I arrived in Wrigley yesterday afternoon and loved it immediately! I don’t think it had anything to do with the last twenty minutes of the flight being turbulent and my boss and I being gently tossed like la salad-du-jour. We chartered at Cessna 172 to fly us from Fort Simpson to Wrigley, a total flight time of about an hour for a plane of that type, depending on the wind. Yesterday, it was a tail wind for us, but it still tossed us around plenty as we came over the ridge, very much as our pilot, Serge, predicted it would. He let me fly for a while in the middle of the flight, and I had a tiny bit of turbulence, which was fun! We had the plane loaded pretty heavily, although not at its capacity, Serge assured us. I told him as we started to taxi, “if you think we are overweight, say so now and we’ll stop!” But no, he assured me, we were alright. My boss and I are both pretty slim, plus I had packed light — heck, I didn’t even really take all that much to Fort Simpson in the first place — but as it was, I had overestimated the size of a Cessna 172. It had room for 2 in the front, 2 behind, and then a “trunk” space about the size of the foot-well in my car. Serge, however, was not new to this game and really knew how to get the most out of the plane’s overall volume. We had to leave a total of 5 items behind, one being my bag of knitting stuff and another being my cooler, filled with frozen meat.
There is no store in Wrigley. Well, that isn’t entirely true. There is a very small store with limited stock, open for limited hours in the middle of the day (while I am at work). It may or may not only take cash — leave your plastic at home. You can leave your cell at home too, because the nearest cell service is about 120 km away, as the crow flies. I had wondered if there might be a tiny pocket of cell service, from perhaps a single tower, but no. That is the case for Fort Simpson, a village of about 1200 people, so a mini-village of 170 or so doesn’t even have a chance. Cell towers aren’t cheap, so no cell company would put one up in a place where they’d never make that money back. But I digress.
I absolutely fell in love with the terminal building the moment I saw it. It is so cute, well-maintained, and the CARS station is raised above ground level. It’s like the world’s smallest air traffic control tower, and I love it! The station itself was neat, tidy, sunny and warm. It had a nice, cheerful feeling to it, and I took to the place like a fish to water. My boss and I only had about an hour to spend before our ride came to get us, so we went through some of the paperwork left out, exclaiming how great it was that the keys we had brought worked perfectly and everything was coming together so smoothly. I didn’t tell him that things always go smoothly for me (but I think he is starting to see that)! I started checking out the radio equipment, wind instruments and altimeter. I was so excited!
The main reason I was there, and indeed the reason we had to fly in, was because the ice road had closed due to spring break up. As I mentioned in my last post, this doesn’t mean the ice was dramatically moving, but simply unsafe for crossing. So, Wrigley became a strictly fly-in community, and as such, it was more important than usual to have someone working in the CARS station to provide current weather observations and information for pilots inbound. The next day, just after I sent my second weather observation out on the internet, the phone rang.
“Wrigley Airport Radio,” I answered the phone. Man, it’s going to take me awhile to get used to saying that.
“You saw my weather, did you?”
Yeah, it’s awesome!” It was a man at Simpson Air, clearly tickled pink.
“Well, I’m glad you appreciate it”
“Oh, Teresa you have no idea!”
That made me smile, on the inside and the outside. I’m not sure I can describe how happy I feel being here. I will be staffing a one-person station. I have full run of the place, can do my own thing, keep the place exactly as I want, and enjoy its cozy, sunny view. The station faces the Mackenzie River, which is down the bank from the flat the airport is on, only about a quarter of a mile away. The runway is really just along the river! The river itself isn’t visible, due to being down the bank, but one day I plan to walk to the edge and enjoy the view. Across the river there is a lovely mountain range, starting about 4 miles away with Table Mountain and stretching off to the southwest to a distance of about 35 miles. The hills are high enough to be bare rock (and snow) at the top, and their white tops make me smile too! I have always enjoyed topography, perhaps because I grew up on the prairies, so mountains and foothills still hold a romantic attraction for me. They speak to my adventurous spirit, and they are so beautiful, my heart can’t help but smile when I see them. So, I am in a lovely spot, pretty close to the middle of nowhere, at 63 degrees North, and I love it. There is a second mountain range to the east as well, and foothills that are only about a mile away. Around my home and the airport, there is a healthy mixed forest, with two types of spruce (from what I can tell) and poplar. Some of the evergreens are so windblown, they have a swoopy look to them at the top. I haven’t seen any birch, but maybe they are there somewhere.
My living quarters are about 3 km south of the airport, which is itself about 1 km south of the village. We flew over the village as we were on approach to land, and wow, it sure is small. Wrigley doesn’t look like many towns and villages where the early settlers cut down every tree to build their house or burn for firewood — they have lots of trees standing. No roads are paved up here, and Wrigley is actually the end of the all-season road that is the Mackenzie Highway. Farther on from Wrigley, winter roads are built to Tulita and Norman Wells, but these have been closed for several weeks. (From Fort Simpson on, the Mackenzie Highway is all gravel, I believe. From the Highway 3 turnoff (to Yellowknife) the road is mostly paved with gravel sections. I think. When I came up, it was basically compact snow, and from what others told me, I have no right complaining about it (remember 2 posts ago?) because it only got worse once it warmed up.) I know, it doesn’t seem like a gravel road should be called a highway, but it is! It’s wider than a typical country road, but yup, it’s gravel.
I have a house trailer all to myself to live in! It is not particularly new, but it’s in very good repair. The last people to stay here, apparently, were women, so when we walked in, it was spic and span! What a nice sight to see! There were only a few coffee cups left in the sink to wash. The kitchen is quite well-supplied — I was worried there wouldn’t be any frying pans or dishes — and I have everything I need. I bought a Brita to filter the water, which is, like so many northern places, stored in a tank in the porch. There is a pump to keep the line pressure up, and the tub faucet leaks a little, so the pump goes on for about a second about every 3 minutes or so. It’s easy to just turn it off at night, though, and then it’s very peaceful here. This morning, my boss ran out of water twice — once because the breaker for the pump kicked off, and once because the pump overheated. So, I skipped the shower. I had one tonight and had the pump kick off right as I was starting to rinse my hair! Gads! But, before I could get out, all soapy and naked and run to the breaker panel, the pump came back on so I knew it had only overheated. Yay! It cut out once more and I had to wait a minute or so, but I managed to rinse off and finish the shower. I think tomorrow, I will try closing opening the window near the pump to vent it better and hopefully it won’t overheat. The furnace and all appliances work good, and the fridge was even spotless! No sticky gross stuff in the bottom of the crisper drawers! I am so impressed.
I live in what the locals call “the highways camp.” It is a fenced-in area where the NWT government keeps the snowplow, grader, a shop and various other equipment. There are three house trailers in the yard, one of which is empty, and then I have one and Albert has one. He is the highway and airport maintainer — the man who runs the grader to keep the road in good shape. As far as I can tell, he does an excellent job! I met him yesterday and he seems very nice. The yard sort of reminds me of home, as it’s a bit like a farm yard with tractors, tires, piles of wood, etc, scattered about. Apparently, there are quite a few bears around, but when my boss and I went for a walk along the highway last night, we didn’t see any. I have bear spray which I will not go walking without. Albert has a dog, too, so I might ask if I can take it with me. :) It looks quite cute but a bit forlorn, so I think it would love to go on a walk. Not tonight, though. It is almost bed time and although I slept awesomely well — it is a talent to be able to sleep almost anywhere? — I am ready for bed. Maybe it’s the Micheal Logozar album I am listening to, getting me all relaxed! It could also be that I’ve been on day shifts for 5 days now, so I’m used to getting up early and going to bed early. Which brings me to my last point, and one thing that makes working in Wrigley so great. It is strictly day shifts, no nights, and it is a short 8 hours, compared to 12 in Fort Simpson. Can you believe it?!? I feel like I have won the lottery! A cozy, sunny place to work, with a great view, in the North, and I don’t even have to work shift work. Monday to Friday, 8 to 4. Wow, I am in heaven!
Oh geez. I thought it was mildly funny that I was going to be saying “Wrigley Airport Radio.” But man, what is someone from Wrigley called? A Wrigley-ite? A Wriglean? A Wrigler? LOL :)
Today is a day of lasts. It’s the last day of 2009. It’s my last day working for Nav Canada. I cleaned out my locker about a week ago, and my mailbox today. Tomorrow, or early next week, my email account will be deleted. There will be no traces that I ever worked there, actually. I took my honey jar (for my tea, of course) and my special sea salt. It feels a little weird, knowing that I’m off the schedule, and all the work I went through 4 years ago is not paying off any more.
I decided to apply to Nav Canada for several reasons: to see if I could make it in, to move back to western Canada, and because I thought it would be something I’d enjoy. I was right on all counts! I scored high enough on the aptitude test to get a call back within about a week. When I finished the training in Cornwall, I got posted to High Level, Alberta — not exactly close to my family, but at least it was driving distance. And I have certainly enjoyed it! I have been challenged, stretched, and stimulated. I learned to listen quickly, processing information and forming a mental picture much quicker than I thought I ever could. I accomplished my goal! I was one of the elite, working for Nav Canada in the air traffic system. I got to talk to pilots and watch planes and helicopters land and take off every day! What better job could there be!?
And in spring, when I had a chance, I chose to get out. I took an early departure package. Part of me was afraid of being transferred somewhere I didn’t want to live — it sounded very seriously like High Level FSS would close — and part of me saw the opportunity to take control of my life in a new way. I sat and thought about what I would like to do, if I could do anything at all and be paid for it. The answer was paddle. I love to canoe and kayak. So, I decided to start a canoe and kayak outfitting company, to make it possible for people to get out on the water — to spread the love! The love I have of paddling. :) I named my company Flow North Paddling Company, at flownorth.ca.
So, it’s a slightly melancholy time, but also a happy time. There’s a little stress, and I think I’ve already experienced the last time I go to the grocery store and buy whatever the heck I want! Without looking at the prices! I will be on a budget now… but I’m not worried. Not oblivious to the money situation, but not worried. :)
So, I’m looking forward to a lot more adventures in 2010… may you have many happy adventures in the coming year, too!
I’ve been back from China for about 6 days now, and although the jet lag is over, the desire to share all I experienced lingers strongly. It’s hard to get a handle on it, and put words to the many things I saw. I should have kept a diary — it’s quite a blur now, and I’m afraid I’m forgetting some impressions and insights already. Looking at the photos is bringing some things back, though!
Land of Paradoxes
Beijing struck me as a city of paradoxes: modern alongside ancient, narrow back streets leading to wide, fast-flowing freeways, thousands of bicycles and a few double-decked buses, modern, fashionable people and wrinkly elders, wonderfully fresh food and plastic packaging, skyscrapers and little green parks, miles and miles of hedges along the highway meridians. The only thing with no paradox is people everywhere! There are people performing jobs that we would never think of in Canada, such as bathroom attendant and freeway-edge landscapers, and a lot more garbage-pickers than we have. It seems to me that the combination of the communist government and huge population means that they can get an awful lot done in a short period of time — like building a subway — by mobilizing all those people.
Communism and capitalism collide in China. Or perhaps I should say “co-exist.” While the government is communist, which involves controlling the people and industry, the country is also capitalist. It’s kind of strange. Or not… there are glossy shopping centres, malls, restaurants, you-name-it, just like you might see in any city in North America. The air quality is very poor; reports from before the Olympics were not exaggerated. The picture above shows the International Terminal building, just before our plane landed, and the sky was orange. Not to be judgmental; The biggest Canadian cities, with one-fifth the number of people living in them, have their share of smog too – only everyone in Beijing calls it “fog.” There’s no question it’s not fog – the relative humidity was nowhere near 100%. And there was a yellow dust on all the parked cars in the mornings!
I mentioned the subway… here’s a picture of the new subway, built for the
Olympics. It’s pretty snazzy, with glass all along the subway tunnel, to prevent people from jumping (or falling) in front of the train. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, they didn’t account for the crowds and pushing, because people have died when they were pushed so much and caught between those double-doors. Both sets close, train starts moving… it’s not pretty. I thought maybe they had sensors installed so the train couldn’t move if there was anyone trapped, but our Beijing friends said nope, they didn’t think of that. Or maybe just thought it would never happen. There was one occasion when we were the last people to try and squish on a train, so we decided to wait for the next one. It was equally crowded, but at least we were first to get on.
In addition to parking lots for cars, there were bicycle parking areas too! I didn’t see any underground parkades, nor did I see any above ground parkades. I guess they don’t need them yet; owning a vehicle is expensive, and the average person simply can’t afford one. Foreigners with good jobs probably could, but then they’d have to get a Beijing driver’s license… a daunting thought! Lots of people take cabs, public transit, walk or ride bicycles, or a variation on a bicycle! I saw quite a few converted into a cart with lots of cargo tied on, and I also saw strange three-wheeled trucks, with one in the front and two and an almost-normal box in the back. Narrower, maybe. There were a few different mini-vans, some narrower than ours, and not even one single pick-up truck. :)