from left, here are kids Olivia, Julianna, James, Leah, Ethan, Dylan, Jasper, Alexander, Islay, Brian, and Sage, plus parents Tammy, Steve, Cedar, Alana, my wife Meghan, and me—the luckiest Zodiac driver in the world!

It just doesn’t get better than this.