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.    

The Northwest Passage!

A legend made real: that’s how the Northwest Passage feels for those who have the rare privilege of travelling there. The mythical sea route between Europe and Asia holds a peculiar fascination. The many failed attempts to find, and later, to traverse the passage through the ice-choked waters of what is now the Canadian Arctic archipelago only increased its lure and its lustre, through the era of exploration to the present day.

The story most associated with the Northwest Passage, that of Sir John Franklin‘s lost expedition, deepened last summer with the discovery of the wreck of his flagship, the HMS Erebus, on the sea floor off King William Island, by the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition.

Yet the great irony of the Northwest Passage is that a route across the North American Arctic had long existed—in the form of the migration and hunting routes of the Inuit and their predecessors. The recent increase in loss of sea ice due to global warming makes all the more poignant the oft-overlooked fact that the Northwest Passage traverses the Inuit homeland.

And of course, even before the ancient human presence in the North, whales, seabirds and other migratory creatures delved the waters of the Passage, while seals, walrus and polar bears depended on its sea ice for food.

All of this is very much on the minds of travellers aboard our Northwest Passage excursions. There is the place, and then there is the sense of place—which is exceedingly difficult to express. This video, by film maker Jason Van Bruggen, with its impressionistic, highly cinematic approach, comes as close as anything we’ve seen to conveying the magic, and the mystery of the Northwest Passage.

Travel the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada:
Into the Northwest Passage, August 26-September 11, 2016.
Out of the Northwest Passage, September 11-26, 2016.

My First Adventure

I grew up canoeing in Algonquin Park. I’m used to sleeping under the stars and battling hordes of insects; I’m no stranger to the raw power of a thunderstorm or the perfect moments of stillness at the day’s end. I have shot rapids and portaged thousands of kilometres with a boat on my head and a song on my lips; I have fished for my supper and stared down moose in the deepest of swamps.

But nothing prepared me for Greenland and Labrador.

Evighedsfjord

Nothing prepared me for the Greenlandic fjords, their grey-blue waters and ice-capped, soaring peaks that slipped in and out of low wisps of cloud. Nothing prepared me for the playful seal that dogged our progress, nor the profound calm as winter approached the continent.

Davis Strait

Nothing prepared me for crossing the Davis Strait in storm-tossed seas; desperately clinging to my bunk (and my sanity) and waiting for my Scopolomine patches to kick in. And then, once they did: screaming into the wind from the observation deck, laughing as the bow of the Sea Adventurer smashed through the waves, hurling spray hundreds of feet into the air. The sound was like a thunderclap.

Torngat

Nothing prepared me for the glasslike waters and towering summits of the Torngat Mountains, the panoply of colour and might that lay quiet and daunting on the Labrador coast. The sunshine that day was like something out of a fairy tale. Nothing prepared me for our brush with the polar bear that morning, watching agape as he tore great hunks of flesh from a seal carcass.

Torngat 2

Nothing prepared me for driving a Zodiac in gale-force winds during our arrival at Hebron, the abandoned Moravian mission. The waves crashed over me in salty tumult, my hands numb inside the bricklayer’s gloves I’d borrowed off a friend. But we made it. I made it.

Nothing prepared me for the thrill of diving into the 3°C waters off Labrador’s coast, waters deemed too warm by our Expedition Leader, who compensated for this setback by tossing a few trays of ice cubes into the drink.

Polar swim

Kiddos, Nain

Nothing prepared me for the smiling faces of the children in Nain, the celebration at the school as we descended on the community en masse and equipped them with the gear for two complete hockey teams. They followed us back down to the docks, laughing and singing. Some of them hopped in our Zodiacs and rode around the harbour, hooting and hollering.

Nothing prepared me for the soft grass and undulating dunes of Byron Bay, or the majestic shoreline of Castle Island, or the perfect moments on deck when the sunrise would play against the ship just so. Nothing prepared me for the northern lights that pulled us from our bunks late one night, to shiver in raincoats and pyjamas and look up in wonder.

Henley Harbour

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Nothing prepared me for the warm welcome at Conche, the steam rising from our soaked overclothes as we inhaled plates of the freshest cod in Canada. As we ate elbow-to-elbow at tables of grinning Newfoundlanders beneath garlands of crepe paper, the guitar picked up, and then the accordion, and then someone started to dance. Black clouds and wind muttered and grumbled outside.

Fogo bell

Nothing prepared me for the unsurpassed hospitality of the town of Fogo, where I played a hundred-and-fifty-year-old pump organ, climbed into the belfry of a church, shouted from one of the corners of the flat earth, and ran along a coastline wild and heedless of man and all the more perfect for it.

Nothing prepared me for the stillness that would take hold of our hearts on the last morning as the Sea Adventurer made her way up the narrows and into St. John’s harbour, nor the song that would waft across the breeze.

St. John's

Nothing prepared me for the hundred-odd strangers who had come together in two short weeks to share in something marvellous, something inexplicable, something powerful.

I have been searching for a long time for a way to bring together my love for the wilderness with my love of the written word, and with Adventure Canada I have done just that. I would like to thank everyone aboard Greenland & Wild Labrador 2014 for making me feel welcome, for trusting in the new guy (my Zodiac was always the cool Zodiac, thank you), for experiencing this sublime corner of the world with me. There is no shortage of wonder to be sought, and the adventure is just beginning.

Saglek

—Mike Strizic

Conche selfie

Our Ice is Vanishing – Sikuvut Nunguliqtuq

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Who belongs to the North—and crucially, to whom does the North belong? Arctic writer, scholar and advocate Shelley Wright seeks to answer these questions in her eye-opening new book, Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqutuq.

Untitled-6As reduced sea ice in shipping lanes creates new opportunities for transport, travel, habitation and resource extraction in the Canadian Arctic, Canada has re-engaged with the issue of Arctic sovereignty. Wright’s book underlines the fact that when push comes to shove, it takes more than a map to prove who owns what.

Ask the Inuit: In terms of habitation, tradition, and use, the Canadian Arctic belongs to them. And, as Wright notes, Canada’s political claim to the Arctic hinges, in large part, on Inuit occupation. The creation of Nunavut cements that fact in law.

But can colonial Canadian notions, and traditional Inuit notions of land, ice, and sea be reconciled? Herein lies the challenge.

How do we balance elder wisdom, Inuit tradition, European history, Canadian law, and global politics? Considering what ice (by turns ancient, changeable, life-saving, deadly) means in these differing frameworks, Wright spins a kaleidoscopic portrait of the Arctic.

polarbear[1]The polar bear – living icon of the North – has been widely seen as a bellwether for the Canadian Arctic, and Wright touches on nanuq‘s symbolic role in the way the North is perceived elsewhere. But it is the resourceful, constantly adapting Inuit, their language and their relationship with the world who are at the heart of this work.

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Wright’s ability to illustrate the complexities – and incompatibilities – of intertwining world views makes this book an invaluable resource for those interested in understanding the Arctic today. Subtitled “A History of Inuit, Newcomers, and Climate Change”, Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqutuq is essential reading for would-be citizens of the Great White North.

Shelley Wright has travelled with Adventure Canada several times; many of the pictures in the book were taken on our trips. This summer, Shelly will join us for a special Arctic launch of Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqutuq on our Northwest Passage: West to East voyage.

Photos in this article courtesy Shelley Wright/McGill-Queen’s University Press.

 

Living Right: Be More like a Polar Bear

It’s not every day that a polar bear teaches you how to live a better life.

But Adventure Canada passengers enjoyed just such a day in the Canadian Arctic recently, as everyone aboard the Sea Adventurer was treated to great wildlife sightings, including eight of the iconic bears and fifteen walrus.

Polar Bear at Play

One juvenile Polar Bear in particular took time to pose for photos and play around on the ice. Perhaps some of us read too much into it, but it seemed as if he was trying to teach us a thing or two about enjoying the ‘bear necessities’ of life.

After all, the bear was obviously enjoying a great daily routine. He was well-rested, ate healthy and natural food, played outdoors in the fresh air when he wanted and got plenty of exercise.

Well-Rested Polar Bear

By contrast, thinking of returning home to our regular routines, human life seemed so dull. Most of us spend too much time working, instead of playing. We eat processed foods, instead of natural healthy foods. We sit at desks and in front of TVs, instead of enjoying the outdoors and exercising.

Exercising Polar Bear

So, with that, we encourage you all to be more like a polar bear! Be active, eat healthy and enjoy the outdoors.

Photos courtesy of Franz Wusits, Hotel Manager, M/V Sea Adventurer

Canada Day considered

RelaxingAs Canada Day approaches, many people have plans to spend the holiday in traditional ways: camping, going to the beach or the park, vacationing with family or friends, or just taking it easy around home. Or even relaxing in the Arctic sun, like our passengers here.

These are all great ways to spend the day—and like many other activities people engage in while celebrating our nation’s founding, they have something important in common.

No, we don’t mean fireworks, barbecues, coolers of drinks or a bursting picnic basket. Or boating, which is one our favourite pursuits on a typical July 1.

Boating

The common thing almost every ‘great Canadian Canada Day’ has in common, from coast to coast, regardless of income, culture, age or background, is the great outdoors.

That’s where we all go to relax and enjoy. Blessed as we are with an abundance of open space, and a day to celebrate that falls at the warmest time of the year, it’s only natural for Canadians to get outside on July 1st to enjoy the best of what Canada offers. Even if that’s the micro-forest of the Arctic tundra.

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These incredible blessings are not without their burden. Everywhere there are signs we cannot afford to take the environment for granted. No region of the nation is unaffected.

These challenges affect us all, regardless of belief system or political affiliation. Every sane person wishes to see nature’s grandeur undiminished, and own collective future ensured. At Adventure Canada, our own livelihood depends on the beauty of Canada’s wild spaces, and we must continually strive to respect and sustain that greatest of gifts.

So amid the celebrations on Canada Day, perhaps you’ll find time for a moment of consideration. Consider the beauty; consider the vitality, consider the threats—and consider your place in it all. We will, too. PolarBear

 

From us to you, a very happy Canada Day, considered.

International Polar Bear Day

We weren’t sure what to get you, our readers and guests, for International Polar Bear Day. They say it’s the thought that counts, so here are some polar bear related thoughts for today.

For a start, here’s a link to a good article, Polar Bear politics in Canada’s Arctic. It summarizes some of the issues surrounding polar bears, noting both their symbolic role in discussions of climate change, and their important place in Inuit culture.

If you were wondering what to give for this special occasion, here’s a simple suggestion, courtesy Polar Bears International: turn down your thermostat. (Or turn it up, if you live in a hot climate.) The idea being that if we all heat, or cool our homes just two degrees less, the resulting energy reduction will go some ways toward reducing climate change.

And for a real eye-opener, check out these intense polar bear pictures on Strombo‘s site from BBC wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan, who spent 40 minutes getting closer to a polar bear than just about anybody would ever want to be.

Polar bears are very important to us and our guests, as well as our many friends in the North: viewing these mighty mammals is an exciting and meaningful part of many of our trips. Happy International Polar Bear to you, and here’s to many, many more.

Selected trips with polar bear viewing opportunities:
Bears of Churchill Tundra Buggy Adventure
Baffin Island Floe Edge: Narwhals & Polar Bears
Belugas, Bears and Blooms