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.    

Up Periscope from Hopedale!

Lisa Moore reports in from our 2016 Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition:

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Before leaving the Ocean Endeavour, we watched a tremendously sad and powerful documentary by France Rivet called “Trapped in a Human Zoo.”

The “human zoo” was created by German Carl Hagenbeck in the 1880s. Hagenbeck, an entrepenure, endeavoured to feed a growing euro-centric appetite for  the “exotic” by sending head hunters to remote corners of the globe in search of people who would become “human specimen” for his zoo. These people were exhibited in traditional, indigenous clothing, and made to “perform” traditional hunting and gathering practices as well as rituals, alongside wild animals from the same regions.

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This nightmarish and grotesque appetite for the exotic shaped decades of systemic racism and stereotypes about cultures and people from all over the world. For a time, a small group of Inuit from Labrador formed the most popular ‘display’ in Hagenbeck’s exhibition and as a result were trapped by the voracious crowds, with sometimes as many as 17,000 viewers. Filmmaker France Rivet traces the journey of this small group Inuit travellers, who quickly succumbed to smallpox. 

Derrick Pottle gave us a presentation about modern-day Inuit lifestyle, including hunting and gathering practices. Seal meat is still the major staple in the Inuit diet. The animals are harvested using humane hunting practices to ensure the animals do not suffer. All parts of the seal are used in cooking, except the gallbladder and lungs. In communities where a twelve pound turkey might sell for $70, Derrick says, “We couldn’t be here without the seal.” Duck eggs, gathered in season, are considered a delicacy, and the bright orange yolks look like you’d be eating undiluted sunshine. Inuit hunters apply annually for a license to hunt polar bear. Twelve polar bears licenses are given out each year, shared among a community of 8,000.   

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The sun blasted down on our short Zodiac ride to Hopedale and we landed on a gorgeous mound of gneiss rock (pink as strawberry ice cream, swirled of blacks and greys). We were greeted on the dock by the community and treated to generous hospitality of Hopedale. Traditional snacks were on offer at the Inn (bannock with partridgeberry sauce, a pork and molasses cake with caramel sauce) and we ate some tasty pitsik in the gorgeous new building which houses the Legislative Assembly.

Inuit students demonstrated traditional games for us. We saw the one-armed push-up competition, the musk ox, and the one-foot high kick. Very dramatic!

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The church in Hopedale was built in 1865—and whether it is the balanced dimensions of the building, or the bright white paint, old beams and floor boards, or the lived experience those walls have seen, one experiences an undeniably good feeling inside there. The church has an aura. The pipe organ has been there since 1847.

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Back on the ship we celebrated Explorers night with a conga line of Explorers in costume. There were two Mina Hubbards, a Marilyn Monroe (go figure! I didn’t know she had another career as an explorer but Blair makes a very convincing Marilyn!), a couple of James Cooks, ( one with a spatula) A Carl Jung, ( who was exploring the inner recesses of the mind and soul), several Vikings ( including “Broom” hilda) and Billy, who explored the tickle chest and came out wearing a fuzzy wig and nightdress which was very becoming. 

And…all of this was followed by the Newfoundland Bluff! Jason, Billy, and Kevin are all liars extraordinaire. After last night I wouldn’t believe a word coming out of their mouths! They were hilarious. Thankfully, Dennis kept them in line. And if you don’t know what a hinderdatter is, don’t let anybody try to tell you that the etymological root has something to do with the word “daughter”. Come on, who would believe that? I laughed so hard I nearly split my sish.

lisa moore

Guest post by Lisa Moore